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NewChineseBoy

2 month stay in Beijing - concerns of mine + what should I know?

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NewChineseBoy

Hi guys,

I am a complete newbie when it comes to life in China (read: a foreign country) so I may ask some really stupid questions but please bear with me. I'll be visiting Beijing for about two months and it'll be my first trip to China (I've lived in the USA my whole life).

First of all, are there any accommodations in Beijing that offer month-to-month leases? I'd prefer not to live in a hotel since it's expensive plus there's no kitchen and if I'm going to stay for that long, I'd want to cook my own food. What are some good/safe neighborhoods that I should consider?

Secondly, I have a smartphone with T-Mobile. How do I go about getting cellphone/data access in China? I'm assuming T-Mobile will either not work in China or charge me exorbitant roaming rates. Will I need a completely new number and cellphone or can I just purchase a SIM card and slide it into my phone?

Thirdly, how do I go about getting my place WiFi enabled? Is there a way I can purchase Internet access through a phone carrier or a Internet Service Provider? I have a Macbook Air so maybe some sort of USB Access Point would be best?

Fourth, is the air quality really as bad as I read? I've heard horror stories of tourists coughing up a storm when they visit.

Fifthly, another scary thing I read about is government monitoring. Is it true that my apartment/hotel room may be bugged or Big Brother may be watching my Internet access or call history? I don't want to get any malicious software installed or planted without me knowing!! I'm starting to develop a sort of paranoia here.

Well, now that I've gone off the deep end, I better end my post here. One last thing: is there anything else that I need to know as a dumb American about life in Beijing (e.g. transportation, food, culture)?

Thanks for any and all help in answering my concerns.

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abcdefg

I can help you a little.

Secondly, I have a smartphone with T-Mobile. How do I go about getting cellphone/data access in China? I'm assuming T-Mobile will either not work in China or charge me exorbitant roaming rates. Will I need a completely new number and cellphone or can I just purchase a SIM card and slide it into my phone?

You will need a new SIM card, which will come with a new phone number. You will need to select a carrier and a suitable data plan. Don't need a new phone. Probably good to have a Chinese speaking friend along when you go to set it up, because it can be complex. Need to take your passport.

Thirdly, how do I go about getting my place WiFi enabled? Is there a way I can purchase Internet access through a phone carrier or a Internet Service Provider? I have a Macbook Air so maybe some sort of USB Access Point would be best?

When you find an apartment you will need to go to the office of an internet service provider and set it up if your landlord hasn't taken care of it for you. An installer will come and run cable if it's not already in place. This will give you wired internet access for X dollars a month. If you want wireless, you will need to buy a router and set it up.

Fourth, is the air quality really as bad as I read? I've heard horror stories of tourists coughing up a storm when they visit.

I don't live in Beijing, but when I visit there, I find the air causes me trouble. It varies in severity from time to time, but the pollution is more than just an urban legend.

Edit:

Re-read the title of your post and now realize you will only be there two months. Probably best to find a serviced apartment; renting is usually done in six month increments, if not 12 months. In a serviced apartment, the landlord will include internet. Others will be able to advise you better on the Beijing rental scene.

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roddy

On neighbourhoods - what are you going to be doing, and where will you be spending your time? Beijing's a big place.

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icebear
Fourth, is the air quality really as bad as I read? I've heard horror stories of tourists coughing up a storm when they visit.

Most healthy adults find it annoying but not a serious health hazard. During bad spells you may find that you get a sore throat mysteriously, or dry eyes more frequently. Sometimes it develops into a bad cold for a few days (because of a weakened immune system).

Fifthly, another scary thing I read about is government monitoring. Is it true that my apartment/hotel room may be bugged or Big Brother may be watching my Internet access or call history? I don't want to get any malicious software installed or planted without me knowing!! I'm starting to develop a sort of paranoia here.

If you have anything worth monitoring your employer/agency would likely have a rule about only taking disposable phones/laptops with you (i.e. with nothing valuable). If this isn't the case then its unlikely you are worth the security apparatus' time and shouldn't worry about it, at all.

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zhouhaochen

1) we would need more information on where in Beijing. It is a huge city - there are companies that rent out apartments for only 2 months and the cost will be lower than a hotel, but it will still be significantly higher than when you rent it for a year on a monthly basis.

