Sunday, 14 June 2015

Packing for China for the TEFL - ESL, English Teacher.

If you are reading this you are probably on the cusp of a great adventure. You are coming to China to teach English.  You have probably already started to stress about what to fit in your luggage let alone what, how or who you are going to teach.  How the hell can I live for 10 months when the baggage allowance (on most airlines) is around 20 kilos you ask yourself as you look at the pile of packing on the bed?  If you are lucky your chosen airline might give you a bigger allowance, once Cathay Pacific gave me 30 kilos, which was a huge bonus.  Or you might be rich enough to buy a premium airline ticket which gives you a bigger allowance, or you can afford to pay the extra for extra bags, whatever, you are probably still wondering what to bring.

I have written two or three earlier blogs about packing for China the first one is here. But it might be timely to write another one about packing for those of you who are frantically pulling stuff in and out of your cases not sure what you will actually need.

Lets look at what most airlines will let you take on board.

1. Most airlines seem to restrict checked in luggage to around 20 kilos. For instance Cathay Pacific post their limit as 20 kilos, but when you speak to the check in staff, you can get away with 23 kilos, some airlines post 23 kilos, maybe they are more strict if you are over your allowance.  Some airlines will charge you for excess weight and some airlines will allow you to pay for an extra bag.  There's a handy list here posted in June 2015 but do check your ticket and terms and conditions and your airlines website first.

2. The airlines also allow a carry on bag weighing, depending on the airline, between 5 and 18 kilos, again check your airlines terms and conditions.

3. Most airlines will also allow you a computer bag/handbag or both - probably more likely if you are a female.

What I assume is that you will have your large luggage, your carry on bag and a 'computer bag'/handbag. So you have to be really creative about what goes in where, what you will wear on the trip and once you are in the departure lounge how you can rearrange it all to be more comfortable.

Personally I travel with a largish suitcase, a rucksack (not a large one) for my carry one and my computer bag/briefcase and I do make sure they are packed to the absolute limit.

These are my bags the big black bag is a Jeep canvas bag with wheels etc. This got trashed by the airline (Cathay Pacific) when I came back to China the second time (and it was relatively light then) and I only got 100rmb (£10 approx) compensation. The red bag is my daypack-sized backpack and the grey bag is my computer bag.

These all went onto the airplane with no problem, the Jeep bag into the hold, both the other bags as carry ones into the cabin.

Lets start with packing my computer bag.

Computer Bag 

This weighed in at about 7 kilos so it was packed with stuff. This is what I took in it - with commentary.

Spare dog lead (I took my dog to China) This could have stayed at home you can buy them here cheaply
Neoprene knee brace – I’m a runner, you can get these here so this could be jettisoned but I haven't seen neoprene - these come from the £1 shop in the UK
Office folder containing papers, certificates etc - obviously important. EDITED 2017 - YOU NOW NEED original documents - notarised AND ratified by the Chinese Embassy in your country of origin.  I also have scanned copies on my computer.
Ventolin - I packed a three-month prescription supply of Ventolin from my Doctors in the UK - but you can buy this over the counter in China no problems. I also bought it over the counter in New Zealand.  So just bring what you need for now. 
Hair clay - you can get gel/clay etc here – so it’s not needed.
Olbas Oil 10ml - Personally I would pack the bigger bottle or two of the 10ml bottles. During the long cold damp winter you will get a cold/flu - you work in a school - it’s a germ factory. Steaming your head with this is just what the doctor ordered - and actually he does. I haven't seen similar in China - but I'm sure you could get menthol oil or something similar to steam those sinuses.
Kindle - obviously as its difficult to get English books/novels here. Kindle works well. Its easy enough to download books here - no problems. 
Google Nexus tablet - Personally I don't use this at all. I’m not a tablet sort of person and I have my iPhone. 
Hanky (cotton) - for the colds - stops you getting a big red sore nose using all those paper tissues. 
Notebooks x 2 - Didn't need these at all. 
Spare mobile phone - this is important. I have a Chinese Sim in my iPhone. This spare phone has a Tesco PAYG Sim in it which I can top up if I need to online. It is useful for example my bank is Santander and when I move money or pay a bill online it sends me a code by TXT - so I need my spare phone with the UK Sim in it to receive that text. Plus it means people at home could txt me if there was an emergency (not that I have it switched on all the time). It’s a Nokia - it cost me £9 brand new in Tesco. 
Glasses x 3 (reading) - Bring your reading glasses and optical glasses - but once here you can find, or someone can take you, to the optical/glasses market where you can have your eyes tested and glasses made while you wait for about 150rmb (approx £15)

