Packing for long term travel can always be a challenge. You need to carefully assess what you want to carry around with you. You need to be sure that it is going to be useful and necessary otherwise it’s just dead weight. You need to pack for the trip you are taking. I knew this when I came to pack for my move abroad to teach English in China however it was still a big challenge. After all I was moving into an apartment and would be living in one city for the next year. I turned to my trusty blogging community to scour any packing lists for TEFL teachers heading to China. However, I was disappointed in the limited number.
So I have decided to share my packing list, at least the most important parts of it anyway. After all packing for a move abroad where you will live in an apartment for a year is very different to travelling around and bouncing from hostel to hostel. I have already wrote a backpacker packing list but this post will outline the necessities specifically for a TEFL teacher moving to China.
TEFL China Packing List
During the course of my research I found sources which claimed jeans weren’t worn by adults in China, especially woman. It seemed that the dress code was a little smarter than that. This really concerned me coz I am a denim person. I live in jeans or denim shorts depending on the weather. I had a friend already living in Xi’an who told me not to worry about it. She said jeans would be fine but nevertheless I was concerned it would make me stand out.
What do you know, I get here and even though it’s the height of summer people are wearing jeans, and not just teenagers. Another teacher at my school even wears them at work so that was a relief. In summer I wore my denim shorts most days and then as the temperature plummeted I was very grateful to have my jeans.
China Lonely Planet
A Lonely Planet guide will always be on my packing list. I am a Lonely Planet fanatic. It’s great to find out some hot spots in and around my new home city but also further afield. Over the course of my year here I plan to travel and explore more of the country and the lonely planet guide is full of recommendation for different kinds of getaways depending on what I’m looking for. It also has practical information from cultural habits to the logistics of living in the country.
It’s all very well having done the TEFL course and passed it but that doesn’t mean you retain every lesson you learnt. Especially if it’s your first TEFL job and you did the course a few months ago it’s definitely great to have the reminders. You can download a lot of the work from the website but I also keep my own personal notes which I use for revision. I also have my notes of telephone classes which I don’t need at the moment but it may be something I consider in the future and therefore it will be useful to have those notes then.
In China, public toilets don’t provide toilet paper, therefore you must carry your own. Obviously carrying around a roll of bog roll isn’t the easiest or most subtle so better to just stick with tissues. You can keep a pack in your bag and trust me you will use them all the time. I also learnt that noodles with chopsticks can be a messy business. The Chinese know this and always have tissues on hand and offer them out at every meal. Luckily if you do ever forget your pack of tissues there will usually be someone nearby who can give you some but if you’re alone it can make for an awkward situation.
Along with the lack of toilet paper in public bathrooms there’s also a lack of soap. Chinese people seem to do the water and air dry trick which just doesn’t always cut it. A small bottle of hand sanitizer can fit easily in your bag along with your tissues and will be used often. The other thing is China is dirty in general. If you think about all those people not cleaning their hands after doing the business and all the things you touch that they’ve touched? Maybe it’s worth an extra squirt of hand sanitizer before eating too.
China is different to England in a lot of ways and one of them is how we pay for things. In England contactless cards are all the rage. In fact many people barely carry cash around anymore. In China however that is not the case. There are two forms of payment accepted. The first is via WeChat which I will talk more about later, the second is cash. I’ve seen countless shop who’s till register is a cardboard box with a jumbled mix of notes in. Until you have your WeChat set up, if you get it set up for payments, you will need to pay in cash.
In summer, China gets hot. The day I arrived it was 42c! I don’t really think I need to say much more than that to get across the idea you will need to wear sun protection. In China be warned though as some toiletries have whitening products mixed in. Chinese people all use umbrellas too on particular hot or sunny days to protect themselves. The mind set is a little different to westerners though. In their culture being pale is considered attractive and therefore whilst us Brits are desperate for that summer glow they want to avoid it as much as possible.
On my first day here I went to leave the apartment in a vest top and my Chinese friends were shocked. Insisting I should put something over my shoulders. They all wear short sleeves to cover their shoulders on warm days. They since seem to have got used to the fact that I will wear sun cream for protection but will wear my shoulders uncovered. I can’t deal with putting on more clothes because it’s warm!
This was a recommendation from a friend living in China already. A shewee is basically just a little funnel which allows girls to pee like guys. It can be a great accessories when you’re camping or when you’re in China with scary squat toilets. Honestly, it’s an adjustment either way. You either need to learn to pee standing up or whilst squatting. I found both foreign concepts which made the idea of using a bathroom here a little bit daunting but it’s possible. I carry my shewee with me everywhere even though I haven’t actually used it yet. It’s good to have the option should you want or need it.
This is something I didn’t do and I regretted it. Learn from my mistakes. I threw out a lot of photos when I was packing and only thought to pack a couple when I had a few left. This means I had 3 photos and a couple of postcard quotes. I dearly wish I had more though. It’s hard settling into a new home especially when that new home is in a different country. I was trying to think of ways to make my apartment more homely but the thing I kept coming back to was my memorabilia I stored in a box in my dad’s attic.
I have always had lots of photos on my wall and so it doesn’t feel right not having that stuff on my walls here. There are the photos of friends and family that would be nice but also my scratch off travel map and the poster I’ve had since my first year at university. Just having familiar things on the walls makes a new apartment much more comfortable.
The Great Firewall. It blocks all your favourite and most useful websites, from Facebook and Instagram to Google and Gmail. Unless you are happy to go cold turkey and give up all these sites, you will need a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It basically connects you to the internet via a different server from somewhere else in the world. This means you can gain access to sites which are blocked in China because your computer no longer thinks you are in China.
There are various VPN’s available, both paid and free. In true backpacker fashion I, of course, choose a free option. I went with Turbo VPN on my phone which is a very simple app to use and completely free providing you don’t mind about a few ad’s. My laptop has Windscribe VPN which is also free but limited. You get 10GB a month however can get an extra 5GB if you tweet about them.
Remember though you must install your VPN before arriving in China because VPN sites are blocked in China too.
WeChat is China’s answer to social media. It is a mix of Whattsapp, Facebook and Twitter with some extra functions too. Everyone in China has WeChat and if you are here for any sort of extended period of time it is worth getting. It is how you will communicate with everyone in the country from friend to colleagues. You will be able to post photos to share with your friends too.
WeChat also is used to pay for goods and services. Once you have a Chinese bank card you can link it up to your WeChat account and paying for things is as easy as scanning the QR code most shops and even street vendors have displayed. WeChat pay also means you can set up an account with Mobike and use the public bicycles to get around town. These are cheap and are unlocked via QR code and paid for via WeChat.
Fun fact. In China they speak Chinese. If you do not speak Chinese you will not understand 99% of what is happening or being said. You can’t rely on the locals being able to speak English like you can in many European countries. Therefore, you will need to find some way to bridge the language barrier and thanks to modern technology you don’t need a bulky translation dictionary as you can just install an app on your phone. There are many different apps available and it’s worth trying out a few to find your favourite. Once again I just choose a selection of free options. Pleco is a dictionary option for individual words and is really good however doesn’t translate sentences so I have a different app for that called iTranslate. It’s also useful to have different options in case one fails you
The main thing to remember when packing is to consider your individual situation and try to plan accordingly. However, most essentials you can buy once you arrive so don’t worry too much.