1. Eat well
Outside of China, impressions of Chinese food are still often defined by the sweet, balanced flavours of Cantonese food. Dim sum and other Cantonese dishes are delicious of course, but there’s a whole world of regional cuisines to discover: the fiery spice of Sichuan and Hunan cuisine; the freshness and sour funkiness of food from Guizhou and Yunnan.
Plus Hangzhou and Shanghai‘s light, refined dumplings and seafood, and the hearty quasi-Turkish kebabs and hand-pulled noodles from Xinjiang. You may want to travel for some of these dishes, but major cities will host restaurants from around the country.
2. Get online
Facebook, Youtube, Google Maps, and most Western email providers are difficult to access in China, so you may want to download a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which will help you get past the so-called “Great Firewall”.
Inside China there are a few extremely helpful apps: WeChat could simply be explained as a Chinese WhatsApp but in reality, it’s a combination of that, Facebook, PayPal, a food delivery service, and much more. Some of these features are difficult to navigate with limited Chinese, but you’ll need WeChat to talk to new friends, and you can “follow” magazines, museums, restaurants and more on the app to learn about special events and deals.
Baidu Maps is an excellent Google Maps alternative.
3. Learn some Chinese
Chinese languages are undoubtedly intimidating, but attempting to learn a little bit of Mandarin (the most widely spoken, standardized language) will be useful. If you’re visiting for a while, consider taking a short language course.
Even quite basic Mandarin will help you get around, and people will be happy you’re making an effort. Writing down or printing out addresses in Chinese characters can make things easier.
It’s also worth downloading Pleco, an excellent Chinese-English dictionary app.
4. Take the train
For many countries this suggestion would imply the romance of watching the countryside slide by your window. That factor still holds here, but China’s high speed rail network is notable mainly for its sheer convenience. With stations closer to city centres than airports, train journeys between major cities are a comfortable, cheaper alternative to domestic flights.
The five hours between Beijing and Shanghai compare favourably to the flight time, with considerably less stress. Furthermore, the bustling modern stations provide a glimpse of the direction the country is heading in.