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.

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.

Negotiating Prices and Bargaining in China

Edit: March 29, 2016 – 2:24 AM I wrote this article nearly 10 years ago. If you go to China, enjoy the sites, food and people. Forget about bargaining.


Bargaining in China works but requires a little perseverance. If your are not comfortable negotiating with vendors and would rather spend their energy taking in the sights, move on to another article.

Below are some Chinese bargaining and negotiating techniques that can save you money in China.

From the Chinese shop owner perspective, there are four types of foreign shoppers:

  1. A local, who speaks the local dialect (gets the best deal).
  2. A Chinese person from a different city who speaks a different dialect (someone from Beijing visiting Tibet).
  3. A foreigner or ex-pat who lives in China and who can speak fluent Chinese.
  4. A tourist with little or no Chinese skill (gets the worst deal).

In any country, tourists pay a premium, but the difference in China is that that price fluctuates based on one’s appearance, proficiency of the Chinese language, accent, sex, skin color, and perseverance.

Most tourists do not feel comfortable bargaining for a variety of reasons:

  • They feel uncomfortable lowering the price when it is already cheap.
  • There is a communication barrier.
  • They easily get embarrassed, or care about what others think about the fact that they are bargaining over something.
  • They don’t know the actual value and don’t know what they should offer.

When you Can Bargain, When you Cannot Bargain

  • Rule of thumb: Street vendors, family-owned stores (“mom-and-pop”) or small businesses = you can bargain. Large malls, corporate chains = no bargaining.
  • Bargain on material items only (gift items, clothing, jade, etc).
  • Sometimes at “mom-and-pop” stores you’ll see signs that say “All prices final” or “No bargain” – disregard these signs.
  • Never bargain on food (at a restaurant or on the street).
  • You cannot negotiate prices on automobiles in China.

Before you Buy, Follow These Steps

Disconnect the emotion from the purchase. Despite any appearances, the shop owners are well off, and you should try to not feel embarrassed about anything. Here are some tips to help you before you buy something.

  • Compare prices at different stores. Keep a mental note of the price quotes. This will help you in two ways, 1) you will know the average price quote they give for tourists, and 2) you can use this as leverage when you are negotiating (example, “The guy up the street is selling it for half that price!”)
  • Express no emotion. If you show excitement or smile and the shop owner sees you, you lost your negotiating power. Things like calling your husband over to come look at something, or saying, “Oh honey, it’s so beautiful, she’s going to just love it!” are key indications to the shop owners that you will pay the maximum price. They will take a much harder stance when negotiating prices.
  • Express apathy. Again, use your poker face. Show disinterest for even being at this person’s store. If they show you something, shrug it off like they are wasting your time.
  • Point out flaws. And there will be some, so look closely. Point out the flaws right away — a frayed edge, a knick in the wood, bad color in the jade, an uneven design, a crack. Be sure to point it out with your finger and say, “Ni kan! Ni kan!” (kan pronounced like the French film festival Cannes with a soft “a”) which means “Look! Look!”.
  • “Too expensive!” If the store owner mentions any price, learn this phrase: “Tai gui le!” (pron. “tie-gway-la”) which means, “It’s too expensive!” Say it with gusto, in the same way you would respond if someone cut you off in traffic and keep a serious face.
  • Never fear. The store owner may start to tell you how cheap you are being or may give you disgruntled looks, or may even joke with other people about how “xiao qi” (cheap) you are being. This is part of the process. Don’t falter. They still want your business.
  • You get one shot. If you leave the store and come back, you have no negotiating power the second time around. The store owner knows you want something and knows you have already compared prices.

How to Negotiating Prices in China

So you found something you want to get. Here is a step-by-step way to negotiate:

  • Cut the price by 75% — if they say 200 RMB, you say 50 or 60 RMB.
  • One of two things will happen: 1) They will say, “Okay”. If they say okay, you bid way too high and you should just accept the transaction and pay up. Or, 2) They will yell “Bu mai!” (I’m not going to sell it that cheap) and wave you off with the back of their hand. If this happens, walk away.
  • As you are walking, wait for their second or third offer, take note of how fast they reduce the price. If they make no offer as you are walking away, you bid way too low. (If luck isn’t on your side and different vendors are not making counter-offers, change the initial price to 60-50% off instead of 75%.)
  • If they do making counter offers, it should be much closer to the 75% percent off price.
  • Walk back and buy it.
  • Pay with exact change, or give them a bill that is close to what you are paying. In other words, do not hand a hundred for something that costs 5 RMB. The oldest trick in the book is for them to swap out the 100 with a 50 and they will insist that you only gave them 50. If this happens there is nothing you can do and you will not get your money back.

