Saturday, June 20, 2015

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

When I was a child, the first few days of summer vacation were always spent cleaning out my dresser and closet with my Mother.  We would take inventory of which clothes still fit and which clothes needed to be donated to charity.   The task seemed agonizingly slow, especially when the sun was shining.

As a grown up, cleaning out cupboards and closets feels therapeutic.  This summer, I realized that there are many things that we lugged to Shanghai that haven’t been used in almost three years.   Three years ago, I wish I would’ve known what we needed and did not need in China.  Here’s the list I would have given myself three years ago.

Leave the kitchenware, pots, and pans but bring the Tervis.
One of the biggest mistakes we made when moving was shipping our daily ware.  It’s very heavy and takes up lots of space.  We have maybe used it four times over the last three years.  Leave your kitchen at home, and pick up some new stuff at Ikea, Carrefour, or on Taobao.  The only exceptions I have to that rule are large plastic cups.  I love drinking my Coke Zero in my Tervis every morning, and it is really difficult to find large plastic cups over here.   The same goes for pots, pans, and small kitchen appliances.  You can find what you need at Carrefour, on Taobao, or on Craig’s List.

Lose the daily ware, bring the Tervis.

Bring spices, but make sure you can’t buy them in Shanghai first.
My first months in Shanghai were ranch dressing free at home, and at times garlic salt has been difficult to locate and very expensive.  Before stocking up, I would look at Epermarket and City Shop to see if they carry what you need.  Please keep in mind that supplies fluctuate, so if there is a spice that your family can’t live without stock up and bring it!

I always bring back packets of Hidden Valley Ranch.  In my opinion, the homemade stuff tastes better, and takes up  much less luggage space.
Leave the clothes you want to fit in after you lose 10 lbs, but bring plenty of shoes.
It is difficult to find larger sized clothing and shoes so definitely bring lots of clothes for all four seasons, but remember some Chinese closets can be a bit small at times. Don’t bring that darling little black dress that would be perfect if you shed a few pounds.  Do bring shoes, especially if you have big feet. Don’t bring five years worth of socks.  Know that Shanghai has Old Navy, Marks and Spencer, and Gap.  They also have this little place called the fabric market so designer gowns aren’t necessary.  Don’t forget to stock up on bras and undies if you wear larger sizes!
The only thing I dislike about our apartment is the very limited closet space. 
Leave the large, framed pictures.  Take the smaller, framed pictures.
Both of our apartments have had concrete walls, which makes hanging pictures tough.  I highly recommend bringing smaller, framed pictures as reminders of home.

We have a couple of boxes full of heavy prints that haven't been hung.   We tried some 3M velcro strips, but the frames were too heavy to hang. 
To help with the homesickness, bring smaller pictures in frames.
Leave the DVDs
Many American DVDs don’t work in Chinese DVD players, and China has some amazing DVD stores.  If I had to do it over again, I would bring my top ten movies to watch on the plane, and store the rest.

We brought binders full of American DVDs that can only be played in our computers.  Leave them home, and head to your DVD store.
Leave the western power strips, but bring the universal power adaptors.
It is really easy to find power strips at the grocery store, Ikea, and little stores on the side of the road.  Many of the power strips will accommodate most Apple products.  If you try to use an American power strip in a Chinese outlet, you will blow a fuse.  I picked up a couple of these universal power adaptors before we left, and never travel without them. 

I would recommend bringing 3-4 universal adaptors.  I never travel without mine.  Leave the American power strips behind.  They will cause blackouts.
Leave the printer and other large electronic devices, but bring unlocked smart phones.
If you need a printer, find a Chinese printer on Craigslist, Taobao, or at Carrefour.  Many stores don’t carry western printer cartridges, so I must import them.  Cell phones are cheaper in the US, so bring over your unlocked smart phone and buy a SIM card when you arrive in China.

The printer/ scanner combo has been helpful, especially when it's visa renewal time.  However, importing cartridges is a pain.
Leave the books, but bring a tablet.
Even though we scaled back our book collection, we still brought way too many books.  Buy a tablet and download your books.  It eliminates much clutter, and you know when you download the book it won’t be modified.  If you are a person that needs to feel a book, there are foreign language bookstores all around town.  My favorite is the Foreign Language Bookstore on Fuzhou Lu.  They have four floors of English books.  You can also buy paper books on Taobao.    My only exception to the book rule is small travel books.   Many booksellers carry Lonely Planet, but it can be difficult to find other small travel guides. 

If you are a fan of Lonely Planet, you will be okay.  However, it can be difficult to find some of the other travel guides. 

Sometimes travel guides sold in China will be modified.  Notice how someone crossed out Taiwan in every copy of this Lonely Planet guide.
This book had a chapter of pages glued together.  Chris wasn't exactly pleased when we learned of the alteration.
Leave your scrapbooking supplies behind, but bring your camera and plenty of memory cards.
While in the States, I enjoyed scrapbooking so I brought my 45 lb Cricket Machine, reams of scrapbook paper, and all sorts of embellishments so I would have everything I needed to continue my hobby.  Unfortunately I haven’t scrapped a single page since we moved over here.  I have spent my free time exploring, shooting pictures, blogging, learning, and teaching.  Unless you are a die-hard scrapper who can’t live without your things, store your supplies.  However, bring your camera and plenty of memory cards.  American memory cards are more reliable and less expensive than some of their Chinese counterparts.

My beautiful Cricket sits in a box in my office. I know I will have much to scrapbook after this adventure. 
Bring your prescription and over the counter medications.
While you can find everyday drugs like Tylenol and Imodium in Shanghai, it isn’t fun purchasing them when you feel like you are on death’s door.  Also, I feel more comfortable knowing that the FDA has approved what I’m taking.  Additionally, some drugs like Claritin-D can’t be found over here.   Before leaving, talk to your doctor about giving you a round of antibiotics and a year long prescription for any pseudoephedrine drugs you may need. 

I highly recommend carrying a small bottle of Imodium and Pepto Bismol in your bag when first arriving to China.  It sometimes takes a while to get used to new foods, and trying to find the medicine you need may be a pain.
Bring your antiperspirant, but leave your razor blades
Whenever we go back to the States, we always stock up on our favorite antiperspirant because it is really tough to find around here.  Razor blades can be found at your local Watson’s.

I know I have left many things off this list.  Fellow expats, what are some things you wish you left behind?  What do you stock up on when you go home?  If you have any questions about what to take and what to leave, feel free to comment below, or email me at  

Happy packing!

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