World ? Asia ? China

China: The 21st-Century Traveler

Telephones

The international country code for mainland China is 86, for Hong Kong 852, and for Macau 853.

To call China, Hong Kong, or Macau:

1. Dial the international access code (011 in the U.S., 00 in the U.K.).

2. Dial the country code: 86 for China, 852 for Hong Kong, 853 for Macau.

3. For China, dial the city code, omitting the leading zero, and then the number. Hong Kong and Macau have no city codes, so after the country code, simply dial the remainder of the number.

To call within China: For calls within the same city, omit the city code, which always begins with a zero when used (010 for Beijing, 020 for Guangzhou, and so on). All hotel phones have direct dialing, and most have international dialing. Hotels are only allowed to add a service charge of up to 15% to the cost of the call, and even long-distance rates within China are very low. To use a public telephone you'll need an IC (integrated circuit) card (aaisei ka), available in values from ť20 ($2.60/ţ1.30). You can buy them at post offices, convenience stores, street stalls, or wherever you can make out the letters "IC" among the Chinese characters. A brief local call is typically ť.30 (5Ţ/3p). Phones show you the value remaining on the card when you insert it, and count down as you talk. To call within Hong Kong: In Hong Kong, local calls made from homes, offices, shops, and other establishments are free, so don't feel shy about asking to use the phone. From hotel lobbies and public phone booths, a local call costs HK$1 (US15Ţ/5p) for each 5 minutes; from hotel rooms, about HK$4 to HK$5 (US50Ţ-US65Ţ/25p-30p). To call within Macau: Local calls from private phones are free, and from call boxes cost MOP$1 (10Ţ/5p).

To make international calls: From mainland China or Macau, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area or city code, omitting any leading zero, and then the number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial tel. 00-1-202/588-7800. Forget taking access numbers for your local phone company with you -- you can call internationally for a fraction of the cost by using an IP (Internet protocol) card, aaipii ka, purchased from department stores and other establishments -- wherever you see the letters "IP." Instructions for use are on the back, but you simply dial the access number given, choose English from the menu, and follow the instructions to dial in the number behind a scratch-off panel. Depending on where you call, ť50 ($6.50/ţ3.25) can give you an hour of talking, but you should bargain to pay less than the face value of the card -- as little as ť70 ($9/ţ4.50) for a ť100 ($13/ţ6.50) card from street vendors.

To use a public phone, you'll need an IC card to make the local call. In emergencies, dial 108 to negotiate a collect call, but again, in most towns you'll need help from a Mandarin speaker. From Hong Kong dial 001, 0080, or 009, depending on which of several competing phone companies you are using. Follow with the country code and continue as for calling from China or Macau.

It's much cheaper to use one of several competing phone cards, such as Talk Talk, which come in denominations ranging from HK$50 to HK$300 (US$6.50-US$39/ţ3.25-ţ19) and are available at HKTB information offices, convenience stores, and other places.

For directory assistance: In mainland China dial tel. 114. No English is spoken, and only local numbers are available. If you want other cities, dial the city code followed by 114 -- a long-distance call. In Hong Kong dial tel. 1081 for a local number, and 10013 for international ones. In Macau dial tel. 181 for domestic numbers, and 101 for international ones.

For operator assistance: If in mainland China if you need operator assistance in making a call, just ask for help at your hotel. In Hong Kong dial tel. 10010 for domestic assistance, 10013 for international assistance.

Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 800 within China are toll-free, but calling a 1-800 number in the States from China is a full-tariff international call, as is calling one in Hong Kong from mainland China, or vice versa.

Cellphones -- All Europeans, most Australians, and many North Americans use GSM (Global System for Mobiles). But while everyone else can take a regular GSM phone to China, North Americans, who operate on a different frequency, need to have a more expensive triband model.

International roaming charges can be horrendously expensive. It's far cheaper to buy a prepaid chip with a new number in China or Hong Kong (but you'll need a different chip for each destination). You may need to call your cellular operator to "unlock" your phone in order to use it with a local provider.

Renting a phone is an expensive alternative, best done from home, since such services are not widely available in China. That way you can give out your new number, and make sure the phone works. You'll usually pay $40 to $50 per week, plus air-time fees of at least $1 a minute. In the U.S., two good wireless rental companies are InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) and RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1606 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com).

