American Express -- Beijing: Room 2101, China World Tower, China World Trade Center; tel. 010/6505-2639. Shanghai: Room 206, Retail Plaza, Shanghai Centre; tel. 021/6279-8082. Guangzhou: Room 806, GITIC Plaza Hotel; tel. 020/8331-1771. Xiamen: Room 212, Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza; tel. 0592/212-0268. Amex offices are open Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 5:30pm. After hours: U.S. hot line tel. 001336/393-1111; HK hot line tel. 00852/2885-9377. Emergency card replacement: tel. 00852/2277-1010. Stolen checks: tel. 010800/610-0276, toll-free.
Business Hours -- Offices are generally open from 9am to 6pm but are closed Saturday and Sunday. All shops, sights, restaurants, and transport systems offer the same service 7 days a week. Shops are typically open at least from 8am to 8pm. Bank opening hours vary widely. In Hong Kong most offices are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, with lunch hour from 1 to 2pm; Saturday business hours are generally 9am to 1pm. Most Hong Kong shops are open 7 days a week, from 10am to at least 7pm.
Car Rentals -- Rental is only possible with a Chinese driver, except in Hong Kong and Macau.
Doctors & Dentists -- Many hotels have medical clinics with registered nurses, as well as doctors on duty at specified hours or on call 24 hours. Otherwise, your concierge or consulate can refer you to a doctor or dentist. If it's an emergency, get a Mandarin speaker to dial tel. 120 in mainland China, or dial tel. 999 in Hong Kong or Macau.
Driving Rules -- Cars are the king of the road here. When you cross a road, assume that the drivers are all out to get you. Driving is on the right. Hong Kong and Macau are far more law-abiding, and driving is on the left.
Drugstores -- Bring supplies of your favorite over-the-counter medicines with you, since supplies of well-known Western brands are unreliable and sometimes fake. All familiar brands are available in Hong Kong.
Electricity -- The electricity used in all parts of China is 220 volts, alternating current (AC), 50 cycles. Most devices from North America, therefore, cannot be used without a transformer. The most common outlet takes the North American two-flat-pin plug (but not the three-pin version, or those with one pin broader than the other). Nearly as common are outlets for the two-round-pin plugs common in Europe. Outlets for the three-flat-pin (two pins at an angle) used in Australia, for instance, are also frequently seen. Most hotel rooms have all three, and indeed many outlets are designed to take all three plugs. Adapters are available for only ¥8 to ¥16 ($1-$2) in department stores. Shaver sockets are common in bathrooms of hotels from three stars upwards. In Hong Kong and Macau, the British-style three-chunky-pin plugs are standard, and these also often appear in mainland joint-venture hotels built with Hong Kong assistance.
Embassies & Consulates -- Most countries maintain embassies in Beijing and consulates in Hong Kong. Australia also has consulates in Guangzhou and Shanghai; Canada and the U.K. in Chongqing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai; New Zealand in Shanghai; and the U.S. in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang.
Emergencies -- No one speaks English at emergency numbers in China, although your best bet will be tel. 110. Find help nearer at hand. In Hong Kong dial tel. 999 for police, fire, or ambulance. In Macau dial tel. 999 for medical emergencies, tel. 573-333 for the police, and tel. 572-222 for the fire department.
Hot Lines -- Hot lines and all kinds of telephone booking and information numbers are given throughout this guide. But in almost no cases whatsoever will English be spoken at the other end. Ask English-speaking staff at your hotel to find answers to your queries and to make any necessary calls on your behalf.
Internet Access -- Internet access through anonymous dial-up is widely available, as are Internet cafes.
Language -- English is widely spoken in Hong Kong, fairly common in Macau, and rare in the mainland, although there will be someone who speaks a little English at your hotel. Ask that person to help you with phone calls and bookings. Almost no information, booking, complaint, or emergency lines in the mainland have anyone who speaks English.
Legal Aid -- If you get on the wrong side of what passes for the law in China, contact your consulate immediately.
Lost & Found-- Be sure to alert all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss, although many Public Security Bureau offices (police stations) will be reluctant to do anything as energetic as lift a pen. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen: In mainland China, Visa's emergency number is tel. 010/800-440-0027; American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 010/800-610-0277; MasterCard holders should call tel. 010/800-110-7309; and Diners Club members should call Hong Kong at tel. 852/2860-1800, or call the U.S. collect at tel. 416/369-6313. From within Hong Kong, Visa's telephone number is tel. 800/900 872, MasterCard's tel. 800/966 677, Diners Club's tel. 2860 1888, and Amex's tel. 800/962 403. Visa also has a phone number for within Macau: tel. 300-28561. Keeping a separate list of the serial numbers of your traveler's checks will speed up their replacement.
