Category Archives: Shopping

How To Get Affordable Coconut Oil, Vitamins and Other Health Foods Shipped to China Inexpensively

Online shopping is huge in China; the November 11 sales (for the 11.11 “single guys holiday”) easily outdo America’s Black Friday, but online shopping isn’t so easy if you can’t read Chinese. Besides having to read Chinese to find out the details about the product, which often includes a very long drawn out sales page with a lot of neon type, you have to engage in a chat with the seller to get more specifics. Something a simple as buying cocoa powder takes my husband at least 20 minutes. Seriously.

 

So for everyone who prefers to order in English, and without interacting with the seller, meet my new favorite retailer, Vitacost. They have a huge selection of food and beauty products, many of which are organic and natural. I was thrilled to find coconut oil for $25, compared to the $40 I paid in China. I also ordered some vitamins, cocoa powder, coffee and protein powder.

 

I’ve really been wanting to use more coconut oil in our meals and my husband wanted a certain vitamin, so I was so excited about this and really hoped it would work out well. And it did!

 

I’ve heard of Vitacost before, but didn’t realize that they ship to China. When a friend told me about this, I was skeptical, thinking the shipping will be outrageous. But it’s not. They use SF Express and DHL Global to ship from the USA to China. There’s a flat rate for up to a certain weight (and the weight is calculated as you add things to your cart so you can be sure to maximize your limit), and then a per pound weight for each pound above that. With Shun Feng Express your order can’t exceed a value of $160. And of course you have to pay import fees and taxes upon arrival. You can get more details about shipping and customs here.

 

My order was just over $100, $25 for shipping and then 60 yuan in taxes that I paid the delivery person.

 

There are, of course, some restrictions as to what cannot be imported. Mainly for China it’s meats and seeds. Don’t try to order them thinking it will go unnoticed; from the way it was taped, my package was opened twice. Once at customs in Hong Kong and the other in Tianjin. Everything was in the box and not damaged at all.

 

Not only is Shun Feng Express cheaper, it comes with tracking. My order arrived in Hong Kong less than 48 hours after ordering, but then got held up there for a week. When I called to inquire, they told me that it wasn’t anything with my package, just a delay. After it arrived in Tianjin, it was in my house less that 24 hours later. From the time stamps, they work round-the-clock! Less than 30 minutes after it arrived in town, it was in my community.

 

With SF Express, you do need a Chinese friend to help you upload their ID card to the SF website after you order and the order has to be addressed to that person. I thought I could use my passport, but they only accept Chinese ID cards so I used my husband’s name as the recipient and then uploaded his ID card. But you only have to upload the ID card the first time. Subsequent orders still need the same name, but the actual address and telephone number doesn’t matter. I don’t think you need to to this with DHL Global; that’s the only benefit that I can see since it’s more expensive and slower.

 

Get $10 off your first order of $30 or more by clicking here. (If you do order, I also get a $10 credit.)

Spring Fruits and Vegetables In China

Even though you can get fresh veggies and fruits in China all year round, they’re at their cheapest and tastiest when they’re in season. This is the time of year when, at least in the northern half of China, you can get fresh strawberries, pineapple, coconut, mulberries and asparagus. In my area (a few hours south of Beijing) this season runs from March to mid-May. After that, you may or may not be able to find these
I always get the smaller strawberries, which range from 5-10 yuan per jin (500 grams/just over a pound), since they’re sweeter and not just plumped up with water. Pineapples are great because the sellers will cut the skin off with a knife and nifty tool. Expect to pay a little more for this service; it will save you tons of time and scratched hands. We soak the pineapple in a bowl of salt water for 10-15 minutes to make it less acidic. A pineapple will cost 5-15 yuan depending on the weight and if they remove the skin. You can often find pineapple sticks being sold on the street for 1-2 yuan per stick.
Coconuts are tons of fun since you can drink the water and then crack them open to get out the meat. Eat it as is or chop it up to put in granola bars, shred it and dry it or blend into coconut milk. When I make coconut milk I save the meat and toast it in the oven. Due to the high fat content, the result tastes and smells a lot like fried hash browns. So yummy!  Coconuts are 5 yuan/jin right now, though sometimes they’re sold by the piece, and I’ve paid 8-10 yuan for each one.
Coconuts aren’t very popular in my town so you can’t buy them already opened with a straw to drink the water, but it’s not too hard to open them. Remove the little tuft of hair (as I think of it as) and then you’ll see the three eyes. One of them is easier to open than the others. Open it with the tip of a small knife and then insert a straw or invert it over a large glass for the water to drain into. The water tastes best when it’s chilled.
To crack open the coconut, the easiest way I’ve found it to take it outside and just slam it onto the ground a few times. Collect the pieces and go home to wash them off. Then scrape the meat off with a spoon. For granola bars I’ll chop the coconut meat with a big knife or toss it in the blender.
For coconut milk, I use about 1 cup of coconut meat to 4 cups of room temperature water. Blend it together, add sweetener if you need it, and then strain it through cheesecloth. Cover and refrigerate the milk; it’s best used within 24 hours. Then use the shredded coconut in cookies, granola bars or toast and eat fresh out of the oven!
Asparagus is expensive; 12 yuan/jin or more. It’s not always good and I always have to remove an inch or two at the bottom, but it makes for a nice treat. I roast it in the oven with some olive oil, sea salt and chopped garlic or garlic powder. Cook it for about 40 minutes at a medium heat to get it tender with a crispy outside.

