My Survival Guide for living in China

Think about the things you need in your life to make your life easier or just things you couldn’t live without and then try living without them in a foreign country.  Think about the things you need to make your life complete or what exactly is it that brings you happiness?  I know I can live a happy life anywhere in the world as long as I have my family with me.  I’ve seen some of the most unfortunate people with not much but a roof over their heads and one thing I notice is they are still happy.  The kids are laughing when they are playing on nothing but concrete and the women’s faces light up when they talk about their own families and they think we are the most fortunate people in the world because we can have more than one child and we come from America.  So why is it so hard to give up the material things in life we accumulate?  I know now from experience that you don’t need very much to survive but it’s REALLY nice to have some things with you to help make your life easier.  I made the mistake of thinking that I would be able to find anything I needed once I got to China but I learned quickly to make do or go without.  Now I have a list of over 50 items I want to pick up while I’m in the states for summer break and a 50 lb. limit on the suitcases.

China is one of the fastest growing countries in the world and what you couldn’t find 10 years ago you may be able to find today and what you can’t find today you may be able to find tomorrow.  I’ve had this shopping list on my fridge for the past 4 months and it only took us 2 trips to a store in the states to get the items on the list that I think I need to make my life easier.  First I’ll give you my personal survival guide for China and then I’ll show you my shopping list.  Then I’ll look back over the list and wish I could be more like the simple minded women in China that don’t know about all this stuff…

#1           Electronics

A laptop computer with a VPN service.  A Skype account is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
Netbooks are great for the kids to do their homework and email their teachers assignments too.

Unlocked cellphones.  Phone plans are cheaper in China but a good phone is more expensive.  We picked up an iphone and an android phone in the states but waited to get the kids a cheaper phone in China in case they lost it and we haven’t regretted that decision.

A Nook or a Kindle is really nice to have in China.  We like the Nook because we can download books from the public library for free and the Kindle doesn’t allow you to do that yet.

Nintendo DS game system is more expensive to purchase in China but the games are quite cheap.  Our kids like to have these for long car rides and down time.

Portable audio players like ipod, Zune, or Sony.  We have all three and they are really nice to have when you want to listen to “American” music, audiobooks, or even podcasts.  We use our portable speakers here to.

#2 Food

Food has been the hardest adjustment for us since moving to China.

Take a good look.  This is the import isle at my local market.  The pasta sauce is on the same row as the bag of chocolate chips and a small bag of chocolate chips costs 45 rmb.  That’s $7 U.S. I find the dairy products are the hardest to come by.  The eggs and milk are NOT refrigerated.  Milk comes in a box and it’s not pasteurized but sterilized with a process called UHT (ultra-high-temperature processing).

Another difference that I see is pre-packaged foods are not something the Chinese are accustomed to.  That is a good thing.  I now cook more from scratch instead of a box and I know it’s more healthy for my family too.  I like that I can get fresh cut noodles and the produce we get is quite fresh too.  I’ve had some fruit I’ve never had before in my life and it’s yummy.

#3 Clothing/Shoes

Until you can find some fabric you like and a tailer you can communicate with to make your clothes it’s just best to bring your clothes with you to China.  I’ve had a hard time finding clothes I like let alone something that fits so I plan to go clothes shopping when I’m in the states.  I’ve seen some shoes I would buy but nothing that fits.  Anything over a size 7 seems hard to find.


Personal Hygiene

I’m glad the sign is there or I would have missed the isle even if it says “cosmethes” instead of “cosmetics”.  Not sure why exactly but if you are female or have teenage daughters you will want to B.Y.O.T (bring your own tampons) because if you don’t you’ll be wearing these…

Deordorant, Toothpaste with fluoride, dental floss, and hair products are all items I’m glad I brought with me and need to restock.



We are lucky enough to have a western doctor in Chengdu who has a pharmacy on site but I’m still glad I brought all the medicine I thought our family would use over the next two years and I was glad I had it when our whole family got sick after first arriving to Chengdu.  We quickly ran out of cough drops and cold medicine and tried some local stuff but we still prefer what we are used to.  Not sure if this is a good place to mention bug repellent but the mesquitos in China love me and I couldn’t find any repellent with deet in it so I got desperate and tried other tricks like vanilla and even listerine in a spray bottle.  One of my expat friends felt sorry for me after counting over 30 bites on one leg and picked me up a can of repellent in Thailand.  Isn’t it great to have friends?



This is my awesome mixer I found at the kitchen wholesale market for only 800 rmb ($124).  I even had enough yuan to get a blender too for $20 more. I looked everywhere for a good toaster though and even took an interpreter with me to the store who couldn’t figure out what I needed so she got out her cellphone and typed in “toaster” into her nifty app. and said “Oh, can’t you just use your oven?”  Well, needless to say I did find a toaster one day but it’s a worthless piece of crap that I want to throw out my window every time I use it.   I’m on my third iron too but who’s counting?



We all have our own hobbies and we are all glad we brought them with us.  Greg and Mckaela both play the guitar, I like to make jewelry and vinyl stickers while Olivia has taken to needle work, and we brought 1/2 Ethan’s toys with us and he plays with all of them.  Some of these hobbies you can find in China but only bits and pieces so it’s just better to bring with you what you like.


Language Barrier

The more Chinese you know the better off you are.  We have both Rosetta Stone and Fluenz software programs to help us learn the language.  The kids have learned a little at school but the truth is it takes time and a lot of practice.  Books, flashcards, cellphone applications, Chinese/English dictionary.  Anything that will help you learn the language better but nothing helps you learn it more than being around those who speak the language fluently.  Surround yourself with positive people who love living in China.

My shopping List 

Microwave popper (we like popcorn)



Salt/pepper shaker

Soup mixes

Ranch dressing & mix

Mexican seasoning

Bug sprays

bug fogger


Calomine lotion

Cough syrup

Cough drops




Eye drops

Aftershave lotion

AXE deordorant

Hair products (hairspray, mouse, gel)

Face wipes


Collapsable Lunch boxes

Backpacks for school

Gaterade mixes

vitamin water mixes

Canned chicken

Canned roast beef

Bacon bits

Chocolate chips

School clothes for the kids

Running Shoes

Kids shoes

Jewelry wire

Flux for soldering

crochet needles

Cards/gift bags

Glide floss picks

Printer cartridges


Chinese/English lessons


Biz card scanner

Recycle bags

Aerosol air spray for cleaning computer

Alarm clock

another Nook

Gifts for employees

(3) baby gifts


Pectin for making jam




Transformer toy (promised to Ethan since trip to dentist)


4 Comments on “My Survival Guide for living in China”

  1. Tom C says:

    Very nice info THANKS!

  2. Jamie Martin says:

    Your post couldn’t have come at a better time! Wonderful! Thank you so much for all your advice and help. It has made our moving prepartions much easier!

  3. Vanessa says:

    I love reading your latest news. Have a great trip back to the U.S.!

  4. June Chan says:

    Great to find your blog. It’s my 3rd day in Chengdu for my 1-year assignment. =)

    It’s easier for me to get used to life in Chengdu as I come from Hong Kong. At least language won’t be a problem. But true, food and personal care are the greatest issue to overcome. I’ve actually brought contact lens and toothpaste enough for a year…

    Keep it up with the updates~!

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