Mail -- Sending mail from China is remarkably reliable, although sending it to private addresses within China is not. Take the mail to post offices rather than use mailboxes. Some larger hotels have postal services on-site. It helps if mail sent out of the country has its country of destination written in characters, but this is not essential, although hotel staff will often help. Letters and cards written in red ink will occasionally be rejected, as this carries extremely negative overtones. Overseas mail: postcards ¥4.20 (50¢), letters under 10 grams ¥5.40 (70¢), letters under 20 grams ¥6.50 (80¢). EMS (express parcels under 500g): to the U.S.: ¥180 to ¥240 ($23-$30); to Europe ¥220 to ¥280 ($28-$35); to Australia ¥160 to ¥210 ($20-$26). Normal parcels up to 1 kilogram (2 1/4 lb.): to the U.S. by air ¥95 to ¥159 ($12-$20), by sea ¥20 to ¥84 ($2.50-$14); to the U.K. by air ¥77 to ¥162 ($9.50-$20), by sea ¥22 to ¥108 ($11-$14); to Australia by air ¥70 to ¥144 ($8.75-$18), by sea ¥15 to ¥89 ($1.90-$11). Letters and parcels can be registered for a small extra charge. Registration forms and Customs declaration forms are in Chinese and French. The post offices of Hong Kong and Macau are entirely reliable, but both have their own stamps and rates.
Maps -- Purchasing city maps as you go is absolutely essential, even though few are bilingual. These are available at bus and railway stations and at airports for under ¥5 (65¢). Get your hotel staff to circle the characters of your hotel and the main sights you plan to see, and note which is which. Now you can jump in a taxi at any point, show the driver the characters for where you want to go, and keep an eye on the route he takes. The tourist boards of Hong Kong and Macau are liberal with bilingual and trilingual free maps.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Sino-foreign joint-venture hotels in the bigger cities have a selection of foreign newspapers and magazines available, but these are otherwise not on sale. The government distributes a propaganda sheet called China Daily, usually free at hotels, and there are occasional local variations. Cities with larger populations support a number of self-censoring entertainment magazines usually produced by resident foreigners and only slightly more bland when produced by Chinese aiming at the same market. Nevertheless, these do have intermittently accurate entertainment listings and restaurant reviews. A vast range of English publications is easily available in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as local newspapers such as the South China Morning Post.
Police -- Known to foreigners as the PSB (Public Security Bureau, gong'an ju), although these represent only one of several different types of officer in mainland China, the police (jingcha) are quite simply best avoided. Since they are keen to avoid doing any work, you have the same interests at heart. If you must see them for some reason, then approach your hotel for assistance first, and visit the PSB offices listed in this guide as dealing with visa extensions, since these are almost the only places you are likely to find an English speaker of sorts. In Hong Kong and Macau, however, you can usually ask policemen for directions and expect them to be generally helpful.
Restrooms -- Street-level public toilets in China are common, many detectable by the nose before they are seen. There's often an entrance fee of ¥.20 (3¢), but not necessarily running water. In many cases you merely squat over a trough. So, use the standard Western equipment in your hotel room, in department stores and malls, and in branches of foreign fast-food chains. In Hong Kong and Macau, facilities are far more hygienic.
Smoking -- The government of China is the world's biggest cigarette manufacturer. China is home to 20% of the world's population but 30% of the world's cigarettes. About one million people a year in China die of smoking-related illnesses. In the mainland, nonsmoking tables in restaurants are almost unheard of, and nonsmoking signs are favorite places beneath which to sit and smoke. Smokers are generally sent to the spaces between the cars on trains, but they won't bother to do so if no one protests. Similarly on air-conditioned buses, where some will light up to see if they can get away with it (but usually they'll be told to put it out).
Taxes -- In mainland China, occasional bed taxes are added to hotel bills, but these are minor and usually included in the room rate. Service charges appear mostly in joint-venture hotels, and range from 10% to 15%. Many Chinese hotels list service charges in their literature, but few have the nerve to add them to room rates unless the hotel is very full. However, restaurants may add the service charge. Departure taxes must be paid in cash at the airport before flying: domestic ¥50 ($6.25), international (including flights to Hong Kong and Macau) ¥90 ($11). There are also lesser taxes for international ferry departures at some ports. In Hong Kong, better hotels will add a 10% service charge and a 3% government tax to your bill. Better restaurants and bars will automatically add a 10% service charge. Included in your ticket price are an airport departure tax of HK$80 (US$10) for adults and children older than 12, or a marine departure tax if you depart by sea. In Macau, better hotels charge 10% for service as well as a 5% tax. Marine departure taxes are included in ticket prices. Airport passenger tax for flights to China are MOP$80 (US$10) adults and MOP$50 (US$6.25) children ages 2 to 12; for other destinations the tax is MOP$130 (US$16) adults and MOP$80 (US$10) for children. Transit passengers who continue their journey within 24 hours of arrival are exempted from passenger tax.
Telephone -- The international country code for mainland China is 86, for Hong Kong 852, and for Macau 853.
To call China, Hong Kong, or Macau:
1. Dial the international access code: (011 in the U.S., 00 in the U.K).
2. Dial the country code: 86 for China, 852 for Hong Kong, 853 for Macau.
3. For China, dial the city code, omitting the leading zero, and then the number. Hong Kong and Macau have no city codes, so after the country code, simply dial the remainder of the number.
