Cities in China

Rows of housing buildings in Beijing all similar in look.

Rows of housing buildings in Beijing all similar in look.

The Bund at night in Shanghai.

The Bund at night in Shanghai.

Cities in China

As I’m guessing many Americans think, I expected Chinese cities to be old, outdated, and messy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This of course only applies to the cities which I visited but, China’s big modern cities are exactly that. Big. Modern.

Beijing is huge and modern with a population of 21 million. It looks like a communist city, repeat housing buildings sit one after another, plain and beehive like, but it has plenty of skyscrapers full of office space, and tall hotels everywhere to accommodate the large amount of business traffic. There are Starbucks everywhere, and their coffee actually tastes better than Starbucks in the states. Apparently burning the coffee isn’t as popular in China. The streets are clean, the buildings are well taken care of (mostly) and they are ALWAYS building new parts to the city. It’s hard to explain how you can start driving and pass huge buildings constantly and an hour later you are still doing so. There is nothing like Chinese cities for scale in America.

Shanghai is also huge, estimated at almost 24 million people, it is the most modern city (as I am told) in China. It’s beautiful. The buildings are unique, sometimes too much so, but it’s amazing to drive or walk through the city and see so many differently designed buildings, with cutouts in their centers, diamond shaped windows that jut out, reflective surfaces, digital signage that covers 30 floors of windows. Buildings like the Oriental Pearl (Pudong Tower) that has a continuously changing light display and is beautiful. I was there for only 7 days and easily would have stayed for months to better learn the city. It is modern by any standards, big beautiful stores, parks in the city, art, statues, tunnels to move around rivers to keep the skyline clear of bridges. I would say that any world traveler needs to see Shanghai. It is a must. The young and business people are very clothes conscious, just like any trendy American. There are many American known clothing stores as well as British and Australian. It was a very easy city to get around in and I would go back in a heartbeat.

There are plenty of online recommendations for places to visit in Beijing and Shanghai so I won’t ramble on. I will say that the Bund, the waterfront area in downtown Shanghai, is a MUST SEE and the Great Wall was also pretty amazing. Beyond that, check out my Instagram feed for some photos of other areas that I enjoyed. Here’s a quick list of recommended sites.

Places to See in Beijing and Shanghai

  • Great Wall
  • Forbidden City
  • Olympic Buildings
  • The Bund
  • Financial District
  • Yuyuan Gardens
  • Jade Buddha Temple
  • Jang’an Temple

Riding the High Speed Train in China

A high speed train at the Beijing South Railway Trainstation.

A high speed train at the Beijing South Railway Station.

Riding the High Speed Train in China

My trip started in Beijing where we had to shoot a store opening for the client (Microsoft) before going to Shanghai to shoot another store opening and a lot more videos. One of the things we were shooting was a video of a businessman traveling from Beijing to Shanghai and all of the parts of the trip. To get from Beijing to Shanghai, we took the high-speed train.

I had never been on a high-speed train before. The train itself inside was much like any train you’d ride over land in America. The standard class cabins definitely cram people in however, so I would suggest at least business class tickets for a long haul.

The train station in Beijing was interesting. We were there in January and Beijing was somewhere around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It was cold outside. Oh, and inside the station was bloody cold as well. The entrance was normal, then we hit the security line. Our Chinese traveler/actor, James, had to show his ID card to the security folks but they waived us through because I guess, we were obviously not locals. Apparently, if you lose your ID card, you can’t go anywhere in China, you can’t take the train, it’s a big deal. Getting through security was easy though, they checked our passports, scanned our bags, waived a wand around us checking for bombs maybe, who knows, and then we were on our way into the station. Now, it was suggested to my travel partner who was the producer on this trip to get tickets beforehand. This was a good thing. The trains were busy and if we hadn’t, we would not have gotten into business class. So, TRAVEL TIP, if you are taking a train between cities and want business class, buy tickets in advance. We headed to the ticket counter, showed our passports, and they gave us our tickets.

