Travel China: Survival Rules

For those of you who are going to China and/or Shaolin for the first time, here are some things that I have learned from my own experience--some of it good, some bad. There=s no reason why you should have to repeat the same school of hard knocks if you can just learn from my own.

I. Survival and Safety

A. RULE #1: Always keep your passport, plane ticket, and money physically on the front of your body, with zipper or other strong and noisy fastener closed. Make multiple copies of your passport and visa stamp and keep them in different locations in your luggage in case you one or more pieces of luggage.

If you lose literally everything else, you can still survive with those three items, and all three are VERY hot items on the Chinese black market, especially passports. If you can=t keep them physically on your person, such as during workouts, then at least keep them within your own personal sight in a secure location. NEVER leave them in your hotel room, on the bus, or anyplace else.

B. A few other things always to keep with you:


Liquid Hand Sanitizer
For disinfecting your hands before eating and after using the restroom or accidental contact with animals or any other potential source of disease.

English-Chinese Dictionary
It may be your only means to communicate if you ever get lost, in both English and Chinese characters.

Hotel Card
It may be the only thing that gets you home if you ever get lost

All paperwork and receipts
You never know when you=ll need them. Never assume that you can throw them away until you're home.

AT&T Calling Card w/International Service
For making calls in an emergency situation

Multiple Itinerary Copies
For both everyday use and emergencies. Include names, addresses, and phone numbers of the places where you will be staying, your Chinese contacts, and any other vital information. Also include names, addresses, and phone#=s of your family and contacts at home for an emergency. Give a copy of them to your friends and family. Keep the others in different places in your luggage in case you lose some of your bags.

An Internet-Accessible E-mail Account
Internet is everywhere in China.  It's a cheap and fast way to stay in contact with friends back home in the US.

Always have some either Chinese or American cash or both with you.

C. A Few Safety Rules:

 1. Be careful crossing the street. Chinese drivers don=t slow down, let alone stop, for pedestrians.

2. Don''t ever go anywhere alone with a Chinese person whom you don=t know.

3. Try as much as you can not to be alone

D. If you do get lost or need help:

1. Never hesitate to ask--in English--for assistance.

English is the closest thing there is to a universal language now. You can expect there to be persons who speak reasonably good English at airports, and at most higher-class hotels. If your attendant doesn't speak English, you can ask, in English, for someone who does. In places such as hotels and airports, the attendants are getting paid out of your own fees, so you might as well make them earn their pay.

2. If you get lost, try to find a high-class hotel or business. They=re very likely to have English-speaking persons working for them. They can help you.

II. Medical Preparations and Considerations

A. Before you go:

1. Have a thorough medical exam before you go on any major trip like this.
2. Get immunized for everything you can and start the process 6 months before your trip since some immunizations, like Hepatitis, require a series of shots over 6 months to complete.
3. Ask your doctor for Cipro and/or Flagyl for diarrhea.
Cipro is mainly for bacteria-caused diarrhea, and Flagyl is mainly for Giardia-caused diarrhea. Don=t leave the country without them. You may regret it if you do. I would have been in trouble without them a few times over there.
4. If you take prescription medication with you, keep it in it's original labeled container & take copies of the prescription with you.
5. Take your own supply of medicine.  Take a wide variety for illness and a first aid kit with antiseptic wipes.
6. Females: Oral contraceptives, prescribed by your doctor, used short-term (a few weeks) can delay the start of your period to a less inconvenient time of your choosing. Your time in China and at Shaolin is expensive. You don=t want to waste in on THAT. Guys, be glad you're guys.
7. Use mosquito netting, bug spray with DEET, and take vitamin B to avoid mosquito bites.

There is some danger of contracting malaria in some parts of China, particularly rural tropical and sub-tropical areas, though not so much at Shaolin. It=s transmitted by the anopheles mosquito that only bites at night.  Take some mosquito netting with you to cover exposed areas of your body while you sleep. A less expensive alternative is to go to a fabric store and buy a few yards of nylon mesh like what they make brides= veils and ballerina skirts out of. Even if there isn't any real danger of contracting malaria, it can still spare you the discomfort of dealing with mosquito bites. You may want to take Lariam for malaria prevention, depending on what parts of China you visit. If you do take it, you have to start before you go. Talk to your doctor about it.

