Bolsas de mandados translates to “errand bags,” and they were fixtures at Mexican markets long before the BYO grocery-bag trend arrived on this side of the border. You see styles all over Mexico (and online), especially multicolored mesh bags, some with the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. But the less-touristy score is a cheap, solid-color canvas or vinyl tote with plastic piping and handles, printed with a business’ charmingly basic graphics, usually the name of a panaderia or carniceria. Merchants might make them to give out as freebies for the store’s anniversary or a holiday. I happened to be visiting my in-laws in Mexico City when their mailman gave them the one pictured here on New Year’s Day. To them it’s a common utility bag that was probably destined for a spot under the kitchen sink, and they looked puzzled when I squealed and hugged it and made them translate the wording. Get your hands on one of these in Mexico if you can (in Oaxaca, the large market by the zocolo has sold even cooler retro styles in the past). Or look for plain ones in bright colors and stencil “El Trader Joe’s” onto it yourself.
You can find many things at local markets: organic vegetables, artisan cheese, perfumes, wine, textiles, souvenirs … the list goes on. A look into the tastes and smells of a place, markets are a traveler’s jackpot.
But market souvenirs come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes you find the kind of things you might just get pulled over for in customs on the way home. Like this selection of morbid goods on the island of Boracay in the Philippines, captured by Flickr user Adam James Wilson. Skull and teeth anyone?
Reportedly, it tastes like envelope glue. And there might be a gecko or lizard floating around, like a hair in the soup du jour. But who cares? You’re not actually going to swirl and sip the snake wine you bring back from this Southeast Asian nation. You’re going to casually set it on the table at your next dinner party and freak everyone out and give them yet another reason to use a camera phone at mealtime. Bottles of rice wine with a preserved reptile coiled inside (scorpions are another variation) are popular souvenirs from Vietnam, where the dissolved poison is said to be used for medicinal purposes, and they make fantastic conversation pieces – if you can get them through Customs. Bottles are subject to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibitions on importing certain reptiles.
Decades before the dawn of 3-D printing and resulting wonders like self-portrait gummy bears, Mold-a-Rama vending machines were pressing hot wax into tiny figurines delivered in seconds. These vintage contraptions still exist at zoos and other attractions, where miniature keepsakes cost only a couple of dollars and smell like melted crayons.
At the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, machines magically make models of Rosa Park’s bus and wee wax Weinermobiles before your eyes:
Zoos are hotspots for Mold-a-Rama machines. At Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, several generations of visitors have taken home 3-inch-tall wax gorillas. The city’s Brookfield Zoo has 13 machines, currently spitting out dinosaurs.
According to the fan site moldamania.com, other zoos proffer macaws, dolphins, manatees, panthers and killer whales. The bust of Frankenstein and tiny space capsules can be found if you’re lucky. Hundreds of molds existed back in the technology’s heyday (the original was invented in the 1960s and spawned several imitators). Back then, Disneyland delighted park-goers with figurines of favorite characters, ready in 30 seconds.
Cheap? Check. Packable? Check. Better than a gummy bear in your likeness? You decide. Here’s a list of Mold-a-Rama locations.
In South Korea, everyone will see your socks because it’s customary to remove shoes in most public places. That might be why Jonathan Kramer, Gadling’s resident Kimchi-ite, tipped us off about the assortment of cheap, colorful anklets everywhere you go there. You might even find a sock vending machine. Designs are heavy on cartoons and bears, but hardly any motif is spared – the gamut runs from staid argyles, polka dots and stripes to sassy statements like boy bands, American cigarette logos, mischievous babies, Obama, schoolyard insults (“stupid”) and your favorite global megabrands (Starbucks).
First person to find a pair of Dennis Rodman socks wins!