Friday, August 28, 2015

Zhuhai - Guangdong - China

Although I have now been living in Zhuhai for almost four years (where does the time go?) it came to my attention that I was yet to blog at all about this awesome city that has snuck up on me and become my home...If looking for travel information and what to bring/prepare, scroll towards the end of this post.

The Fishergirl - Symbol of Zhuhai

Kate and I decided to give China and more specifically Zhuhai a try after agreeing that we still wanted more of an adventure after a year of travel.  We had heard good things about Zhuhai from a friend Yanis who we met whilst travelling in South America, notably the climate and general lifestyle.  His friends are now our friends :o)

Fond memories with Yanis in Peru

Teaching English or an Internship?
The easiest way to attain a paid job in China legally is undoubtedly by teaching English. Securing a working visa through a school/university is the most surefire way to ensure that you can coast into China and start earning a wage that is relatively impressive.  The main prerequisites for a good teaching job and Z (working) visa are a degree and TEFL (TESOL) certificate.  The most cost and time-friendly means of acquiring this certificate is by doing an online course.  This is a 100 hour course following which you can complete the examination from the comfort of your computer chair.  The material is not as straightforward as you might think, but there is a lot of useful information and I fully recommend you complete all materials as it will stand you in good stead for when you arrive in China.  Of course, there is no substitute for the real thing and your first class is when you really begin learning!

Teacher Paul

Another option for undergraduates and recent graduates would be to do an internship through a 3rd party internship programme provider such as the company I currently work for, InternChina,   These present really exciting opportunities to get practical experience whilst adding an impressive notch onto your CV.  On the downside, all internships are unpaid by Chinese law, but students will spend thousands on their university education, an internship is a comparatively extremely cheap investment and will offer an amazing cultural experience whilst setting down some good foundations for a future career.

InternChina Interns visit the Li River in Yangshou, Guilin

Zhuhai - The People
So what can you expect from Zhuhai? I can't actually remember what I expected when I set foot on the plane to come here.  I definitely expected China in general to have a much more oppressive, communist and totalitarian vibe.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For one, having seen quite a lot of the world there is nowhere I have felt generally safer.  The people are welcoming and never once have I felt threatened.  Although not unheard of, violent crime is a none-consideration.  Whilst opportunistic theft does occur if you are careful you will not have any problems.  I don't lose sleep if my girlfriend is coming home later without me as if anything, local guys are a little intimidated by western woman and are quite shy compared with us westerners when it comes to propositioning.

Unlike the bigger cities, 'foreigners' (which refers to any non-native Chinese) are not in abundance.  You may find some people taking pictures of you (some will ask and some will snap away), some will try speaking to you in English (some will say hello for a giggle others want to converse).  Either way, you're going to get attention.  If you're no Quasimodo people will outright call you handsome or beautiful upon first meeting you. This is something I find hard to get tired of although it's important to keep your feet on the ground with compliments in such abundance!  Some say there is a 'times ten' rule out in China, in that however attractive you are in your home country you can multiply that by ten when you're on the ground in China.  Watch that head of yours, you may be dragging it along the ground behind you or need to pop it with a pin if you're not careful!

X10 Rule in action
Taking a picture of the picture taker taking a picture in Shenzhen

The general public don't speak English and this is perhaps the biggest challenge when first arriving in Zhuhai.  I see it as the price you pay for visiting somewhere that has so much culture to offer those who are willing to gamble on residing outside of the 'security' of the big cities, but trust me you get a lot more back as a result.  Learning mandarin is an ongoing process but far from impossible.  In Guangdong province you may also consider learning Cantonese but personally, mandarin is enough for now!

Whilst more foreigners are arriving every year, a foreign friend is still in high demand and people will try to add you onto WeChat (Asia's Whatsapp) and invite you to teach each other your respective languages or even meet their family over dinner.  Even after three years I cannot get over just how nice people are and how welcoming they can be towards us 'foreigners'.  If you aren't the life and soul of a party at home, this doesn't matter either as qualities such as humility and respect go very far here and people will approach you, a stranger's just a friend you haven't met after all.

