Red Clothes, a Perfect Chinese New Year Gift for Someone’s Zodiac Year

Usually when we send anything for Chinese New Year to my husband’s parents here in China, it invariably elicits a very standard response that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Chinese culture: “You shouldn’t have spent that money!” In fact, Jun’s parents already used this phrase on us twice – once after receiving the Chinese New Year gift boxes of Chinese jujube dates and walnuts, and then again after sending some whole root ginseng.

But when Jun told his father in a phone conversation that a gift box of auspicious red socks were also headed his way, he perked up with an uncharacteristic note of excitement in his voice. “Eh, your mother told me to buy some red socks and underwear!”

(That was my father-in-law’s way of saying: I love it, thank you!)

Those who know something about Chinese New Year culture and superstitions won’t find it surprising that he embraced this delivery more than the others.

First of all, wearing red in your Chinese zodiac year supposedly wards off the potential bad luck that might threaten anyone born under that zodiac sign. And second, people say the red clothing offers stronger protection if someone else buys it for you.

So since I bought him pairs of red socks, that could make these an especially propitious and welcome way to ring in this Chinese New Year, his own zodiac year.

Red socks or underwear (from actual briefs, boxers or panties to long johns) can present easy options to buy for your friends and family, provided you know their sizes. But when in doubt, go for anything painted in brilliant red: hats, scarves, gloves, wraps and even necklaces or bracelets.

Have any Chinese family or friends about to enter their zodiac year? Don’t forget them on your Chinese New Year shopping list – and remember, this is one time that someone might actually cheer to receive underwear or socks! For ideas, visit my post Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian).

Need more Chinese New Year gift ideas for your Chinese loved ones? I’ve written extensively on the subject of gift-giving and recommend the following posts:

P.S.: If you’re shopping this Chinese New Year on Amazon.com, you can actually support Speaking of China — at no additional cost to you — by making a purchase through one of my affiliate links. Thanks!

7 Favorite Chinese Brands for Chinese New Year Gifts

As Chinese New Year will light up homes and skies around the world at the end of this month starting Jan 24 (the eve of Chinese New Year), many of have already begun the annual shopping “shuffle” to find those perfect Chinese New Year gifts. And many Chinese brands you might not know happen to shine as splendid gift choices for Chinese New Year.

Here are 7 favorite Chinese brands – featuring foods and supplements — that you should consider while shopping for Chinese New Year, along with links to online stores in China and also around the world, including Amazon (where your purchases help support this site).

Three Squirrels (三只松鼠)

Chinese have gone nuts (pun intended!) over this label, which reigns as one of China’s best-selling snack brands and boasts an adorable trio of squirrels as its mascots. Naturally, things such as pecans, macadamias, pistachios, almonds and more stand out as favorites, but Three Squirrels also sells dried fruits, fruit and nut combos, plus a wide array of products that cover practically every snack category in China (from cookies, crackers and cakes to smoked/dried tofu and, yes, even potato chips). If you live in China, buy from the official Three Squirrels online stores on Alibaba’s Tmall or JD; you can also find Three Squirrels on Amazon.

Prince of Peace (太子牌)

This Hong Kong brand has won fans across the world and become one of the most ubiquitous ginseng brands in Chinese supermarkets across America for its quality and potent American ginseng products. While Westerners tend to like the convenience of the teas, capsules and powders, most Chinese will prefer whole root ginseng or ginseng slices. In China, you can buy on JD’s online marketplace. Otherwise, visit the Prince of Peace online store or Amazon.

Honey West (楼兰蜜语)

This brand name captures the sweet allure of the many popular snack foods of western China that have enchanted peoples’ tastebuds. Unlike Three Squirrels, Honey West specializes in western Chinese snacks such as large Chinese jujube dates, walnuts, raisins, figs and much more. As much as I love Three Squirrels, Honey West has become my go-to choice for Chinese New Year gifts for the family – their boxed Chinese jujube date/walnut combos always bring a delicious helping of joy (and good fortune, thanks to their clever packaging design) to the table at the holidays. You can find Honey West on Alibaba’s Tmall or on JD.

