Jingle all the way

By Quynh Tran   December 10, 2018 | 08:26 pm PT
A Saigon man has collected bells from around the world, including a 1,000-year-old Champa relic.
Jingle all the way

After more than 10 years of collecting, Bui Duc Tam, 68, of HCMC now has 200 antique bells of various shapes and sizes and from various countries around the world.

He first fell in love with bells during one of his trips to Khanh Hoa Province when he luckily got a 1,000-year-old piece.

The majority in his collection are 50 to 1,000 years old.

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The bells are either displayed neatly in glass cabinets or dangle from the ceiling. He spends a lot of time searching in flea markets during trips abroad or asks his friends for help. His hobby is expensive but he considers his collection priceless.

Tam says: "Each bell and its ring represent a unique aspect of the culture and country it came from. From the standard bells to bells in temples, churches, from the sounds of tea bells to the ringing of school bells, cowbells ... they are all very interesting. Even the way parents call their children has a ring to it."

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The oldest bell in his collection, one he bought in the central town of Nha Trang, is around 1,000 years old. It is a relic from the ancient Champa culture.

Champa was a collection of independent Cham polities that extended across the coast of what is today central and southern Vietnam from approximately the 2nd century AD before being absorbed and annexed by Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang in AD 1832.

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A 150-year-old Vietnameses bell he found in the ancient central city of Hue is only as big as his palm.

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Tam bought this centuries-old bell during a trip to France a decade ago. The bell appears to be Indian.

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This bell from Tibet is shaped like a bowl and has an image of the Buddha carved inside.

"This is called a standing bell or sometimes Tibetan singing bowl. Rotating a mallet around the outside rim of the bowl can make it emit a very loud ring," Tam says, demonstrating it.

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This bell is more than half a century old, and was used during church services. It was given to him by a priest.

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"This is a service bell used at restaurants to call a waiter to your table. I bought it from a friend in Long An (in the Mekong Delta)."

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This bell is also from France. It was placed outside houses and served as a doorbell when electricity was not widespread.

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"In the old times, elders used this bell to call their children or grandchildren when they needed help. This originated in India, but I bought it in France. Now, most people use electronic bells, so this item is very valuable."

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"This one I bought at an antique market in Saigon. I only know that the bell belonged to an American soldier who was fighting in Southern Vietnam in 1972. There are many bells in my collection that I have not been able to date or identify yet."

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A string of rattles worn on horses drawing carriages dating back half a century. Other types of bells worn on cattle, goats and sheep in Vietnam and other countries are also in his collection.

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