Keys to the Kingdom
By Mitch Moxley
Updated: 2007-08-24 07:06
It's been argued that the Web is more of a burden than a tool to make life easier. Think about wasted productivity checking e-mail, hours spent surfing useless sites, or whittling away the day watching YouTube. China is case in point. Who hasn't visited a .cn site muddled with flashy advertising, jumbled text and links to English pages that don't work? You click the English link and nothing happens. Click again, nothing. Keep clicking and clicking until you're in a rage and just want to smash I digress.
Expat life in China isn't easy, and despite the cluster the Web can be used to make it easier. There are some go-to Web pages every expat should know, notably the city magazines - That's Beijing (www.thatsbj.com) and That's Shanghai (www.thatssh.com), and City Weekend (www.cityweekend.com.cn), which covers Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Sites devoted entirely to expat life are also invaluable. Try AsiaXPAT (www.asiaxpat.com) or Beijing Expat (www.beijingexpat), to name a few. Other sites cover a range of expat needs, from healthcare to dining. China Daily sifted through the mess to find the sites that work.
Finding a decent apartment in China can be tough, especially one that is well-maintained and reasonably priced. According to Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Beijing and Shanghai are now the 20th and 26th most expensive cities in the world for expats to live in - largely due to housing costs.
Your best bets for finding an affordable apartment are the city magazine websites (both That's Beijing and That's Shanghai carry apartment listings and roommate wanted classifieds). Craigslist (www.craigslist.org) also has apartment listings for Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
In Beijing, check out Wuwoo (www.wuwoo.com), a bilingual site with an interactive map that lists available properties by location. BJApartment (www.bjapartment.com) also has good listings by location and price. If your dream is to live in a newly renovated hutong, try Beijing Courtyards (www.beijingcourtyards.com). This artsy site guides viewers through remodeled hutong courtyard houses available for rent or bed-and-breakfast stays. They are gorgeous but not cheap.
Both Beijing and Shanghai metro websites (www.bjsubway.com and www.shtmetro.com) are easy to navigate and have train timetables and guides to buying tickets. Astonishingly, neither site has a system map. Maps can be found with a quick Google search or on Wikipedia (for Beijing, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beijing_Subway - that is, when Wikipedia is available).
The prize for best English-language public transportation site goes to Guangzhou Metro (www.gzmtr.com/en), thanks to its printable map (stations are listed only in Chinese characters, however). Information on Beijing bus routes can be found at Beijing Public Transport Holdings web page (www.bjbus.com).
Most public hospitals in Chinese cities don't have English sites. Best to stick to private clinics anyway, where English-speaking staff are more common. International SOS, with clinics in Beijing, Nanjing, Shenzhen and Tianjin, has a website (www.internationalsos.com) with information about services for expat healthcare in China and elsewhere. For alternative medicine, the Traditional Chinese Medicine International Service Complex's website (www.tcmtreatment.com) isn't going to win any design awards, but it does claim to be the world's biggest English-language Chinese medicine website. Acupunture.com (www.acupuncture.com) is also home to a wealth of info on Chinese medicine.
For hotel and airline bookings, start with eLong (www.elong.com), Expedia's China partner. eLong provides access to 3,000 hotels in 280 Chinese cities and flight ticket services in China's 50 major cities. The site is easy to use and reliable. For other electronic bookings, try Ctrip (www.ctrip.com), China Travel (www.chinatravel.com) or Chinaetravel (www.chinaetravel.com).
Fancy a horseback riding trip to the Inner Mongolian grasslands but don't want to go alone? How about hiking the Longsheng Terraced Hills or exploring Huangshan Mountain? Check out the Chinese Culture Club (www.chinesecultureclub.org). CCC organizes tours and events that focus more on experiencing China through its culture, less on boozing with backpackers. The website has information on Chinese culture classes, such as calligraphy and ink and water paintings, and news on upcoming cultural talk and events.
For other travel needs: A comprehensive Beijing travel guide is available at the Beijing International Travel website (http://china.citw2008.com/), including information on visa services, travel within and outside the city and flight bookings. Package tours - including Yangtze River cruises, Silk Road tours and customized individual, family and group packages - can be made through China Highlights (www.chinahighlights.com), or China Tour (www.chinatour.com). Train schedules are available at Travel China's website (www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains/).
There are a ton of Chinese language resources on the Web but few as engaging as ChinesePod (www.chinesepod.com). Founded in 2005 by a group of language training and technology experts in Shanghai, ChinesePod offers daily podcasts, featuring pick-your-own lessons for beginner to advanced. The site has 614 lessons so far, ranging from "Asking for a phone number" at the Newbie level, to "Abducted by aliens" at the Upper Intermediate level, and "Counterfeit iPhone" at the Advanced level.
Another good hanyu site is eChineseLearning (www.echineselearning.com). The service allows students to communicate live with a professional Chinese teacher through instant messaging services like Skype, MSN or Google Talk. Private lessons cost as little as $4.50 and are available for children to adults, with topics ranging from Chinese culture to business etiquette.
Dining and nightlife
When it comes to eating in China, start with How to Order Chinese Food.com (www.howtoorderchinesefood.com). The site features pictures, pinyin names and Chinese characters for an assortment of Chinese dishes ranging from Kung Pao Chicken (gongbao jiding) to a dish called Smells Like Fish Pork (yuxiang rousi), which, according to the site, is "a sweet and moderately spicy Sichuan pork dish cooked with wood ear mushroom and green hot peppers".
For delivery, try Beijing Goodies (www.beijinggoodies.com). Goodies delivers food and drink from nearly 30 restaurants to home or office. If you live in Beijing's Chaoyang District, within the fourth ring road, delivery is within 60 minutes. The site is easy to navigate and restaurant choices can be divided by country, price, flavor and area.
Another good one is Isender (www.isender.com.cn), which delivers from 27 restaurants in Beijing. The site's English isn't great but it does allow for online ordering.
For Shanghai bagel lovers, check out Shanghai Bagel (www.shanghaibagel.com), which will delivery to your doorstep all your bagel needs, including whipped butter, Skippy creamy peanut butter and 10 different kinds of bagel.
For an evening out, Clubzone (www.clubzone.cn) has to be China's definitive nightlife website. Clubzone has nearly 22,000 members and includes listings of nightclubs in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities, and it also sponsors its own parties. The site is too flashy, but contains all the essentials for navigating urban China's bourgeoning club scene.
(China Daily 08/24/2007 page19)