By-Health (汤臣倍健)

As vitamin brands from abroad have multiplied in the Chinese market, the domestic brand By-Health still flexes its muscles as one of the top choices for Chinese consumers looking for quality supplements at a good price. And since By-Health imports many of its key ingredients, buying from them can be like opting for an overseas brand. Even better – By-Health offers a selection of nearly every major vitamin, from vitamin B and C to multivitamins and calcium to even specialty supplements such as spirulina and garlic oil. You can purchase By-Health online at their Alibaba Tmall official store or their JD official store, and also visit its English website.

Olivoila (欧丽薇兰)

For years I’ve watched olive oil pour into supermarket shelves – and kitchens – across China, to the point where the country has risen to become one of the world’s major importers of this product. While Spanish and Italian imports vie for customers, the Chinese brand Olivoila, which promotes its own blend of imported olive oils tailored to the Chinese market, continues to sizzle among leading choices. In fact, my employer even gave a special boxed set of Olivoila olive oil for Chinese New Year. Here in China, you can purchase Olivoila at the Alibaba Tmall official store or its JD store.

Great Wall (长城葡萄酒)

The Alibaba Tmall supermarket listed a gift box of Great Wall red wine among its hottest selling products for Chinese New Year, a testament to how beloved this time-honored brand remains, despite the diverse range of imported wines that have flooded the Chinese market. For Chinese New Year, choose wines in red, the most festive color of the season. You can purchase Great Wall at the Alibaba Tmall official store or its JD official store.

White Rabbit (大白兔)

For many Chinese, White Rabbit candies, which date back to 1959 and represent one of the first treats in modern China, recall the sweet taste of nostalgia with every bite. And since generous bowls of candies always feature in Chinese New Year celebrations, consider surprising your Chinese loved ones with a box or some bags of these. They come in the traditional white milk candies as well as some newer and more innovative flavors (such as wasabi!). You can buy White Rabbit candies at the Alibaba Tmall official store or the JD official store, as well as on Amazon.

Photo credit: By David290 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77127042

What do you think? What are some other favorite Chinese brands you would recommend for Chinese New Year gifts?

Need more Chinese New Year gift ideas for your Chinese loved ones? I’ve written extensively on the subject of gift-giving and recommend the following posts:

P.S.: If you’re shopping this Chinese New Year on Amazon.com, you can actually support Speaking of China — at no additional cost to you — by making a purchase through one of my affiliate links. Thanks!

4 Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas for Chinese Loved Ones

If you’ve saved your holiday shopping for the last minute and wonder what to buy for Chinese loved ones on your list, we’ve got you covered on this blog. Here are four last-minute holiday gift ideas to consider:

#4: Hats, gloves, scarves

People love getting new clothes for the holidays in China (so they can dress in a completely new outfit from head to toe), so winter clothing is always in season as a gift.

Hats, gloves and scarves offer the easiest options — you don’t need to know sizes to buy the perfect gift. Still, quality counts here and, if you’re buying for someone younger, style as well. To play it safe, opt for major brands such as Esprit, Gap, Uniqlo or Zara.

#3: Jewelry

Quality watches, earrings and necklaces in classic styles also shine as gifts for Chinese — and if you’re buying outside China, you can often find those with precious stones at better prices too. Unless you know the recipient well, stick to the most traditional pieces and settings from established brands or jewelers. Watches work well for men, while women will love earrings or necklaces.

#2: Foreign wines

Top-shelf wines from abroad bring great holiday cheer — and easy gift ideas as well, particularly for men. French wines remain favorites, but almost anything from Europe will make a splash. Learn more about buying foreign wines in this post.

#1: Fruit baskets and gourmet food baskets

If you’ve read every suggestion on this list and still feel stumped, then repeat after me — get a fruit basket or gourmet food basket. For more specific advice on this, see 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China.

