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Around the World in 80 Tins

Although during nearly 40 years as a missionary I’ve visited 12 American countries, I’ve only once traveled outside the Western Hemisphere. A trip around the world—or at least to a few places on the other side of the globe—definitely has a spot near the top of my Bucket List.

Along the way in my travels, I pick up a variety of items to add to my collections. Nothing too large or pricey—no antique furniture or art masterpieces—but small, ordinary objects common in many cultures. You know about my tins, but not every country does! On our tag-along Israel archeology dig, for instance, we glimpsed more gravel pits than gift shops.

And a voyage up the West Coast of the Americas netted a lot of goodies but none sold in tins. In lieu of those on that trip, I selected ceramics like my sister, salt-and-pepper shakers like my grammie, spoons like my cousin, baskets like my sister-in-law. I chose family Christmas ornaments, and I specialized in photos of windows and doors.

Maybe you prefer buttons or dolls or teapots or pins. My French grandmother lined her windowsills with multicolored glass bottles, and Melissa Travis’s French grandmother passed on a legacy of china teacups in Destiny at Dolphin Bay.

I once read about a teacher who requested teabag labels from friends around the world. Isn’t that original? In Swan Pose, Chilean teacher Coni Belmar initiates a similar project with postcards in her class. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a simple postcard in this day of digital cameras?

Which all got me thinking as I unpacked my collections in our new home: How many tins do I own from around the world? Instead of Around the World in Eighty Days…

Can I take a trip around the world in 80 tins?

A ton of obstacles exist to making any international trips these days. Time, work, cost, fatigue. And Covid not least, in most places. But why wait for the perfect moment, when I can see the world and enjoy its beauty and variety as I admire the tins in my home? I can learn so much from so little.

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar

What about it? Can I make it around the world? I’ve lost count of how many tins I have, but they’re stacked on cupboards, cabinets, shelves, and the refrigerator—and I’m still unpacking boxes, remember! I don’t know what I’m going to find on this trip around the world. Are you ready to depart with me?

Of course, I’ve set some parameters for this odyssey. Some rules for myself, so to speak, because technically every tin comes from somewhere, right? The 80 tins we list must evoke the particular country in a specific way. Either because I (or friends and loved ones) have personally traveled there, or because it refers to some typical product of that location.

So “Made in China” doesn’t necessarily count. Neither do tins advertising products available worldwide (sorry, Coca-Cola). And I limited us to one tin per company unless the double represents another landmark within the same country.


We Begin in CHILE

My choice for our number 1 is the rectangular hinged box of Sahne Nuss chocolate. Made by Nestlé, the milk-chocolate-and-whole-almond bar is a classic Chilean snack. This special edition shows a couple of Chiloé Islanders munching by their Bosca woodstove on a winter evening.

In Destiny at Dolphin Bay, Melissa gives Valeria Serrano Sahne Nuss chocolate as a birthday gift. We know a missionary who devoured an entire 400-gram bar in a single sitting—not spilling any names! But that’s almost half a kilo, girlfriends!

Numbers 2 and 3 are similar rectangular hinged boxes of…men’s socks! One features the Chilote heritage church of Nercón, the other the UNESCO port city of Valparaíso. I found them while shopping with a team of short-termers. And ahem, my husband wondered why he got a dozen pairs of socks in his Christmas stocking that year.

Number 4, a big red-and-yellow square cookie “jar” once brimmed with afternoon tea biscuits. McKay makes galletas, both sweet and salty, in Chile. Not to be missed at the indispensable daily tea break—4 o’clock sharp (“English time”) in the Chiloé Islands and any time after 7 in the capital.

Carozzi, a Santiago-based food-industry enterprise, issued number 5 for their 100th anniversary. This one’s a tall spaghetti canister with a good-looking mid-century couple “felices con fideos”—happy with their pasta.

Though Chile can’t claim quite as many Italian immigrants as Argentina, still Carozzi, Lucchetti, and Talliani together serve up many of our standby plates. So quintessential Chilean that I wrote Coni Belmar’s father as the descendent of a macaroni dynasty.

Moving away from the edibles temporarily. . .

Naturally, I had to include the two square copper tins I shared about in my previous post. They’re Chilean because they’re copper—number 6.

The little pale-green Crema Lechuga tin makes number 7. Lettuce Cream? you ask. Yep, and it’s almost as ubiquitous as number 8, Mentholatum, a medicated ointment that comes in another small round tin, this one gold and black. Trust me, it’s good for whatever ails you. I’ve watched women bus passengers smooth it onto their faces like cold cream. Plus, the lid works as an eyelash curler in a pinch. Beauty treatments from the dawn of time.

