It was an innocent favor. My husband asked me to buy a gift for a young Chinese woman who helps to coordinate his travels when in China. A sweet request, my husband is thoughtful about the people that make his work life easier to do. He said he felt like he needed to acknowledge her rain or shine sunny service.
While a trip to China would take me several months of thought and preparation plus a steamer trunk, my husband the intrepid traveler, shares his packing style with George Clooney's million-mile character from "Up in the Air". He calmly and precisely fills a carry-on late the night before he leaves and always makes the same "don't want to forget my brown socks" joke.
In the same nonchalant manner he asked me at the last minute to fulfill this gift mission.
Beyond the fact that everything and then some is made in China I reasoned it wasn't going to be simple. Sure enough, google "giving gifts to Chinese" and you are presented with the complicated code of number, color and symbolism that governs the Chinese gifting process.
A hand knit scarf? Too close to a towel typically handed out at funerals or a handkerchief that means "so long" in courtship. The same for sharp objects (which the TSA doesn't like either) and shoes, especially straw sandals. Clocks, the passing of time and death. Sets of four, in their language too close to the word for death. Nothing white, no white or yellow flowers, once again too funereal, but somehow pink and yellow's ok. Trying not to think they are kind of preoccupied with death.
According to experts the best Chinese gift is a red envelope with crisp money. Well yeah. Finally something everyone wants, but Americans wouldn't sweat the envelope color. However that looks like a bribe. Not good.
And yes, if I had been given some time I might have found something local and meaningful, and mind you it had to fit in the carry-on.
In the end I settled on a small, hand-carved loon (made in USA) and a bag of Minnesota hand-picked wild rice. I know, not too imaginative, I'm not known for my gift-buying. I'd be interested in your ideas in case there's a next time. After he left with the gift snuggled next to his shirts, I looked again at another list of offending colors. Oops, black and white, death again, the colors of the loon.
This is why my husband prefers to do all the Christmas shopping.