THE MALL is not all when it comes to Christmas shopping.
Long before the shopping center was even a gleam in a developer's eye, there was Christmas. With presents. And there are still a lot of great gifts waiting for you in alternative shopping places with an extra touch of fun, a soupcon of je ne sais quoi.
GIFTS OF ORIENT ARE Skip the jokes about walking around the block and already wanting another kung fu jacket ($7.99 and up at Wang's Company, 800 Seventh Street NW), fortify yourself with some dim sum from one of the restaurants, and plunge in.
At Wang's, a pleasant jumble of a store where Chinese music replaces mall Muzak, porcelain rice bowls are 99 cents and up and chop stick rests are 95 cents. In the higher brackets: a bamboo steam cooker ($9.50), a rose medallion platter ($19.95), a wooden abacus ($7.95) and a silk padded jacket ($79.95).
Across the street at Da Hsin (805 Seventh Street), you can buy those appliqu,ed cotton children's pajamas for $6.50. Adults on your list might like a wood-and-lacquered-paper umbrella ($4.50 and up); a tea set made of porcelain with rice grains in it ($24.50); or an elephant-shaped tea pot ($4.70).
W.S. Jenks & Son (738 Seventh Street) is an old-fashioned Yankee hardware store in the heart of Chinatown. In addition to nuts and bolts, the eclectic, three-floor emporium has great gifts: An iron boot scraper in the form of a chicken is $19.98; large blue-and-white kitchen bowls are $24.95; a wrought-iron potrack is $22.98; humongous iron cauldrons are $195 and down; brass and copper chesnut roasters are $24.95 and up; giant crocks are $41.95. And if you're playing Santa Claus to a dog, there are earthenware crackle-glaze "Dog" dishes for $2.95 and up.
ROUND AND ABOUT DUPONT CIRCLE If Seventh and H is our Hong Kong, Connecticut Avenue above Dupont Circle is our upper Madison Avenue -- a great place for leisurely strolling and shopping. At Uzzolo, an Italian high-tech store at 1718 Connecticut, black plastic wine racks are $36, a heavy black moderne china teapot $15.50. One-of-a-kind deco- style lamps are $500 and up.
Walpoles, an old established linen emporium at 1722 Connecticut, has a great gift for dirty kids: wash cloths cleverly disguised as bathtub puppets ($4.50). An adult would probably prefer a breakfast-in-bed tray. You can choose from several different models -- some with stands and some that sit on their own pillows. They range from $25 to $34, with croissants and cafe au lait extra.
Cross the street to the Ginza (1721 Connecticut) and you're shopping in Tokyo. You can warm up the man in your life with a blue-and-white flannel kimono ($4) or present him with your picture in a silk kimono-cloth frame ($7.95). If you want to splurge, there's an antique tea ceremony chest for $500, and if you don't want to spluge there are plastic sushi magnets so realistic you can actually taste the salmon roe and seaweed for $5.95. Japanese baseball shirts are $33; a ceramic folk art tanuki, the Japanese version of Winnie the Pooh, is $22.
A few steps off the avenue, at 2009 R Street NW, is an intriguing boutique with an intriguing name: Toast & Strawberries. Here you can find one-of-a-kind kimonos by Baltimore artist Joyce Scott ($132.95); gandouras, or long silk traditional dresses, from Morocco ($96.95); Moroccan leather boxes ($12.95); elephant earrings in carved wood with pink rhinestones ($19.95), plus a large selection of hair ornaments and woven sashes.
BE YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS CURATOR The great thing about museum shop shopping is that the museums themselves are optional. Youan make Christmas shopping an adjunct to museum hopping or you can skip the exhibits and head straight for the shops, where the objects you covet are all for sale.
At the Textile Museum Shop (2320 S Street NW), for example, you can buy a small dragon-motif rug from Nepal -- similar to those in the current exhibit on Tibetan rugs -- for as little as $35. The shop also has Tibetan silk and wool bags ($84), and gilded lion-motif candlesticks from Nepal ($55). And, going east from Tibet, there are Japanese workmen's aprons in heavy blue cloth for $22.50.
The Renwick Gallery (17th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW) features American craftsmen, and so does the museum shop. Currently, the shop is spotlighting the works of Colorado craftspeople such as Steve Schrefferman, whose Urn of Shooting Stars sells for $350. Mini-urns are $55. Jim Klingman's large earthenware platters are $250, and Vivian Jean's majolica plates and vases are $160.
