If you're going to the Beijing Olympics

Discussion in 'Fencing Discussion' started by jeff, May 30, 2008.

  1. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    If you're going to Beijing Olympic Games, congratulations, whether going as competitor, official, or spectator.

    I recently was in China (not related to fencing, and before the recent, tragic earthquakes) and want to share some tips:

    Official business and politics:

    - Get a passport (Duh!) If you don't have one yet, get one now, because the delay can be long. You also need a passport that has an empty page with NO stamps on it, so get a new passport if yours is full.

    - Get a visa from the Chinese government. You cannot just go to China with your passport: you have to have a visa that is authorised for a given starting and ending date. There's a fee for this, and this may be complicated to do if you're not near a Chinese consulate. You will need to present this before boarding, and when you pass through Immigration in Beijing. It's a little slip of paper that will go on the blank passport page.

    - Don't fire up a political discussion. You're not in the West in a democratic country or on fencing.net's Politics board. Communism may no longer be communist in the economic sense, but it still is in the sense of "autocratic single source of power that controls all the media and organs of government". So, no picking fights about Tibet or the Falun Gong. If you go there with that attitude, you will not have a good time. Also, the Chinese do not have a "fair and balanced"(tm) view of the world consistent with our media. The party line (as the expression goes) is that Tibet is a province of China with "splittists" and "successionists" trying to separate it from their mother country, Taiwan is just a runaway province, and China is attacked by a one-sided and unfair western media. And "Mao was 70% right". The people you meet will believe all this, and will not believe that they have a repressive government that locks up people who don't toe the line.

    - Do not call it "Communist China". As far as they're concerned, they're the only China that exists. Just say "China", or you want to be formal "Peoples Republic of China".

    Health:

    - Pack all the medication you use or think you'll need. Pack meds for upset tummy and diarrhea. Get your doctor to write you the appropriate prescriptions. Get Hepatitus A and B vaccinations. No, I'm not kidding: there's a lot of food-borne disease. Don't go to a tattoo shop either, because that's Hep C, and there's no vaccine for that.

    - The air is really bad. Not much you can do about that, especially if you're competing. Hope for one of the better days. Maybe wear a surgical mask if you're outside.

    - The water is not drinkable. For the entire trip you should only drink tea, beer, and bottled water and soft drinks. Don't drink anything from the tap, and nothing with ice, because the water to make it may have been contaminated too.

    - Do not eat raw foods. If it isn't boiled, grilled, steamed or fried don't eat it. Only exception is thick skinned fruit like a banana that YOU peel yourself. No salads, no ice cream. Otherwise, you'll spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

    - Speaking of bathrooms: in the hotels and (I imagine) the Olympic village, you'll have western-style facilities. Outside at restaurants, street, and other public areas you will have, er, primitive facilities. Bring toilet paper and have it on your person (or: do your business at the hotel or any place that has a nice loo. Don't pass one without using it - you don't know when you'll find the next one), and hand disinfectant.

    - If you do some of the things I don't recommend, you might get awfully sick. On the other hand, you might get lucky and have nothing happen to you, or you might get sick even when you were being careful. Try to keep the odds in your favor. Some of the party I was in ate street food and were fine; one person got so sick we thought he would have to be hospitalized. Not fun.

    Getting along and getting around:

    - Traffic is horrid. However long you think it will take to get where you are going, add more time. There is a rising middle class that has cars, and the streets have traffic jams that are incredible. If you're staying at the Olympic Village and fencing is at the Olympic stadium right nearby (I don't know if that's the venue) then you may be fine, but otherwise it's possible to blow two hours going point to point in Beijing.

    - Personal space: there is none. People will stand basically right on top of you and even little old ladies will shove you aside. Get used to it. It's a crowded place, and notions of "you're too close" don't exist. The famous tourist spots (Forbidden City, Great Wall, Temple of Heaven) are especially packed.

    - Crime and street behavior: Beijing (and China in general) is supposed to be pretty safe. On the other hand, observe normal cautions for being out, especially late and by yourself. If nothing else, it's very easy to get lost when you can't read the signs or speak the language.

    - There are VERY aggressive street peddlars, souvenir hawkers and beggars, especially in tourist locations. Ignore them and they'll eventually go to another prospect. These are desperate people, so you can't blame them for trying, but they are persistent and will try to sell you all kinds of crap.