The optician I use

 Theres a lot of choice

Business cards - business cards are an important part of life in China - get some done. Use Vista Print it’s cheap and quick. 
8 x USB memory sticks - You will need USB sticks, maybe not 8 but that’s all I had. They are cheap enough to buy here in China. In my local supermarket 8GB is about 400rmb (approx £4).
Oxford School Thesaurus – Useless - I shouldn't have bought it not with so much access to online dictionaries/Thesaurus 
Apple Mac Book in case - Very important - see below. 
Dr Dre Headphones - Personal entertainment 
Dogs papers - Important
Lead and Harness - I could buy here but this lead is a 'Jogging ' lead a bit springy so it was important. 

My computer bag is both a computer bag and a briefcase so it’s pretty large. Its never been weighed. If I’m asked what I’m taking on board I say my carry on bag - my rucksack - which I have on my back - NOT obligingly offered out to weigh and my computer bag which is either over my shoulder or down by my feet - OUT OF SIGHT. So far it has never been problem and I have come to China 3 times now on International Airlines. 

The next bag is my rucksack - you might have one of those little carry on suitcases - I personally prefer a rucksack for travelling. It’s on your back and out of the way so you at least have one hand free when you are travelling. (The other dragging your big check in luggage). Of course once you are in China you will want to travel, so the rucksack once again becomes indispensable, especially if you want to travel around China or further a field. I travelled to the Philippines and then onto Australia and New Zealand this last Spring Festival (Feb 2015) with my rucksack as my carry on luggage with no checked in luggage at all - I was away for three weeks. Your rucksack also works for you when you want to go shopping locally. My nearest local supermarket is 5K away, my local big supermarket, Auchan is 10K away. Although you will probably get a taxi having the rucksack is a godsend not having to deal with all those plastic bags. 

When I had finished packing this was about 5 kilos when I had a 7 kilo limit. I wanted to err on caution because of my computer bag and for any books etc I might want to take on board with me and I added stuff later. 

2 x electrical plug adaptors - important at first, but you can get Chinese plugs to fit your devices. So I don't use mine at all now.  Don't buy the expensive travel shop ones, the £1 shop ones are good enough. 
Camera - Digital SLR so hefty - I suppose you might get away with carrying it around your neck.
All the charging leads for gadgets - yep you need these, but once here you can source replacements cheaply and easily, especially those pesky iPhone cables that don't last long at all. 

These are all about £1

Camera lens wrapped in scarf - important - I purchased this zoom lens in the camera market in Shanghai at a really good price (The first time I was in China)
2 bags sweets for friend’s kids - precious weight given up for a mate. 
Spare glasses and sunglasses - as mentioned, spare glasses are important - but once here you can find the local optical glasses market and get replacements cheaply and easily - I only wear Raybans (including optical sunglasses) now dontcha know!
Spare razor blades (1 pack) - these cost much the same in China as they do in the UK - looking around the chemists in the UK sometimes you can see multipacks at a good price. 
Hat (warm for the winter) - but cheap enough and easy to get here. 
Moist toilet tissue - just in case!
Head torch (wind up) - useful - but I've not used it in two years I've been here - perhaps more useful if you are out in the sticks. 
Anadin Extra - a favourite pain killer that works well with me.
3 x Typhoo tea packs (I know coals to Newcastle etc - but you can't beat a good cuppa, even in China!)  Any and all extra space was taken up by tea bags. You can't get good tea in China - good British tea I mean. Just that Twinning’s abomination they call tea. Although some Cities do have a Marks and Spencer where tea is available as well as other goodies. 

