What to bring, what to give? Chinese tradition and culture expects a small token or gift upon meeting friends or new acquaintances; at holidays or visits; and especially when you know you will be depending on their hospitality. And I know that I will need pointers, translation, directions and help for my adventure. So what to give as thanks in advance?
Usually a small gift of chocolate or nuts or snacks is good for a group of people. This time I brought Ghiradelli chocolates in assortment bags to give to friends and tea vendors. And for random tea purveyors or farmers I may visit outside major cities who may have small children, I'm bringing foam boards with roman letters. I've found parents appreciate a gift that encourages education and it's a cute way to introduce the alphabet to children who may one day study western foreign languages, French, Spanish, Italian or English.
Personal gifts are harder to figure out. There is a friend's young daughter who likes American juvenile literature. Wine is always a great gift but so heavy and hard to carry. For the ladies at the tea house, each will get earrings and a small cloth purse. For a friend's brother who will be showing me around a city I will visit on a day trip, I'm bringing him a Brita water filter and cartridges.
Things that aren't great to give are usually anything Japanese. There is still a lot of animosity between Japan and China and it's an easy way to uncover old hurt feelings by giving something Japanese, so it's best to avoid that awkwardness. White is usually not a good color for a gift either, as white is symbolic of death, if you can find the gift in red or black or blue or yellow that's better.
And if you're giving multiples make sure you're never giving someone 4 of anything 4 is synonymous with death. 3 or 5 is better, 6 or 8 is best. It's getting harder and harder to find American gifts that are not made in China, and Chinese people do not want something made in China : While you may not mean it, it can imply they are not affluent enough to afford what you're giving them since they could obviously otherwise find it in their own country. I've found that hand made items or local art, wood, or cloth are great because they're unique. For one dear friend I'm bringing a Pendleton Woolen Mill hand woven blanket from Oregon. It's very special, and so is the person it is intended for.