10 things you should pack when you move to China

Packing for ChinaI remember one of the biggest headaches when I found out we were moving to China was figuring out what to pack. I had no idea what to expect and was completely overwhelmed. Will I be able to buy what I need when I get there? What is and isn’t available? What if I don’t pack it and then they don’t have it? What if I forget something and then need it???
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Shipping air freight to China: Part 2

This is the rest of the story from LB’s exciting trip to Customs. If you haven’t read the first part, start there: Shipping air freight from China: Part 1

At this point, we’re sitting in the car in the middle of the street. Some guy has just ran off with my passport, and now a Customs lady has just let me know she needs me to answer a few questions. ok…

Even though the office is closed, Customs Lady says that they can still have me sign some forms and answer a few questions. She should be able to finish the rest without me coming back down. Great, at least I won’t have to repeat this experience again. Hopefully. I’m still not holding my breath to be honest. Apparently, they didn’t provide enough detail on the list of our items. Customs Lady hands me a list (entirely in Chinese) and our conversation goes something like this:

Customs Lady: “How big was this computer thing?”

Me: “What computer thing?”

Customs Lady: “What you see with.” *Making hand motions*

Me: “Huh?”

Customs Lady: *More hand motions*

Me: “You mean the monitor?”

Customs Lady: “Oh yes! Monitor!”

Me: “Um, we have two monitors.”

Customs Lady: “Oh. I see two here. How big is this one?” *Pointing at the Chinese list*

Me: “Sorry, I can’t really read Chinese.”

Customs Lady: “Oh. Can you guess?”

Me: “Um…are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Customs Lady: “Yes, it’s ok.”

Me: “So, it doesn’t really matter if I’m right? Then why am I here? Couldn’t you just make up a number?”

Customs Lady: “No, you must say.”

Me: “OK, fine. 19 inches.”

Customs Lady: “19?”

Customs Me: “Yes, 19.”

Lady: “Oh. Are you sure?”

Customs Me: “Not really, but one is 19 and one is 24. You can list them however you like because I have no idea which monitor is which.”

Customs Lady: “19?”

Me: *Wanting to smack myself* “Yes, it’s 19.”

Customs Lady: “Are you sure?”

Me: “Yes, I’m sure.” *Note that I still have no idea which monitor it is – or even that she’s talking about a computer monitor for sure*

Customs Lady: “OK. And how big is the other one?”

Me: “24.”

Customs Lady: “Oh, are you sure? This one says it is 19.”

Me: *Wanting to smack her* “Then it is 19. And the other one is 24.”

Customs Lady: “Oh, ok. I’ll have to change the other one.” *Glares at me*

Me: *Rolling my eyes* “OK.”

This type of conversation was repeated for about 4 or 5 different items. Then, she smiles and tells me that was all they needed from me. I don’t have to worry because she’ll make sure that when our things arrive in Shenyang, they call us and bring them to our apartment. She takes me back outside. Random Guy is out there talking with Broker and Driver. Broker hands me back my passport. Random Guy and Customs Lady leave.

I’m really not sure what my passport was used for, I’m just hoping that there aren’t any other copies of my passport running around. Oh yeah, and I’m hoping that we actually get our shipment… with 2 monitors in it.

Welcome to China…


Shipping air freight to China

Our air freight is late.

Like 2-3 weeks longer than many of our expat friends. They told us it might take 4-6 weeks. I figured they were probably estimating on the safe side. You know how they do in the States. Tell you 4-6 weeks just to CYA just in case something happens, but normally it would only take 2-3 weeks. Yeah, they don’t really do that here in China. Apparently 4-6 weeks REALLY means… “if you’re lucky, you might see your stuff in 6 weeks.” At this point, I’m kind of over it… I mean, the stuff shipped 2 weeks before we left. I’ve been living without it for 2 months now. Heck, I don’t even remember what’s in there.

oh crap… WAIT!

I have DUNKIN DONUTS COFFEE in there!!