To call within China: For calls within the same city, omit the city code, which always begins with a zero when used (010 for Beijing, 020 for Guangzhou, and so on). All hotel phones have direct dialing, and most have international dialing. Hotels are only allowed to add a service charge of up to 15% to the cost of the call, and even long-distance rates within China are very low. To use a public telephone you'll need an IC (integrated circuit) card (aisei ka), available in values from ¥20 ($2.50). You can buy them at post offices, convenience stores, street stalls, or wherever you can make out the letters "IC" among the Chinese characters. A brief local call is typically ¥.30 (5¢). Phones show you the value remaining on the card when you insert it, and count down as you talk. To call within Hong Kong: In Hong Kong, local calls made from homes, offices, shops, and other establishments are free, so don't feel shy about asking to use the phone. From hotel lobbies and public phone booths, a local call costs HK$1 (US15¢) for each 5 minutes; from hotel rooms, about HK$4 to HK$5 (US50¢-US65¢). To call within Macau: Local calls from private phones are free, and from call boxes cost MOP$1 (10¢).
To make international calls: From mainland China or Macau, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area or city code, omitting any leading zero, and then the number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial tel. 00-1-202/588-7800. Forget taking access numbers for your local phone company with you -- you can call internationally for a fraction of the cost by using an IP (Internet protocol) card, aipi ka, purchased from department stores and other establishments -- wherever you see the letters "IP." Instructions for use are on the back, but you simply dial the access number given, choose English from the menu, and follow the instructions to dial in the number behind a scratch-off panel. Depending on where you call, ¥50 ($6.25) can give you an hour of talking, but you should bargain to pay less than the face value of the card -- as little as ¥70 ($8.75) for a ¥100 ($13) card from street vendors. To use a public phone, you'll need an IC card to make the local call. In emergencies, dial 108 to negotiate a collect call, but again, in most towns you'll need help from a Mandarin speaker. From Hong Kong dial 001, 0080, or 009, depending on which of several competing phone companies you are using. Follow with the country code and continue as for calling from China or Macau. It's much cheaper to use one of several competing phone cards, such as Talk Talk, which come in denominations ranging from HK$50 to HK$300 (US$6.50-US$39) and are available at HKTB information offices, convenience stores, and other places.
For directory assistance: In mainland China dial 114. No English is spoken, and only local numbers are available. If you want other cities, dial the city code followed by 114 -- a long-distance call. In Hong Kong dial 1081 for a local number, and 10013 for international ones. In Macau dial 181 for domestic numbers, and 101 for international ones.
For operator assistance: If in mainland China if you need operator assistance in making a call, just ask for help at your hotel. In Hong Kong dial 10010 for domestic assistance, 10013 for international assistance.
Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 800 within China are toll-free, but calling a 1-800 number in the States from China is a full-tariff international call, as is calling one in Hong Kong from mainland China, or vice versa.
Time Zone -- The whole of China is on Beijing time -- 8 hours ahead of GMT (and therefore of London), 13 hours ahead of New York, 14 hours ahead of Chicago, and 16 hours ahead of Los Angeles. There's no daylight saving time (summer time), so subtract 1 hour in the summer.
Tipping -- In mainland China, as in many other countries, there is no tipping, despite what tour companies may tell you (although if you have a tour leader who accompanies you from home, home rules apply). Until recently, tipping was expressly forbidden, and some hotels still carry signs requesting you not to tip. Foreigners, especially those on tours, are overcharged at every turn, and it bemuses Chinese that they hand out free money in addition. Chinese never do it themselves; in fact, if a bellhop or other hotel employee hints that a tip would be welcome, he or she is likely to be fired.
In Hong Kong and Macau, even though restaurants and bars will automatically add a 10% service charge to your bill, you're still expected to leave small change for the waiter, up to a few dollars in the very best restaurants. You're also expected to tip taxi drivers, bellhops, barbers, and beauticians. For taxi drivers, simply round up your bill to the nearest HK$1 or add a HK$1 (US15¢) tip. Tip people who cut your hair 5% or 10%, and give bellhops HK$10 to HK$20 (US$1.30-US$2.60), depending on the number of your bags. If you use a public restroom that has an attendant, you may be expected to leave a small gratuity -- HK$2 (US25¢) should be enough.
Television -- No visitor should leave the PRC without sampling some of the world's most bizarre programming. In Guangdong, the Hong Kong news channels are frequently blocked, with censors on the mainland manually replacing unfavorable news items with public service broadcasts. On the mainland, there are hundreds of channels to choose from, but the best to look out for are the huge, party glorification concerts where loyal masses sing hymnlike praises to the party with lyrics like "Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China."
Water -- Tap water in mainland China is not drinkable, and should not even be used for brushing your teeth. Use bottled water, widely available on every street, and provided for free in all the better hotels. Tap water is drinkable in Hong Kong, but bottled water tastes better.
Source: Frommers on China