Packing your suitcase
Now for the main event – packing your checked in luggage. Bearing in mind this was my second visit to China - you can check out my first packing list here. Although the airline had confirmed my baggage allowance at 30 kilos the following weighed in at about 25 kilos. 

You also need to bear in mind what part of China you are going to. If you are going North you need to think about warmth in the winter - but you can buy suitable clothes when you get there  - but note if you are BIG say UK XL or larger it might be difficult. However, you could get say a down jacket made to measure relatively cheaply - maybe £40 or £50 or less. 

I work in Nanjing which has a short spring and autumn an OK winter in British terms -1/-2 degrees at worst (I'm from the South West) and really hot and humid summers 34 degrees and higher with high humidity - so my packing reflects that.

Running shoes- I use these a lot, for running of course, not fashion - you can buy trainers and so on out here cheaply enough but these are for running and I haven't seen any specialist places.
Black shoes for work _ I don't use these as much as I thought I would - In the winter I usually wear my black walking shoes for warmth - the black dress shoes are just too thin and cold. 
Running shorts - Lycra – but you can buy standard sports shorts here cheaply
Running shirt - long sleeves - again these are available - running/jogging is popular in China or just wear a tee shirt
Polo Shirt x 2 - for casual wear only - this type of shirt is available but note the caution I give about sizing - women take note also.
Waxed type Jacket - really useful for those showery days and when it starts to get chilly
Black and White Kefeya Scarf - could have stayed at home.
Casual Rugby style shirts x 1 - long sleeve  - I have not seen rugby type tops here  
Tracksuit bottoms  - new and thick and warm x1 - Handy for slouching around my apartment when it gets chilly. I bought mine at Primark - on the basis that if they get left in China then its not a great loss - plus once you are here you can buy tracksuit bottoms for about £3 to £4 pounds (30 - 40rmb)
Towel (small hand towel) - this is just for when I get here. Don't waste precious weight on large bath towels you can buy towels here cheaply.
2 x blue jeans - my waist is 36in that’s about the biggest I've seen in the shops, especially the shops that carry western sizes like H&M and UNIQLO although I've seen some large Chinese guys and large western guys but I wouldn't know where they shop - once you are here you could use the online shopping site TAOBAO I guess. You'll need a Chinese friend to do it for you. 
7 cotton shirts - for work etc 5 x long sleeve formal 2 x short sleeve casual - At school when I teach, I dress like a professional, so I wear shirts and ties. The long sleeves are to cover up the tattoos on my arms when I teach - in China tattoos are the sign of criminals and low people. The short shirts are for casual use when I am not in work mode. You can get shirts made to measure by a local tailor. They usually cost less than what you would pay in shops like UNIQLO where shirts are usually less than 200rmb each. (approx £20). A UNIQLO XL shirt is just about OK on me (they do not sell above XL) as long as I don’t drink too much! 
2 x thermal vests and 2 x thermal long johns - In the main, there is no heating in Chinese classrooms in Nanjing, even if there is the classrooms are open to the elements and the heating really does not compete with the cold weather. 