Dunkin' Donuts Coffee
Photo by QFamily. flickr

Where the heck are those boxes?!

LB has been calling and emailing every 2-3 days for weeks to check up on it… Nothing.

Finally, I get a call on Monday afternoon while I was getting a mani-pedi. (wow. I just said “mani-pedi”. If you know me, you know how strange that is. China must really be affecting my brain or something.) At 4:00 in the afternoon. In case you weren’t sure, the working hours are about the same in China as they are in the US.


Phone rings and I don’t know the number. Always a tricky one…

Ni hao?

This is Irene. From the shipment. I email your husband earlier today, but he has not replied back with me. Shenyang has a new policy and he must go personally to the airport to sign for the shipment.

ok… I think he’s in a meeting.

He told me he doesn’t have a cell phone so I call you.

That’s correct.

Can you call him please and tell him that we will pick him up at 9 a.m. at the plant tomorrow morning?

(umm… you just answered your own question. He doesn’t have a PHONE. If you can’t call him, I can’t call him.)

umm. In the morning? At 9 a.m.? (thinking… it’s already 4 in the afternoon.) I’m not sure if that will work or not. He’s had a lot of meetings lately.

Ok. Can you just talk with him and call me back today…

uh. ok. I’ll see what I can do.

I was able to pass on the word to LB right at 5. Luckily, he happened to be home early that day. He worked things out somehow. I just left it up to him to deal with it. I’m not allowed to receive a shipment like that anyway since I don’t have a work visa.


LB here to finish the story…

So they want to pick me up at 9 AM Tuesday. And it’s already the end of the day on Monday. I’ve been here almost 7 weeks, I figured out this is how things operate around here. I ask if they can delay until 11 or so for a few meetings but apparently the customs office closes early. Like 11 AM early. OK, whatever.

So I meet Broker at 9. She’s late but I call around and eventually find her and get into the car.

**CF here… In the meantime, I get a call from Irene again.
“Broker is trying to pick up your husband, but she can’t find him. I don’t have his number. Can you call him to see where he is?”
umm. No. He still doesn’t have a phone. I can’t call him either.
“Oh. ok…”
*hangs up**

The shipping company has their own driver that is going to take us both to the airport. Of course, neither Broker nor the driver speak English. Through some various hand signals, she explains to me that she wants my passport (Note that acting out passport in charades is harder than you might think). I’m thinking this is going pretty smoothly for the first 30 minutes or so as we’re driving to the airport. That is, all the way up until Driver stops the car in the middle of the street and gets out.

This isn’t quite as uncommon as you might think here. However, he begins speaking to, what appears to me to be some random guy. They talk for a minute and he gets back in. Turns out it was some random guy. He’s lost.

Now, the airport is really only 45 minutes or so from my company. I’m thinking we’re pretty close because I recognize a few landmarks as we’re driving (I’ve been to and from the airport a couple of times already). So we drive for 5 more minutes and then it happens again. He pulls over to ask someone else directions. They point him down the street. 15 minutes of driving this time. We’re now outside of the city. We pass a herd of goats. Broker is arguing with him. They make a phone call (I’m thinking back to the office so that we can get someone that knows where we’re going). Driver turns around. Drives 10 more minutes. Stops again and asks another random guy. He points back the way we just came from.

We turn around again, drive another 10 minutes. They’re making phone calls constantly at this point. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, we see a taxi. Thank goodness! We pull up. The taxi driver is standing next to his taxi… relieving his bladder on the side of the road. Driver decides it isn’t awkward enough for us to wait in the car. He gets out and walks over to guy and starts talking with him. Gets back in the car a minute later.

We turn around again. Past the herd of goats in the other direction. A total of 7 stops and 6 phone calls later and we arrive at the general area of the airport. As we’re driving through some back roads Broker is talking furiously on the phone. All of a sudden she yells at Driver and he slams on the brakes. Some Random Guy runs out from some bushes and sticks his head in the window. Broker gives him my passport and he runs off the way he came from.