We were ready to shoot some awesome footage inside this massive station! Right after we drank some warm Starbucks coffee because they didn’t have heat in most of the building. Yes, there was no heat, especially the farther you walked from the center of the station. It was cold. So, we got our warm coffees and shot a lot of footage of James doing business like things such as walking with a suitcase, using various apps on his Microsoft phone, walking more with his suitcase, checking his phone, you get the idea. The station had a lot of cool backgrounds and “extras” for us to shoot against. I’ll say this, when you are shooting a video that is supposed to look like its in China, being IN China really helps.

Our train begins to board and we shoot James getting on it, and then doing it again, then I’m running around filming the platform and the signs before the doors are locked. It was pretty fun and while this trip was a great experience, I did work my ass off.

I don’t mind, I love what I do.

Okay, So we’re on the train, in our seats and I’m thinking, sweet, the train is going to shoot out of here and go 100+ miles an hour! YEAH!

Well, it’s not like an airplane, they get going a bit more slowly. In fact, it’s so gradual that you don’t notice the fact that you are now traveling along at 185mph. Yep, we got up to the 180s. It was very pleasant. The train feels much like an airplane in smooth skies, you rock back and forth a little bit but for the most part, you just go.

The ride was nice, we did quite a few shots of James doing various actions. Then he and I talked politics and he explained some of the Chinese politics. Nothing I can share here but, let’s just say they’re a lot like us, we all just want a government for the people.

We rolled through a lot of farmland that day and the pollution was really an issue. Until the day we left Beijing, the weather had been gorgeous. The cold winds had blown the pollution out of the city and we were blessed with some really nice days. The view outside the train however, was a continuous mass of fog and clouds which was a bit of a bummer after our stellar first days. We didn’t realize how special the weather had been, and that is something to note, China has pollution. It sucks.

We arrived in Shanghai, filmed our exit from the train, then made our way to get a taxi to the hotel. This was quite the experience. There was a queue, a long line that went to the taxi area. I think we walked several hundred feet in it before we reached the end. There were three of us and we had a lot of luggage. There were two guys coordinating people to taxis. James, our actor and translator, told them we needed the van (the only one there) that was across the driving lanes (there were like 4 lanes for the taxis to fill) but one guy apparently had to assert himself and try to put us in a car. At this point, my “really?” radar is going off. I witnessed this a couple of times in China but, some of them like confrontation. Not with foreigners like me (well, I’m 6’1” 205lbs) but with each other. Eventually we get the guy to realize that we have a lot of stuff that won’t fit in a small taxi. He still needs to assert his dominance though and stops us from crossing to the van, until all the other cars are gone. He was just being an asshole. Oh well, every country’s got them. Don’t let this dissuade you from your trips, I very much doubt he would have hassled us at all if I was the one doing the talking.

Anyways, we got into our taxi and off to downtown Shanghai we went! What an amazing city!

Signs, Bathrooms, and Elevators in China

Universal street signs found in Shanghai.

Universal street signs found in Shanghai.

Signs, Bathrooms, and Elevators in China

One very pleasant aspect of Shanghai especially was how the main roads had English names on them as well. It was very easy to walk around the downtown using a map.

Another nice thing, signs in China are pretty much just like those in America. Guys in the mens room signs all wear pants, girls in their bathroom signs wear dresses, who would of thought? The sign for elevator is fairly common as well, three people in a box with arrows up and down or some variation. They use the British term “Lift” instead but it’s pretty easy.

NOTE: Elevators or “Lifts” can be tricky to find. They are sometimes hidden behind curtains or around weird bends. I think this is because they want you to use the escalators in some buildings, forcing you to visit every floor, see every shop, store, or restaurant, as you make your way to the desired floor (usually floor 18 of 18). This is purely just my suspicion. If you are looking for a lift and can’t find one, usually someone working a store in that area can point it out (such as pointing at big heavy curtains). This is a difference between our countries, we don’t play “find the elevators”.

When you are wandering around the city, taking in the sites, and that urge to evacuate your bladder arises, I am happy to say that there are bathrooms all over the place (at least in Shanghai). There are big blue signs with the Mens/Womens figures on them and an arrow in the direction of the requisite building. I was never want for a restroom, although they are not in every cafe and shop like they are in America, so if you are thinking you’ll wait until you hit the coffee shop, don’t.

