It made me so sad that using a Tour company was the primary way for non-Chinese speaking folk to tour China. I can imagine it would all seem very scary. But, it is certainly not insurmountable for the self-sufficient well traveled LL bunch. Hence, I thought I would start a post of suggestions for those brave souls venturing into China without any Chinese. Mind, you I may not be the best person to ask as I can speak 2 dialects, but still! I think it's totally possible in the major cities and there is so much to do!!

First and foremost, the best ex-pat guide is this website:
The easiest cities are Beijing & Shanghai.
LANGUAGE ISSUES: The concierge at a 5 star Chinese hotel works hard to make sure every need is met. They can absolutely suggest a translator service for you. Alternatively, the above website has postings of people happy to meet you at your hotel and help. Also, it has postings of the major English Chinese Language schools. One fun thing to do is to have a pseudo class/pseudo tour, where the teacher teaches you Chinese while they show you the city sights. This can be designed if you pay for the private lesson, which interestingly enough, is still cheaper and can be more fun than hiring a tour company. You should also have the hotel staff write the places you want to go in Chinese and you should carry a card with the hotel address on it.
GETTING AROUND: Cabs in Shanghai are cheap. Even if they rip you off, to get from one end of the city to the farthest outer borough is about $15. Most cab rides are going to be $5 tops, even if you are going back and forth between downtown and Pudong which would be like going between Manhattan and Queens. Most trips are closer to12RMB (1.20$). The Subway, if you are more adventurous is easy; and it's VERY clean. A couple of the stations which conjoin trains during rush hour can be a little tough to navigate due to the sheer volume of people. I would advise not using it during rush hours which would be the same rush hours in every big city.
Westin on the Bund. While the rooms are a little small, the view is of the bund is lovely. The restaurants are nice. Downstairs has a piano bar, which I recommend for something very calm and simple. Location is fabulous if you are going to be partaking of nightlife which centers around the bund.
Portman Ritz Carleton. Very central location, near Xin Tian Di, which is a shopping/nightlife outdoor area. The Portman is great, very well regarded and is in the very center of the city for the mall type shopping.
I do not recommend staying in PuDong. The Bund or Xin Tian Di is best for tourist and nightlife purposes.
Touristy and fake stuff: Xiang Yang market is sadly closed under the pressure of the major labels. It was the best outdoor market for all kinds of fake merchandise mixed with local designer clothing. However, if you take the subway to the science museum, oddly enough, you end up seeing an underground version of that market with all the vendors that use to be in XiangYang market. Take the subway as it lets you off right in the market. If you take a cab, it is a bit confusing, b/c you need to go underground and there is no one above ground you can ask. It may be the only part of the city where there are so few people.
Designer factory discounts: Chang Le Road (Changle Lu) intersecting Huai Hai Road (Huai Hai Lu). Just get out there and walk all the way down through every store. You'll find stuff from every major high end label (Vivienne Westwood, Diesel, Miss Sixty, etc...). Some stores will let you bargain, others will not. Try anyway. There is also a furrier outside of Shanghai that your concierge can tell you about.

Cheap food is amazing and everywhere. Try it all. I enjoyed Element Fresh for it's adorable beverages. They are now a chain and all over Shanghai. Yunnan food is all the rage and hard to get in the states. I really enjoyed Southern Barbarian which is in Zhabei and a little far from city center (take a cab).

Cityweekend lists all of the 5 star restaurants which are cheap relative to US major cities and the food and service is A+. My dear friend is a restaurant critic in China so I was lucky enough to try quite a few. But I would recommend Sun & Aqua as a standout experience. Even if you don't have dinner there, go to the bar for drinks at night. Aside from a wonderful view of the bund (harbour), the walls are gigantic salt water fish tanks. The light from the fish tanks provide the lighting and atmosphere for hte bar; and it's gorgeous.

Wine is expensive throughout China as the local government is fostering a local wine industry. Chinese local wine isn't too bad, though you won't find truly "fine wine". I'd compare some of the better bottles to a nicer table wine. And the Autrailians aren't bad as a second choice on price point, though far more than they would be even with the cost of delivering to the US. The French and CA wines are ridiculous. By any standard in the world. For example, the NYC marked up restaurant price might be $60, the Shanghai price is $100USD.

What to see: There's lots, but I will leave that for others to post.

Message Edited by maylinglai1 on 01-05-2008 09:51 AM

Message Edited by maylinglai1 on 01-05-2008 09:52 AM

Message Edited by maylinglai1 on 01-05-2008 09:58 AM