The mad frenzy at the train station book store you described is reminicent of the comical phenomenon my wife and I experience each time we are away from Beijing on short home leave trips. Sometimes it is not just reading material but simple consumerism in its most raw form. There was a time we had to seriously stock up on certain odd household items which could not be found in Beijing. I recall years ago once packing a suitcase with gallons of Shout, as in “shout it out”, the “triple acting” laundry stain remover. I think we still have one small bottle left in inventory since then.

Now that those random odds and ends are becoming available in Beijing the comedy remains in the sheer variety of products in the U.S. having the same exact function. Just two weeks ago on our last home leave trip I recall entering a Duane Reade store in Manhattan and being mezmorized by over twenty different types of razor blades, trying to see if the single type available in Beijing was in stock while listening in the background to my wife running up and down the aisles practically screaming with joy in the endless shampoo section.

But what still cracks me up are those more resourceful expat types who establish “foreign buyers clubs” to pool resources for importing their favorite consumer items in mass quantities. There is a friend of mine who cannot stand the formula used for the Diet Coke distributed in China (I had no idea there was a difference). He must have the New York formula and receives a crate of the stuff out of a Maersk container aboard a ship that comes in every few months, containing among other things, gigantic American-style barbeque grills, a bunch of stuff originally made in China, and maybe a small bottle of Shout ever so often. Incredible.
-Larry Sussman


Thanks for the note. Great letter. I actually would be interested in finding out more about the foreign buyers clubs. I think there’s a good story there. Where can I find out about that container ship loaded with goodies?

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.

Alan Paul

I enjoyed reading your past articles on your experience abroad, but your most recent article really hit home. I experienced China, Beijing and a sandstorm during a recent trip. The sandstorm that you wrote about was something that I never heard of, let alone experienced. I wouldn’t want to go through one of these again, but it was an interesting weather phenomenon to experience versus the typical snow storms we are accustomed to in the Northeast.

Thanks for sharing about your experiences abroad! Due to the success of this recent trip and your articles, I am looking forward to another trip to China sooner than later.
-Ric Thomann

Thanks for writing. I’m thrilled and surprised to hear that I helped influence your travel plans. There is certainly no shortage of places to visit in this vast country.

Always enjoy your columns. We lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and experienced a few big sandstorms like the one you described. I remember seeing a wall of sand moving towards us on a camping trip in the desert.

Regarding desertification, I heard a talk by an environmentalist who had studied both Japan and China. He said that the japanese had always valued and protected their forests – and still have them today. The Chinese on the other hand cut most of theirs down long ago. He said that in the area around the Great Wall, locals said there had never been trees there, but the historical record showed that long ago it was forested.
-Bill Plank
They are trying to reforest much of China. Hopefully it’s not too late.

Your stories of bicycle adventures, taxi rides, restaurants and pantomime really hit home for me, because my husband and I traveled to China for two and a half weeks in early December 2005. We were there to adopt our beautiful daughter Maddie, and it was truly the trip of a lifetime. We spent time in Hong Kong, Beijing, Changsha and Guangzhou, and each experience was better than the last. I know that we got a pretty sanitized view of China while we were there—stayed in 5-star hotels and were closely guided everywhere we went—but regardless, it is truly an amazing country.

I hope you and your family enjoy every moment there, and hang tough during the rough times. We can’t wait to go back to get a sister for Maddie. I look forward to reading more!

-Sara Fawcett

Thank you for the kind words and congrats on Maddie.

Your personal reflections as an expat are powerful and touching examples of our simple human adventure. (I wonder at the experiences of earlier expats and traders 100, 200, and 1,000 years ago!) Please keep sharing as much as you can.
-J. James Dobra

Thank you. I certainly intend to try.

I’m an American living in China. My wife & I have been in China (we’re University teachers) for about 15 years now, and we currently live in Wuhan. We had lived in and near Beijing for several years, back in the 1980s and ’90s, and traveled by both train and airplane to Hong Kong & Shanghai, so we were really interested to read about the same trip that you & your family made recently. When we lived in Beijing, things were much more primitive than they are now, and Hong Kong was still a British colony.

I hope you can travel to other parts of China from time to time as well.

-Thomas Boone

We have traveled a bit in the interior and look forward to doing more. We are heading to Guizhou this week during the national May Day holiday.

I can’t tell you how much we enjoy reading your column. We are an American family with 3 children, living in Pune, India for a year. Last week, I went to Hong Kong for a business trip, and had a very similar reaction to you – wow, modern trains! American food! no dust! I immediately emailed my kids and told them to send me their wish lists, and then wished I had brought a much larger bag as I tried to jam in bags of corn chips, pretzels, candy, and the occasional special request (pesto, horseradish for our upcoming Passover dinner, etc.). We also feel like we have a fairly nice lifestyle here, but a couple days in Hong Kong was a delightful interlude in what felt like much more familiar surroundings, even with Chinese language and a new currency to deal with. I came back and told my husband that we forget how hard it is to live here, and really should give ourselves credit.

So much of what you write about rings true for us. Our son broke his arm here, and one daughter came down with a high fever, and suddenly the medical infrastructure became very, very important. We don’t have the same relationship with our home town teams, but when we found NPR on the satellite radio, it spread like wildfire through our expat community. And so on. Please keep writing your columns – we look forward to every one!

-Cindy Carpenter

Thanks for the note. Hearing from people like you really inspires me.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write. And happy Passover. Did you have a seder in India? We had one here, but I actually ended up being in New York visiting my father.

Alan Paul

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