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Before you leave Canada

You should definitely do your best to learn about daily life in China prior to your departure. Although this document provides a lot of useful information as well as a list of online resources you may want to purchase one of the many guidebooks published on China. This section gives our experience getting a Chinese student visa and plane ticket to China. There is also some information on the language and monetary system used in China, two things you must become familiar with if you want survive in China. It is not possible to get by in English in many situations even in a city as large as Beijing. Although crime is low and there seem to be very few scams praying on foreigners especially compared to say Bangkok Thailand, precautions should still be taken with your person and belongings doubly so for women.


It is not difficult to get the visa, however it does take time. You can pay more to speed up the visa application process. However you should get to the offices at Suite 288 #1338 West Broadway and Hemlock as early in the day as you can, as this visa issuing office is very busy. It is possible to have someone else pick up your visa if you give them the correct paperwork, but it might help if that person speaks Chinese.


The tickets for China Airlines or China Eastern Airlines are readily available and not expensive. But try to book your seat ASAP after you have secured your visa. The earlier you book the greater discount you will receive. But do remember to avoid the peak travel season of June-August.

Lots of 100 RMB notes


Cash is king in China. You should definitely buy several hundred dollars worth of RMB prior to leaving for China. In Vancouver you should be able to find a currency trader or a bank, which will sell RMB fairly easily. It is also possible to buy RMB in the Vancouver airport and in Beijing airport. One advantage to buying in Vancouver airport is you can do so with your bankcard. Chinese money is referred to as both RMB and Yuan, the cents are called Maos and there are 10 Mao to one Yuan.


In China there are paper bills in the following denominations: 100 Yuan, 50 Yuan, 20 Yuan, 10 Yuan, 5 Yuan, 1 Yuan, 5 Mao, 2 Mao, 1 Mao. There are coins in the following denominations: 1 Yuan, 5 Mao. Counterfeit currency must be a real problem in China. Every business has a machine to determine the authenticity of the bill. When I bought my Chinese cash I was instructed on how to recognize an authentic bill. Basically there is a watermark to look for and on the higher denominations an embedded metal strip. I tried not to worry too much about it, because I tended to frequent nicer establishments and the change I was getting back was generally such a small amount of money when converted to Canadian it was not worth being paranoid about every one Yuan bill you receive. I only checked the 50s, I assumed the bank machines would give out authentic bills and that was the only time I received 100 Yuan bills.

Bank Machines in China

China's banking system has progressed rapidly. Most bank machines work in English and with foreign bankcards. I had no problem getting money out of my TD and my HSBC account. There is more than one HSBC branch in Beijing but they claimed to have no relations with foreign HSBC branches and were little help when we actually went to see them in person. I was directed to their bank machine to make my withdrawal. Your daily and weekly withdrawal limit may become a factor while you are in China. If you choose to live off-campus your landlord may require much of if not all you're rent up front in cash. Even if you have enough cash in your account in Canada you cannot withdraw all of it at once.


Although Muskie meant to, his personal problems combined with his internship prevented him from learning as much Chinese as he should have prior to coming to Beijing. In order to smooth your transition to living in China, learn as much standard Chinese as you can, including some common characters. Although it should go without saying you should also cozy up to some of your mainland Chinese classmates and solicit them for advice and any aid they may be able to provide such as free Mandarin lessons. It is also probably worth your while getting a Chinese name as soon as possible as you will need one once you arrive at Tsinghua.

English Reading Material

Although this was the third time I've lived abroad I did not bring as much reading material as I did when I moved to Japan. There were several reasons for this:

  1. As a full time MBA student there would be numerous assigned readings.
  2. I was bringing a laptop and planned to keep up on world events through the internet.
  3. I thought with Beijing being a world capital it would have a better selection of English reading material than Toyohashi Japan. This was not necessarily the case, due to Chinese governmental policy and the relatively small percentage of foreigners there is a limited selection of English reading material even at the "foreign language bookstores".
All is not lost, Amazon will ship just about anything anywhere and you can always have friends and family mail you stuff as well. However it is definitely worth your while buying several magazines and books if you are an avid reader and bringing them with you.

Onward to Section 2: Your first few days in China or return to the introduction.

Words and Images © Andrew "Muskie" McKay.
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