Zhuhai - Environment and Location
Zhuhai has won awards for its environment.  There is plenty of greenery and a fair amount of parks to choose from when the weather is nice as it often is.  There are definitely more beautiful places in the world and there are plenty of cars, but everyone I have spoken to who has lived elsewhere in China has said that it's the nicest environment they have experienced out of any Chinese town or city they have been to before.  Motorbikes and even electric bikes are not allowed in the main town which gives you an idea of the efforts the government is going to to ensure that Zhuhai retains its reputation as a great location and a worthy place for Chinese nationals to visit during their holidays.  Even though Zhuhai can boast this pleasant environment, it is also conveniently located to many factory towns which is great for anyone considering the export business or a role in international trade.  I worked in this industry after teaching and travelled to most of these towns but I was always glad to come home to Zhuhai.  Check out this video to see how unlike what you may think, Zhuhai is not the concrete jungle most expect from cities in China.

Bai Lian Dong Park - Jida
The 'sliding car' track at JingShan Park

Zhuhai has its own airport of JinWan which is just an hour or so from Zhuhai town proper, albeit more relevant for domestic flights rather than international for which you have Hong Kong and Macau.  Zhuhai is within reach of hundreds of islands although in reality there are only a handful that are truly accessible and worth visiting.  Unlike in Zhuhai, you can swim in the sea when you visit these islands and each has its own flavour and makes for a nice weekend trip if living here.

Fisherman on Ye Li Island

Just a little over an hour on the boat and you can find yourself in the commercial hub of Hong Kong. There are even ferries directly from Hong Kong airport to Zhuhai and vice versa.  You can buy all your branded goods, enjoy fine dining and even do a shop in Marks and Spencer.  I've been over countless times to enjoy the familiarity of the Western culture whilst still offering a large amount of its own personality.  You can spend your time in Wan Chai in a British pub knocking down pints and watching the football with fellow Brits and never know you were in Asia if you so choose.

Even more accessible is the Las Vegas of Asia and ex-Portuguese colony of Macau.  It's possible to walk across the border to Macau from Zhuhai and be among the glitz and glamour of some of the world's finest casinos and restaurants.  Macau is a city that grows on me even more each time I visit and for such a small place there are many treasures to be discovered.  For Macau and Hong Kong you need to be careful however, as visiting these places counts as an 'exit' from China in your visa and you'll need to make sure you have enough entries in order to get back into mainland China!  You can always fly in or out of Hong Kong/ Macau before or after your visit to China as they both conveniently have international airports.

Senado Square in Macau

Another thing well worth noting is that you have amazing countries of South East Asia on your doorstep.  It's easy, quick and cheap to fly to Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia etc,  The hardest decision is choosing where to go whenever there is an opportunity for a vacation.

Zhuhai - The Food
If I had to choose one thing I would miss if/when I leave China, it would probably be the food.  Eating out is cheap and convenient and I'm still discovering new dishes.  There are an abundance of styles of cooking unique to various Chinese provinces, each more delicious than the last.  If you're a foody and especially if you are open minded to trying new things you will be in your element!

Almost every meal is a social occasion

A particular benefit of being in Zhuhai or Guangdong province is the 'morning tea' or 'dimsum' style of cooking native to this province.  Beautiful pork filled steamed buns, soup dumplings, durian fritters, delicious porridge etc is in abundance.  Even so, you can eat in any style from menus with countless more variety on offer when compared to your bog standard Chinese takeaway back home.

Kate enjoying some Dim Sum

Mealtimes are a social experience with communal dishes presented on a rotating disk in the middle of the table (we know this as a 'lazy Susan' back in the UK), giving you the opportunity to try a bit of anything.  Meals tend not to be as sophisticated as back in the West and dishes come out as they are ready and hungry chopsticks dive in often as soon as the china plate hits the table.  Restaurants are lively and full of energy although you may have to get over the sound of someone slurping their noodles or someone casually lighting up a cigarette next to you after their meal.

I look forward to eating with zeal at every single mealtime here and I hope that I can someday learn to cook as they do here.

Zhuhai - Lifestyle and Attractions
Zhuhai doesn't have any real heavy-hitting attractions when you compare with the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army in XiAn.  Those living here often agree that the best things to do here involve making the most of the lifestyle.  Although an industrious place filled with interesting and entrepreneurial people, it doesn't have the awkwardness and pace of the big cities.  Millionaires will sip on coffee or a beer whilst working their way through emails and then do some networking in one of the many new 5-star hotels.  It's possible to cycle or take a pleasant stroll along Lover's Road and meet the Fishergirl, she is the symbol of Zhuhai after all.

