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Old 05-29-2009, 09:44 PM
 
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We (husband, 15 year old son and myself) went to China for two weeks last summer. We went to visit our daughter who was working there for a year. She was able to join us for a week, which was great since she spoke some Chinese. That was one of the biggest surprises- the lack of English speaking people. Not trying to sound like an ugly American but there were many situations where we panomined or got out our dictionary for help. I studied the language via Pimsleuer language CD's for about a month before we left and learned a few phrases but it wasn't easy.

Get a guide for Beijing. We used Qing Ye about me and she was wonderful. With her we were able to visit lots of places in a timely manner and her price was very reasonable. She took us to the pearl market and knew just what price we should bargain for- that was really, really helpful.

Smog was amazing, even at the great wall outside of Beijing.

Make sure to visit a regular grocery store, it's cool to see things that aren't especially touristy. We got some fun food to bring back for our co-workers at one.

Sounds like you are just going to city's. We mostly did too but one of our very favorite spots was Yangshuo in Southern China. Actually, it was THE favorite spot. We loved the scenery and rural areas.

I did a couple of reviews on tripadvisor. Same screen name.

I s
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Old 05-30-2009, 12:14 AM
 
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uho~~welcome to china
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Old 06-01-2009, 12:50 AM
 
Location: Out there somewhere...a traveling man.
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When we were in Bejing we experienced what most are saying. We visited Tianamen Square and The Forbidden Cty and it's Palaces. These are musts for tourists and easy to get to. Outside of Bejing we went to The Great Wall and back to the Ming tombs, both which you should also visit.
We spent a few days just walking around the city and seeing what the real life is. Some place you can bargain, many you cannot. Most tourist/gift shops are government owned and set on their price. Most items from soap to watches are fake copycats of American products so watch closely what you buy.
You can arrange tours with English speaking guides from your hotel.
As far as food, the variety is the same as the US. Try local first and if you're home sick for food there's the usual McDonalds, Wendy's, KFC, and a host of other US franchised outlets.
The smog is a crapshoot, somedays bad somedays worse. Many people wear face maskes. We didn't.
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Old 06-01-2009, 04:13 PM
 
Location: Bike to Surf!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hotlanta2 View Post
Myself, my husband and my beautiful daughter are all traveling to China this summer. We are only going for a very quick in and out trip to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. I have traveled extensively in the Middle East, Europe, Russia, South Africa and the Carb. Islands.
If there's any flexibility in your plans, try to visit the Republic of China (ROC), aka Formosa, aka Taiwan. Taipei is an amazing city. Taiwan is a firmly first-world country somewhere on the scale between Malaysia and Japan. It has all the pleasures and culture of China minus the kitch, pandering, rip-offs, and the systematic destruction of heritage that was the "Cultural Revolution" in the PRC.

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I have no idea what to expect when we visit China. Since we are only going to be traveling for 10 -12 days our time will be limited in each city. Our budget is pretty open.
Well, then you can spend a LOT of money. I recommend you set a budget before you go.

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I am imploring of everyone here to please give me their best advice on what to see,
The question's not really WHAT to see, but HOW to see it. You will run across a billion tour agencies in every city who will take you to this that and the other cultural heritage something-or-other. About 98% of these package tours will try to include stops at scam "native villages", "silk factories" or what-have-you. For instance, in Yangshuo, which another poster mentioned, there is a tour which includes a ride down the famous Li river past beautiful Karst formations, a visit to an historic Buddhist temple, and a cavern walk under one of the mountains. Sounds great, but the "Buddhist Monks" will exhort you to buy a plastic good-luck trinket for obscene amounts of money and threaten you with bad luck if you decline (a very disturbing experience for a practicing Buddhist, though someone of a different religion can just laugh it off), the cavern is lit by kitchy flashing colored lights and 20 minutes of the hour walk is through a maze of tables of fake jade, and the busses to these sites stop every 20 minutes for you to pee and, oh yeah, look through another shop filled with "authentic" trinkets while your transportation vanishes for 45 minutes.