Need more last-minute holiday gift ideas for your Chinese loved ones? I’ve written extensively on the subject of gift-giving and recommend the following posts:

What did I miss? What other last-minute gift ideas would you recommend for Chinese loved ones?

P.S.: If you’re shopping this holiday season on Amazon.com, you can actually support Speaking of China — at no additional cost to you — by making a purchase through one of my affiliate links. Thanks!

Gift Ideas for Chinese Loved Ones from Singles Day Shopping Trends

As the holiday shopping season is fast approaching, gifts once again emerge as that perennial to-do on many of our lists. But with Singles Day kicking things off in China, it offers a great opportunity to sift through the data and get some gift inspiration for your Chinese loved ones this holiday season. Here are some major trends to consider, based on purchases Chinese consumers made during or around Singles Day in 2019:

Travel a hot ticket this year

This year, a growing number of Chinese have opted for experiences over things by choosing travel products on Singles Day, as China Daily reported in the Nov 14 article Chinese buying more travel products:

In the past five years, the number of travel product orders on Nov 11 has seen a compound annual growth rate of nearly 60 percent. Each year, the number of new consumers who bought travel products grew by more than 30 percent over the previous year, according to Fliggy, the online travel arm of internet giant Alibaba Group.

On Monday, more than 5 million people booked overseas trips on Fliggy. The total transaction volume of international flight tickets jumped 50 percent over last year. The platform has also seen over 900,000 visa orders and 1 million nights of hotel bookings, the travel arm of Alibaba added.

So for your holiday gift-giving, why not hop on that bandwagon and opt for a little traveling fun this holiday season or in the coming year?

Besides splurging on planes, trains or automobiles and hotel and resort stays, think about those travel must-haves or comfort items that make the journey even more pleasant. Suitcases and luggage sets, bag tags, comfy pillows, luggage trackers, travel-friendly apparel and much more could go on your list.

Services surging

In a China where lightning-fast shopping delivery services and takeout reign, it’s no surprise then that many shoppers this year gravitated toward more service-oriented purchases, as the China Daily article Shifting trends behind China’s record shopping spree notes:

Services consumption is also rising. Door-to-door beauty care, luxury product maintenance and other services were popular on e-commerce platforms during this period.

So why not order your special someone some good service this year? Or consider providing a little something yourself (hint, hint)? 😉

The latest electronics still shine

A recent report from China Daily on 5G handset sales — 5G phone shipments quadrupled in Oct – delivered some eye-popping numbers, and the fact that it came ahead of Singles Day makes it even more astounding:

Shipments of 5G mobile phones in China witnessed a sharp 401.81 percent surge month-on-month in October, according to data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology on Monday.

Overall domestic mobile phone shipments in China reached 35.97 million units in October, down 6.7 percent year-on-year and 0.7 percent compared with September. 5G mobile phone shipments sent out 2.49 million units, compared with 497,000 units a month earlier, data showed.

As 5G networks emerge around the world, you can bet 5G devices – and other trendy electronics – will certainly light up this holiday season, and make for great gifts for your loved ones as well.

P.S.: Looking for more gift ideas for your loved ones? Peruse all my advice on holiday gift-giving at the Holiday Gift Roundup post, which includes 7 Great Chinese New Year Gifts Sure to Impress Friends, Family and Coworkers, Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide, 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China and Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives.

‘Fruitful’ Idea: An Easy Christmas Gift for Family, Friends in China

Many years ago, I experienced what was, to me, one of my most unusual Christmases. My fear of spending the holiday alone in Hangzhou, as I was single at the time, drove me to purchase a train ticket and flee to the one city where I actually had some close friends: Zhengzhou, in Central China’s Henan province. My old friend and Mandarin tutor Wang Bin connected me with some friends of his, who welcomed me into their apartment, bereft of even a single Christmas decoration, and offered me a guest room.

Even though it didn’t look a lot like Christmas in their home or on the streets, I felt determined to stir up a little holiday cheer on my own. Among my plans? Buying Christmas gifts for my Chinese friends and even host family.

