Things I didn’t know I needed before moving to China

I am not saying anything new if I tell you that living in China and living in Spain are two completely different experiences. Anyone would know that! When moving to a different country you don’t expect to find the same habits, life attitudes or food you have in your home country (even though you can surely find some similarities!). But well, everybody knows the typical expat who whines all the time about how “Spanish food in China doesn’t taste the same” or “My mum’s kimchi is so much better” (I have found Spanish and Korean people in China tend to complain a lot about food). I have written before about some differences my boyfriend noticed when he travelled to Spain and things I had to get used to after moving to China. Today I want to make a list of some useful things that you can easily find in China, but not in Spain. That is, useful things I didn’t know I needed before coming here!

1. Clothes steamer 挂烫机

In Spain everybody uses an iron and ironing board to straighten and unwrinkle clothes. It takes a lot of time and effort, and you need to learn how to do it properly or your shirts will look like a mess! I have always hated ironing and I am not the only one: according to several surveys, ironing clothes is the most disliked of all the house chores among Spanish people. I have to confess that when I moved out of my parents’ house to attend university I never ironed my clothes, to my mum’s dismay. Most of my clothes don’t get many wrinkles anyway! But when C. moved to my apartment, he brought with him something that blew my mind: a 挂烫机 guatangji or steamer. It looks a little like a vacuum cleaner but it has a hanger to put your clothes on and instead of vacuuming it emits water steam. Clothes don’t end up as nicely pressed as when you use an iron, but it is much easier and faster to use and the result is good.




2. House emergency services 物业

I don’t know how to translate 物业 wuye so I will explain it. If you live in a compound, which in China are usually huge and with many buildings, chances are you will have wuye or what I like to call “house emergency services”. In Spain, if you arrive home and find your toilet is broken and you urgently need a plumber, you can pretty much expect a nightmare. First you will need to find the plumber’s phone number; then there are a lot of jokes about how the plumber will not arrive before 3 days, will ask for a ridiculous amount of money, etc. In China you just have to call the wuye and they will come to see the problem almost right away, as they are located nearby, usually in an office inside your same compound. And, of course, their prices will not give you a heart attack, but that is another story.


3. Toilets with heating

I know this is not originally Chinese, but I saw it here for the first time and I have never seen it back home. Do you know that feeling of sitting in the toilet, at night, during the winter, and almost getting a shock because the ceramic surface is extremely cold? (In Spain, most toilet seats are made of ceramic, not plastic, so they are always cold!). Brrrr! It is quite unpleasant. The first time I tried a toilet with heating on the seat I thougth it was a Nobel-prize deserving invention. Unfortunately they are pretty expensive, as they also come with other functions like rear washing. The cheap option Chinese people use to avoid freezing their asses in the winter is putting a cloth cover on the toilet seat. However, I think that is only a good idea if the toilet is just going to be used by women… you know what I mean!



4. Convenience stores 便利店

Again, this is not a Chinese invention, and I know the convenience stores in Japan are mind-blowing, but for me the Chinese ones also deserve a mention, especially because there was nothing like them in the town where I grew up. If you suddenly needed something after 9 pm, or on a Sunday, you could either wait until the supermarkets were open or go ask your neighbour. To be honest, I don’t remember thinking “I wish there was a convenience store”, it was just something we accepted the way it was. When I was in Beijing there were not many convenience stores either, I just remember a couple of 7-11 quite far from where I lived. But everything changed when I moved to Shanghai and I started seeing Family Marts, Lawsons and C-Stores everywhere. In fact, Family Mart saved my life when they opened a store right downstairs! Their prepared food is pretty good! I would buy one of their rice + something else sets at least 2 or 3 times per week (when I was too lazy to cook and pack my lunch).


5. Rice cooker 电饭煲

An appliance dedicated to cook rice! Of course it has to be an Asian thing, as they eat rice every day! In Spain, every home has an oven; in China, every home has a rice cooker. We got one recently and I have to say it is useful and you can do much more than just boil rice: you can make 粥 zhou (rice porridge) and steam cook vegetables and buns.



There are also some other things, like thermal underwear and 20-litres water bottles delivered to your door, but those five are my favourites.

What great and useful inventions have you discovered abroad?