Tips and Tricks for China

Hi everyone! Sorry I’m a little behind on blogging! I’ve been having such a great time here in Shanghai, that sometimes I forget to share what’s going on with my friends and family back home, but now I’m catching up! I’ve now been in Shanghai for a month and four days, and I can honestly say it feels like I arrived just yesterday. Every day brings a new experience or a new memory, and I’m ever so grateful I got to come back and experience this city for a second time. Since I’ve been here for a while now, I have some tips and tricks of things I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks. Here’s a list of tips I’ve picked up over the course of my time here:

Tip #1: Make sure you always have a water on you. Since we can’t drink the tap water here, a lot of students go to our local on-campus store to purchase large water jugs or buy them from the cafeteria. The air here can be extremely dry at times and it’s nice to have a water on the go.

Tip #2: Even if you don’t speak Chinese a lot of locals appreciate the effort and are quick to help English speakers. There have been many times we’ve gotten confused with directions or struggled to find something, and even though I speak Chinese along with a couple of other people it can be hard to communicate what we’re thinking at times.

Tip #3: If you want a seat on the metro RUN! The metro can get very crowded, sometimes you barely have breathing room, but when a seat opens up you’ll need to hustle in order to get it. The locals always make a mad dash for open seats, and it’s kind of funny seeing everyone dart over.

Tip #4: Find alternatives to rice. We live right across from the cafeteria, and rice is literally served for every meal. While there are always different alternatives, it can be hard to find something else especially when convenience takes priority. My suggestion is to increase your fruit intake, skip the rice for some meals, and definitely venture out to random restaurants as you may never know what you’ll find.

Tip #5: Become a tea drinker. Tea is served a lot with drinks, and I wasn’t someone that was big on tea at home, but now I find myself walking to a teahouse or a bubble tea shop in order to get one. There are a variety of flavors and add-ins, and you’ll never be bored with whatever you try. The other day I tried an Osmanthus tea and although I didn’t know what I was ordering it was actually pretty good!

Tip #6: Go above and beyond when trying to locate a taxi. A lot of taxi drivers don’t like to pick up foreigners because they don’t speak the language, but if you flag them down with rapid arm movements they’ll eventually pull over. It also helps to have your destination written in Chinese on your phone to make it easier for them to find. Also, if someone in your group has a Chinese bankcard they can download the Didi Chuxing app which is like Uber.

Tip #7: Download your VPN and WeChat before you get to China. Some students mentioned that it was extremely hard to do both upon arrival, so I definitely recommend doing it before. A lot of us use Express VPN and while you have to pay for it, my connection is still pretty good and I can always contact my friends and family if need be. Also, WeChat has changed my life! It’s probably one of my new favorite apps, and is used for virtually everything here! Imagine Facebook meets Twitter and Instagram – that’s basically what WeChat is. It’s a great way to build your network, and meet people from all over the world. On my WeChat I’ve added people from South Korea, Japan, Pakistan, the UK, Dubai and many other places!

Tip #8: Try everything! No matter how unfamiliar a dish may look, I guarantee it won’t be bad. I’m someone that hates mushrooms, but at some Chinese restaurants they put these silky black mushroom, known as black fungus, in dishes and I accidentally tried one and it actually wasn’t bad! That isn’t to say you should shove everything in your mouth, but sometimes you have to take a risk.

Tip #9: TRAVEL! Unfortunately, we didn’t get multiple entry visas, but there are still a lot of great places to travel within mainland China. As a group we went to two water towns in Suzhou and Zhujiajiao. Later on we’ll be going to Hangzhou and Beijing, and some people individually are going to the Yellow Mountains (the movie Avatar was inspired by them), Xi’an, and Nanjing.

Tip #10: Always be cautious about your surroundings and don’t go places alone! While we’ve had nothing bad happen to anyone on this trip, I just find it a good idea to always travel in either a group or with a few people. There’s strength in numbers, and it can never hurt to be a little extra careful. Also, if you’re wondering why I have my backpack on the front of my body in the cover photo, that’s a big trend here! Besides it being a fashion statement, it can be nice for the crowded metro so you don’t get pickpocketed (not that you will).

Those are some of my tips, and now here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been doing here. Classes have been going well so far, and my courses are pretty interesting and are shaped around my interests which is cool. Yesterday, we visited Sun Yat-sen’s home and memorial which was really interesting as he’s referred to the “Father of the Nation” in the Republic of China (now China is governed as the People’s Republic of China).

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Sun Yat-sen (孫中山)

We visited the Shanghai Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs, and they were so impressive! 10/10 would recommend to anyone. Also, as I stated earlier, rice is EVERYWHERE. While the meals we’ve been having are delicious, sometimes you just want a little piece of home. We’ve been craving western breakfast foods and Mexican food (our Chipotle/Qdoba alternative), so we’ve visited a couple breakfast spots called Mr. Pancake House and Al’s Diner. At the pancake house I got chicken and waffles, and it was so good my taste buds will never be the same (I might have teared up when they brought my plate out). The two Mexican restaurants we enjoy are called Pistolera and Zapata’s and I haven’t been disappointed there either. Four great establishments I highly recommend.

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Chicken and Waffles from Mr. Pancake House

My family came to visit me for about 4 days, and that was honestly one of the greatest experiences ever. I got to show them around the city, and we spent quality time together as they got to see what I’d been doing for a few weeks.

Almost every day my roomie Jolena and I look each other in the eyes and think, “wow, we’re in China”. It still seems so unreal, and even though we’ve more than adjusted it’s a surreal experience every time I open my eyes in the morning. I know this was a long post, so if you made it to the end you’re a champ! Thanks for following my journey and stay tuned! Later this week I’ll be going to a catwalk show for Shanghai Fashion Week along with Shanghai Disneyland! See ya next time!

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Jo and I