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Traveling Craft with Culture

During a field trip to Vietnam, I was attracted by the techniques and culture of its handcraft, which has been recognized across the world as a souvenir. As is commonly known, souvenirs are items people buy when traveling through another country, which represent the culture of the place, to bring back part of the unfamiliar culture to their homeland.

On this field trip, we first visited the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang City. The museum was established in 1950, and it displays over 200 sculptures. These sculptures, related to Hinduism and Buddhism, were made by the Cham people. In my opinion, the most beautiful stone sculpture was made in the eighth century and was decorated with peacock feather carvings. The carving on the peacock feathers looked very delicate although I was familiar with the techniques of past sculptors. This museum had souvenir shops that sold not only typical souvenirs such as magnets, but also stone sculptures. The sculptures are palm sized, and some are miniature replicas of the artifacts displayed in the museum. I assume they were made by hand because each shape was slightly unique. It is not clear whether past techniques of making stone sculptures have remained, but it can be said that the imitation stone sculpture souvenir is one among the handcrafts.

On March 3rd, we visited Hoi An, the international port city that flourished in the 16th century. Comprising traditional houses representing Chinese, Indian, and Japanese cultures, Hoi An was different from Da Nang City. In addition, there were modern cafés and small tailor shops throughout the city, where I found handcraft souvenirs. Lanterns from China are souvenirs that represented the area. Some craftspeople made them right in their shops to enable us to see how they were made by hand. Silk products made for export to China are still made in this area by Thang Loi, a silk company that opened a shop to sell such products to tourists. The people working in the shop explain to tourists the manufacturing process of silk and embroidery products.

The most impressive part was the craft shop on Thai hoc street in Hoi An. The shop sells mainly fair trade silk and linen fabrics made by the minority women in Vietnam. According to the shop staff, the goal is that the products will be sold not only in Hoi An but also across the world to financially support the minority women. There were other shops similar to this one on the same street.

Architecture and landscape are immovable things. On the other hand, movable handcrafts can be taken to another place as a part of the culture. In other words, handcraft is used to share a region’s culture and history throughout the world. Local people produce souvenirs using traditional techniques, but most of them are made in accordance with tourist demands. I believe that people should pay attention to products that are related to protecting their local culture and identity because the quality and value of handcraft souvenirs is often ignored. In general, handcrafts are recognized as reasonably priced souvenirs, and high quality is not expected by tourists and producers. A negative example of this is in Japan, where some shop owners in tourist locations stock souvenirs from unrelated places abroad that can be made as cheaply as possible. Sometimes tourists are unwilling to purchase souvenirs because the same ones can be found in other places, thereby depriving them of their authenticity.

However, using souvenirs as a way to share the local culture of a place with people who have come from afar is effective and easy. Therefore, producing souvenirs that are made with traditional materials and techniques is economically beneficial. I hope local people will consider handcraft souvenirs as a way of offering positive memories for tourists and encouraging them to visit again.

(E.A)

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