At this time of year, contracts are being negotiated and signed, health tests are being done, and visa’s are being issued. Newbies are planning to come to China for the very first time and are probably thinking a lot about what to bring. Before I came to China I wrote some advice about how to pack, but now that I’ve been here for a couple of years I thought I’d list specific things to make the packing list a little easier. These are my top 5 packing essentials when coming to China.
1) Medication. This one is important for obvious reasons. If you use medicine regularly, even over-the-counter medicine, bring it with you. Sure there are pharmacies all over China but they are a far cry form CVS and very foreigner unfriendly. Packages are all in Chinese, behind the counter (so you have to ask for it by name) and have little to no English on them. Also finding well-known foreign brands is difficult. No Tylenol or NyQuil, no Neosporin or Benadryl. So if you need something, play it safe and bring it with you.
2) Shoes. I wear a very reasonable (and average) women’s size eight and a half shoes in America. But apparently in China I am some sort of freakish big-footed monster because they don’t make women shoes that fit me. My foot size translates to 41 in China, and women’s shoes stop at 40. I even went shoe shopping in a big city with many foreigners (because I really wanted fake UGG boots called UCC) and they didn’t have anything bigger than a 40. So if you want nice shoes, bring them along or learn to shop on the internet.
3) Pants. This is the same vein as the shoes. Chinese people are just smaller: smaller hips, smaller thighs smaller everything. So pants that are big enough for a laowei are difficult to find. Of course in the top-tier cities you can find some western shops with larger sizes, but smaller and lesser known cities don’t have much to offer. (I’ve also heard that northern China has bigger sized pants because people are bigger up there, but so far this is just a rumor. I will investigate it this summer.)
4) Kindle. I moved here without a Kindle and somehow lived. (But was it living really?) Now that I have it I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in the world. Finding English books is possible here (in bigger cities), but supply is severely limited and the price is unnecessarily high so the Kindle is a godsend. I have the cheaper wifi version, but I don’t use the wifi that often. Instead I download books directly to my computer and transfer them via the cord using Calibre (a free e-book management software). Everything works great and getting e-books from any online source is no problem at all. (You can also see a list of the books I’ve read this year here.)
5) Deodorant. Even though temperatures regularly reach 100 in the summertime and even though Chinese people sweat, deodorant is a little used product here. In fact, it is very difficult to find. Sold mostly in little makeup shops or large chain stores, deodorant usually has a small display in some out of the corner shelf with just a few containers available. I don’t know why deodorant isn’t huge here, but it’s not. So bring your supply with you.
And one thing NOT to bring:
1) Fancy clothes. I have had an outrageously expensive dinner with a mayor at a top end restaurant, and have been to a wedding and not once have I needed to dress up. In both cases a simple polo shirt and khakis more than sufficed. (For the wedding I could have worn jeans and a t-shirt and fit in with the locals.) I don’t know what occasions Chinese people dress formal for, but I have yet to find it. So save room in your luggage and leave out the suit and evening gown. You just won’t need it.
Ex-pats, what essentials do you recommend newbies bring with them? Or what can you not live without? I’m curious to hear your essentials. List them in the comments!