B. While you're there:

1. Only accept medical treatment from Doc or with Doc's approval.
There are a lot of mad doctors and quacks in the Shaolin Village. Never accept treatment without Doc's authorization. If you have to get medical treatment without Doc=s approval, only accept it from the clinic by the Forest of Pagodas.
2. NEVER let someone at Shaolin do acupuncture on you.
You have no idea where those needles have been. Get the picture?  The only possible permissible exception might be new, sterile, disposable, one-time-use needles, just barely opened out of their individual band-aid-like paper packages.
3. If you get cut or wounded, clean the wound thoroughly with a disinfectant before dressing it.
4. Never touch any animals there. If contact is unavoidable, sanitize contacted areas afterward with a liquid hand sanitizer.
5. Not many hotels that I've seen in China have swimming pools, but some in Dengfeng do.  However, you have no guarantee as to the safety of the water in them. Swim at your own risk.

III. Power, Electronics, and Photography

 A. Power & Electronics

1. Power in China is 220 Volts and the plugs are shaped differently than in the US.  You=ll need both an international voltage converter and plug adapter kit.
2. Power in China is polarity-sensitive, so plug things in upright rather than upside-down.
3. Take a small surge protector with you to protect your sensitive electronic devices.
One time, I had a surge protector save my other electronic devices. I was in my hotel room trying to recharge my camcorder batteries, and made the mistake of trying to plug my surge protector into the socket upside-down. In the process of blowing, it threw sparks and fire (luckily it flared to the side so it didn't burn my hand), made a loud popping sound, and stank as only fried electronics can. However, the whole reason that I took it with me was just that. To give it's life to save my other electronic equipment from damage in the event that there was a problem with the power. So ultimately it fulfilled it's purpose.
4. Take a flashlight with you with extra batteries.
Power outages aren't uncommon over there, and streetlights are more scarce there than in the US. When power outages do happen, they can persist for days at times, especially in rural areas, though rarely. But it=s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

 B. Photography

1. No pictures are allowed to be taken inside the pavilions at the Shaolin Temple.

2. Take new film with you for your cameras. I've lost some great shots because I was using old film that had expired.

IV. Passports and Visas

 A. Passports

1. Apply for a passport at your local US post office. Apply at least 6 months before your trip. They=ll also require passport photos for the application which you can get at most photo shops.
2. Make sure that there are at least 6 months left before your passport expires when you go on your trip.

B. Tourist Visas

1. Once you have your passport, you have to apply for a Chinese visa through a Chinese Consulate. There are several throughout the US. I typically go through an Eastern travel agent specialist to get mine.
2. Pay very close attention to timing when applying for your visa. Once you=re issued your visa, you only have a certain window of time in which the visa can be used. Talk to your travel agent about the timing.

 V. Food and Eating

NOTE: You will see the locals over there not abiding by the eating and drinking rules below. Don=t assume that, because they=re doing it, it=s safe for you to also. Remember, their immune systems are accustomed to the local bugs over there, while ours aren't. Don=t take chances that way unless you want to be tethered to the facilities over there for a few days!

 A. Food Safety:

 1. RULE #1: Cook it, Boil it, Peel it, or Forget it.
Everything you eat should be thoroughly cooked or boiled and served hot, unless it=s a fruit that you peel yourself such as oranges and bananas. Even then, be careful not to touch the edible flesh inside when you peel it.
2. Always sanitize your hands with a liquid hand sanitizer before eating. Take lots of small bottles of Purell or some other hand sanitizer with you to sterilize your hands before you eat.

B. Culture Shock:

1. The Chinese are extremely efficient when it comes to utilization of any animal they kill for food. They eat many animals and parts of animals that Americans don't. You may be served some foods at times that might gross you out.
2. Always carry with you some kind of substantial snack
It's a good idea to take with you lots of snacks which are substantial enough (protein, carbohydrates) to substitute for a full meal in case you get in a situation where you can=t order food or the food may or may not be safe to eat such as in airports during flight layovers. They can also supplement your diet if you have a hard time adjusting to the food over there. If you do take snacks with you, you can eat up your food, then fill the same space in your suitcase with souvenirs for the return home.
3. Learn to use chopsticks if you can as part of the cultural experience. Otherwise, you can ask for silverware by saying ADaocha@.