Not Knowing Chinese in China


Not Knowing Chinese in China

So, I have this thing where I try to learn at least a little bit of the language of the place I’m visiting. Sometimes I can (Je parle Français!) and sometimes not so much (um, I don’t know how to say I don’t speak Chinese, in Chinese). I did go with some applications to help me, a phrases guide and a two-way dictionary, and a very open mind to learning as I went.

In China, at the more standard hotels (Hyatt, Hilton, etc.) they have English speaking staff who can assist you in getting to a destination using a cab (writing the destination name in Chinese for you to show the driver etc.) or to plan a tour somewhere, like the Great Wall. They don’t however, travel around with you and act as a translator. The Chinese are like Americans, they know their language, and would appreciate it if you are visiting their country that you make at least a little effort. They are pretty easy going however. If you are friendly, they are as well. Except maybe the cab drivers, they always seem angry. Of course, if I had to drive in that traffic, I’d likely be gruff as well!

Anyways, not knowing Chinese is not a huge issue. They understand English numbers, 1 .. 2 .. 3.. etc. and from my experience at least a general sense of basic English; where, how, etc. If you have your trusty phrases app/book and dictionary, you’ll be even better off.

Getting around is fairly straightforward as I’ve detailed in other blog posts, signs are in English or use the same pictures we do (guys wear pants, girls wear dresses) and many of their overhead announcements for the train and airport are given in English after Chinese.

Menus are a bit of a challenge but I can’t remember one place where there weren’t pictures on the menu if there wasn’t an English option. It’s pretty easy and I really enjoyed the experience. If you can take some classes before you go and learn to say basic phrases, you’ll leave a good impression.

Chinese is a different language however, pronunciation is very important. Start simple, learn the basics, then branch out. The phone app I used will speak phrases for me so, that can be very helpful in a pinch!

See the “What to Bring to China” post for the applications I used for communication.

The Subway in China


The Subway in China

At first, we avoided the subway/metro system. We weren’t sure it would be navigable without reading Chinese. Since taxis were so cheap, we figured why bother? Well, because the metro is even cheaper. If cabs cost $3 to get somewhere, the metro costs 50 cents.

We were told by someone we worked with about the metro and how it was actually very easy to use. We gave it a go, we had been walking a fair amount (okay, a lot, almost 14 miles one day!) so it was worth a shot. We dropped down into the underground and guess what, it’s just like any other subway system, at least in Shanghai. You have a ticketing machine, you tell it what stop you want to go to, you select how many tickets, you pay, you go.

The ticketing machines are all in Chinese at first and I was a little worried, oh crap, what did I get myself into? After scanning the screen, I found the “English” button and low and behold pinyin (Chinese characters) became English. We were off to the races! Actually, we were off to a shopping area to shoot some footage but I digress. Once we had selected our stop, which was very easy to pick out on a digital map, all in lovely English, we got our two tickets, paid our 50 cents and went through the turnstiles. Now, here you put your ticket into the slot and it pops back up as you go through. YOU NEED TO KEEP YOUR TICKET TO GET OUT OF THE STATION! So be sure to keep the ticket in your pocket for when you get to your stop. We went to our platform, which was in Chinese and English (very easy) and got onto our train. Now, despite what you may or may not think, the trains are just like ours, modern, nice, and Chinese people like their space just like we do. It was an easy ride on a semi-busy train. After we arrived, we politely pushed our way off the train (it’s okay to push gently) and went back up to the station. There we put our tickets (because you need them to exit!) into the turnstiles and moved on through. You don’t get your tickets back on the way out so, if you need a receipt and can’t figure out how to get it out of the machine, take a picture with your phone.

That is the metro experience in Shanghai. It was very normal and very possible even for my non-Chinese speaking self.

One thing to note, the metro is WAY faster than taxis, especially during rush hour. This in turn can save you even more money if you wish, although you may not be able to sit on a train during rush hour. At least you get to sit the whole cab ride, 45 minutes though it may be.

Taxis in China


Taxis in China

Taxis in China are dirt cheap compared to America. I took taxis everywhere I went in Beijing and Shanghai. I think the most we ever paid was for a trip that took an hour to the airport and it was basically $60 US for two people. Most of the cab rides around the city cost $3-$8. It’s a very cheap easy way to get around.

