China Observations – buying stuff abroad

If my podcast hasn’t gone out already about packing- it should soon! And it’s a good one- BECAUSE! It talks about the awesomeness of buying stuff when you’re abroad.

It’s like a fun adventure all within itself! Personally, I found the PERFECT deodorant when I was in Thailand (for some reason, the bleaching roll-on works wonders for me!)

I also found some cool “Hapeee” toothpaste in the Philippines. (Who doesn’t want to brush with that?)


However…. My aunt has mixed feelings about this whole thing.

Put it on the calendar, today was a black day. Today I ran out of the deodorant I’d purchased in the United States. Anticipating that this day would come, I shopped for weeks, looking for any kind of replacement.


I used my best pantomime skills: I’d look the store employee in the eye, raise my arm high into the air, motion as if rubbing on stick deodorant, smile, shrug (as if saying, “I can’t find this product”), wait for a response. I was led to the washcloth aisle. The razors and blades shelves. Soap. EVERYTHING but deodorant. And then, it was their turn to shrug. It turns out that they don’t sell STICK deodorant here. They only sell deodorant in an aerosol container. If I had lifted my arm and then made the appropriate “psst, psst” sound, I may have gotten somewhere faster.


I wonder how much time and energy advertising and marketing people put into thinking about the packaging they put their products in. Every foreigner, like me, has to rely entirely on the packaging to decipher the product’s contents or uses.


For example: Jim loves eating peanuts and so we buy bags and bags of them each week. At first we grabbed bags that obviously had peanuts inside, but we didn’t look closely at the packaging. Underneath the see-through window showing the actual peanuts, was a drawing of a bright red chili pepper. Yup. All of those bags had red hot dried chili peppers in the mix. Apparently the Chinese love this combination; they are for sale in every single store! Jim didn’t fancy them so much and ate the peanuts, but left the peppers. We’ll never make that mistake again!


One of my favorite foods here are dumplings (or as Costco calls them: Pot Stickers). It’s basically pasta dough that can be stuffed with any number of foods. When I first got here, the store we used to go to had three varieties: the pink bag, blue bag, green bag. I forget which color we bought, but it was terribly disappointing. They were filled with a sweet red bean paste, which is much more appropriate for a dessert than for a dinner entre.


Our new favorite food store has scores of different types. No color codes needed. These dumplings are stuffed with almost any vegetable, meat, or combination of the two. They are yummy, and the packaging should win an award.   It has drawings of what the stuffing mix inside is made of: a pig (pork), broccoli, and onion (for example) or shrimp, carrots, and cabbage. Since there are literally dozens of varieties, those little drawings take guessing completely out of the equation!!!


Several weeks ago I got a terrible cold and it lasted at least a month. I went to the pharmacy at the mall (not the drug store! Drug stores here don’t sell drugs! They sell cosmetics!). I used my pantomime skills, once again, explaining that my nose was running (off my face) and that I had a cough. Success! They handed me two different boxes of pills. One of them I needed to take four times a day, and the other was twice a day. But the packaging is so terrible that I no longer remember if the blue box is for the cough or the nose. And would it be blue box four pills, green box two pills or blue box two pills, green box four pills? Aarrrggghhh! I should throw them both away.

My deodorant has half a dozen English words on it: NIVEA. Invisible for black & white. Then, underneath all the Chinese on the back, there is a picture of a phone handset and next to that: 800-988-1600. Since we can’t call 800 numbers here, could one of you call them and suggest they add the word: DEODORANT on the front?

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