VI. Water

 A. Only drink bottled or boiled water

1. Buy a case of water as soon as you arrive. They do have water shortages over there at times, especially in the summer.
2. Make sure the seal on your bottle of water is intact, and never buy water from a little kid.
3. Always make sure you have at least one bottle of water available before you go to bed at night to use to drink and brush your teeth in the morning. Try not to swallow any water when taking a shower.

 B. Carbonated drinks are safe to drink. The carbonation sterilizes them. But don=t buy cans that came out of a tub of ice water. Buy dry cans instead.

VII. Money

A. The exchange rate is approximately 8 Chinese Yuan to the US $1.
B. Don=t take traveler=s cheques to Shaolin.  Take US or Chinese cash.
The bank manager in Dengfeng doesn't like to trade traveler's cheques and sometimes makes excuses not to. Last time I was there, I ended up having to waste a day to take a trip to the Bank of China in Zhengzhou, the Henan Province=s capital, to exchange mine. The fact that we had to wait until 3 PM for the bank's afternoon siesta to be over before I could exchange them didn't help matters either (Mind you, this was at the largest bank in the entire Henan Province). Exchange your traveler=s cheques for American or Chinese cash in a larger town before you leave for Dengfeng and Shaolin. Change your American cash into Chinese cash each day or two as needed for that day or two, and get the pink 100 Yuan bills rather than blue. People seem to trust them more not to be counterfeit bills.

C. I recommend taking $200 in US $1 bills with you for shopping. They're the closest think there is to a universal currency.

VIII. Kung Fu Training

 A. Conditioning

1. Start as soon as you can to develop as much thigh strength, flexibility, and aerobic endurance as you can, specially thigh strength.
The forms that you will be training in require you repeatedly to go down into very low lunges and stances then spring up out of them again to do your next move; and on one leg, too. I've seen foreigners in training over there who were so sore they could hardly walk, so start as soon as you can. Upright exercise, such as jogging, won't be enough. You'll need some exercise that takes you down to full flexion and extension again under a load such as squats, stair running, mountain climbing, or leap frogging. However, take care not to overdo it and injure yourself. The physical trainers that I've talked to about it tell me that the fastest way to build up muscle strength is to cause yourself to be a little bit sore, heal completely, then exercise again.
2. Warm up and stretch out thoroughly before your workouts to decrease the likelihood that you will injure yourself.

B. Avoiding Dehydration

1. Drink a lot before, during, and after your workouts.
You sweat profusely and lose a lot of body fluid as well as electrolytes when you work out over there, far more than you think you are because it evaporates off of your body. Don=t wait until you=re thirsty to start drinking. If you become dehydrated or get heat stroke, you won=t realize it until you're already feeling sick. Don't wait until then. You should be urinating. Otherwise you are dehydrated.  It=s better to drink too much and have to urinate than to get sick from not drinking enough.
2. Take lots of Gatorade powder with you. If you run out of Gatorade, eat lots of bananas (xiangjiao) for potassium and salty French fries (Zha tudou tiao) or peanuts (huasheng) for sodium instead.

C. Clothing

1. Don=t wear a Japanese-style gi top to your workouts.  The Chinese think they're strange and don't wear them themselves.
2. For your workouts, you will need to take some well-broken-in light tennis shoes with you that have a very flexible sole on them.
If you buy new shoes for the trip, make sure that you break them in well before you go in order to avoid getting blisters there. If you do get blisters, put some masking tape on your heels, toes, and anywhere else you get blisters before you put your socks on. That way your socks will slide across the tape on your feet rather than rubbing against the skin.
3. It=s not necessary to take sparring gear with you to Shaolin unless your master asks you to. Otherwise, you shouldn't need it.

D. As is customary in China, you may want to take a small gift or two with you to give to your masters and coaches as a token of thanks to them.

