1. Everything online is blocked
If you've been living under a rock, or if you've never given China much thought (which is fair enough) then you may not know that almost everything is blocked in China. Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat? Google? Yeah... those don't exist. Want to keep in contact with family and friends whilst away? I'm afraid those cool geo-based Snapchat filters you were looking forward to on the Great Wall just won't happen. An email via Hotmail or a quick message on Whatsapp will do the trick. You've been warned... but there is a way around it so keep reading!
2. Squat toilets
Last summer, several friends of mine headed out to China to teach English and, since I had just spent the past four months living there, I was their point of call. One thing I forgot to mention was squat toilets. The only places in China that have Western toilets are major tourist attractions (the Chengdu Panda place does, for example), airports, hotels and really fancy shopping centres or restaurants.
3. Tissues and hand sanitiser
Take your own toilet paper when you're visiting a public toilet. Very fancy restaurants and shopping centres will provide it, but even then this isn't always the case. Take a pack of tissues and a bottle of anti-bacterial gel and you'll be a happy bunny.
4. Chinese manners
In China, unlike in the UK and other Western countries, it's acceptable to spit on the floor. You'll see this everywhere in China - on the streets, on buses, on trains, even in restaurants sometimes! It's horrible, but be aware that it happens. Males will also be smoking. A lot. Smoking is allowed everywhere in China - inside buildings, at bus stops, in clubs, even in train carriages.
5. So. Many. People.
It's a no-brainer really, when you consider just how populated China is, but you will still be shocked at how many people there actually are. You think London's tubes during rush-hour are bad? Streets and crowded tourist places aside, the sheer amount of people in China only mean something else - queues. And a lot of them. Be prepared!
6. People will stare
Unless you're adopted and physically look Chinese like me, chances are you will get goggled at whilst in China. Ever wondered what it was like to have people fall off their bikes from staring at you? Ever wanted to experience 'fame'? Well, you've come to the right place. The majority of Chinese citizens have never even left their own province, let alone the country. The only time they see a non-Chinese person is on the TV and internet. When you come along, "Christmas" (or in their case, the Spring Festival) has come early for them.
7. Cash $$$
While there are ATMs readily available in the more developed cities, there are none in sight as soon as you move to the rural areas. It's also worth noting that Western cards generally won't work in card machines unless you have Union Pay. Be safe and ensure you have enough cash to cover your costs.
8. The Chinese like to eat everything!
So you've been invited round to your Chinese colleague's house or apartment for dinner? That's great! Just don't pull a face or be shocked when platefuls of chicken feet and pigs' noses are placed in front of you. It's probably worth double-checking what you're eating or you may be in for a big surprise!
9. People don't speak English
Unless you go to the Westernised cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, chances are that the majority of Chinese people you will come across don't speak English. Learning some basic Mandarin will really come in helpful: a 'hello' (你好 pronounced 'nee how') or 'thank you' (谢谢 pronounced kind of like 'sheeay sheeay') will be appreciated. The number one app you must download is called Pleco (a dictionary and phrasebook app). Pleco even lets you write in Chinese characters if you're comfortable with writing. The best part? You don't need the internet to use it.
I don't know the exact figure, but a large part of China is heavily polluted. Because of this, particularly in Beijing, you'll see a large amount of people wearing face-masks. These have filters and protect you from inhaling the harmful air. If you're heading to Beijing, make sure you buy one. If you're heading anywhere else, check the pollution levels online beforehand to see if you need a mask.
11. And finally, get a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Following on from point number 1... there is a way to get around the infamous Great Firewall in China. You can do this with something called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you're only in China for a couple of days, or a week, then just download a free version on your phone. If you're in China for longer, there are paid alternatives. I opted for ExpressVPN, meaning I had a VPN on both my laptop and phone and paid options tend to be more reliable. I'd definitely recommend paying for one if you plan on using your laptop whilst visiting.