Now, you can go and enjoy one or two of these tours if you understand how the scams and kickback schemes work, but it gets tiring after a while. If you're on a nice big budget, say with maybe RMB 500+ to spare every day, then a good idea is to hire a car and driver for the day (or for the visit to the city). Tell him the sights you want to see and see what suggestions he has as to when to visit (when is it crowded, when is it closed).

If you go this route, you should not be shy to tell him upfront that you don't want (or if you do, you do want) to visit any "silk factories" or take any side trips. Also don't be shy to walk out on him if he disregards your instructions. There's lots of cabs in every major city to take you back to your hotel, a coffeeshop, or a resturant to regroup.

You can try booking tours and excursions through your hotel, you might have more luck if you're staying with international chains. Then again, the cardinal rule in China is to trust no one and nothing. The only way to garantee you won't get scammed is to do everything yourself. That's not really possible unless you're Chinese, so just try to do as much for yourself as you can. It's more fun that way and you'll experience more of the "real" China rather than an endless string of pandering touts.

Walk, take the metro, take a cab. Be sure to always tell the cabbie to go on the meter and hop right back out (or don't get in) if he tries to tell you a set price rather than punching the meter.

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what to avoid,
Don't drink the water. Bottled water, boiled water. Don't worry about the heavy metals that might be in the tea, you need long-term exposure to see any real effects (tea is safe and enjoyable in other words). Never pay asking price UNLESS it's a really cute old grandma with no teeth who quotes it to you in an almost-whispered voice from her chair while giving you a squinty gummy smile and going "tee hee hee". Then you're forgiven for not haggling.

DO NOT TRUST PACKAGED FOOD. EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING in China is knocked-off. If you buy packaged food, "guess by price" which means that the lowest price is most likely to be made with toxic chemicals (like that milk that killed all those kids). Aim for mid-range as high-priced imports are also common targets for the poison factories. Even though we're RTW'ers and we have extensive experience with China, we still occasionally run across a bag of chips that induces stomach pains, nausea, and the like.

Don't buy hard seat tickets on a 20-hour K-class train. That's an ordeal even the locals avoid. I don't think that will be an issue for you, though.

Try not to eat at empty resturants, they're empty for a reason. Avoid buffets (or any other food) that has been sitting out all day under warming lamps.

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what scams are out there
Every one you can possibly imagine and three million more besides. The best rule of thumb is to rember this phrase; "If I want it, I'll find you." If you want something, go find someone to get it/do it for you. Anyone who comes up out of the blue and offers you something is a tout or a con artist.

Touts: Cabbies who hang out at train/bus/air stations and approach foreigners without being asked, anyone with a clipboard and an "offical nametag" who can arrange a tour for you, etc. Touts are sometimes helpful, often harmless, and always selling something at a higher price than you can find on your own. On rare occasions they'll lead you somewhere uncomfortable. A polite "Boo youm, shea shea" and a shake of the head should be enough to get rid of them. Or a simple "no thanks". Or you can lie and say you've already done that tour or paid for your hotel so you aren't interested in theirs. They'll vanish like smoke.

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and what to BUY! I'm interested in clothes and designer purses, shoes and jewelry.
There is no point in buying designer anything in China as it is all fake. What is not fake is more expensive than at home. That said, do buy fake designer everything then watch in amusment as your friends eyes bug out when you scribble your name in red marker on your brand-new LV purse or Gucci handbag. Hee hee.

Unlike some countries, the prettier the store, the fakier the fake. Where do you think they got all the money for those marble floors? Why, from selling tourists like you strings of glass pearls. A dead giveaway is a salesperson trying to convince you that it's real without you even asking. The favorite method in markets is the "burn test" where they cook the pearls, purse, or shoes in a lighter flame. Just smile and ask for 1/3 of what they initially want.

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Also anything religious and meaningful to see or to talk to (my son died at 17 a few years ago, I am searching ways to reach him)
It ain't through a fake Buddhist monk, let me tell ya. Sadly, religion is one of the fake commodities being peddled nowadays. You might beat your way to some forbidden corner of Tibet and find a few monks in a hardscrabble monastary who could help you, but don't even bother anywhere within a day's travel of the major cities.