Meetings don't have to be boring

At a local waterfall

Relaxing in HaiBin Park - Jida

Local Temple

Jida Beach

Beishan old town

Something I love about Zhuhai is that because you can afford to eat out every night and have somebody help you clean your house for a relatively cheap price, you can spend more time pursuing your hobbies!  Personally this involves music, football and writing.  Of course some people enjoy spending this free time in the bars which I can't say I am immune to either!

Gigging at a local expat bar - The London Lounge Jida

Zhuhai has its own high speed railway station and it's possible to get to Guangzhou South in around 70 minuntes.  From Guangzhou it is possible to take the fast train to almost any major city in China, even to Lhasa in Tibet.  From Guagnzhou it's possible to travel by train to Shanghai in around seven hours!  Insider TV produce a very professional and watchable video to show off Zhuhai's assets, a must watch if you're thinking of coming here.

What to Prepare, Money and what to Bring?
When my parents came to visit, jammed into their suitcase was an 8 pack of toilet roll.  I can't quite imagine how they envisaged I had been living but it was ultimately unnecessary.  Guess what people, you can buy toilet paper in China! Unless you're deep in the countryside, the middle of the Mongolian plains or Gobi Desert you'll probably have good enough access to most essentials! Before thinking about what to put in your suitcase here are a few things you may wish to consider:
  • Unlocking your phone, to be able to be used in China with a local SIM card.
  • Purchasing a VPN (accessing certain websites in China: Facebook, YouTube, blogs etc...)
  • Arranging accessible money for your time in China (prepaid currency cards are the way to go).
  • Booking the correct type of insurance.
  • Download the following apps: WeChat (Chinese WhatsApp), Baidu maps, Pleco (Eng-Chin dictionary)
  • Look through InternChina's FAQ’s especially relating to budgeting 
      One of the most important things to consider prior to leaving your own country is to make sure that you have the appropriate visa.  Giving advice on this is difficult as the visa you will need to apply for depends on your intentions for your trip to China (holiday, work, business, study etc).  It also depends on things such as your nationality and where you apply from (are you a Latvian applying from the UK for example).  There are various agencies online and with offices all around the world.  There are Chinese embassies in most countries.  The best thing to do is speak to somebody who has done it before and go with a recommendation.  There are plenty of grey areas with visas and that doesn't look like it will change any time soon.  Generally speaking, for anything other than a  working visa you are better off applying for a single entry for a greater chance of success.  There are of course exceptions to that rule, USA citizens for example who have it easier at present, however I'm reluctant to say more as the advice will be out of date as soon as it is published.  

      It's possible to bring cash and exchange in China for decent rates.  This can be done in one of the many banks or even the black market.  US dollars like in most countries are the most easily transacted currency.
      So what to put in that case of yours? Obviously it depends on what you intend to be doing in China. One of the first articles I wrote on this blog relates to what to pack generally if backpacking. However, I'm going to assume you'll either be on a budget trip, staying in hotels/hostels or planning on coming to work/live long term:

  • Towel - Most cheaper hostels will not provide or will charge for this
  • Medication - Trying to find Chinese equivalents of Western medicine can be tough to say the least
  • Laptop/tablet/smartphone - Whilst internet cafes are not uncommon, security may be an issue
  • Adapter plug - There are usually two types, shown below.  Make sure your adapter caters for these:

  • Small gifts and pictures from home - When people start inviting you to their place you'll feel bad you have nothing to give or show to them about your culture and family 
  • Deodorant, hair products, suncream etc - These kind of products can be found but tend to be more expensive and there isn't always a great choice
  • Your clothing choice will depend on where you're going and time of year. Do your homework
  • Ladies bring tampons! Sanitary towels are available but if these aren't your preference stock up. 

Getting in and out of Zhuhai
If travelling into Zhuhai by air, there are a few options.  The international airports of Hong Kong and Macau are both common options as they serve many international destinations and neither is inconvenient.  In addition you have Zhuhai's airport of JinWan and the other option of arriving in Zhuhai's big brother, Guangzhou.

