General advice and specific questions on a trip from Canada to China
August 3, 2016 6:45 AM   Subscribe

In a few weeks, I'll be making a trip from Canada to Ordos, China. It'll be my first time doing such a trip. I've got a few questions and I'm wondering if there's anything else I need to know.

Flights, hotels and visas are all in place. I'll be flying into Beijing then on to Ordos. I'm starting to think about packing and other things and a number of questions come to mind:

How careful do I need to be about reading material? I was going to bring some issues of the New Yorker, but that strikes me as something which could be too political. What if I just avoided any issue which have any mention of China?

How likely are credit cards to be accepted? Should I bring a bundle of local cash just in case?

Is it safe to bring my phone or tablet? Should I expect to have to show the contents at immigration? Maybe I should just bring a device with a clean install and little on it? I'm planning on getting a VPN setup. My main concern is Gmail access so I can be aware of flight or hotel changes and have a way for people back home to reach me, if needed.

As long as I have the right adaptor can I expect to be able to plug things in with no problem?

Should I expect checked and carry-on luggage to be searched?

I don't speak the language. Any tips on communicating, particularly going through the airport?

In Ordos, we'll be going to the Nadam Fair. The info we've got says people dress in their "best clothes". What would that mean to me?

Any other specific things to bring or avoid bringing? Any paperwork I should have ready? Maybe I'm being too paranoid but I'm hoping to make things go as smoothly as possible.

Oh, and I've seen the posting on Ordos, so I have some idea what to expect in the city.
posted by Tilon to Travel & Transportation around Ordos, China (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Nobody looked at any of my reading materials or electronics when I went to China. I don't think you have to worry about that at all. I can't remember if we we used credit cards.

The only real annoyances I remember are things you can't prepare for: No cabs would stop for us (white people) in Beijing or Xi'an (don't know about other places), and when they did stop for us they refused to use the metre despite being asked repeatedly and completely ripped us off. But there's not much you can do about that.

Second, there is smoking everywhere, including in non-smoking places. If you request a non-smoking hotel room, they will give you one, but what that means is that before you arrive they will remove the ashtray from your room. The room will still stink from when it was a smoking room, yesterday. In the hotel restaurant people smoked sitting right in front of the no smoking sign. When someone else complained to hotel staff, they were told "this is China. there's nothing we can do" (the impression I got is that the people smoking were "important" somehow (maybe hotel management or owners) and thus allowed to do whatever they wanted. In restaurants there are non-smoking sections, but they're not particularly sealed off or separately ventilated, so the non-smoking section is only slightly less stinky than the rest of the restaurant (which you will have to talk through to get to the non-smoking section). If you are sensitive to such things, you should bring allergy/migraine medication, and maybe your own pillow and pillowcase if you can manage it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:05 AM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Normal reading material won't be a problem, even if the magazine has an article about China. Nobody ever even glanced at magazines or books I was carrying. Of course I wouldn't carry a book whose primary subject is criticism of China.

Foreign credit cards will be fine at name brand hotels and large stores, but not in taxis or at smaller stores. Plan to carry and use cash (RMB). The easiest way to get cash is to use your foreign debit card at a Chinese ATM. For ATMs you'll be best served by using the ones at bank branches such as ICBC, China Merchants Bank, etc.

Most people won't speak English, especially taxi drivers. I would get the name and address of each of your hotels and likely destinations in Chinese and print these on a paper so you can show it to the taxi driver. You should be ok in the airport just by following signs which will be dual language. If there's a difficult issue airport staff will be able to find someone who speaks English.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by duoshao at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Most people won't speak English, especially taxi drivers. I would get the name and address of each of your hotels and likely destinations in Chinese and print these on a paper so you can show it to the taxi driver.

Check by the hotel desk. Our hotels (Chinese, not international chains, but I bet the international chains would, too), had these cards ready-printed on a little carousel thing by the desk. When you check in they give you each a card with the hotel name and address on it that you can show to cab drivers. Then from the carousal display you can find cards for the local attractions. Picture, name, address and brief description in Chinese and other languages. The chinese is to show the cabbie, the English for you.

ALso, if you're booking tours to attractions, it is worth considering the tours billed as 'no shopping." They cost a little more, but for a reason: The non-no-shopping tours are subsidized by stores/malls that pay to have the bus stop at their store for an hour or more at the end of the tour. Sometimes with a sales spiel when you get there. So there will be stop 1, 2, and 3 listed in the tour description. the tour will be listed as 5 hours, but at around 3.5 hours when you're at stop 3, the bus will leave and off to the shopping you will go. This won't be listed on the tour itinerary. So if a tour doesn't say "no shopping," ask. And ask as though you might actually want to shop so they won't be motivated to deny it if there is shopping.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:43 AM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Note that being in Ordos may not mean that you are actually in the city itself - I've been in what is officially part of Ordos, but was 150 km away from the main city. The Ghost City is just part, the "new city".

Gmail is basically not accessible without a VPN, and don't assume that the hotel will have wifi available.

Some things will depend on where exactly you are staying, both in terms of where in Ordos, and what type of hotel. Make sure that you have a printout of your hotel reservation, just in case (sometimes surname and first name can get confused). You will need your passport at check in so that you can be registered with the police on arrival. (The hotel will do it for you.)

Having a printout of the address for the hotel in Chinese before you leave may be handy. Quite often for international hotels the reservation email that you get will not have the Chinese address on it, which can make it tricky if you need to get a taxi from the airport.
posted by scorbet at 8:39 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about the New Yorker, no one will care. Your luggage is not likely to be searched.

Credit cards are OK for hotels and such, but you need cash (from an ATM at a major bank like ICBC with your credit card) for food, transport, etc.

Definitely bring your phone and tablet. It is very unlikely that it will be glanced at. Make sure you get a VPN that specializes in China as the government actively works to block VPNs and you need one that tries to stay one step ahead. Get a pre-paid data SIM for directions, translations, etc. and not having to rely on spotty wifi. Do your research on these as only some will work with US phones and some will only work in the province they are purchased in.

You can plug in anything that will take 220V. Most places will have a plug that is like an ungrounded North American plug, but not polarized. You will probably be able to plug your polarized plug into it. Just pick up an adapter (or a USB charger) when you get there if you have an issue.

You can get by on hand signals, the occasional translation on your phone (though pretty much anyone in a customer service role is going to have a translation app on their phone anyways), and business cards from your hotel that have the address written on them. It is very nice to have maps on your phone (Google Maps is not bad, surprisingly). You will have no problem in the airport, there is plenty of English signage. It is not particularly difficult to travel in China without speaking the language.
posted by ssg at 10:01 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Prepare for heavy smoking, hacking and spitting and assorted other "normalcy" in China. And forget normal Internet- doesn't exist. What should be a 5-minute task can take 20-25 minutes, if at all.

I'm here sort of unavoidably and will wrap my 10-month assignment on 1 October. I've lived and worked in many countries and can't say I've ever found one I'll be so happy to leave. Having said that, I've met the odd wonderful Chinese, but as a whole, the country blows.
posted by lometogo at 5:40 PM on August 3, 2016

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