Friday, 16 January 2009

9 Tips for Newbies (and Travellers) going to China

Some useful tips for students (and others) who are about to travel to Beijing for the coming semester (Feb). It will also come in handy for travellers as well!
  1. Get a transport card - you can buy one at the subway station - it's very convenient to use it to pay the subway and the bus fares. You can refill the cards at the subway stations and won't have to line up each time you need to buy a ticket.
  2. Girls should always carry tissues in their bags (might be a good tip for guys as well??) - public in China don't usually come with toilet paper, well, at least they didn't before the Olympics - things may have changed??
  3. For those from countries like Australia, the cars in China drive on the left hand-side of the road, so do take care when you cross the road! Actually, everyone should extra take care when they cross the road - you'll understand when you get there!
  4. If you have decided to buy a bike whilst in Beijing, buy 1-2 good chains to protect your bike. New bikes get stolen all the time. 

  5. Bargain, bargain, bargain! - everywhere you go, except the supermarket and food stalls. In department stores, it never hurts to ask for a discount. When bargaining (in places like Silk Street), I always start with 10-20% of the price, but always do it with a smile. Never let on that you like the product. Criticize it - saying that you really want another colour, say that's it's too expensive, you're a poor student, etc, etc. If you've reached your limit, be prepared to walk away. Most likely the vendor will call you back for more bargaining. Yes, it's a tiring process and I used to hate it - until I think of it as a game and a chance to practise my Chinese. It's very important to keep the bargaining good natured and smile - you're more likely to get your way. 
  6. Your favourite website may not be accessible in China. No worries! In this case, you can use a "proxy server" - the ones I used doesn't seem to be available at the moment. I found this one: If you're in China, may be you could check it out to see if it works & let us know? Thanks!

  7. Have an open mind & get out there and have fun! China is a whole new experience, but you'll find a lot of the Chinese generally very friendly and willing to help. The younger ones can probably speak, or at least understand a bit of English  although they may be a bit shy speaking it. 
  8. I do find that I didn't have a lot of problems, especially in the city, but do still be careful have your wits about you, especially when you go to a small town, particularly near railway stations. There are a lot of touts trying to take you to places that you may not want to go, and a friend got cheated by a shoe-cleaning lady who refused to give her change from a big note. It wasn't a lot of money (for us), but does ruin your day. 
  9. Buy the Lonely Planet China before you go.  It's not available in China, and I wasn't able to find another alternative there that is just as good and I really wished that I had a copy! 
Well, that's it for now. If anyone out there have any tips to add, please feel free to do so via the comment section. 

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Immersion's Guide Mandarin Phrasebook

Yes, another ad! : )

This is the Phrasebook I used when I was studying in Beijing and found it to be very useful, especially for a person who will be living in Beijing (or China) for a period of time, and this is who the book is written for. 

Other than the usual pronunciation guides, grammar, and basic greeting phrases, what I found most useful about the book is that it also have very useful phrases that you're likely to need in your everyday life in China - things like searching for a home/apartment, negotiating the lease, booking a hotel room, how to make restaurant reservations and order food, applying for a job, etc.

There are also other interesting sections - eg. how to express/reject love, clubbing, emotions, body parts (which came in very useful when needing to go to the doctor's), what to do when you get a visit from the police (you never know, it could happen!). 

All in all, a very useful book. I even used it a few times as a quick reference dictionary. Highly recommended!

Streetwise Guide: Beijing

Ok, this is an ad, but I wouldn't recommend it unless I thought it was useful! : )

I used this guide when I was in Beijing quite extensively. I did also bring a Beijing Lonely Planet with me when I went to study in China. The Lonely Planet is very useful for a traveller, but I found it wasn't enough for someone who will be living in Beijing, or visiting for a period of time. 

The book is quite comprehensive, is printed in colour, has lots of beautiful colour photos, but not too big or heavy - you'll be able to carry it around with you in your bag. 

I think the best thing about it is that there is a very useful colour co-ordinated maps of the different districts of Beijing. eg. "Academic Northwest", "Historical Central", "Arty" Northeast, etc, as well as a very handy map of the subway system in Beijing. Another thing I found useful is that the book also tells you the major bus routes. There are maps with bus routes available that you can buy in Beijing - but they are in Chinese! 