2)&3) you will need a new SIM card and can get a contract, including data if you want. Go to a China Mobile or China Unicom shop once you are here. Not much English might be spoken though.

4) Air pollution is a problem in Beijing, but it is not as bad as some media reports might make you believe it is. Overall, it will not really affect your life very much while you are here for two months. Right now in the summer I would be more concerned about the heat. Today it is great air and blue skies, but 38 C.

5) For average people (if you are diplomat or journalist, this might be different), I think your likelihood to have your room bugged in China is lower than the CIA reading your googlemail. In 11 years in China the only bugs I have found in my apartment were mosquitos. One would think that the Chinese government also has better things to do than to listen to half a million foreigners in the city talking to their parents. I would not worry about that at all.

6) There is a lot to know about Chinese food and culture - it is quite different to the US, but I assume you are not coming here to sample the Chinese Mc Donald's selection (which unfortunately is very wide). Overall Beijing is safe, people helpful towards foreigners, and the food fantastic. The one thing I always tell our students to be careful about here is the traffic, which among all the risks to your life and safety that you might face here will by far the biggest one.

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tysond

Accommodation: Everything depends on your budget. If you have the money, I'd recommend a nice apartment such as Oakwood (Dongzhimen) which is around 20,000 RMB (US $3000+) a month for a 1 BR apartment, kitchen and fully serviced, decent location, English speaking staff who can help you with everything else you need (writing addresses, recommending how to do things, you can even call them while out and about to help you get things done). Or you can look at airbnb.com there are some options there for staying in hutong houses which look cool too. If you have less budget, it's going to be a possible but you'll need to look more carefully, especially if you don't speak Chinese. If you state your budget I think people could help you better. Also, location... where you want to visit and what you want to do determines your location in a massive city.

Phone: Bigger stores for China Mobile and China Unicom will have staff that can speak some English, enough to get you signed up. Be prepared to pay up front in cash, but I don't expect any issue. Phone charges are pretty reasonable, it's all prepaid and super cheap compared to most countries. The SIM should work in your phone but 3G has some issues in Beijing - I recommend China Mobile 3G but I think it requires a special phone. China Unicom works with every phone but coverage is not good in Beijing.

Air pollution: It's real but as others have said you are more likely to die of being in a car accident or hit while crossing the road. Some days are great. Some days are terrible. One estimate I like to use is that it's about the same as smoking 1/6 of a cigarette a day. If you smoke, then don't worry because China is a smoker's heaven.

WIFI: Is freely available in lots of cafes, bars and restaurants just ask for the password ("mima"). Everyone is accustomed to people asking for password and so if you just look confused while playing with your phone you will probably get some help. Most apartments/serviced apartments/hotels come with WIFI included. This will unlikely be a big issue, everyone loves WIFI in China.

Government monitoring: If you are plotting against the government I don't recommend you visit. Otherwise I would not worry about it. Do be aware that Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, as are lots of other sites (wordpress for example). You will find it hard to access them. If you must have it, you'll need to invest in a VPN.

Culture: Probably the biggest issue in Beijing is language. If you don't speak Chinese you will have challenges every single day. Imagine not speaking English in whatever US city you live in - it's like that 90% of the time. So although there are lots of English speakers in China, they may not be with you when you want to do something. Imagine that you only speak Spanish, and you are hoping to find a Spanish speaker every time you leave the house to go somewhere or buy something. It's like that. Actually it's worse, because you won't be able to write the language - you will need to get addresses written down to take taxis, you will find eating food challenging because the menus is tough to understand, at least at first (Don't despair, depending on where you go there are English menus and pictures in many places - Beijing is pretty good for this). Actually if you want it to be, the language barrier is fun and a good adventure, but you need to be aware that it will also be frustrating and challenging at times. If you have the budget for it, employing guides and drivers can make much of this issue go away. Of course at some places where tourists are common there is English spoken, but it's really much less common that you would expect in a big capital city elsewhere in the world. A few Chinese friends and a mobile phone can make this much easier too - taxi drivers are very accustomed to foreigners handing them a phone and speaking to your friend.

Apart from language barrier, I have found Beijingers to be mostly friendly, safe, accommodating and keen to share with foreigners. Although they are largely used to foreigners so will not push or intrude very often.

