I'm going to Shaolin. What should I bring?
"Hope you are having a great adventure. Need any American t.p. (toilet paper) Fed-Ex-ed to you or did you bring an ample supply of your own?"
"I bring my own. Only the best for my baby soft skin."
So you're going to Shaolin. You sick bastard you. Haven't you learned anything from this web site?
Well, it's a respectable venture that you're embarking on. I've done it so many times at this point that I can't remember all those trips. Nor, all the pain and suffering. But, enough of that. What should you bring?
First and foremost, is toilet paper. Unless you're a better man than me. I usually count the rolls that I'll go through in a period of time, similar to the time I spend in China, and then I pack twice as many. It's always best to have more than less. And, take it from me, it's always best to keep a roll with you when you're away from "home", where ever "home" will end up being. Unless you don't mind borrowing the newspaper from the guy next to you. And when we say it's a "used newspaper", it doesn't mean that it's been read. Oh, and if you're really careful with what you eat and drink, you can get away with less. If you're not, bring reading material for the throne. You're going to spend a lot of time there. Besides, it comes in useful in more ways than one.
Always bring whatever medications you take routinely, with you. You won't find a drug store in China that will help you like you can back at home. Bring enough contact lens solution, condoms, vitamins (I like chewable Flintstones), condoms, toothpaste, condoms, underwear, condoms, socks, condoms, and t shirts. And, did I mention condoms? You won't need those. But, if it makes you feel like a man, bring lots of them.
I occasionally bring condoms. I like to fill them up with rice and fling them off of the roof of some nearby high hotel. Kind of reminds me of the days when I used to put Charlie (my hamster), in the cockpit of one of those GI Joe aircraft flying thingies. Yes, poor Charlie. Sitting in that tight little cockpit, with his dark little beady eyes wandering around, filled with what seemed to be a combination of fear, excitement, and befuddlement, especially as I flung my arm with all of my might, and watched him soar from the top of the five story apartment building where I had lived. Only in New York do you see hamsters in GI Joe airplanes flying off of building rooftops.
Charlie should have learned how to use that GI Joe parachute. Ah, the joys of growing up. Time to buy a new hamster.
Oh, and about medications. Talk to your local doctor about your health condition, and get some prescriptions for the usual and various ailments that are typical of your travel there. Get something for diarrhea (Pepto Bismal daily helps, also bring Lomotil and Flagyl), something for skin infections (like Cephalexin, Keflex), something for bronchitis or pneumonia (Iike Bactrim or Ceclor), and something for urinary tract infections (like Bactrim or Septra). Ask your doctor how and when to use these medications; it is far better to bring them with you, armed with the knowledge of when to use them, than trying to deal with the Chinese doctors in their little storefront shops, who are also armed with god knows what kind of antibiotics. (Some of which are copies of our US antibiotics, but, you probably won't recognize them). Also, a daily tablet of Pepto Bismal will do more than make your stools look black; it will help keep down the E. Coli, Giardia toxin effects, and other harmful bacteria counts in your gut, with the end result of keeping down the bloating and awful diarrhea that one can get if one gets "contaminated" via the water or improper food.
Talking about "medications", if you're going in the late spring, summer, or early fall, make sure that you bring Gatorade. Sweating (perspiring, for you women), causes you to lose a lot of electrolytes, and unless you make a special effort to eat bananas (for the potassium) and, put extra salt on your food (for the sodium), within two to three days of serious work out you're going to feel like dog shit. That is, if you don't get really sick first. Gatorade is a great thing to take to prevent the hypokalemia and hyponatremia that is almost inevitable in this situation. Oh, and bring the powdered kind. Carrying bottles of the liquid stuff halfway across the world is, well, idiotic. OK, so I did that. But I only did it twice.
As for clothing, I have a routine. I bring as little as possible. Three or four sets of undies and socks and t shirts, and a thingy to wrap around my head, and two pairs of karate pants. Oh, and a pair of blue jeans if I end up with a date with some god awfully gorgeous woman somewhere in my travels, just in case I have to "dress up". The reason behind the limited clothing, is weight. You're limited to 20 kg (44 pounds) of shit when you board any of the Chinese airlines. Now, I always seem to have much more, but, I also seem to smile a lot at the little female Chinese ticket agents. ("You baggage too big!" "I'm too big baby! Check this out!" Bitch....) Sometimes they'll charge you "overweight" fees, which can be a nuisance. My clothing routine is to basically wash (in the usual disgusting unsanitary water) the clothes I wear on a daily basis, with the exception of the karate pants. It will take about a day or two, depending upon the season, for that stuff to dry, thus, the four item limit. I wash the karate pants as needed, or, when they start to stand up by themselves. If they start walking by themselves, I give them to the monks.