Different districts are covered in Area Guides. Information contained include:
  • "Sightseeing" - Info on important places to visit, how to get there - ie. bus routes, subway lines (and names of stations written in Chinese), entrance fees and map of the place if appropriate. 
  • "Food and entertainment" section that has a restaurant guide and bar listing with price range. 
  • "Shopping" and "Accommodation" guide
  • Suggested Itineraries for each district - very useful for exploring Beijing! 
  • "Bus Details" - major bus stops in the districts and useful bus routes - very useful if you don't want to take taxis all the time! 

There is also a great introduction. Topics include:
  • "Best of Beijing" - information and colour pictures on the "must see" places to visit.
  • "Art and Culture" 
  • "Food and Drink" - including a picture menu with names written in Chinese, and price guide- very  handy, especially if you can't speak Chinese to begin with, and even then, I found it hard to remember name of dishes. 
  • "Sports and Entertainment" - includes info or martial arts, bars & nightclubs, cinemas, etc
Travellers' Survival Guide
Lots of information in this section including:
  • "Planning your trip" - Visas, Insurance, Budgetting, What to pack
  • "Getting Around" - Airport shuttle bus, Subway guide, buses, taxis, bicycles
  • "Useful Information" - Banking, Communications, Health, Toilets, Security, Shopping Tips (include info on common prices - very handy to get a rough idea so you don't get ripped off), etc, etc
  • Language Guide - there is a few pages on useful phrases, but if you'll be in Beijing for a while, I would recommend a separate phrase book. 
So, I would highly recommend this book if you'll be going to Beijing to study, work, or even if you plan to stay in Beijing for an extended period of time. It'll make life a lot easier and more enjoyable! 

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Envelopes of Love – a project to help support the children survivors of Sichuan Earthquak

Video Tribute to the victims, survivors and rescuers of the Sichuan Earthquake.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? "Envelopes of Love" is a project founded by a friend of mine. The aim of the project is to provide support to children affected by the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, China. You can help! And no, she doesn't want your money!

For me at least, the earthquake seems like a lifetime ago. Even though I was in China when it happened, and have seen many days of footage of the devastation the earthquake caused, and even wrote a little about it in this blog, life goes on and I have forgotten about it all. However, for those affected by the earthquake, life will never be the same.Many children lost their lives. Many children who survived found that they have lost everything – their parents, their homes. What makes it even more tragic is that the earthquake struck when the children were at school, and many school building collapsed. Many children did not survive.

The "Envelopes of Love" Project aims to support the children who survived, to show them that there are friends who do care for them and their happiness. All that is asked of us is to send a message of support to the children. Guidelines include:

1.            The message should be uplifting, and not remind the recipients of

the pain.

2.            Refrain from any religious expressions.

3.            Use more drawings and colors than words because the students are

young -  from 8 to 14 years old.

4.            Don't include any contact details in case some people may decide to

ask for money donation.

The project committee members will send the cards to the children once a month.

For more information and contact details, please see:

Report on Channel News Asia:


Monday, 25 August 2008

继续学习汉语- Continuing to learn Mandarin

It's been nearly two months since I left Beijing, and it's been a nice break from studying, but my Chinese is also going downhill. I'm already starting to forget how to write Chinese. Apart from emailing or skype chatting to my BLCU friends in Chinese, and watching some Chinese DVDs that I bought, I've been too lazy!! 

So, I have decided to enroll in a local school teaching Mandarin. I went to three classes so far, and it's been interesting. The language studying environment in Beijing had made it easy to learn and become motivated in learning the language. Here, outside that environment, I have to become proactive (me, proactive??). Although the teacher here is Chinese and I think she's a fairly good teacher, the learning environment here is more relaxed - no homework. There are supposed to be six students in my class, but often only 3 or so people turn up. It's understandable, though, because people have to come three times a week after work or school, and that's not always easy. At least I'm still getting the "Chinese exposure", since we often chat to the teacher in Mandarin....but I really need to push myself a bit more. 

Incidentally, we are studying from a book from BLCU, different from the textbooks I have been using in Beijing though. This one concentrates on listening and speaking, so it's also a bit of adjusting to the new learning method. Wish me luck! 