How do you use a taxi? Well, pretty much none of the taxi drivers spoke English. They are used to driving around us non-Chinese speakers however, as long as you think ahead. Pretty much all of the hotels we stayed at had a concierge desk operated by an English speaking native. We would discuss with them where we wanted to go, we’d get it marked on our map (GET A MAP!!) and then they would write the destination on a card in Chinese for us. This was so we could show it to the taxi driver. That’s all you need to get somewhere. The cards they write the locations on usually have the hotel name in Chinese (or you should get one before you leave) so you can use that to get back to your hotel at night. I took more than 20 cab rides, it’s easy.

Now, driving in China is a little bit nuts. I for one would not rent a car and drive myself. The horn is used, all the time. Especially by the taxi drivers. Lights green? HONK. Someone should be turning? HONK. I want over. HONK HONK. Could you give me an espresso with that? HONK. You get the idea, it’s pervasive and part of the culture. It’s not angry. It has to do more with trying to drive around a city with 20+ MILLION people living in it. There is always traffic and if you are not super quick about lane changing or moving, honks ensue.

Another part about driving, lane changing is fluid and by that I mean lanes are sort of guidelines. Cars switch around all the time, the taxis the most busy, moving around someone turning at an intersection by cutting over into a lane in front of the car next to them with inches to spare. At first, I was a little nervous, but after awhile you realize that they do this all day every day. They are so used to forcing cars into places and cutting across lanes that they are pretty dang good at it. After driving around so much in a cab, I felt like driving myself would only lead to lots of honking and likely an accident.

In summary, cabs are cheap and easy to use if you plan ahead by having all of your destinations written in Chinese by the hotel concierge (including your hotel so you can get back). Also, driving is nuts compared to the US. But it’s an orderly “rules within the chaos” sort of nuts you get used to pretty quickly. In Shanghai especially, it’s a great way to see the city, the roads are elevated in several places and you can really see some of the cool architecture.

I’ll talk about the subway in the next post. Even cheaper!

My First Television Pitch


My First Television Pitch

So, I just had my first television pitch ever for my series, The Accord. It was stressful. Interesting. Frustrating. Illuminating.

I paid to pitch my show to a creative executive at a major management company in LA. I was given a slot in a block of time, a slot for 8 minutes.

Now, let me explain a little about my show, it’s large in scale, complex, and has a lot of details. I have spent the last two years working on it with my writing partner and we have figured a lot of shit out.

Recently we determined that with a 35 page series bible, a 10 page pitch book, and a written pilot episode, it was time to share it with the world, sort of. We’ve been researching how to get it read, get a pitch, get a meeting, get someone to look at it, anything that might get help us in our quest to sell the show and maybe just maybe, get into television.

The first thing you learn when you start is that you don’t get a meeting without representation. You don’t get representation without having done some sort of recognizable work. It’s this weird catch-22 that you just keep fighting against trying to break out. I’ve looked at sites where you can post loglines, scripts, synopsis; sites that you can pay to have people read your work, and the best option I thought would be to pay for the opportunity to pitch to someone who ideally, if they liked my story, would release me from the endless catch-22 I am currently in.

Well, that didn’t happen.

So, I spent the week prior to my pitch practicing, reading up on what I should focus on, and really honing my pitch. It’s not easy for a television series that is a lot like Game of Thrones. I mean, how do you pitch that? There’s this guy who is the leader of the north, but he gets killed, but then his son becomes the leader, but he gets killed, and then the mother gets killed, you get the idea. The world is bigger than the characters and the most interesting characters aren’t always the primary ones. It’s interesting to try and figure out how to break down a complex story into a short description that will provide the most appeal to whatever person you are pitching it to. And by the way, each person you pitch to will likely find different aspects of the story more appealing. Needless to say, my pitch window of 8 minutes wasn’t enough.