Do find a temple that doesn't charge an entry fee. Do take a few sticks of burning incense (it should also be free, but please drop a few yuan in the donation box) before the Buddha. Buddha is the one in the middle. Pass the outer wall, pass any side-buildings, Buddha will be at the end of whatever walk you take in from the entrance. No pictures please. Say a silent prayer or your son and anyone or anything else that you feel. Press your hands together at the palms with fingers pointing up (hold the incense pressed between your hands) while you pray. Bow to the Buddha (some say three times, but it's just to show respect, a tiny bob or two is fine), place the incense in the pot of sand filled with burnt-out incense sticks using your LEFT hand. Make your donation if you feel like it, and leave when you are ready. You can pray to whomever you want, you don't need to be a Buddhist or even talk to Buddha if something else is more meaningful to you.

Buddha is usually the thin one with the knobbly head. The fat jolly one is one of the Buddahs, but not usually the one in the temple. You can pray to him too if you want. Usually right in front of a resturant. Haha.

Make some Chinese happy and bow (and pray) very subtly and briefly (hands pressed) to their shrine or Buddha in their family resturant or shop. Depending on their religion, it may be a shrine to Buddha (sky god) or their ancestors, or both. Sky god (Buddha) is usually on the right and ancestors on the left in a joint family shrine. Shrines usually look like little (or big) birdhouses with pictures or Buddhas inside. Red and gold are the usual colors and red lights often adorn them.

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and I am terrified about the food!
My daughter only eats little bites of chicken and veggies, but I'm open to anything really - but not bugs or brain. What is the drinking age there? She's 18.
The food is excellent. Second only to Taiwan. There's always a chicken with fried rice, or fried noodle dish for the unadventurous. Bugs are the domain of the Vietnamese and Cambodians. Ugh. Brains, blood, guts, heart, liver, bones, feet, necks, tongues (as in Duck Tongues--they're amazingly long!) are all up for grabs. Sometimes I think that the only part the Chinese don't eat is the good stuff--the cuts that make steaks and hams get ground up with gelatin into beef, pork, and fishballs. Weird.

Blood comes in jelled form. That's not black tofu, it's pig's blood. You'll often find chicken feet sticking out of a big pot of soup. Tofu is always easy and wonderful--except when it's "pungent" or stinky tofu. You can try a taste of this, but I wouldn't recommend a whole dish. I'll eat anything, but that stuff just tastes like horse poop. No two ways about it, and I don't enjoy gulping down a dish while holding my breath so as to taste it as little as possible.

Try jellyfish. Get those slimy buggers back for stinging you! Tastes like crunchy nothing.

Squid is ubiquitous and yummy if a little chewy. Do eat from street vendors, but not fruit. Pick one that has a merrily boiling kettle of oil and get some deep-fried tofu and pork balls on a stick for starters. If you get more adventurous, just make sure that the water is boiling, the oil is crackling, or there's not too much wind blowing the BBQ heat away from the skewers. You get to watch it happen so you are probably safer with street vendor food than most resturants. If you don't like how it's cooked, don't eat it or ask them to cook it more.

Drinking age is pretty much whenever. However, bars and clubs are just poor duplicates of their Western counterparts. They're full of foreigners and Chinese trying to act like western hip-hoppers. If you (and/or your daughter) want to drink like the Chinese, get 5-10 people together. Go to a resturant and order about 15 dishes (shared amongst everyone) and 3-4 bottles of whiskey or other strong spirit. You should get little thimble-sized glasses along with the bottles. You can bring your own liquor for an extra charge. Make sure everyone's glass is full, and start toasting. Call the person's name. When they look up, raise your glass in both hands and declare "GAN-BEI!" (Pronounced: Gaaan-bay!) meaning "dry glass" and drain your shot. Eat some, make another toast. Answer toasts. Eat more. By the end everyone should be happily and loudly drunk and full.

