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What can my husband bring me from Hong Kong?!

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My husband just found out he's going to Hong Kong for business. Unfortunately I can't tag along. What should I ask him to bring back as a momento of the trip? Nothing too expensive, just something that you can only get in China...

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    Depends on what you are interested in. Some ideas:

    He can have a chop (a stone stamp) carved with your name in Chinese characters.

    Really special Chinese tea, such as the highest grade jasmine pearl and a Yixing tea pot.

    If you are artsy, how about a calligraphy set (brushes, brushwasher, ink pots and brush rests)?

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    I live in Hong Kong. I would say that there is very little these days that you can "only" get in China and not in the US, as so many Chinese goods are readily available these days in the US. For example, I love Shanghai Tang, and often recommend it here, but there are outlets in New York and LA, so it's not unique to Hong Kong, albeit it was started here in Hong Kong and has wonderful oriental-themed items (see http://www.shanghaitang.com/shanghaitang/).

    The suggestions above are good ones, if those are your interests. I can post some suggestions for shops for teapots or caligraphy brushes if that would be in interest to you.

    I would say that you can get virtually anything you want in Hong Kong, regardless of where it is made, as it is a true entrepot. For example, Swiss, German and other fine quality brand name watches like Cartier, Rolex, etc are a good buy here, they are cheaper than the US and there is no sales tax. As the Hong Kong Dollar and US Dollar are fixed, you don't worry each day about whether you are losing on the exchange rate.

    Pearls and other jewelry are a good buy here compared to the US, don't know if that is your interest. The pearls are primarily Chinese, not the more expensive Japanese, which are also available just not as good a price. I can recommend some shops if that would be an interest of yours. You could certainly get a nice strand of 6 mm pearls made into a necklace for about US$100, larger pearls would be a bit more, they can dye them gray to look quite convincingly like black pearls. I would not recommend jade unless you know real from fake, otherwise, as real jade is not cheap. (Of course a fake jade doughnut hung on a red string which he buys for US$12 is perfectly fine and a nice momento, you can buy those things in street markets everywhere.) Cashmere can be a good buy, a lot of it is not real, and much of it is not 100%, but a place like Pearls and Cashmere has some very nice good quality items which are not too expensive (see http://www.bypac.com/)

    One of the best things in the inexpensive range to buy here IMO would be the inexpensive artwork, from small already-framed pieces like Chinese zodiac signs, paper cuttings, old black and white photos to larger unframed artwork. The smaller framed pieces generally cost less than US$25 (you couldn't even begin to get anything framed in the US for that price), the shop will wrap them in bubble wrap to ensure they won't break. My favourite are the wonderful "peasant paintings" which are brightly colored primitive-style folk art paintings of Chinese village life. You can find these in Stanley market and often in other markets as well. These and they range in size from small to large, the largest size being about 25 by 25 inches and going for about US$85 and going down in price from there depending on size (and your bargaining skills). Very whimsical and charming.

    For Chinese-themed gifts and souvenirs that are not expensive, he should take a look at Chinese Arts and Crafts, mentioned above, or the slightly down scale version Yee Hwa Chinese Products Emporium. Both have things like tea sets packed in boxes, porcelain, clothing, tableware, scrolls, lamps, and just a myriad of small gift items. You certainly could find many of these same items in the US at oriental shops, so they are not unique, but there is a large selection, and the quality is good. Chinese Arts and Crafts has various locations in town, their biggest shop is in Kowloon right on Nathan Road, go to http://www.yuehwa.com/yh/english/hkallstore/p2_2k4.html for locations. Both are fixed price, which is good if he has limited time, they will ship, and they are very reliable. The main Chinese Arts and Craft shop in Kowloon is at the Star Ferry and is huge, with a very large gift department and clothing department on the second floor (jewelry on the first). I also like the gift shop at the Hong Kong Museum of Art (10 Salisbury Road) which is basically across the street from the Chinese Arts and Crafts shop. It has art books, artwork (esp wall scrolls) cards, Chinese music CDs, and all kinds of other art-related stuff at good fixed prices. They have interesting greeting cards as well.

    I always like to suggest antique or vintage prints and maps or something like antique textiles, which are unique and not made anymore, but these are sometimes in the expensive range. I can post some suggestions for shops if that would be of interest to you. There is a shop which sells vintage posters, like from Bruce Lee kung fu movies or Suzy Wong, which are Hong Kong-themed and a good souvenir and also good if you collect vintage posters. These are usually not that expensive.

    Depending on what hotel he will be staying at, a bathrobe from the hotel would be nice too (i.e. the Mandarin or the Peninsula).


