favorite chinese things

A recent trip to Hong Kong yielded some interesting finds from the markets. Much were tourist-y gimcrack doodads, but since I was, after all, a tourist, I flung myself into the role with enthusiasm and poked around for items to take back.

I fell in love with a personalized seal and a watch.

On our first day of our trip, we headed to the Stanley Market for souvenirs to take home as pasalubong (lit., “to welcome”). It is part of Filipino culture to take home gifts to family and friends.

After looking at countless tee shirts, silk bags,  and other things, a seal engraving shop caught my eye. Run by a family – the mother, who sp0ke English, was the sales person while the father, son, and grandfather did the custom engraving, drawing, and other services – the shop offered countless blank seals to choose from.

I’d always wanted my own seal, ever since my Mandarin teacher at the Ateneo, Prof. Songbee Dy, gave me a Chinese name – “Ai Fei Fei”.

“Ai” is from the “A” in Alcasid, and “Fei” means “luxuriant and beautiful”, from the “fer” in “Jennifer”. Prof. Dy had thought about the name over a weekend, putting much effort in coming up with something special. After all, it was like she was naming me all over again.

I told the seal lady and she wrote the characters down for me, asking me if they were the right ones. We were taught to speak a little Chinese, not read it, so I wasn’t sure. I gave her the meaning; she nodded and asked me to choose a seal.

Since my zodiac animal in Chinese astrology is a Sheep, that’s what I chose, along with a red box. I was told to return in twenty minutes.

When I came back for my seal, it was beautifully engraved. My Anglo name “Jenny” was added at the bottom, rendering it invalid for use as an “official” seal. Still, it is special as a souvenir of this trip.

The box is of red brocade and fastened with a plastic splinter. Formerly, deer horn was used.

Closeup of the seal, with my Chinese name engraved in the ancient seal script.

The interior of the box is lined in red silk, with hollows for the seal and the covered dish of seal paste.

Playing with the seal.

The seal is marble, while the seal paste dish is porcelain.

The underside of the seal and the dish of seal paste. Seal paste is made of pulverized red cinnabar mixed with castor oil and silk strands to bind everything together.

At the Night Market at Jordan, one subway stop away from where our hotel was in Tsim Sha Tsui, I got this watch.

I don’t usually wear watches. But I couldn’t resist this old fashioned clockwork one, which features Chairman Mao constantly waving his arm up and down.

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