As an American accustomed to cruising through the winding freeways of Los Angeles, adapting to the roads of China’s capital city was a rather daunting experience. For this reason, I have put together this guide of what to expect during your first time behind the wheel in the PRC.

First and foremost, China is one of the few developed that countries that does NOT permit visitors with foreign driver’s licenses to operate a motor vehicle. Despite this, you can apply in advance for a temporary driver’s license and exchange it for your actual driver’s license, alongside a sizeable amount of RMB.

Just like LA, Beijing traffic does not abide to the typical rush hour schedule, and traffic is to be expected any time of the day. Traffic at midnight, two in the afternoon on a weekday, or the peak of rush hour are near indistinguishable. To help clear the mass congestion, each Beijing-registered license plate cannot enter the roads inside the 5th Ring Road one day out of the working week, dictated by the last numeral on the license tag. Reminders of what tags are and are not permitted inside the 5th Ring Road are posted regularly on most local news outlets. Additionally, if your car is not registered in Beijing, you are not permitted to drive inside the 5th Ring Road between 06:00 to 09:00 and 16:00 to 20:00 any day of the week.

Traffic rules do exist, although they are seldom followed. Driving on the shoulder and disregarding pedestrians are common, if not normal. Which driver has the right of way is determined by defacto law based on the size and weight of your vehicle (don’t mess with trucks and busses), or more commonly whether or not whose front end got into an intersection first.

Despite this, the police and highway patrolmen are very strict about certain isses. In particular, Drunk Driving and Speeding is highly policed. The BAC limit in China is 0.03 ABV (the U.S. is 0.04 ABV), and random sobriety checkpoints are scattered throughout the city any night of the week. The sobriety checkpoints require everyone to blow into the same tube, albeit without their lips touching the straw.

There are speeding surveillance cameras everywhere. To be aware of their locations, download the phone app ‘Baidu’ to warn you if you are approaching a speed camera. Speeding tickets are received via SMS text message to the mobile phone number associated with your License Plate.

In conclusion… take the subway, taxi, bus, hire a driver opposed to driving in Beijing if you can. As stressful as driving in Beijing may be, it is still much better than the chaotic roads of the Chinese countryside. People drive unpredictably in all corners of the world, but even more so in Beijing. You just have to be alert at all times, and beware for aggressive drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and who-knows-what else.

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Familiarizing yourself with a new city can prove to be difficult for anyone. For most Laowai (foreigners) who plan to spend an extended time in Beijing, the contrasting practices and cultures of this historic Chinese city will surely be overwhelming. After spending years dividing my time between Los Angeles and Beijing, I have picked up some personal tips and tricks along the way to ease the transition for newcomers. Here is the first post in a series of these tips and tricks, I hope it helps.

 

- Get a Beijing MetroCard and refill it often. This will save you a significant amount of money when traveling in the city.

- Learn how to pronounce Chinese locations in a Beijing accent for your taxi drivers.

- Subscribe to a VPN client for international internet access without Chinese restrictions. Learn how to operate the VPN on your computer and phone. Just a reminder: using a VPN uses extra cellular data on your phone, so be mindful.

- Familiarize yourself with the San-Li-Tun area, it is a lively place for younger crowds to congregate with many bars and restaurants.

- For clean water, the best bang-for-your-buck is NongFu Springs 4L Water Bottles. Additionally, boiled Tap Water works just fine.

- Learn the Chinese numerical hand signals of 1-10. This will always supersede the language barrier.

Pleco app is invaluable as a Mandarin/English dictionary and translator

- Download WeChat and Weibo apps (and maybe QQ, depending on your social group). They are the most popular social networks amongst Beijing locals.

- Never enter a black taxi. They are illegal taxi scams who prey on and extort the Laowai.

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Frogs stew really does taste like chicken. Frog stew in Sichuan tastes like spicy chicken. Many things in China taste like chicken.