Eating out in Wudaokou

To put it simply….you never have to worry about food in China. OK,
you may not exactly want to have Chinese food everyday, and miss food
from home…you don't even have to worry about that – there are so
many foreigners in Wudaokou that there are lots of different
restaurants from different countries – most notably, Korean, but
there are also Pizza, Italian restaurants, Japanese food, an American
restaurant, Hot pot, etc, etc

Here are some of my favourites in Wudaokou

Pyro Pizza – in a basement of a building just opposite the railway
line next to 7eleven. Really nice pizza, thin crust, plus a great
dessert – if you do order the freshly baked chocolate cookie with ice
cream, make sure you tell the waiters to bring it out last, otherwise,
you'll be having your dessert before your pizza. Their Caesar salad
is also very nice.

Hotpot – sorry, as with a lot of Chinese and Korean restaurants, I
don't really know the name! Anyway, it's on the second floor on top
of Pyro Pizza and 7eleven. Each person cook their own "meal" in
your own hotpot. The nicest sauce is the sesame sauce. Very yummy, and
price reasonable.

Tafi Italian Restaurant – on the same block as the big Lotus
supermarket (but on the other side of the block from the entrance to
the Lotus Centre. Very nice pasta and ice cream!! I think on the
weekends they have a lunch buffet – don't remember the price now,
but it was good value.

Korean BBQ – my favourite place is on the road just on the BLCU side
of the railway line, several shops just past the Xijiao Binguan
(Hotel)'s entrance. Also, if you keep walking right to the end of the
road, and cross the main street, (may be 20mins?) there is a complex
of several Korean restaurants – there is also a really nice BBQ place
there! There is also a nice Korean restaurant in the Xijiao Binguan.

Japanese –Issin Restaurant, just opposite the railway lines on the
Wudaokou side, in an alley not too far from Tous Les Jours. There is
also a Japanese Restaurant in BLCU, but Issin is a lot better (and a
bit more expensive!), but still, due to the quality, Issin is still
good value for money.

Bakery /Cakes – I like Tous Les Jours (opp Wudaokou station) and
Paris Baguette (in the Hualian / U-centre). Paris Baguette also has
nice Japanese style cheesecake. Yum!!

Dumplings – If you walk down the West gate and cross the road into
the other university, walk a few minutes, there is a popular
restaurant that sells local food, plus very cheap and nice dumplings
(饺子). The restaurant itself isn't very flashy, and not so
"clean" looking, but the food is good and is usually full of people.

"Beijing Pancake" – well, that's what I called it. It makes a
nice night time snack – street vendors can be found just outside the
BLCU South gate at night – only 2 RMB! You can also get them outside
Chaoshifa Supermarket and in the Hualian Supermarket.

Thai – there is a Thai restaurant just before Wudaokou station on the
BLCU side. The curries there are pretty good, and I heard that the Tom
Yum soup is quite good, although I haven't tried it. There is a
selection of Thai & Chinese food. The best Thai restaurant, though, is
in Chaoyang, called "非常泰" – "Very Thai" – fantastic
food, but also not cheap!

Grandma's Kitchen – in the Hualian / U-centre. This seems to be a
popular place for burgers, pizzas, and nice salads etc. A couple of
friends of mine are addicted to their milkshake, which is very thick,
a bit like melted ice cream. A little pricey though, but the food is

A nice snack that I really like are these little fishes that you can
get from a stall just opposite the Lotus supermarket cash registers. I
think it's about 6 RMB for a bag of may be 12. They're sort of like
little fish waffles with creamy centres. Really yummy when they are
hot! I prefer these to the famed chocolate fishes that you can get
outside the Wudaokou Station at night.

What's your favourite restaurant in Wudaokou?

Sunday, 24 August 2008

I miss Korean food!

It's probably a bit of a strange statement, after having lived in BLCU for 5 months or so...but it's true. There are so many Koreans in Wudaokou that even the Korean classmates think it's like living in Korea, so then, there are also lots of nice Korean food there. Makes a nice change from all the Chinese food! 

mmmmm.....Korean BBQ, Bibimbab, Teokbuki, Kimchi.....

If you want to find a good place, just ask your Korean classmates.