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Chinese for Travelers Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 in sightseeing, travel, Vocabulary

It’s summer, and for a lot of people that means it’s time to travel. With kids out of school for the summer, many families plan their vacations for these warmer months. In China, beachside cities such as Qingdao and Xiamen are packed this time of year, as are scenic towns like Yangshuo or Lijiang. It’s also a very popular time of the year for tourists to visit China. If you’re planning an adventure to the Middle Kingdom, you’ll want to make sure you pack some Chinese skills with you. Here are some survival phrases in Chinese for travelers.

Money

All the Chinese RMB notes. Get used to them.

Let’s start off with one of the most important things you’ll be dealing with every day of your trip – money. From the moment you arrive until that last cab ride back to the airport, you’ll need to be asking for the price. It’s easy! Just say this:

多少钱?
duō shǎo qián
How much?

When traveling in China, and anywhere else for that matter, this is incredibly useful. You could also add the word for this (这个 – zhè ge) or that (那个 – nà gè) to be a bit more specific:

这个多少钱?
zhè ge duō shǎo qián
How much is this?

When shopping in China, bargaining is a must. Use this phrase to your advantage so you don’t get ripped off:

可以便宜一点吗?
kě yǐ pián yí yī diǎn ma
Can it be cheaper?

If you need to learn how to count in Chinese, we’ve got you covered in this guide to counting in Chinese. We’ve also got a post all about money, where you can learn the different denominations of Chinese RMB and how to talk about them.

In a Taxi

Image by Michael Coghlan from flickr.com.

Chances are you’ll want to take a cab at some point in your trip. While most Chinese cities have great public transportation, you might be a bit tired after exploring the Forbidden City or Terracotta Warriors and won’t feel like pushing through the crowds. When you get in a taxi, say this and fill in the blank with your preferred destination:

请带我去 ____.
qǐng dài wǒ qù _____
Please take me to ____.

If you don’t have confidence in your ability to pronounce the name correctly, print out the address and say:

请带我到这个地址
qǐng dài wǒ dào zhè ge dì zhǐ
Please take me to this address.

When cab drivers hear you speak Chinese, they are less likely to rip you off.

Speaking of cab drivers, if you are traveling outside of Beijing, Shanghai, or other big tourist-friendly cities, be prepared with this phrase:

请打表
qǐng dǎ biǎo
Please turn the meter on.

This phrase has proven to be useful on many occasions for me, as drivers in smaller cities tend to try to take advantage of oblivious 老外. Learn more by reading all about taking a Chinese taxi. There’s a sample conversation in that post that you can study to get ready for your trip.

Asking Directions

火车站在哪里? (Where is the train station?)

A fair word of warning when it comes to directions – many people in China will tell you where to go even if they have no idea. That being said, it’s still worth it to learn how to ask for directions. In Chinese, you put the name of the place first, and then ask “at where?”:

 ____ 在哪里?
____ zài nǎ lǐ
Where is ____?

This goes along with asking for directions, and can be helpful in determining whether to walk, run, bike, swim, or taxi it to your desired destination:

怎么去 _____?
zěn me qù _____
How do I get to ____?

Of course, you’ll also want to brush up on your Chinese for directions. We’ve got a post all about asking for and giving directions in the works, so be sure up to sign up at the bottom of this one so you don’t miss it.

In a Restaurant

A table full of great Chinese food at a local Lanzhou restaurant.

Eating out is always an adventure in China. Unless you can read Chinese characters, the menu might as well by hieroglyphics. If you can’t read the menu, use this as your go-to phrase:

你推荐什么菜?
nǐ tuī jiàn shén me cài
What do you recommend?

Sometimes you’ll end up with something you love, and sometimes you’ll end up with something really funky. If you’re in China and you can’t really speak Chinese, you are just going to have to deal with this.  Don’t be a lame foreigner and eat McDonald’s every day.

Rather than rely on boring comfort food, why not try the local specialty? If you’re OK with eating just about everything (which most people in China are), just utter this phrase and take what you are given:

你们有什么特色菜?
nǐ men yǒu shén me tè sè cài
What specialties do you have?

In my experience, the specialty dishes in local restaurants are usually amazing. Whether it’s yang rou pao mo in Xi’an or Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodles in Yunnan, the local specialties are where it’s at. Of course, if you are a pickier eater, you may need to equip yourself with a few more phrases, such as…

我不吃肉
wǒ bù chī ròu
I don’t eat meat.

I hang out with a lot of vegetarian hippies wherever I go, so I think this one is useful as well. If you tell this to your waiter, they will understand and will bring you only veggie dishes. We have a post on vegetarian food in China so you can learn more about your options.

As a lot of Chinese food is really spicy, this next one is pretty important:

我喜欢吃辣/我不喜欢吃辣
wǒ xǐ huan chī là/wǒ bù xǐ huan chī là
I like to eat spicy food/I don’t like to eat spicy food.

If you can’t take the heat, well, you don’t need to get out of the kitchen… Just say this and they will cool it down a bit for you.

 

Those phrases should at least make your life a bit easier when traveling in China. If you aren’t doing so already, make sure you’re learning a new Chinese word every day before you go.

Are you traveling in China soon? Where are you going?

Leave a comment and let us know!

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About the Author:sasha

Sasha is a teacher, student, writer, photographer, web designer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently planning a trip through Central/South America.


Comments:

  1. Sunshine:

    Nihao Sasha
    Could you please do a blog about buying jewelry. I deal with a lot Chinese tourists who need help in my souvenir store in the USA and they are eager to buy jewelry and are indecisive. Ex: that looks good on you…
    you need a larger size so you can add charms to your bracelet.
    We have a popular bracelet; this is a very good deal; this is a promotion; this is a gift set. Is this for a wife, daughter or girlfriend; are you looking for something in particular…
    Xie xie ni

    • sasha:

      @Sunshine Hi Sunshine! Jewelry is far beyond my area of expertise, but I can try to put together a post for you. I’ve already got this month planned out so it might be a few weeks as I’ll also have to do quite a bit of studying for that one. Stay tuned!


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