Travel Tips, part 5, or buy that cheesy souvenir!

Posted in Travel at 17:20 by RjZ

After checking out the pyramids and Egyptology museum of Cairo, I walked through the amazing markets. I remember the colorful, conical piles of spices, the pita breads piled high on carts, the silks and tapestries in classic arabic prints and colors. I remember the smoke from cigarettes and mopeds.

Buddha from Thailand,
scarf from Cambodia
and a little Indian basmati rice.

I remember merchants trying to sell me rugs and clothes and sunglasses and post cards. Merely making the slightest eye contact was enough to be trapped into a haggle for the price of a teapot or finger chimes, whether I’d expressed any real interest or not. Eventually I decided (read: I was worn down) I ought to bring something back for family and friends. Nearly every souvenir stall had decorative camels in sizes from three inches to three feet tall. The ridiculous looking camels seemed to have rigor mortis; their legs stuck out, rod straight, from the body. Their faces were penned on with various expressions made by the hasty hand of a souvenir maker and they had little felt saddles with sparkles glued on them and tassels hanging from thin ribbon around their muzzles. They looked all the more silly lined up in rows from tiny to tall at nearly every stand. Rows of them were pushed out nearly to the aisles so that tourists would almost trip over the little ones which, in turn, launched merchants after them calling “you want camel? Large or small? I have larger here! Maybe a pillow? You want pillow?”

After a long haggle of my own, I concluded that the even the not-so-tiny ones would be nice enough (alright, cheap enough) to give to friends back home. Not so small that they would think they weren’t valued friends, but not so large that they’d have to display them in a prominent place and have other people wonder when they travelled to Cairo and why they didn’t get a nice gift too. I bought a dozen of them.

I distributed them to my appreciative friends, although, I didn’t bother to keep one for myself. After all, I’d just seen about 10,000 of them. Honestly, I thought they we’re kinda cheesy, but everyone said that they were very cute so I figured I’d done a nice job!

Indeed, most of my friends displayed them on shelves in their homes with other knick-knacks and I would see them from time to time for years. That’s when it dawned on me. Why didn’t I have one of these damn camels? They’re cool. Years after I had been to Cairo and I’d never seen any of these except the ones I bought for my friends. But did I have one of my own to remind me of my trip? Did I have much of anything from that journey?

I went to Cairo and I didn’t even get myself this dumb t-shirt.

It’s easy to see the cheap junk offered during travels as just, well, junk. What do I need another shot glass for? Since then, I’ve learned my lesson. It turns out that when you bring home that crummy camel, or little metal model of the Eiffel Tower, it actually ends up looking pretty cool on your shelf next to the same scale model of Prambanan temple in Indonesia. At home, where they don’t have silver letter openers from Malta in every gift store, your cheap souvenir takes on a more treasured quality.

Once more, if you can collect enough kitschy souvenirs it actually starts to look pretty interesting, like you’ve been to a lot of exciting places…or at least that’s what I keep telling people when they see how my house is “decorated.” That’s not kitsch, I tell them, that’s a treasure from a foreign land.


  1. dwgoebel said,

    August 2, 2006 at 7:52

    I have some friends who have traveled overseas and some of the most intresting and fun souvenirs I’ve seen are soda cans and bottles from the countries they visited. Pepsi, Coke and other products familiar to the U.S.A. as well as products not avaliable here. I had always wondered how to spell “Pepsi” in arabic…

  2. Aaron said,

    August 3, 2006 at 3:19

    I’ll probably regret not buying more souvineers(or even taking pictures). I didn’t buy anything in Kaula Lumpur or Penang. And the only thing I bought in Cambodia were some T-shirts and a wooden knife with a Naga carved on the handle because I can use it as a Tanto in Aikido practice. (in my defense, I really have no room to gather things) The only souvineer I’ve been tempted to buy in Thailand (and I will buy one befre I leave) is a hand made steel monk’s begging bowl from one of the last bowl making neighborhoods near Khao Sarn road.

  3. erin said,

    August 9, 2006 at 13:23

    Interesting, I buy fewer touristy items on each trip. I’m a big fan of jewelry which is small and provides a happy memory. I have a friend who buys one big thing on each trip to cut down on the tchochkes, but she still has a nice souvenir. So, a big ceramic bowl from Mexico, a painting from Italy, etc.

    I promise to buy you a camel when I make it to Egypt. It will never be as cool as the original, but it will remind you of the one that got away…

  4. Mark said,

    August 9, 2006 at 21:05

    So after reading this blog and all the comments I have new appreciation for the bottle of Becherovka I bought in the Czech Republic, it’s a liquer of sorts native to that consonant infested land. It’s empty but from time to time I’ll open it and take a whiff of two weeks of travelling solo for the first time a European country and all the beautiful women I wish I could’ve had while I was there. (Oh so bitter sweet!)

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