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I don't travel with a smart phone and I don't want to.

My netbook battery died during my trip and I tried and failed to get a new or reconditioned one in China.

Because I'm hitchhiking I sometimes end up in a cheap hotel with no internet, but I need to research the next day's travels, finding the ways to expressways, tollbooths, service areas, etc, and hostels for upcoming destinations.

Generally I've already researched this info but sometimes I omit an important detail, and other times I lose it all while trying to sneak a peak at the computer without AC power.

In tourist cities there will be hostels with Wi-Fi. But sometimes even then you arrive in the city and need to get to the hostel.

Some chain restaurants like KFC and Dico's have Wi-Fi, but only rarely do they have power sockets.

I had this problem last night in Baotou, the second-largest city in Inner Mongolia where there was no hostel, and again this afternoon in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia.

Asking people in English doesn't work. They don't understand my attempts at Chinese. Sometimes they can direct me to a place with Wi-Fi, but asking for electricity always stumps them, in English or Chinese. Cafes seem to be hidden in cool areas or student areas, which are not easy to find if you're new.

Are there any foolproof methods that have much higher success rates than my haphazard attempts outlined above?

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Buy a new battery, that's the only foolproof method I know of that can solve your problem from the roots. –  MeNoTalk Nov 23 '13 at 12:49
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@HaLaBi: As I said, "... and I tried and failed to get a new or reconditioned one in China". In fact I went to the electronics district of Kunmind (151 street) two or three times hunting and no place sold batteries or rebuilt them, as far as I could see. Anyway sometimes even good batteries run down so this is still a problem for travellers. It's a problem for smartphones too. –  hippietrail Nov 23 '13 at 13:34
    
After uncovery's very good answer, I would also welcome answers including useful Chinese phrases I can write down to show people... or I could ask on chinese.SE –  hippietrail Nov 24 '13 at 2:14
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2 Answers 2

I would recommend you to get someone to write down for you how to say the proper question in Chinese, print it out and show it to people. That would bridge the language gap.

From my perspective your real issue is that you do not only need a power outlet, but a chair next to it and a permission to sit there for a while and work. If you would have a working battery, you could just ask in a restaurant if they can plug it in somewhere for you while you eat. This is quite common and I know people will do that. Here again, a printed sign will get you very far.

Now regarding that battery: You figured already out that you wont get one. So here it comes:

Since you do not want to travel with a smartphone, it might make more sense for you to travel with one of those ultra-portable Android devices (i.e. a smartphone without a SIM Card or a tablet). They are VERY cheap, easy to replace and at least a good emergency backup. No monthly fees either! Looking at the long timespan that you stay on the road I would really recommend you to have some sort of backup like that. Yes, I know a laptop does more than android (I also travel with a laptop for my photos, and cannot rely on a smartphone), but as you can see probably all around you is that smartphone replacement batteries are MUCH easier to get than for a laptop. And the price for a cheap smartphone without a contract, specially in China is very low.

In Hong Kong, you can charge cellphones in 7/11 convenience stores. In Japan you can buy battery-connectors to charge them, and there are solar panel chargers available too that you can stick on your backpack and charge while on the road.

So this is maybe not the answer you want to hear, but in your situation, that's what I would do. The world is unfortunately not very forthcoming to someone with a power plug looking for a socket and a chair next to it.

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Very good and not opinionated advice. I don't think I really considered carrying a tablet or "phoneless phone" as a second, backup computer. –  hippietrail Nov 24 '13 at 2:05
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I went windowshopping for a tablet in the electronics district of Hohhot yesterday. It was very daunting and tiring so I'm probably going to wait until I'm in Taiwan or South Korea or Tokyo before trying again. Unless somebody gives me a specific "buying a cheap tablet in China" tip (-; –  hippietrail Jan 3 at 7:38
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If I understand the question, the needs are:

  1. Wi-Fi in relatively urban places where language and/or no Wi-Fi are the barrier

  2. Electricity in relatively urban places where language and/or no electricity is the barrier

Also, I'm assuming two things here:

  1. You are going to be in China a while

  2. You have a smart phone or netbook with you and it functions correctly.

Then:

  1. You could buy a Mifi device (just ask for Mifi, there's no Chinese name for it, really) This is basically like a portable Wi-Fi router used by the major telecoms in China. You pay for a year of service and it divides out to a monthly limitation. Great for traveling.

  2. You could also buy an external battery for your devices. I have one for my iPhone. The Chinese for that is "备用iPhone电池" (Bèiyòng iPhone diànchí). Those two words are 备用 ("spare") and 电池 ("battery") so even if you went into a shop with any device and said those four words, they'd be able to sort you out.

As for language:

  • "Do you have Wi-Fi?" - 你有无线网络吗?(Nǐ yǒu wúxiàn wǎngluò ma?)

  • "Do you have a plug where I could plug in my phone?" 你们这里有插座可以插我的手机吗?(Nǐmen zhè li yǒu chāzuò kěyǐ chā wǒ de shǒujī ma?)

  • "Do you have a plug where I could plug in my laptop?" 你们这里有插座可以插我的手提电脑吗?(Nǐmen zhè li yǒu chāzuò kěyǐ chā wǒ de shǒutí diànnǎo ma?)

Lastly, if you are uncomfortable with your pronunciation, just print these phrases out and present them to the waiter/waitress/host wherever you are. Just preface it with "Sorry to bother you" "不好意思麻烦你!" (bù hǎo yì si má fan nǐ) just to be polite.

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No I have a two-entry tourist visa, which entitles me to two visits of 30 days each. I've used my first visit and I'm currently just over a week and a half into my second visit. But don't worry, Stack Exchange answers are intended to show up in Google searches when the next person has a similar problem to mine. I have no smartphone, just a netbook. It functions correctly other than the battery no longer holding charge, hence the need for electricity and not only Wi-Fi. –  hippietrail Jan 6 at 11:24
    
You can use that type of portable back up battery with a laptop, too. They make all different kinds. Travel safely! –  brendanc Jan 7 at 2:17
    
I've tried shopping for electronics a couple of times in cities in China. It's not for the faint of heart. No prices marked so lots of asking and haggling in Chinese. Department stores have very small selections, if anything. And I haven't found any proffessional chain stores that deal in this stuff in China so far. So I don't think I'll be able to buy such a battery until I leave China. –  hippietrail Jan 7 at 2:39
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