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I went to a city called Fuling which is in western China. It’s home to a few million people yet it doesn’t have a single Starbucks (at least none that I noticed). I was there to discuss the possibility of a entertainment related theme park. When meeting with the powers of the city I asked what is it about the city would make  tourists travel there as its clearly a bit out of the way from visiting the known places like Beijing and Shanghai. The first part of their answer astounded me. “people come here from all over China to see the home of the famous Fuling pickles”. I restrained my smirking out off politeness. I had never heard of Fuling before let alone Fuling pickles. In my own head I dismissed the idea that this could be a viable location for anything. Now after returning to Beijing, I recounted the experience to many of my Chinese friends and just about all of them said ‘Fuling pickles are known throughout China” or “I love Fuling pickles”.

So I have now changed my tune and once again realize that China is not the US and people think different. You cant make judgements about what will work in China from your desk in Burbank. Maybe Fuling wont be the right location for the next Disneyland but between the incredible lakefront, forests, clean air, and yes those pickles there are many possibilities for sustainable business in cities we westerners have never heard of.

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Alright I’m missing it again and no cooking matzo ball soup and beef brisket for me. Ill be in Shanghai which is not exactly the place to celebrate passover but it could be worse. Shanghai actually has a very big history of connection to Jews. During the early days of WWII when Hitler was marching over Europe, China took in thousands of Jews when very few countries would. The formed what was known as the Shanghai Ghetto. Better a ghetto than a gas chamber. Even today you can find the temple in operation. Last year we got a ice surprise when a nice Jewish boy from Toronto opened a Jewish deli called TOCS. Good soup and the pastrami is home made and very respectable. He even found a place to bake rye bread to his specifications. Now of course its that Toronto style rye not NY rye but as they say beggars cant be choosers.

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It amazes me how many China experts have come out of the woodwork in the  last  year. There are now China film blogs and doing business in China blogs everywhere. So many experts became experts overnight. Its funny how I have never seen any of them in Beijing and when I do meet up with them in the US you can not pin them down on when exactly they were in China and what it is that qualifies them as experts.

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Img214590708You know how sometimes in Hollywood a celebrity will do something illegal and completely get away with it? The director of Hero had better hope the same rules apply in Beijing.

 

As we reported earlier, famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou became the subject of an incriminating rumor that he had violated China’s notorious one child-policy by having as many as seven children with four or more wives. After several months of investigation and no word on the matter from the director himself, Zhang took to his official Weibo account to address the allegations. In an open letter issued from his office, Zhang admits that he did, in fact, father more than one child with his wife, Chen Ting. The two had three children in all: two sons, and a daughter.

 

The Chinese director is now fully prepared to cooperate with the investigation, going so far as to send representatives to the family planning office in the Binhu district of Wuxi. In addition to confirming that he has one or two children too many, Zhang goes on in his letter to deny having any further children with any other women. He goes on to say that any speculation that he fathered seven children and paid the mothers off is simply people trying to bring him down. Besides, seven kids? No one but ancient monarchs and Stellan Skarsgard do that.

 

If proven guilty (which he omitted to), Zhang will have to pay what is called a “social compensation fee,” which could run him up to $26 million. And you thought your child support payments were steep.

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michael_bayBy now, you are well aware that Michael Bay decided that trilogies are for suckers and got a green light for a fourth Transformers movie. You’re also probably aware of the fact that the latest installment of giant robots vs. giant robots takes place mostly in China. What you might not be aware of is that while shooting in Hong Kong, Bay’s crew was confronted by some young Chinese extortionists. Look for it in the blooper reels.

 

If you missed it, Michael Bay was filming some non-explosion scenes for Transformers: Age of Extinction when some young men began reeking havoc on the set by playing loud music and harassing actors. Their goal was to separate Bay from roughly $13,000 to allow him to film in their territory. Later on, another man high on drugs and rage, wielded an air-conditioning unit and attempted to KO Bay himself. Fortunately, with the assistance of several Hong Kong police in riot gear, he was unsuccessful.