    - Ripoffs and scams (1): a lot of stuff for sale is fake. Very unlikely you will find a "real" antique, so if something is offered to you as antique, it's almost certainly phony. You will also be offered "Rolex" watches and other fake luxury goods. A watch you buy this way might work as long as it takes to get your return flight. Use common sense.

    - Ripoffs and scams (2): street vendors, and especially the hawkers I mention will frequently cheat a customer by giving them change in counterfeit bills. Happens all the time. If you are tempted to buy something from one of these guys, pay with small bills so there isn't much change.

    - Speaking the language: learn a little, even though it's a tonal language and difficult for a Westerner. It's nice to be able to say essential words and phrases like hello, goodbye, thank you, you're welcome, yes I like that, no I don't like that, beer. Mandarin only (putonghua). Nobody there will speak Cantonese. English speaking is not common - and some people have been taught what they think is English but isn't understandable. Some people who speak it in customer-facing situations (hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners ONLY) will have moderate ability. No other languages, though.

    All these aside - I was there on vacation and had a great time. Whether you're going there to fence, watch fencing, help one of the teams, or officiate, or just go on vacation, you can have a great time - it's fantastic and I plan on going again - long after the Olympics are over and things calm down again. With a little preparation and care you can make the trip memorable in the positive sense.

    On another personal note: I was there 25 years go on a computer science delegation, and it is incredible to see the changes in the country. Back then, even the main boulevard of the capital was dimly lit at night and there were just a few cars. Now there are streets to rival Times Square, even in provincial cities like Hangzhou. There's a rising middle class eager for luxuries, and with money to spare. Just an amazing change.

    -- Jeff
     
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  2. mfp

    mfp Podium

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    Getting a new passport simply because yours is out of empty pages is wasteful in both time and money. You can get visa pages added to previously issued, currently valid U.S. (and many other countries') passports.

    [I think mine is on its 3rd set of extra visa pages]
     
  3. piste off

    piste off Podium

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  4. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Podium

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    Gav likes this.
  5. Timberwolf_CY

    Timberwolf_CY Rookie

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  6. telkanuru

    telkanuru Podium

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    Yeah, that would not go over so well :p
     
  7. piste off

    piste off Podium

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    At first I thought it was the registration at one of the NACs.

    Rick
     
  8. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    mfp: you're right.

    Regarding mass transit: I didn't try them, though the subway system has been enlarged. Taxis are very inexpensive (by western standards) so they are a good way to go, except for the problem of traffic. Don't try to rent a car and drive - the "no such thing as personal space" applies to driving as well.
     
  9. Timacheff

    Timacheff Rookie

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    Good information, and thank you for posting it.

    One point of clarification: If you're an accredited member of the games--whether as an official, journalist, or participant--you do not need a visa. Your credential serves as a visa to enter China for the Olympic Games. Of course, you still need your passport.
     
  10. Neinteen

    Neinteen Rookie

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    wow nice travel guide Jeff, though not going, it'd be awesome to go, but hopefully I'll be able to watch!


    i'd rep, but can't. already repped you for owning noobs / inquartata in the politics thread.
     
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  11. darius

    darius Podium

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    Quoted for truth. The worst food poisoning I ever got was on a train between Xian and Beijing.

    darius
     
  12. bunbury

    bunbury Rookie

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    I've had great experience with trains.

    I ate raw food all the time-- the biggest sushi houses in the world at in China. Not to mention that finding a steak that isn't rare is damn near impossible.

    Crime is a massive problem. Expect your backpockets to be slashed at least once in your trip-- whether they get your wallet is a different story.

    Want a begger to go away, especially a kid? Try to take a picture of them. They flip out, curse at you, and run away.

    50Yuan bills are almost all fake. However, they have such high circulation that you can spend them anyway-- just be aware.

    Hello: nihao
    Thanks: xiu xiu (shia-shia)
    Yes: shi
    No: boo shi
    Take me to --: Wo shu --- (Wo-men shu for "take us to")
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2008
  13. Timacheff

    Timacheff Rookie

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    I've never experienced crime (yet!) in many years of traveling to China, but I'm sure it happens...especially if you're unaware of your surroundings and in very crowded places.