Holiday Schedules in China

Growing up, my schools always made yearly schedules of which days we’d be off of school for teacher meetings and special events, when Christmas, Easter and summer break started and ended. The most difficult thing about planning our vacations was waiting for my dad to get his chance, in January, to pick his four weeks for the year. Once that was done, my mom wrote  could consult it to make travel plans without hesitation.
This kind of situation would almost never happen in China, save for a family that works for international companies and has the kids enrolled in international schools. Even then, it would highly depend on who’s running said company and school.
When I was teaching there were almost always last-minute changes. One year I went back to America during the Chinese New Year. I planned to come back just two days before school started, and I did. I called the school to find out my work schedule and they said that there was still another week of the holiday; something had come up which caused them to change this.
Another example, at the beginning of this semester we were told that exams would be February 2. I have in written in my planner. This past weekend I talked to my son’s music teacher and she told me exams would be February 6 and school would be out around February 13. And once he is actually done for the semester, we have no idea when school starts until the teacher calls us.
Be flexible and go with the flow. You’ll just get frustrated and angry if you don’t.
I do think you’ll find schools in large cities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai) to be a bit different since they’re dealing with more people and from larger areas.
There is an official Chinese holiday schedule that’s put out by the government. You can view it as a neat infographic here. Most companies and schools follow it. The key word being ‘most.’
But back to the public sector. My husband is lucky enough to work in a small hospital where holidays are pretty strictly adhered to. He and his colleagues take turns working on holidays (yes, they just have a bare-bones staff there on holidays), as do employees of other government owned enterprises. A lot of stores and restaurant will be open, taking opportunity of all the people who have extra time and cash.
The Chinese New Year is the exception. During that week, our town is like a ghost-town. Shops used to be closed almost the entire seven days. My first year here, my friend and I went out traveling and returned on New Year’s Eve to find that everything, except KFC, was closed. We’d been gone a week so we’d emptied our fridge and had little to eat at home. A lot of chicken was consumed that week! Now shops and markets are usually closed for at least 2 days and have limited hours on the other days. Restaurants and shops that employ migrant workers close up for as long as a month so they can return home.
Before the New Year, it’s essential to stock up on anything that you’ll need for at least a week. Also be sure to pay your bills since you may or may not be able to pay for electricity when you find it turned off during the holiday. I have run out of electricity before, fortunately not at the holidays.

Feminine Products In China

I never figured I’d blog about this topic, but seeing as this site is meant to help expat women living in China, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss it. That special time once a month, when a special visitor comes.
One thing you’ll notice is that things are smaller in China: I wear an American large top, a recent shirt I bought says it’s a 4XL! Bags of chips come only in single serving bags. There are no gallon pails of ice cream; the largest containers I’ve seen are smaller than the Ben&Jerry’s that I can consume in a single day. So it should come as no surprise that pads come in packages of five or six. Yes, enough for a day…maybe. You have to fill your cart with five to six packages each month. I used to hit up a couple of different stores, all within walking distance of my house, just because it felt strange to buy so many.
Tampons are virtually non-existent in Chinese shops. In large cities you’ll be able to find them in foreign stores, but if you’re brand-loyal, bring a stash with you.
I like the Whisper brand which is like the American brand Always. They’re more expensive (6-7 yuan for a package of 5) but are lightweight and do their job.

A few years ago I won a Diva Cup from a blog. I thought it would be interesting and it’s worked really well and I can get buy with just a package of liners (which, oddly enough, come in packs of 18-20). I love that the cup is reusable and easy to take care of.

Just last week I learned about these sea sponge tampons that can be used for the same purpose. I’m intrigued and might pick some up the next time in the States.
On a related note, I’ve never seen medicine for cramp, pain relief or PMS. I never dealt with any of this until after my son was born and even then it was minor. I’ve since discovered that Evening Primrose Oil softgels are very helpful in combatting PMS. I’d taken it prior to the birth of my daughter, and then kept taking it since I had so much left. When I found that it’s good for PMS, I bought more and continued taking it. I didn’t notice a difference until I stopped taking it–for no reason other than that I was too lazy to take one each day–and then my mood fluctuated as much as the tones in a Chinese sentence!
An interesting cultural note, apparently Chinese women are told to do little housework during this time of the month and girls are exempt from PE class when their monthly visitor arrives. I know in the summer months I see a lot of the middle school girls sitting in the bleachers while the rest of the kids are our for PE. At Speaking of China, blogger Jocelyn writes about how her Chiense husband takes over the cooking and cleaning so that she can rest for a few days each month. How nice is that?

Bring Your Own Towels

Chinese hand/bath towels
Itsy-bitsy Chinese hand towels
If you must have a big, super-sized, fluffy bath towel pack your own–and a spare–as large bath towels are not regularly used or sold in China.
My first two weeks in China I used a hand towel that had been left by previous teachers. Don’t ask why I didn’t bring my own, but when you’re limited to 150 pounds of luggage I guess things like towels don’t seem so important. Finally we made a trip to Beijing and after hours of searching found what could best be described as a light beach towel. It was big, but wasn’t plush and ended up thoroughly wet after each use. On the plus side, dryers are rare so everything gets air dried and my second towel is still going strong after nine years of near daily use and weekly washings!
Fast forward two years. I move in with my husband and see that he has no bath towel. He uses the small hand towel to dry off, one section of his body at a time and ringing out the excess water as he goes. He laughed, and still does, at my use of a bath towel.
Chinese washcloths
Three colorful washcloths that are in our bathroom at the moment.
Every time I go swimming the women in the locker room are drying off with their little washcloths or hand towels and pay even closer attention to me when I pull my plush bath towel (left behind after my mom’s visit) and wrap it around my body in an attempt to maintain some dignity.
So with that, I suggest that you at least bring one towel that you like if you’re going to be living outside of a major city. When it’s 45 degrees in your house in early November, before the heat gets turned on, you’ll be glad you’re wrapped in warmth after your shower rather than blotting your body dry one 5-inch section at a time!