 X. Restrooms in China. Always an adventure and fodder for stories back home...

 A. Toilets vs. Squatters

Some bathroom facilities over there will have actual upright toilets, while others will be squatters, which is either a porcelain dish sunk into the concrete floor or, in rural areas, two concrete slabs laid parallel to each other with a slot between them (think of it as horse stance practice!). Use the restroom before workouts, forays, or bus/train trips. You won't like the rural facilities otherwise. Some are like outhouses, but not quite as civilized. I personally wouldn't recommend sitting on any public toilet seats over there, either.

B. Always carry with you your own supply of TP or TP substitute. Some facilities (if you can call them that) will provide it while others won=t. Kleenex mini-packs work great for portable T.P.

C. Be aware that you may have to pay to use some public bathroom facilities in some places.
If it=s a fairly decent restroom in a public place and there's an attendant lady there with a mop, that's a pretty good clue that it may be a pay-per-use restroom and you may be expected to pay the attendant. The fee is usually only 1 Yuan. Watch the other local patrons to see if they pay in order to determine if it is, in fact, a pay-per-use restroom.

XI. Taxis

A. Agree on price before you get on a taxi in Shaolin or Dengfeng. Otherwise they may try to take advantage of the fact that you=re from the West and overcharge you.

B. In the cities, you can avoid taxis taking advantage of your foreign vulnerability using the following means:

1. Know your way to where you're going, or take a map with you and show the taxi the route.

2. Offer to give them a tip if you arrive quickly so they don't take you joy riding rather than directly to your destination for the sake of trying to run up a big bill to stick on you.

 XII. Packing Tips

 A. General Suggestions

 1.Give yourself twice as much time as you think you'll need. It's far more time-consuming than you think. I guarantee you it will end up being just barely enough.
2. Ziplock freezer bags, the solution to all packing problems.
Get and use the higher-quality ones rather than the cheaper ones, and take extra ones with you. They make it very easy to compartmentalize what you pack and to see what's inside them. They also make airport and other security inspections go faster and easier because the inspectors can see at a glance what's inside your suitcase. They also collapse as needed so as not to take up any more space in your suitcase than what is absolutely necessary at any given time, whereas hard containers like boxes always take up the same amount of space in your suitcase, regardless of how full or empty they may be.
2. Pack lightly but adequately when it comes to large, heavy, and/or bulky things.
With smaller and lighter items you don't need to be so choosy. You can go over-prepared on small stuff. How picky you need to be also depends on how many times you have to pack up and move during your trip, such as to board a plane, train, or bus.
3. There is a fine for overweight luggage at airports in China.  Anything over 20 Kg (roughly 44 pounds) is overweight and will be charged a fine to check it.

B. Safety and Security

1. Keep a suitcase strap around your suitcase, lock it, and label it.
The suitcase strap is an additional security measure to be sure that your suitcase doesn't burst open. Mine has saved me a few times in the past. It also makes it easier for you to identify it at baggage claims and less likely that someone else will mistake it for their own, especially if your suitcase is black. Also, keep your baggage claim tags that are issued to you when you check your bags to prove ownership when you pick them up.
2. Always take a survival kit on board the plane with you into the passenger compartment
Some airlines in China strictly enforce a rule that you can only take one piece of baggage into the passenger compartment with you, other than one small purse or camera bag. Pack everything that you would have to have in order to survive in the bag that you take into the passenger compartment with you in case your checked luggage gets lost. Your survival kit should have all the necessities that you would have to have in order to survive in such an event, such as toiletries and a change of clothes.
3. Double-bag all liquids and powders such as shampoo and laundry detergent.
The last thing in the world you want is for a container like that to burst open inside your suitcase. Once you have them all double-bagged, tie all of the bags up inside a heavy-duty garbage bag that you can then use for a dirty clothes bag when you arrive.

