Lonna’s Survival Guide for China


West Lake at Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province (near Wenzhou)

After living and teaching English in China for 2 years (and teaching in Russia for 6 months and Turkey for 2.5 years), I have learned a few things that may help anyone who comes to Wenzhou-Kean University (WKU) or any other place in China. My background as a journalist helped me compile facts from a variety of sources and summarize them here. Enjoy!

  1. Get RMB (Chinese currency) cash at the airport in China before you leave the airport or as soon as you can find a bank. Nobody accepts dollars or other foreign cash, and the only places I’ve discovered that accept American credit/debit cards like Visa are the nicer hotels (especially in touristy areas), Pizza Hut, and Starbucks.
  1. If possible, bring a working laptop computer. You will need it! Many American or other foreign smart phones may be difficult or impossible to fit with a Chinese SIMM card, especially at China Mobile. Unicom is the best company to find SIMM cards to fit non-Chinese phones. You can buy a cheap, basic Nokia mobile phone that can display English and Chinese texts (SMS) and send and receive calls (with other features like a calculator, calendar, and flashlight) for only about 170 RMB (less than $30) online, but you need a Chinese person to order it for you from taobao.com, the really cheap and great Chinese internet-ordering sight where everything is much cheaper than in the stores.

  1. Get a Chinese person to be your Personal Buyer for taobao.com. He/she can order for you from his/her account and take care of shipping, and you just give him/her cash. Taobao is only in Chinese, and the English version and www.alibabba.com are difficult to use and don’t have a wide selection or great prices. The absolute best way to shop in China is on www.taobao.com!!! I found one shoe store in several Chinese cities that had shoes big enough to fit me, and none of the clothing shops carry my size because I’m a tall American J
  1. Get someone from WKU to help you order a water cooler that can hold the big, 20-liter water bottles. Those bottles range in cost from 10-15 RMB each, about as much as a 5-liter water bottle bought in the local market. They will save you the trouble of often carrying heavy bottles. You can call your Chinese helper and ask him/her to reorder the big bottles delivered to your apartment.
  1. Don’t drink the tap water even if you boil it. It can make you sick. However, save several bottles of it in the 5-liter bottles you first bought from the market and store the bottles somewhere in your apartment. The Chinese water can go out for hours at a time if someone is working on the pipes. I’ve had to use my stored water for washing and flushing the toilet when there was none in the pipes! Also, keep some non-perishable food handy in case you need that, too. A medical kit would also be a good idea. You can find those in places like Chinese Walmart or Carrefour. Since the Chinese internet does not always work if all the Chinese are on it at once, it’s also good to have an alternate entertainment source. You can buy a DVD player at Walmart or Carrefour (but don’t get the cheapest model). A Chinese helper or the apartments security guard can set your television to hook up to your DVD player. He/she can show you how to use the remotes. I know of a downtown Wenzhou DVD store that has the latest DVDs in English for only 15 RMB each.
  1. If you need prescription medicine, try to keep an ample supply at hand. The local public hospitals like Wenzhou University Hospital may not have the American-style medicine you need. Remember that, in China, you must go to a hospital or hospital clinic for health care. There are no private practices like in America. To get good, American-style doctors and medicine that is covered by Cigna Global health insurance (for example), go to the International Service Clinic at Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital (part of Medical School Zhejiang University) in Hangzhou, the capital city of our province (5th Floor, Tower 3, 3 East Qingchun Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, 310016, phone 0571-86006118, email ISC@srrsh.com). This is the closest medical facility that takes Cigna Global health insurance in advance for doctor visits and prescriptions. There is also a dental clinic that takes Cigna (Hangzhou Ivy Dental Clinic, No. 6 Fei Yun Jiang Rd, Hangzhou 310008). If you use Cigna in Wenzhou, you have to keep receipts and mail them in for reimbursement. Hangzhou is about 3 hours’ ride away on the speed train. Hangzhou has a Metro store, a superstore like Costco, where you can get great cheese, beef, and other western-style products. There is, of course, the Health Service Center on the WKU campus in Room A109 (0557-55870120, healthservice@wku.edu.cn. Dr. Fang Fang Cai is very helpful (phone 13958842258). If you can’t reach her, Dr. Abby Chen (phone 13858889929), you can just show up at the local hospital, and someone will find a nice doctor for you who speaks English (probably a department head who visited America and who gives you express, VIP service). Hospitals and dentists cost very little money in China. The local public hospital is the cheapest, and you can get a medical card, see a doctor, and obtain some types of prescriptions for about $5. I had a lot of dental work done at a dentist’s office in China for $100.
  1. Get a small notebook to always keep with you. Ask your Chinese helper to write down places you want to get to in English and Chinese so that you can show a taxi driver or find out which bus to take. You can also get your Chinese helper to write down essential words in Chinese for you. I like to use “wool, cotton, and silk” so that I know the material of clothing before I buy it. Smart phones can be easily lost. I left my last one in the back of a taxi and never saw it again (as I did a camera). If you leave something somewhere, you can most likely kiss it goodbye. It is not a Chinese custom to return lost things to their owners. Since a smart phone with a Chinese dictionary can be lost, you really should keep that notebook. Back up all of your phone contacts and essential information in your notebook also. Electronic things don’t always work when you need them!
  1. As for Chinese helpers, most people will be happy to help you, but don’t overuse one person and make sure you say “Thanks!” Sometimes the Chinese think we foreigners are too demanding. On the other hand, sometimes you need to push to get something you really need.
  1. Keep a list of other foreigners who live in your apartment complex and with whom you work.
