Depending on the city you’ll be in some things will be easier to get than others. First tier cities such as Shanghai and Beijing have virtually anything you could want; cheese, tampons, deodorant. All those things that you don’t normally think of as being luxuries suddenly become a treat when you’re living in a second or third tier city.
So here are my recommendations on what to bring when you move to the Middle Kingdom (please keep in mind that these are mostly for those of you who will be based in second and third tier cities):
1. Deodorant. People in China don’t tend to wear it and it’s very difficult to find here, especially men’s deodorant.
2. Tampons. Pads a plenty but tampons are not easy to find unless you don’t mind the OB ones that have no applicator.
3. Gifts for your new coworkers. If you bring something for your coworkers I recommend either edible goods (cookies, coffee, etc) or things that say ‘Made in the USA’.
4. Shoes and clothes that fit. Ladies, if you wear over a US size 7.5 for shoes you’re going to have difficulty finding shoes that fit. Gents, over a size US 8.5 and you’re not going to find shoes that work for you. Clothing sizes also vary greatly, in the US I am a women’s size S in China I’m an XXL. Bring clothes with you. This may not be as much of a problem in the northern regions of China as the people tend to be taller and bigger than those in the south.
5. If you plan on doing the do over here in China I recommend you bring condoms. Size and durability are apparently some common issues with Chinese condoms.
6. Birth control pills. You can get birth control pills here over the counter at any pharmacy from a company named Schering Plough called Marvelon. They range in price from 10rmb a box to 20rmb depending on the pharmacy. Check with your obgyn that these are suitable for you, and if they’re not, bring with you ones that are.
7. A proxy. You may or may not have heard of the Great Firewall of China in your research about China. Websites like youtube, facebook, wordpress, and a few news sites are blocked (inaccessible) from China. I use Securitales and they have been fantastic for getting around the GFC but there are a number of proxies available for you to choose from.
8. Medicine. You can get Tylenol Cold and Sinus in the pharmacy but you have to hunt for it as the Chinese label is usually the one displayed. I recommend bringing Imodium, Ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, any prescription drugs you may need, Nightquil and Dayquil, and Neosporin. Getting sick in China can be miserable, but nothing is more miserable than being prescribed Chinese medicine which is usually herbal and takes a loooooooong time to make you feel better or being told you should take a drip with antibiotics in it because you have a cold. Seriously.
9. An extra pair of glasses and contacts. The optometrists here are often not well trained and every pair of glasses I’ve bought here have been a disaster. Bring a back up pair and when you visit home stock up on contacts and visit the optometrist.
10. Skype. If you want to talk to your family and friends Skype is excellent. Download it in the states before you leave or be forced to use the Chinese version which the Chinese government has admitted to watching and regulating. 你好, 大哥!
11. Books. Even better would be a kindle or some kind of e-reader with a lot of books on it. Cities like Shanghai have a ready supply of English language books but the smaller cities tend to only stock things like classics and textbooks for their English language learners.
12. Sunscreen. Sunscreen costs about the same here in China as it does in the states, but comes in much smaller bottles. It’s widely used, so you can find it, but you may not be familiar with the brands available. If you use it, bring it.
Things you don’t need to bring:
1. Contact solution. You can purchase both Renu and Alcon at any optometrist shop, it costs about the same as it does in the states.
2. Electronics other than your laptop and camera. Mobile phones are reasonably priced here and most electronics will not work in China unless you have a converter. You can buy hairdryers and hair straighteners here for cheap.
3. Dvds, don’t worry about missing your favorite shows or movies you can stream them all online or easily buy cheap dvds on the street. I’ve caught up on a lot of shows via dvd marathon rather than try to watch a new episode each week.
Now you may wonder why I seem to be so obsessed with cheese. If you had to live without it for as long as I did (two years) you would be a little obsessed with it too. To keep you from going through what I did let me fill you in on where to go to get cheese in a second tier city (sorry third tiers, you’re probably SOL, but McDonalds might sell you some). In many cities there is a restaurant supply store that is akin to Sam’s Club (sorta, kinda, in a Chinese-y way) called Metro (the Chinese name is Mai de long (pronounced ‘my duh long’), this is the holy mecca of cheese in a smaller city but be prepared to pay out the wazoo for it.
If you have any questions or recommendations about what to bring or not to bring leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.