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Insider’s Perspective – China

China is the country where Confucianism is deeply rooted in daily routine and harmony is built within individual, family, and community. It is the country where you can enjoy the exciting modern life and appreciate the miraculous ancient wisdom and the country where a dragon is mascot but everyone loves the pandas. China welcomes you.

Places to visit
If you have a week in China, Beijing and Shanghai will give you a general sense of the country. Hangzhou and Suzhou, near Shanghai, will give you some flavor about the middle to upper class’ life in ancient China. You should plan on seeing many private gardens and enjoy the ancient Chinese culture. Hong Kong is a metropolitan and an ideal place for non-Chinese speaking expats to start working in China. If you want to see more historical relics, Xi’an, the ancient capital, is worth visiting. Yunan province is also recommended due to its ethnic and culture diversity as well as its unique natural beauty. Jiu Zhaigou is a sure to be a hit for photography fans. Chengdu, in the Sichuan province, is famous for a perfect combination of historical relics and natural landscape. You will enjoy the great food and the relaxed life style.

Food
Every region has its own style of cuisine. The most popular ones are Sichuan cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine and Cantonese cuisine. These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as climate, available resources, geography, history, cooking techniques, and lifestyle. Sichuan cuisine is famous for the use of lot of garlic, shallots, chili and spices. Shandong cuisine is famous for seafood with light tastes and for using soup in its dishes. Jiangsu cuisine is famous for cooking techniques such as braising and stewing. Cantonese cuisine is famous for using various raw materials. Here is a list of must try for tourists:

– Beijing roast duck
– Soup, dim sum, and desert in Hong Kong and Guangdong
– Sichuan hot pot
– Hairy crab in autumn in Shanghai

Keep in mind that there are not many vegetarian choices available. People also eat local dishes that may not be popular in the U.S., e.g., abdominal organs. Make sure you ask about details of the food before ordering.

Beverage
You should definitely try the authentic Chinese tea. There are different types of Chinese tea: green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea and so on. Green tea varies in taste depending on the region it is from. People usually drink alcohol during dinner instead of at bars. Mao Tai is the most famous alcohol in China and people take shots of it. People in China like to propose toast and make others drink. “Ganbei” is the Chinese word for cheers. Bottoms up is perceived to be a sign of cherishing the relationship. Many personal relationships are built in this way. Tap water is not potable.

Festivals
The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, the first day of the lunar year, is the most celebrated festival in China. It generally takes place in late January or early February. People have an entire week (national holiday) off to celebrate. After an entire year of hard work, people come back to their home-town and celebrate the festival with their family. They light fire-crackers at midnight to celebrate the advent of the New Year. This festival is equivalent to Christmas in western countries. Chinese visit elder family members and offer gifts. Children are distributed with red envelopes containing money as a blessing.

The Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the first lunar month, indicates the end of the Chinese New Year celebration. After the family enjoys the Tangyuan (Glutinous Rice Balls with sesames or red bean) and the kids play with the rabbit lantern, people take off for work. The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second biggest family reunion event. It usually falls in September. Family members have dinner together, enjoy moon cakes as deserts and admire the full moon afterwards. Don’t be surprised when you see lots of domestic travelers in touristic places in above days. Book your hotel and flight beforehand if you have to travel during festivals.

Accommodation
World-class hotel groups have chains in many of the major cities in China. 5-star hotel room tariff: USD 150-300 per night. There are also the Home Inn and Orange Hotel, which are the two cheaper and convenient hotels for medium-term stay at USD 30-40 per night. Ctrip.com is a good website to find flights and hotels.

Transportation
Taking a taxi is a cheap and convenient way to travel as are the subways. Almost all the cities with subways have their own travel card. If you plan to travel by subways, getting a travel card in big cities is a good idea. Bicycles are common tools of transportation for local people. It is not recommended to drive in big cities. There is lot of traffic and sometimes the traffic rules are strange. For example, cars with plate number ending with 1 and 6 are not allowed on Mondays in Beijing. Cars and buses don’t stop for pedestrians, so wait for them to pass before crossing a street.

Dining
On the dining table, the whole chicken or fish is served as a symbol of union. The most senior person on the dining table is invited to start each new dish that is placed on the table. It is common to always leave a little food on the plate when invited to a dinner at someone’s home just to show that you have had enough food. The Chinese do not split bills instead they take turns to pay for the meal.

Shopping
Hong Kong is a shopping paradise due to the low import tax rate. You can find all kinds of watches, jewelry and clothes from luxury brands at tax-free prices.

– Following is a suggested list of things worth purchasing from China
– Different types of Chinese tea
– A tailor-made shirt is USD 25-50 in China. Also tailor-made Qipao, a traditional Chinese dress for girls, is about USD 100-150
– Fan with Chinese painting or Chinese calligraphy on it
– Silk handkerchief with handmade embroidery

Entertainment
Tea tasting ceremony is a good way to understand more about the tea culture in China. A Chinese foot and body massage is a must try. You should also watch live show of Peking Opera or other local operas. The Impression Series, outdoor folk musicals directed by Mr. Yimou Zhang, the most famous Chinese director, are also spectacular shows.

Work & Technology
If you want to work for a multinational company in China, you will do fine if you don’t speak Chinese. Almost all of your colleagues in multinational companies would be speaking fluent English. Professional services in China such as investment banking and consulting usually have longer hours than their peers in the states. Be sure that you are mentally prepared if you want to work there. In China, people usually don’t disagree in public simply to show respect for each other. After you get along with them and know each other better, they will share their real opinion with you. You don’t have access to Facebook but Google works just fine. Your Kindle wouldn’t have access to 3G network there. Get yourself a cell phone and have your Chinese friend’s cell phone number handy. You can call your friend and ask him/her to talk to the taxi drivers in Chinese who usually don’t speak English.

Customs
You should expect to see many people, maybe more than you can imagine. Chinese people are conservative. Usually, they don’t talk to strangers. It is not because they don’t like you but just because they don’t know you very well. After you hang out more with them, they will open up. Married women in China keep their own family names, instead of using their husbands’ family names. Since the RMB FX is highly regulated, you can’t change USD for RMB at banks on the street. Make sure you exchange enough cash at the airport. Credit cards are accepted only in big malls/hotels in major cities. Bargain heavily at the local small stores, especially those at the touristic places.

Don’t call Chinese people by first name. Always use the prefix Mr. or Miss. Don’t tip server in restaurant or taxi-driver; tax has been included in the price. Don’t spend too much time in big cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. There are many more places to explore in the country. You should take care of your personal belongings and watch out for pick-pockets. Very few people in China know Kung Fu, so you are safe to walk on the streets. Actually, being a foreigner is less risky than being a local because the government inflicts severe penalties on those who offend foreigners.

Language
Each region has its own dialects but most people speak Mandarin. English works in Hong Kong; but it is difficult in Shanghai and even more difficult in Beijing to manage without knowing the local language

Quick Facts
Capital: Beijing
Ethnical groups: 56
Documented history:
over 5,000 years
GDP per capital: $3603 (2009)
National day: 1st, October
Currency: RMB, $1 = 6.8 RMB

People’s Republic of China was
established in 1949

Contributor’s Biography
Jessey Jin is OJ. She enjoys yoga, badminton, Chinese painting and traveling. She was born and brought-up in Shanghai and her favorite city in China is Hangzhou.

October 4, 2010
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