Photo of the week: paper ships and fond memories

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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 Veitnamese ship cardpicked 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.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

4 Comments

  1. Saw various Christmas themed greeting cards in the same collapsing format when we were there in the fall. Never did see larger format like your ship. Will look for these the next time we go. Do you recall how much and the size range?

    • There were some Christmas cards among the ones I saw, Mike — in fact, I saw a lot more Christmas stuff in Vietnam than I expected. As for the cards, most were fairly small, from four to six inches or so. The smaller ones cost around 25,000 dong, the larger ones around 50,000 (($5 US, $6 Canadian).

  2. Sandra Tesolin on

    I think of our memorable trip to Southwest China every day when I use my Chinese wallet bought in a Dali outdoor market.

    • Love it, Sandra — it’s great when you find a keepsake you can use every day rather than putting it on a shelf. I bought a wallet as well, in Izmir, Turkey a few years ago — for all of three euros. I thought it would fall apart, but I’ve got it in my pocket right now.

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