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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

expat imports: life's guilty pleasures

There is a steep learning curve for new expats. As much as I thought I was ready for our big move from America to Taiwan, I wasn't. Not even close. It took me years to create a comfortable new normal. Nearly four years later, I think we have adapted quite well. We have found new ways to cook and new favorite foods to eat. We have found stores where we can buy clothes and shoes. We have found electronic stores and DIY stores. There is very little we need/want to import. But there are some things I want in particular from the states. My guilty pleasures. I am sure I could find a Taiwanese substitute, but I don't want to and I don't have to, so I'm not going to. So what are my guilty pleasures that I pay duty and shipping for?


I have always had temperamental skin. In the states, I counted on a regimen of products that are not available here. However, those products were meant for teens and were harsh. Then, after moving to Taiwan, I discovered Lush, a British based skincare company. I love Lush! All of their products are natural and treat my skin with the TLC it needs. I use three different Lush cleansers-- Dark Angels, Ocean Salt or Herbalism--, one mask-- Mask of Magnaminty--, one lotion-- Imperials--, and one toner-- Grease Lightening. 

Sadly, Lush withdrew from Taiwan almost one year ago and now I have to import its products. The first time I attempted to do so, my products were held up in customs. Taiwan is very picky about allowing in foreign cosmetics since its own cosmetic industry is pivotal to the nation's economy. I ended up deciding to have the package (with more than $50 worth of products) destroyed due to the very confusing Chinese import paperwork no one could figure out how to fill out, including every local teacher who works in my office. 

Now my mom ships a bunch of products in our holiday or birthday care packages. Because the package does not come from a cosmetic company, the skincare products slip under the radar. Thank god for wonderful mothers!! 

I am on Fitbit #2, and I will probably get Fitbit #3 this summer. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that my Fitbit is one of my most important possessions. Today, I consider myself a pretty fit person. I can run for an hour without stopping. I play tennis with friends & the husband multiple times a week (and I just got a brand new racket!). I do yoga often. I use my husband's total gym multiple times a week. I am training to climb Taiwan's second largest mountain this spring, Snow Mountain. I am a very different Jackie than I was two years ago. 

And I think I owe a lot of the change to my Fitbit. 

When I first got my Fitbit, I discovered that I only took about 5,000 steps per day. While this is still above the American average, it was nowhere near the recommended 10,000. Now that I can monitor myself, I rarely ever go a day without meeting the 10,000 step goal. Actually, most days, I meet this goal before lunch time (teachers can be very active in the classroom if they chose to be) and I typically hit 20,000+ before going to bed (tonight I'm at 22,000!!!). 

My favorite aspect of the Fitbit is the activity tracker. When I first started to run, I counted laps. I would usually run 3 miles, or 16 laps. Ever since getting my Fitbit, I now run for time. Most of my runs are 45 minutes, unless I'm on a long weekend run. Using the fitness tracker, I can just let my mind wander and really sink into my runs rather than keep track of laps. Occasionally, I can flip through the activity tracker's setting and see how far I've run and the approximate number of calories I've burned. When I get home, I can see a graph that charts my pace. This feature has helped me enjoy running more and notice trends in my stamina. It has also let me experiment with different terrain (hills) and speeds. I actually run faster and farther and stronger now than I did when I was running for distance rather than time. 

While I know I can use a different fitness tracker, I have really grown to love my Fitbit. It is not sold in Taiwan, and it does not ship to Taiwan, so I usually purchase a replacement over summer or have my mom send one in a care package. I find that with how active I am and how hot and humid Taiwan is, I can only reasonably expect each Fitbit to last for one year. I am actually okay with that. I can spare $100/year in order to be the healthiest (and happiest) version of myself possible. 

I am a total morning person. The alarm goes off and I pop out of bed! I like to get to work by 7:30, even though I don't have to be there until 8:10, so I can get a head start on my day. Also, I leave school the second the last bell rings at 4:10. I have a lot to do in the evenings-- make dinner, chores like dishes and garbage, exercise, have fun, relax-- and staying after school is just not something I want to do or can do. 

