The China Suitcase

I got my visa today, oh boy. Now I have to deconstruct my whole life into a suitcase the size of a Punto. I will fly ahead of my family, to find out if the ground does not swallow immigrants, if the dragons are truly extinct, if the tilting noodle trucks will not pose lethal threats to pedestrians. My liaison officer reassures me that everything will start feeling fine soon enough, but concedes the grotesque diet changes – no cheese, no butter, no yoghurt, no iced water, no Indian dishes, no salad. Some pretty phenomenal local foods may replace these tastes, and I am ready to be impressed of course.

Those last weeks before emigration are really great, and while I’ve got better at it over the years, it’s been fun every time anyway. There’s a jittery vacuum instead of excited anticipation, because I have no clue what to expect. I can’t prepare for something I don’t know. Watching a dozen youtube videos with advice has produced no more than: pack deodorant since the Chinese, genetically, stink less than I do and don’t use it. And bring shoes for the whole year because while there are Chinese as tall as I (1m 91), so I can get trousers and shirts in my size, no Asians have shoe size 45 (=11 in UK/US). The other tips reflected the bloggers more than they did China, or concerned other parts of the country. It’s really cold in the north and hot in the south. Wet in the east and dry in the west. More expensive along the coast and cheaper inland. More international in the large hubs and more provincial in the second-tier cities.

I could have got all that looking at a map.

There are about 600,000 immigrants living in China (the biggest group among them are the South Koreans). This means that one in every 2,300 people in China is a foreigner. But they’re not spread evenly – in fact, in the few cities where there are many, they tend to live in the same neighbourhood.

The only two certainties I’ve got is an address and 40 kilos of stuff to haul there. Today I sifted through every possession, threw a lot away on the occasion, and filled a third of my suitcase already.


Above: my storage wall cupboard. All this stuff will NOT make it to China, but it also isn’t cluttering my Toruń apartment anymore – the tenant who moves in here next month will find a tidy place to live. During the three-day selection process, every item I own has passed through my hands, much got thrown away, and I am feeling materialistically cleansed.

I’m flying via Doha and Beijing and Changsha on Wednesday. What to expect? China’s particular blend of charms and irritants is unforeseeable; each facet will simply hit me separately and then either resonate, repulse, or leave me cold. Three days till liftoff, then, and I will leave you with a factoid of global importance: ketchup is actually a Chinese invention, originally a pickled fish sauce called ‘ke-tsiap’.