Depending on where you will be traveling, brands and goods that you may be used to back home are of varying availability. Where there is a significant population of expatriates such as Beijing
and Guangzhou, Western brands and familiar items are easily found in upscale supermarkets and department stores. However, if you will be traveling in the countryside, then it's best to make sure you've stocked up on the necessities to bring along with you.
What You Can Buy in Local Supermarkets (relevant to larger cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou):
- Diapers: You can find the brands you know, but don't expect the diapers to be exactly the same. Huggies and Pampers are widely available, as are less expensive Chinese brands. You'll need to know your child's weight in kilograms (# of pounds / 2.2 = KG).
- Wet wipes: There is usually a large selection of wet and diaper wipes in convenience stores and supermarkets. I tend to buy the brands I recognize, e.g. Johnson & Johnson, as my attempts at buying local brands tend to result in heavily scented wipes. Watsons, a Hong Kong drug store chain, stocks an own-brand alcohol-free type as well as other diaper-changing needs.
- Tissues: Small packs of tissues are available in most stores and are very easy to find.
- Plastic bags: Bags of all shapes and sizes are readily available and Ziplock bags are being increasingly stocked in local shops.
- Heinz baby food: This brand has a large market in China but you may find the menus a little odd. If your baby isn't a picky eater, it shouldn't be a problem. Note: the title will be in English but the ingredients will be in Chinese. Heinz is not organic and there is probably sugar added. See below for more information on organic food.
- Evian water: Evian is great for sippy cups and good water to mix with formula. And you can be sure of the quality. Evian is certainly expensive, up to $1 for a small bottle, but it's a safe bet for your baby or toddler.
- 100% juice: A brand called Great Lakes makes 100% apple, orange and tomato juice that is widely available in small bottles and sometimes juice boxes.
- Infant formula: Despite the watchdog efforts by the Chinese government in the aftermath of the September 2008 milk scandal, I strongly advise you to bring enough formula for your child from home. If you've run out, then go to upscale supermarkets like Carrefour or an import food store (ask your concierge). There are many joint-venture companies producing formula in China. Import grocery stores may also carry fully imported formula.
Organic vegetables & fruits: While organic food consumption is just now gaining a foothold in China, it is starting to be more widely available on supermarket shelves especially in Beijing and Shanghai. Upscale markets such as Parkson and Carrefour carry a wide range of organic vegetables and some fruits. Here are more contacts about buying organic while in China.
- Shanghai: The major distributor in Shanghai is Shanghai Organics. Their produce is available in many upmarket supermarkets including Parkson, Freshmart and Carrefour. A good place to find organic drygoods is City Supermarket with multiple locations around Shanghai. They stock a number of organic items from the US and Germany. Their produce is also mostly organic.
- Beijing: The major distributor of OFDC certified organic food is Beijing Organic Food Co. Ltd. 'Organic Farm'. Contact: Ms. Chen Conghong (General Manager), tel: 010-84085026. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Milk: Again, with the September 2008 milk scandal it will be difficult to trust Chinese milk brands. To be absolutely safe, bring along UHT milk you can buy at home. (For example, Clover produces an organic UHT milk boxed in single-serving drink boxes for the US market.) You can find imported UHT milk at upscale supermarkets and import groceries. There is also locally produced organic milk sold in high-end grocery stores in Beijing and Shanghai but this is not very convenient for travel.
What to Bring from Home:
- Diaper cream: I haven't seen a lot of creams available in for-locals stores. You can find it in Watsons or a supermarket that caters to Westerners. But it will be expensive so it's better to bring it from home.
- Infant formula: You can find it in local supermarkets as well as upscale stores. If you're a nervous parent, you won't be able to read all the ingredients and the number of choices may be daunting so it may be better for you to bring it from home. Certainly, if your child has any special-needs formula, then you should bring it.
- Snacks: Finding your child's favorite snacks such as fruit leathers and Cheerios may be difficult and expensive. Bring packaged food snacks along with you.
- Disinfectant gel: Sometimes you can find it but mostly in expensive for-expat markets. Better pack a few bottles from home.
- Children's fever suspension medicine: I recommend bringing plenty of this along to ensure you have it when you need it and you have the kind you and your children are used to and you can read the directions.
- Children's antihistamine: if your kids are allergy-prone or can react to strange bug bites, it's good to have some of this along.
- Children's rehydration powder or liquid: If your kids get a bad tummy bug or food poisoning and lose a lot of fluids through vomiting and diarrhea, it's good to have this on hand. I have found powder in sachets in the US and I always make sure I have some in my bag for emergencies. You can get pre-mixed liquid but this is heavy and cumbersome.
- Small first-aid kit: hotels usually have at least some bandaids on hand but I always carry a little first-aid kit in my kid-bag that includes bandaids (Star Wars are preferred in my family), disinfectant ointment, after-bit ointment for bug bites and alcohol swabs.
- Mosquito spray: I find the Chinese brands ineffective. I've tried everything that is kid-friendly from citronella patches to health-shop brands but frankly, the only thing that stops nasty mosquitoes is spray with DEET in it.
What to Have in Your Diaper Bag (for Daily Excursions):
- Disinfectant gel
- Wet wipes
- Changing Pad(s)
- Water bottle/sippy cup
- First-aid kit
- Washcloth (I find a wet washcloth in a ziplock bag is very handy)