Saturday, January 25, 2014

10 Things I Miss Most About Home

Since a lot of the folks reading my blog at this point are potential expats and curious friends I thought I would write about the things I miss from home while I'm here in China.

1. Clean air

8:30am, the sun under smog
I have to say that I took this for granted living in the Midwest of the United States. I'd heard of L.A. smog, otherwise it was just something on TV.  Smog and serious cancer causing smog is here in China and threatening the whole world if we don't get serious about our environment.  I'm not normally a soapbox kinda girl, but people we need clean air to breathe and I'm worried for the entire Earth if China and other countries (I know the US doesn't probably top the list of clean emissions countries) don't get serious and protect us and our planet.

2. Family

I doubt this comes as a surprise but I miss my family.  I see my expat friends as an extended family because we are all isolated we are all very close and act as family to each other, but it doesn't replace your real family and being away through the good and the bad even more, is hard.

3. Friends

Finding new friends, unless a serious extrovert, can be difficult for expats.  It is a serious mathematical equation to find the right friends with the right location, age of children...etc to make close friends. I miss being involved every day in my friends' lives, being there for them, having someone who knows everything about me without having to explain, and just that closeness.

4. Whole Foods

Vegetable and fruit market in ShunYi
I find buying meat, dairy and fruits and veggies stressful in Beijing because if you wanted imported it is very expensive. Meat is easily 2x more expensive and not as good quality compared to what I would pay in the US, and dairy is about 5x more expensive.  You hear stories of exploding watermelons, banned chemicals used to grow ginger, gutter oil, dying pigs and H7N9 chickens and it can be overwhelming.

I miss Whole Foods with all my lovely organic and grass fed meat.  I miss being able to shop at that one store for everything and being able to find all the ingredients I need for a recipe.  I miss trusting that the food I'm eating is as safe as can be for my family and not laced with chemicals.

5. One Stop Shopping

Grocery shopping is so stressful in Beijing.  I find needing to go to 5 different stores and praying that one of them have the imported food I want stressful.  One time you can go in find sour cream, the next time you can't find sour cream.  Or you find a good bag of chips, and you go in to buy them two days later and they no longer have them and you never see them again.  Last year I could buy Diet Dr Pepper, now I haven't seen it since May 2013.

I also miss being able to read the nutritional facts on an item.  Here if an item is imported the Chinese require certain information to be on the item, in Chinese.  Sadly, they place this sticker over the English and use a different system for calculating the data.

6. Dining Out Non-Chinese

Restaurants that are safe to eat at for foreigners in Beijing are expensive and while there are a lot of options they come and go like the seasons, and sadly they don't replace the quality or value you can find in the US.  Maybe I'm not always wanting Chinese, which tastes NOTHING like "Chinese" food in the US by the way, and I want a good steak.  Good luck with that, I find good quality beef to be the most expensive and hardest thing to find in Beijing.  You can find 20 knock off Mexican, Italian, Japanese, or even Thai restaurants but I just don't find them as good as what I'm used to. 

If you want some authentic Chinese eating, you've found a great city.  Beijing has all the different regions' specialties and you can find plenty of options if you like Mongolian, Sichuan, Hunan to name a few.

7. and Prime shipping

I miss the ease of my Amazon Prime membership and being able to find just about anything I can need with the click of a mouse.

China has Amazon, which sadly isn't in English and is difficult to use IMHO, TMall, China Amazon and, they just don't rival US Amazon nor are they easy to use for non-Chinese readers, or foreigners without Chinese bank cards or online paying options. I know of some services that will buy things on Taobao for you and then charge you a fee on top of the price but I've never tried it.

8. Target/Kohls/Meijer

You also cannot buy a lot of items at a grocery store, like pharmacy items.  Need aspirin, deodorant, pantyhose, cold medicine?  You are going to have to find a pharmacy or local store, not the imported grocery stores.  You can find super stores like Auchan, Carrefour, and Walmart but they don't carry pharmacy items and I don't enjoying shopping at those stores for the pure masses of people and smells.

9. TV shows

I miss watching TV as it is happening, or football not at 9am in the morning on Sunday. 

We are lucky that we have a Slingbox which allows us to watch our TV from the US and with a DVR we can record shows, but often our Internet isn't good enough to stream.  You also have to stay off the internet sometimes for 24hrs so as not to find out the score of your favorite team's game before you get a chance to watch it, or the comradery of watching with a group of people.

10. Clean water 

In China, being able to drink water out of a tap, brush my teeth and drink the water from the sink
and shower without getting eczema is a luxury. Washing clothes is also difficult because the water discolors your clothes.


  1. HI Shana, Your blog has been helpful. We are moving to Beijing next month. Our first shipment (air) goes out next week. I have been prepareing for most of it to be food, but found out today that food is not allowed. How will I get those US staples to Beijing? In my suitcase? Will it pass through customs? Thanks! Claire

    1. Hi Claire, thanks so much for the compliment on the blog and I'm so glad I've been able to help. Sorry for the delayed reply, we've been having REALLY slow internet for the past week and the Internet ate my first reply.

      Short answer to your question is luggage. I'm not aware of any rules about bringing processed or packaged food into the country. Obviously you aren't supposed to bring fruit, vegetables, meat and fresh types of things, but I have heard of people bringing in cheese and even meat, although I'm betting they would be in big trouble if they were found out.

      I've bought things like spices, pasta, brown rice, spelt, and other specialized things. Good news is you can get almost everything between Jenny's and April Gourmet, for a price. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

  2. Hi Shana, I know I'm replying to a very old post but your point about getting eczema after showering in China got me. I would like to know if the water quality over there is generally that bad?

  3. Hi Curious, I think the water quality depends on the housing complex and location within Beijing. I personally don't have a problem, but there are solutions such as AquaSana shower filters that can help, and as always bring lots of lotion, the air is SO dry here. I think a water softener is a big PLUS in a house, pay attention! We don't drink the water, but otherwise we use it for brushing teeth, washing dishes...etc so it isn't too bad. I hope this helps and feel free to ask anything else.