Now, I’ve been fairly calm up until this point. Worried we might miss this 11 AM deadline, but calm.

This is not the case after Random Guy runs off with my passport.

Driver pulls around to a back road and just puts the car in park. Then, we just sit there. For 10 minutes. It’s now a few minutes after 11. Broker makes another call. We pull around to a back gate that surprisingly enough has English on it. We’re at some random special gate for Customs. The gate is closed. We wait for a few minutes. Then some guard comes running out, yelling at us. Apparently, they’re not happy with where the driver decided to park (in the middle of the road). So we pull down another side street. Ten minutes later, a Customs Lady walks out of a building nearby.

She says that they have to ask me some questions about my shipment. However, we have a problem, because the Customs office is now closed because we’re too late.

Now, I really just want to scream.

The story continues… I’ll finish up the rest of our conversation tomorrow.


How to stay warm in Shenyang

I did something today that I never thought I’d do…

Underpants for Shenyang

I bought spandex.

Well, fleece lined spandex to be exact.

But really, when it’s still October, and it’s already 30º F (-1º C), in the famous words of my awesome sister, “You do what ya gotta do.”

For those who don’t know, Shenyang is in northeast China. It’s near the Koreas, Russia, and Mongolia. And ridiculously COLD.

View Larger Map

I knew that it gets cold here before we moved. Everyone who knew where Shenyang is told us that. Repeatedly. (Right after they said… “why would you want to move there?”) So I knew it.

But I didn’t really KNOW it. I still don’t. It’s October. But we’ve already been getting little glimpses. Last night on our way out to catch a cab for dinner, it was snowing. In October. As in, BEFORE Halloween. I mean, what the heck? We get excited back in SC if it’s cool enough to wear long sleeves for Halloween. Most years it isn’t.

It’s very unfortunate that most of the winter clothes I have are still in boxes somewhere between here and the US. (Actually I think they are in Dalian sitting in a customs warehouse somewhere. I’ll post soon on the details about all of that, but for now, let’s just say China likes lots of paperwork.) But even when we get the shipment, I really don’t OWN a wardrobe for this type of weather.

Truthfully, I’m not even sure what to buy for this kind of weather. What are you supposed to wear when it is -40º outside?? My brain can’t even fathom -40º. All I can picture is the kid from A Christmas Story so wrapped up he can’t even move his arms.

“I can’t put my arms down!”

“Put them down when you get to school!”

I may just become a hermit. Our apartment is nice and warm. I hear the market down the street will deliver groceries. So does KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonalds. Now if I could just learn enough Chinese to be able to order what I want I’d be set.

So anyway, back to the pants.

I had heard through the grapevine, that the natives wear long johns under their clothes to keep warm. Makes sense, right? Well, after our little walk in the snow, I decided I needed to get some. So on my shopping trip to Carrefour this morning, I happened upon a rack of them. I was surprised. I always thought of long johns as being made of a thin knit material that fit really close to your skin. Well, I was right about them fitting really close to your skin. These things are like a wetsuit. Lined in fleece. And they’re thick. Now I’m really nervous about the weather I have to look forward to if I have to wear a wetsuit to keep warm.

Here’s something else I never thought I’d have to do.

Clothing sizes in China

Did you see the size on these things?? This is especially disconcerting considering I lost around 20 pounds over the summer before we moved. I now wear a Size 6 in most American clothes. Turns out the whole diet thing was a good idea. I doubt I would have even been able to find a XXXXXL. Then I really would have been up a creek with nothing but jeans to wear.

I noticed another really curious thing as I was going through some of the sizes. Most of them have 2 numbers to denote size. One is a waist and one is a length. I’m assuming. But here’s the thing. As you go up in one size, they automatically go up in the other also. So one pair I picked up was a 165/95. The next size up was a 170/100, and a 175/105. There is no such thing as a 165/105.

