As I settle into my 1/2 year mark in China, there are a few things worth noting in regards to differences in daily living. Now, mind you, I am not that committed to shopping in the States. I am fairly routine and stick with a few trusty favorite stores and brands. I try to be thrifty but do not require bargains, nor do I need high-end fashion or food, although I appreciate both. That translates the same here in Beijing. I have found a few reliable shops that are close to my apartment in Shunyi and stick with those. Therefore, when I say there are differences, the list is compiled from limited excursions. I assume after I have lived here a little longer that my opinion about many things, including what I can buy and where, will change.
One of the things I miss most about the States so far is CVS. Yes, the common American drug store is high on my list. (Target wins!) Purchasing soap, shampoo, lotions, vitamins, or medicine is different here. I have a few options, but nothing like Duane Reade or Rite Aid. For instance, I can get some of my lotion and shampoo brands at Jenny Wangs – the Western grocery store. But, they are over-priced and sometimes they are out of my brands.
I have found a “pharmacy” type of store, Watsons, at a mall near our home. I can find more hair products, lotions, and makeup there than at the grocery store. However, forget about buying brown mascara or common US products like Maybelline. I found some funky Chinese brands of mascara, but all in black. Also, even if the product is a Western brand logo, all the words on the packages and bottles are in Chinese. I still cannot tell which is shampoo or conditioner. I make a guess by locating the cap – top for shampoo, bottom for conditioner – I think.
On a side note, sadly, there are many products for skin whitening. Lotions, face masks, and soaps, all marked “white” skin. I have also heard that I can get my armpits and other crevices (eww) whitened as a trend here. No thanks – and why?
So, I can get pearly white pits, but Tylenol, Advil, children’s chewable vitamins, adult vitamins -forget about it. I still haven’t found these yet. From what I understand, medicines are all sold separately. There is an Eastern medicine shop across the street from our apartment complex, but it appears that customers choose from herbs or powders contained in glass bottles lined up behind the counter. Like the old-fashioned chemist shop – or witches. For acetaminophen or ibuprofen, one needs to go to the doctor’s office. Real “pharmacies” are located there. You pick up necessary and prescribed chemicals after your appointments. I imagine I can ask for children’s vitamins there, but haven’t had a visit yet. I have heard that there are special stores where you can purchase Tylenol types of meds, but have yet to find one. Word on the street is that we cannot get Epi-pens or things like acidophilus at all in China.
Shoes and pants are another difference. I thought, “Hey, I am going to China. I can get awesome clothes, especially shoes.” Well, that dream is over. Shoe shopping is an all day event that describing would take another whole blog. Finding my shoe size is nearly impossible. My feet are not that big either. I wear a size 8 US. FYI – you need to know your European sizes here! So, I need a 39 or 40 and found out that most shops do not even go over 40 and are OUT of my size in every shoe I have ever liked. I will definitely do all my shoe shopping back in the States. As for pants, and shirts, I am too tall and too broad to fit in most sizes. Again, back to the US.
Other small things pop up when it comes to groceries. There are items that I can’t get here, like regular Saltines in my brand. It appears that some stores get shipments of many products, but depending on when you shop, they may already be sold out. I now know why. Last week, I saw a few bags of Fritos for the first time on the shelves. So, like a good American, I bought all five bags. That means anyone shopping after me was out of luck. I didn’t need five but knew it would be a long time coming before I saw them again. My favorite wine is pinot grigio; I found a cheap but decent version I usually get back home – Cavit. I can shop weeks-on-end, and the spot they sell my wine from will be empty. Then, out of the blue – bottles in the rack. I buy them ALL and stock up. This feast or famine seems to be the way most Westerners shop without shame.
There is one store I am avoiding that I think could solve most of my shopping issues. I have heard there is a Sam’s Club on the other end of Beijing. I would absolutely not step foot in that place while in China, even if it were in our neighborhood. It would feel like sacrilege because I can’t even go there in the US. (Those of you who know my politics understand why.) I can do without the Fritos to stick to my principle on this one.
So, all in all, I can live in Beijing with familiarity and comfort. Even if there are a few random products I can’t find, I try new replacements. While in China, I also imagine that with a little tenacity, I could find everything I want. For now, I am headed back to the US for a quick visit over the Chinese New Year break and am taking fairly empty suitcases. On the return, they will be filled with a little of this and a little of that – hair products, brown mascara, snacks, Crystal Light Iced Tea for a friend, shoes, and other goodies our family misses. That works for me.
(By the way, the AQI for all of January was wonderful! The skies were clear, blue, and bright almost every day.)