    The biggest danger, IMHO, is traffic. China has more than 600 pedestrian-traffic deaths per day, so I understand. Cars WILL NOT stop for you, even if you have a "walk" light and you're in a crosswalk. The electric motorbikes there as so silent that you can easily get hit by one at nearly any time of the day or night ... and they often drive in unexpected areas (like on sidewalks!). When walking on the street, you must pay attention to everything and everyone around you, and do not assume that drivers and people will respond and act as they do in your own country.

    By the way, I had the best California roll I have EVER had (and that's a LOT) in Beijing in April. They also had a dog-meat stew on the menu ...

    For water, there's an interesting product I found called the "SteriPEN," made in the U.S. but available also in Europe (and online). It's about the size of an electric toothbrush and you stick the end of it into a glass or water or a water bottle. It runs on four AA batteries, and it produces UV (ultraviolet) light that literally destroys all the DNA of any living organism ... viral and bacterial. It's faster and more effective than filtering water or using iodine. It doesn't make the water taste any better, necessarily, and doesn't account for chemicals in the water. But it works like a charm with water in places like Mexico, India, and China where drinking tap water in your hotel, for instance, can give you a nasty intestinal bug (e.g., giardia). It's great for being able to drink water while camping, too. They're about $100.
     
  14. telkanuru

    telkanuru Podium

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    I'm just thinking about how funny it would be to transplant people directly from the UMass Amherst campus into China now...
     
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  15. Greybeard

    Greybeard Rookie

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    Of course there is this:

    According to a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Border Patrol agents did not violate the 4th amendment when they seized a laptop of an individual returning from the Philippines via LAX. Child porn found on the laptop was discovered through an unreasonable search, and the Court held that entire laptop contents can be searched at the border. No articulable suspicion was needed to turn on the laptop and start searching. The case is likely to be reviewed en banc.

    With such a blanket decision, in theory any electronic storage device (including CD-ROM and memory sticks) is open to full search at the U.S. border (at least in the 9th Circuit.) Although unlikely to expose confidential information to a full search and public disclosure (and most individuals on this list are likely not traveling with illegal information on their laptops) it is best to know that such searches could occur.

    Not that you are carrying child porn, but if you have company private information, bank records, etc. be wary.

    This is actually not new and has been happening for years.
     
  16. AdamH

    AdamH Rookie

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    Cars stop in -one- direction when the green man is on.

    Food is awesome, try the enormous Golden Jaguar buffet house around the corner of the main street in Wangfujing.

    First class trains, especially the new bullet-ish train are like travelling by air. Subway and the double-decker trains which are much cheaper can be more/less fun.

    Buses are 1 yuan anywhere. The pedal and motorbike rickshaws shouldn't cost more than 15-20 yuan. Try to agree a taxi price before getting in one but you shouldn't be paying more than 30 yuan even for a 30 minute ride.

    Haggling is fun.

    Don't climb the gate house of the Forbidden City and say any variation of naughtiness above the big man's picture.

    Do buy lots of awesome green Nini fencing stuff.

    edit: The younger generation of Chinese are very much interested in having a chat, so if you have time and are inclined, that's wonderful. Demonstrate some deference for anyone older than you unless you are trying to get on a bus.

    If you want to get a little tipsy and explode some fireworks, that's great. Activating car/shop alarms is fair game if you are invited to participate.

    Food is the big social thing.

    Do seperate the people from the politics - it's complicated as things are changing, the people are lovely and fiercely proud.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2008
  17. freerider258

    freerider258 Rookie

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    If you are going to Beijing, China, be sure to wear some flowers in you hair...
     
  18. oiuyt

    oiuyt Podium

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    You mean crowded, time-consuming, and expensive? Where you pay to be treated like cattle and charged exhorbant amounts for snacks (not to mention actually bringing luggage)? Where delays, cancellations and changes of schedule are so routine that your hope is that you'll "only" lose an hour? Where great customer service means that you're getting a muttered apology at least half the time when smacked by a drink cart?

    -B
     
  19. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    Oooh, do we sound just a little bitter, Brad? :)

    Nice additional information, guys.

    AdamH - what's this green Nini fencing stuff?
     
  20. KD5MDK

    KD5MDK Moderator

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    He has to fly US Airways. It's understandable.



    (Not that anyone else is much better)
     

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