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Useful Tips and Useless Quirks I Learned About Travelling in China

When travelling in another country, it's hard not to note some of the quirkier cultural differences. here are some of my observations. I haven't gone out of my way to be politically correct.

I'll keep adding to this list while I'm here.

Useful

Vendors

  • I have only ever been harassed by street vendors at a popular tourist site.

Police

  • Most police stations have one English-speaking officer on duty.
  • Every police officer I have talked to has been friendly and extremely helpful. If you ask them where something is, they will often find an excuse to drive you there, unprompted.
  • I don't think you can walk for 10 minutes without encountering a police station. They are everywhere.
  • The sign will often say "Traffic Police", but they carry a pistol, a rifle, and SWAT shields.
  • The officers that I spoke to had much loyalty to protecting the people of their district, but did not have strong feelings about loyalty to the state. They consider that the job of the military police.

Passports

  • Any non-trivial exchange with the police will involved them photocopying your passport. This is actually kind of handy, because a condition of the Chinese visa is that you report your location to the police. Hotels do this for you. Hostels may or may not.
  • You will also be asked for your passport for many other things, such as buying bus/train/plane tickets.
  • Guard it at all times. I met an Indonesian man who lost his passport, and dealing with the government to reissue his visa took about a week, and may trips to the capitol.

Water

  • There are no public drinking fountains, because the water is not considered potable (even in most hotels). Instead, boiling water dispensers are very common. I think this is one reason that tea is so ubiquitous here; who wants to drink hot water?
  • Most hotels provide bottled water and a kettle.
  • Learn to enjoy Chinese tea. Kind of like Chai, no two are the same.
  • Locals do not use teabags, they just dump the ingredients in water (it looks like you're drinking pot-pourri).
  • Unfortunately for once you do acquire a taste for Chinese tea, it is never served strong.

Taxis

  • Most taxi drivers are kind and helpful, use the meter, and will provide a receipt. Although not expected, I always tips these drivers and usually tell them why.
  • A few will try to take advantage of foreigners, and charge you more; but at least they will do so before they embark.
  • If they actually try to rip you off or fight about the fare, find a police officer (there is always one nearby). A threat to be sent to jail will clear up the issue.
  • You can get a good inter-city rate for a taxi by sharing a taxi. You can do this yourself, ask the cabbie to do so (if in an area where other people going to the destination is likely), or they may just do it themselves.

Buses

  • Finding the bus station can be tricky, because the buses are in the back, and there isn't any English signage. After a police officer took me to the bus station, I said, "I never would have guess this was the bus station." He replied, "But it says so on the big sign out front??"
  • Just hop on any bus if you're not at a bus station. Someone will come to get payment eventually. Local trips will generally cost less than 10 RMB, and 25 RMB for inter-city routes is normal.
  • The bus will not leave a station until every seat has a person on it. If it won't fit overhead, and the bus doesn't have a luggage area underneath, your large pack is going to have to sit on your lap.
  • In some areas, buses have seat belts, and you are expected/required to use them.

Planes

  • Mobile phones must be turned off and put away at all times, except while the plane is at the terminal. This is a CAA regulation. Flight mode doesn't count, it has to be off. If you don't, you will be asked to put it away (and they will make sure you do).
  • This applies to inter-city flights, as well as international flights if the airline is based on China.

Tipping

  • Tipping is not expected in most circumstances.
  • I always tip when anyone goes over and above, and it is appreciated.
  • It is not rude to tell them why, and it encourages good behaviour, and goodwill toward foreigners.

Internet

  • Yes, websites are heavily censored here. Sometimes this is done at a DNS level; usually the connection attempt just times out.
  • Everything Google is blocked. Bing search works, but some results will be censored.
  • VPN services like ExpressVPN do work, but depending on the protocol used, the connection may get dropped regularly.
  • PPTP, while less secure, does seem to universally work without disruption.
  • Generally, use of mobile data is uncommon and expensive.
  • Instead, there is free public wi-fi almost everywhere in urban areas.
  • Unfortunately, in order to access it, you usually need to authenticate with your Chinese phone number or WeChat account, even at McDonalds.
  • Some KFCs do not require authentication, and hotels usually do not, so loitering outside was sometimes an option.
  • I have yet to have a reliable and fast connection.

Strangers

  • I've heard people remark that Chinese people are not friendly, or even rude. I have never had this be the case, but they do keep to themselves unless interacted with.
  • As an example, an elderly lady looked overwhelmed by having to carry her luggage down a long flight of stairs at the train station. No one stopped to help her. I motioned to help, and carried them down for her, and she was extremely grateful.

