Should I just ask for a fake-Gucci purse or what?
October 8, 2012 12:20 AM   Subscribe

My friend is going to Malaysia and the Phillipines for a business trip and wants to bring me back some souvenirs. Let's ignore what I might normally like and just phrase it as "What is some cool stuff that he could bring back?"

My friend is tired of buying just "touristy stuff" and wants to get some things for me and his family/other close friends that will actually "hold memories/stories".
He's been to this area of the world before and could only find a lot of kitschy stuff and knockoff purses n' shoes. And he wouldn't know a nice wood or stone carving if it got thrown in his face.

So what should he be looking for? He's going to be in Kuala Lumpur in a few days, and after that I don't know about the Phillipines, so I sort of need these answers quickly if possible.
posted by DisreputableDog to Travel & Transportation around Lake Forest, CA (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get some nice malongs! They're very practical if you know what to use them for. Use them as a summer blanket, beach mat, wrap skirt, baby blankets, carrying the dead...
posted by Hawk V at 12:41 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think food is always a nice souvenir. As weird as possible and/or whatever he finds delicious there that is not available where you are. The stories and memories come when he tells you about what he ate, and you get to taste it too.
posted by lollusc at 1:15 AM on October 8, 2012

If you want a conversation piece you could have him get some Cobra Whiskey.
posted by koolkat at 1:40 AM on October 8, 2012

Oh man, KL is one of my favorite places. It's a shame he can't bring you some of the street foods, because probably the best food in the world is right there! I gained a huge number of pounds on the teh tarik alone.... Unfortunately, I can't think of a realistic way for him to bring back these foods and flavors.

Sure, there's a market that sells knock-offs and such (specifically in KL it's Petaling Street), but I didn't find it to be very interesting. From KL, I brought home two carved teak pieces that hang on the wall and are carved in the words Allah and Mohammed in Arabic plus a few other delicate framed carved wood items (these are everywhere, including the nicer hotels), batik cloth, a kebaya (shirt) from the same place (I think), and Royal Selangor pewter (in the Visitors Centre location he can make his own pewter bowl!).

If he's not already been, he really must go to the Restoran Nelayan Titiwangsa for dinner and a show. He can bring you photos of the dancers, plus it will give him an idea of the wonders and culture of Malaysia.
posted by Houstonian at 2:08 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who brought me a small wooden bowl bought during a long sailing voyage. It's small, pretty, and it reminds me of her adventure every time I look at it. I even sometimes put things in it, and it's functionality is a plus.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:18 AM on October 8, 2012

Yes, the Royal Selangor pewter museum would be a good place.

Food-wise, you need to pay attention to customs guidelines. Your friend will be able to take more or less anything out of Malaysia, but I'm not sure about the US side. For example, try as I might, I won't be able to bring any meat-based product into Singapore. If there's such a rule for the US, take note of it before buying anything like barbecued meat (arrggggh so delicious).

Along the line of lollusc's advice, things that would make interesting eating, if he should stumble upon them, are dodol (can be packed into luggage!) - durian and sugar cooked down into a sticky sweet paste - and the aforementioned barbecued meat.

Wait, back to the original question. I think this is kind of a backwards way to find souvenirs with memories and stories - a better way may be to seek out unique/non-touristy experiences (if possible), and bring back something that brings them to mind, along with some great stories. For example, if I were there, I'd probably rip off a *cough* massage parlour advertisement for my friends, because it encapsulates my impression of urban KL. In that case, perhaps look at walking around Central Market (Pasar Seni LRT station) and related places.

That said, please, please tell your friend to watch out for crime, especially snatch theft. I don't want to give the impression that KL is some heathen criminal hell, but safety is an issue in urban/suburban Malaysia, like anywhere else.

Hey, Houstonian, I'll make sure to drink another mug of teh tarik for you. OP, if your friend also falls in love with it, this blog post has a photo of the 'tea dust' (s)he might seek out in a supermarket here.
posted by undue influence at 3:27 AM on October 8, 2012

Malaysia is well known for beautiful traditional textiles like batik and songket. You could get your friend to buy a couple of meters of hand-drawn batik on silk which you could then get tailor-made into a dress. Or to save yourself the hassle and expense of tailoring, ask your friend to get other products made of silk batik, like scarves or handbags.

Songket is heavier and often woven with gold-thread - people in Malaysia usually wear songket as wedding-gear or for festive occasions. A 1-meter length of songket, framed up, makes a really nice wall decor.

Central Market, mentioned by undue influence, is a bit of a tourist trap, but I think may just be the most convenient place to go to grab some textiles in KL for people who don't have much time to explore. (It's like a bazaar with many souvenir shops under one roof).

(I'm a Singaporean, which is similar in some aspects culturally to KL, plus I lived in KL for 3 yrs, so you can consider mine the local perspective).
posted by bie81 at 5:42 AM on October 8, 2012

To add on, here's a brief but fairly informative description of batik (with photos). Here's one on songket.
posted by bie81 at 5:56 AM on October 8, 2012

Nthing batik sarongs as a souvenir/gift. Inexpensive, lightweight, won't break in suitcase. There are two kinds of batik, hand-drawn (silk or rayon) and block (cotton); there is also screen-printed batik, avoid that. If he has the time and wants quality batik, check out Peter Hoe Evolution, near the Central Market in KL.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:59 AM on October 8, 2012

The Philippines has some incredible hand made treasures ; every province their own variety. These are very difficult to find outside of the Phillipines, so he should take advantage. (He will know 'em when he sees 'em)

The real token of memories he will bring back will be if he gives himself the oppty to receive these gifts directly from a local, given their uniquely gifted seduction and warmth.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:19 AM on October 8, 2012

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