Most people know today, that the the “Great firewall of China” blocks Google, Facebook, Instagram and other websites.
Before coming to China, I personally didn’t think about this and after arriving I was a little surprised that I really couldn’t reach these websites. I had gotten so used to these services that living without them was quite a hard task. There are ways around this firewall such as through the use of a VPN (virtual private network), most foreigners use these to access blocked websites however often you will have to pay for these to work. Therefore we will inform you about the best alternatives and how to live without them.
Baidu is basically the Chinese version of Google, offering the same services but tailored for the Chinese market. While this is a good idea here in China, this means it is unlikely to catch on internationally. Obviously I am not saying Baidu is as good as Google just that it is a suitable alternative. If I try to Google something in English or any other language, I will find the result I searched for on the first page from my experience, with Baidu however you usually have to search a little further. I think this is connected to the fact that the engine is made for Chinese and has problems with other languages.
Of course, you can also stick to other search engines such as Yahoo, Bing or maybe others but lets just face it: You are in China now, gradually you will learn more and more chinese words and that’s also what you will be searching for. I recommend you to use Yahoo or Bing for searching results not related to China, but for everything else: Baidu.
Many people might have heard about this application before. Tencent, the company behind WeChat tried to advertise this application in many western countries a few years ago – it was not very successful, Whatsapp and Facebook are simply more popular in most countries.
WeChat is basically a hybrid between both Facebook and Whatsapp and widely used in China. As mentioned before, Facebook is blocked here in China however Whatsapp is still available so don’t worry, you will still be able to reach your friends and relatives back home. But for the same reason as using Baidu as a search engine, you should use WeChat to stay in touch with your new Chinese friends.
WeChat is also offering a few more services than Whatsapp and Facebook! Of course, you can transfer pictures, videos, voice messages but theres also the possibility to share .gif images or to even transfer money. It was really surprising to me that this service is actually being used!
The “moments” tab in your WeChat is what reminded me of Facebook: Here you can post pictures, videos and other things on a timeline for you and your friends. The comment function here is very restricted though and you can only see the comments of your direct friends – definitely a censorship measure.
How do I get from A to B? This topic is partly covered in here in terms of vehicles or other methods of transportation but the exact route from A to B can sometimes only be answered through a GPS application. Back at home, most of us probably used Google maps for this issue and in fact: you can download the map of any area using Google maps before you come here. This is probably the best option if you are just here for a short time, but the Chinese people obviously love to build new things right now so I would definitely check out other alternatives for a longer stay.
Not including Google Maps, I personally have 2 other GPS applications on my phone: Maps.me and Baidu Maps.
Maps.me found it’s way onto my smartphone before Google started to offer offline maps, at that time I wanted to save my high-speed data limit and thought it was a good choice. Of course it has gradually been replaced by Google maps again but I have found a new use for maps.me here in China though. As their server is not blocked the downloaded maps can be updated regularly. If you don’t know Chinese and you are here for a longer time you might consider using this application but generally I would recommend the Baidu Maps.
Surprise, surprise, Baidu Maps is Baidu’s equivalent to Google Maps. As Baidu is tailored for the Chinese market it should be the application of choice when you want to find out your route and know some Chinese. Baidu maps can also be used to download maps for use when offline to save mobile data.
Alipay was developed by Alibaba as a payment service for smartphones and is widely used in Hangzhou. In Hangzhou almost everybody has this application and can use it to pay for almost anything – no more cash needed! Currently it is less popular in other parts of China, however large chains such as McDonalds and Seven-Eleven are now using it and it will probably catch on.
Alipay is not only making daily lives much easier, it is also making them cheaper with many places offering discounts for paying using Alipay. Using Alipay there are 2 days you should highlight on your calendar: 11th of November and the 12th of December see huge sales and discounts for everybody who uses Alipay! More about this here.
Here is a detailed description how to register for Alipay as a foreigner, there will be simple contact details such as your email and phone number but also your passport number and a Chinese bank account!