Cool stuff from China
June 2, 2009 7:12 PM   Subscribe

A friend is going to China on Thursday and has offered to bring us back something. What cool things should we ask for?

She mentioned that things like Blu-Ray players are really cheap over there, but we already have plenty of gadgets. Trying to think of other things we can't always find in the States.
posted by TrialByMedia to Travel & Transportation around China (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the coolest things i found in china were things i found by almost by accident or luck. i think you should let him surprise you.
posted by Flood at 7:22 PM on June 2, 2009

Where in China?

Silk is very cheap and so are pearls. Don;t buy electronics, many things will not work with our power.

There are lots of fun gee-gaws in the markets, surprises can be fun too.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:57 PM on June 2, 2009

I have bought electronics in China and found that they usually supply you with power adapters that can handle 110-220V (but check to make sure). Electronics in China are usually not much cheaper (or sometimes more expensive) than in the US, however, unless you want things produced for the domestic market, which tend not to be that good.

Some things you could ask for: scroll paintings for your wall (think calligraphy or landscapes). These can be had for quite cheap and usually look pretty nice.

Flowering tea (the kind where you put a little bulb into hot water and it opens up into a big flower) is not that difficult to find in China and is a nice surprise if you've never seen it before.
posted by pravit at 9:10 PM on June 2, 2009

Perhaps a silk or paper kite? If your friend hits the antique markets there are a lot of cool knick knacks to be found there, including Mao badges, Little Red Books, and other funny items (like a Mao wristwatch).
posted by Rora at 9:27 PM on June 2, 2009

How about a traditional Mahjong set with tiles made from bone or ivory, or bamboo and bone?
posted by torquemaniac at 9:57 PM on June 2, 2009

Communist memorabilia (posters and such).
posted by easy_being_green at 11:44 PM on June 2, 2009

i can't believe i didn't think of the communist memorabilia...though i hope it wouldn't be a faux pas, seeing as how her parents had to live through the cultural revolution.
posted by TrialByMedia at 2:23 AM on June 3, 2009

Pressed brick tea (not sure about the actual term) tends to be expensive in the US. It may be cheaper there, and it's pretty cool.
posted by odinsdream at 4:18 AM on June 3, 2009

Tea sets can be had pretty cheaply. A lot of them could be used as decorative items rather than functionally.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:22 AM on June 3, 2009

A piece of the Great Wall? Don't do that.

If you can find a copy of the Little Red Book from 1964, buy it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:18 AM on June 3, 2009

From my experiences in China, I would suggest the following.

1. Any TV shows you want to catch up on? DVD's of any TV show you can think of can be had for dirt cheap.

2. Fake communist memorabilia. (It's hard to get authentic stuff). There's some funny stuff; Mao wristwatches, propaganda posters, Mao statues, etc.

3. One of those golden cat statues that waves its hands and brings wealth/prosperity.

4. Scrolls. Lots of beautiful scrolls of landscapes, traditional chinese motifs, etc. Don't expect authenticity, but they're still really beautiful.

5. Baijiu. Ask your friend to bring back some chinese liquor. I don't quite know how to describe my experiences with this liquor; it is a force to be reckoned with. You won't like it, but....well, everyone should try it once.

6. If she's going to Hanzhou/Suzhou, silk! Lots of beautiful silk for sale, you can buy it by the yard.

7. Wonderful selections of teas.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 6:55 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

A copy of the Red Book (in Chinese and English on opposing pages) is always a good souvenir. Even if its not an old one.
posted by General Malaise at 7:50 AM on June 3, 2009

I have too many friends whose parents came here as political refugees to be comfortable owning any communist memorabilia.

I'll second the mahjong set; or any other tile/marble/other type game they see people playing in public.

CDs are fun; anyone performing on the street selling their own, or if there's one in particular they hear playing everywhere they go (nix this idea if it's Britney etc.).

Cooking supplies can be awesome fun if you're into that- supermarket spice mixtures, steamers, certain sizes of pots, interesting gadgets- things you see everywhere there and not so much here (or at least they're probably cheaper over there). Dried fruits can be good too.
posted by variella at 8:05 AM on June 3, 2009

I agree that the best things to be found in China (and nowhere else!) are things you stumble upon by accident. If you think your friend knows your personality decently well, let them surprise you. I was wandering around a pedestrian market in Shanghai and came across a guy who did paper-cutting. He had all the traditional style designs, but he also had a set of cartoon-esque portraits. You could pick a template out of a set of about 30, or he could cut one based on you on the spot, and he cut your name (whatever it is) into the template. It was adorable.

Don't ask for electronics. If you go with North American/European brands, it'll be a lot more expensive than the MSRP here. If you go with domestic brands, it'll be extremely difficult if not impossible to repair it if anything goes wrong.

A few things that stood out to me in my recent trip back -

Stationery, if you're into that type of thing. Really unique designs, pens that are really fun to write with.

Local delicacies, packaged. Everything can be bought in a vacuum sealed package, including things like salted giblets. Might be hard to get across customs, though. Candy is a good bet, though you might be able to get much of that at local Chinatowns these days. Get them to look for stuff that's locally produced and probably not exported much.

Artisan crafts in markets. You'd be amazed at some of the hand-made stuff you can get for really cheap. And they can be found everywhere.

Silk scarves and pearls will be really cheap, as mentioned above, but not overtly unique to China, per se. If you're going to ask for the liquor, go for Wu Liang Ye.

That's about the extent of what you can get someone to bring back for you, without going there yourself, unfortunately. And the golden cat is Japanese in origin.
posted by Phire at 8:31 AM on June 3, 2009

I'd go with tea. You can spend as much as you want (i.e. there's tea that is to expensive for you) but it's something you can't buy here and it is better. The day my cache of green tea from Emei Mountain in Sichuan (picked at a certain elevation once a year one leaf at a time) was gone was a sad day.

You might want to brush up on your number characters if you buy without a guide. The teas are in glass jars with the price per unit (jin?) marked. With that and some knowledge of how good old capitalistic supply and demand work, walk into any tea store and they'll be something memorable.
posted by sleslie at 8:46 AM on June 3, 2009

Warning about knockoff North Face or other high-end gear: My dad bought a really nice North Face jacket in China for about $20 (for perspective, it would have been $300 in the US) and it lasted about 2 months. You could argue that it's worth it for that cheep, but be weary about clothing, shoes, etc.
I second the tea, especially loose tea leaves. And communist gear! I have a wicked awesome Mao bag that always draws envious looks.
And tea pots/cups where you can brew the tea leaves inside.
posted by allymusiqua at 3:49 PM on June 3, 2009

Familiar at-home items but in the weird local flavors. Pringles/Lays potato chips has flavors in blueberry, cucumber, lychee, finger licking roasted pork, mango... Cheetos had strawberry, milk, and some other weird unidentifiable tastes.
posted by Jimmie at 7:42 AM on June 4, 2009

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