I’ve spent a week working on the story I’m hoping will be most interesting to the executive. The day of my pitch I’m stretching and doing meditation and breathing exercises to stay relaxed and focused and when my Skype call is supposed to begin, I’m ready. The clock strikes 2, and nobody calls me. I’m starting to get nervous at this point, shit, did I get the time wrong? I go and check my email and verify my start time. I’m sitting there thinking, how do I see if they’re running late? At 2:07 I’m halfway through writing an email to the contact asking if my call was changed when my Skype starts ringing. At this point, I’m stressed and the zen is out the window.

I answer the call and exchange pleasantries, I falter at a bad joke, I’m not feeling the zone at all now. I ask if I should dive in and am told to go for it. “Okay,” I’m thinking, “this is my chance.” So I tell the executive about myself, then the name of my show. I give the logline and then start into describing the world, as the world itself is a unique aspect and a definite hook of the show. I’m humming along, definitely nervous now and I’m watching as she takes notes. I talk about my main character and feel at this point that maybe I should get some feedback. So I say as much and the executive proceeds to speak to me for 60 seconds at which time Skype decides to hiccup and garbles everything she says. After Skype returns, I tell her that Skype just garbled what she said. I’m quickly told to give more background on my character’s story and by the way, I have 60 seconds left. Bam! The adrenaline flows now and I’m talking about many of the characters in the story, how they relate, their backgrounds, their conflicts, and it feels so rushed. I know this isn’t how I wanted it to go but hey, I’m not a quitter! I wrap up, they wrap the call, and I realize once it’s done that I am not a pitchman.

Now, while my experience wasn’t great, it was pretty educational. I learned that all of my preparation didn’t give me the story the executive wanted. I learned that 8 minutes is about 22 minutes too short to properly explain my show. I learned that I can pitch, just not very well, but I do know that I can and will get better. So, this is just another step I had to take to get closer to my goal.

For people who are considering an 8 minute pitch, I would say that if you have a very strong character story, or straightforward movie idea, go for it, that should be enough time. I would warn anyone however that is writing something as wide as Game of Thrones to consider other options. I’m by no means an expert, but maybe that can help. I will instead endeavor to create short written pitches, about 2 pages, that will offer different focus points and then test to see if one plays better than another. I’m in this for the long haul and enjoy learning and getting better as I go. Eventually I’ll get someone to read my bible.

Good luck to all of you creatives out there, work hard and often, eventually you’ll get the attention of the right person.

What is Food Like in China?

WholeFishWhat is Food Like in China?

Oh my. First, let me start with this, I love American Chinese Food. I call it American because after being in China, we are a paltry shadow of the deliciousness that is the balanced spiced meals of China. I loved eating there. The food was GOOD. I’ve tried to explain the difference with our Chinese food. The best I can say is that where we typically have three dominant flavors: salt, garlic, soy sauce (in general), I would have foods that had 4 or 5 spices perfectly balanced, making my tongue sing with joy.

Oh, and the food can be spicy. Not all food is spicy, but they like spicy there. One day we went to a Thai restaurant and they didn’t come over and say, what number of spice do you like 1-5? It was just Thai spicy. Only a couple of dishes were like that (and we ordered like 13 different things) but those that were, burned. For anyone who knows me, I can eat spicy with the best of them, and I was getting a little worried. It all was delicious however and thankfully I had started with the hottest dishes as the others were not the kind to flay your tongue alive. The Chinese food was never “Thai” hot, but it had a good burn on occasion. It would be considered hot to many people I know. It was never oppressive however, it was always harmonious to the other flavors. I can’t stress enough how balanced much of the food was. One day, we stopped for lunch at a fish restaurant on the 17th floor of a shopping mall (see Street and other Signs, Bathrooms, Elevators blog about finding the damn lift!). It was a fun place, setup with small booths that could hold 4 people. Each table had a wire that came out from the wall. They didn’t speak English but as like most places, the menu had pictures. We were able to work out a request for a whole cooked fish with what looked like an entire fields worth of hot chili peppers on it (Thankfully, my travel/work partner was as into spice as me!) and they waved us over to the back of the restaurant. We weren’t sure what was going on until the cook pulls a huge catfish looking thing out of a tank where it had been swimming and they had us pick which one we wanted. I will tell you this, If I had the money, I would open this exact same restaurant in Portland and eat there every day until I die, so good. Okay, back to the story, we pick our now doomed fish and walked back to our table. We ordered some fresh vegetable sides and some rice and some water.

