I just got back from my first Chinese tour, and it was awesome. So awesome that we’re going back in another 6 months, and plan to do so every half year thereafter; however, there a lot of things that I’ve learned - some from others before I came, and some I found out while I was there. I’m going to give you what I see as my top 5.
1. You have to get a Visa
In order to get into China, for any reason, you need a Visa. They have so many Visa types that it will send your head spinning. DO NOT TRY TO FILL OUT THE VISA APPLICATION ON YOUR OWN. I REPEAT. DO NOT. Instead hire a company that specializes in getting people Chinese Visas. I used a company called China Visa Atlanta. They were able to help me get a 10 year multiple-entry tourist Visa. It wasn’t even listed as a choice on the application.
2. Create a WeChat account
WeChat is China’s largest social media network. Everyone and every company uses WeChat to communicate. You can’t really do business with anyone if you don’t have it. Also, my family had WeChat so we can talk to each other through text and video and voice calls. You can also pay for things through WeChat.
3. Most transactions are digital
Most transactions in China are done via WeChat Pay or Alipay with your phone. In order to use them, you need a Chinese bank account, which, depending on the bank, isn't that hard to start. All you need is a Chinese address and phone number to open one. I used my hotel’s address and my buddy’s number. This is important because bank cards not issued by Mainland China banks won’t work; however, they can be used at most ATM’s to withdraw money. So if you’re not going to get a Chinese bank account, your best bet is to use cash.
4. Traveling China is fairly easy
Traveling China is a pretty clean cut deal. The subway system is great. They have Didi (China’s version of the Uber that could be downloaded from the Google Play or iPhone stores), and licensed taxis aren’t that expensive. Just about every sign has the English and Chinese spelling. People are also pretty helpful, but make sure you have VPN (virtual private network) to be able access your Google Translator because some still don’t speak and understand English well. They will also typically use a translator.So, for the most part, the dialogue will be typing your idea and showing each the translation. It’s weird at first, but gets to be an awesome experience.
The VPN also gets you access to other Google services (Google Maps specifically), Facebook, and Twitter, which are blocked. A great VPN to try is Turbo VPN. You can download it from your respective phone’s store before you get to China.
When traveling from city to city, make sure you use the high speed train or fly. We took the sleeper train from Shanghai to Guangzhou, and it was 16 hours of misery. The cabins are small with 6 beds set up bunk style. I was at the top, and couldn’t even sit up on my bed. Also, there’s really no room to do outside of the cabin to anything.
In contrast, the high speed train second class seats were spacious. There’s someone coming by the whole ride offering to sell drinks, food, and snacks -which aren’t expensive at all. I bought three beers for around 15 rmb, which isn’t even $2US.
5. Most music is free
Most music is legally free via streaming services, so there’s no need to buy them unless you have it on vinyl or cassette. Bring other merch like shirts. This was my first trip so this last point is mostly from talking to other artists; however, I did notice that the vast majority of folks that I came across listen to everything on their phones so there isn’t a need for CD’s really.
One last thing to note is that each city has it’s own identity. So what works in Shanghai may not pop in Beijing the same way; however, they love western music and are gracious to foreigners, in general.
The bottom line is that China is a massive place with a lot of people. There are lot of fans to be made, both native and foreign. So, work it, and get the best out of it.
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.