Of course, this led to yet another great seasonal dilemma, one not unique to my situation in China. What Christmas gifts should I buy?

How many times had I grappled with this question in the US during past Christmases, only to face the same issue in Zhengzhou, China.

I still don’t remember what I purchased for my host family, but do recall picking up a few fuzzy scarves for my Zhengzhou friends. I have no idea if anyone liked them, but I can tell you I spent probably way more time and energy than the task deserved

Navigating Christmas in China has grown easier over the years, as I’ve celebrated many Christmases here and gained a better sense for how Chinese people view the holiday.

And now that I have family here, thanks to my marriage to a Chinese citizen, I’ve done my share of gift-giving with them. It’s not quite like doing Christmas presents back in my home country of America, but it’s also a lot easier.

If you have a similar dilemma, such as worrying about what to buy for everyone from Chinese friends or a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend to a Chinese host family, then let’s talk Christmas gifts for people in China, with an easy suggestion sure to please all ages.

Here are things to keep in mind:

#1: People in China don’t generally expect gifts for Christmas

The good news? In general, people don’t have strong expectations for gifts. The vast majority of Chinese didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas with their families, as it isn’t a traditional holiday here. You won’t encounter people making out their “gift list” to give to others, or announcing what they want in advance. (This holds true for holidays in China where people do traditionally give gifts, like Chinese New Year.)

That takes a lot of the pressure off your shoulders, as you shouldn’t feel like you have to find “the perfect gift”. People in China don’t even aim for “the perfect gift” at Chinese New Year for others, so why should you fret about it for Christmas?

#2: If you’re going to give a gift, make it quality

Here’s the key though — whatever you choose, think quality when you buy. Face matters a lot in gift-giving in China. When you present something to someone else, it also reflects on you and your relationship with them. So as much as possible, aim for the best you can afford.

#3: When in doubt, go for my No 1 gift choice in China (with a Christmas twist)

I’ve done a lot of posts on gift-giving, including The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family published on the Huffington Post, as well as my classic post Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide.

But whenever pressed for an easy solution, I always suggest the No 1 gift beloved by Chinese of all ages — fruit!

Chinese people think of fruit as dessert. It caps off even the most lavish of banquets, and people frequently give it to guests, friends and loved ones as a treat or gift. And when people buy fruit, they have high expectations for taste and even freshness, which means you can find delectable choices at even the most humble of fruit stores. (This last point also explains why I’ve “rediscovered” some fruits here in China — see How China (and My Chinese Husband) Helped Me Love Grapes & Other Fresh Fruit.)

Now you can buy fruit in boxes or cases, or get a fruit basket (see my article 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China for guidance on fruit baskets). You can purchase these online through the major Chinese e-commerce sites — Taobao (or its English version Baopals) and JD — which are probably one of the best ways to zero in on high-quality offerings in any season. Local supermarkets will also have fruit in boxes or cases, and sometimes fruit baskets. You can always find both at the pervasive fruit stores all across urban areas in China (proof of how much Chinese adore their fruit). If you’re living overseas and want to send a fruit basket to someone in China, try Gift Baskets Overseas (disclosure: I’m an affiliate).

However, if you want to give fruit as a Christmas gift in China, purchase apples.

Why apples? Here’s an explanation from Why Christmas:

People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called “Ping’an Ye” (平安夜), meaning peaceful or quiet evening, which has been translated from the carol ‘Silent Night’. The word for apple in Mandarin is “píngguǒ” (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace.

Giving apples on Christmas Eve has emerged as a new kind of tradition here in China. Even I’ve received my share. And Chinese generally people love good apples, tradition or no, making them a wonderful present.

I highly recommend giving Xinjiang Aksu sweetheart apples (阿克苏冰糖心苹果) for their sugary goodness sure to delight during the holidays. China also has a variety of Fuji apples (富士苹果) that make for delicious gifts too.

