What to bring, to Beijing?
July 15, 2007 11:03 AM   Subscribe

At the end of this month I'll be moving from Ottawa, Canada, to Beijing, China to work as a software developer for a couple years. What should I bring with me, and what am I better off buying once I arrive?

I think I have the basic stuff covered (clothes, money, toiletries, medicine, laptop, camera, etc) so I'm wondering mostly what stuff is easy or cheap to get in Canada, but hard to find or expensive in China.

At the same time, I figure there are probably things I'd be better off not bringing with me, in favour of just picking them up when I get there, but I'm not sure what those things are. For example I'm guessing that clothing is cheaper there than here, so I'm not planning to bring my winter coat, because it's big and heavy.

Between the two, I'm more concerned with figuring out what stuff I'd really regret NOT bringing.

Any packing/shopping tips along these lines, useful web resources, and relevant experiences or stories would be very much appreciated!
posted by benign to Travel & Transportation around Beijing, China (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One thing to remember is that if you're a larger person, it might be harder to find clothing in your size over there.
posted by mdonley at 11:14 AM on July 15, 2007

1) If you don't speak Chinese, I'd definitely pick up some Pimsleur tapes.

2)Lots of books, in case you get bored. In China, you may not be able to find books you want to read - most of the English books sold there are Classics, or ridiculously overpriced bestsellers.
posted by matkline at 11:18 AM on July 15, 2007

Let's focus on the important stuff here, people.

Since you live in Canada, there is a chance that you like ketchup flavored chips. However, ketchup chips apparently are nowhere to be found in China.

Will you be able to make it? I don't know.

Plan ahead. Maybe you can get friends to bring ketchup flavored chips during your stay (I smuggled a small bag myself for the benefit of a friend). Maybe you can slowly try to wane yourself off ketchup chips.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2007

mdonley: I'm a pretty small guy (skinny, 5 foot 6) so that should hopefully be a non issue.

matkline: I've got Pimsleur Mandarin 1 (though I haven't had time to do any lessons yet), and I'll definitely collect some more reading material before heading out.

TCIP: I DO like ketchup chips. Your answer makes me wonder more generally what foodstuffs I can get through customs without causing a ruckus. Do you know, or know where I can find out? I can live without ketchup chips, but good coffee is another story...

Thanks for the tips so far. Keep em coming!
posted by benign at 11:43 AM on July 15, 2007

If you like maple syrup, it's like liquid gold outside of North America.
posted by cardboard at 11:58 AM on July 15, 2007

I've had ketchup chips in Beijing, but I bet they're not as good. They were shaped like french fries, though, which was kind of fun.

You're definitely right about clothes -- they're cheap in China, although it can be a pain to find what you want. Jeans are tough because they're either really crappy quality or more expensive than North America. But if you're at all interested in tailored clothes, then you can get a bunch of shirts and slacks made for less than off the rack at Macy's back in NA.

Books are also not so much of a problem. Beijing as the Bookworm, a lending library, and there are stores, although the selection of new works isn't great. You can get decent coffee at Jenny Lou's (a supermarket for the expats. Expensive imported goods, decent prices on local stuff that you'd want). Check out the Yunnan 'Espresso' coffee. It's actually pretty good.

As of 2005, you could not get decent Bourbon in China. This is a shame. Scotch is no big problem, though.

So honestly, I can't think of anything. In 2002 there were lots of things I couldn't get, but by 2005 it was only Maker's Mark and decent jeans.

(BTW, what company are you going to work for? My old boss mentioned he had a Canadian developer coming in. My email's in my profile.)
posted by RobotAdam at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2007

I know what *I* will be taking: some nice converse shoes, a well fitting brown-blue suit, a macbook, a slim camera and some big ass books. Everything else I'll live without or buy there.
posted by markovich at 1:03 PM on July 15, 2007

My friends in Japan always asked me to mail the underarm deodorant.
posted by furtive at 1:08 PM on July 15, 2007

furtive: Exactly what I was going to suggest. When I backpack, I buy most of my toiletries after I arrive at my destination. This usually works well, but it was a real adventure finding underarm deodorant in Beijing. The only kind I could find was a tiny, flower-scented bottle from Avon, and that took some searching (+ lots of animated gesturing on my part and giggling on the parts of the female employees of the shop I was in).
posted by syzygy at 1:47 PM on July 15, 2007

Sorry, I don't know of a good place to check what kinds of food you are allowed to bring in a flight to China. I find it hard to imagine that coffee would be banned, but you never know.

furtive's point is a good one, though. I had similar problems when I visited Beijing, and since it was August, it was not pretty.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 2:29 PM on July 15, 2007

furtive is right about the deodorant.

Half decent casual clothes are really hard to find, and when you do they are often more expensive. To put brand names to it, anything of The Gap quality and better is better purchased at home.