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    Just FYI, the farmer paintings can be had for a small fraction of the price mentioned (unframed, however) in mainland China. Obviously that's not much use for someone not going there, but anything actually made in China is more expensive in Hong Kong, although usually cheaper than at home of course, unless shopping in a tourist trap (of which Hong Kong has many). I'd go with the bird cage (bought around the Bird Market, not in a souvenir shop) rather than the paintings, though. The price gap will be nothing like as wide.

    One thing it's safer to do in Hong Kong than in mainland China is to buy Chinese antiques, however. There certainly are fakes in Hong Kong, too, but there are ways to avoid them. It is (or was, the market price has been rising due to an increased domestic appetite for such things) possible to buy tomb figurines (individual members of sometimes small armies of servants or guardians buried with deceased notables) that are Northern Wei dynasty (around 1500 years old) for under US$100. Go up to Tang dynasty (around 1100 years old, more detailing, hints of Central Asian culture in clothing and hair styles, if you're lucky some of the original colour still visible) then perhaps US$300 and upwards. Simple though they are, and though they must originally have been made in their thousands, many of these figurines are full of character, and there's not much of this antiquity you can buy for so modest a price you might not even care if it's a fake. Go above this price and you'd better shop at places that offer thermoluminescence testing to prove antiquity (although that's pricey in itself.)

    Of course, these figurines and all the other antiques visible in dozens of shops on Hollywood Road in particular have arrived in Hong Kong illegally since exports of items of such antiquity may not be exported from mainland China. But if seen on sale in mainland China they are certain to be fakes anyway.

    If your husband first visits Dragon Culture in Hollywood Road (check with concierge which of the three original branches is still open, or someone here may know) he can acquire a copy of owner Victor Choi’s 'Collecting Chinese Antiquities in Hong Kong'. Choi concisely explains some of the mysteries of thermoluminescence testing and other authentication procedures, illustrates the work of each dynasty, and discusses what else has a bearing on price. This is a nice little book in its own right. A Tang dynasty horse can cost anything between HK$1500 (US$293) and HK$1.5 million (US$293,000). Did it come from the tomb of a noble, a king, or an emperor? Is its rider an officer or a soldier? You can (or could a few years a ago) possess a Northern Wei dynasty tomb figurine, nearly 1500 years old, for as little as HK$500 ($98), as I said). At one Dragon Culture branch there was a great deal of choice. Choi told me a few years ago the supply was decreasing, though. He runs antique appreciation courses for the HKTB, and his shop has their quality assurance mark. But as already said, there's nothing you can get in HK you can't get elsewehere, and there's a Dragon Culture branch in New York. Prices, however, are considerably higher.

    You can see samples of what I'm talking about on the website here:

    http://www.dragonculture.com.hk/

    by using the menus to search for figurines. Note that those chosen for illustration tend to be the more expensive items, however.

    I like the look of these, for example:

    http://www.dragonculture.com.hk/dcadmin/gitemcloseup.asp?iid=592&srch_inum=&d=Northern%20Wei&c=Figures

    On recent visits to Hong Kong I haven't had time to shop myself (although I have some Tang figurines from past visits of which I'm very fond), but you might also send your husband to look for Amours Antiques nearby at 45 Staunton Street, a virtual museum of everything embroidered, beaded, or sequinned, but particularly evening bags, some more than a century old, and all for sale. I don't remember in detail from my last visit, but I'm sure there were some with peculiarly Chinese patterns to fit your criterion of 'only in China'.

    As I say, some of this may be out of date, and those local to Hong Kong may be able to improve on this information. The other thing that occurred to me was that there used to be a shop at 13 Lyndhurst Terrace called China Treasures that sold framed railway share certificates from century-old investment schemes, in which Chinese characters chase the elegant copperplate English down the sheet. I think I did notice that the shop had gone, but they're probably available somewhere else in Hong Kong. They used to be on sale in the Portobello Road in London about 20 years ago. Authentic? Who's to say? But certainly as attractive and weighty as old share certificates often are and more so to the eye not familiar with Chinese characters.

    Hope some of those ideas might help.

    Peter N-H

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    Dear Natcam,

    I bought a stunning World Globe that is made with semi precious stones and is gorgeous! They come in several different sizes with base colors in silver, gold, or bronze. They vary in price (depending on size) from $50 to $200 US they sell for so much more everywhere else. In Bangkok the one I bought is $500 and I paid about $140!

    They also make beautiful glass ornaments and other glass items where they paint the ornament through a small hole on the inside of the glass which is amazing. I bought a few Christmas ornaments for about $6 US each.

    And finally, the Cloisonne work is spectacular!

    Perhaps some of that will tickle your fancy! Reggs

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