Chinese Table Etiquette: Tips, What to Say, Paying the Bill

This section on Chinese table etiquette is a more detailed version than the general Chinese dining article. Here, I will focus on things that may happen while you are at the table in China.

Visual Breakdown of a Table

The image to the right is a view from where you will sit, and the bowls and plates that you will be using. This particular dinner is a Chinese fish hot pot.

Click to Enlarge - Eating Hot Pot or Fish in China - The VisualClick to Enlarge, Read Details

Quickly though, #1 = spicy dipping sauce, #2 = hold food, soup bowl, #3 = don’t touch, #4 = the hot pot or fish dish.Not all Chinese tables are setup this way — if you are not eating hot pot, there is no spicy dipping sauce. Sometimes there is no lazy susan.

Passing Food To Each Other

  • If someone puts a piece of meat in your bowl, you can lightly say, “Bu yong! Bu yong!” (Oh, I don’t need it!) while smiling, but allow them to give it to you after a few tries. By not immediately accepting it, you are being modest and humble. As a general rule in China, you should always decline something given to you at least two or three times before accepting it.
  • If an elder passes you food, say “xie xie” (thank you, roughly pronounced “shay shay”). They are showing you affection and respect by them giving you food. It’s best eat it whatever you are given, if you can.
  • When someone lifts a plate that is out of reach to and holds it across the table in front of you, quickly take a piece of food off. If you want to score points, serve your neighboring guests before you take anything for yourself — but be quick (plates are sometimes heavy)! After a bit of time, do the same — take a plate and offer it around the table for the people who cannot reach it. If people say they can’t eat anymore, insist that they eat something a few times before you give up.

Chinese Conversation

There are certain subjects you should avoid altogether on your trip to China, especially when you are in an intimate settting like a dinner. If you are with people you do not know that well, or with a potential business partner, do not discuss American or Chinese politics, Japan, Taiwan, Mao Ze Dong, the war in Iraq, or any other controversial subject as a dinner topic. It will most certainly cause discomfort within the group and may damage a business relationship.Discussing your personal experiences in China is always a safe way to get things rolling, things you saw, things you did, things you will do, things you like about China. On the other hand, if you have a deeper relationship with your company, obviously you can discuss whatever you want. Bottom line: At the table, try to have fun, don’t get too serious, and it is best not to talk politics.Some Chinese etiquette guides say, “Never talk business during a meal”. While this is good advice in general (who likes to talk shop when eating, anyway?), it is dated advice. People talk about business all the time, and will ask you about what you do, and what your job requires, and how much money you make, etc.

General Advice While at the Table

  • Wait to be seated. Never sit at the head of a table unless you are instructed to do so.
  • Never take food, or eat before an older person at the table (i.e., the grandmother).
  • If you ever take out a napkin for yourself, be sure to pass napkins to everyone at the table. When I say napkin, I mean the little pouch of Kleenex that is sitting on the table.
  • If you hold your bowl, palm the bowl from the bottom (video). Your fingers or thumb should never touch (or hook around) the lip of the bowl. Holding the bowl is acceptable, but is more casual. In a business setting, do not hold your bowl while eating.
  • When you do take food, place it on top of your rice. Never mix your food with your rice.
  • Never take more than one item at a time.
  • Soups are usually eaten last. Wait until you have nearly finished eating and then plan for the soup to be the last thing you eat.
  • Try the fried bees and pig brain (read, try the things you normally won’t eat at home). Most of the “crazy” food items are pretty good. Pig brain tastes like creamy tofu. Fried bees taste like crunchy chips.
  • May seem obvious, but worth noting: If you eat at a Muslim restaurant in China, never ask for any pork dishes or even mention the word pigs (pig is “zhu rou”, or “joo-row”). It can, and most likely will upset the owners and other patrons. Most of the Muslims in China are part of the Huizu (“hway-dsoo”) ethnic minority. Their cuisine is off-the-charts good. If you are lucky enough to eat at one of their restaurants, try the squash, the beef soup, the spicy dried beef (“niu gan ba”), or the stomach linings.