The fact that you ask all these questions in advance of leaving your home means I think you will have a good trip and will find the differences interesting. Hope you have fun!

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Lu
Government monitoring: If you are plotting against the government I don't recommend you visit. Otherwise I would not worry about it. Do be aware that Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, as are lots of other sites (wordpress for example). You will find it hard to access them. If you must have it, you'll need to invest in a VPN.
You're from the US. The Chinese government is unlikely to monitor you any more than your own government does. If you're planning to do anything illegal and/or things that really need to be kept a secret, take precautions. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

Beijing doesn't really have any bad neighbourhoods as in dangerous. There are neighbourhoods where all the buildings are a bit dilapidated or that don't have much plumbing, but you don't need to worry about venturing outside at any hour of the day or night.

What are you going to do in Beijing? Perhaps your employer or school can also help with some questions you may have.

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WestTexas

For 2 months, why not just stay in a hotel? You can find hotels in Beijing online for 100-150 a night. At that price, it's far cheaper than renting an apartment. 2 months is nothing. It will be gone before you know what happened. Finding and renting apartments in China is, from what i've heard, a complete headache. If you are there for 2 months, do you really want to spend the first week apartment hunting?

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WestTexas
One estimate I like to use is that it's about the same as smoking 1/6 of a cigarette a day.

An interesting statistic... I've read that, on bad days, the amount of particulate matter is similar to a wildfire. Also read that cancer rates in Beijing rose 50% over the past 10 years. Personally I find the pollution horrifying and would never even consider living in Beijing because of it.

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abcdefg

All right, @NewChineseBoy. Time to return with feedback if you want more information. You've already gotten way more than a one-time poster has any right to expect.

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NewChineseBoy

Thanks so much for all your help guys! You've helped quell a lot of my fears. I think I'll look into the pricing for hotels and compare them to some of the apartments in the area. The Oakwood district sounds a bit too pricey for me. I'll definitely check out China Mobile and China Unicom so thanks for those names there. As for the pollution, I'm still a little worried because I do have get watery eyes and sneeze a lot when there's a thick concentration of dust in the air (like when I'm cleaning my room). Hopefully, I'll manage - maybe I'll invest in those surgical masks =P

Thanks again guys. Any moderators can mark this thread as closed.

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roddy

ha, we've marked it so we can wait a few months then ask you all about your trip. Don't get something for nothing in these parts...

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abcdefg
Hopefully, I'll manage - maybe I'll invest in those surgical masks =P

If you decide to buy masks, buy them at home before you come. Also get ones that are P95 rated, such as these:

http://www.amazon.co...k/dp/B008MCV6Q0

Simple cotton surgical masks are just about worthless for helping you with the air in polluted cities, even though lots of locals wear them.

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Lu

And even the high-end ones only work if you wear them exactly right so no air comes in through the side. Which makes them (in my humble opinion) horribly uncomfortable. Unless you have COPD issues already or are planning to train for a marathon, if you're only going for a few months I wouldn't worry too much about the air. Yes it sucks but it won't do lasting harm quite that fast.

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icebear
Simple cotton surgical masks are just about worthless for helping you with the air in polluted cities, even though lots of locals wear them.

I've seen statistics that the simple surgical masks reduce the amount of particulate matter you inhale by about a third if worn correctly. Certainly not a 3M N95, but a decent improvement (which surprised me, also).

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abcdefg

@Icebear, I didn't know that and it's good to remember. Thanks.

I went shopping for a couple of masks recently in Kunming prior to a trip that I thought would take me to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which were both full of dense haze at the time from slash and burn palm plantation fires in Sumatra (Indonesia.) Only ones I could find were flimsy two ply woven cotton that cost 3 Yuan each and didn't look like they would be very effective.

As luck would have it, rains came and winds shifted and the air was less polluted than predicted.

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cui ruide

Maybe a little late on this end, but I would suggest finding a nice hotel/hostel to stay in and keep an eye on sublets in the classifieds at thebeijinger.com. Once you're on the ground you might also get a better idea of what neighborhood you'd like to stay in.

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roddy
 we've marked it so we can wait a few months then ask you all about your trip. 

 

Payback time - tell us all about your trip. Where did you end up staying?

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