With its thousand years of history, China is a unique place. Everything about China is special: the language, the culture, the modern history and politics, the mix of old and new. People are very welcoming and kind, always curious to communicate with tourists, even when a common language is missing. When it comes to souvenirs, there is a much wider range of options than the fluffy panda bear you’ll most probably see everywhere you look. Here are some ideas for you if you’re struggling to find something appropriate for your friends.
1. Find your favorite character in calligraphy
World renowned, Chinese calligraphy is real art. Simple, yet meaningful, it’s an important part of old Chinese culture. You can even choose characters that would match your personality or the personality of your friend who will receive it. There are many calligraphy artists in most cities. For sure you’ll have options. And if you pass Beijing, you will most probably see old people drawing characters with water on the pavement with big brushes. Watch them to get a better feel of why doing calligraphy is such a relaxing activity.
2. Green, black, white, pu'ar, oolong, which tea will you choose?
Tea or 茶 is part of everyone’s daily life in China. Expect to receive green tea by default in most restaurants. There are, however, 4 other types of tea that you can choose from: black, white, pu’ar and oolong – all made from the same plant, but using different processes. In touristic shops, you will also be able to find flower and herbal infusions, although most Chinese people don’t drink them. If you’re looking for pu'ar tea, Yunnan province is the place to go, as pu'ar is originally from the city with the same name that’s based in Yunnan province. Pu'ar tea is like wine - the older it is, the better it gets. Don’t buy it unless you’re ready to wait a few years before trying it.
3. We all wear masks sometimes. Why not buy one from China?
Beijing opera fan? If so, masks are for you. With their lively colors and artistic touch, masks are a wonderful gift. You can hang them on your wall or display them on a shelf. Either way, it will for sure contribute to the character of the space. The best place to buy them from is for sure Beijing, as it’s the city with the most opera performances. However, you will be able to find them in most other places. Before buying them, ask about the significance of the colors - the color of the mask determines the roles of the character in the opera.
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4. If in doubt, buy something made of jade
No matter if you’re looking for a Buddha, a frog, a fish, a ring, or a necklace, chances are high that you’ll be able to find it made from jade. Jade is a wonderful stone that will for sure fit in any house. In old Chinese culture, it is associated with power and nobility. You will also be able to find a lot of jewelry made of this pretty stone. There are, of course, many fake objects on the market. It’s not always an easy job to tell them apart, but if you’re buying from official shops, you should be fine. The northwestern part of China is the region with the most jade available.
5. Chocolate is bad, fruit is good
Sweets are not a big part of Chinese culture. It’s not an easy job to find good quality chocolate and most Chinese people won’t appreciate it, as they perceive it as an unhealthy product. But dried fruits are everywhere – in supermarkets, in candy shops, in local markets. They are very tasty and for sure much healthier than candies. If you want to share some small snacks from China with your friends, dried fruits are your best choice. They come in a high variety – try them all.
6. Pretend to be part of ancient China
Fans are generally good to have, especially when traveling during summer. Many of the paper fans are very pretty, some come with calligraphy, others with old Chinese style drawings from myths and legends. Given that they’re light, small, not fragile and easy to transport, paper fans are a good choice, especially if you have a long way back home. North of the country gets especially hot in summer, you won’t regret having access to a fan.
7. Feeling sick? Try some traditional Chinese medicine
To buy Chinese medicine, you will most probably need a translator if you don’t speak Chinese. Even if you’re not sure it works, don’t hesitate to try. It comes from natural sources, there are no chemicals, just herbs, most of them very bitter. Chinese medicine has a long history, there have been many records throughout history of people recovering from all sorts of diseases thanks to Chinese medicine. Besides, given that it’s natural, for sure it won’t hurt you. Most pharmacies sell a mix of Western and Chinese medicine. Visit even if just out of curiosity.
Editors Note: Trip101 does not support poaching of endangered species. Please be well informed about the animal products you want to buy and make sure they’re not on the endangered species list. The use of these animals for medicinal purposes have yet to be backed by science and only contributes to corruption, crime and their eventual extinction.
8. No fork and knife - try chopsticks for a change
Last, but not least, consider getting some chopsticks. It might not be the most original idea, but it’s easy to find them at every corner and they’re usually cheap. You can get wooden ones or bamboo ones, painted or plain, longer or shorter, fancy or basic. Besides, eating with chopsticks is fun and sometimes it proves to be easier than eating with a fork and knife. They will be perfect for continuing to practice eating with chopsticks even after you’re back home. After all, practice makes perfect.
9. Shanghai silk
Where else is the best place to buy silk but China? It is actually a popular purchase among female tourists visiting this country. Here, you will definitely find silk of all colors and qualities. You can also buy fine silk products of numerous varieties as they have shawls, bedsheets, quilts, dresses with both Western and Chinese styles. Moreover, you can buy the fabric itself per meter then make your very own silk goods when you return home. Aside from purchasing this soft fabric as a treat to yourself, it is also a perfect gift for your family or other female friends.
10. Chinese Cloisonné
Bring home this brilliantly colored and exquisitely designed homeware. Having a distinct look, Chinese cloisonné has become well known around the world. It is often characterized by having intricate drawings with a dominant color of bright blue. This copperware model is decorated with filigree and enamel, and polished by artisans with extreme care to ensure that each piece has a smooth surface. It is an ancient art form that’s dated as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206AD - 1368AD). These Cloisonné wares are available on chopsticks, snuff bottles, vases, and even larger items such as tables, chairs, and folding screens.
Take a piece of China back home with you
No matter if you go back with many souvenirs or not, you will remember your Chinese experience for a long time afterwards. And don’t forget that China is very wide, it can take years to discover everything and have an accurate picture of the whole country. In China, there will always be a new place to discover, another mountain to hike, another type of food to taste. In any case, you should make the most of your stay. Don’t hesitate to say “knee how” (你好 – hello in Chinese) to everyone you meet on the way. The locals will love you right away.
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