A Chinese tea set

A Chinese tea set (Karen Torme Olson, Chicago Tribune)

2. Wherever you are, the Internet will be slow and you may never be able to access email. Anything Google-related (plus Facebook and YouTube) is nearly impossible to use. iMessage works fine.

3. Stay in a Western hotel. No matter how modern the skyline makes China's cities appear, amenities in Chinese hotels will be a radical change for most Western travelers.

4. Don't buy anything except food from street vendors. Whatever it is, it will break in a week.

5. Try the street food. That way you know what's in a dish because you see the raw ingredients before they are cooked, and it's cheaper and often better than anything in restaurants.

6. Take a Chinese-speaking friend with you to restaurants. I have a friend who alerts me anytime dog is on the menu. Eat with someone who can tell you what to order and what to avoid.

7. The bigger the city, the cleaner the streets. The smaller the city, the cleaner the air.

8. Take public transportation when you can. When cabbies see you're a foreigner, they often tack on a "laowai tax" and you pay extra. The bus costs 1 yuan (16 cents). Ask your concierge which bus number to take and save your cash.

9. Size matters when crossing the street. Trucks rule and pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain even if they have the light. Just pick an opening, close your eyes, and run. Ignore the honking horns.

10. Buy bottled water before you go out to eat unless you plan to dine in more expensive establishments. In many cities, you will be drinking hot water and washing your hands with cold.

ctc-travel@tribune.com