As vast as China is, and as many people it has living within its borders, it can be very difficult to find simple items that we so often take for granted back in the United States. For example, if you should crave regular almonds - not salted, but plain - you will have very little luck in finding them in most supermarkets. Milk or coffee creamer is another rarity: it is typically available at their Walmart superstores and other large supermarkets, but not many other places, because coffee is not Chinese’s hot drink of choice, but tea.
So, if you want to keep life simple for yourself while travelling in People’s Republic, be sure to pack extra amounts of the following seven necessities:
1) Hand Sanitizer: For a country that has so many dirty places, it sure boggles the mind that hand sanitizer isn’t available on every corner in China. Most bathrooms don’t even have soap, and in some place even toilet paper may be unavailable. The dishes on tables in restaurants need to be sanitized before each meal, and tap water needs to be heavily boiled before consumption. In other words: if your immune system isn’t up for it, you will get sick rather easily. Touching even a simple door knob can transfer countless germs onto your hand, so having extra hand sanitizer with you should not only be an asset, but an absolute necessity.
2) Extra Footwear/Sandals (for those with big feet): One can purchase sandals and flip-flops on nearly every street corner in China. However, the footwear they sell will mostly adhere to the rather moderate sizes of Asians’ foot size. A Westerner, and particularly a man taller than six feet, will likely require size 11 or higher. Finding a pair of flip-flops bigger than that is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack. So if you’re tall, have bigger than average feet, and particularly if you plan on venturing to the tropical part of China, be sure to pack extra flip-flops or sandals with you, for you will unlikely find anything above size 11 once you get there.
3) Floss: It is no secret that Chinese don’t take good care of their teeth. This is evident upon the faces of their children, who often have rotted teeth, and all this before the age of 10. Toothpaste is sold everywhere, but is apparently not used very frequently by all. Naturally, floss for teeth is certainly an alien concept in China, and for a foreigner who is used to flossing several times a week this will be a big blow. So be sure to pack extra floss with you, as it never takes up a lot of space in your luggage. Your teeth will thank you for it many years from now.
4) Coffee: While coffee isn’t exactly unavailable in China, the choice of brands and flavors is few and far between. The hot drink of choice here is tea, and rarely will a foreigner meet a local person who drinks coffee. Americans obviously love their Starbucks, their Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as their variety of French Vanilla, Hazelnut and other assorted coffee flavors, so those heavy addicts should pack an extra jar of their favorite Joe. Walmart in China may be the only place where you might see more than one coffee brand, and there that’s considered variety.
5) Deodorant: Chinese men don’t wear deodorant. The women probably don’t either, but it’s a lot less noticeable on them. Shenzhen can get pretty hot, especially between March and October, and if you find yourself sweating under its blistering sun, you can forget about hoping to buy a stick in your local grocery store. They just don’t carry it. The large supermarkets might, but not all the time. So pack up extra deodorant sticks with you, unless you want to smell like Chinese men during an overcrowded train or bus ride. And you better believe that it’s not a pleasant smell at all. Not in the least.
6) Sunscreen/Sunblock: The sun in Shenzhen can get hot. Not like California or Florida during summer hot, but HOT. This sun can be so strong sometimes that most of the locals walk around with umbrellas to shield themselves from its extremely harmful rays. And sunblock, like most items listed above, is very hard to find. Most corner stores will not sell it, and by the time you actually find one that does, you might already be burned to a crisp. So be sure to pack up two or three sunblock bottles with you, and apply it frequently every day. The Shenzhen sun is a merciless adversary, and the only thing you can do to keep it from burning your flesh is to constantly be covered with SPF 30 or higher.
7) RMB/Yuan currency prior to your arrival: It’s not an easy task exchanging American dollars or Euros into Chinese RMBs or Yuans. You’d need to take your money to a bank, preferably Bank of China or ICBC, and then fill out a very long form that’s written in Chinese. For this, you’d need to have a native Chinese speaker with you, not to mention that you’d likely have to wait for a long time until you get to a teller window, for Banks are few in China, but the people going to them are more than a few. The best thing to do is to either have RMBs with your upon your arrival, or limit your exchanges in China to only one, because as tedious and exhausting an experience as it is, you most likely won’t want to do it more than once.
Yes, China is a big place, so there’s a lot you can find to buy for very cheap, and on nearly every street corner. But those items may not necessarily reflect the necessities that a typical American or European is used to having on daily basis. If you value your health safety and your daily comfort, be sure to stock up on the above mentioned items prior to arriving in China.