Shortly before I left for China to take up my first overseas teaching post, several members of my family gave me some advice on how to stay safe in China.
I thought it would be a good idea to share some of this advice here for the benefit of those of you who may be thinking about teaching and living in China.
Keep money and valuables safe
Firstly, beware of pickpockets, keep your money and valuables in the inner pockets of your jacket and do not put valuables in your backpack.
Take care at night and beware of strangers
Secondly, do not walk the streets of a new city alone at night and do not accept invitations from strangers to go to their house for tea. These are simply common sense safety precautions.
Learn some Chinese
Thirdly, learn how to speak some basic Chinese. This is absolutely essential for China.
Outside of your classroom, you will be hard-pushed to find anyone who can speak fluent English unless you happen to be in a major city like Beijing or Shanghai.
- Wo yau qu….. – I want to go to…..
- Ni ke yi bang wo ma? – Can you help me?
- Duo shao qian? – How much does that/this cost?
- Ni you ….. ma? – Do you have …..?
Learning some basic Mandarin can help a lot in China.
Chinese people are generally very friendly. When you are at a bar with friends, some strangers may approach your table to drink a toast with you. They may even help themselves to your drinks!
This is perfectly normal behavior and nothing to be concerned about.
On a social basis, other phrases that you may find helpful are:
- Ni hao – Hello
- Wan shang hao – Good evening
- Zao shang hao – Good morning
- Ni jiao shen me ming zi? – What’s your name?
- Wo de ming zi shi….. – My name is …..
- Gan bei – Cheers! (Bottoms up!)
- Xie xie – Thanks
- Zai jian – Goodbye.
Tips for using your mobile phone in China
Make sure you charge your mobile phone battery every day, and that there is always enough credit on it to make a call.
Store the phone numbers of some people whom you can call for help.
Most importantly, make sure that you have the name and address of your school in Chinese on your phone so that you can always take a taxi back if you get lost.
Storing the phone numbers of people who can help you is an important cell phone tip for China.
Scams to beware of in China
Unfortunately, there are numerous scams operating in China. These include:
- requests to practise English with you (and then taking you to a bar charging exorbitant prices for low-quality drinks)
- fake officials at Mao’s tomb in Beijing who will claim that you need special shoes in order to go in and sell you a pair at a rip-off price
- the art gallery scam where the scammer will use hard-sell tactics to make you buy something at overinflated prices
- fake tickets for shows and tourist attractions
- fake, overpriced jewellery or silk
- price gouging (at markets where there are no price tags, merchants may quote you an outrageous price when you enquire about their goods)
- overcharging taxis (using fake meters or charging more than the agreed fare)
- counterfeit money
- overcharging rickshaws (if you refuse to pay you may be dropped off at a secluded area where you would be totally lost)
- traditional Chinese medicine stores which sell overpriced, useless or even fake herbs
- double menus (one for before you order and one for when you pay the bill or a cheaper menu for locals and a more expensive one for foreigners)
- credit card readers that are actually cloning machines
- the massage scam where partway through the massage, a fake police officer would come in and pretend to arrest you or the pimp would come in with a number of toughs and try to extort money from you.
Beware of counterfeit money while teaching in China.
How to protect yourself in China
So, how do you protect yourself from scams while living in China?
Scams are generally more common in larger cities that have a large expat population so one way to protect yourself is by teaching in a small, lesser-known city.
Most Chinese people in the street tend to keep their distance from foreigners so if one comes on a little too strong, alarm bells should ring.
Some other tips include:
- never let anyone take you to a place of their choosing
- check and confirm the price (preferably in the presence of a witness) before consuming any food or drink
- buy your medication from legitimate pharmacies (these have a large green cross above their entrance)
- avoid doing any business deals with street touts
- bargain as much as possible
- avoid taking rickshaws and only use public buses and licenced taxis
- learn what a real banknote should look and feel like and reject any that arouses suspicion
- only get your cash from an ATM, bank or licenced money changer.
And do not be afraid to say no!
Finally, I would like to stress that in the four years that I have lived in China, I have had virtually no problems regarding safety. But this is no reason to let your guard down.
Being aware of the things that could possibly go wrong and taking sensible precautions can only serve to make your time in China safer and happier.
Do you have any additional safety precautions for newcomers in China?