Hong Kong
If arriving at Hong Kong airport, you don't even need to go through customs provided you arrived in time to get tickets for one of the 4 ferries heading from the SkyPier to Zhuhai JiuZhou Port.  At present, these ferries depart at 12.15pm, 14.05pm, 17:00 and 20:00. You would need to have at least one hour and a half between your scheduled arrival and the ferry's departure for a chance of securing a ferry in time.  One of the reasons for this is that your luggage will have to be collected and loaded onto the ferry on your behalf. When purchasing a ticket whilst still in HK airport, at the ferry ticketing desk they should ask if you have luggage.  If so you will provide them with your luggage receipt which they will use to collect your luggage.  You don't need to worry about it until it arrives with you on the ferry in Zhuhai! (unless of course your luggage didn't arrive with you in HK in the first place, speaking from experience...).  You'll be called to board around half an hour before scheduled departure but may not find yourself on the boat until five minutes before you actually leave.  Check out this video to see a walkthrough. Then it's just a matter of enjoying the 70 minutes or so boat ride to Zhuhai.

Once you arrive in Zhuhai, don't forget to collect your luggage before going through customs.  When you get off the ferry, on the right hand side is a 'pen' when the luggage will eventually be lowered.  You can choose to be patient or scramble for the luggage with the locals when it's finally ready for collection.  After you have gone through customs and airport security, the minute you exit the port via those automatic doors, chances are you'll be accosted by 'black taxi' drivers. These guys hang around all day with the sole intention of ripping off a fresh fish.  They suck.  Best thing to do is be confident, walk out the doors and turn left (most people will be going this way) for 200 meters or so before crossing at a little zebra crossing towards the legitimate taxi queue. Even better would be to have someone waiting for you when you arrive!  Check out this video to get an idea about what to expect and where to get a taxi.

Waiting for luggage from the boat

Macau shares three borders with Zhuhai that are commonly used.  Those being Gongbei (the busiest and most common land border), Hengqin (the newish 24 hour border south of Zhuhai) and WanZai (a very quick boat journey over the river).  If flying into Macau, like Hong Kong you have the option to not actually enter the country and take the express link to one of the aforementioned borders.  One you arrive at the China side of these borders, be aware of the usual monkey business from people who don't have your best interests at heart, notably the black taxi drivers.  Gongbei border is slap bang in the thick of it.  After heading through China customs you may be subject to some interest, watch out for pickpockets and ignore beggars.  The best thing to do would be to soldier through the big open square and head straight ahead for the taxi queue to get where you need to go.

If arriving in Hengqin, the biggest nuisance will probably be 'black taxi' drivers (or even licensed taxi drivers) hassling you to take you to where you want to go, especially if you arrive at an antisocial hour.  It will always be expensive unless you use the meter.  During the day there is a bus stop which can take you to pretty much anywhere you need to go.  Check with your hotel/hostel for the nearest bus stop name and the right bus(es) to take when you arrive.  Otherwise if you want to take a taxi, walk past the gathered drivers outside customs and head to a proper taxi parked nearby (the driver will follow you). If he tries giving you a price ask to use the JiChengBiao (taxi meter) or just point to it.  If he refuses just take out the camera phone, snap his license plate or ID on the dashboard and you should find he will quickly oblige.

WanZai is a funny little port.  After the almost ridiculous little boat journey from Macau you'll arrive there.  You can check out the seafood street nearby or the market with all the dry seafood.  But if you just want to get to where you need to go, you can make your way to a bus stop at the main road just outside the port or flag down a taxi   WanZai is not too far out of town and you'll probably be subject to fewer hassles previously mentioned.

Jinwan may seem like the best option because it's Zhuhai's own airport.  However, in reality it is still a bit of a hassle to get to Zhuhai city from here.  Once you arrive at the airport you'll probably want to just get a taxi to Zhuhai.  It costs around 160RMB to get from here to the city of Zhuhai and take around an hour and a half depending on traffic, but be careful, even the taxi drivers will try to get more cash out of you.  The best thing to do would be to insist the driver uses the meter, do not agree a price.  In addition you can use your phone GPS to make sure he isn't going a strange route although this in reality will probably only be the difference of 50RMB tops.  

If arriving in Guangzhou you can take a coach to Gongbei directly from the airport.  Just find the ticket counter once you have gone through customs and ask to go to Zhuhai, Gongbei.  There are various companies offering this service which are more or less the same.  Once in Gongbei you will be able to get a cab to anywhere you need to go in Zhuhai for a reasonable price.

Are you a student or recent graduate thinking about coming to China or boosting your CV and employment prospects? Come for an internship with InternChina and you will never regret it.

1 comment:

  1. Hey - do you still live in Zhuhai? We are looking for people to interview for a travel show that we are shooting there.