We moved several months ago, but I wanted to talk about the process just before we left for Shenyang. Pack-out consisted of three days of movers coming to our apartment. First was the HHE/UAB movers. That’s everything we’re taking to post, divided into two piles. The first pile (UAB, or Un-Accompanied Baggage) consists of 250 pounds of stuff for the officer, plus another 200 for each EFM. So that’s 450 pounds for Diplowife and me (the cat doesn’t count). The other pile (HHE, or HouseHold Effects) is everything else we want to have at post, minus our luggage and “consumables” (more on that later). UAB is also known as “air freight”, which means it should get to your post a month or so after your arrival. HHE is surface/sea freight, so it takes longer. Ours still hasn’t arrived and we’ve been at post for over three months.
Anyway, the first moving day was UAB/HHE day. It was mostly my job to get the house ready for this. I bought gaffers tape in an assortment of colors, and stuck tape all over our stuff, to make sure the movers knew which items were UAB, which were HHE and so on. I moved stuff that we weren’t taking into closets and the spare bathroom and put big signs on them to shoo the movers away. So the day of the pack-out, five movers showed up first thing in the morning, and got working…FAST. I worked with their leader to make sure the UAB pile got packed first, and we were under weight.
The UAB stuff was a source of stress all along. What things should we put in the UAB, versus the HHE? Let alone carry in our luggage? And would we go over our weight limit? Turns out we were way too conservative with our UAB pile. I set aside a bunch of kitchen items, the mixer, food processor, silverware and various pans and utensils. And Diplowife and I put a bunch of clothes on the UAB pile, too. But the movers packed it up and we had maybe half our weight limit. So we frantically ran around throwing stuff into the UAB box, and we should have been more considerate.
For example, I packed lots of winter clothes in the UAB, stuff that was too warm to wear a week or so after we got here. Meanwhile, I didn’t pack any baking stuff, and I love to bake. Whoops! Meanwhile, Diplowife threw a bunch of extra blankets and pillows into the boxes. Turns out there’s no need for that, the stuff here in Shenyang is fine for now. So to sum up, put a lot of thought into setting aside stuff for your UAB, and weigh it beforehand!
The rest of the pack-out went well, it only took a few hours. We brought in doughnuts and a jug of coffee from Starbucks, and ordered pizza for lunch. It pays to keep your movers happy. One annoyance about this pack-out was we had to take all the clothes off the hangers and basically make a giant pile. Not exactly how I like to treat my good suits and jackets. I think next time I’ll try packing them neatly in garment bags.
The second pack-out day was for storage items. This is mostly furniture that we won’t need in our furnished apartment in Shenyang, and items too valuable to risk damaging there. Also, we didn’t take any small appliances with heat elements, they don’t work well with transformers in non-110v countries (coffee machine, toaster, etc.). And, we sent all of our photo albums and some other paper goods into storage, stuff that I meant to scan, but didn’t get to (next time!).
This move went a lot less smoothly than the previous one. These movers could barely speak English, so there were communications issues. For example, they kept misspelling Diplowife’s name on the boxes. And they were SLOW. They were supposed to take half a day, and by 11am it was clear they were never going to make it. Diplowife called the moving company and the moving coordinator at the State Department, and got the movers to go somewhat faster, but it was still a mess dealing with the loading dock downstairs (neighbors had reserved it for the afternoon). We’re still pretty nervous about the safety of our belongings, as that moving company didn’t instill a lot of confidence.
The third and final pack-out day was for our consumables shipment. Shenyang is a “consumables post”, because it lacks Western-style supermarkets to some extent, and getting food and other items here can be a pain. So we’re allowed to transport a big shipment of consumables to post twice during the next two years. We went to the Costco in DC, because they sell booze, not just wine and beer. We bought a lot of booze, wine AND beer, along with lots of other edibles, toilet paper, shampoo and the like. That pack-out went very well, just took a few hours.
Our consumables haven’t arrived yet, as I write this, so I don’t know how successful the movers were at protecting our vast collection of wine, but I’m optimistic.
One thing I recommend is moving yourself and your luggage out of your house before the movers show up. We spent the last week or so at a nearby cat-friendly hotel and it was paid for by Diplowife’s expense account somehow (I don’t have the details on that). Our cat appreciated being elsewhere when the movers were lugging heavy stuff around her house, I can assure you. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about the movers taking our luggage.
One more thing: your moving company could do things very differently than ours. Some movers do the HHE, UAB, storage and consumables all at the same time, so it’s even more critical to mark your belongings clearly and/or group them together in different rooms. And always keep your luggage and pets somewhere else entirely, even if it’s your car or a neighbor’s house. You can’t be in every room at once to watch the movers, so mark stuff clearly. Better yet, have some friends come over, so each room has somebody to keep an eye on things.