It’s happening, again


The hoarding has begun. In anticipation for our move at the end of next month, meaning a pack-out in about a month, I’ve started to make lists of all the things I can’t possibly live without in Africa. And consequently, collecting said items. Most are of the wet-goods variety, since these days, thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can purchase almost any dry good we need. These days, moving from post to post, I ask myself, “what did people do before the days of!”

Items on said list include, but are not limited to:

  • Wine
  • Green Hat Gin
  • honey
  • San Marzano tomatoes
  • green goddess salad dressing
  • Whole Foods products (dried beans and grains)
  • Trader Joe’s products (snacks and goodies)
  • all-natural cleaning supplies
  • anchovies
  • Reynold’s Wrap foil (seriously, there is no substitute)
  • 1.75L bottles of Bulleit Bourbon
  • a specific brand of candles from our neighborhood CVS (delicious smelling and long lasting!)
  • …and Cholula hot sauce.

Also on the list is a small collection of newlywed gifts we’ve recently received. More like, newly-ish-wed gifts, I suppose. Hence the pasta press, Le Creuset stockpot, and ice bucket you see in the photo.

But you know what, in the end, the stuff you think you can’t live without, you actually can.

It’s about time.

Look! Newly released snapshots from the next Hoarders episode!!

Just kidding. This is our apartment, pre-packout. Specifically, the day before the packers came, when we decided that piling everything we wanted to pack in one room, despite it seeming to be the antithesis of packing our things up, worked really well.

There is actually some strategy to the madness that you see above. We were methodically separating our goods according to how we wanted the movers to pack our things, so each room got assigned a designated shipment, more or less. Here’s what you need to know:

Our UAB (Unaccompanied Air Baggage) is a limited number of pounds that gets to be sent with us home (to the Bay Area) and then onward onto DC (where the DiploMan will be going through training). These items were confined to the dining room table. Well, it was only the table at first, and then it spilled out onto the chairs and against the wall next to the table…

Our HHE (HouseHold Effects) is most of our belongings, and is our shipment with a max limit of 7,500 lbs. that will be shipped and stored somewhere in Singapore. These items will sit patiently in a dark, dank, musty storage space and then sent to Tanzania by sea once we arrive in May of next year. This is all the boxes that you see in the last three pictures of the post…and more, because that didn’t include a few stray boxes in the kitchen and our bedroom. In other words, we won’t see a lot of our stuff for a year!!!

Vocabulary words aside, our movers were brilliant. I think we actually hired human machines that wrapped, packed, folded, taped, stuffed, unscrewed, and dismantled as we directed them to.

Some of you reading this are, like we are, going through packout, or have in the past. So you can empathize. Others will get to experience this in the future, so maybe you can sympathize. But I guess most of you won’t have to deal with moving all your belongings and having a smidgen go with you back to the states while the other portion goes to a far-away mystery storage area. In that case, you can probably stop reading here, and I’m sorry if this post has been completely pointless.

This experience, this adventure, like with every adventure, has its advantages. I hope those of you that have packed out have seen the bright side of things, because otherwise it can be pretty easy to drown yourself in a fortress of newsprint and bubble wrap. What advantages, you might ask? Well, for example, packout is the perfect reason to clean out your closet and get rid of that feather boa you collected on New Years’ Eve (but keep the feather flapper headband, of course). Packout is the perfect time to unload all your crappy booze that was unloaded unto you when others left post. And during packout, you also get to record how much stuff you have as gross weight, which can become a fun game. Our grand total was a mere 3,500 lbs, in case you were wondering, far under our estimated 4,500 lbs. Well under the 7,500lb max limit the State Department offers, so we get to collect lots more junk in the future, hooray!

After two long days of packing and wrapping and tiresome hours of instructing other people to do stuff (that was meant to be wryly sarcastic, but it turned out to be sadly true) the DipoMan and I sat down in a newly emptied living room and made a short list. A list of how to go through this process easier, and better. Now, this list is mostly for us, but I’m also going to share it with you, because if it will help you with your move, then all the better. Because seriously, in the end, this packout process is a good amount of stress with a little fun and a lot of relief, and really just a drawn out way to say goodbye to a place that I call home and people I call friends.

The DiploMan and Jessie’s Packout Pointers.