Speaking of beauty, number 9 is a dainty silver compact, a perk from Novios Paris, the bridal department of one of Chile’s major chain stores. One of my daughter’s closest friends and schoolmates worked there as an accountant for a time.

Number 10 calls irresistibly to me as a writer. Though this tiny, lidded box held colorful pushpins, it reminds me of everything else that Torre manufactures in the way of office supplies. Notebooks of all sizes, colored pencils and markers, clips and staples. They’re already stocking store shelves here with school supplies for March, so I too can stock up on pens and paper.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

I should call a halt here for travels in Chile, but I can’t resist highlighting one more. Number 11, a small black tin of Mentitas (jaw-breaking white mints) with a man’s head on the lid. Anyone who’s ever lived in this country will recognize the profile as Colo-Colo, not the Mapuche warrior but the iconic soccer team. In Santiago, we lived a block and a half from their stadium, so we considered them “our” team. After all, as they say, Colo-Colo is Chile.

We Cross to CHINA

Although I’m pretty sure I can dig up more uniquely Chilean tins, I remember this is a trip around the world. So let’s fly west into the sunset across the Pacific and land in China.

Where we first find what I call the Big Red, number 12. My youngest daughter taught for several years in two different Chinese cities, so we’re the privileged recipients of a set of porcelain chopsticks, a jade pen holder, and an etched copper tea thermos, among other beautiful gifts. The tall red box with its black lid once held tea, I suspect, because the only words I can read on it say, “Promote Chinese Tea Culture.” Perfect!

Number 13 is also a tea canister, an even bigger rust-and-gold box that used to contain Fujian Oolong leaves. Its opposite, a small, blue-flowered bell jar, also holds loose tea—number 14.

I wish we could swing up to the Great Wall or some other exotic locale, but our final stop in China for this time takes us to the crimson gates of the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing. Number 15, a small square box, portrays one of the entrances to this amazing imperial palace. In the land of tea culture, it too may once have promoted tea.

We Pop Over to SOUTH KOREA

Before we head on around the world again, we’ll make a quickie visit across the Yellow Sea. My daughter rescued this attractive eye-catching yellow number, 16, from the trash after a housemate vacationed in Seoul. Wherever it was made, the language is Korean. We even figured the label out: M & M’s. ?

. . . And on to SRI LANKA

The little I know about Sri Lanka I learned decades ago from a Victoria Holt novel set back when the island nation was known as Ceylon. Holt’s Gothic heroine lived on…where else? A tea plantation.

Which is where both my Sri Lanka tins originate from, too. Number 17, a gold-cream-and-brown oval proclaiming Ceylon organic, came to me again from my daughter via China.

But I discovered the Akbar Moroccan Mint tea among the imports at a Chilean supermarket. Number 18, a white triangular cylinder sporting emerald green leaves, held silk pyramid bags. I’m not sure what’s extraordinary about mint from Morocco, but these days I grow many of my own herbs for tea.

We Head North to INDIA

Just a short flight north will bring us to Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal. The small round tan-and-ivory tin, number 19, barely resembles the elegant marble mausoleum it’s supposed to represent. No surprise, considering I found it in a junkshop jumble in downtown Santiago many years ago.

Still, it’s unique as part of a tin trio of “International Doors.” Maybe it ignited my fascination with doors around the world.

. . . And Further North to RUSSIA

This one’s really special since our national soccer team placed and played in a world champions round in Moscow in 2017. Though they didn’t return to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Russia, another missionary family and I enjoyed collecting and trading stickers for our soccer albums that year. We began this pastime with our own children decades ago.

“Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport.” –A. Nonymous

I’m such a grown-up kid when it comes to soccer. Even when our Chile team doesn’t qualify—and they often do—I love following the games, cheering our favorites, and learning about the stadium cities. Soccer simmers with stories—the stuff of legend. The climax of Swan Pose takes place over a discussion about soccer.

So number 20, a commemorative gift from the other family, holds Panini fútbol trading cards. The tin features the onion domes of the Kremlin and the Cup in its golden glory. And of course, it glows ruby red.

This trip around the world, even in tins, has stretched out longer than even I anticipated, but I trust you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Wish I could offer you tickets on the Trans-Siberian Railway, but how about a Mediterranean cruise? Next week we’ll cross into southern Europe and savor the sea air.

Brrr, I can’t wait to get out of this cold.


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