One pair of comfortable sneakers, and, overcoats as dictated by the time of year that you travel. I also bring my chain whip, because it's custom made for my height, and therefore, hard to find over there. Other than that, you're set.
My second bag contains my computer, cameras, and other related electronic toys. I suggest limiting that stuff as much as possible. Toting a computer around is not exactly fun, and unless you have this big ridiculous web site to keep adding bizarre shit to, don't bother bringing one. There is an internet cafe now in Shaolin village, and you can also find them in Dengfeng, if you feel the need to satisfy your email addiction.
I also bring a medical bag, sometimes, depending upon how many people are going to be with me, a fairly large and extensive one. But, I'm a doctor, and, fortunately for you, you're probably not, so you don't have to deal with worrying about others in your group. Let them take their chances with the local Chinese hospitals. Oh, you'll have such a good time in one of those....
Make sure that you have copies of your passport and visa scattered around your bags in various places, just in case you lose your passport. Oh, and don't lose your passport. Bring extra passport photos of yourself, just in case you need to extend your visa, or, get another one for another country.
The US embassy is in Beijing. Write this number down anyway. You never know when you might need these guys. You never know when the Chinese are going to knock another of our spy planes out of Chinese airspace:
US Embassy (Beijing): 6532-3431
Basically you never know when you're going to get into "doc trouble".
Oh, and make damn sure, that you have adequately contacted whatever school you're going to be training at, so that they get you at the airport. The last thing you want to do is hang out at Zengzhou airport and not be able to speak Mandarin.
And what about money? Remember the old adage about leaving the cash at home and bringing nothing but traveler's cheques? Yes, it's a great idea, if you're going somewhere that cashes traveler's cheques. Problem is, in Dengfeng, there's only one place that will cash traveler's cheques, and that's the Bank of China (it is southwest of the main square, and west a few blocks). There are many other banks in China, such as the Bank of Agriculture, Construction Bank, etc, etc, but they routinely will not exchange money. The Bank of China will, but, usually not on Saturdays or Sundays. Traveler's cheques are changeable in most Bank of China's, but, in the smaller areas, such as Shaolin, or other small villages, you might find yourself to be out of luck. You can get cash advances with a Mastercard or Visa at the Bank of China also, at least, in most of the ones I went to. American Express may be the card of Disneyworld, and, supposedly, it's also the card of China, but whenever I flash my platinum card, I usually get funny stares ("No good". "It's the best." "No good, massacad, massacad.") I've started just bringing more cash with me, and less traveler's cheques, because, it just seems to be easier. The official exchange rate is 8.07 Yuan to the US dollar, but, if you're careful with who you discuss these things with, you can get upwards of 8.4 Yuan to the US dollar. Oh, and if you're bringing US dollars with you, you'll have better success exchanging the older ones. These new bills with the big heads on them just freak the Chinese out (They don't think that they're real).
As for bringing a laptop with you, it's not a bad idea, provided that you bring the usual security devices to protect it, such as cables (with combination locks and not keys). It's especially useful if you have your music digitally stored on it. Don't expect to bring an FM radio so that you can hear good Rap or Classical music in Shaolin. As for emailing people with your laptop, it is definitely possible, but, if you don't get local ISP access by purchasing a local account for a short period of time (not an easy thing to do, as it is in other countries), you'll have to rely upon using an international roaming service, such as GRIC (www.gric.com). Usually you can get this service through your home ISP. Problem with this is, you have to call Beijing, or some other large city (Zengzhou now is part of that program) to access the internet. And you have to do if from a decent hotel that has decent phone lines. Beware the long distance phone call charges, as they will pile up. They're actually a bit more expensive than in the US, so, be careful with them. Make sure you bring a modem checker to make sure that the telephone line is compatible with your modem. The R11 jacks can be used to connect in most cases now.
What to wear, oh, what to wear. No uniforms are necessary. Bring whatever is comfortable. And don't bother bringing your black belt. It won't impress anybody. Remember, the Chinese don't use belts in Shaolin. It means nothing.
And, if you're going alone, remember this. People there speak Mandarin Chinese. With a Henan dialect (Yes, that's why I can't understand them….) As for getting an interpreter, that's going to be tough. At the wushu guan, Mr. Guo, and another person there, speak some English, but they will not be available to you at all times to translate. If you're at another school, then, you're probably going to be without a translator, unless you meet some other traveling fool who understands English and a little Chinese (Yes, they are there, more so than you'd expect). I've never found the lack of an interpreter to be a problem. Remember, you're going there to train, and if you've got any sort of martial arts experience, you can learn without talking.
That should take care of the majority of it. Go and have a good time. It will be an experience.