My Non-essential Essentials


by Sheila Knoll

What should I bring to China?

I must have searched dozens of blogs, websites and lists on the internet in trying to figure out what to take to China. A few things were obvious.  Passport and paperwork, medication, clothing for hot weather, clothing for cold weather, and clothing for everything in between. Beyond the essentials, however, I wanted to bring some things that would make me feel at home.

Most of them have little monetary value but I consider them priceless because of the memories they bring back. The first of these is my photo and memento collection. The collection has photos of my children, family members and friends. It also has cards and tickets etc… from places or events I’ve been to. These things didn’t take up much space and I felt they would bring a sense of home to my new apartment. I didn’t want to hide my collection away I wanted it to be where I could see it every day. So, I posted many of my keepsakes on a corkboard I bought here in China. I recently had to move the board and I haven’t had time to put everything back, so it is a little bare right now, but you get the idea. Here, I can sit and say, “Hi,” to my kids, my grandchildren, and my best friends every morning as I drink my coffee.

Another item that carries priceless memories is a quilt that a friend gave me for my birthday long ago. It hung in my office in the United States for years. I only have to look at it and I’m instantly transported back to my office at the college, watching the birds in the tree outside my window and talking with my coworkers and students. When I threw the quilt over the sofa in my apartment it instantly felt like home. In addition to the decorative quilt, I brought a blue microfiber blanket my daughter gave me for Christmas a few years ago. I added it to my luggage at the last minute, and I’m very glad I did. The bedding here is adequate but I’m sensitive to temperature changes so sometimes I need a lighter blanket and my apartment only came equipped with sheets and a comforter. Best of all it reminds me of my daughter, Rose.

The third item I brought was a framed picture of my grandchildren that they and their parents gave me the last Christmas I spent with them before I came to China. My granddaughter painted and decorated the frame especially for me and it is another of my treasures. They gave it to me as a thank you for babysitting. ( They made me arrive early and surprised me with the present. Then they made me hide it in my car so that another grandparent wouldn’t get jealous. Every time I think about it, I giggle a little.)

One quirky thing I brought with me was my rain boots. They are zebra striped with pink buckles and trim. I don’t think there is another pair like them in China. They used to get chuckles whenever I wore them into the office at work in the States. Now they keep my feet warm and dry on rainy days here at Sias. Simply wearing them makes the day seem less dreary. I’m sure I get a few strange looks as I hurry off to class but they make me happy.

Lastly, I consider my books to be indispensable. So naturally I brought a few of them with me. They were too heavy for airline weight limits and too bulky to take in my suitcase, so I shipped them! I had to have some of my books because Sheila without books is impossible.

Although they’re not indispensable, I also brought some comfort foods. American chocolate candy often is hard to find here and when you can find it, it’s expensive. I didn’t realize this when I first came here but now every time I go home I bring a hoard of chocolate for myself and to share with friends. I ration it severely. Forget eating a whole candy bar. A single square or two of Hershey’s chocolate or a single Ferrero Rocher taste so much better when they’re savored. Oh, the bliss! I also usually bring some dried soups for those winter nights when nothing says home like a cup of soup and some crackers. Although China has countless varieties of tea that I love, I packed a couple of favorites – for those cold winter nights. Cuddling up with a good book and a cup of my favorite tea as winter weather rages outside is still a treasured pastime even in China.

What “comfort” things say, “Home,” to you? Share your thoughts and comments. I’d love to hear from you. (Curling up now with my book and my cup of Tazo Wild Sweet Orange tea. I’ll see you again soon.)

Academics In Asia
Leave a Comment