Window of the World

To understand why Window of the World is so cool you need to know just a little Chinese History. Due to some political instability in the 1900s China closed its borders to foreigners. There was little import or export and there was zero education about the world outside the Chinese borders. However, in the 1970s Deng XiaoPing realized that direct foreign trade was the only way to bring China out of it’s current sate of poverty. So he opened up just 4 cities to the outside world, one of them being Shenzhen in the Guangdong province. Shenzhen is one China’s major port cities because it is right next door to Hong Kong, It soon became apparent that the locals had no clue how to interact with all the foreigners pouring in, so in the 1980s, Window of the World was created. It was a way to teach the locals about the geography and cultures of the world.

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Window to the World showcases small versions of 160 major historical sites throughout the world. Everything from the pyramids to Stonehenge. The 118 acre park is sectioned off by continents. I spent a little time in Africa and then wandered into Europe and then to the rest of the world within a matter of hours. It was so cool!

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This link will take you to Travel China Guide’s description and suggestions on how to get there.

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If you ever hop down to Shenzhen and Hong Kong for a visa run I would definitely suggest stopping by, it’s totally worth your time.

Touchy Subjects

(This post is going to be heavy, but don’t let it scare you. As you can see above, even Chinese officials are stoked to hang out with visitors.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, the descriptions of the events and situations below are super watered down versions. Politics, economics, history, and culture play roles in current events that I still can’t understand completely.

Falun Gong – 

This is by far the most serious subject to avoid. Falun Gong was started in the 90s as a yoga/meditation business, but quickly grew into a spiritual organization. Falun Gong had the support of the government when they were just teaching physical health and happiness. However, when a spiritual aspect was added and the group gained popularity, the government withdrew it’s approval. Despite the withdrawal of government sanction, the group’s membership grew into tens of thousands. Technically Communism is the only religion approved for practice in China, so this new “cult” posed a huge threat by teaching emotional freedom and other illogical ideology. It was at this point Chinese officials began persecuting the group members in order to irradiate their ways of thinking. It’s not spoken of, but there are labor and re-indoctrination camps dedicated to the detention and reform of Falun Gong members. I’m not going to get into what goes on in these camps. Talking and asking questions about any religion, especially Falun Gong, should be strictly avoided. Don’t even google it or email about it while you’re on Chinese soil.

Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tibet – 

The situation for all three of these territories is vaguely similar. During the Qing Dynasty China owned a huge chunk of Asia. As seen in the maps below.  Through war and political dissension, they lost some ground, that they are still trying to reclaim. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and many islands in the South China sea were once part of China. They’re still Chinese territory as far as the current government is concerned.

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Current Map of China – chinamap

Hong Kong was the property of Britain for about 150 years. During that time Hong Kong was transformed from a fishing island to one of the biggest international hubs in Asia. English and Cantonese were taught in school while Mandarin became the official language of Mainland China. Democracy was taught and implemented. So Hong Kong has it’s own legal system, which allows freedom of speech and assembly. In 1997, Hong Kong was turned back over to Mainland Chinese control. As you might imagine, there has been a significant amount of conflict since that time. In the past few years there have been peace protests and riots conducted mostly by college students. Per the turnover agreement, China can’t do much to stop the riots, but that still doesn’t mean they have to listen to the will of the people. It’s a good topic to avoid.

Internet Censoring – 

I’m sure that most Chinese nationals are aware that their internet, and all media really, is censored, but you shouldn’t bring it up. This is another good reason to stay off your VPN in public.

Chinese Law

The first rule for staying on the right side of the law in China is to use your common sense and just be a good person. That being said, here are a few things to be careful about:

  1. Register with the local police if you’re staying for more than a week. If you’re staying for less time than that the hotel or hostel you’re staying at will register it for you.
  2. Don’t let your visa expire. The length of your stay will vary depending on the visa you’re issued. The visitor (L) visa allows unlimited stays up to 60 days at a time. A student (F) visa will allow you to stay up to 180 days. If you’re not wanting to be banned from China, it’s imperative that you not overstay your welcome.
  3. Don’t take pictures of government buildings or personnel. That’s pretty straight forward.
  4. China is zero tolerance when it comes to illegal drug use. Getting caught with marijuana will land you a significant amount of jail time.
  5. Any material speaking negatively of the Chinese government will be confiscated.
  6. Don’t talk about politics or religion. It’s easy for Westerners to be critical of the Chinese government, which is illegal. Active and passive proselyting for any Western religions is completely illegal. You are free to practice your religion as long as it is in private with no Chinese nationals in the vicinity.

These laws are all basic and not limited to China alone. Like I said in the beginning, just be a conscientious person and you’ll be just fine.

MONEY AND BANKING

The official name for Chinese money is renminbi, usually abbreviated to RMB. Yuan (dollar) and kuai (buck) are also common though. Chinese money is beautiful! Each bill features Chairman Mao Ze Dong on the front side and a popular Chinese attraction on the back. I always thought it would be cool to take a picture of the all the bills in front of their individual locations. 39eab1e8b7-chinesecurrency

China is a cash country. You can’t go into a restaurant or grocery store and pay with a card. However, there are ATMs all over that you can use to withdraw cash. There is usually a withdrawal fee each time you swipe your card so talk to your bank to see how you can best avoid them. Usually, I just withdraw large amounts of cash every once in a while instead of small amounts more frequently.

I can think of 3 main ways for accessing money while traveling:

  1. Bring your debit card and withdraw money as needed (after you’ve talked to your bank). Bring a few hundred dollars cash with you just in case there is a problem with your debit or credit card.
  2. Order Chinese cash from your bank in advance. You’ll save money on the exchange fees, but you might be a little nervous carrying so much money around. Take a debit or credit card for backup.
  3. Take all your USD over and exchange it to RMB at a bank or airport upon arrival. Again, you might feel a bit insecure carrying loads of cash around. If this is what you’re going to do take only new, crisp 20 dollar bills. They’re accepted best by the exchange officers. And again, take a debit or credit card for backup.

Right now, 1 USD is worth about 6.8 RMB. Click here to see an up-to-date exchange rate.

Banks:

No matter what you do, call your bank to tell them how long you’re going to be in China. If your travel plans aren’t logged in their system they’ll put a hold on your card to defend against fraud. You’ll also want to ask them what kind of international withdrawal fees you’ll be paying.

Safety Tips:

You might already know that China is a super safe country. Pick pocketing is just about the only crime you’ll have to worry about while you’re traveling. Safe is always better than sorry, right? You might find a money belt useful for carrying you money and passport discretely. There’s no need to worry though, if you’re being self-aware you’ll be just fine.

New Visa Photo Requirements

I recently received some inconvenient news; the requirements for Chinese Visa Photos have changed. There are a TON of new specifications and luckily for us, they’re all listed on the sheet below.

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Just keep in mind that both ears must be showing, no smiling, no teeth, and no shadows.

Until Walgreens and Walmart upgrades their software, they will not be able to cut your photo to the proper dimensions. You might see if it can be taken by a local photographer or University Photo Lab.

Note: The U.S. Passport Application still requires a 2×2 inch picture.