I rarely buy myself a travel souvenir any more: if I did, my home would be knee-deep in them by now. But now and then I come across something that really sparks my imagination. That’s what happened on my recent trip to Vietnam.
Browsing through a night market in Hanoi one night, I noticed a table filled with little brightly coloured objects. Looking closer, I realized they were figures artfully cut out of thick paper and mounted on a paper base. But I didn’t really grasp what I was looking at until the lady behind the table picked one up and deftly snapped it shut. In the blink of an eye, it turned into an innocent-looking greeting card.
It was a good trick – but the more I looked, the more I realized what an art these little cards represented. They weren’t just one-dimensional cut-outs, like the ones in children’s books: they were intricate little sculptures and entire tableaux, some made up of a dozen pieces or more, perfectly fitted together to burst forth when you opened their card. There were flowers, trees with grass growing around them, Christmas scenes, Vietnamese peasants with their water buffalo – and ships.
There were ships of a dozen kinds, from little Vietnamese fishing boats to bigger Chinese junks to full-size, three-masted sailing ships with their sails aloft. They were perfectly formed, with their timbers and railings and prows carefully shaped to let them sail proudly across a paper sea. I bought two, along with a variety of other designs. And the one you see at the top of this post now sits in a prominent spot in my home. I see it every day, and every day it brings a little feeling of freedom and far-off places – and isn’t that what a travel souvenir is supposed to do?
If you have a favourite travel souvenir, leave a comment and tell us its story. I’m betting it will bring back a fond memory or two.