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We have a bit of money to spend, but we do not know what is worth seeing and spending out money on. (Think less than a grand for each purchase, preferable just in the hundreds.) The cheaper the better.
Is there any one item in China worth USD 1000? I sure haven't found it. Not even the cars. Get cheap stuff. And haggle that. Silk lanterns are pretty and cheap. They're almost too pretty to haggle about, but do anyway. Tailored clothing is good.

A good tailor shop should have staff on hand and be able to go over the design you want in the morning (you pick design from a magazine, feel free to mix-and-match collars, pockets, etc, then pick fabric and liner from their stock in the store, buttons are usually up to them, but tell them the general idea of what you want), have it ready for fitting by mid-afternoon, and have all the final adjustments made by that night. Good quality ladies jackets made from wool or common materials should run (well) under USD 50. Fancier men's stuff and bamboo or cashmere fabrics will be more, but not too much more. bamboo fabric falls apart fast, so be warned.

Handicrafts, wall scrolls, table cloths/runners with pretty embroidery. Silk everything. This is all available in abundance. Quality is pretty poor, though, so don't pay much. If you look like a poor westerner you'll be quoted about triple the realistic price. If you look rich, the sky's the limit.

Even if you hate haggling, try it. A beginner's guide:

Figure out beforehand how much you're willing to pay. Also try to guess how much it's worth. You can ask price a few times to get an idea what the shop-shop variation is. You'll see the same item again, I garantee it. Try not to haggle below USD 1, c'mon, you can afford that much. Unless it's just nothing like a crummy key chain, then try to get multiples.


1) Ask the price.
2) Ask if you can have it for 1/3 to 1/2 the quoted price. The answer will be no, maybe they knock off 10%.
3) Ask for their best price. Now you'll get 10-20% off.
4) Come back with a little more than your first offer. Now you should see about 50% off and they'll say "last price" or tell you they're selling at a loss because you are "luck customer".
5) Add a few more % to your last offer and say that's the best you can do. They'll come down a little more.

Depending on how the haggling went and the distance between you and them, you can go back and forth, letting them inch you up until you hit compromise or you can smile, thank them, and make to walk away. That usually gets you an acceptance of your price maybe plus a yuan or two more. Of course, you have to follow through on the walkaway if they don't come down, so it's a risky tactic. Except that the exact same item is for sale 20 feet away.

We haggle everything from food (not resturants!), to tickets, to lodging. But we speak Chinese and we are hard hagglers because our budget is very small, so we walk away more often than not because what they can afford to sell at is higher than we can afford to pay. You can be happy hagglers, just be SURE you want the thing before you start haggling. Sometimes you get your first asking price!

Language is no barrier though. Almost all merchants have a calculator. They type a number, you type a number. Always smile. Good jokes will bring them down to a compromise faster. Laugh with good humor if they offer to sell you 1/3 of a hat for your first quote. Sometimes you'll hear a new and clever joke that makes it worth buying at a higher price.

Don't haggle tagged items, but you can ask if they offer a discount.

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I'm excited and well, EXCITED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What type of religion do most Chinese practice?
You should be. China's fun! A mix of Buddhism and Chinese Traditional Religion.

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Is there any particular place that is a must see?
Forbidden City. Great Wall. Shanghai overall.

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We love opulent things, kind, loving people, plays and music.
Plenty of shows. Some more authentic than others. The good news is that you probably can't tell the difference. Opulent places have been damaged by the Cultural Revolution, so you might have to look to newer places for that (big new hotels, things of that nature).

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I'm a hugger and toucher, will that be a problem?
Yes. Most Chinese aren't big on being touched by strange westerners. However, if you want personal contact, just elbow your way into line at any train or bus line (que). If that's not enough, stand in front of the window when it's your turn to talk to the attendant and say something other than "two tickets to Shanghai soft sleeper class at 12:45" like "um" or "what time does..." and you're sure to feel a little presence at your side as someone pushes in next to you waving money and shouting orders at the clerk.

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July 17 - July 30th.
It is going to be hot hot hot!