  1. WKU needs us to fill out a lot of paperwork. You can do that on your laptop by using a PDF-altering program. I have an Apple computer, and I downloaded a very cheap one from the App Store. For a PC version, search the internet. With this program, you automatically see a toolbox on the top right section of a PDF file. Click on it to show the possible tools that are displayed to the top left, including a “Text” box that allows you to type on the PDF file. You can change the type size and move the text box where you need it. There’s also a pen-shaped tool that you can click on. It allows you to sign your name with your mouse. This saves you having to print out, fill out, and scan documents to your computer. You can just fill out the PDFs and email them to Kean University Human Resources and Benefits sections (etc.) as email attachments. Linnette Guardamino (lguardam@exchange.kean.edu) is handling this paperwork. Human Resources does require some documents to be sent as originals signed by a pen. You can email the electronic versions you filled out on your computer first. Then delete your electronic-generated signature, print out the documents (such as the W4 form), sign them with a pen, and snail mail them to Kean University in New Jersey. My past experience with China Post was not good. You can use FedEx here in Wenzhou, but it costs $50 to send a small packet of documents. However, it is guaranteed! If you need help filling out your forms, I’ll be glad to email you copies of mine so that you have a guide. They can be difficult and time-consuming.
  1. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you send form 8802 to the IRS in Philadelphia to request that they mail you the paper you need for requesting exemption from Chinese taxes. On the 8802 application, put an address in the U.S. where the IRS can mail the tax paper and someone can forward it to you in China because the IRS will not mail forms to China. I used the Kean University Human Resources address. Until you get that IRS form, fill out the tax exemption, and get your exemption approved by the local Chinese tax authority, you can expect to see almost $900 (or more) taken out of your paycheck. You will also be taxed by the U.S.A. because your paycheck is directly deposited to your American bank account. You can contact Sailing Lin (sailing_lin@wku.edu.cn) for more information about this. She assured me that, once my tax exemption is approved by the local tax authority, any funds withheld by China will be returned to me (but I have heard that takes time and can be difficult, and you probably won’t get your IRS tax form back for 2 months or more).
  1. At WKU, we have an email. We also have an email at Kean University. Each has its own login and password, but you can link them together using the settings option. We also need to login to Kean University’s website to use KeanWise and BlackBoard, to keep track of our students, grades, etc. If you work at this, you’ll figure it all out J It’s best to let Kean University know which email you want them to use to contact you.  Nevertheless, I always check my Kean and WKU emails as well as my private Yahoo one.
  1. You must pick a health plan. The only health plan that offers coverage for us here in China is Cigna Global Health Plan. It has an ID card that you can print out to use your benefits in China. Their website is https://public.cignaenvoy.com/ciebpublic/home.htm;jsessionid=39DA2A76AF62C5B5F8AD03ACB7C735F7.gniwas002instance2. Remember that, in China, you must go to a hospital or hospital clinic for health care. There are no private practices like in America. For more information about health care plans, contact Tammina Guillaume at tguillau@exchange.kean.edu.
  1. The only bank that will unfailingly give you U.S. dollars from your US credit/debit card is Bank of China (at their ATMs). If you put your card into any other bank ATM just for an inquiry, you will be charged a minimum of $2.50 even if your cash advance is rejected. I don’t use Bank of China for inquiries because of this; I just withdraw the money I need and check online for my balance.
  1. Here is a good website to help you get around Wenzhou (information from Librarian Charles Greenberg): http://www.tinyurl.com/wenzhouwelcome. There is a bus stop across the street from our local C & U Supermarket. Here is a short bus schedule:
  • 24 bus—long ride down Xue Yuan Road
  • 68 bus—Wenzhou library and Times Square
  • 92 bus—Century Mart and Sports Stadium
  • 93 bus—cheap furniture under the highway
  • 11 bus—to campus (3.5 RMB from ExPalm Hotel)
  1. Shanghai is a great place to visit. I recommend finding a hotel that is near the People’s Square Metro (subway) stop; the main shopping district (including the official Apple store that doesn’t sell copies); The Bund old financial district with grand, English-style buildings next to the river; and the scenic downtown across the river which features the pink and purple TV tower called “Oriental Pearl.” The Metro is cheap and easy to use, and you can ride it from the airport, train station, or bus station. Get a Metro pass card at the ticket office and pre-pay it with money for easy Metro use. You can also get a 24-hour tour bus card for about 60 RMB and take the 4 different bus routes from The Bund to see and hear about the historic city of Shanghai from the top of a red, double-decker bus. The best way to get to Shanghai is on the speed train from the Wenzhou Nan (Wenzhou South) station, about 4 hours to Shanghai for 170-220 RMB one way. You must show your passport to buy train tickets. The bus takes about 7 hours one way, so forget that! .
  1. Be very careful when walking in China. Look where your feet are going because there can suddenly be a hole in the road, a big drop in the sidewalk, or a stairway with no handrail. Cars DO NOT stop for pedestrians even in official school crosswalks. Motorbikes and cars drive on the sidewalks. At any moment, you could be blindsided by a silent, electric motorbike. Always be aware of where you are and what is coming at you!
  1. Most of all, keep calm, don’t give up, and remember that you are a true pioneer and adventurer here in China. We expats here have a saying, “TIC,” “This is China.” They do things differently here.

If you enjoyed this survival guide, please check out my books like my Kindle eBook “Walk with Me in Turkey.” I plan to write “Walk with me in China” soon, and you can see my videos of different countries where I’ve traveled on Youtube.  Check out my China photo essays (Jilin, Beijing, The Great Wall, Hong Kong, and Hangzhou) on “Digital Journal.”


           Climbing the Great Wall near Beijing 


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