No Air-Drumming Allowed

Don’t play with your chopsticks…Chopstick Etiquette… or fidget with your chopsticks, point with them, or do anything else with them besides using them to take food and eat food. Watch a video on how to hold chopsticks.

Dining: Some Cultural Differences in China

  • Sometimes Chinese people slurp or smack their food. You can, too.
  • Don’t ever try to give the host 50% of the bill to “pay your half”. In China, as stated just above, whoever is inviting someone out to eat is expected to pay for everyone. If you want to immediately return the favor, offer to take the person who paid out to a bar, karaoke, or to drink tea.
  • Who calls = who pays. If I call you and invite you to dinner, I pay for everyone.
  • Sometimes a guest will bring a friend, unannounced. This isn’t a big deal, because there is always enough food for a few extra people.
  • A dinner can last hours. You’ll hear “man man che” a lot, and that translates to “slowly, slowly, eat.” Don’t scarf food down, and don’t only eat the dishes you like.
  • Chinese people may leave a lot of food behind at the table. Most of the time this food is recycled and fed to pigs, so don’t worry about waste.
  • The more you eat, the happier your host will be. (Some etiquette guides say, “You need to leave food on your plate to show that you’re not hungry.” Wrong. Eat.) If you eat a small amount, especially if someone made a home-cooked meal, you may insult your host.
  • Pace your eating with the group at the table.
  • Never let anyone still eating feel rushed to finished their meal.
  • It’s okay to answer your phone at a table, absolutely no one will care.
  • In a home setting, if you want to wash the dishes, never take any dishes away from the table unless it is clear that everyone has finished eating. If you do this, it is a cue to your guests that you want them to leave.
  • You will be offered cigarettes and alcohol. Click to read more.
  • Chinese people love to walk, or “san bu” after they eat, they say it helps with digestion.

The Bill

If you have been invited to eat, you can make an attempt to get the check, but don’t actually pay the bill as you may lose the other party’s face. Again, if someone calls you to go out, they are expected to pay.Nonetheless, fighting over the bill is always a good way to gain points. Be creative and aggressive! Try these things:

  • Stand up and start pulling the host by the arm and try to yank him back to his seat.
  • Arm waving and arm pulling is always good.
  • If they manage to pay the waiter first, grab their money out of the waiter’s hand and give it back them, then give the waiter your money instead.
  • The bigger the scene you cause, the better. Don’t worry if they seem disgruntled, they actually will be delighted with your enthusiasm.

Chinese Business Trip Tips

UPDATE: As of February 2011, Skype works fine in China, albeit slow and choppy at times.

This article focuses on specifics of doing business in China. Throughout the rest of the Complete China Guide you’ll find business tips as well.

Business cards

  • If someone hands you a business card, always take it with two hands.
  • If you hand a business card to someone, make sure the writing faces the person to whom you are giving the card.
  • Do not immediately put the business card away in your coat or wallet, keep it visible and in your hand.
  • If you are seated at a table, keep the business card face up on the table.

Planning / Making Schedules

For the most part, Chinese people are extemporaneous. Things happen on the fly, sometimes without any notice. With the language barrier, a non-native speaker is sure to be confused. “Where are we going?” “What’s happening?” Sometimes friends will call you to go out to dinner with an hour’s notice. Once I actually got a wedding invitation with 30 minutes to spare. Chinese people absolutely love it when other people randomly show up at their door, unannounced. Try to embrace this. It is not meant to be rude and is not considered imposing.

Cell Phones / Phone calls

  • Cell phone etiquette in China is much different than other countries — cell phones get answered (at dinner, at a wedding, while you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone.) If you’re talking to someone and their phone rings, be patient and wait.
  • Also, when someone calls you in China, they will let it ring at least 10-15 times. If you do not pick up, they will call you right back.
  • The Chinese do not rely on, or use messaging or voicemail, and it is rare that anyone will have an answering machine in their house.
  • Immediately after you dial someone’s phone number, you will hear music or an advertisement instead of the normal “ringing” you usually hear in the West. This is normal. People can pick the song they want to play when others call them.
  • Skype Will Most Likely Be Blocked in 2008Skype phone calls are in the process of being blocked in China (as of September 2007). SkypeOut (or, outbound calls at the $0.02 / minute rate) will most likely be blocked in the near future. However, if you have a Skype buddy online at the same time, you may be able to call them using Skype’s general “voice chat” mode (the free service), or you can IM/chat with them.