C. Clothing

1. Take loose, comfortable, wrinkle-resistant clothes and a waterproof jacket or coat with you (depending on the season) that can be layered on or off easily as well as a small umbrella.
2. Use the Flat Stack trick to avoid wrinkles in your clothes
I suggest taking clothes with you that aren't all that prone to wrinkling in the first place.  Then, use what I call the flat stack trick to pack them. To do this, don't fold your clothing items individually to put them in your suitcase. Instead, lay them all out flat, then stack them on top of each other like that, from most-wrinkle-prone at the bottom to least-wrinkle-prone at the top. Once you have your stack, place the whole stack inside one side of your suitcase, letting the longer parts like pant legs and shirt sleeves hang over the sides of the suitcase. Then, take some softer, wrinkle-free items, such as towels, socks, and sweaters, fold them up, and set them on the center of the stack. Finally, take the longer parts like shirt sleeves and pant legs and lay them over the soft wrinkle-free things at the center of the stack. That way none of your clothes are packed with creases in them.
3. You can buy workout uniforms for cheap over there, including shoes. So you don't have to pack many clothes to take over there with you.
4. Take comfortable, well-broken-in walking shoes with you.
The tourist sites in Beijing and the Great Wall in particular require a lot of walking. Make sure your shoes are well broken in before you go. You don't want blisters. Take some masking tape with you. If you do start getting blisters, put some masking tape on your heels, toes, or wherever else you're getting them so that your socks will slide across the tape on your skin rather than rubbing against it.

 XIII. Laundry

 A. It's easiest to take a few basic clothes with you and do a little bit of laundry frequently rather than a lot all at once.

 B. Take a string for a clothes line and clothes pins with you. I just use large plastic paperclips for clothes pins because they=re smaller in my suitcase than actual clothes pins are. Don't use metal paperclips. The metal corrodes and stains your clothes.

 C. Squeeze all of the water that you can out of your clothes before hanging them up to dry

Shaolin can be a humid climate at times. Clothes sometimes don't dry out completely before they go sour. Also, the water isn't sanitized to the point that it is here in the US, so there is more bacteria present in the water to cause your clothes to go sour. Squeeze all the water out of them that you can before you hang them up to dry, preferably outside for the breeze. If necessary, you can smash them between two towels to absorb the water out of them first, especially socks.

 D. Beware of the cheap T-Shirts sold in the Shaolin Village. The dye in them bleeds.

Don't wash them with your other clothes because the dye in them bleeds all over. Also, you tend to sweat profusely during your workouts, so even if the weather is dry, the dye will still rub off on you. And hope that you don't get caught in a rainstorm wearing one. The old saying You get what you pay for certainly applies. For only 10 Yuan (roughly $1.25 US) each, it might not even be worth going to the trouble to wash them at all. I think of them as One-time-wear disposable shirts.

 XIV. Shopping

 A. Bargaining: Many shops at the sites you will see have very similar merchandise in them. You may want to shop around at many shops to get the best deal before you decide to buy anything.

 B. Souvenirs: Try as much as possible to buy the bulk of your large and/or heavy souvenirs close to the end of your trip.
Once you buy them, you then have to carry them with you everywhere you go for the rest of the trip after that. However, there may be times when you only have the chance to buy them when and where you are at the time, such as the weapons at Shaolin. How picky you are also depends on how much relocating you have to do and how often during your trip for airplane, train, and bus rides where you'll have to carry and load them on and off every time.

C. Martial Arts weapons, if conveyed back to the States, may give you grief at baggage check-ins and security checks, so be prepared for that.

D. Dealing with pesky salespersons:
The best approach I've found is to condition your mind and behavior to act like they don't even exist, even if they're literally two inches away from your face. If they physically get in the way of where you need to go, act like they're simply an inanimate object to walk around like you would a garbage can, light post, or tree. Don't give them your attention, even to tell them No!, (Especially the ladies who sell the obnoxious pull-string laughing dolls on the front steps of the Wushuguan.  Those dolls are the kind of present you'd give your worst enemy's kids for Christmas!). The most obnoxious salespersons I've had to deal with that way are the ones from Northern China at the Great Wall, or at the Ming Tombs which tourists typically visit on the way to the Great Wall.

