Advice for a work trip to Ningxia
April 24, 2015 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Work has me travelling to Zhongwei city in the Ningxia province of China in about a month. Exciting! It's my first time to China, and I've got some questions.

I'll be there for about three weeks, and the first noise I heard from coworkers was that it was fairly remote ('way out in the Gobi', specifically), but digging around shows that there's a bit of interest to check out in the city. I'm working on picking up a pittance of Mandarin as quickly as I can, but expect to be at about 'where is the restroom?" "I'd like to buy that," etc level by the time we get over there. We'll be working with some local folk as well, but I'm not expecting them to double as translators and tour guides all weekend.

I'd like to see Gao Miao, but what else around there is worth investigating? I've also been informed I should likely get a burner phone for security reasons while I'm over there? Any other major concerns to keep in mind? I've traveled internationally (UK and Germany) before, but this is a bit further afield.
posted by FatherDagon to Travel & Transportation around Zhongwei, China (5 answers total)
Out-of-the-way might mean you're at less risk for the more common street scams, but it might be worthwhile to familiarize yourself with a few of them anyway.
posted by jquinby at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can get by just fine in China with no Mandarin at all. Good on you for diving in, but don't expect to learn too much in a month.

A smartphone is a very useful tool for translation and maps (and even using to display numbers). Get a SIM card so that you can have data available when you are out and about (China Unicom is the best for those without non-Chinese phones, you can find details online before you venture out to get one). You can also do a lot by pointing or using simple gestures (e.g. in restaurants) with a translation on your phone as a backup. Younger people often have some level of English, but are often shy to use it.

Unless you have a particular concern about privacy, I don't see why you wouldn't take your own phone (with the usual precautions). Don't take any company data over the border that you don't want the Chinese to have, obviously.

A read through the Lonely Planet will likely be helpful.

I think you are unlikely to run into much in the way of scams or any of that sort of trouble as you will be out of the way. China is generally very safe for tourists.
posted by ssg at 9:50 AM on April 24, 2015

Pleco is a great app for translation. You can also download baidu translate now for phrases.

There really isn't that much to be concerned about if you're only going for 3 weeks. Get used to squat toilets, I guess, if you're really that far out of a major city.
posted by sarae at 7:54 PM on April 24, 2015

I speak English, Spanish, and some Japanese. I learned "where's the bathroom" level of Italian. Language classes were my personal "easy A". Chinese is super hard - I was at a train station asking to by a ticket, and then just trying to say "Beijing" and still couldn't get the message across. Chinese is tonal and nuanced, and the train station was crowded and noisy. If you can pick up some Chinese, great - but some flash cards (or a guide book language index or phrasebook or app) so you can point at the written characters will save you in a pinch. Keep one on you at all times just in case. My other advice amounts to: hand sanitizer, look both ways before you cross the street, and (IME) there are often no queues so be prepared to push! (Crowds and traffic may not be so bad if it's a really small town. Small is relative, however and it seems unlikely that you'd be sent to a true village.)

China was fun and beautiful, and the food was great. Have a good time!
posted by jrobin276 at 3:15 PM on April 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're welcome to TRY to learn Mandarin, or pu-tong-hua, but the most important thing you need to learn is each Chinese word has four TONES, high, medium, low, hard/emphasis. And that completely changes the word/meaning. For example, I'll use 1=high, 2=medium, 3=low, and 4=hard to indicate the tone.

If I give you the pinyin "si" (not like the Spanish, not at all)

Si1 = tear (verb, rip apart)
Si2 = truth/core / rock
Si3 = death/dead
Si4 = four (the number)

If you pronounced the wrong tone, you will STILL probably be understood by context / inference, but you'll cause a bit of confusion on the part of the listener. And it'd be even more hilarious if the listener doesn't speak perfect Mandarin either and as the Chinese say, "chicken talking to duck" (nobody understand each other).

But don't worry, at long as you look like a Westerner you'll be given a lot of slack. :) The young people will be glad to practice some English with you.
posted by kschang at 11:34 PM on April 25, 2015

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