What is Gross to Chinese People (and Vice Versa) – Cultural Differences

Read more articles about Chinese Etiquette and Travel Tips here!

Western habits the Chinese consider gross or dirty:

Walking around barefoot, or in your socks. If you’re on a flight from the US to Beijing, don’t lose face by walking around the plane in your socks. Double-gross for doing this outside on the pavement. To the Chinese, this is just appalling.

Setting your bag, purse, or backpack down on the ground. Large pieces of luggage, okay, but not smaller bags. The Chinese think that the ground is dirty, and consider it bad form to put a nice bag on something dirty. Find a chair to put it on if you want to blend.

Eating cheese. A lot of Chinese cringe at the thought of cheese.

Wearing revealing clothing. While Chinese fashion is modern and… interesting, it is rare that a women (or a man) will wear low-cut tops or mini skirts, for example. If you visit China and choose to bring along a more revealing wardrobe, be prepared to get stared at by some men and scowled at by some older women.

Eating too fast. The Chinese are about slow-paced meals. This is when conversations and gatherings take place. Don’t ruin it, or lose your face, by scarfing down your food. Eating while in a hurry is an odd concept for the Chinese.

Genetically Engineered Food. GMO, or genetically modified organisms, are becoming more prevalent in Chinese society. But as a whole, Chinese prefer the organic, free-range philosophy of food and frown at the thought of pumping an animal full of hormones just so it looks bigger.

Sitting on a public toilet. No doubt you will frequent at least one McDonald’s in China and see the “Western” toilet seat all loose and mangled with footprints all over it — and when you do, now you’ll know why! Chinese people don’t sit on them. They squat on them, because to the Chinese, sitting on a public toilet (seat cover or not) is disgusting.

Buying “Old” Food. Chinese people are about fresh. They buy chickens alive, kill them, and eat them all in the same day. China is filled with farmer’s markets, where you can buy fresh vegetables straight from the fields. Canned veggies and and meat that has been sitting on the shelf for a few days is considered disgusting.

Chinese habits Westerners consider gross or dirty

Not washing your hands. A water rinse doesn’t cut it for most Westerner after a trip to the restroom. It is also nasty that there is usually never soap, and about a quarter of the time there is no running water.

Food in the mouth. Talking with a mouth full of food, smacking, or slurping noodles or soup can be quiet annoying for Westerners.

Public nose picking, ear digging, or spitting.

Meat Sitting Out All Day in ChinaHandling of Meat. Watch this video to see how they roll with meat in China. The Chinese consider this fresh because it was hacked up the same day, and consider the Safeway, 3-day old meat in shrink wrap to be the disgusting choice.

Poo Poo. When visiting the countryside, you may catch a glimpse of a mother holding her baby at the sidewalk (giving a quiet “shhhhh” whistle) to prompt the little feller to do his or her business — right on the ground.

Missing the toilet. Walking into a stall with 1/2 an inch of liquid on the floor can be a gross sight.

No Doors. Need to do a Number Two? You race to the bathroom to find out that there are a handful of guys, in plain site, doing their business in the doorless stalls. I know what you’re thinking. How much did they save by not installing the doors? Are stall doors that expensive in China? Truth is, Chinese people just aren’t tripping. Keep your eyes either up or down, find an empty slot, and breeze on in.

Read more articles about Chinese Etiquette, get more travel advice.

More stuff from either culture? Post it in the comments below.

Chinese Bars, Karaoke in China, Nightlife in China KTV

If you are traveling to China, living in China, have friends or family who just moved to China, or are going to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, you will need to brush up on your Chinese Etiquette. Here you can find the most comprehensive guide by an expatriate who has lived in China for over two years. Here you can learn what nightlife entails in China: bars in China, Chinese karaoke and more.

