Is China safe? It’s a question many foreigners, or at least their parents, consider before moving to China. General safety tips tend to be the same from country to country: don’t play in traffic; keep an eye on your money; don’t shove large angry-looking people. But each country also has its own unique dangers, and China is no exception. Below we outline some basic safety tips for living in China.
Apartment Safety in China
One of the first basic needs for foreigners moving to China is to find a place to live. Depending on your standards, finding suitable lodgings can be difficult as each apartment viewing becomes a nightmarish scavenger hunt as you seek out the inevitable fatal flaw. The most important thing to consider is fire safety. Cheap sub-divided apartments are common in China, but a lack of attention to fire safety has led to tragic circumstances in some cases. Be sure you have a viable escape route in case of fire.
Damaged furniture or intrusive nearby construction are easy to spot, but one thing many foreigners overlook is the importance of ventilation. Most older apartment buildings in China have little or no ventilation whatsoever, which means if you live in a part of China with a moist climate, mold is going to be a problem. Even newer apartment buildings with built-in ventilation are not always completely effective in preventing mold. Black mold can have serious long-term effects on the respiratory system, so keep an eye out for it.
The easiest way to spot if your potential apartment has a mold problem is to move stuff around. Often previous tenants or landlords will “feng shui” the apartment to hide deposits of mold or other unsavory features. Move furniture around, check behind curtains and suspect everything. See an oddly placed map in the middle of the wall? Were the previous tenants avid explorers or is that poster hiding mold? Nice try, Andy Dufresne. Once you’ve moved in, invest in a dehumidifier or two. Your clothes, walls, shoes ans lungs will thank you for it.
You might be thinking you can just open a window to get some airflow into the apartment. But that, of course, leads to the next problem…
Air Safety in China
This is one of the best-known public safety problems facing contemporary China. Everyone has seen the smog-shrouded pictures of Beijing and Shanghai, but many disregard it. The exact long-term effects of the levels of pollution present in many Chinese cities are currently unknown, but you can literally bet your life that you want to mitigate them.
The most obvious safety solution is to wear a pollution mask, like the popular 3M brand, whenever the AQI gets to unhealthy levels. Make sure you change masks every couple of weeks as the filter has a limited life.
In you live in a part of China with consistently bad air pollution, you’ll also want to get an air purifier for your apartment, particularly your bedroom. There are plenty of brands to choose from, but be sure to buy a separate pollution meter so that you can check yours actually works. Why wouldn’t it work as advertised you ask? What a delightful segue to our next item…
Product Safety in China
Forgery is an art in China, and that’s no joke or exaggeration. You can’t help but be impressed by the high level of craftsmanship that goes into counterfeiting quite literally everything from money to eggs. There are too many fake products on the market to go into here, but below are some basic tips.
Buyer beware - If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. You can find fantastically cheap stuff in China, both on and offline, and sometimes it’s just as good as its more expensive counterpart. Other times, however, it’s made with dangerous materials. Use your head and always opt for a more expensive, well-known brand, especially when buying food and drink. At least you’ll have a traceable company you can hold accountable for poisoning you.
One of the most prevalent items of counterfeit in China is money. There’s a lot of fake money floating around, and first-time visitors often get hoodwinked into accepting fake bills, usually by taxi drivers. The Chinese government has built dozens of safety features into their notes to combat counterfeiting, but the easiest way to spot fakes is to hold the note to the light and make sure the silver strip dissecting it on the right-hand side is solid and has numbers printed on it. You can also use your sense of touch and feel for raised ridges in Chairman Mao’s hair and shirt. If it feels flat, you have Monopoly money and there’s nothing you can do. Don’t be part of the problem and try to sneak it back into circulation. Bin it and chalk it up as a China lesson learned.
Water Safety in China
Chinese people love drinking hot water. They love drinking hot water with their meals. They love drinking hot water on the go. They even love drinking hot water in the gym, despite it being August. Boiling water does kill many types of harmful bacteria. However, even if you’re boiling it, China water has its issues.
China relies heavily on its industrial output, producing a wide variety of products and goods. The by-products of these industrial processes are heavy metals, with the most common being good old-fashioned lead, mercury and arsenic. Yum! These heavy metals often find their way into China’s drinking water, and unfortunately, heavy metals cannot be removed by boiling. So what? Swallow a few magnets and you’ll be fine right? Even more unfortunately, once heavy metals enter your system there’s pretty much no way to remove them from your body. They just sit inside you, poisoning you slowly.
The solution is simple: use water filters. Again, it’s the same advice as with buying air filters. Choose a large brand and verify independently with a water tester to ensure what you’re drinking is safe. You can also opt to drink bottled water. The Nongfu and C’estbon brands have a good rating for water purity and will deliver to your door.
You found an apartment that’s mold free. You bought water and air filters. You’re rubbing every piece of money you get like a madman. It’s time to get some food! However, you still need to be careful. A lot of street vendors in China use something affectionately termed “gutter oil.” Gutter oil refers to the practice of taking cooking oil thrown out by larger restaurants and stores, sometimes directly from a drain, using chemicals to “clean” the oil, and reselling it at a tidy profit to smaller vendors looking for cheap cooking materials. This refined oil can be hazardous to your health and is therefore best avoided. The simplest solution is to simply not eat street food or to restrict your intake to very small amounts. That being said, Chinese street food is often delicious, and who wants to live forever anyway? If you’re more of a risk taker, try to eat at places favored by locals. That way you can assume the food is tasty and at least doesn’t cause any immediate health problems.
What else should you be wary of in China? Let us know in the comments section below.
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