Traveling to China with a Toddler, Infant, or Child

We recently traveled to Yunnan with our 14-month old son on Cathay Pacific Airways. Overall, it was a great experience and we plan on flying with them in the future.

Buy a Seat or Hold Your Baby

Our first decision – do we buy him a seat, or hold him and have him sit in our lap?  Because it was his first flight, we purchased the seat and that turned out to be a great decision for us.  He slept most of the time and was relaxed for the entire trip.

The pricing policies for infants under two years old varies by airline, so you’ll have to spend time researching each airline’s policy for toddlers to see what works best for you and your budget.

Pricing vs. Convenience

We were choosing between United Airlines and Cathay Pacific.  Cathay’s pricing was higher but did not require checking again in Hong Kong.  Our bags were transferred to our Dragon Air flight, and the transfer was very easy.  United’s pricing was lower, but required gathering all of our bags, leaving the international portion of the Beijing airport, then checking back in for a domestic flight.  Having done that before on my own a few times, I felt like that would have been stressful with a toddler.

If you wanted to hold your infant in your arms and not purchase a seat, Cathay’s infant ticket was around $400 and United was around $100.  It was $700-800 to reserve a seat for a 0-2 year old on Cathay, and it was around $400-500 on United.

If you do not need a carseat in China, you might consider holding your toddler to save money – in retrospect, we could have done this as we were two adults and could easily trade off.  If you are traveling alone with your toddler, it will be difficult to eat or get up when you are holding a baby.  The tray table does not go down with a baby in your lap, and if you need to get up for any reason and they have not come back to collect your tray, it’s a task to get out while holding a baby.

International Check-in / Security with a Child

Checking in at San Francisco International was fine.  I was able to hold our son through security and they scanned him while I held him.  We were not forced to go through any body scanners. The rest of the experience was fine – the TSA did not hassle us at all, we got to pre-board.

Stroller / No Stroller / Luggage-Carseat Strap?

We decided against taking a stroller because we were also bringing a carseat for our car in China. We purchased an inexpensive carseat strap from Amazon that connected the carseat to our carry-on luggage.  In theory, this sounded great, in practice it was difficult to navigate and balance.  He did not mind it at all, but in retrospect, I recommend taking the stroller on the plane.  You are allowed to gate check it, and it would have come in handy for walking around the enormous Hong Kong airport and around China. (If you are going on a tour, or traveling up and down mountains and stairs, of course, don’t take one – we were essentially staying at our home for a month, so it was fine).

In the Plane

We got to pre-board so we had plenty of time to install the car seat.  Note: If your carseat has those plastic side cushions, you’ll need to remove those or your car seat will not fit.  During the flight, our son did not have any problems in the carseat at all, and the takeoff and landing did not bother him.  There were other kids on the plane who had different experiences, so I urge you do your research to get some travel tips with flying with an infant.  (Quickly, have books and toys, their favorite blanket, tape, snacks, and be prepared to hold them up and down the aisle.) Luckily, everything went well for us.

Eating with our Infant / Toddler In China, Daily Tips

We ate at restaurants and at our house and our son never got sick.  If you use common sense, I would not worry about having your toddler or infant get sick from food. Always wash hands, make sure they’re not too cold or hot, bring along a digital thermometer, always buy and drink bottled water, bring your own formula and diapers. Western diapers in China cost about $0.25 USD per diaper, roughly, the same price as the use. Buy the Pampers version there, the local one are hard, and the imported, premium Japanese ones leak and break.

UPDATED: Tips, Advice for Getting Chinese VISA

UPDATE: As of January 2011, the following was not my experience at all. My last visa took me a total of 15 minutes at the consulate in San Francisco.

Today, after waiting 3.5 hours in line at the San Francisco Chinese Consulate, I thought for sure I’d get my brother a VISA for our upcoming trip.

I brought his passport, a photo, a copy of his flight reservation, and the VISA application.Apparently, China tightened down on the rules. That’s an understatement.

I was told (in Chinese, btw) that I needed his birth certificate, the hotel he is staying at, and a written letter explaining his relationship to every that he will encounter in China. Allow me to focus on one part of that. We own two houses in China, so when I told them that there is no need for a hotel, she said, “Lemme see your house deed.”

ME: “Can I fax it?”

HER: “No.”

ME: “Can I call a hotel now and make a reser–”

HER: “No. Step aside, too many people!”

So. Just thought I’d write a little “what to expect” at the Consulate. Not to mention that this is my seventh time going to China, and all other times I barely filled out the form with no questions asked. Oh, and the fee for a VISA is now $160 USD (used to be $40 a few years ago.)

Chinese Consulate Embassy Visa Form

In short — everything on the VISA form will be scrutinized, so make sure it is all accurate and bring more information than you think you need.

Water Buffalo Movie Featured Again…

Thanks to the Huffington Post and Head Butler for writing about the water buffalo movie!

The Huffington PostRead Huffinton Post Article

Head ButlerRead Head Butler

As I sit here in my hotel room in Guangzhou, anticipating our interview at the American Embassy just down the street in about four hours, I’m contemplating whether or not to go back to Du Zhuan and visit the Su family to see how Little Longhorn is doing.

Video Hold Chopsticks China, How to Hold Chopsticks, Learn Hold Chopsticks

How to Hold Chopsticks - Chinese EtiquetteCLICK HERE: Learn how to Hold Chopsticks – Video

Hold the bowl in your palm, and study this video to learn how to hold chopsticks. The Chinese hold foreigners in high esteem if they can propery hold and use chopsticks.

There is no other way to learn than to practice, so watch, pause, study, and re-watch!

