This time last year, I was frantically searching the internet for any advice on packing to teach in China, to no avail. Every blog post and YouTube video I could find was about South Korea, South Korea, South Korea. With the hindsight we now have, here is my guide to packing for China.
For a shortened version of this blog post you can view our vlog here:
Check the weather
When we asked the Chinese organisers of our TEFL internship what to pack, they said, “warm clothes! It gets very cold in winter!“. We dutifully packed the numerous knitwear jumpers and cardigans we have collected over the years of living in cold, rainy England. We then moved to Sichuan, a humid, hot province which only starts to get cold in December for a few short months, before heading back up to the 20s (Celsius) in March/April. I ended up throwing quite a few jumpers away.
We are moving to Chongqing in August – “the stove of China”. I have breathable, lightweight tops, a pair of shorts, a couple of mid-length skirts, a smart pair of summer trousers, one pair of jeans and only two jumpers. YOU CAN BUY MORE JUMPERS IN CHINA. What I did find hard to buy in China was shorts. I can only assume designers in China aren’t used to accommodating wide hips and a bit of pudge.
Try not to pack your entire wardrobe
You will not need all the clothes you think you do. If you’re super tall like me, remember that the clothes you bring will need to last you the entire year.
I found that if left to my own devices I would pack more than I needed to. Project 333’s capsule wardrobe really appealed to me, so I’ve decided to fit all the clothing and shoes I will need (excluding lounge wear and underwear) into 33 items. Was it difficult to choose just 33 items? Erm, yes, yes it was. But it was helpful as it made sure only clothes I loved and would want to wear all the time are being taken to China.
Contrary to what I heard some idiot expats say, the shampoo in China will not make your hair fall out. Living in China also has a few benefits when it comes to toiletries, such as giving you easier access to the world renowned South Korean cosmetics such as Innisfree.
What I would suggest is that if you can’t cope without a particular brand then you might consider taking a years supply. There are no Lush shops in China and I swear by their deodrant, so I already have a number of their deodrant bars ready to take back with me. I will also take a couple of tubes of my favourite eyeliner and my moon cup – something I highly recommend as it will save you so much money on sanitary towels (tampons are harder to find in China).
Instead of bringing numerous bottles of shampoo, conditioner etc with me, I will just be bringing a bottle of castille soap. This has a variety of uses – it can be used as a shampoo, a soap and even as a cleaning product. I will use it for the first few weeks to give me enough time to pop to the shops and stock up on shampoos and things.
Medication wise – take some paracetomol, anti-diareaha tablets, motion sickness tablets (if you get sick on buses) and hayfever tablets. And don’t forget to get a years supply of any prescribed medication you are on!
If you’re are a couple, don’t make the mistake we did and bring one laptop for both of you. Your school is highly unlikely to provide you with your own office computer and you will be expected to bring your laptop with you to work on.
Apart from that, bring the usual – plug adapters! I also recommend some noise cancelling headphones (there are many people in China so it is loud and sometimes you might want to drown this out). You should also bring an unlocked phone to put your Chinese Sim card in.
Don’t bring books with you. There are heavy and take up space. Buy a kindle.
Most people bring a microfibre towel. Instead, I recommend a Turkish bath towel. Not only do they have the same benefits as a microfibre towel of being small and quick to dry, but as they are made in Turkey it’s far easier to find ethically sourced Turkish bath towels! And, they look so beautiful! I have this towel, which you buy online.
I wish so much that we had bought little gifts with us from the UK to give people. So this year we are bringing a number of touristy gifts of badges, pencils, pens, key rings etc. to give out to friends. We also might use a few of them as prizes in our classrooms.
I have coeliac disease and can’t eat gluten, and China is TERRIBLE (there really is no nicer way of putting it) for coeliacs. I will be taking stock cubes (they all have wheat in them in China), flaxseed and gluten free biscuits! We will also be taking a lot of teabags. I recommend taking something you think you will miss as a treat for you.
A little bit on luggage
I recommend taking a decent rucksack with you as your carry on luggage – preferably one with a laptop pouch in it. This rucksack can also work as your weekend away back pack for when you go trekking around China at the weekends! We bought an Osprey Quasar rucksack and I’m a little bit in love with it. Not only is it spacious and super comfy to wear but it also has a lifetime guarantee
And on a final, odd note
Blue tack is really hard to find. So if you want to put stuff up on your walls, take blue tack with you!