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Addresses Chinese street names often indi­cate the section of the street concerned, usually by adding the cardinal direction – be, nan, xi or dong for north south, west and east, respectively, or sometimes zhong to indicate a central stretch. Jie means street; da before it simply means big. Thus Jiefang Bei Dajie literally refers to the north section of Liberation Big Street . While street names aren’t hard to figure out, the numbering of premises along streets is so random in most Chinese cities that it’s little help in finding the address. Note that within buildings, street level is the “First floor”, the next story is the “Second Floor”, and so on.

Admission charges

Virtually all tourist sights attract some kind of admission charge, often no more than a few yuan. Usually there is a special student price which you can qualify for if you have a student card.

Airport departure tax

Currently Y50 for internal flights, and Y90 if you’re leaving the country.

CDs, VCDs, and DVDs

Just about every market and bookstore in China has a range of music CDs of everything from Beijing punk to Louis Armstrong, Vivaldi and Bob Dylan, plus VCDs and DVDs of martial art movies (often subtitled – check on the back), Hollywood blockbusters instructional tai ji or language courses, and computer software. While extremely cheap at Y2-15, note that most films, foreign music and soft­ware are pirated (the discs may be confis­cated at customs when you get home). Note also that Chinese DVDs may be region-coded for Asia, so check the label and whether your player at home will handle them. There are no such problems with CDs or VCDs.


Most foreign brands are available for a fraction of the price they cost in the West, though look out for fakes. The cheap­er, Chinese brands have some great pack­aging and names, but tend to be rough.


Condoms are easy to hold of, with imported brands available in all the big cities.


The current is 220V on the mainland (this is also the voltage used in most of Macau ) and 200V in Hong Kong . Plugs n a wide range with either two or three differently shaped prongs, so a travel on plug can be useful, as is a flash­light, given the erratic power supply.


 Most tourist hotels have a laundry service, though it’s usually not cheap. Clothes will be returned the following day.

Left luggage

Some hotels will store luggage, and there are always guarded, moder­ately luggage offices at train and bus stations (sometimes open only from dawn to dusk, however) where you can leave your possessions for a few kuai.


Photography is a popular pastime among the Chinese, and all big mainland towns and cities have plenty of places to buy and process 35mm film. In Hong Kong there’s likely to be at least as big a range as wherever you’ve come from; elsewhere, color print stock is the most widely available. Mainland Chinese brands cost about Y10 for 36 exposures, scarcer Western varieties are around Y20. Slide film cost about Y60 a roll. Processing is very variable for prints – sometimes good, often mediocre – and costs about Y15 per roll. Camera batteries are fairly easy to obtain in big city department stores. Hong Kong has every imaginable type, but it’s best to bring a supply with you. Many photo stores in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland can download images from a digital camera onto disc.


Tampons can be hard to find, but good sanitary towels are widely available in supermarkets and department stores, and are reasonably cheap.

Things to take

Unless you’re a big fan of nineteenth-century literature -just about all that is available in English translation – take a few meaty books for the long train rides. Coins and stamps from your country are a good idea – they will cause much excite­ment and curiosity and make good small presents. Another aid to bridging the lan­guage gap is a few photos of your family and friends, even where you live. China is rarely a quiet place, and for the sake of your sanity as well as comfort, earplugs are a good idea, especially if you’re contemplating long bus journeys. It’s also advisable to take a set of your own chopsticks, for hygiene reasons. Also worth taking are: a universal plug adaptor and universal sink plug; a flash­light; a multipurpose penknife; a needle and thread; and a first-aid kit. If you’ll be traveling in the sub-tropical south or at high altitudes, bring high-factor sun block and good-quality sunglasses.


China occupies a single time zone, eight hours ahead of GMT, sixteen hours ahead of US Pacific Standard Time, thirteen hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time and two hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time.


Not expected on the mainland, but in Hong Kong you might want to tip in restaurants where they don’t already levy a ten-percent service charge.


Chinese toilets can take a lot of get­ting used to. Apart from the often disgusting standard of hygiene, the lack of privacy can be very off-putting – squat toilets are sepa­rated by a low, thin partition or no partition at all. The public kind are typically awful, though any staffed by an attendant should be fairly clean, and you’ll have to pay a few jiao before you enter. Probably the best bet is to find a large hotel and use the toilets in the lobby. Most hotel toilets have a wastepa­per basket by the side for toilet paper. Don’t put paper down the loo as it blocks the primitive sewage system, and staff will get irate with you.