What Was In My Suitcases

posted in: Everyday Life | 7

A year ago I was starting to make lists of what I wanted to pack for my move, asking questions about shipping, and dreading sorting through all the boxes of books that were stored in my grandpa’s garage.  This week at Velvet Ashes they are collecting packing lists for various countries.  Although most of my consistent readers aren’t packing up to move to Beijing, I thought you might enjoy this behind the scenes (inside the suitcases) look at my life.

This post is my contribution from Beijing: things I took that I’m glad I took and things I wish I’d taken (most of which have been sent to me in care packages since).  Beijing has a lot of access to stuff—IKEA, import food stores, internet shopping—and so there are really not that many things that I can’t find somewhere (although figuring out where to look is sometimes a challenge), although I don’t always want to pay the price.  Many of the items on my list are comfort items, not necessities.  I learned today that Chinese has two words for comfortable—one is your body is comfortable and one is when look at something you get a comfortable or cozy feeling.  These items help me to be comfortable in both of those senses.


Clothes—there are lots of clothes for sale in China, but but I don’t fit in most of them.  There are probably some available somewhere, but not a good selection and I haven’t figured out where yet.

Comfortable shoes—again, most shoes here don’t fit me (size 39 or 40 is the largest easily available size, which is about a US size 8/12 or 9).  Beijing is hard on shoes, so good quality, comfortable shoes are a must.

Winter gear—here’s an area where I over did it.  I’m glad I had my knee length down jacket, but I could have also used a lighter weight coat because it wasn’t that cold this winter.  One pair of long underwear would have been more than sufficient.  The winter is super dry with no snow (half an inch one time doesn’t count), so my knee-high snow boots didn’t get worn at all.  Lesson learned: winter in Beijing does not equal winter in Michigan.  However, some year I am going to Harbin for the ice lantern festival, and I am prepared for that.


Books—I took a variety of books, and although they are heavy I’m glad I have them.  Fiction (especially classics) is fairly obtainable, although expensive, but other specialized books are hard to come by.  I’m especially glad I took this one.

Tablet with Kindle app—The number one thing I use my tablet for is reading (and read on my phone a lot, too).  You can buy a kindle in China, but they are more expensive.  This wasn’t common technology when I lived in China before, and it is SO convenient!  If I decide I want to read a book, I can just download it.

Cookbooks—More with Less and the Wycliffe cookbook are both really helpful in cooking without all of the packaged food that are often used in American recipes.



Measuring cups and spoons—I took these, although I’ve seen at least the measuring cups at IKEA and import stores so I didn’t really need to.

Cloves, sage—I took these spices because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find them (I’d done research on the online shopping sites), although I think the bigger import stores probably do have them.  All the rest of my spices I bought at import stores when I got here.

Maple extract—I’ve never seen this here (I did get peppermint and almond extracts) and it is useful to make syrup.

Food coloring—available, but quite expensive.  It was easy for my mom to put in my pre-Christmas care package.

Curing salt—I got this recently and used it to cure my first ham.  Ham sandwiches, yum…

Baking powder—I took a bottle to get started, but it is available in the import stores.

Pastry cutter—this was a Christmas gift after I got a serious blister cutting in butter with a fork to make Thanksgiving pies (like the one above).

Oil sprayer—I think Pam-type spray is available in the import stores, but it is at least $5USD a bottle.  This is a much better solution.


Deodorant—I do see deodorant in some of the stores in Beijing, but I haven’t tested any of it out, since I brought a stock (probably overdid the number of sticks needed).

Curly hair product and diffuser—I have naturally curly hair, which is not common in China so I brought all my own curly hair product.

Makeup—lots of makeup is available, but it does tend to be pricy and a lot of the foundation products are whitening.  I am starting to run low on some things and need to do some makeup shopping.  If that is a disaster, makeup will go on the care package/stock up in the States list for the future.

Razors—a limited selection is available these days, although I haven’t experimented with it because I took a stock of blades.

Lotion—Beijing’s winter is really dry and lotion is very expensive.

Medicine—I don’t swallow pills well, so I took what I know works for me: chewable pain reliever, chewable pepto bismo, alka seltzer, emergen-c, nasal spray decongestant, a thermometer, etc.

Vitamins—available but super expensive, and chewable varieties aren’t available.

Diffuser and essential oils—Very nice for improving the smell and feeling of my home.  Diffusing Breathe is a favorite of mine when the air quality is not very good (not sure that it actually improves the air quality in my apartment, but it at least makes me feel better).

Tide pens—not sure if these are available here or not, but they are useful to have.



Small decorations—I took personal things, like a small wooden toy my grandpa made, an afghan my grandma crocheted, photos that I already had printed, magnets (one ziploc bag worth of my collection)

Photo books—I have a photo book I made as part of saying goodbye, and photo books from other events of my life (Shutterfly style).  I love having the photos to browse through and so do my friends!

Christmas ornaments—My parents gave me an ornament every year since I was one, and my grandparents often gave us one too, so I have quite a collection.  I picked out my favorites to decorate my tree here.

Nativity sets—I also have a collection of nativity sets and I took a couple of small and light ones that I packed.  These definitely helped during the Christmas season!


Board games—I took some and some were sent later, but they are a great way to have fun with other people.  Most of the ones I have don’t take tons of English skills or need a lot of knowledge of American culture.

Sharpies—not available, and there are really no good substitutes.

Daypack and reservoir, headlamp—I haven’t done a ton of hiking (yet), but it is really nice to have the appropriate gear when I do go.  It is available here, but expensive.  I did replace the water reservoir because I didn’t store it properly over the weekend and it got moldy :(.  The replacement was quite a bit more expensive for the same thing.

Camera and accessories—cameras are available, but technology is just generally more expensive in China, so I brought what I wanted from the U.S.

7 Responses

  1. Danielle Wheeler

    Great list, Ruth! Minus the curly hair product and headlamp, my Beijing packing list is almost identical, right down to the same size in shoe! Thanks for linking up!

  2. Patty Stallings

    Thanks for sharing your list with Velvet Ashes, Ruth! I’m going to look into the diffuser and essential oils.
    As a fellow Beijinger, I can appreciate many of your comments. 🙂

  3. Mary McDaniel

    Fun fact: after using your water reservoir, drain it, then store it in the freezer and it won’t mold! Any remaining water just freezes and thaws out the next time you use it.

    • Ruth

      Good to know! Now, if I can find enough room in my freezer. It really isn’t very big.

    • Ruth

      And while we’re on the reservoir topic: is there a way I’m supposed to clean it, or just drain it and put it in the freezer? Questions I should have asked you two years ago when I first got one…

  4. Michele Womble

    I decided not to write a packing list because I couldn’t think of anything I might need that I couldn’t get here. I didn’t think about personal things like meaningful decorations and photo albums, camera (because, although you CAN get it here, it definitely is more expensive). I’m glad to see you included those – and I’m rethinking what I would tell folks to pack. Also glad you included the cookbooks for cooking without prepackaged stuff – from scratch, basically. Once I learned to do that – cook from scratch with what I could find locally, it eliminated the NEED (although maybe not the Want) for a lot of the extras in MY suitcases.

  5. Karen

    Another cookbook I used a lot (in addition to the two you mentioned) was what I consider “More with Less Volume 2” – Extending the Table.
    And since there’s so much information in them, I have read all three cover to cover. So they count as “reading”, too! 😉

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