Part of the joy of travel is picking up gifts and souvenirs for friends along the way. Whether it’s birthday presents, mementos or collectables, Asia offers some of the most original gift ideas on the planet.
Below are a few unique products I have discovered while travelling around the Asia region that should inspire you to explore beyond the branded malls. Even if you don’t make it to the source, most products are all available online.
The Japanese are always surprising the world with their ingenious inventions and products and whenever I travel to the Land of the rising Sun I’m always stunned by the range of fascinating gadgets available in the airport shops, malls and street markets.
Screen Cleaning Robot
This may seem like a bit of a stretch, as it really doesn’t take that much effort or brains to clean an iPad of smartphone. But, if you’re that pressed for time, or want a fun desktop item in the office, this little robot definitely fits the bill. It’s basically a tiny version of the Roomba device already used by millions of people to auto-clean floors, as it wanders vacuums. The golf ball-sized version by Takara Tomy is small enough to move about on top of a laid-down smartphone or iPad, and uses sensors to know where the edges are. The cleaning is done by a rotating cleaning pad, which you can replace. It’s fun to watch too and a great novelty gift for a gadget-loving friend or family member.
Shopping Bag Bra
Not one for puritanical shoppers maybe, but ecologically aware ladies that take recycling seriously will definitely appreciate this new eco-friendly bag from Triumph International Japan (TIJ). Coming in a choice of “sexy” colours and devised from traditional origami techniques, the “No! Shopping Bag Bra” is an ingenious alternative to the plastic versions, of which Japanese consumers reportedly use 30 billion a year.
Is it a fork? Yes. Is it a spoon? Yes. In fact, it’s a SPORK, designed by Masami Takahashi of Sugakayi ramen noodle restaurant fame. He has outdone himself with this particular creation – a stainless steel combination for ramen lovers everywhere; although it would work equally well with spaghetti in a creamy sauce because there’s just enough spoon to capture some liquid and just enough tines to make spinning your noodles easy. Could this replace chopsticks? Probably not, but it’s a fun alternative.
Chinese EVA-lution for Kids
The debate is yet to conclude with regard to the safety of EVA (ethyl-vinyl acetate), with some nations around the world still labelling the material as unsafe. The US government has not outlawed it, though some European nations have. It’s actually made up of different materials, some of which can be toxic if consumed in fairly large quantities. That being said, you may or may not want to consider some fun Chinese foam “bricks”, either as a gift for tots and toddlers or even older kids. They come in a splashy variety of colours and can be set into an endless range of shapes, or even made into walls and forts.
Always colorful and lively, traditional Indonesian art is now being given a modern twist in many products from the archipelagic nation with t-shirts fast becoming a new canvas for artists like Haidi Shabrina, who freelances out of Semarang, Indonesia, but sells worldwide. Her use of watercolors leans towards children’s themes with cute renditions of non-Asian subjects like reindeer, penguins and beavers, but mostly incorporating Indonesian patterns and coloration. She doesn’t stop at T-shirts either; her throw cushions and iPhone covers are also popular pieces of personal art.
Thai people are known for their handicrafts and the diverse range of hand made products on offer around the Kingdom is seemingly endless. Some rather unique Thai-Chinese creations I found on Koh Samui are the work of , Sukchai Kongkulluksamee. Although I have several incense burners at home, none grab the attention quite like my wildly hued dragon tube, one of several animal inspired incense- and candle-holders produced by Chai, some of which border on the profane, reflecting the Thai sense of humour. “Coupling pigs” is a good example, while “tourists in swimwear” is another off beat hit with shoppers. At Chai’s “CoolCrafts Samui Arts and Gifts” shop in Chaweng you’ll also find a host of more serious and ancient wood, fibre, gold and stone objects. It’s well worth a side trip to browse and admire some true Thai creativity.
If you want to research the above items before you head out into Asia with your wallet at the ready, you can click on the links below, or even email their manufacturers direct to place an order.
- Japanese screen cleaning robot: http://www.japantrendshop.com/auto-mee-screen-cleaning-robot-p-1612.html
- Shopping Bag Bra: http://inhabitat.com/no-eco-shopping-bag-bra/japan-no-shopping-bag-bra-triumph-international-japan-ecocircle-eco-friendly-bra-recycled-bra-that-doubles-as-a-shopping-bag/
- The Spork: https://www.uncommongoods.com/sets/engraved-gifts
- EVA Foam Bricks: http://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/eva-foam-bricks-for-kids_60081701410.html?s=p
- Haidi Shabrina T-Shirts: http://www.redbubble.com/people/haidishabrina/works/12706014-sea-animals-print?p=ipad-case&ref=work_carousel_work_portfolio_1
- Animal Incense Burners: [email protected]