NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Beijing
Population: 1.3 billion
Area: 3,700,000 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 86
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 China Yuan Renminbi = $0.16 US Calculate Other Amounts
China requires visas for citizens of the United States. Visas cost $50, take at least four business days to process, and may require a personal interview. Go to www.china-embassy.org for more information.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
Chinese society can be a bewildering beast to the unprepared, and it's pretty tough to be prepared for a country of 1.3 billion with 5,000 years of history. Skim through William Theodore De Bary's Sources of Chinese Tradition to understand the ancient philosophies and voluminous history that shape Chinese society still, and Jonathan Spence's The Search for Modern China for a current pulse.
To experience the feeling of China, though, books aren't enough. Luckily, the country has developed one of the world's largest film industries, going way beyond Jackie Chan's kung fu comedy. The Communist regime keeps a tight lid of contemporary social commentary, but directors such as Wong Kar Wai and Zhang Yimou use fantastic or historic settings while uncovering current themes.
Cuisine American inventions like General Tso's Chicken and Pork Chow Mein give short shrift to the epic array of delights served in what many consider the world's greatest culinary nation. Dishes range from savory noodles in Beijing to delicate preparations in Canton, to roasted meat in Shanghai, to the exotic fire of Szechuan. Dive in with a hearty appetite, because the greatest delicacies would be avoided in the United States. Swallow's nest soup, duck feet, and shark fin are treasured. The masses can't all be wrong. If you're confused, just point to something on the menu that's moderately priced. If you hate it, relax in the knowledge that it only cost three dollars anyway. But whatever you do, only drink bottled water or the ever-popular local beer.
With immense wealth disparities in the larger cities, shopping runs the gamut from a steal to wildly unaffordable. Major designers won't be a bargain here, unless they're reproductions, so check the workmanship on any Western-branded wares you happen upon. Many consumer prices are still set by the government, so bargaining isn't possible in larger shops and department stores, although in small outdoor markets, everything's negotiable. Here you can find beautiful work in jade, ceramic, and silk. Be careful though—anything over 100 years old is considered an antique and requires approval to export.
China can be a dream destination for the wallet. Prices are low, tax is always included in the price, and tipping is officially forbidden, though tacitly accepted. But the tourist price is often not as low as the local price. If a sign or menu is in English, expect to pay at least double (still cheap), though at hotels this price may be many times the local rate. Unless you have a guide or know the language, this situation probably cannot be avoided.
The Chinese people's light-speed journey to affluence has produced a culture that can sometimes shock a foreign visitor. If you are traveling in smaller towns, it is still common to be stared at and followed by the locals. But don't worry, petty crime is rare and begging rarer. Spitting is surprisingly common, in the street, in restaurants, and even in hospitals. Lastly, make sure not to casually refer to Taiwan as an independent nation—a formerly friendly conversation could quickly turn hostile even if you don't mean any offense.
January: 1, New Year's Day
May: 1, Labor Day; 4, Youth Day
July: 1, Communist Party Founding Day
August: 1, Army Day
October: 1, National Day
Spring: Chinese New Year/Spring Festival; Lantern Festival; Tomb Sweeping Day
Summer: Dragon Boat Festival; Double Seven Festival; Spirit Festival
Autumn: Moon Festival; Double Ninth Festival