Now, there is a thing about water in China. I don’t know if its because they don’t drink tap water unless its been boiled but, if we asked for water to drink, they always brought us hot water. It was pretty funny. Maybe it was because they always drink tea instead and prefer something warm to drink with their food, I don’t know. It was different, but I actually started to like drinking hot water with my food. I’ve kept it up since I returned and find that it hits the spot when I crave tea but it’s too late to drink caffeine (I know, fricking older I get, grrrr).

Okay, so our fish is done and out it comes in a rectangle cooking platter that sits on a small stand. The platter is about 3 inches deep, maybe a foot wide and two feet long. There is the fish, split down the middle, cleaned and cooked whole in a deliciously spicy and tangy (not American sugar tangy, but well, tangy) sauce. They brought out our fresh vegetables and what you do is drop them into the cooking platter. Oh, I forgot, they bring it out and then plug it into the wire at the table so it keeps cooking. This in turn heats the sauce and the vegetables you throw in with the fish.


That was one of my favorite meals in China. That fish was sooooooo good and the sauce was like a little peppery nirvana. Not a “oh lord my guts are on fire” peppery, instead it was like, “the tips of my tongue and inner lips are alive with a non-hot spicy joy” type of peppery. We ate every bit of meat off of that thing and cooked our fresh vegetables in the delicious sauce. Oh jeez, my mouth is watering while I’m writing this.

Oh, another thing to know about eating in China. They don’t do a big plate for you to mix all your food on. You get a small plate, usually just big enough for the small standing bowl of rice you get. You don’t dump the rice out on the small plate, you use the plate to catch anything that falls off of the rice. Instead, you take whatever other foods you are eating, normally you order a couple of dishes, or in the whole fish case, I took cooked veggies and fish and piled enough for a decent bite on top of the rice. The juices slowly flow into the rice ball and you eat the rice little by little out of the standing mini-bowl as you consume the placed goodies. It’s actually kind of fun and makes much less of a mess dish wise. I’ll try to put some pics in here so you can see what I mean.

One other important thing to note: Napkins are not automatically given at a restaurant. I’m not sure why but, many places don’t have them or will charge you for them, or they have smaller tissue like napkins. If you have a beard like me and need to keep it clean, its good to always keep some tissues with you, especially if your nose runs. It wasn’t like nobody had them, it was more like, enough places didn’t that it was an issue. So, TRAVEL TIP: Always keep some tissues on hand when you are out and about!

I could detail every meal I had here and it would be a heavenly experience in my mind, I’m salivating at the thought, but I won’t do that for you as I think you get the idea. Eating in China was awesome. It was modern, clean, and delicious. Just be aware that you may get hot water if you ask for drinking water and you may need to bring a napkin. Also, try to eat like the Chinese do, put small pieces of the food ordered on top of the rice while still in the bowl and eat from there, it’s fun and actually keeps the amount of each item fairly well balanced with the rice. I’m trying to figure out how to do the same now that I’m back!


What to Bring to China

The Jing'an Temple in Shanghai, China.

The Jing’an Temple in Shanghai, China.

What to Bring to China

This may be the most helpful post I’ll write on what I learned while traveling in China. Things to bring!

First, identify what cities you will be visiting. I suggest Beijing and Shanghai, mainly because those are the two I visited but, they are also the biggest and have a ton of cool things to see.

Once you have identified where you want to go, GET A MAP of each city. I can’t stress this enough. The maps once you are there are in Chinese. The maps you get at your hotel are typically the kind you get at Zoos, over here is the big fun picture of the elephant in this general area, over here is the lion! And most of the time you are trying to figure out if you are heading in the right direction. They don’t put smaller streets on the maps so if you are walking, you sort of pray until you hit a street on your map and then try to assess where to go next. Not that I’m talking from experience or anything…

So, get a great street map of each place you are going, I’d suggest those laminated ones that hold up well after being folded a million times and don’t care about weather. Remember, unless you pay for the super expensive data plan, your cell phone will NOT be an option to figure out where you are.

