Sunday, June 8, 2008

Plates of Joy

I have a thing for decorative souvenir plates, the kind that have names and images of places of interest painted or etched on them.

They are usually round and made of porcelain or bone china. But I also have acquired a few square ones made of pewter and copper.

I have been collecting these plates for years now; some bought during my own travels, but many presented by loved ones who just knew what to get me when they went abroad.

The pewter ones, interestingly enough, came from Cincinnati, USA, and were given me by a cousin who went there for an aircraft maintenance training programme.

The copper ones, somewhat like our traditional copper-tooled decorative items, were from the same cousin, purchased when he took his family Down Under for a holiday.

One has the figure of a kangaroo etched on it while the other traces the outline of the Sydney Opera House. Nifty piece of work, those.

When my son Naj was with MAS, he never failed to bring home such plates as presents for mum. In fact, he was instrumental in building up my collection.

There are two charming pieces that he brought back from South Korea and Japan, respectively. Both use cloisonne (enamel work) as centrepiece.

The former depicts a lady in hambok playing the samisen (stringed instrument) while the latter shows the map of Japan. Both are rimmed with 24-carat gold, clearly a cut above the rest.

There is another superbly crafted piece that he purchased in Buenos Aires, with the etching of a couple doing the tango.

Horror of horrors, the plate accidentally slipped from my grasp one fine day and broke into two. I shed copious tears over the incident.

The broken pieces have since been glued together but it looks so patched up that my heart aches each time I sneak a peek. It is now hidden at the back of the display cabinet.

When Naj left MAS six years ago, his best friend Dinesh (who is still flying) carries on with the tradition of bringing me plates from around the world.

Dinesh too has an eye for the exquisite, but nothing beats the pieces he brought back from Athens and Stockholm. They are simply stunning.

The piece from Athens is glazed black, with the ruins of the ancient temple Pathenon outlined in gold, while the one from Stockholm has a pale blue, glazed background and a very colourful motif.

My sister Zaridah gave me one of the most beautiful pieces ever. It is just a small piece that fits into your palm and I think she found it in a souk somewhere on her trip to Jordan.

The blue-edged piece, with Arabic inscriptions, depicts the gateway to the ancient city of Petra, that red rose Nabatean city in the Jordan desert. A truly marvelous piece.

When I was in Europe some years back on business, I took the trouble to scout around for as many such plates from as many different countries as possible.

As a result, I managed to acquire quite a few interesting pieces, from Frankfurt and the Rhine region in Germany, Austria and also Switzerland.

They are just ordinary porcelain pieces and not not as finely crafted as the oriental ones, I'm afraid, but still pretty to look at and as precious to me as the rest.

Son Joe travelled to Amsterdam on a company holiday trip last year and brought back a couple of blue porcelain plates that remind me of those precious pieces from the Ming Dynasty - very captivating.

And two weeks ago Naj went on a three-day assignment to Macau and brought home one that is a carbon copy of Dinesh's gift from Athens - with a different image, of course, but just as beautiful.

There are many more in the collection, from places as diverse as Vatican City, Istanbul, Paris, New York, London, even Hollywood. There is also one delightful novelty piece, depicting the New York Police Department (NYPD) badge!

Are all attractive and each has a story to tell. That's why I look forward to the move because that will give me the opportunity to finally display all of them, at the very least for my own private enjoyment.

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