Chinese classrooms

To clarify - once upon a time a Chinese bureaucrat drew a line across China. Above the line was cold. Below the line was warm. So buildings above the line have good insulation and heating, below the line it’s not appropriate. Nanjing is just under the line.  In the winter thermal underwear is everywhere in the shops. The main issue, as always, is sizing. Bring some thermals with you - unless you are really down south. 
6 pair’s underpants  - once you are here you can buy decent replacements in supermarkets like Auchan, C&A (Yes C&A exists in China) or any of the high-end designer shops if you have the money. I pay around 20rmb a pair (approx £2) in Auchan. Of course no problem for women's undergarments here - although I would say all the bras I've seen have straps that would hold up the Forth Bridge and enough padding in the front to make even Madonna think twice. Some cities do have an M&S.
7 pairs of socks - ditto UNIQLO, Auchan and so on. 
2 x ankle socks for running - I buy the packs of ankle socks in JB sports in the UK - they suit me, but you can buy them here.
1 woolly hat  - you can buy them here - this one was a gift from my daughter 
Bobble hat - you can buy them here.
2 x pair thick socks - Recommended buy for the winter - but you could probably buy them here.
Running trousers (Lycra) - Ron Hills - I’ve not seen these here.
8 ties - I dress professionally at work I wear ties, especially when I meet parents. I buy all my silk ties in a charity shop in the UK for 99p - a lot of this stuff has to be disposable. They will not come back to the UK so why waste money upfront?
Lumberjack style hat (bought in China last time) - Just for fun - but its warm.
1 x neck scarf - you can get them here.
Long sleeve top - tee shirt style - for summer/autumn and layering in winter. I believe I bought this in UNIQLO the first time I was here.
Polo neck top - long sleeve - fleecy material for layering in winter purchased in UNIQLO the first time I was here
White England Nike rugby top - all important for those nights down the bar when the rugby is on. Especially if there are Ozzies, Springboks and Kiwis about!
Linen Suit - for work in the summer. I bought it in M&S - but to be honest you can get one made to measure here in China like I have done by a local tailor for 800rmb - (approx £80).
Trousers (work) - standard work trousers - not jeans - to go with the shirts
Grey work jacket - This was a favourite tweed type jacket, it started to look tatty and worn out this year, so the tailor made me a direct copy (bespoke) - different pattern tweed, for 800rmb (approx £80)
Micro fleece - I really like micro fleece - warm but not too bulky - I got my first one in UNIQLO in London (honest I'm not being paid by them) and my second in Nanjing, China. 

 My Local Uniqlo

Swimming shorts – you can get them here – if you are not too bothered about style.
Hiking shoes - mine get a lot of use especially in the winter. The thick souls insulate your feet from the marble floors in all the buildings and of course when you are outside, and as I have mentioned elsewhere outside of the city the pavement/sidewalk can be none existent so you are walking on the verges. 
Dark Suit - I wear this when I have to meet parents, or do something more official than teach - maybe give a talk to guest or parents or represent the school in someway.

Wash bag 
Toothbrush - I purchased a Braun electric toothbrush as soon as I got here. 
Small toothpaste – Colgate, Sensodine etc are all available here 
Large bottle Calvin Klein One - its cheaper to buy your smellies in the Perfume Shop if you are lucky enough to have one in your town, its cheaper than duty free and cheaper than China, if you can find it, and if its not fake. 

Bigger wash bag holding various medicines 
20 Lemsips (gold dust in China), 
Anti diahorrea remedy
My prescription migraine medicine
A couple of packs of Anadin Extra - because it works for me - you can get aspirin, ibuprofen and so on in China. 
My prescription anti indigestion medicine - you can buy this over the counter here.  
Pholcodeine cough linctus 2 x bottles
3 brown puffers (cenil modulate) - I haven't checked if you can get this - but in China I don't seem to need it.
4 blue Ventolin - You can buy this over the counter - so just bring what you need for the short term
Canvas bag (present)
Shoe brushes x 2 and polish (Oxblood for my Dr. Martens)
3 x pairs of insoles - 1 from a podiatrist and 2 from Lidl which are very good for my fallen arches – I was wearing the others.
Small canvas artwork 6 x 6 inches - a gift
2 x filters (for friends hot tub)
10 x anti perspirant roll ons - I buy these from the £1 shop. They are difficult to get in China. Chinese guys don't seem to use them (phew!). Recently a Japanese shop has opened up in my local mall and they do stock them at 10rmb (£1 approx) for both male and female roll-ons. I haven't tried them yet. Whilst the 'Chemist' a few doors down doesn't stock them at all.

UPDATE: - Ive been trying this 'Japanese' underarm deodorant from a shop called Miniso which seems to be a Japanese chain so look out for it. They seem to work OK.  But I can't guarantee there will be one where you are so bring your own. 

