By Ben Groundwater
You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Things are different in China, and if you hope to enjoy yourself, to stay safe and experience everything the country has to offer, you need to acknowledge that reality and move on.
People spit in China, in public places. You’ll hear people hocking loogies on public transport. You’ll see them ejecting saliva on the street. It happens.
Get used to these, and so many other differences, and you’ll have an absolute ball in China. In fact, your home country might start to seem kind of dull in comparison.
Most travellers will now be used to the way things work. When you have a question that needs answering while you’re on the road, you Google it. When you need to stay in touch with friends, you hit up Facebook or Instagram. When you’re catching up with news, you use Twitter. When you’re trying to find your way around, you use Google Maps.
Easy, right? Well, not in China. Never forget the Great Firewall of China, the countrywide, government-mandated ban on access to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, as well as most of what Google has to offer. That’s a big change for travellers. How do you get or share information?
There are, however, workarounds. One, for Google Maps, is AutoNavi, a mapping app that uses Google’s data, but is available in China. For everything else, meanwhile, there’s a VPN, or “virtual private network”, which will allow you to circumvent the Great Firewall by appearing to be somewhere else. Just make sure you download yours – and ensure it will work in China – before leaving home, as China has recently banned the sale of VPNs on the app stores available in the country.
Get it sorted before you go, however, and suddenly Google is a thing again. Phew.
Find out more insider tips about other destinations: read all the articles in Ben's "One Thing" series here.
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