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Also, what type of foods are available and what type of beer or alcohol is available?
Everything under the sun. You can eat TGIF, Fridays, and Ruth Chris the whole time if you want. Steamed rice is a filler and usually not ordered at big meals (because it makes the host look cheap), but I love the stuff. Rice and noodles of any kind are cheap and can be meant as a single-person dish. Other dishes on the menu are usually meant to be shared. They're put on a round pedastal on the table and you spin it until the dish you want is in front of you. Works best when eating out with 5+ people.

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Please - feel free to suggest anything - we are open to anything!
Get "hot pot" at least once. It's cook-your-own soup. Wait until it (the big bowl of soup) boils, then add the plate of meats they set in front of you. Then add the noodles, then the vegetables. Order more of anything if you're not full when you've ladled the stuff in the main bowl into everyone's little bowls.

Have fun!!
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Old 06-03-2009, 02:09 PM
 
Location: Olympus Mons, Mars
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great writeup azoria, good information...I plan to visit China next year!
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Old 06-04-2009, 06:42 AM
 
Location: Hong Kong
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I'll give you some HK info. As you are probably aware it's technically part of China but it's really it's own city-state. It's very different from the rest of China - a very unique hybrid of East meets West. In HK much of what has been said about China doesn't apply. For example, you aren't likely to get scammed or ripped-off, English is far more widely spoken (though don't expect everyone to know it) and the water is safe to drink.

Accommodation is very expensive. If you have the money, I'd suggest the Intercontinental in Tsim Sha Tsui. It'd probably set you back $300-$400 a night but you won't find much below $200 in HK anyway. It's in a fantastic location on the harbour front and is absolutely beautiful.

HK can be daunting for the first time visitor because of its sheer size and density, but is very easy to get around using public transport, particularly the MTR. Get a good map from your hotel!! An absolute must. The MTR exits are well labelled so you can see exactly which exit to take for what.

I'm guessing you won't have much more than a couple of days, so I'd suggest:

* Peak tram up to the Peak. Tram terminus can be reached from Central station. Exit is labelled.
* Eat at Cafe Deco on the Peak (opp. top of peak tram). Absolutely gorgeous views at night and the food is pretty good to. If you can't afford that grab a coffee at the Pacific coffee outlet up there which also has fab views.
* Catch the star ferry over to Central (or over to Tsim Sha Tsui if you are staying Central side).
* In central, follow the signs to the mid-levels escalator (access from Queens Rd central) and head up to SoHo. Great places to eat and drink for lunch and dinner. SoHo has great lunch sets. I highly recommend Vivo on Elgin St - absolutely beautiful.
* Walk along Hollywood Rd (passes through SoHo) and check out Cat St (Upper Lascar Row on maps) market for 'antiques'.
* Temple St night markets. Catch MTR to Yau Ma Tei station. Exit is labelled.
* Starbucks on the TST waterfront (to the right of the Intercontinental if you are facing the hotel) has an upstairs outdoor deck which has a brilliant view of the harbour. I'm no fan of Starbucks coffee but it's a great place to go to chill with a cold drink.
* Get on any tram heading to Happy Valley from Des Voeux Rd Central (runs parallel to Queens Rd Central - just walk down Pedder St). Sit upstairs. They will take you through Wan Chai and Causeway Bay which are mad busy. It's a fantastic way to see the city. Don't pay for the open top tourist bus - this is much better!

If you have three days, head over to Lantau Island (MTR to Tung Chung) and jump on a BUS up to the Big Buddha at Ngong Ping. I say bus because they usher everyone onto that damned gondola but the bus is so much more fun and you get to see the island which is gorgeous. After the big buddha eat at the buddhist restaurant at Po Lin monastery. I promise you this is the best vegan food you will ever taste. Then catch a bus from Ngong Ping to Tai O fishing village. Finally, get the bus from Tai O to Mui Wo beach for sundown drinks before heading back to Central on the ferry.

Have fun! I don't know about China but HK is one of the most fun places you can visit.
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