Japanese Shop

Swiss army knife - My knife has been all around the world with me, except when I only take a carry on bag. It has actually got through security twice when I have forgotten. But it is jolly useful and you should have one if only for the corkscrew and bottle open - Oh and the can opener which seems to be none existent in China. 
Vanish soap bar. I only have a cold water washing machine so the vanish soap adds that extra umph to clean my collars and cuffs and any dribbles I might leave on my shirts etc. 

Late in the day - the evening before I left actually, I added a pair of shorts that were always going to be on the list but I had been wearing them and they were then in the wash.  

I also added a fleece and a rain jacket.

I also decanted the cough linctus out of the glass bottles which I decided were too heavy to pack and put it into two 100ml plastic bottles. 

I've added some more teabags - the teabags were taken out of the box and put in a plastic carrier bag to save weigh. I think I bought well over 350 teabags.

Indeed everything that was in a separate box, the medicines, teabags and so on, was taken out of the box and packed as is. The boxes were, in my view, surplus weight. 

Snook Dogs Ducky, two extra balls, and after dropping her off at the airport her lead, collar and harness as she is not allowed them on the plane she's going on. 

All in all that made about 25 kilos. 

I also carried a heavy overcoat - I favour the Crombie style of overcoat, you might well prefer a different kind of winter jacket. This also had largish pockets into which I stuck a couple of books for the flight.  My colleague got a winter jacket made here in China by a local tailor. It was downfilled, hand stitched from a design in a fashion book - I think the tailor buys the kit, fills it with down and puts it together. It cost around 400rmb (approx £40)

My friend Louise added these thoughts for a female perspective about packing.

Take clothes (the Chinese are tiny)
A first aid kit – you could buy the stuff here
A Spork – until you get the hang of chopsticks – restaurants do not have supplies of knives and forks just for you.
A good penknife (for fixing things)  
Duct tape (also for repairs)
Rough Guide or similar if you want to travel
Learn some basic Chinese also, it helps a lot and you’ll make friends quickly

Every year I bring back cans of deodorant, you can buy it in the PRC, but it’s very expensive and not as good. Also a 10 month supply of medicines that you use.
Ladies, it is a myth that you can’t buy tampons. You can at large supermarkets and stores like Watsons and Mannings even in smaller cities. So don’t bring those.

Packing Food

When you are shopping in China you have to be like a hunter-gatherer. You will not find everything you need in one handy one-stop shop.  You need to find where the goodies are and remember if and when you are passing that shop to stock up.

Some of the things you love in your home country you just will not find.  Also the cooking facilities in your apartment may only stretch to a gas wok burner, or an electric plate.  I’ve never seen a fitted oven. You can buy counter top ovens – they look a little like a microwave but you could hardly get a turkey in them – that’s if you could find a turkey! 

So what to pack?

The only food I have ever bought to China is Marmite.  You can buy it here but it’s expensive. You can buy a 600gms catering pack on Amazon.

UPDATE: - I forgot to mention curry powder. I brought a 500gms bag of Madras curry powder purchased from my local indian supermarket. You can get Thai curry paste here but I've not seen a good curry powder. 

Veg Curry I made this weekend - 22nd June 2015

Louise says she brings the following:
Cuppa soups – Good idea for the winter!
Custard powder
Dried protein (falafel)
Squash (concentrated in small bottles)

Note: I do live in a city so there are a number of foreign food shops around, if you are in the sticks you will find it more difficult to find food that you recognize.  But as I have noted before McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut are pretty ubiquitous – you might find bars and restaurants that serve western food local to you.

Packing technology

First up – technology in China is not significantly cheaper than the West. The prices on most of the goods I have seen are much the same as in the UK.  So I would try to get yourself a bargain in the UK or US or Australia – wherever you are coming from. The added bonus is that the operating system and instructions will be in English.

Having a useful and working laptop is a must to teach English in China.  You laptop will be your best friend.  You will use it for work, rest and play.

In the office you might well be given a desktop computer, but the operating system will be in Chinese. This is workable and because it’s a windows machine you can get around a lot of it by muscle memory that is if you have been using windows computers for the past few years.

In your apartment you should have wifi or access to the Internet – check with your employer as this is very important.

