It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas with shopping discounts, classic carols and St. Nicholas decorations. And even though this holiday isn't perceived as a traditional celebration, it's becoming more popular with Chinese each year. For better or worse, that means many of us will probably have to buy someone you know (in China or your home country) a present. If you're in the greater Chengdu area, here are a few unique regional gifts for your loved ones this holiday season.
Chengdu Shu Embroidery store. Photo: chinatourguide.com
In a country that's renowned for tea, in a city that's famous for tea houses, it's no wonder Chengdu's favorite drink serves as a wonderful Christmas present. Perhaps the most famous brand from central Sichuan is called Emei Shan Zhuyeqing (竹叶青) a.k.a. Mt. Emei Bamboo Green Tea. This particular brand of tea is famous throughout the country and is easily recognized by its flat, smooth and glossy leaf. It's also a bit heartier and sweeter than other green teas and still possesses the added health benefits that all green teas have.
Mt. Emei Bamboo Green Tea can literally be found all over Chengdu; from chain supermarkets to boutique tea houses to tourist shops. Just ask for it by name and you'll have it in your shopping cart in no time. Also note that there are different name brands selling this particular type of tea ranging from cheap to expensive. Unless you're giving it to a tea connoisseur, I'd recommend sticking with a mid-range brand that costs around 150 RMB for 30 or so individually wrapped packages.
2) Tea Cups and Pots
If tea isn't enough to satisfy your demanding shopping list, purchase a traditional Sichuan gaiwancha (盖碗茶) tea cup or tea pot. A tea cup comes in a three-part set: First is the drinking cup itself that's short, handle-less and elaborately decorated. Second is the bottom base that acts as a plate for the cup to sit on. Third is the lid (or gai (盖)-the most defining attribute of this set) which keeps your tea warm and flavorful. A typical Sichuanese tea pot is bronze, has a fat water reservoir and a long spout which is used to project water into a long stream. In ancient and contemporary times alike, tea hosts put on shows by filling their clients' cups up at a long distance using acrobatic moves with these unique tea pots.
Traditional tea cups and pots can be found all over the city in a wide array of shopping plazas. Some mass produced, plastic, discounted ones at Carrefour, RenRen or Auchan are a good deal, but if you're looking for something a little more classy then check out Kuanzhai Road or the area around Wenshu Monastery. But beware, some of the more expensive gaiwancha sets can costs 100s, even 1000s of RMB!
3) Stuffed Panda
For some reason people just can't seem to get enough of pandas. And why not? They're about as cute as any animal out there. And since Chengdu is coined the "Panda City" due to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, a stuffed panda teddy bear would be a great gift for children of all ages. And for all you men out there, if you're struggling with gift ideas for your girlfriend and don't have enough cash for a new Gucci purse, a stuffed panda will still win you a few points.
Stuffed panda bears are another very common item throughout Chengdu. Street vendors sell them out of their cars while just about every tourist shop in town has one. They also come in all shapes and sizes with the cheaper/smaller ones costing about 50 RMB while the massive/life sized ones will cost you a few hundred RMB. But perhaps the best place to purchase one is at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. There they have the best selection and probably also the best quality.
4) Shu Embroidery
Chengdu is famous for Shu Embroidery (蜀绣). Developed during the Qing Dynasty, it is considered one of "China's Four Famous Embroideries" as well as "China's Four Famous Brocades." Shu Embroidery is truly a work of art and characterized by close stitching for minute detail, the use of vibrant threads and is typically fabricated on a delicate satin fabric. Another good thing about these embroideries is that they can be knitted on anything; from clothes to canvasses and slippers to silhouettes.
Top quality Shu Embroidery is found in the popular tourist neighborhoods of Chengdu. Jinli Street next to Wuhou Temple, the Wenshu Monastery area and Kuanzhai Road are the places for finding the best bang for your buck (even though it should go without saying that you get what you pay for – the bigger and better quality the embroidery is, the more expensive it'll be). If you want to get embroidery stitched on garments or other souvenirs, look for the stores with the old ladies stitching on the street and they'll be happy to thread a personalized embroidery for you at a slight extra charge.
5) Hot Pot Set
Anyone who's lived in and/or visited Chengdu knows the cultural importance (as well as the deliciousness) of hot pot. Buying a hot pot kit—which consists of an electric table-top stove, a stainless steel pot for the soup and individual bowls, plates and chopsticks—is the perfect way to share Sichuan's favorite meal with friends or relatives abroad or in other parts of China. The beauty of this gift is that after buying the essential items, the raw meats and vegetables necessary for a phenomenal hot pot feast can be acquired at any supermarket all over the world. And in regards to being a gift that gives back, it's also a great way to ensure that you can continue eating hot pot when visiting home or after you move away from Chengdu!
This gift is actually several gifts wrapped into one. The best place for an electric table-top stove and the stainless steel hot pot soup bowl is a large supermarket chain like Carrefour, RenRen or Auchan since they offer the best quality ones for the lowest price. You can also find the plates, bowls and chopstick sets at these places but they'll most likely be low quality. For more elegant and decorative utensils, check out Kuanzhai Road, the Wenshu Monastery neighborhood or Jinli Street.
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