Full of stuff.
What was this stuff, you ask?
Well, simply, it was evidence of my hysteria.
You see, right before I moved to Japan I went a little, umm, crazy. I started buying anything and everything I felt I would need for my new life in Asia. What I couldn’t fit into my luggage, I packed up in boxes and sent to my address in Japan.When the boxes arrived weeks later, I had to wonder what on Earth I had been thinking.
Maybe if this had been my first time living overseas, my panic would have been understandable. But I’d lived abroad before – I’d even lived in Japan before. So I knew they had stores there – real stores that sold real stuff and not just stores full of robots and Hello Kitty cell phone charms.
Yet, I still sent myself an entire box full of shampoo and conditioner.
Not only was I under a false impression that I wouldn’t be able to buy stuff when I arrived in Japan, judging from the contents of those boxes, I also seemed to be suffering some delusion that I’d become an entirely different person when I arrived there. I must have thought some magical transformation would happen to me while I was mid-flight and I’d show up in Asia transformed. I’d suddenly be one of those people who goes to work looking professional and well-groomed and not, say, like a rumpled hobo.
I had packed four suits. (Four! What did I think I was going to be doing in Japan? My job was to teach English not instigate corporate takeovers!)
There were dozens of shirts that required ironing. (Ironing? Who does that?)
There were shoes with heels on them. (Yeah, I don’t really do those either).
I had also sent myself lots of books – and not the kind of books I actually read but books on boring stuff like how to save money and how to cook healthy food and how to do my job. (Blergh. Who cares about that stuff?)This year when I moved to China for my new job, I was dead-set on keeping my packing (and hysteria) to a minimum.
After all, I’d learned a thing or two during my last year of travel.
What is it that I’ve learned, you ask?
First of all, I really don’t need that much stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some stuff. But, after living out of a bag roughly the same size as a Golden Retriever for a year, you start to realize the things you can live without; like five pairs of identical black heels and a collection of Suze Orman books you never read.
Secondly, I’ve learned that if the country you show up in doesn’t sell what it is you need, chances are, you don’t really need it. (Unless we’re talking about pants. Should you be a girl of, well, “generous proportions,” there is a chance that many of the countries you visit in Asia won’t sell pants in your size. But, yet, you’re still expected to wear pants. How is that even fair, I ask you?)
Besides, in all honesty, I didn’t really have much stuff to pack in my bags this time around. When I arrived home, I discovered that a lot of the clothes that I had sent back from Japan before I left no longer fit me. (Let’s just say that one of the things I didn’t manage to learn during my little year of travel was how to maintain a healthy diet and regular workout schedule. So while I was packing light, I was also, kind of, packing on the pounds.)
I found that the few things that did still fit me, weren’t exactly me anymore… and maybe never were. (Stuff that needs ironing? Seriously, who does that?)After getting rid of the stuff I no longer wanted or could no longer fit into, I compiled the stuff I still had; including, my laptop, digital camera, backpack and other gear that survived the trip last year.
After looking at that, I came up with a list of things I still felt I needed to start my new job and new life in China.
I did not go on any crazy shopping sprees snapping up bulk quantities of hair products or financial planning books. Instead, I only bought the stuff that was on my list. If anything, I bought less than I planned on buying.
I know, weird, right?
It’s like I’d become a responsible adult who actually cares about how much she spends. How did that even happen? (Okay, so I know how that happened. It’s called a year of unemployment and regular panic attacks induced by fears of having to take up residence in a cardboard box. Thanks, unemployment! You’ve taught me so much more than that Smuggy McSmugpants, Suze Orman, ever could!)
So what did I pack with me this time around, you ask? (Sheez, it’s about time you asked. I mean, I rattled on about shampoo and Suze forever just waiting for you to ask already.)
Well, here’s what made it into my bags:
A KindleI was resistant to get a Kindle, at first. You see, I love books, and I love the whole book experience. I love the feel of books. I love the smell of books. I love the sound of houseguests being all impressed when they see your big bookshelf full of books (even though a lot of those books are the kind you don’t actually read).
But I also really hate to get rid of books when I move (even the stupid, smug, this-is-how-you-need-to-fix-your-life books). Plus, living in non-English speaking countries, it can be difficult and expensive to keep your bookshelf well-stocked (especially if you like to keep a healthy selection of hardly-ever-read but impressive-to-houseguests books).
I agonized over the decision to buy a Kindle for weeks when I was home. (Agonized, I tell you! It’s really a wonder no one has made a movie out of my life yet. I mean, Sophie’s Choice has nothing on me!)
I put off the decision so long, that I had to order it with express shipping so that it would get to me before I was scheduled to leave Buffalo. But then there was a huge snowstorm (like when is there not a huge snowstorm in Buffalo?) and the delivery guy kept on getting lost in the snow and I almost didn’t get it in time. (Note to Hollywood, when, in fact, you do see fit to make my life into a movie, I’d really appreciate it if you could cast David Boreanaz as the delivery guy. And, he should really come into the house to deliver the package, instead of leaving it on my parent’s back porch because that’s kind of rude. By the way, Hollywood, I will be playing myself in that movie.)Despite my initial resistance, I have to say, I adore my new Kindle.
