The other day my friend asked what we take back to China. She was pretty intrigued by which things we deemed worth hauling across the ocean in carefully weighed 50 lb suitcases. While so many things are made in China, we can’t find most of the items for export. Here are some examples of what we pack:
Health: Prescriptions and other medicines, vitamins, probiotics, elderberry, essential oils, Emergen-C
After this year of sickness we are trying All The Things. The pharmacist asked why we don’t just get our medicines in China. Kevin told him how one of his medicines is $5 for a year’s supply in the States, but about $20 a month in China because we can only find the imported brand-name, not the generic.
My antidepressant is similar - about $5 for a year’s supply here and $20 a month in China. It can also only be found at the mental hospital, conveniently located on the outskirts of the city in a remote location that is difficult to find. Some things are cheaper in China - like the allergy medicine Xyzol which has a generic in China that is 1/4 the price. But some medicines we’ve never managed to find in China and there is a quality issue as well.
Personal Care: Deodorant, shaving cream and razors, toddler toothpaste
Deodorant just started to become available in some stores, but not many Chinese people wear it. It is also uncommon for girls to shave (we need to get back on this bandwagon!), and since Chinese men rarely have beards, shaving cream and razors are less expensive here. Once when Kevin bought a beard trimmer another person in the shop asked what it was. The shop attendant said, “Oh, it’s for shaving your baby’s head.” Because they typically do that, believing it helps the hair grow back thicker.
Clothes: Hand-me-downs for the girls, shoes for everyone, clothes Kevin and I need
I buy some clothes for the girls online in China but I long ago gave up on shopping for myself. I find shopping stressful anyway, and it’s depressing when you have to buy 3-4 sizes larger than normal. Kevin has to get all his clothes here as well. We always buy our shoes here since our feet are too big. I can buy the girls’ shoes online, but they are usually not good enough quality to last through more than one child. This summer I bought two pairs of shoes just for myself, which is a bit much for me.
My most ironic clothes purchase this year came from a consignment shop. My grandmother took me shopping to pick out some things for Christmas past and future. I was amazed at how heavy some of the dresses were. Definitely not going to make the cut. I decided to buy a pretty green dress. It wasn’t until I went to wash it I discovered the tags were all in Chinese! So I came to America and bought a second hand dress someone had brought from China!
Food and cooking supplies: Dried beans, tortillas, spices and herbs, nutritional yeast, bullion, cream soup, marinara sauce…
We can find some of these things online or at an import store but they are often pretty expensive. I like cooking with beans and we can get some dried beans (not canned) around, but I have discovered our black beans are super dry and it’s worth bringing some over. I have usually used Chinese “chicken essence” but I decided to try a bullion that wasn’t filled with MSG. I discovered most of them in the US are as well! I can and usually do make cream soups if I need them for cooking, but it’s nice to have a couple on hand if I’m trying to make a quick meal. We can get spices like cumin and cinnamon - and plenty of crushed red pepper - but not a lot of the others we like to use.
Other: gifts for school leaders and friends, toys and books the kids have acquired, a dozen last minute additions
The girls just had an early birthday party so we packed up their gifts. This year we decided to bring back a couple of bottles of California wine for (non-Muslim) leaders. They are quite heavy; we might not do that again. We also got some Georgia pecans and mini pecan pies, candies, scarves, lotions, and some toys for kids. Everyone likes “hometown specialties.”
Our bags are packed, ready to be loaded in the morning. While we could technically bring 8 bags amongst us - and some families we know do bring that many or more - there is no way we could handle that many plus kids, and we wouldn’t have enough room to put 8 bags worth of stuff in our apartment! I think this is the most we have ever brought though - 3 suitcases and a duffle bag, plus a carry on suitcase, backpack, diaper bag, and kid backpacks. And a stroller. Yeah, it’s a lot.
The fact that we could fit all those things perfectly into 4 bags is due entirely to my sister Becky and her magical packing skills. She really does have skills. I basically gather all our stuff in big heaps on the floor and she works it around and packs it so carefully that it all fits. Not only that, the bags were within a tenth of a pound of the weight limit. I keep saying she needs to hire herself out. I for one know quite a number of people who would be interested in utilizing her skills.
I do think I get a little credit though for having/purchasing just the number of things to perfectly fit into our four 50-lb bags. That’s pretty great, right? We fit in everything I planned to bring! Either that or I’m forgetting something big. This seems like a decent possibility. I feel like I am forgetting something, especially since I lost my “take back to China” lists when my phone died a few days ago. We’ll hope we end up with everything essential.