Odds & Ends
Holidays: Festivals are a joyous part Chinese culture and tradition, occasions when the people celebrate ancient beliefs and customs. The most important is the Spring Festival, celebrating the Chinese New Year. During the Spring Festival all of China officially closes down for four days, although celebrations can last for over two weeks. The dates of traditional Chinese festivals depend on the lunar calendar, which changes every year, but festivals associated with communism are generally fixed in the Western calendar.
Haggling: Except at grocery stores and large malls, you can haggle with shop owners on almost every purchase, and on visits to the famous street markets, negotiating the price is a must! A safe price to start with at open markets is 10 times less than what the shopkeeper originally offers. Decide how much you are willing to pay ahead of time, be firm, and if you don’t get your asking price walk away.
Wi-Fi: Lots of restaurants and shopping malls have free Wi-Fi available but you will have to ask the wait-staff for the password. Fast free Wi-Fi is also available at any Starbucks. Internet cafes are few and far between, so if you are in a pinch and really need to use a computer, it is best to visit the business center of a large hotel chain. If you have your own computer or personal device, a local will most likely be able to direct you to the nearest spot with free Wi-Fi.
Cell Phones: The best option for a temporary stay in Beijing is to purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card. You can put your Chinese SIM card in your American phone but carrying an iPhone or an expensive smartphone around Beijing can be hazardous, as petty thieves in the subway could snatch it out of your hands or pockets. Travelers to Beijing may be better off investing in an inexpensive Chinese phone. You can purchase a simple cell phone at any phone retailer (usually you can find one every few blocks) for around $30.00 USD. SIM recharge cards can be purchased in 50 RMB (approximately $8.00 USD) increments that will last you several weeks, depending on how often you need to use your phone.
Business Cards: The exchange of business cards constitutes a standard greeting procedure in China. It is advisable to bring plenty of your own business cards over with you, or find a local print shop and get some made up once you are over there and have set up your Chinese phone number.
Unexpected Attention: Don’t be alarmed or surprised if as a Westerner or non-Chinese you get stared at by locals. At some of the bigger tourist destinations, you may even be asked to take a picture with provincial families that rarely see foreigners. Don’t worry, they’re just curious!
Finding Friends: Beijing locals are very friendly and almost always interested in practicing their English. It is not uncommon for locals to approach Westerners and strike up a conversation in shaky English, handing over a business card and asking for your email so that they can keep in touch and practice their English. If you are looking to connect with other expats, The Beijinger is a good place to look for fun events and happy hours at Westerner-friendly bars and restaurants.
Reading/News: There is a foreign language bookstore on Wangfujing shopping street that has a large stock of books in English (as well as other languages). They also have Western magazines such as Vogue, Time, and The Economist. The Bookworm, located just outside Sanlitun Village, is another spot to find something to read in English. Also, the New York Times has launched a Chinese website that can be a good source for online reading materials and news.
Health and Wellness: You can find a list of clinics and hospitals here. International SOS is a helpful service provided to students by many college or university healthcare plans and is also available for purchase.
Credit Cards: Always carry some cash with you, as smaller establishments will often not accept credit cards, whether foreign or domestic.