Posted by: 1of10boyz | February 2, 2012

Packing for China

I realized the other day that this was sitting in the unpublished section of the blog. I am remiss for not getting it out earlier. My apologies for being out of order. I guess my nuclear and navy trained buddies would tell me I needed to make a special annotation in the entry to make sure that it is marked as a LATE ENTRY. This paragraph is my attempt at introducing a Late Entry.

I like to think that I am a logical person. I like to think through the process and evaluate as I approach the time for executing my plan. I have moved many times in my life with my wife and family but this move to China is something that doesn’t fit with any of my other move experiences. Previously we have moved and it has been everything, or nearly everything, that we have owned (my Father will attest that we have inconvenienced him with boxes that have remained in WY over the years, as we always intended to return). The places that we moved were all places where our existing stuff would be necessary and needed, but more importantly they would work in that new location. This move to China is nothing like anything we have done before.

Some background, we are told that we have the ability to ship a 20 foot cargo container and 400 pounds of air freight in addition to our luggage. We struggle to even comprehend where to start the identification of what we should put in each of these three unique groupings.

In moving to China, we realized that none of our electronics or electrical equipment would work without the use of some kind of voltage and possibly frequency adjustments or modifications. So many of our “comfort” items that would make our lives more comfortable and convenient would need to be left behind and an equivalent obtained upon our arrival. We also knew that we were not taking everything with us, we are on a “temporary” assignment and will be returning to our home when it was over (OK, maybe not but we can always dream that I can find work that allows me to live more regularly in WY). We don’t need everything from our home and don’t want to fill the container as we will acquire some stuff that needs to come back to WY. We needed to identify what is really needed and then take only those items that made sense to take.

We also learned that while Chinese goods purchased in the USA are relatively inexpensive, they are extremely expensive in China. An example, a 55” TV set from Wal-Mart (made in China) can be purchased and delivered to our home in WY for around $900 USD; a similar TV in China would cost between 35,000 – 55,000 RMB or between $5,300 to $7,500 USD. So we needed to plan very carefully in order to bring the appropriate items and make the necessary preparations to support the voltage differences.

We also do not get a preliminary trip to the country to see what it is like, we are going in cold. We are limited to the information that others will provide us. We are also going to be moving into a new complex that hasn’t been previously occupied. Our challenge is we are among the first ones making the move without the pre-deployment trip and are the guinea pigs for this approach, another “cost savings” approach for the project.

We have some connections with the group that deployed to Sanmen and we are able to get them to give us their packing lists. I hope that because they will have moved to the country in similar circumstances that I will be able to get some feedback on their list after they have had some time to settle in.

I began preparing a packing list in the January/February timeframe. Since I am using the list that was originally prepared by one of the Engineers that was deploying to Sanmen, China, I feel comfortable about my starting point. I think that it makes sense for us to try and build on what someone else used and then when we are done to give the list with some feedback to the next waves of engineers. My thought is that we can use this to at least give next several waves of people deploying something other than a blank page to start from.

I know that one of the more significant items that we want to bring is some of our food storage. There are some obvious reasons for this: 1) I have already purchased the food, it is what I eat and enjoy eating, and 2) it will spoil or ruin if it were to remain in storage for the better part of four years. There is also a nagging concern, what if it isn’t available in China and we can’t get it for our use there. We put together a list of items that we would like to take. Our initial estimate is over 475 kgs (over 1000 pounds) of food stuffs. We believe that we are within the limitations of our guidance for the move. It doesn’t include perishable items and it is mostly vegetarian (certainly not vegan but vegetarian by my standards). It takes 7 sheets of the food stuffs index form to capture what is on our list (roughly 21 items per sheet for a total of about 140 separate line items). It seems reasonable to us.

I forward the sheet to one of our move coordinators to see what kind of feedback we are going to get and to ensure that I am not going to ship something that will cause me headaches getting through customs. We get word back that we have a number of problems including the “sheer” quantity (we are told to reduce the quantity to about 150kg). We have many lines of items that are rejected (pork and beans not allowed but canned chicken and canned tuna are OK, bottled raspberries are not allowed but raspberry pie filling is OK,  for example). Once I accept that it won’t do me any good to argue or question why some items are acceptable and other aren’t I begin the processes of thinning the list.  I evaluate the probability of being able to find the staples of a kitchen; flour, sugar, seasonings, spices, etc. Where we had 100 pds of flour we reduce it based on my discussions with others that indicate that it is available, we reduce the quantity of sugar and salt. We finally get the list narrowed down to about 153 kgs of items and the list is now on 2 ½ pages. We carefully label items so that they are more standardized in the hope that they will clear the preliminary screening of customs (canned fruit cleared on the early list so where we had bottled fruit is now known by the more standard term canned – my understanding for this is better now having working trying to get a number of administrative documents translated into Chinese from English, some words when translated are not as clear.). We receive an all clear on the revised list.