At Boutique Africa, in the National Museum of African Art at 316 A Street NE, you can pick up a straw zebra from Zimbabwe for $10. Napkin rings from Kenya topped by carved wood animals are $4, and straw hats from Upper Volta are $14.
At the shop in the National Museum of Natural History, you can buy a chunk of natural history. Rock and mineral specimens go for $1 and up. A big chunk of amethyst from Brazil, for example, is $5.
In the Indian shop at the Department of Interior (D Street between 18th and 19th Streets NW, open Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 to 4:30) the gifts are straight from the reservations. Navajo wedding sashes are $40, while rugs range from $180 to $285. Beaded, fur-lined moccasins are $50, while Sioux ceremonial pipes are $57. Hopi kachina dolls are $75 and up. There's a lot of silver and turquoise stuff: a shot glass is $225, a necklace $130, a flask $60.
The shop at the Corcoran Gallery, 17th Street and New York Avenue NW, has some nice, wood pull-toys. A horse with a yarn mane and tail is $15 and a sheep with leather ears is $17. A set of six hand-painted wool blocks is $18, and a wooden alligator that opens its mouth when you push it is $20. For adults, the Corcoran has wonderful art deco jewelry, copies of French originals. Clip earrings of rhinestone and black enamel are $24.
The National Museum of American History has a brand new shop with lots of goodies for kids: old-fashioned pick-up sticks are $1; a porcelain Red Riding Hood doll is $22; and a ride-on wooden fire engine is $116.
HOTEL HOPPING AS CHRISTMAS SHOPPING Many local hotels have shopping arcades. Take the Four Seasons -- mainly because after a pleasant but expensive shopping trip in its small, elegant arcade, you can collapse in the hotel over afternoon tea. At Cachet, you can buy a wool and snakeskin sweater for the woman in your life for $300. Silk blouses are $160 and up, and a black silk belt crusted with rhinestones is $220.
G.K.S. Bush specializes in 18th-century American antiques, and proprietor Guy Bush suggests the following for gifts: fireplace fenders, $500 and up; fireplace andirons, $500 and up; a pair of George III columnar brass candlesticks, $850; an oak bottle box with six crystal bottles and two glasses, $850; a Queen Anne shaving mirror, $1,650; a sewing basket, $1,200.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET Capitol Hill's Eastern Market, at Seventh Street and North Carolina Avenue SE near the Eastern Market Metro Station, is a great place to shop, especially on Saturdays when the farmers and vendors are on hand. The potters who pot on the second floor of the century-old market sell their wares, and there are appliqu,ed children's overalls and pots of fresh herbs as well as fresh farm produce.
The shops clustered around the market have great gifts, too. Antiques on the Hill, across the street at 701 North Carolina Avenue, is crammed full of special gifts. There's a Seeberg jukebox from the '40s, complete with blue glass, for $550. A tree- like smoking stand marked "Catskill Mountains" is $50, while a silver-over-copper tea caddy with repouss,e English country scenes is $25. There's a large selection of Victorian walnut picture frames ($65 ro $100) and quilts ($100 and up). A working Victorian parlor stove from the 1850s is $1,200, and there are two tea sets that would make great presents for tea-party givers: a German set decorated with kewpie dolls is $150; an antique Japanese set is $50.
Phineas Frogg & Friends at 210 Seventh Street is a zany children's store with gifts for kids. Minnie Mouse mini-dresses, all the rage in Europe now, are $25 for children, $30 for the adult size. A hug-a-planet globe is $15. Famille Canard, a mother duck who carries three babies on her back, is $7; and bright red telephone earrings for pierced ears are $3. Special agent pens -- filled with invisible ink, of course -- are great stocking stuffers at $1.50.
The Ainilian Gallery at 232 Seventh Street has some art that would make great gifts for children: framed Raggedy Ann watercolors by Gloria Windsor, ranging from $35 to $95. There are also some blue-and-white pottery mugs for $12.
The Fairy Godmother at 319 Seventh Street specializes in children's books, records, cassettes and games. A pop-up book on Leonardo Da Vinci is $14.95; small wood Paddington Bear boxes are $2.50; dolls from around the world are $45. There's also a large selection of Dungeons and Dragons stuff.