You will want to Skype with family, do Internet banking and other stuff back in the UK, paying bills etc. You will want to watch TV, watch Movies and listen to Radio 2 or whatever floats your boat.  You might be a game-player.  You will want access to search engines. You will want to use the ESL websites that are out there in abundance to plan your lessons. You will want to use YouTube. You will Torrent movies and music. Buy Birthday and Christmas gifts for family back home using Amazon. Buy flowers for your mum on Mother’s Day. Buy Whisky for your dad all on the Internet. You will need to buy airline tickets on the travel search engines or train tickets on You will use Trip advisor to find places to stay and a million other things.

My advice: is to buy a Macbook Pro or a Macbook Air.  
(Links to Amazon)
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (Intel Dual Core i5 2.5GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, HD Graphics 4000, OS X Yosemite)

Apple MacBook Air 13" 1.6Ghz DC i5 4Gb 128GB SSD

My reasoning is simple.  The Windows machines in the classrooms are used by students as well as teachers, they are full of viruses. You will use your USB sticks in these machines, so you will transfer viruses onto your windows machine. So your machine will be out of action for long periods of time. You have to find someone who can help you fix the problem. And so on – just too much hassle.

I have used my Macbook Pro for over three years in China with not so much as one problem (apart from spilling beer on it last year just before I left China but a quick visit to the Apple store back home and the touch pad was fixed for £50.) There are plenty of Apple Stores in China now so I wouldn’t have a problem here.  Also on the plus side the machines are tough and resilient.
You also need to think about what to load on to your Macbook or computer before you come to China.

You need to download SKYPE from your home country because the Chinese version is monitored.

You need a VPN (Virtual personal Network) to access Facebook, Twitter, BBC iplayer, Blogger, Google, Gmail and so on because these are blocked in China, you need the VPN to bypass the blocking by the government.  I use Express VPN; I’ve had no problems in the three years I’ve been with them. If you sign up using this link we will both get a free 30 days service.

Tablets: I bought a Google Nexus – but I don’t really use it. But I see people all the time using IPad – if that’s you bring it. My iPhone5 does all I need and more. I’m not a gamer.

Smartphone: My advice is that you will need a Smartphone.  If you have one make sure you have been to your supplier and have got them to unlock the phone so that you can put another Sim in it.  You will want to get a Chinese Sim in your phone asap once you are here.  It’s easy to do. Take your phone to the shop. Have your passport with you. Choose a PAYG contract. Obviously you might need a Chinese person with you.  I did it on my own as the assistant had some English.  There are two main providers in China - China Mobile and China Unicom.   China Unicom is the best provider for iPhone at the moment.

Once you have your Smartphone load APPs such as these:

QQ – social networking – its available to download in the UK
SKYPE –you need the English version – the Chinese version is monitored
We Chat (Weixin in China) – social networking - Twitter and Facebook are not available in China
Your local taxi App – ask the Chinese teachers
Trip advisor
Bravolol – English - Chinese Dictionary
Pleco – English - Chinese Dictionary
Waygo – Chinese menu reader
Air Quality – Chinese air quality app
Pinyin Chart – Chinese language
Money Changer
Tiny Scan – for scanning documents, passports etc into PDF – booking cheap hotels usually no deposit up front
Guardian - news
BBC - news

Spare Phone.

Buying a spare phone is important. I bought a Nokia brand new from Tesco for £9. I put a PAYG Sim in it.  This is my emergency phone in China.  Plus when I do online banking, my bank send me a text with a code number, I have to enter this code into the website to allow the transaction. So I need a phone with a UK number. Also if there are emergencies at home I can use this phone or SKYPE.

I’m a reader so this is important for me. Finding English language books/novels is difficult.  Buying books and downloading onto my Kindle is simple. There are no issues. In fact I will probably upgrade my Kindle once I am back in the UK this summer.


27 June 2015 -  Having purchased a tin of refried beans last week I realised that one thing you cannot get in China is a tin opener. I have looked everywhere (except IKEA) luckily I had my trusty Swiss Army penknife with a tin opener blade.

Happy Packing.

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