A hobby for a better work-life balance

VietNamNet Bridge – The rapid growth of the Internet has turned the world into a smaller and more connected place. Postal services, theref...

VietNamNet Bridge – The rapid growth of the Internet has turned the world into a smaller and more connected place. Postal services, therefore, are getting less popular.
For world-renowned philatelic experts, Richard K. Aspnes, President of the Society of Indo-China Philatelists and also a computer specialist, is one of those who still find endless joy in stamp collection.
Richard K. Aspnes, President of the Society of Indo-China Philatelists, is a regular member of a stamp club in HCM City.
Aspnes began to collect stamps when he was a child as most people of his time did. He has kept this passion for more than fifty years. When he first came to Vietnam in 1966, Aspnes rediscovered the pleasures of philately due to the interesting social and historical features of Southeast Asian countries. Established in 1971, the Society of Indochina Philatelists where Aspnes is a senior member is the only stamp community in the world that covers Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
According to Aspnes, the postal history behind stamps is what attracts collectors’ attention. “The stamp by itself is very cold. It has a nice picture but you don’t know why that exists or what is the message behind the stamp? How were the stamps used? Who designed the stamps? Why were they issued? What were the country and people doing at that time? Stamps are a mirror of history. Stamps are a way that people and governments communicate to everyone,” he said.
Among so many appealing parts of stamp collecting in Indochina, Aspnes has special interest in a tradition during the French time called poste rurale. In small villages where there was no post office, people sent and received their letters through only one mailbox with a special marking.
 There were no specific statistics for the number of these unique mailboxes during the Indochina period, but many of them still existed after the French left. What makes this unusual phenomenon interesting is that the boxes were used as a form of official mailing by common people. “This is family mail running back and forth. That’s real history where real people do real things,” said Aspnes.
Example of a Nong Cong Poste Rurale postmark on a letter from a village in Thanh Hoa Province to a Vietnamese worker or soldier in France during World War I (1914-1918) – Photos: Hieu Thao – Richard K. Aspnes

Aspnes spends a lot of his time learning about philately although his main job is in the computer industry. For him, search and sharing during the stamp collection process is part of the interest. By constantly looking for something new for his collection and sharing useful knowledge with other collectors, Aspnes has been associating with many people with similar interests.
He is now a regular member of a stamp club in the HCMC Fine Art Museum. “In the U.S, I have many collector friends but they live thousands of kilometers away, and I only see them two or three times a year for stamp exhibitions. But here you can see collectors and people with common interest every weekend. Stamp collection here in Vietnam is very much still alive,” he said.
Although stamp collection does not attract many young people now as it used to, Aspnes talks about it as an enjoyable hobby and a grand passion. “It’s used to be that everyone have a hobby. When I was a child, collecting stamps was interesting because it was a way to see the world without going. Now children have their phones. They Google something and they are happy.”
Hieu Thao


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