Because of how busy I am, I don't eat a traditional breakfast. Instead, I grab a Larabar. These bars are awesome! They have 200+ calories in them, which is great because I use them as a meal replacement. Depending on the bar, they only have 4-5 ingredients. My favorites are: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Blueberry Muffin and Lemon Bar. The base of each bar is dates, and each bar is the equivalent of 1 serving of fruit. 

I am sure that a random store or two in Taiwan sell Larabars, but I have never come across them. Instead, I buy them in bulk from iHerb, an online grocer. I can buy one month's supply worth of bars and only pay $5 for shipping! What a steal.

I have a wee bit of an addiction to ranch dressing, but I am very particular about brands. Some import stores do sell a variety of ranch dressing, but the flavors are off. Trust me, I tried all of them.

We eat huge salads at least once a week for dinner-- I am talking green, leafy lettuce, carrots, celery, black olives, tomatoes, peppers, chick peas, sunflower seeds, sprouts, broccoli, hard boiled eggs, mushrooms, grilled chicken, homemade croutons and Mozzarella cheese (and avocados when they are in season).

Of course we need our ranch to go with our amazing salads. My favorite is the Hidden Valley buttermilk my mom sends, but we also import dry ranch seasoning packets from iHerb, and then use mayonnaise and almond milk to turn it into dressing.

I won't confess how many packets of ranch we go through each year. The number is shameful.

Except for socks & sweatshirts, every single piece of my athletic wear comes from the states. And trust me, I have a lot of it. My rule of thumb is really simple: I have seven of everything. Seven workout tee shirts, seven workout pants, seven workout shorts and seven sports bras. I do only have two pairs of running shoes.

Before we got our dryer, I had seven of everything so I could workout everyday and not have to do the laundry. Now, even with the dryer, it is great because I have diverse choices. I have plenty of gear for cold weather workouts and plenty for hot weather workouts. I have good choices for running, tennis, yoga or strength training.

I import my gear mostly from Danskin or Athleta because Taiwanese stores tend not to carry sizes over 8. What a joke! Women come in all shapes and sizes, even here in Taiwan.

Thank god for international shipping!


They they are: my guilty pleasures! 
I am curious about other expats. 
What do you import to your host country? 
What are the things you don't want to live without? 
Please tell me someone else imports ranch dressing! 

Add your comment

  1. You are so amazing. I want to be you when I grow up! Miss you!

    1. Awe, thanks friend. I miss you too, but luckily we will be very close this summer :)

  2. I love Lush, especially that mask, so I can quite understand your need to import things. It's lucky you've found a way around customs! I have a favourite chocolate in Australia (where my sister lives) and she has a favourite chocolate in the UK (where the rest of the family live) so when I make the trip I fill my suitcase with UK chocolate for my sister on the way out, and Australian chocolate for me on the way back :)

    1. Yes, Lush is wonderful! I hear they have a coffee mask, but it is only sold in stores because it needs to stay refrigerated. Have you tried it?

  3. Oh mannnn, I am looking into iHerb so hard right now. I miss Larabars so much-- eating them all the time when in the States and totally forgetting about them here (out of sight, out of mind, I guess) but I do need them in my life again :)
    For me, it's Annie's mac&cheese... which I will also be looking for on iHerb (crossing fingers).

    1. iHerb does have Annie's mac & cheese! I am so happy for you! :)

  4. I teach in Venezuela where even everyday basics are hard to find (coffee, sugar, milk, flour, toilet paper, etc.) so I have to think long and hard about what will fit in my two allotted suitcases, and what I an afford to pay $6 a pound to ship here. Some things I've mailed myself over the nearly four years I've been here are: coffee, coconut oil, peanut butter, sriracha hot sauce, clothing, good chocolate, vanilla beans, shoes, and various spices. I just found out about iherb last week!

    -Amanda at https://teachingwanderlust.com/

    1. That sounds so tough! I am very thankful for how easy life is in Taiwan, for both locals and expats!

  5. I just wanted to say thanks for the Larabar/iherb tip. I bought two boxes (32 bars) and they just charged $8.00 for the shipping through DHL. I haven't gotten the order yet, but I'm not sure how they can send it that cheap because it would cost $45.00+ if I tried to send it any other way. THANK YOU! If I have any trouble, I'll report back.