THE BIG TOYBOX
Remember Tom Hanks dancing on the giant keyboard in the movie Big? That was at FAO Schwarz, the New York store with a reputation for classy, upscale playthings. The offerings on the retailer's website (www.faoschwarz.com) include some items not available in Asia and a heavy dose of Americana. Among the choices: G.I. Joe, the all-American foot soldier, in space garb ($100); dolls based on vintage U.S. favorites like Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly and the Little Rascals for $100 and more; and high-end learning toys, including Chaos: World of Motion, an "innovative track-based kinetic construction system" -- a post-modern erector set -- for $140. Overseas shipping charges, rather than being determined by weight, are illogically set at 40% of the toy's price.
Amidst all the unknowns and newcomers peddling wares on the Web, the more familiar and trusted names tend to stand out like ports in a storm. The Gift & Book Shop of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.netcart.com, is a good example. Most of the gift items are inspired by pieces in the Met's collection or those of other museums. They include a small bronze Egyptian original, for $22; note cards picturing Chinese masterpieces, $15.95; and the Herakles Necklace, from fourth century B.C. Greece in 24 karat gold electroplate (see photo) for $40. The site also offers a CD-ROM called "Making Music" that allows children to "paint a tune."
There you are stranded in Katmandu, waiting for the weather to clear so your team can scale Mount Everest. The local Sherpa market may not carry your accustomed Côtes du Rhône, but -- assuming you can access the Web -- Virtual Vineyards, www.virtualvin.com, can deliver the right vintage as fast as international shipping permits. Specializing in Californian wines, Virtual Vinyard proprietor Peter Granoff rates each product on "Peter's Tasting Chart." The 1995 Pinot Noir from Marimar Torres Winery in Sonoma, Calif., for instance, is recommended as "an undiscovered gem" at $25. The 1996 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley's Joseph Phelps Vineyards, is described as crisp, light and priced at $12. For a wider selection of French wines, try Vintime, www.vintime.com.
Artists are banking on the Web to bring them new patrons. Individual artists are posting their own sites or banding together to form group shows in cyberspace. At prices generally ranging from $500 to $1,000 Artnet (www.artnet.com) sells the work of 60 artists, including Hok Ming Law. The 75 year old master's "New Bambooist" paintings, with their graceful tigers (see photo) and vivid peacocks have graced the walls of Hong Kong's City Hall. Meanwhile, James Whitlow Delano, a Tokyo-based photographer of everyday life in Asian locales, recently launched a site (club.infopepper.or.jp/~james.delano) to sell his work. The site provides a sampler of images, small for easy loading, accompanied by contact information.
If you take sports seriouslly, you won't settle for just any gear. There are a number of sites where you can get precisely the right racket, helmet or sports shoe. Two major sporting addresses are www.rei.com, and www.sportssuper.com. But for golf and only golf, a good bet is International Golf Outlet at www.igogolf.com. Steve Feuerstein, a Hong Kong golf promoter and the president of Sports International Ltd., warns that the site's massive selection might overwhelm a novice. "This is really for someone who knows the game," he says. Feurstein estimates the site's prices are 15% to 20% lower than local retailers before shipping.
The Web is an outstanding marketplace for much that is rare, old or unusual, allowing scattered collectors to chat about their passions and expand their stashes. There are sites selling or auctioning stamps, coins, snuff bottles, Batman memorabilia, vintage cameras and telescope parts. One that has international delivery and allows secure online transactions is Stones & Bones (www.stonesbones.com). This site claims to offer an assortment of "museum quality fossils andmineral specimens" costing from $10 to $5,000. Look here if you seek meteorites, bear skulls or Jurassic-age ammonites (pictured).
FOR OLD MEDIA ENTHUSIASTS
Book lovers, that is. There are numerous booksellers on the Web, including the U.S.-based www.amazon.com and www.barnes&noble.com. Standard airmail delivery to Asia takes two to three weeks. But in addition to the well known U.S. sites, there are interesting specialized distributors. Cantonese readers, for example, can find Chinese literature and translations at Chinese Books Cyberstore -- www.chinesebooks.net. The site offers a particularly wide selection of romance novels. Top sellers include a translation of The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, chronicling the last months of French magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby.
JUST YOUR CUP OF TEA?
If it's hard for you to distinguish among the 16 teas at your supermarket, don't shop for tea on the internet. But if you know the difference between Tieguanyin and Phoenix Bird oolong -- or would like to -- you will enjoy Holy Mountain Trading Company, www.holymtn.com. The site offers hundreds of rare and exotic teas, from Chinese and Japanese green, to jasmine, oolong, black and white. It also carries a breathtaking selection of teapots. A bonus: tea-making guidance and history and stories related to the ancient culture of tea-drinking.
FOR THE CRAFTY AND CURIOUS
Couldn't get to Bali last weekend? Tibet? Nepal? Got there but didn't have enough room in your luggage to cart back curios? Order them online. Tibetan and Nepalese gifts are to be found at Tibet/Nepal Imports, www.twotone.net/tibet. Ordering is via low-tech fax or phone, and they're not set up to accept credit cards, but they do ship internationally from their base in California. For Balinese crafts try Pacific Rim International at www.pri.net. Ignoring just how cheap the items would be if you were on the ground buying them, the prices are reasonable. Masks (pictured) are from $60 to $80. A nice touch is Web-head Josh Sklar's personal stories about finding the items in their native environment.
Photographs by Lisa Botos