XV. Time Difference and Jetlag

A. Time Difference

1. Shaolin is 15 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time (PDT)
Most of the time, China and Shaolin are already a calendar day ahead of most of the US. When the US is on Daylight Savings Time (the first Sunday in April through the last Sunday in October, which is when you would be most likely to go on a trip over there), the time difference, in hours, by US time zone is as follows (for non-Daylight Savings time, simply add one hour to those below):

 US Time Zone: PDT     MDT    CDT    EDT     ADT

China/ Shaolin  Time:   +15      +14      +13      +12      +11

So, if it's 11 PM in Las Vegas, Nevada (PDT), it's already 2 PM on the next calendar day in Shaolin. This is something that you need to bear in mind if you ever call your contacts  over there. You don't want to call them in the middle of the night.
2. You cross the International Date Line Mid-Pacific en route to China, so you jump ahead one calendar day on the way over, then back a day on the way home.
3. I suggest that you take a wrist watch with you to use to monitor the local time over there, and a digital watch to monitor the time and date back home.

B. Jetlag

1. Depending on where you come from, your body clock will basically be turned 180 degrees upside-down when you're at Shaolin.
2. Westbound travel seems to be easier to adjust to than eastbound.
Westbound has the same effect on your body clock as staying up late then sleeping in the next morning, while eastbound travel is like having to adjust to going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. No wonder westbound is easier to adjust to.
3. It typically takes me one week to adjust on the way over and two weeks coming back.
In an effort to reduce jetlag and sleep deficiency, I usually stay for a night in a hotel in Shanghai both on the way into the country and back out of it. I try to get as much sleep as I can because going to Shaolin means heavy workouts despite jetlag, so you need your energy.

XVI. Airports and Air Travel

A. Before you board your flight:

1. China Airport Tax
In China, every time you fly you have to pay Airport Tax. Last time I was there, it was 50 Yuan for domestic flights and 90 Yuan for international. You have to pay for it at a counter before you go through security, where you will be issued a blue ticket for having paid it. Then you give the ticket to the attendant before you go through security.

2. Always keep track of your luggage claim tags that they give you when you check your baggage at the airports.  Many airports require you to show them at the luggage claim in order to prove ownership.
3. Confirm all of your flights with your airline three days before departure.
4. I recommend at least a two-hour layover between flights
It's a safety measure in case of flight delays, especially if you have to go through customs between them. You have no way to control the weather or how many international flights have just arrived at the airport or how long the waiting lines in customs will be as a result, so plan your flight itinerary to accommodate it.
5. Check-in at Chinese airports
At the Zhengzhou Airport, luggage check-in usually starts within a half-hour of when boarding starts. Look for an LED display with flight information on it. Find your flight# on it, then it will say which counter will have check-in for that flight starting at what time.

 B. During your flight:

 1. Air sickness
Personally, I do okay with air motion as long as I can see a window to use to maintain my visual orientation with the ground. But for people who have a hard time with air sickness, you can take motion sickness pills before you board a flight.  I've also heard that it helps not to eat or drink anything that would slosh around in your stomach until you've already taken off and the aircraft has achieved cruising altitude and leveled off.
2. Take a set of earplugs, a blindfold, and a blow-up neck pillow for better sleep.
The silence and darkness can simulate the sleeping conditions you=re used to and help you sleep better, especially with the constant whirring of the jet engines around you. Sleep as much as you can on your flight and any other time that you can. You'll be undergoing heavy workouts despite jetlag.  You'll need all the sleep you can get.
3. Take your own entertainment along with you for your flights. They're long and boring.

C. Upon Arrival:

1. Arrival Cards in China
Every time you enter China from another country, you are required to fill out an Arrival Card to turn in, which will usually be provided on your flight just before landing. It will ask for your name in the order of surname (or family name), then given name, as well as some passport information.
NOTE: Chinese names are said in exactly the opposite order of names in English, so the Western designations of first name and last name become completely irrelevant over there. Chinese names are stated surname (or family name) first, then given name. For instance, some of you may recall the names of Wing Chun's last Grandmaster, Yip Man, and his son, Yip Chun. Now you can understand why it's the second name that differentiates the two rather than the first.
Titles, such as Mr, Mrs, Dr, Master, etc. are stated very last after the name. So Mr. John Doe in the US would be Doe John Xiansheng in China, Xiansheng being the Mandarin equivalent of Mr. Likewise, if you were to train with Doc's master, Master De Cheng, you would call him De Cheng Sifu, rather than Sifu De Cheng.
2. Going through US Customs upon arrival in the US
The following are excerpts of information taken from the US Customs Service

Official website at Please visit their website if you want more detailed information than that given below.

 a. Anything that you purchase abroad, then bring back to the US, has to be declared.

