Voltage matters

220 vs. 110 voltage. Thanks to this critical difference and our own inattention/ineptitude, our expat wake is littered with electrical items.

We originally moved from “110 voltage” USA to “220 voltage” China. This voltage difference paired with highly adaptable Chinese wall sockets–which accept all kinds of plugs–meant that we fried a stereo, baby monitor, and blender in Zhuhai. (Heavy, scary looking, voltage converters only work when used…)

Common Chinese wall outlet. Lethal for US 110V items. (Courtesy of wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_power_plugs_and_sockets)

On our next move, we were saved by the wall outlets in the UK, which in their girth and seriousness could never be accidentally confused with relatively dainty American outlets/plugs. Frankly, the size of the UK plug makes me feel like I’m bringing Frankenstein to life every time I plug in the coffee maker.

US and UK style plugs

Needing this and that while in England, we’ve ended up with plenty of massive UK-plug-style items. For awhile we were at least careful to not buy any appliances that didn’t switch from 110 to 220 and visa versa on their own (most computer-type things do), but then life moved on and we just bought what we needed when we needed it. So now we own a 220 voltage toaster, electric kettle, coffee maker, hair dryer, and bread maker.

Thankfully, all this UK stuff works seamlessly here in Hong Kong, where the sun hasn’t set on the British Empire’s colonial electrical legacy.

While simple plug design differences are easily surmounted with wall adapters, voltage differences will remain a headache into the distant future. One day when we move back to 110 voltage land, we’ll have to buy another big voltage converter that goes the other way, 110 to 220.

Right now, I’m happy we’ve made it three years without frying any of our remaining 110 voltage items. So, for now, good luck: American Kitchen Aid mixer, food processor and drill. May we always remember pull out the voltage converter to use you. Please let us not plug you into the 220V outlet on the back of our voltage converter in a state of haste or drunkenness. (You can see how easy it would be to do…)

Our beloved voltage converter.

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6 responses to “Voltage matters

  1. I loved this post! I had the whole set of adapters and transformers too!! Yes, the UK plugs are intense, and quite the pain to get through hard to reach/narrow places (like the tiny spaces behind the shelves in your entertainment center which hides all the cords!)

    My problem was solved when I moved back to Seattle, and all my HK-bought electronic items (Plasma TV, DVD player, etc.) was STOLEN when our place got broken into… but there was sweet revenge as I’m pretty sure the thieves had a really hard time trying to offload/get the bloody things to work again w/out the adapters! HA!

    I’m so glad I found your post as I can live vicariously the authentic HK taitai life! 🙂

    • I love that they stole a bunch of incompatible 220v appliances! Sweet, sweet revenge.

      Ah, the life of the Hong Kong tai tai… since I only have part time help and do my own laundry I’m not quite living the high life. No trips to Shenzhen for cheap pedicures and foot massages (yet….).

  2. actually over the years I buy stuff that changes voltages on their own…this include hairdryers, rickcookers. only buy local voltage stuff unless necessary given the nomadic lifestyles…

    • We had some expensive kitchen appliances purchased in America that we still use voltage converters for. You’re right that it’s much better to buy things that switch automatically (and now we do that whenever we can).

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