Looking through the doors, I groaned. I was already precariously balanced, standing in the middle of the subway car. My bag was bulky, so I’d shoved it between my feet. And here was a huge crowd of people, each with their own bulky bag, ready to cram into an already-crowded car.

I stared enviously at the man beside me, bagless and loving it (I assumed). How could anyone go bagless here?

These are just the most obvious must-haves:

1. Your cell phone (shouji). I know, not a surprise. But in China, I’ll argue it’s even more essential.

For one thing, half of all money transactions in a day are via cell phone, and that’s a conservative guess. WeChat, the No. 1 communication app in China, has also replaced wallets, email, etc. Using WeChat, you can pay for your coffee, order a taxi and otherwise drain your mobile data.

Other handy apps: a good AQI reader; a dictionary, like Pleco or TrainChinese, for on-the-go translations; a bike-sharing app like MoBike or OFO; a map like AMap.

2. A portable power pack (chongdianbao). While a lot of places are helpful, offering things like at-table chargers at restaurants, you can’t always find an outlet to plug in to. And let’s face it, you’ve been using your phone all day. No doubt you need a mid-day charge.

3. Tissue paper (canjinzhi). Imagine the already-unpleasant state of a public bathroom. Then, remove the toilet. You’re left with a soiled hole in the ground, with or without a stall around it, over which to squat. Even if you’ve found a nicer public restroom — stalls included, regularly cleaned — it will almost certainly not have toilet paper. So unless you prefer a good air dry, I recommend travelling with a packet of tissues.

4. Keys (yaoshi). I know what I’m talking about. At home, it’s a hassle but doable. In China, I really wouldn’t want to call a landlord I could barely talk to in order to get a new key.

5. Your passport and housing registration (huzhao he hukouben). Anyone living in China is required by law to carry their passport with them at all times. A risky bet, some opt for a photo copy, and usually that’s fine. But it’s all up to the officer requesting it. You are also required to register with the police 24 hours after arriving in China. If you get an apartment, that’s within a day of moving in. Then you always need to have your registration slip with you.

My bag bursting at the seams — my other “essentials” include a wallet, journal, book, etc. — I keep my grumbling to myself. With at least two hours a day on the train, I’ve become a pro at the commuter jostle.

Bag between my legs, I’ll just be here, daydreaming of ultra cargo pants or an all-pocket jacket to relieve my aching shoulders.

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