Security

  • Expect x-rays, metal detectors, and a pat-down everywhere you go. Train stations, bus stations, subway stations, malls, banks; pretty much anywhere people congregate. And they actually do their job.
  • Gas stations are usually barricaded, and the police will let you in.
  • Before letting you in, a search of the cabin/trunk is customary. The are looking for firearms, explosives, or anything that could threaten the attendant or other customers.
  • Passengers must leave the vehicle while it is in the station. Stations have a waiting area with chairs for passengers. I think this is so a group of people do not try to overpower the attendant.

Electricity

  • Almost all power outlets are universal, and can accommodate North American plugs.
  • Not all are grounded, so my 3-prong power bar/extention cord was not always useful.

Interesting

  • In an entire week of travelling all over the country, I have only seen 4 non-Chinese people. It is a reminder of how diverse Canada is; in fact 4.3% of Canadians are of Chinese heritage.
  • In Sandaoling, my room came with a Mahjong table, complete with tiles. It took me a while to notice, because it was covered with a tablecloth.
  • The scale by which wind turbine generators are used here makes ours look like a quaint science fair project (in a sense, it is).
  • KFC is huge here. About as common as Tim Hortons' in Canada.
  • Fast food restaurants often will present you with a laminated menu with pictures, and you can gesture toward what you want.
  • Following the death of Mao Tse Tung and the end of the Cultural Revolution, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been pulled above the poverty line, initiated by the government of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Then 68%, now only 10% live below the poverty line (as defined by the IMF).

Noteworthy

  • I've heard people remark that Chinese people are not friendly or rude. I have never had this be the case, but they do keep to themselves unless interacted with.
  • As an example, an elderly lady looked overwhelmed by having to carry her luggage down a long flight of stairs at the train station. No one stopped to help her. I motioned to help, and carried them down for her, and she was extremely grateful.
  • Yes, there is Walmart in China.
  • Although not quite up to the same standards, IHG hotels are very safe bet.

Frustrating

  • Smoking is still widely allowed everywhere, and ventilation is usually bad. In Beijing, smoking is not allowed indoors, but everyone smells like it, picked up from people smoking outside.
  • Many non-smoking hotel rooms smell like smoke, and have an ashtray.
  • Trains (not the bullet ones) wreak of smoke. Very sad for someone who loves riding trains; it makes the experience unenjoyable.
  • In addition to being heavily censored, hotel wi-fi/wired internet connections are very unreliable and slow.
  • If you came to see rural China, with lush vegetation, beautiful gardens, and rice paddies, don't come in winter.
  • The Terracotta Warriors exhibit closes at 4:30pm.

Useless

  • It is very difficult to suppress the urge so sing Convoy out loud when you see one.
  • I'm not saying there is a genetic predisposition or anything, but yes, Chinese drivers are awful.

Install 64-bit Operating System as a VirtualBox Guest

You have installed VirtualBox, you have an ISO ready to install 64-bit Ubunto, FreeBSD, or your favourite OS, but when you try to create a new VM, 32-bits is the only option.

You may have searched, only to find that everyone says you need to turn virtualization on in your BIOS, but you checked, and you know it's turned on.

Try this: reboot.

Yes, a single reboot, and VirtualBox will offer to create 64-bit VMs.

Lenovo ideacentre Horizon 27 Windows 10 network WiFi driver

After updating my Horizon 27 to Windows 10, it was unable to detect my WiFi adapter.

Lenovo does not have Windows 10 drivers for the (original) Horizon 27. The site identifies the adapter as a Qualcomm Atheros device.

I tried installing the Windows 8.1 driver from Lenovo's site, but it didn't work.

Just for fun, I tried downloading and installing the Windows 10 driver for the Horizon 27 2, the next generation model. It is identified as a Realtek RTL8188CE driver, so I didn't get my hopes up.

After a reboot, it worked! In device manager it is a Realtek RTL8188CE Wireless LAN 802.11n PCI-E NIC.

From what I can tell, the Realtek drivers are written by Atheros, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that they use the same chipset.

Unable to unghost an actor in Solidworks Composer

Sometimes an actor will look translucent, but when I select it the opacity is set to the maximum.

In the Assembly tab, click the Assembly Selection Mode button (the first one that looks like a lego brick).

Now the actor's opacity will be correct and it can be adjusted.

I sincerely doubt that.

Cannot register ActiveX/COM control, Exception has been thrown by the target of an invocation

A COM component cannot be registered from a network drive.