Chinese Gift Etiquette, Gift Ideas and Taboos

It is important to know that gifts are a major part of the Chinese culture. For example, the Chinese would much rather reciprocate a gift with another gift than to send a ‘thank you’ card. When visiting someone in China, especially if you are a guest in their house, it is imperative that you bring a gift (whatever the monetary value) to show respect to the host.

In this article, you will learn about gifts, gift giving, and gift ideas that are appropriate in China, and which gifts are not appropriate (and should be avoided).

Gifts / Gift Etiquette in China

  • Bringing a gift for your friend, relative, business partner, or host is a good idea. Depending on the nature of your visit, your gift may vary. Gifts are an important way to build relationships in China.
  • Chinese are fond of items that are not accessible in China. For example, items that are hand-made, from your country, or both, are highly valued.
  • The Chinese do not usually open gifts when they receive them. You should not open a gift given to you unless they insist.
  • The Chinese will decline a gift two or three times (sometimes even more) before accepting. Do not give up on the first try, but be sensitive to genuine refusals.
  • A proper way to show appreciation for a gift is another gift in return, as opposed to thank you cards.

Chinese Gift Symbolism, Gift-Giving, Gift Advice, Taboos

    Help with Giving Gifts in China by Robert Thompson Chinese Travel Advice
  • Do not give knives, scissors as they symbolize breaking a relationship. Also avoid clocks, or anything in sets of four (four is an unlucky number as it sounds like “death”). Six, eight and nine are a lucky numbers.
  • For business relations, foreign cigarettes, cognac, fine whiskey, and quality wines are great gift ideas.
  • Insider Tip: If you know that your contact likes chocolate, consider bringing some high-end chocolate, as Chinese chocolate is waxy and lacks flavor. Anything you can get at a Western market or grocery story will suffice, but specialty chocolate will be sure to leave a lasting impression.
  • Chinese avoid giving each other clocks as gifts are because the phrase “give a clock as a gift” is “song zhong”, which in Chinese sounds like you are “wishing someone death.” This does not apply to watches, just clocks.
  • Never slice a pear in two and offer a half to someone (especially if you like them). This is symbolic of breaking up, because the phrase is “li kai”, which has the double meaning of “cut a pear” and “break up”.
  • Gifts of Love in China

  • If you love someone, you can buy them a belt. It means that you want to “hold them” forever! Watches and wallets are also good gifts for lovebirds. Traditional western “love” gifts (like chocolate and roses) are becoming more common.
  • Insider Tip: For the Mid-Autumn Festival, or “Zhong Qiu Jie”, (roughly falls in September) you should give a box of moon cake and give walnuts.
  • White Chrysanthemums should never be given as a gift.  They are used in funerals.  Avoid white flowers in general.

  • A flower arrangement is an acceptable gift, but never give white chrysanthemums, or any white flowers for that matter, as they are traditionally used for funerals.
  • Giving an apple basket is nice because apple, or “ping guo”, sounds like peace.
  • If someone has just moved into a new house, it would be appropriate to give a vase, or “hua ping”, as it also sounds like peace.
  • Insider Tip: If someone opens a store or starts a business, give the bamboo flower or “shui zhu” as a gift. By giving this gift, as represented by the many rings in the bamboo stem, you are wishing them continual growth and income.
  • Gifts can be wrapped or presented in a gift bag, but do not choose the color white. Red and gold are the best colors for gift paper, bags, or boxes.

Chinese Smoking Etiquette (Cigarettes)

Smoking in China. There are a lot of smokers in China! Especially in Yunnan, where most of the tobacco is grown. Did you know that farmers can make up to 20x as much growing tobacco versus other vegetables? It pays the bills.

It is common to greet someone with a cigarette. Men smoking publicly, women, not so much. Smoking at meals (at a restaurant or in a home) is going to happen. You will be offered cigarettes many times on your trip. There are many types of cigarettes in China. There are even fake cigarettes in China (so if you though “normal” cigarettes were bad, what the hell are they putting in those “fake” ones?!)

This is all to say, there is etiquette on smoking in China, and whether you smoke or not, it might be helpful to know what the smoking etiquette is in China.

How Much do Cigarettes Cost in China

This may be part of the problem. They are cheap. Chinese cigarettes cost as little $0.30 USD per box. If you want to buy the brown box that cost $10.00 USD a box, they have those, too. And they have about 100 varieties in-between. You can even get American cigarettes in China.

Smoking Etiquette in China / The Cigarette Offer

    Smoking Etiquette in China

  • Chinese people (usually men, as women seem to be less public smokers) will offer you a cigarette when they first meet you. You can say, “Wo jie yan le” (wo-jee-ah-yen-lah) which means “I quit smoking,” or you can say, “Wo bu chou yan, xie xie,” (wo boo cho yen, shay shay) which means “I don’t smoke, thanks.” It’s polite to smile and light-heartedly wave off the offer. If they are persistent, keep saying no.
  • If you do smoke, get ready for the strongest cigarette of your life. If they offer you a cigarette, if you do not have a lighter, you must cup your hands around their flame when they are lighting your cigarette. It is very rude to stick your head out and have them try to light it for you without your assistance.
  • If you smoke, it is polite to always offer your surrounding guests cigarettes as well. Take two or three out of your pack, and insist that your guests take them, even if they don’t smoke. Busting out one cigarette for yourself will earn you the “I’m cheap” label real quick. Especially since in China, cigarettes cost between 5 – 10 RMB ($0.65 – $1.30 USD) per pack.
  • If you have your own place in China it is wise to have a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and an ashtray in your house even if you do not smoke.
  • Never, under any circumstance, ask your guest to go outside or use your outdoor balcony or patio to smoke.