The electricity is 220 volts/50 Hz. Two-pin European and North American, and three-pin Australian plugs are generally supported. However, be sure to read the voltage ratings on your appliances to make sure they accept 220 volts (double the 110 volts used in many countries) before plugging them in – you could cause a burnout and permanent damage to some appliances like hair dryers and shavers. Universal extension cords that can handle a variety of plug styles (including British) are widely available.
Names of long streets are often given with a middle word indicating the part of the street. For example, White Horse Street or Baima Lu (白马路) can be divided into Baima Beilu (白马北路) for the northern (北 běi) end, Baima Nanlu (白马南路) for the southern (南 nán) end and Baima Zhonglu (白马中路) for the central (中 zhōng) part. For another street, dōng (东 “east”) and xī(西 “west”) could be used.
In some cities, however, these names do not designate parts of a road. In Xiamen, Hubin Bei Lu and Hubin Nan Lu (Lakeside Road North and Lakeside Road South) run parallel and east-west on the north and south sides of the lake. In Nanjing, Zhongshan Lu, Zhongshan Bei Lu and Zhongshan Dong Lu are three separate main roads.
Laundry services can be expensive or hard to find. In upscale hotels, washing each garment costs ¥10-30. Cheap hotels in some areas have no laundry service, although in other areas, such as along the Yunnan tourist route, the service is common and often free. In most areas, with the exception of the city centres in the big cities, you will find small shops that do laundry. Look for the 洗衣 (xǐyī) sign on the front door or spot the laundry hanging from the ceiling. The cost is about ¥2-5/piece. Even in the smallest towns, dry cleaners (干洗 gānxǐ）outlets are widely available and may be able to wash clothes. But in some areas, you have to wash clothes by hand, which is time-consuming and tedious. It can take days to dry a pair of jeans, which is especially difficult if you are staying in a dormitory with no hangers, so quick-drying fabrics like polyester or silk are a good idea. If you find a hotel that does laundry, they will usually put all your clothes in the wash together or even with other items from the hotel, so lighter colours are best washed by hand.
Smoking is banned in public buildings and public transport, with the exception of restaurants and bars (including KTVs) – many of which are outright smoking dens, although many multinational restaurant chains prohibit smoking. These bans are enforced throughout the country. In general, smoking laws are strictest in Shanghai and Beijing, and less strictly enforced in the other cities. Many places (especially train stations, hospitals, office buildings and airports) have smoking rooms, and some long-distance trains have smoking areas at the end of each carriage. Facilities for non-smokers are often poor; most restaurants, bars and hotels do not have non-smoking areas, apart from the top establishments, although many modern buildings have a smoke extraction system that draws cigarette smoke out of the room through a ceiling fan – meaning the smoke is not hanging in the air. The Chinese phrase for “May I smoke?” is “kěyǐ chōuyān ma?” and “No smoking!” is “bù kěyǐ chōuyān!”.
Potentially disruptive behaviours
Foreigners may observe some behaviour in mainland China that can be somewhat disconcerting.
- Spitting: on the street, in shops, supermarkets, hotel lobbies, hallways, restaurants, on the bus and even in hospitals. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that it is unhealthy to swallow mucus. Although the government has made great efforts to reduce this habit in light of the SARS epidemic as well as the Olympics, it still exists to varying degrees.
- Smoking: almost everywhere, even in areas with “no smoking” signs, including gyms, football fields, bathrooms and even hospitals. Some cities now ban smoking in most restaurants, but enforcement can vary. Western restaurants seem to be the only ones that consistently enforce the ban. Masks would be a good idea for long bus journeys. It is perfectly normal for someone to smoke in a lift or even in hospital, even if there is a no smoking sign in sight.
- Reaction to strangers: Anyone who does not look Chinese will notice that “hello” or “laowai” calls are common: lǎowài (老外) literally means “old outsider”, a colloquial term for “foreigner”; the more formal term is wàiguórén (外国人). Shouts of “laowai” are ubiquitous outside the big cities (and even there occasionally); these shouts come from just about anyone, regardless of age, and even more likely from very young people, and can occur many times in a day. Discrimination against people with darker skin is relatively widespread in China.
- Staring: This is common in most parts of China. Staring usually arises from pure curiosity, almost never from hostility. Don’t be surprised if someone comes right up to you and just looks as if they are watching TV, no harm done!
- Drinking: There is often a toast at dinner and it is generally considered impolite to refuse the toast.
- Loud conversations: These are very common. Many Chinese speak very loudly in public and it can be one of the first things you notice when you arrive. Talking loudly does not usually mean that the speaker is angry or involved in an argument (although of course it can be). Noise means life, and China is rooted in a community-based culture, so you might want to bring earplugs for long bus or train rides!
- Queuing: The concept of waiting in line doesn’t really exist in China, and it’s hard to suggest how to deal with it other than pushing and shoving like the others do! This is a serious problem at airports, train or bus stations, shopping malls or museums. If you are trying to catch a taxi, expect other people to walk further down the street to catch one before you. You may have to learn to be more assertive to get what you want in China.
- Personal space: Remember that the concept of personal space is more or less non-existent in China. It is perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour if someone comes into very close contact with you or bumps into you and says nothing. Don’t get angry because the person will be surprised and most likely won’t even understand why you are offended!
- Ignoring rules: Ignoring municipal, provincial and/or national rules, regulations and laws. This includes (among many other things) dangerous and careless driving, i.e. speeding, not using headlights at night, not using turn signals and driving on the wrong side of the road, crossing the road and smoking in non-smoking areas or disobeying smoking bans.
- Fear of flying: A relatively new phenomenon, specifically in China, is groups of passengers who show both verbal and physical aggression towards airline staff during delays (and flight delays are very common). This is usually done in order to get better compensation from the airline.
- Sneezing: Many Chinese do not cover their mouths when they sneeze. Picking your nose in public is common and socially accepted.
- Escalators: Be careful when standing behind people on an escalator, as many people glance at it as soon as they get off – even if the escalator behind them is full. Department stores hire special staff to prevent this behaviour as much as possible.
- Lifts: People love to use lifts whenever possible, especially in large family groups. You should definitely plan for patience if you want to walk through a shopping centre with a pram or luggage.
Some foreign residents will say that this behaviour is getting worse and others will say that things are getting better. The cause is usually attributed to the influx of millions of migrants from the countryside who are unfamiliar with big city life. The most important advice is not to take noticeable behaviour personally, as Chinese are rarely deliberately offensive to foreigners.
In general, 3, 6, 9 and especially 8 are lucky numbers for most Chinese.
- “Three” means harmony of heaven, earth and people. “Three” is mostly seen in Chinese ancestor worship and traditional weddings.
- “Six” stands for gentleness or success.
- “Eight” sounds so close to the word for wealth that many people believe that eight is a number associated with prosperity. So it is no surprise that the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games began at 8:08:08 on 08.08.2008.
- “Nine” is also considered a lucky number with the meaning of “eternal”.
- “Four” is taboo for most Chinese because the pronunciation in Mandarin and even more so in Cantonese is close to “death”.
Overall, the Chinese like homophones. Sometimes even “four” can be a good number. Many people went to the registry office on 4 January 2013, simply because 2013/1/4 sounds like “love you forever” in Chinese.
The Chinese believe that the spirit of the deceased returns on the seventh day after their death. After a fire in Shanghai in which many people died, about 10,000 people came to the place to mourn seven days after the fire.