"How safe is the water?"
As for the water, well, it was many years ago, in 1995. I watched some little chinese kids take used plastic bottles from the trash, go down to the river that runs through Shaolin, and refill them. They find caps too, and twist them back on. They used to sell them at little roadside stands.
Some rules. And it's an absolute bozo no no to break these:
-Buy drinking water by the case from local small supermarkets. Drink ONLY that. By the CASE. Getting it from small resellers does not guarantee the safety of the supply.
-Check each bottle before use to make sure that the seal is intact.
-Brushing your teeth with tap is ok, but really minimize the amount of water that you use. I"ve gotten away with that, but, you're really better off using bottled water for anything that goes into your mouth.
-Wipe off all dishes in restaurants. Wipe off your chopsticks, or, better yet, bring your own. You have no idea how much H. Pylori infections get spread by chopsticks (I'll write about this later).
-Do not use glasses in restaurants. Be gauche, drink out of the bottle.
-If you're not allergic to aspirin, take one or two tablets of Pepto Bismal a day. The bismuth cuts down on the incidence of gastric infections.
-Only eat cooked foods. Remember, the watermelon that you eat on the street is covered with shit; eating pieces that are cut by the man on the street, with his dirty knife, will infect you. I used to bring my own knife, and buy a complete watermelon. Sometimes, in restaurants, this is hard to avoid though.
-Some antibiotics that are useful: Flagyl 400 mg three times a day, Clarithromycin 500 mg twice a day, Cipro 500 mg twice a day, once you're really infected. Just one of those would work. Also, the Chinese "pharmacies" that are there locally have some sort of shit that works well too. Don't know what it is, but it works.
-Don't eat chicken that's been cooked in the street (night market). They don't refrigerate their food, and some of this chicken has been sitting for days. Salmonella is a distinct possibility, and I think one year, I actually got it.
-Don't eat the ice cream. Anywhere. Except Haagen Daaz in Beijing. McDonalds / KFC is ok too.
Remember something. The Chinese are some of the filthiest people on the planet. Their understanding of sanitation, health, and food safety is minimal at best. Their concern for the above is even lower. If you look in some of the latrines, you'll notice that just about all of these people are chronically infected with something.
So. Do NOT SHARE food (chopsticks wise) with others. This is a commonplace phenomenon; everyone wants to put food on your plate. This is the surest way to get infected with something, usually Helicobacter Pylori, which will give you a nasty stomach infection. The way to get around this is just to tell people "no thank you". Don't "share" chopsticks.