It doesn’t feel like a book or smell like a book or have the ability to impress houseguests. (Unless, they’re the really nosy kind of houseguests who spend their free time snooping around my ebook reading list — in which case, they probably won’t be too impressed as I’ve downloaded lots of random free stuff which is, ahem, probably free for a reason.)
But my Kindle has one function that paper books can never have.
What is that, you ask? (Geez, you and your questions, already.)
It has magic!
Let me explain.
Let’s just say, it’s Sunday evening, and I don’t have any books to read because, let’s say, I stayed up until four a.m. the night before reading my last book because, hey, isn’t that what everyone does on a Saturday night?
And, let’s just say, I need another book to read because I always read right before I go to bed and if I don’t I’ll just lie awake and start thinking stuff like, “What am I doing with my life?” and “What is life?” and “Why isn’t there a movie version of my life already? I mean, come on, Hollywood, do I need to become some crazy ballerina just so you can make a movie about me?”
And, let’s just say, I’m living in China where I can’t even figure out where to buy salt, let alone books in English. (Okay, so I know where to buy salt. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the many bags of white, powdery stuff that they sell at the grocery store, but it’s not labeled in English, and I keep on forgetting to look up the Chinese characters for it, and I am worried I’ll end up buying a big bag of MSG or yam starch.)
And, let’s just say, I haven’t left the house all weekend, and I really have no intention of doing anything rash like changing into real pants and braving the mean streets of Wuxi at seven o’clock in the evening just to find a book to read.
But I really need a book or else I’ll never go to sleep. (Remember, the questions!)
What’s a girl to do, you ask?
Oh, I know! I can just download a book while I’m lying in my bed.
I have a new book.
Seriously, if that’s not magic I don’t even know what is.
iPod nanoBack when I moved to Japan (you know, back when I was stocking up on enough shampoo to wash the hair of every man, woman and child in the country), I bought an iPod classic.
It had enough memory space to store all the music I owned because, hey, it’s possible Japan wouldn’t have any music, so I figured I should really bring my own.
About halfway through last year, my iPod started malfunctioning. By the time I returned to the States, it had stopped working altogether. When I took it into the Apple Store, they informed me I could either get it fixed or I could recycle it and get a discount towards a new iPod.
I decided to recycle the old one, and snapped up a new red iPod nano. It’s not quite big enough to hold my entire song collection, but I was pretty sure China had music. Plus, my purchase helped support AIDS awareness programs in Africa.
Recycling and fighting AIDS?
It’s like I’m singlehandedly saving the world!
A Towel (A Real One!)Shortly after leaving Laos for Chiang Mai, I discovered that my Pack Towel was missing.
That towel had traveled with me for twelve years and over four continents.
It had survived my first and second stints in Japan, a three-month backpacking trip through Spain, Portugal and Morocco, a year in Brazil and over eight months on the road while in Southeast Asia.
Damn, was I glad to see that thing gone.
I hated it.
If you’ve never had the unique experience of using a Pack Towel to dry yourself off, you can simulate the experience by using a square of felt… or possibly some pieces of paper towel wadded together.
Pack Towels may be lighter and dry faster than ordinary towels, but, they’re really not meant for use on humans. Drying off your car? Okay. Wiping off your countertop? Alrightie. Using it to dry off your body after a shower? Nope, that’s just not right.
I packed a real towel for my trip to China, and then when I arrived I discovered my apartment was already equipped with real towels. It’s like I won the real towel lottery! (It must have been the result of all that good karma that I got from saving the world with my new iPod.)
Wrinkle-Free ShirtsI take it back, Kindle. You’re pretty special, but button-down shirts you don’t have to iron? Now, that is magic.
Pants (Lots of Them)I managed to be pretty conservative with most of my shopping prior to moving to China — maybe a bit too conservative.
For example, it would have been nice if I’d brought more than one heavy sweater as it’s been pretty cold here and every time I wash that one sweater I have to hibernate inside my apartment until it’s dry. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself – “Nope, can’t go outside today. My sweater is drying. Better just sit inside and read more books on my Kindle.”)The one thing I did kind of overdo it on, though, was pants.
I now own seven pairs of pants – including one pair of jeans. Having spent a year of traveling with only three pairs of pants, which were reduced down to two pairs after an unfortunate incident on a Malaysian hiking path, I feel a bit decadent these days.
I know I don’t need that many pairs of pants, but it’s nice to have them. You know, just in case.
Just in case of what, you ask? (Sheez, what’s with all the questions today?)
Well, just in case I take up hiking again.
Or, just in case I can’t find any pants in my size.
Or, just in case, China doesn’t label their pants in English and I end up buying something I think are pants but are not. (Heck, I could end up walking around town with yam starch on my nether regions and never know. How embarrassing!)
Or, just in case I do transform into that person who goes to work everyday looking professional and well-groomed… and not wearing the same exact rumpled pair of pants I wore yesterday. (Not that I would ever do that as that sounds like it would require lots of ironing. And, seriously, who does that?)