Dress clothes are another story. You can get stuff made at a proper walk-in, up-market, tailor (none of this fabric market business) for slightly cheaper than buying nice dress clothes at home.

Bring your coat. It will be much less of a hassle than hunting all over beijing.
posted by nazca at 2:50 PM on July 15, 2007

I'd say the hardest thing to get is good books. The bookstores are all run by the state and tightly controlled. All you are likely to find are poorly printed and overpriced classics, and trashy paperbacks and bestsellers.

Jeans can be hard to find in Beijing if you don't know where to look. If you like loose, baggy jeans, stock up before you go, but if you like the styles, skate shops in Beijing sell decent jeans, often designer labels at 50% or less of what they would sell here, often interspersed with knockoffs.

If you are picky about body care stuff, I would stock up on everything before going, not just deodorant. Toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc.

Bittorrent works fine behind the firewall, so you don't need to frantically acquire a years worth of music before you go.

Lastly and most importantly, underwear. If you like your underwear to have a fly of any kind, buy it here, not there, because you won't fucking find it. If you like your underwear cut like a speedo, don't worry. I have a few pairs of underwear I bought in china, and I find the no fly thing is only mildly annoying, but YMMV.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:53 PM on July 15, 2007

Advice from a sister who spent a semester with a host family in Beijing:

For packing, I went on my airline's site and found the dimensions of the largest carry-on they'd allow. I then went and bought a hiking/climbing pack that was that size. Try to get a sturdy one (assuming you do not already have one), because trust me, they take one hell of a beating when you're traveling or even just riding the subway around Beijing. All airlines also allow a laptop in addition to your carry-on, so take your laptop case and fill it with any other junk you can put in it. Besides that, I took one huge duffle bag (for checked luggage) and I was fine. You can, however, have TWO checked bags on international flights (for most airlines), so feel free to bring another, if you feel you need it. I bought a second giant duffle in China and filled it with gifts and things I bought for myself, so I was able to check that one for free.

You'll want a small bag for everyday use on campus and the like, but buy that at the Silk Market. The North Face ones are particularly sturdy; survived many a rough day/night in Beijing's underground.

Make sure you bring whatever prescriptions you might need with you on checked baggage CLEARLY marked. The Chinese authorities think all Westerners are junkies and when I tried to have some fucking pimple cream sent to me, it took me 7 weeks and 3 trips to the distribution center downtown to get my hands on it.

On a similar note, the moisturizers are really greasy and crappy in China, so make sure if you have sensitive skin, you bring your own facial lotion and what not. It's insanely dry in Beijing in the winter, so this is important, even for guys.

Floss is hard to find; bring that. Toothpaste is easy to find; don't need to bring that. Deodorant in China is decent, but they DON'T have antiperspirant, so if you need that, bring it. If you only need deodorant, don't worry. All shower supplies, such as soap, shampoo, etc. are easy to find. Oh, and you'll have to buy your own toilet paper, but it's plentiful. Razors are kind of crappy, so bring your own if you demand quality.

Good luck!
posted by gsteff at 8:08 PM on July 15, 2007

If you like poutine, gorge before you go, because the nearest is in Hong Kong.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:31 AM on July 16, 2007

I might be wrong though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:37 AM on July 16, 2007

If the nearest poutine is in HK then it'll be many thousands of kilometers closer than I'd expected!

Thanks everyone for your help. It seems like I should be able to get everything I need there. Since I'm not picky about clothes I think I'll stick with my plan of packing light and wing it when I get there.
posted by benign at 7:37 AM on July 16, 2007

Alright, I just moved back from BJ. Do not bring Ketchup chips, coffee or bourbon. Do bring books, deodorant, underwear and lotions. Books are hard to come by (though the Friendship store actually has a decent, greatly overpriced selection surprizingly, and there is the Bookworm). Deodorant is pretty tough to find. Lotions are near impossible unless they are whitening, yikes! Undies come in a variety of cheaply made grippies so if this is not your style, bring some. You will need to buy long undies there, which are awesome and I can't believe I did without them before!

Coffee, ketchup chips and borbon are available (they sell Jack Daniels at every 7-11 and ketchup chips at Carrefour). The Yunnan coffee is decent and cheap. Ikea also has decent cheap European brands in their grocery section so stock up when you buy your household goods.

Do not buy special clothes and size does not matter for men's clothes, Beijinger men are generally comprable to Westerners in size. Women may find some problems particularly in shoes.

If you miss anything your Canadian heart desires just ask Paul the owner of Steak and Eggs Kitchen (he'll be the guy with the big moustache) especially on Canadian Thanksgiving.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:16 PM on July 16, 2007

The Bookworm
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:27 AM on July 18, 2007

Steak and Eggs
posted by Pollomacho at 12:33 PM on July 18, 2007

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