Staying Safe

China is one of Asia's safest destinations. You must still be cautious about theft in the same places as anywhere else in the world—crowded markets, popular tourist sights, bus and railway stations, and airports. The main danger of walking the ill-lit streets at night is of falling down an uncovered manhole or walking into a phone or power wire strung at neck height. Take standard precautions against pickpockets (distribute your valuables around your person, and wear a money belt inside your clothes). There's no need to be concerned about dressing down or not flashing valuables—it's automatically assumed that all foreigners are astonishingly rich anyway, even the scruffiest backpackers, and the average Chinese cannot tell a Cartier from any other shiny watch. If you are a victim of theft, make a police report (go to the same addresses given for visa extensions in each city, where you are most likely to find an English-speaking policeman). But don't necessarily expect sympathy, cooperation, or action. The main purpose is to get a theft report to give to your insurers for compensation.

Harassment of solo female travelers is slightly more likely if they appear to be of Chinese descent, but is very rare.

Traffic is a major hazard for the cautious and incautious alike. In Hong Kong and Macau, driving is on the left, and road signs and traffic lights are obeyed. In mainland China, driving is on the right, at least occasionally. The rules of the road are routinely overridden by one rule: "I'm bigger than you, so get out of my way," and pedestrians are at the bottom of the pecking order. Cyclists ride along the sidewalks, and cars also mount sidewalks right in front of you and park across your path as if you don't exist. Cyclists go in both directions along the bike lane at the side of the road, which is also invaded by cars looking to park. The edges of the main lanes also usually have cyclists going in both directions. The vehicle drivers are gladiators, competing for any way to move into the space ahead, constantly changing lanes, and crossing each others' paths. Pedestrians are matadors pausing between lanes as cars sweep by to either side of them. In cities they tend to group together and edge out into the traffic together, causing it to swing ever further out away from them, often into the path of oncoming vehicles, until eventually the traffic parts and flows to either side, and the process is repeated for the next lane. Whether it's more hair-raising to be in the vehicle or on the street is an open question.

Visitors should be cautious of various scams, especially in areas of high tourist traffic, and of Chinese who approach and speak in English: "Hello friend! Welcome to China!" or similar. Those who want to practice their English and who suggest moving to some local haunt may leave you with a bill which has two zeros more on it than it should, and there's trouble should you decline to pay. "Art students" are a pest: They approach you with a story about raising funds for a show overseas, but in fact are merely enticing you into a shop where you will be lied to extravagantly about the authenticity, uniqueness, originality, and true cost of various paintings, which you will be pressured into buying for dozens of times their actual value. The man who is foolish enough to accept an invitation from pretty girls to sing karaoke deserves all the hot water in which he will find himself, up to being forced by large, well-muscled gentlemen to visit an ATM and withdraw large sums to pay for services not actually provided.

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