Moving to China: what to take, what to leave?

My husband and I packed up our lives and 560 pounds of stuff last year and took a great leap into the unknown - we moved our family to Beijing. It seems we were part of a trend - my husband is one of thousands of "sea turtles" who return to China every year . There are also lots of folks who have no historical connection at all to China but are coming as well.

For anyone considering such a move, I thought I'd write a list of things I'm glad I brought with us from the U.S. to China, and things I could have just as well left at home.

Glad I brought:
- Books that are special to the kids. We can find English-language books here but not the ones that my kids love, and since books are easy to pack it makes sense to bring them along. And at bedtime on their first night in their new beds, my kids were really comforted to hear some familiar stories.
- Hand sanitizer. Our family doesn't have immunities yet for a lot of the germs we run across in China and as a result we've been sick quite a bit this first year. I think the hand sanitizer has warded off a few fevers and colds, I always have a small bottle in my purse.
- The kids' car seats. They're available here but oh so expensive, and I have no idea what sorts of safety standards they meet. Since car seats don't count as luggage as far as the airline is concerned, I'm really glad we brought ours.
- Greetings cards. The selection here just isn't as good.
- Photo albums. We love browsing through them when we feel homesick.
- The kids' sippie cups. I haven't found good, sturdy sippie cups here.
- Easter Egg dyes. While Jenny Lou's carries almost everything a Westerner could want, they were not ready for Easter this year. I was glad I had some dyes with me.
- Sturdy shoes. Most shoes here are...glitzier than I like. And most are not very sturdy. And the selection of shoes in size 40 (US size 9) is limited.
- Skin bronzer for my legs in summertime. The idea of bronzing your skin on purpose is foreign here, most people prefer to whiten their skin.
- Make-up. It's so expensive here and the selection is limited. Since mascara and blush took up very little space in my suitcase, I was really glad I brougt them.
Antiperspirant/Deodorant. I've found some versions of this in stores like Jenny Lou's or Carrefour but if you're particular about brands or if you prefer just antiperspirant or just deodorant, you're better off bringing your own with you from home. (Thanks to alert reader Robs for pointing out that I should update the list to include this one.)
- Over-the-Counter cold and flu medicines. Of course China has them but when I was awake at 3pm taking care of a sick baby it was nice to have medicines on hand that I knew and trusted. And could read the labels on.
- English-Chinese dictionary. Most of the dictionaries here are designed for Chinese people who are speaking English as a foreign language. It's hard to find a good one that has all the Chinese words written out in Roman characters (pin-yin).
- My iPod charger. I wondered if it would work in Chinese outlets. It did!
- Diapers for bigger toddlers. My son was 2-1/2 and almost potty-trained when we got here but he was still having accidents at night. We couldn't find diapers for a baby bigger than 16 pounds or so. Chinese parents potty-train their kids early!
- Swim diapers. Chinese kids don't need them - by the time they're ready to swim they're already potty-trained!

Why did I bring this?!:
- Kids' clothes. I'm glad we had clothes for the summer because it was hot when we got here, but we didn't need to fill our suitcases with winter clothes, especially boots and coats. I had stocked up on these items because I wasn't sure if I'd be able to find them in Beijing. Everything is readily available though. And for those who like sequins, Beijing has an especially wide variety of options. :)
- Kids' toys. Of course I'm glad we brought some of their special toys but we really didn't need 2 boxes full. Our apartment in Beijing is smaller than our house in California and I don't have room for all the toys we brought, not to mention the gifts people gave us when we got here.
- Shampoos, soaps, toothpaste. I've found all the products I brought with me at Jenny Lou's, and the prices were the same or cheaper than what I paid in the US. Chinese brands are also great and are easily available at the grocery store.
- Bottles of wine. They're heavy and if they had broken in our suitcases we would have been screwed. And stores like Jenny Lou's, Carrefour, and even Wal-Mart have a good supply of wines.
- All foods. We found everything we wanted at the Western grocery stores here. And China has some really good snacks and dry goods that aren't available in the US, so this is a good chance for us to enjoy what China has to offer.
- Birthday candles. China has way better birthday cake candles than anything we've dreamed of in the US. In fact some of the ones I've seen here could probably be categorized as small explosives.

Readers, if you brought something to Beijing that you didn't need or needed something you didn't bring, please leave a comment here and I will update this blog entry.

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