1. Most Useful Apps For Getting Around- We found that the most useful Apps to have are Wechat (Weixin), Pleco,and Youdao on your smartphone.
Wechat - Is useful because everyone in Beijing has one, and will add you on there as a contact instead of giving a phone number. It acts as a platform for free calling, text, and video-calling internationally. You can also send someone your location with the app which is helpful since google maps does not work here without VPN(without a VPN, you cannot access many sites blocked in China like Google, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and some other sites, mainly social media platforms are blocked).
Pleco- is an app that is the best Chinese to English dictionary I have used. For $10 US, you can upgrade (which is very extremely helpful) to get the camera option and translate right at that moment.
Youdao- Is great if you have long paragraphs of text to translate. (Also alongside this, the way that my roommate and I get around, is that we carry notebooks in our bags with some key terms and phrases we have collected over time. While we have memorized most of these phrases and know what to say for some situations, it is nice to have something to reference.)
2. The Bathroom Situation- In China and in many other countries in Asia, the toilets are squatting toilets.
This means that instead of a toilet to sit on, there is (for lack of better descriptions), a stall with a hole that you squat over. While many of the newer buildings do have western style toilets, the less modern ones have these available. Also public bathrooms in the hutongs (the small streets/ alleys in china) will have these squatting toilets.
Also sometimes there is not any toilet paper in the bathroom at all and you are expected to bring your own personal pack of disposable tissues/ toilet paper (which most people do, so it is very important to have on hand in case) to these stalls. Sometimes there is soap but, it is highly recommended that you pack your own hand sanitizer bottle and/ or hand wipes for public restrooms.
3. Language- While I was told that I could take weekly language lessons during my co-op it is important that before you come you develop a basic understanding of Mandarin.
Not many people in Beijing speak English ( some young people can speak English, not so much the older generation). I have become comfortable with some basic questions and how to get around within a month with pinyin.
4. The People are Amazing- Within my short time here, I really have come to appreciate how kind, hardworking, and good-hearted everyone is here.
It is difﬁcult when you ﬁrst start out, without being able to express yourself to others because of the language barrier. It is sometimes a challenge to express your basic needs and wants at times, but most people in Beijing are very relaxed. They will work with you and listen when you ask for directions or have questions.
It is important stay calm when you get stuck, and if you make a mistake to take it easy on one’s self. Remain positive and take each experience as a learning experience, remember to smile and try to break down want to know in simpler terms in Mandarin. If you are corrected, simply take note of what vocabulary worked, and what didn’t prevent it from happening again.
5. Safety - If traveling through Beijing from 8am - 12pm you will be perfectly ﬁne, it really depends where you are traveling( in my opinion).
It is fairly peaceful and not many pickpockets (especially compared to European countries I have visited). Just mind your belongings and don’t leave anything loose.
6. Cabs- Avoid black cabs (My coordinator warned me of this during orientation) because they might try to raise the price after you arrive at your destination.
Personal Experience- About 2 weeks ago I encountered a black cab when I was trying to call a cab, the driver tried calling me over. He then show me a subway receipt in English, (he pointed to the word Taxation) and claimed it was his cab license..
7. Shopping- Large malls are usually for luxury items and have foreign imports.
Besides supermarkets or these malls it is ﬁne to bargain if the store is outside or if you are in a touristy area. The prices are usually inﬂated. The only time people try to take your money (most people will not try to steal from you)is usually through inﬂating the price. There are many lovely streets and fun ﬁnds in China, you can ﬁnd some really great ﬁnds. My favorite place so far is Qianmen.
8. Air Quality - I already knew about this one, but it is a good one to know.
Living in the same city you become aware of the effect of air pollution and the source of the pollution becomes more noticeable.
Main reasons for pollution:
-It is densely populated.
-The surrounding provinces manufacture and the wind brings the pollution. A lot of heavy manufacturing has been pushed out of Beijing in recent years.
-Many places use charcoal and burn ﬁrewood as both a source of warmth and to cook (the air quality drops signiﬁcantly in the summer time because of this).
However, the people in Beijing are taking progressive measures to increase both awareness and improve the health of their environment through initiatives, and events found throughout the city. If you are interested in coming Beijing, bring breathing masks(I recommend 3M brand) to combat the pollution, and since the air is very dry, to bring pack or purchase (when you arrive ) lots of moisturizers (ex: lip balm, body lotion, face lotion).
Blog Post by Joan Suh- Fashion Intern from Drexel University