*original notes in black, added commentary in italicized red.

Things that are good to know: 

  • Reduced reduce reduce, then reduce again
  • Items going UAB should be separated into three piles according to necessity- and weighed between each to determine how much more can go in:
    1. Things that MUST go (then weigh)
    2. Things that really should go (weigh it again)
    3. Things that we would like for them to go (weigh to reach max UAB weight, if not already)
  • Hiring help just to fold clothes is a GREAT idea Our a-yi came for three full days (we were able to snag another day from a friend) and really, mostly folded clothes to be packed. It was the best idea we (the DiploMan) had throughout this entire process.
  • Clearly separate and check welcome kit The welcome kit is a small kit of plates, utensils, sheets, etc. that we are provided when we move in, to enable us to survive on fried eggs and buttered bread until we receive our belongings. It also serves, on the flip side, to allow us to live out our last few days in Guangzhou with a bit of sanity. If you’re like us, you’ll have packed a plate or knife or two from the welcome kit into the HHE. It’s not a big deal, but it just means you’ll have to deal with getting rid of an ironically dull chefs knife when you get to your next post, and that you’ll be cutting your vegetables with a steak knife between packout and your leave date.
  • Pack carry ons and checked bags first
  • 250 of UAB is two boxes, not quite maxed out Typically one person would receive 250 lbs, and persons after that an additional 200 lbs each. But because my medical clearance is still pending, we had to suffice with a 250 lb shipment. 250 lbs is not a lot between two people. Especially if you have to anticipate spending three seasons on the East Coast and you like to have dinner parties. And your significant other HAS to pack his three-piece suits for “work”. Looks like we’ll be layering during the cold season and we’ll be coming over to your house instead. But at least I’ll have arm candy as my date.
  • Post-its for jbone are useful jbone, the DiploMan’s wildly un-romantic petname for me.
  • Set aside UAB first, and in order of necessity.
  • Jessie does a great job labeling boxes Thank you. And yeah, if you don’t label things yourself, you’ll have a lot of boxes labeled “living room” and a lot of boxes labeled “books”. Be specific, and you’ll thank yourself later. In a year.
  • Be in the room that is being packed up, and label each box yourself
  • Yarn does not go into UAB ‘really’ This happened after an attempt where one of us thought that twine should be packed into our “should go” to DC pile. The other one of us condescendingly (albeit unintentionally) remarked, “Really? You think YARN should go with us, really?!”. I mean, it wasn’t even yarn. But it’s okay, that was in the heat of the moment. We’ve since called a truce.
  • Remember to pack extension cords Our home is now a graveyard of various extension cords, both 110w and 220w capable.
  • “Just as bad as it is a liar” This is the iPad voice recording feature’s transcription of ‘Jessie is bad at leaving things in the dryer’. I originally didn’t want that full statement written down, but admittedly, I kept leaving things in the dryer.
Okay, so where does all this information leave us? Here’s a Useful order of operations:
  1. Welcome kit is separated (including bedding)
  2. Pack for flight (don’t forget travel docs)
  3. Go around the house and put post-it’s on small groups of items in each room: UAB, HHE, mail, and give items
  4. Create and movie items into UAB, HHE, etc., piles in separate spaces- separate rooms, if possible.
  5. Start to pack UAB first, and in order of piles. Must go, Should go, Would like to go.
  6. Supervise while movers pack (if possible, with one person handling- labeling- HHE items and the other person doing UAB and other misc packing items)
  7. (There was something inappropriate here that was written as a joke, but I’ll let you imagine what it could have been)

The Spaghetti Chronicles, because it’s a long story.

As I may have mentioned before, I am still awaiting the shipment of my kitchen (andohyeah, the rest of my things too), which should arrive at my door sometime next week.  In the meantime I’ve made do with the DiploMan’s kitchen goods, which are fine but you know, they’re just not mine.  Plus the DiploMan doesn’t have crazy kitchen girl things, like a mandolin, a scraper, mini whisks and mini spatulas, and not even a French Press.  But he has lazy kitchen boy things, like an automatic wine opener.  Why?

