10 travel apps that make life in China easier

If you're going to take on the beast that is China, you're gonna need to whip out every survival trick in the book...and bring your casual-always-flexible-Asian attitude while you're at it, which is much easier if you've lived in Asia previously. However, even the most seasoned veteran of the far East needs help. And I'm here to supply what knowledge I can. Like what apps to use, how to pay for everything via cell phone, or what kind of face mask actually works during extra polluted days. 

Here are the apps you need in China...

1. MetroMan

MetroMan has maps of the metro systems in all the major cities in China. This app comes in handy mostly if you want to plan a meeting point for you and your friends. You can find what line you need to be on, or where the most central location is. You can also specific metro times, check for delays, and check the exact fare you need to pay {nice if you don't have a metro card}.

2. PureSky

Air quality is of particular concern to residents and visitors of China. Luckily, Nanjing hasn't been as bad as I expected, but I'm definitely not in precious New Zealand anymore! Ideal AQI {Air Quality Index} is between 0 and 50. I also like that it lists the cities in order of best to worst air quality daily because I'm a statistic nerd.

3. WeChat

If there is one app you need to survive in China, it's WeChat. WeChat is the FB Messenger of China. Actually, WeChat is the everything of China since everything else is blocked. Before I made the move, I made sure to download the app and had my close friends get it too {just in case other methods of contact didn't work...}. You can pay bills on WeChat, buy coffee with WeChat, find an apartment on WeChat, translate Chinese via WeChat. Download it, guys. Just do it. 

4. VPN

I'm still not sure what I feel comfortable saying about VPNs since there is constant chatter of the government wiping them out completely. However, without said VPN, I'd be Google-less, and unable to talk to a few select individuals who don't want to add WeChat to a long list of apps already on their phone. You also can't use Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook without a VPN. I won't say exactly which ones I use, but I will say the free ones are horribly slow and not reliable {meaning sometimes they don't actually connect}. It's better to pay for a high-speed VPN with good reviews, trust me. 

A side note on VPNs: You hear a lot about Astrill's speed and reliability, but it is always the first to get shut down when the government has big conferences or there is a huge event where lots of foreigners will be visiting {and thus undoubtedly using VPNs for things like Instagram}, like the Victoria Secret Show that was recently in Shanghai. 

5. SayHi

SayHi is a translation app that has saved me here on too many occasions to count. You can either type a message into the phone or speak into your microphone and have the app speak the Chinese translation or write it out. This has helped me everywhere from a hospital trying to obtain a doctor's note to ordering food at a restaurant. 

6. Hello Chinese

Learning Chinese has been difficult, but I'm making serious headway thanks in large part to constant practice and help from apps like Hello Chinese. So what makes Hello Chinese different from other language apps? It's free and you learn the Chinese characters for words instead of only learning the pinyin. This is helpful when you are looking for a restaurant or building and need to read the Chinese characters. 

7. AliPay

The Chinese don't use credit cards. They are all very aware of the debt that America is in and I wish you the very best of luck if your plan is to come here and put it on your Visa card. Every place, from the local dairy to tourist attraction ticket stands, takes WeChat pay or AliPay. Yes, that includes taxis. You download the app, add your banking details, and scan the QVR code that's posted. That's all it takes. Honestly, it's super convenient and very futuristic. 

8. Memrise

Another language practice app {seriously guys, you need to try to learn Chinese}, this app allows you to get competitive in practicing with your friends. The app allows you to see who's practiced and how many words they've "mastered." This highly motivates my practice. 

9. Eleme

Think of it as the UberEats of China. You can order food and have it delivered to you at work for lunch or to your home. The catch? While the app has photos of the food options, it's completely in Chinese. I ask local teachers and admin help read the menu options to me or help me find vegetarian food. You're also able to save previous orders. Special shout out to Clement who showed me the app and Amy {local teacher} who found me spicy cabbage and chili rice with mushrooms! 

10. Duolingo

Duolingo helped me learn French in addition to the expensive Rosetta Stone software I purchased, so when I was told they unveiled a Mandarin practice pack I was straight-up giddy. It's a bit extra fun because, like Memrise, you can create competitions with friends who are also learning Mandarin.

Side note: For those who have asked, there is a difference between Mandarin and Cantonese, that's why I don't say "Chinese" generically. Both are tonal dialects. Cantonese is spoken widely in Hong Kong, while a majority of mainland cities speak Mandarin. China is a big place and it is important to know there are more than these two languages spoken across the country.