Like other times of transition, this move compels me to cull our possessions to decide what items to keep, and which ones to throw away.** I'm therefore paying more attention to the knickknacks around me, noticing the density, weight, volume, and durability of all the trinkets that encompass my daily living.
With heightened sensitivity lately to my "stuff," I thought yesterday about the small things that ease life as an expat in China. Over the past three years, the contents of my purse have changed to reflect the little odds and ends that grease the wheels of my daily transport (and sanity!). Some items that I often use are carryovers from US living: lip balm, writing pens, breath mints, flash drive, wallet. Some items that are essential in the US are virtually meaningless here: while I still carry my Georgia driver's license in my wallet for sentimentality's sake (and hey, my wallet has a special place just for it!), I've only been able to use it as a form of ID for a free bike rental at a recreational site outside of the city. China requires foreigners to pass China's driving test,*** and I must use my passport for any ID more formal than renting a free bike :).
Some items, though present in my purse in the US, take on heightened importance in China. In a country where bathrooms may not be nearby, and/or often don't provide soap, hand sanitizer is a must. I've also found my Chico reusable shopping bags to be essential here: since I don't have a car, I've learned to buy groceries and other needed items when I happen to pass the corresponding store on my way home. Though stores typically provide a disposable bag, they often charge a fee to do so, or their bags are so flimsy they may not even last the single journey to my apartment (not to mention the environmental waste, of course!). I'm therefore very grateful for my cute little reusable tote--yes, it's the little things that count :).
Tissue / napkin / toilet paper travel packs
We are indeed a happy family now that we know how valuable these travel packs are! Restaurants often don't supply napkins, and bathrooms often lack toilet paper, so these ubiquitous travel packs are essential for any venture away from the apartment.
Let's say you're meeting a friend for dinner at a restaurant. It's your first time to go, and you don't know how to get there. How do you express your desire to the taxi driver? Answer: business card (or print out the restaurant's address/phone number from their web site beforehand, and pick up a card later). The card will have an address and directions for your driver in Chinese, eliminating the need for you to try to garble your way through a description.
Or after reading the card, and your driver STILL doesn't know how to get to the restaurant, the card will have the restaurant's phone number so you can call. The restaurant staff and driver can then yell at each other until they figure out how to get you there. Is this easier than your driver calling all of his friends to ask for directions to your restaurant, or taking you to the wrong location because he understood your Chinese incorrectly? Or taking you to the correct restaurant, but wrong location of it? You betcha.
And last, but not least....
Yes, we've gone local, and have acquired an air mask to wear around town. To be honest, I'm often lazy about it, and only wear it if the day looks especially bad. Masks are actually quite common here, and appear in all types: the painter's disposable mask, complete with rubber band strap, the thin, flimsy paper masks usually associated with hospital staff. China expats spend a lot of time discussing which masks are most effective and suitable, and masks come in all shapes and price ranges. If you find yourself curious to learn more, feel free to click here.
**Yes, the new place is only 3 blocks away. At the end of the day, however, clutter is still clutter! :)
***Though China has an English-language driving test for foreigners, the difficulty of the test is of epic proportions. Brian and I have zero desire to attempt to drive in this country, but some foreigners brave/foolhardy enough to do so have written about their attempts to get a Chinese driver's license here and here. Check out their adventures!