Monday, June 3, 2013

Keepsake


I don't tend to buy a lot in the way of souvenirs and tchotchkes (that's for you, +Jason Imms ) when I travel. This is less because of any self restraint or ascetic principle, and more because wandering around malls, outdoor markets, and streets either high or low, holds little interest for me. Despite my reluctance to browse the wares of hawkers and vendors I have as seems inevitable when travelling picked up a few trinkets here and there.

For me the three most important attributes of a travel keepsake are relevance, durability, and size. Relevance is the least important of the three because the value of a keepsake is in its ability to act as a memory trigger. Strictly speaking there's no reason you couldn't buy a small model of the Eiffel Tower in Ulaanbaatar to remind you of your trip to Mongolia. Ten years down the track it would still trigger the same yurty recollections, but it feels more appropriate to buy something either based on, or somehow unique to, the place in which the object is being purchased. Size and durability are simply practical concerns for the traveller; I know people who have bought amazingly intricate things while travelling and managed to get them back home undamaged, but I can't be bothered providing the necessary care and attention.

The real reason that size and durability are important though, are for allowing a keepsake to fulfill its true purpose: being repeatedly lost and found. Take for example a small jade elephant I own, not much more than an inch in each direction, and carved in a simple fashion that doesn't leave any protruding parts that could be accidentally knocked off. It has a nice weight to it, and the smooth cold surfaces jade is known for. I bought it from a stall in Singapore after having it and a menagerie of miniature stone animals sit in my eyeline for half an hour while I ate lunch and drank my first sugarcane juice. I have no idea whatsoever where it is now. It popped up most recently about nine months ago in the back corner of a drawer, reminding me of that particular afternoon. Then, after resolving to put it somewhere more visible, I promptly lost it again. Some time in the next few months I'll be looking for tweezers or matches or some string, and I will stumble upon that little green pachyderm and it will carry me away from a cold Hobart morning to an insanely busy Singaporean street corner and the refreshing burst of sugarcane juice. And then I'll lose it again.

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