Anyway lest I stray too far into gadget land, despite the lack of kitchen gear available as well as staple pantry items, I really wanted to make a big pot of spaghetti last week.  This weather has me looking for one-pot wonders, as the week before I made my mama’s chicken curry (which lasted us through the week).  I fully accept the fact that I am a food snob (and proud of it!) like to use the best, most authentic ingredients (particularly when cooking Italian food) and generally try to make everything out of scratch.  Because it’s always better that way.  Before I left Brooklyn I loaded up on essential spices, pastas, canned goods, salsas….my shipment looked like my 3rd grade earthquake kit on MAJOR STEROIDS.  But since none of this has arrived yet, I had no choice but to throw up my hands in defeat and head to the store to see what I could find.  And here are a few things I brought home:

I know, I grimaced in horror too when I was forced to use these “chopped peeled tomatoes” instead of the requisite San Marzano brand I’ve been spoiled with back home.  And, don’t even get me started on the “Spaghetti Bolognese” mixed dried spices.  The food snob inside of me is kicking my own arse.  But, spices Italian Spices are expensive here, and with some coming in the next week, I couldn’t afford to stock up on every spice in the store.  Right?

Aside from these dried goods and the parmesan cheese nabbed at the supermarket, I also went to my favorite wet market just across the island, where I was able to find the base for my ragu sauce: carrots, celery and onion for a mirepoix and lots of tomatoes, which I roasted to add in the sauce for extra flavor since I didn’t have any tomato paste available.  I took a cue from Smitten Kitchen and my friend Donna, and though I didn’t have beautiful summer baby tomatoes to slow roast, these turned out just the way I wanted.  Suddenly a little ray of sunshine shone on my mission to cook Italian with Chinese ingredients!

with garlic, ready to be peeled, chopped and tossed into basic tomato sauce

I also bought some ground beef, from a lady selling all sorts of ground meat and meat fillings to wrap in dumplings- a common sight to see in the markets here in Guangzhou.  There were two major differences with this meat, than with the meat I would have bought in an American Supermarket.  First, the grind was much finer, almost to a paste consistency, it was ground so thin.  I realized the Chinese most often use ground meat to make chinese meatballs, or stuff inside tofu or veggies, or wrap inside of buns- the Chinese would never be so blatant as to sautee their ground beef into a sauce!  Additionally, the fat to lean content was higher than I was used to, which was disturbing only because I knew it would affect the texture of the meat once cooked.  And with these two observations, I threw it into the pan.

As a sidenote, I was initially extremely wary of buying any meat in China, and am now only moderately wary but have marched on and even bought myself a whole chicken from the butcher the other week (more on that later)!  Buying the ground beef for this sauce spawned an inner debate with myself about how exactly to go about buying meat in China, especially ground meat.  Just because I am buying all my food at my local markets here doesn’t mean it comes from farmers with ethical and environmental practices, nor does it mean that the food is the freshest, untainted or unadulterated.  You can’t trust that the practices for raising or slaughtering these animals is regulated, and furthermore I am not in any place (in my language skills nor being in a host country) to raise these questions at the market.  It puts me, an ultimate omnivore, at the constant crux of a huge dilemma- one to be continued.

Anyway into my sauce eventually went mushrooms and zucchini, because my mom always put zucchini in our spaghetti sauce growing up.  It also got a hunk of salted dried ham, for flavor, while it simmered on the stovetop.  I sauteed a side of spinach, boiled the noodles al dente and voila!  A spaghetti dinner to warm our hearts and stomachs.  Pretty good for cooking out of my own comfort zone, if you ask me!

Back in China

The barrier to the consulate building- keeping us in, or others out…?
Although I’ve been posting about Thailand for the last two weeks, I have indeed been back in Guangzhou for the last week.  (Just in case any of you were wondering if I decided to stay on permanent vacation…)
The weather here has been unusually freezing, with a wet chill that cuts right through one’s “winter” clothes.  I didn’t think I would encounter bone chilling coldness, but newsflash, I am wrong.  As a result of this grey and dreary climate, I’ve cut back on my great explorations of the city and its markets.  But, as with winters before in New York, I plan on utilizing my kitchen more since the weather is unkind- especially when my stuff gets here.  Next week?  Fingers crossed.  So, expect to hear more of my peeps from my very own kitchen!!!
And I know I said it before, but really, Happy New Year to all!