If you’re on a school trip, you’re going to want to keep in contact with your parents so that they stop worrying, or as it was in my case, tell them about all the amazing things you’ve been doing each day so often that they wish you’d stop calling. China has pretty restrictive firewalls in place so that most of the social media we use on a daily basis, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, is blocked.
One way to access these websites and apps is by using a VPN. This means that you bypass the restrictions that are imposed by your physical location because your IP address is replaced by that of the VPN server so you appear to be somewhere else. It’s perfectly legal and those in China for a long time will really benefit from it. However there are both paid ones and free ones for your phone, personally my phone really struggled with them as they can be quite temperamental and unreliable; that’s why you might need to look to WeChat.
WeChat is a messaging app that is very popular in China, it works a lot like WhatsApp in that you can set up group chats and also make phone calls to other users for free via WiFi. Throughout the trip, this was the main way I kept in contact with my family and friends back in the UK, basically just get everyone you know to download this app because they’re going to want to know what an awesome time you’re having. It was also a great way to share photos with those you’re on a trip with. Most hostels have really good WiFi connections so it won’t be an issue using this app to stay in contact with those at home.
This is the perfect opportunity to practice some of your Mandarin in a real life scenario especially when buying things and talking to the Chinese people you will meet. It’s going to be useful to know how to ask for the price of things and even haggle a bit to get the price down. I wrote down the pinyin of all the more difficult phrases and it really helped me be more confident in speaking. Make sure you have a good grasp of prices and how yuan relates to the pound to make everything run more smoothly.
These two things are quite expensive to buy if you run out or forget to bring them so make sure you’ve got plenty of it. It’s a long trip and you’ll regret it if you’re burnt or heavily bitten within the first few days so don’t get complacent on protecting your skin. I speak from experience as I forgot to put on bug spray one day and I had dozens of itchy bites up my legs, they disappear within a few days but it’s really worth using bug spray to avoid the irritation they bring.
China is on the other side of the world from the UK so it’s clear that your body isn’t going to be perfectly adapted to this new environment. It’s really important to make sure you are protected against the diseases that are more common in this part of the world. Which ones you need depends on where you are going and your itinerary so it’s best to go to your GP and ask for their advice. Make sure you’re vaccinated so when you’re away you won’t be worrying about catching anything.
If you’re planning to bring back some presents for friends or family, it might be best to figure out what you’re looking for beforehand. Of course, you’re going to see things and instantly know who you should buy it for but it’s always nice to ask so you don’t panic in the last few days.
We knew from our China trip itinerary that we were going to a fake goods market so my brother told me he’d like some Ray-Bans and my friends wanted to buy some nice, cheap fans to bring back so we knew to look out for them in the different places that we went. There’s so much available that would make great presents, you can get knock-off Vans, Burberry scarves, Mulberry purses and even makeup palettes.
This is also where it comes in handy to haggle, it’s not that hard to get the price down and I managed to get the price down from £15 to £5 on a pair of Ray Bans by simply saying that the initial price was too high. Another thing that I knew I wanted to buy was Pocky and exciting flavoured Oreos so do your research on all the cool foods you can buy in Chinese supermarkets.
Believe it or not, China is a long way away and the flights to get there are extremely long. Plan ahead and make sure you have some really comfy clothes for travelling. Luckily these flights will have inflight entertainment so you can watch all the films you want over the many hours you’re in the air but it’s also a really great opportunity to just chill out and read for a while.
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