Optionally, stores now sell special Christmas Eve apples decorated with Chinese characters just for the occasion, which obviously cost more.

If you opt for a fruit basket, that’s fine too. Look for one that includes apples!

While apples and other fruit make for an easy Christmas gift solution, they aren’t the only possibilities.

For more ideas, take a look at my article The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family published on the Huffington Post, as well as my classic post Giving Gifts to Your Chinese Family – A Modest Guide. And yes, for gift baskets, see my article 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China.

What do you think is the easiest kind of Christmas gift to give to Chinese loved ones, family or friends here in China?

2016-17 Gift Recommendations for Books Featured on This Blog

Do you have a book lover on your holiday shopping list? Consider giving them one of these books I’ve featured on the blog in 2016 and 2017.

Why 2016 too? Because last year at this time I was busy with a big move and never got around to posting on the books for that year. But there were some great books on the blog in 2016 worth mentioning this time around.

I’ve listed these in alphabetical order based on the author’s last name. All titles are linked to Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

Quincy Carroll“Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside” by Quincy Carroll

This novel explores the clash between two Americans (a deadbeat and an idealist) teaching English in China, and the student who comes between them. Learn more through my interview with Quincy.

“Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

For entrepreneurs in China and their spouses, Dorcas’ helpful guide has additional value thanks to her time in Shenzhen, where her husband opened offices to expand the business abroad. Learn more through my interview with Dorcas.

“A Geek in China” by Matthew Christensen

“A Geek in China” by Matthew Christensen is the perfect book for anyone who wants to be culturally savvy about China, fast. Think of it as a fun, smart 150-page China 101 course. Learn more through my interview with Matthew.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes“The Girl Who Wrote in Silk” by Kelli Estes

“The Girl Who Wrote in Silk” by Kelli Estes links two women across centuries to a silk embroidered sleeve in a story of love, courage and humanity. Learn more through my interview with Kelli.

“The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap” by Gish Jen

If you’re as fascinated with culture as I am and happen to be in an intercultural relationship that spans China and America, “The Girl at the Baggage Claim” should be required reading. Learn more through my interview with Gish.

“Expat Jimmy” by Travis Lee

“Expat Jimmy”, the new short story by Travis Lee, offers a vicarious look into the experience of a new foreign teacher arriving in China. Learn more through my interview with Travis.

 

“Parsley & Coriander” by Antonella Moretti

“Parsley & Coriander” is a delightful novel that captures the spirit of finding your own path in China, especially as an expat woman. Learn more through my interview with Antonella.

“All Under Heaven” by Carolyn Phillips

“All Under Heaven” is over 500 pages of the greatest recipes from all over the Middle Kingdom. It’s so comprehensive that you might never need another Chinese cookbook again. Learn more through my interview with Carolyn.

“The Dim Sum Field Guide” by Carolyn Phillips

Framed as a “field guide” (not unlike a field guide to birds), this book demystifies one of China’s most beloved culinary traditions and makes it accessible – and fun – for the average diner. Learn more through my interview with Carolyn.

“The Empress of Bright Moon” by Weina Dai Randel

Weina Randel has crafted a beautifully written, engaging and suspenseful tale of how one of the greatest rulers in China came to rise. You can learn more about this second chapter of the duology by reading Weina’s guest post on sex education during Tang Dynasty China.

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel“The Moon in the Palace” by Weina Dai Randel

“The Moon in the Palace” by Weina Dai Randel, about the rise of China’s young Empress Wu, truly reads like a Tang Dynasty-era Cinderella story. Learn more through my interview with Weina.

“Empire of Glass” by Kaitlin Solimine

“Empire of Glass” is stunning for its lyrical prose and unique in that it’s presented as a “translation” of the story of Li-Ming and her husband Wang. Learn more through my interview with Kaitlin.

P.S.: In search of more great recommended reads? Check out my summer reading list from earlier this year and also this list of memoirs featuring Asian men and Western women in love. Plus, don’t forget my page devoted to a number of books I’ve enjoyed over the years.