Bar Scene / Nightlife

    Visiting China Travel Tips Advice Robert Thompson
  • The bar scene in China is lively and loud. If you are doing business, expect that only men will go out to drink.
  • Younger generations play drinking games like “liar’s dice” or guessing games that expedite the drinking process. It is all about having a good time.
  • Chinese bars have shows, comedians, short plays, lots of live singing, and the essential loud distorted Chinese PA system. The point is, if you are used to going to Bob’s Tavern where it’s all low-key, get ready for something different.
  • When you want to call a waiter over, use the terms “fu wu yuan” (pron. “foo-wu-yen”) or for a female “xiao gunia” (pron. “shaw goo-nya”). Never use the term “xiao jie” (“xiao” starts with “sh” and rhythms with “wow”, then “jee-yah”, so “xiao jee-yah”), as it is condescending and dated. You would be surprised at how many books still teach that “xiao jie” is appropriate.


  • Karaoke is very popular way to spend social time. There are karaoke houses, or more commonly known as “KTVs” all over China, some of which rival the looks and feel of an AMC movie theater in the States.
  • You will get a private, insulated room that has (distorting) speakers, a television, a large central table, and couches lining the walls. There will be two microphones and a serious, heavy-duty delay (I guess you could call it reverb) on the vocal tracks.
  • The Chinese are not shy about singing and will insist that you sing. If you do not want to sing, you can say, “Wo bu hui chang ge” (I cannot sing).
  • If you do go to Karaoke, the volume level will most likely be too loud, but do not ask to turn the music down. Come prepared! Use earplugs and explain that you have hearing problems if they ask. You can say, “Wo de yisheng shou wo de er duo bu hao, sou yi wo xu yao yong zhei ge dong xi” while you point to your ears (My doctor said my ears are no good, that’s why I have to use these).
  • Don’t feel oblidged to patiently listen to someone who is singing. It is not considered rude to multitask in the karaoke room. Someone can be singing while four other people are slamming down dice on the table, playing drinking games.
  • Be aware that you are going to be in a small room with little or no ventalation, and that most of the Chinese people in the room will be smoking.
  • One of the coolest things about karaoke rooms is the little button on the wall that alerts an attendant. Need more beer? They arrive within seconds.

Have more to add? Write them in the comments!

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Chinese Drinking Etiquette: Beer, Tea Etiquette, Bottled Water, Hard Liquor

This article is about Chinese drinking etiquette. Depending on what you are drinking, the drinking rules change. Learn about how different beverages have different etiquette.


Drinking in ChinaIf you are at a bar, don’t be shy about saying that you don’t want to drink anymore. The Chinese people I have met can hold their liquor (most of the time). Don’t feel the need to keep up.

Unlike Europeans (and a select few in-the-know Americans), in China, looking someone in the eye when you toast is not imperative. It actually never happens. Don’t be offended, or wait for them to look you in the eye.

Bai Jiu Chinese Hard Liquor“Bai jiu” (pronounced “by-joe”) tastes like vodka. Be sure not to sniff it before you drink or you might gag. I think it is made from fermented rice. I whole-heartedly say it tastes like manure. And you’ll know when you’re drinking bai jiu when they bust out the clear bottle with the red cap. You can say, “Wo bu hui he jiu” (“wo boo hway huh joe”), that means “I don’t drink,” but it probably won’t work and they’ll pour you a glass anyway. Good luck.

Don’t worry about what the books say, “gan bei” does not mean you have to finish your drink (despite the literal translation of “dry cup”). Just take a sip and put your cup down.


Cold drinks are not usually served at restaurants in China. 98% of the time you will have a cup of steaming hot tea. Sometimes people will order a 2-liter of soda, but it us room temperature. About half the time, the beer is not cold. Asking for ice is okay, but don’t expect it to be available.


Fresh Water in China is EverywhereFresh, clean, bottled water is everywhere in China. It costs between 1-2 RMB per 12 oz bottle.

Do not drink any tap water in China unless you want to experiment with your digestive system. It is okay to use tap water to brush your teeth or wash your face.


Pu’er Cha (Tea) from Yunnan by Robert Thompson China Travel Tips

  • Drink it slowly. Some types of tea cost thousands of RMB per bag. Never ask for ice or sugar for your tea.
  • If you ever pour tea for someone else, fill the cup 3/4 full. (When pouring alcohol, top it off, brim to the rim.)
  • When someone hands you a cup of tea, take it with two hands. When you give someone a cup of tea, use two hands. (One hand on the bottom, on hand on the side).
  • When drinking tea, it is polite to use two hands.
  • When someone pours you more tea, it’s polite to touch the side of the teacup as they pour it, and be sure to say “Xie xie” (roughly pronounced “shay shay”), or thank you.

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