 

Was Michael Bay deterred from continuing to film in Hong Kong? If you think that’s the case, then you obviously don’t know Michael Bay. He made Megan Fox bend over a motorcycle once, so the man can do anything explosion related.

 

Not only is the Armageddon director going to continue filming wherever he pleases, he actually enjoys Hong Kong. In an interview with South China Morning Post, Michael Bay gushes about the time he’s spent in China and even says that Hong Kong is “a very visual city.” So Bay thinks Hong Kong is “visual.” Literally every city is visual, if you can see it. I guess if you’re used to spending your time in Los Angeles or a green-screen studio, everything else seems so pretty.

 

You may have drug-addled extortionists, Hong Kong, but Michael Bay hearts you.Transformers-4-Autobot-Cars

 

As of this post, Bay is still shooting his latest CGI infused masterpiece, which has relocated to mainland China. The next scenes will be shot in Beijing and the Great Wall, which will be blown up for your entertainment. Catch it in June 2014.

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While the Chinese/Hollywood co-production Outcast finishes shooting in China, the Con Air actor and his ponytail (no, really) sat down with CCTV to talknicolas-cage about the film, his role, and a few other things on his mind. “What ‘things?’” you might ask. One of those “things,” as you put it, was the noticeable lack of leading roles for male Asian actors in Hollywood. Perhaps Mr. Cage was too busy saying “yes” to Season of the Witch to notice any of the Harold and Kumar movies. Hm?

 

Nicolas Cage may not be too savvy when it comes to selecting the right acting role, but he does understand how the entertainment industry is slowly migrating from Hollywood to China. In addition to calling out Hollywood for not inviting Asian males to casting couches, Cage goes on to point out the possibility, and likelihood, that China will be the new face of the film industry.

 

Outcast_poster He also brought up his son, Kal-El, who Cage named after Superman’s birth name on Krypton (no, really). Kal-El (Cage’s son, not Superman) is half Korean, and his father speculates that some day he might want to be an actor when he grows up, just like daddy. Unless something changes in Hollywood, Kal-El Cage may never realize his potential in show business, but he’ll still have the coolest name ever.

 

It seems like Nicolas Cage has a very good eye on the evolution of the film industry, but one can’t help but wonder about his motives. Granted, his observations are accurate, but it may be a move to make some new friends on the winning team. That most likely isn’t the case, seeing as how Nicolas Cage’s career isn’t waning from lack of prominent roles in film, right? Right.

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iron man 3 bannerWith the Iron Man films over – Unless you count the two upcoming Avengers sequels, potential guest appearances on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.ELD., and rumors of a fourth Iron Man film – it seems like there’s nothing left for Tony Stark to do but retire his expensive superpowers. Except, wait, that’ll never happen! Given how successful the Iron Man character has been in the superhero movie world, it’s hardly likely that he’ll hang up his gold/titanium alloy tights for good.

 

That is, not as long as Disney’s holding the reins to the Marvel film franchise. And before you think they’re milking it a bit too much, count how many Pirates of the Caribbean films they’ve made/are making and get back to me. I’ll wait . . .

 

For everyone in the States eager to see their favorite metallic hero in person, prepare to either be disappointed or afford airfare to China. Hong Kong Disneyland is laying the IronManFan012213groundwork for what they’re calling the “Iron Man Experience” where Tony Stark will suit up against alien invaders in his own themed area of the park made to look like the streets of Hong Kong. That’s right, Iron Man gets his own land in Hong Kong Disneyland. If you think that’s a bit much for one character in the Marvel universe, just remember how successful Iron Man 3 was in China. If you’re having trouble remembering, it’s over $160 million.

 

Iron Man will arrive in Hong Kong Disneyland in 2016, which means you only have three years to preorder your tickets.

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