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Day 26: Kalka to New Delhi to Mumbai

McDonalds menu at Old Delhi station

I slept the night in Sleeper class, this time with a blanket, and awoke in new Delhi.

I stored my pack at Old Delhi station so I could spend the day looking around.

I walked around the central Rajiv Chowk, looking for an internet café. I found it, but it was just a computer and a printer; and they didn't serve coffee.

I had two very friendly people come up to me to chat.

"Where are you from?"

"Canada"

"French or English?"

Hmmm, I thought after speaking to the second one, that's odd that they both asked? I eventually figured out that it was their job to befriend tourists, recommend a shopping mall, and arrange to take you there.

I went back to the station to get my things, and then took the Metro to New Delhi station, where I boarded the 16h express train to Mumbai. This time I took AC Three Tier class, which is like Sleeper but with linens, food, and air conditioning.

When I boarded there was a guy in my seat talking to his friend. He seemed quite irate that I asked for my seat.

One of my fellow passengers was playing some nice Indian music softly. The guy in my seat pulled out his tablet and starts watching a movie at maximum volume. What a dick! Then he pulled out his phone and invited his friend to come join us from another car.

I sat by the window enjoying the view. Then in the reflection I noticed that this guy and his friend from the other car are making fun of me, my attire, and are planning a prank in which they will kick my bed all night and pour water on me. This was all in Hindi, of course, but the guy would make an excellent mime.

I asked the guy in the seat next to me, with whom the jerk was originally sitting, to tell his friend that he is being a cock, that I found it quite insulting, and that only an asshole would treat a guest to their country in this way. He spoke English, and had gone to college at Fanshawe in London Ontario. He said something to his friend, who looked a bit embarassed, and shut up for the rest of the night.

I woke up in Mumbai.

Day 15: Hot and Humid in the 'hood

Bannu feeds the neighbourhood dogs

Today was mainly a research and planning day.

I got the scoop on the Ali Salem Bird Sanctuary, the tigers waterfalls in the Mhadei Wildlife Reservation, some amazing roads to check out on the motorbike, and a train route that winds up the Western Ghats, through tropical rainforest. All are nearby.

For reference, pepper spray is available on Amazon.in, but anti-venom is not.

I went through the infuriating process of trying to get a (second) SIM card in India.

During a walk to the shops, Ulrike and I ran into Bannu, feeding the neighbourhood dogs. They all know to show up at 5:30 for chicken and rice.

Day 8: Laundry, Knives, Banks, and Film

Knife man!

Back in Guelph, on a hot summer's day, you may hear the sounds of bells ringing, gaining in volume. It's one of two people, the Dickie Dee (ice cream) boy, or the knife sharpener.

During morning tea we heard the bells and glanced up the street. A young man carried a welded steel frame with a grinding wheel and pedal — he is a knife sharperer. Note I said carried. I felt for the poor guy. If I had my tools with me I'd offer to weld on some wheels to this thing, probably 20kg or more. Ulrike rushed to the kitchen and returned with a handful of knives and an assignment.

Today was laundry day. We had both run out of underthings, and my whole wardrobe was ready for a wash. The little washing machine is the most high-tech device in the house. In the humid weather, the drier (clothes line) on the other hand, took quite a bit longer; so I spent most of the day in underwear.

After days of fighting with the Vodaphone SIM card, I gave in and went to the Vodaphone store. The girl at the desk confirmed that yes, it was weird that I had a signal, yet could not connect, but in a few minutes she diagnosed the problem. Although I had just added a INR 1250 data plan to the SIM, it needed at least 1 rupee on balance in order to connect to the network. Simple, yet absent from the FAQ and every search I tried.

While in the village I tried to withdraw money at the ATMs, having used my last 10 rupees to add to the Vodaphone card. A few days earlier I had pulled INR 10,000 out of an ATM in Bombay without difficulty, but for reason still unknown, it was not so easy here. After an hour and 8 banks, the ATMs read CALL BANK, an indication that my account was locked out.

That wasn't supposed to happen. I had called all of my banks before leaving Canada, ensuring they note the timeframe and destination of my travels. ScotiaBank assured me that if I encountered any problems, I need only call the number on the back of the card collect, and they would accept the charges. After 2 hours of trying I summized that if there was indeed a way of calling Canada from India collect, it was beyond my abilities. I couldn't even figure out the equivalent of dialling 0 to speak to an operator.

GOA Photo FestivalUlrike, her writer-friend Jessica, and I went to the 2015 Goa International Photo Festival. The exhibits included photos of India by Indians, winners of the World Press photojournalism awards, and other international photographers.

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