Para Ti, at 323 Seventh Street, has a potpourri of unusual gifts. Firestarters disguised as mini birch logs are $3.95 and up; boxes of confetti are $1.50; windsocks with colorful streamer tails are $7.95. There are also tiny jewelry boxes that convert to jewelry and back again. The top of the box is a pin, with removable earrings. There's a necklace inside the box. Choose from a unicorn, a Capitol, a koala bear, or other theme. All for $5.25.
The area around Eastern Market also has three shops where you can buy food gifts: Cheese & Cheer (208 Seventh Street); Prego (210 Seventh) and Provisions (218 Seventh).
WHERE SANTA SAVES Thrift shops aren't a good place to buy things for a status- conscious boss, or for somebody who habitually takes things back. But they offer some treasures for family gifts. At Amvets (6101 Georgia Avenue NW), a child's wood rocker was $3.93; a wood doll crib was $2.50, and a suede vest in a teen size with a Paris label was $1.90. At Value Village (4618 14th Street NW), a Smurf TV that plays a Strauss waltz was $3.95, and a "crawligator" from Creative Playthings was 50 cents. At the Montgomery County Thrift Shop (7125 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda), linen guest towels were 50 cents and up, and a red net Christmas apron was 35 cents. A man's suede fleece-lined vest was $7; a woman's purple silk brocade Chinese jacket lined with baby lamb was $28.
SOLD IN OLD TOWN Shopping in Alexandria's Old Town is more than just a pleasant stroll along cobblestone streets that lead to the historic port; it's a place where you're likely to find gifts for everyone on your list.
Why Not? (200 King Street) has a junior fireman's outfit for a toddler for $34, in the upstairs children's department. Downstairs, you can buy Osh Kosh overalls in women's sizes for $27.
At the renovated Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 North Union Street), you can wander through the studios where the gifts you select are made. Hollin Hills Potters features whimsical ceramic fountains by Jolande Goldgerg ($350 to $450) and cat-motif pottery by Solveig Cox. A cat lamp is $50, while a clock is $48. At the Fibre Workshop, you can buy a $15 hand- painted executive tie for the dress-for-success woman; it comes in its own mailing envelope.
John Davy Toys (301 Cameron Street) has a bear in full Scottish regalia for $85 and a cloth cottage for $70. A small marionette theater with four characters and props is $52, and a plastic hula skirt is $6.
Granny's Place (303 Cameron Street) has wooden rocking horses from $70 and a wooden doll bed big enough for an extended family of dolls for $70.
Nuevo Mundo (313 Cameron Street) has an interesting array of vests for women: an ikat woven vest is $195; a wool vest from Nepal is $40; and a velvet and silver vest is $250.
At Full Circle (317 Cameron Street), you can browse through the show of Japanese prints and then browse through the gift items. Kids might enjoy a Chinese opera puppet ($7.50) or a folk art papier mache animal ($5.95 and up).
The Old Warsaw Galleries (319 Cameron Street) has some unusual Christmas ornaments, which make great gifts for your Christmas party hosts. Polish doll ornaments are $7, while handmade paper stars are $3.
BETHESDA BOUNTY HUNTERS Shopping along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda is like shopping along the Main Street USA that used to be. And as you soak up the Middle America ambiance you can also snap up great gifts.
Hawaiiana (7337 Wisconsin Avenue) has mumus from size 2 up, as well as Hawaiian Barbie Doll outfits ($2.65), leis (25 cents up) and a bicycling guide to the islands ($3.25).
Gaylord's, which has moved around the corner to 4620 Leland Street, is known for its lamps, but also offers unusual gifts: a brass rocking horse for $450, an English blue-and-white porcelain toast rack for $29.95 and a large Mettlach stein for $1,200.
At Pier I Imports (6801 Wisconsin), the rocking horse is in corduroy and sells for $69.99. A wooden train set, with tracks, from West Germany sells for $29.99, and a kinder-zither is $39.99. Thai dolls with blue and white porcelain faces are $24.99, and there are also bright cotton stuffed animals from Thailand. A patchwork dragon is $29.99. A wicker doll buggy with wooden wheels, from Rumania, is $29.99. For adults, there are Indian brass disco bags for $12.99, red silk kimonos from China for $49.99, and a Mombasa Magic mosquito net, in colors as well as tropical white, for $59.99.
Next door, the China Closet has plastic rocks for $12.49, Trivial Pursuit mugs for $4.49, and eraser key chains for 99 cents. A child-size dining set made of Brazilian hardwood maple is $119.99, and a child-size rio chair is $9.99.
And you thought you didn't have any good ideas for Christmas.