That’s a quick point to reiterate, YOUR CELL PHONE WON’T WORK THERE. If you plan on using it for anything other than Internet access when you find a wi-fi point (usually at the hotel), or for locally installed applications like games or translation apps (detailed shortly) you will be greatly disappointed. Think ahead about what you use your phone for and make sure if it involves anything travel related, you have an alternate process that doesn’t require cell phone network access.

Okay, so, you’ve got your maps, you’ve planned out some locations you want to visit, what else should you bring? Well, power converters are always a nice thing to have. While many of the hotels have multi-plug power outlets, meaning if the item you are plugging in can handle 220 voltage, the outlet will be able to take double prong plugs from the USA. If you aren’t sure or your item is 110 voltage only, you need a power converter. I use one that has interchangeable plugs depending on the country I’m visiting. A little trick I use is to bring a small two sided power strip with two plugs on either side, that travels very small. You take the power strip, plug that into the converter, plug the converter into the wall and voila! you now have 4 plugins of 110! These sorts of things I normally keep in my carry-on luggage just in case I need to charge something during the trip or if my luggage by chance is lost (which has never happened internationally thankfully). One note, make sure you have a CONVERTER and not just an adapter. If you have devices that require 110, you need to convert the power from 220/240 to 110/120 otherwise it will fry. Adapters only change the plug so it will work in foreign outlets. They do not convert the voltage.

Okay, so you’ve got a map, you’ve got power for your stuff, next I would recommend getting some language applications for your phone. I downloaded a couple for Chinese, the first one was “Learn Chinese Mandarin Phrases” by Bravolol. It’s a decent phrase app that downloads to your phone so it will work even if you aren’t on your mobile or wireless network, very important thing to note if you are looking at using an application. Things like Google translate will NOT work unless you are connected to the Internet. I ended up buying the full phrases for like $5 or something. It was nice to be able to see and hear the phrases so I could practice. I used “xie xie” (thank-you) all the time. When I had the whole fish experience (another blog post) I looked up “xiao” (small) so I could get a smaller fish. The other application I used was English-Chinese dictionary also by Bravolol. I think you can download it from the phrases app or separately. It has some small ads in the free version which you can get rid of for $2.99 if you like. The best part of that dictionary is that it can be used both directions. So if you are trying to communicate with someone, they can look up a word in Chinese and show you the English translation. Of course, you have to have a Pinyin keyboard installed, so look into adding that to your phone as well. These sorts of applications can help you clarify things with locals who are usually somewhat familiar with English, enough that with a little phrase book and dictionary you can get almost anything figured out. You can obviously carry around physical books for these if you prefer, I just like how easy it was to use my phone.

So there you are, three things I would sort out before you leave your home country. Get out and have fun!


Getting a Chinese Visa

The Shanghai waterfront early in the morning on a nice winter day.

The Shanghai waterfront early in the morning on a nice winter day.

Getting a Chinese Visa

China was the first place I visited that required me to get a visa BEFORE I went to the country. It’s not a simple “show up and ask for one” process either. You must be invited to come to the country, by someone who lives there. If you are going for a job, you must be invited by someone who works for the company you are going to work for. You must fill out the visa request documents and send them to the embassy nearest you. It can be a fairly complicated process the first time, and probably the second, third, you get it. (Although, they now grant visas for as long as 10 years so, I’m good until 2025!)

To help make our visa acquisition process more tenable, the producer and I used CIBT Visas. They had a document that assisted with the process and they handle the interaction with the embassy as well. It was actually pretty easy once we got our invitation letters. We also had to get another passport photo that is sent in with the visa applications. Somewhere in some Chinese computer, there is a terrible picture of me that they likely compared to my actual passport to make sure I still look the same. (Although, I don’t now actually, I shaved the beard after 4 years, why, I’m not quite sure…)

So, visas must be procured before your trip, they take 4-6 weeks although ours came faster. It goes without saying that you need a passport first of all. Well, I guess I just said that but, you get the point. It’s a bit complicated so if you are under time constraints, I’d use a service like we did. If you’ve got plenty of time on your hands, DIY it!