Keep your receipts and an itemized list of what you buy while you are abroad. Close to the end of your flight back to the US, the flight attendants will distribute Customs Declaration Forms to passengers to fill out. On it you will be required to write what you bought, how much it cost, and whether it is intended for personal use, commercial use, or as a gift.

b. If you take something of value with you on your trip that could have been acquired abroad, such as a laptop computer or camera, either declare it with Customs before you go, or take some kind of evidence with you, such as a sales receipt, that you owned it before you left.

c. Each person has a $400 duty tax exemption limit. Immediate family members may combine their personal exemptions. For amounts over $400, a 4% duty tax will be charged for the ENTIRE AMOUNT, not just the amount over $400.

d. You may be selected, at random, to undergo a more thorough Personal Search

If you happen to be the unlucky person chosen, IT IN NO WAY SUGGESTS SUSPICION OF WRONG DOING ON YOUR PART. It's just something that the US Customs Service has to do in an effort to curb the flow of illegal narcotics into the country, and they have all of the authority that they need to do it as granted to them by the United States Congress. Just cooperate with them as best you can to speed up the process. They are also required by law to do it in as professional and courteous a manner as possible.

e. Anything organic (plant or soil) that you bring back with you is subject to inspection

One time when I went over there, I brought a bamboo staff back with me, and had to make a special stop at the Agricultural Desk to have it inspected. However, I can still understand their need to be cautious in an effort to prevent devastating crop diseases from entering the US.

f. All fruits and meats, regardless of origin, have to be thrown away.

So remember to eat all of your jerky and trail mix before you arrive. They have trained dogs working around the baggage claim areas whose purpose is to locate those kinds of things as well as illegal drugs.
Last time I went over there, I took some jerky with me then brought the leftovers back, thinking it was okay since it had originally come from the US, but the little mutt found it. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that this dog was official at first. All I saw, looking back through my baggage cart was some little dog's snout going through my bags. I thought it just belonged to some tourist coming back from vacation with their dog, who had turned it loose to look for it=s next meal. It was only upon closer inspection-- and after having had a few words with the dog-- that I noticed that the dog had a little doggie uniform on...and that it was attached to a leash...and at the other end of the leash was a big Customs policewoman... Oops.
It meant a special trip over to the Agricultural Desk and an open-suitcase search. All of my jerky got confiscated and thrown away, and jerky isn't cheap. Not only was it embarrassing to have somebody else going through my suitcase, it also meant that all the special packing that I had done for the trip got undone. Fortunately, I only had one short flight left to go before I arrived home, so it wasn't all that bad. I told the Customs Officer who did it that I wouldn't want his job, having to go through people's suitcases and all. His reply, Believe me, I've seen it all. I don't doubt it. I suspect that he's smelled it all, too.

g. Any pirated copyrighted material, including software, is confiscated.  Remember that if you try to buy software in China. Much of what you find in the computer shops over there has been illegally copied.

h. Beware of high lead content in china and porcelain items purchased in China.

If you do buy ceramic table wear in China, such as porcelain, it is recommended that you only use it for display rather than for dining. Many of the glazes used on them have dangerously high lead content, which can seep out into food and cause lead poisoning.

XVIII. Cultural considerations

A. Progress in China's economy, technology, and infrastructure

China=s culture has been making extremely rapid progress to come out of the dark ages for the last 15 years or so. There are good reasons why many world leaders believe that China will be the next global superpower. From what I've seen personally, I believe it.

