Written by Naomi
You’ve just arrived in China. Suddenly your access to some of your favorite websites, blogs, apps, and services are temporarily unavailable. Worry not! There are great Made-in-China versions of a lot of your beloved technology as well as some great Chinese additions. Check out these app, WeChat subscriptions, websites, and podcasts and get your phone geared up to make your life in China as easy as possible.
o WeChat (微信 wei1 xin4) app
If you don’t already have WeChat, get it now, and not just because it’s necessary for some of the services to follow! It is your key to unlocking your life in China. WeChat is the best way to communicate with everyone in China. The possibilities on WeChat go beyond what’s offered on traditional messaging apps like WhatsApp, Tango, Viber, and Line. On WeChat you can do everything from buying plane tickets to adding phone credit, ordering water bottles to reading the news, sending your location or sending friends money. Here are just some of the features.
Wallet Connecting your WeChat account, phone number, and bank card can be a bit of a challenge if your name (with lots of letters and spaces and capitalization) isn’t exactly the same for all accounts. This opens up lots of options for online buying, ordering, and money transfers.
Web WeChat Go to wx.qq.com to use WeChat on your computer and quickly type out messages or send files from your computer.
Locations Trying to meet up with others is simplified by sending your location or sharing your location with your friend. Just follow the GPS dot to meet up.
Moments, like Facebook newsfeed, allow you to check out pictures and comments about your friends’ latest happenings—from selfies to food porn to photos of them having way more fun then you.
Translate Messages can be translated by long holding messages and clicking Translate. Translations are usually more accurate than traditional translation programs.
Subscriptions To find accounts to subscribe to, click “+”, then “Add Contacts,” then “Official Accounts,” and then search. Here are a couple related to the local Xi’an expat community.
• Hash House Harriers WeChat ID: HashHouseHarriers
o Follow to stay up to date on the infamous happenings of the “drinking club with a running problem.”
• Xian Expats (Community Flea Market) WeChat ID: xianexpats
o Get information about the monthly Community Flea Markets at 3 as 4 bar.
• GETTING AROUND
O GrabTalk WeChat subscription WeChat ID: grabtalk
If you feel guilty always asking your Chinese friends to do X, Y, and Z for you since your poor foreign self doesn’t speak Chinese yet or if your poor foreign self doesn’t have Chinese friends yet, this service is your new best friend. GrabTalk is like a perfectly patient and bilingual personal assistant available 9am-11pm all week to help with a range of services, from ordering in delivery food to buying tickets.
o Baidu Maps (百度地图bai2 du4 di4 tu2) app
Say goodbye to Google and hello to its Chinese equivalent, Baidu, where you can find similar services. Like Google Maps, you can use Baidu Maps to search for directions by public transportation, car, walking, or bicycle. You can also order a taxi/Uber and search for nearby shopping/services.
o Uber (优步, you bu) app
Getting a taxi in Xi’an is usually pretty easy during busy periods or rain, but it’s good to have a back up. Uber prices are similar to local taxi fares. It’s great if you don’t speak Chinese because you just send the driver your location and desired destination.
o Public Bikes (全国自行车) app
Traffic jams are part of daily life here, but luckily bikes are small enough to weave through the concrete and metal jungle. Public bikes are available to use after registering your public transportation card and paying a 300 RMB deposit. Where to find and return the orange and green bikes is made easy with this (and other similar) apps that show the location and of availability of bikes at bikes stations around the city.
o Qunar and CTrip apps
Find and book hotels, flights, and train tickets. CTrip is available in English and allows foreign cards to be used to purchase tickets.
o Rail & Flights and Order Taxi WeChat Wallet service
The above apps aren’t so necessary if you’ve got your WeChat Wallet setup. With your bank card connected with your WeChat account, you can easily order a taxi or buy train and plane tickets. Don’t forget to get to the train station in time for the long lines to pick up the paper ticket.
• LEARNING CHINESE
o Pleco app
After WeChat, Pleco is easily the most essential piece of technology for your survival in China. This digital dictionary is the best around and it’s free!!! Search using English, pinyin, Chinese characters or a combination to unlock these mysteries of language. While it’s not meant for full sentence translation, its individual dictionary entries are usually much more helpful than the scrambled word salads that translation programs usually spit out. Listen to audio, save entries as flashcards to learn, handwrite characters, and discover the radicals that make up each character.
o Memrise app
Memrise is a trusty free app for learning Chinese and just about anything else you want to memorize. It uses spaced repetition to make your learning most efficient, and it reviews flashcards often enough so you don’t forget them. Recommendations for new learners include these courses that will teach you characters and pinyin: HSK 1 and 2, First 500 Characters, and Basic Mandarin. Anki app is another similar, less colorful, app.
o Baidu Translate app
Warning! Warning! Warning! English and Chinese translations are notoriously bad. Using at translator program, at best you’ll get the gist of what someone is trying to say through butchered Chinglish and at worse you’ll say something bad enough to end your relationship with the other person. But, in a pinch, you can use a translator like Baidu Translate to stumble your way to communication.
o Learn Chinese WeChat subscription WeChat ID: chinesetimeschool
o My Chinese Study WeChat subscription WeChat ID: MYChineseStudy
The above WeChat accounts are just two of the multitude of resources available for Chinese language learning. They’ll provide you with Chinese idioms, slang, grammar, and vocabulary.
o Slow Chinese (慢速中文 man4 su4 zhong1 wen2) podcast
Listening to slow Chinese is a great way for intermediate and advanced learners to listen to educational and interesting audio about Chinese culture. Transcripts allow you to follow along to also practice reading.
o ChineseClass101.com podcast
Although filled with way too many “subscribe now” ads, ChineseClass101 does have lots of great information that’s offered for free. Listen to learn vocabulary for conversation and listen to dialogues.
• NEWS & INFORMATION
o Air Quality and Air Quality app
Checking the weather isn’t nearly as fun as checking your local PM2.5 levels. Use these apps to calculate your life expectancy and lung cancer risks….just kidding. It’ll just give you the pollution levels. You can speculate on all the rest yourself.
o China Daily app
o China Wire WeChat subscription WeChat ID: ChinaWire
o Guide in China WeChat subscription WeChat ID: GuideinChina
o CCTVNews WeChat subscription WeChat ID: cctwvewsbeijing
Want to know what’s going on in China but you don’t speak Chinese?!? Use these four resources to get news about China in English
o Sinica: Popup Chinese podcast
This podcast hosted by foreigners who have been living in China for decades gives wonderful insight into current events in China. This discussion-style podcast will give you in-depth information about fascinating topics. Recent episodes include discussion of China’s Millennials, the Tianjin Explosion, and the self-help revolution in China.
o Baidu and Bing website/app
Yes, life is sad without dear trusty Google but Baidu, its Chinese cousin, and Bing, its Microsoft knockoff will allow you to attempt to search the interwebs when your VPN doesn’t cooperate.