In mainland China, buying a phone is the best option. Last year's now unfashionable model can be bought, with chip and ť100 ($13/ţ6.50) of prepaid air time, for often around ť800 ($100/ţ50), less if a Chinese model is chosen. Europeans taking their GSM phones, and North Americans with triband phones, can buy chips (quanqiutong) for about ť100 ($13/ţ6.50). Mainland chips do not work in Hong Kong, or vice versa. Recharge cards (shenzhouxing) are available at post offices and the mobile-phone shops, which seem to occupy about 50% of all retail space. Call rates are very low, although those receiving calls pay part of the cost; and if the phone is taken to another province, that cost increases, making the use of ordinary phones a better deal for dialing out. In Hong Kong recharge cards are widely available at convenience stores and mobile-phone shops, and chips are included free with the cost of initial charge value.

Local SIM cards are readily available at any phone store in your destination city. You can use your current phone only if it is "unlocked"; that is, only if it is not programmed to work with Cingular only. If it is locked you can ask Cingular to unlock it; they may if you make a good case and you have had it for a year or two.

What you cannot do is keep both your Cingular number and a local China number on the same phone (phones used to be able to do this, but newer ones generally cannot, unless you can find a "dual SIM" phone). Some people solve the problem by carrying two phones; I use my Cingular and a locally purchased GSM phone with local SIM card. This really pays, because a U.S. number used in China will cost $2-plus per minute, while a local number will cost 1Ţ to 5Ţ depending on the local coverage area. Even calls to the U.S. from a Chinese international SIM card run only 30Ţ a minute.

Internet/E-mail

Despite highly publicized clamp-downs on Internet cafes, monitoring of traffic, and blocking of websites, China remains one of the easiest countries in the world in which to get online.

Without Your Own Computer -- Almost any hotel with a business center, right down to Chinese government-rated two-star level, offers expensive Internet access, and almost every town has a few Internet cafes (wangba), with rates typically ť2 to ť3 (25Ţ-40Ţ/10p-20p) per hour, many open 24 hours a day. Locations of cafes are given for most cities in this guide, but they come and go very rapidly. Keep your eyes open for the wangba characters given in "Appendix A: The Chinese Language." In Hong Kong many coffee bars have a free terminal or two.

Thanks to ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines) many progressive bars and guesthouses are now offering free Internet on the mainland, too. Note that many Internet bars are dark, dirty places; you will usually find that the local library is a much cleaner, often cheaper alternative.

Many media websites and those with financial information or any data whatsoever on China that disagrees with the party line are blocked from mainland China, as are some search engines.

With Your Own Computer -- It's just possible that your ISP has a low-cost local access number in China, but that's unlikely. Never mind, because there's free, anonymous dial-up access across most of China. Look for "Dial-up is . . ." in the "Fast Facts" sections of cities in this book; you can connect by using the number we've provided, and by making the account name and password the same as the dial-up number. Speeds vary but are usually fine for checking e-mail, although they're variable for checking mail via a Web interface. The service is paid for through a tiny increment in the low cost of a local phone call. Many hotels advertising "free Internet" simply mean that they don't charge you for calls to these numbers.

Another option in larger cities is to buy an Internet access card (wangka). These are on sale at newspaper kiosks, phone stores, convenience stores, and department stores, and usually allow more rapid connection speeds. The back of the card (always bought for less than its face value -- bargain the price well down) has instructions in English. Scratch off the panel on the back of the card, call the administration number provided, and give the card number, a contact phone number (any hotel will do), and your passport number; English is usually spoken but get hotel desk staff to assist just in case. Use the dial-up number and account number on the back of the card, and the password from behind the scratch-off panel. Online time usually costs well under ť1 (15Ţ/10p) an hour. Warning: Many cards are only usable in the city where they are purchased.

Mainland China uses the standard U.S.-style RJ11 telephone jack also used as the port for laptops worldwide. Cables with RJ11 jacks at both ends can be picked up for around $1 (ţ2) in department stores and electrical shops without difficulty. In Hong Kong and Macau, however, phone connections are often to U.K. standards, although in better hotels an RJ11 socket is provided. Standard electrical voltage across China is 220v, 50Hz, which most laptops can deal with, but North American users in particular should check.

Those with on-board Ethernet can take advantage of broadband services in major hotels in China, which are sometimes free. Ethernet cables are often provided but it's best to bring your own. Details are given under each hotel listing. Occasionally Internet access is provided via the TV and a keyboard with an infrared link, but this is slow and clumsy. A growing number of hotels and guesthouses now have wireless access in public areas for those with a wireless card installed. This is especially true in popular tourist areas. Sometimes this is chargeable (five-star hotels are especially greedy in this area and demand up to ť100/$13/ţ6.50 per day for wireless access). If it is important for you be online in China then try picking up an antenna so that you can access more distant but unsecured hotspots.

To find public Wi-Fi hotspots at your destination, go to www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots.

Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.

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