B. Behavioral Differences and Expectations

1. Avoid refusing hospitality as much as possible
If you have special needs and wants, communicate them to your host(s) before receiving hospitality from them so you don=t have to refuse it once it has been offered. If you do have to refuse it, give some kind of a reasonable explanation why that would save face for both you and your host.
2. Be very careful about Aoking and teasing
When dealing with a new culture, including China, NEVER say something which could be taken wrong while assuming that the other person will understand that you're just joking or teasing. I've made that mistake before and ended up offending a few people over there, including my own master. Not a smart move. I strongly recommend that you don't try that one yourself. Until you know each other better, always assume that they'll take anything you say literally and personally, and NEVER be sarcastic.
3. Public display of bodily functions
Many Chinese persons, both men and women-- have far fewer inhibitions than we typically do here in the West when it comes to public display of certain bodily necessities.  Be prepared for possible shock that way. It may also gross you out. On the other hand, they tend to be far more reserved than we are when it comes to public displays of affection.
4. Don't hug members of the opposite gender over there. It's considered to be promiscuous.
5. Be careful not to do or say things that could cause people over there to lose face

C. Shaolin conditions

1. Kung Fu Boarding Schools in the Shaolin/Dengfeng area
The dozens of kung fu schools in the Shaolin/Dengfeng area are boarding schools for the tens of thousands of children living in them, where they receive a combination of martial and academic education.  They only spend one month per year at home with their families around the Chinese New Year in January. Many students live together in a single room.  However, the students that I've talked to don=t mind the lack of privacy.  To them, it=s one great big slumber party with their friends all the time. Since China is a collectivist as opposed to individualist society, they really don=t know any different anyway.
2. Living conditions
Long-term living conditions for the locals there are about like camping. For us, we can stay at the Tianzhong or Feng Yuan Hotels in Dengfeng, or at the Wushuguan Guest House in the Shaolin Village. That=s listed from highest class to lowest. The Tianzhong and Feng Yuan are far cleaner and the water, power, and food there are better, but staying in them requires commuting via taxi or public shuttle bus from there to Shaolin (about 15 kilometers away), whereas the Wushuguan is located in the middle of the Shaolin Village, putting you within walking distance of the Temple, kung fu schools, and shops there. However, if you go over there to train with Doc, the kung fu schools where you would be training are located in Dengfeng rather than in the Shaolin Village anyway, so you might as well stay at the Tianzhong or Feng Yuan Hotels.

D. Hong Kong Culture

I personally love Hong Kong. It's a very large, modern, and clean city, and thank heavens spitting on the street is illegal as opposed to the rest of China. It's like one great big shopping mall with a very dense population stacked straight up and down, and it seems like there's a McDonald's every other block which is great after nothing but Chinese food for a few weeks. It's an extremely multi-cultural city.  Within 10 minutes walking down the street in the downtown area you can see 20 different nationalities and hear 10 different languages. It's also an extremely wealthy city. It seems like every other private vehicle on the road is a luxury car such as Rolls Royce, Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus. It could blow you away if you see it.

However, there are still a few cultural things you need to be aware of if you go there:

1. Be aware that persons there can come across as being very abrupt or rude at times.
Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. However, by the same token, it's also a very fast-paced, business and money-driven culture.  Sometimes people there feel like politeness is a waste of precious time that they can't afford, and they can seem blunt and irritable at times.  They like you to get to the point, state your business, get it done, then let them move on to their next task as quickly as possible. Be prepared to see and experience that cultural aspect if you ever visit Hong Kong.
2. As a former British colony, people drive on the opposite side of the street from the US.
Remember that when you try to cross the street.  You need to look the other direction than what you're accustomed to looking, especially when those European-style double-decker busses come barreling down the street. They don't slow down for pedestrians. It never ceases to amaze my how fearless Chinese pedestrians are when it comes to crossing the street. They come literally inches away from cars driving past them at full speed and don't even flinch. I personally won't get that close to them since, if a gust of wind happens to come up behind you or you get bumped from behind by another pedestrian just then...not a pretty thought. I recommend that you exercise more caution than they do.

Well, that concludes my list of suggestions for survival in China and at Shaolin.  I hope they've been helpful and some of them maybe even entertaining.

Have a good trip!

Bai He