Packing for two or more months abroad is a daunting task, especially when you are unsure of what lays ahead. Your destination might have completely different customs, shops, and even a different climate. As for me, I studied in Kunming, China for two months during part of June, all of July, and part of August. Kunming has a mild climate and is known as 春(chūn)城(chéng), or Spring City; it rained most afternoons and stayed in the eighties. In the next few posts, I will outline the items that you’ll want to pack and the items you’ll want to put back.
1. Rain jacket with zippered pockets: BRING IT!
My mom lent me her black Columbia rain jacket as an afterthought when sending me on my way to the airport and I am extremely thankful as this was easily the most useful item I could have brought. Not only did it keep me dry in the daily downpours, it also had three zippered pockets which often eliminated any need for a purse or wallet. In addition to the two standard side-pockets was a pocket that ran parallel to the main zipper on the upper left side that you only could access if the jacket was unzipped on the top. So, if you had your jacket fully closed, nobody can tell there is even a third pocket. Many days I could just through my room key, some cash, and my cell-phones into all of the pockets and head out. The zippers were key to allowing me to rest-assured knowing that no pick-pocket would make an easy target of me, both because purses are easier to steal and because zippers make it highly improbable they can snatch your belongings without you feeling them doing so. I think this jacket was a great investment and would recommend any jacket you bring that is suitable for the weather have zippered pockets, especially ones with hidden ones.
2. Flip-flops/Sandals: Think before packing.
The shoes I brought to China were: two pairs of tennis shoes, one pair of two-inch heels for special occasions, one pair of slide-on sandals for walking around the dorm, one pair of dressier but still casual sandals, and one pair of Chaco sandals. My classroom was only about a two-minute walk from my dorm so I could have gotten away with wearing impractical shoes every day and not suffered massive blisters or sore feet, but I still wore my tennis shoes or Chaco sandals every day. I ended up only wearing my two-inch heels for about three hours during and after my graduation ceremony on my second-to-last day in China. The slide-on sandals were indeed suitable for moving around my dorm, and if you don’t already know this about Chinese culture, it is very unusual for a Chinese person to not have a pair of slippers or slide-on sandals specially reserved for wearing around their residence to keep the floors clean and their feet warm. I bought the dressier sandals only a few days before leaving for China and they ended up not being great for walking for extended periods of time and I only wore them a few times. Something to consider when you want to wear sandals around any city is how clean the city sidewalks are. Kunming constantly had rainwater puddling up on the sidewalks and mixing with dog (and even human) urine and feces. I witnessed people, generally young children, and canines alike using the sidewalks as a bathroom. So, before you are walking around in sandals and feel a splash of water on your feet and ankles you might first consider the chemical makeup of that street-water. I only felt comfortable wearing my Chaco sandals as often as I did because the soles are extremely thick, maybe one and a half inches, and if I stepped in water there was generally none touching my feet. Ultimately, tennis-shoes are almost always going to be a safe-bet sanitation and comfort-wise.
3. Clothing that hang-dries quickly: YES.
In China, clothes-washing machines are commonplace, but their companion clothes-dryers? Not so much. Exhibit A: My dormitory had a washing machine but no dryer. There were clothes-lines outside of the hallway windows on each floor, but you couldn’t be guaranteed your clothes would not be stolen and that the day’s weather wouldn’t involve torrential downpour on said clothes. I ended up hanging my clothes in my bathroom, closet, and the window’s curtain-rod. Some of the clothing would dry relatively quickly, sometimes in half a day, while other clothing, like jeans and clothes made of cotton and other absorbent material, would take upwards of three days to fully dry. Oftentimes, the slow-to-dry clothing would start to smell funky after several days of dampness and you’d have to wash it again. The clothing that did best was active-wear meant to wick away sweat, like my Dri Fit “Harvard” shirt. The clothing that dried quickly also tended to not become wrinkled. When choosing your wardrobe, I would advise you to first verify the clothes-washing and drying situation in your student housing so that you know what to expect. I know it is almost impossible to only bring clothes that are convenient to clean, but I think it is at least a helpful factor to consider when deciding between two pieces of clothing.
4. White clothing: Maybe…
If you are studying in a large Chinese city, chances are there will be air-pollution, one of Kunming’s appealing qualities to me was the clean and breathable air, but I know that many students choose to study in extremely polluted places like Beijing and Shanghai. If you are one of these students, think twice before packing that white shirt. I have heard that any white clothing you choose to wear in these smog-filled cities will soon become gray with soot.
These four clothing tips wrap up my first blog on packing for China. I hope that you find these tips helpful and continue to read on.