So they automatically assume, if you are bigger around, then you are also taller. Or if you’re tall, then you must be big around.

You tall, skinny people are out of luck.
Lucky for me, I’m neither of those things. And I’ll be warm tomorrow.

Well, warmer at least.


Got our one way tickets…

On a westbound plane… headed Far East. So weird. Fly west to get east.
Moving to China

Our first big hurdle on our journey happened before we even entered the Greenville airport.  We unloaded all of our luggage onto the sidewalk by the Delta entrance.  We had 6 large bags of luggage, 2 carry-ons, plus 2 laptop bags. The Baggage Check desk couldn’t have been more than 30 yards away.  It was right through the front doors.  It may as well have been a mile.

How do you carry 10 pieces of luggage with only 4 arms (between the two of us)?  Well, being the smart person I am, I thought ahead enough to buy a luggage strap for each of us.  I know, I’m genius.

So I get started right away strapping my luggage together.  I had 3 checked bags plus my carry-on, but they all had wheels, so I’m good. Right?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m good.

I might also add that we pulled up right by two maintenance men who were diligently blowing away all the leaves on the sidewalk.  It was very important that they clear away the WHOLE sidewalk. There was, of course, no way they could move on to the rest of the 100 yards of sidewalk until they were able blow the few feet under our suitcases and make certain it was also cleared of all debris.  Yes, it was very important that they stand and stare until all the luggage was moved and that 6 feet sidewalk was also clean.  No, they couldn’t move on until it was done. Apparently.

I ignored them.  It’s what I do.  I’m very good at it.  Besides, I was way too busy trying to strap my suitcases together.

I had just gotten them all lined up in descending order when “someone” felt the need to interrupt my thought process.

My husband. aka. “the left brain”:  “That isn’t going to work.”
Me:  “You just don’t worry about my stuff… get your own stuff!”

About 4 seconds later…
Left Brain: “That isn’t going to work.”
Me: “Seriously?? Just leave me alone.”

Another 2.5 seconds goes by…
Left Brain: “That isn’t going to work.”
Me:  “What are you doing over there?  Don’t you have 3 bags of your own to worry about?!?”

(Let me interject here that he isn’t in any way trying to get his own bags. They are still sitting on the sidewalk in a pile while he is standing there with his hands on his hips staring at me, just like the 2 dudes with leaf blowers.)

I finally got the 3 bags strapped together and was feeling mighty proud of myself.  I made it a whole 6.5 inches toward the door before 2 of the 3 bags fell over.  Seriously, what in the world are those stupid luggage straps for anyway??  Why didn’t someone tell me those things don’t work?!  At all.

LB: “Just wait here while I take these inside.”
Me: “Yeah, I didn’t think this dumb thing was gonna work.”

So we managed to caravan our 10 bags to the luggage desk, while leaving my sis who dropped us off, along with the 2 leaf blowers, to watch over the bags on the curb.  It really only took a couple minutes.  Way faster than trying to strap it all together and carry it all at once.  Don’t you dare tell him I said that.  I’ll deny it completely. Forever.

Once we got the bags checked, the flight was very thankfully very uneventful.  Or maybe it was, I wouldn’t know.  I slept the whole way.  From before take-off to after landing.  Except for about 5 hours on the flight from Detroit to Seoul.  I watched 2 movies.  The new Karate Kid included.  I wanted to know what I was getting myself into.  =)  So far I haven’t met anyone who has tried to Kung Fu me.  Thankfully.  Maybe that only happens in Beijing.

Bags bound for China

The only other funny thing that happened was AFTER we picked up the 10 pieces luggage in Shenyang.  The company had sent a driver to pick us from the airport and drop us off at the hotel.  You should have seen his face when he took a look at the 2 full luggage carts.  When we got to the car, we understood why he laughed so nervously.  That much luggage doesn’t fit well into a BMW328, but we managed. Somehow. Mostly because I folded up into half of 1 seat in the back.

I still can’t believe we have MOVED to China.  Completely surreal.