I believe that our list is pretty good for the other items that we would like to have with us. We have an electronics list of the items that we believe are necessary and have identified which of those are best obtained once we are in the country and which should be shipped over.

We evaluate our wardrobes. We attempt to identify what we need to pack in luggage, what should be in the air freight, and what should be sent in the sea shipment.

We look around the house and identify items that will be necessary to make the house/apartment/condo feel like it is home. Pictures, games, furniture, beds, etc. are identified and listed as things that should go.

Once I have the list ready I share it with LaDawna. I nag her, a little OK maybe a lot, to look at it and make sure that we have identified what is really required. I begin the purchase and accumulation of items at the house as a staging location for the forthcoming HHG pack date.

We have a little challenge in the preparation for this deployment, I am in Pittsburgh/Cranberry and everything else is in WY. We schedule a walkthrough by the moving company in February so that we can get that checked off the list of things that have to be done. Since we are not moving everything it really is an irrelevant requirement, but it is done. We schedule the move in April for the end of June. I haven’t even graduated from the STE training at that point. I have a basic idea for the move but it is far from firm in my mind much less at the house. I don’t even have a clue when all of my Visa requirements will be completed and when I will be flying out.

I am also asking LaDawna to spend most of June in PA with me so that we can finish some the cultural training that is required by the company prior to deployment. So we are not even going to be in the house until just before the movers get there.

We arrive back to WY on the evening of the 24th of June. We have about 80 hours until the movers arrive and we have done nothing to prepare for them.

We spend most of the time upon arriving in Star Valley from our trip across the US, putting the things on the list in piles throughout the house with the intent that the packers will put them in boxes and send them to us. The air shipment wasn’t as well thought out as it could have been. A really disadvantage to the whole shipment process and trying to decide what we need to pack and ship is not having been to the location and not having a good idea of what we need to include for the house that we will be provided. I found the list quite helpful but I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what I wanted on the list. LaDawna didn’t spend much time with the list, despite all of my nagging – imagine that, and didn’t find it very useful, not too surprising either. We had quite a number of disagreements about what to ship especially about the stuff that we had in the food category. We had considerable problems with getting the version for food that we wanted to ship approved by the Unigroup people that were helping us prepare for the shipment. As you might remember we had originally identified nearly 500kg of food that we wanted to ship and by the time that Unigroup/Cartus had finished with the review and assistance from the Import people that they worked with we were down to about 150kg. After getting to China and shopping now attempting to find food that we like, we should have told Unigroup to shove it and sent everything we had on our original list. We had a couple of cases of our peanut butter, tuna, chicken chucks, etc. all of which are very hard to find adequate amounts of here. When we find items here that we like from a food stand point now we typically buy all of it that is on the shelf. An example, is butter, when LaDawna found butter in one of the stores in Yantai, we bought all 5 pounds that was on the shelf. Very expensive but it is almost impossible to buy locally and it is hard to make cookies when you don’t have butter, we still haven’t found any shortening. I find that it is interesting what we can’t find here.

Packing was basically piles of stuff. We had a big pile of stuff in the basement by some of Sarah’s stuff that she hadn’t moved out. I am pretty sure that we have some of her stuff that will be in our shipment. [Yup, got some baby bottles and infant clothing, pretty sure that we aren’t going to need those things for our use.]

We got most of our stuff packed in suit cases but would have packed differently now. We each had two full-size suitcases with our stuff in. We worked quite hard to ensure that the bags weighed less than the allowed 70 pounds. We had a little extra room in a couple of bags and sure would have liked to put some other items in them knowing what I know now.

We packed our Household Goods (HHG) out on 6/28. We waited for the air shipment to arrive almost four weeks from arriving in the country and would have had to wait longer if we hadn’t been able to use LaDawna’s L-visa (tourist) enter to get the process moving. The sea shipment arrived in Shanghai on August 18th and wasn’t delivered until the second week of November. More about those two experiences in another post.



  1. Like Jerry said. I would have told those who were in charge of the moving process to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. And packed the things we wanted and need here with us!!

    • Oh, the things we learn from experience. You are the yin to my yang.

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