I remember as a child traveling to the United States of America for the first time in 1993. It was a journey that was full of magic and wonder, for me, not least of which because we got to experience theme parks for the first time. I’ve talked about how Disneyland transports children into the world of their dreams before, but one thing that spoke to me in particular was being able to fill up a book with autographs from all the classic Disney characters. I got to take a tangible part of the magic back home with me. For months after my return, I would open that autograph book and lovingly thumb through it, giggling when I saw Dale’s snide comments about Chip having peanut butter breath, transported momentarily back into a world where all my favourite Disney characters were real.
If I hadn’t been a collector before, I definitely was from that period. I’ve been a sucker for these kinds of real life collector quests. One of my favourite parts of doing the Shikoku Pilgrimage, a journey to visit 88 temples scattered around the outskirts of the Japanese island of Shikoku, was being able to receive a beautiful and unique handwritten calligraphy rendition of each temple’s name in a little book I took around with me (for a price).
Living in Japan almost twenty years later, in 2010, I noticed that many tourism destinations had stands with a little stamp kit tethered to them wherein you could stamp a book with a special custom print as “proof” of sorts that you had visited that place in person. While I was never motivated enough, living in Japan as long I had, to get a special dedicated book just for my stamps, I did make a point of stamping any notebook I happened to have in my bag should I have the mind to do so.
When I visited Taiwan for the first time in 2016 I noticed that many places boasted unique stamps as well. I have a few stamps from that time and pursued them marginally less casually than I did in Japan. However, after moving to Taipei and celebrating my 30th birthday the following year I decided I had to catch ’em all, as it were. After several months of relative laziness, continuing to go down the notebook route, I decided to get myself a specialised book for them and make the most of commemorating my time in Taiwan and the sights that I saw.
What has followed since has been a series of incidents of me forgetting to bring my book with me during trips (and also happening to leave behind any kind of stamping surface at all), forgetting to stamp at an appropriate time (and being dragged away by antsy companions), and realising the phenomenal scope of being a stamp completionist in Taiwan.
In Japan, for the most part, each tourist destination tends to offer one unique stamp. This is great because it’s simple and makes sense. You go to a well-known place and get proof of having been there, like a passport. You then move on and enjoy that destination.
Taiwan seems to have interpreted the point of these stamps somewhat differently. Not only do they exist in far more places than you would really expect or even want (many businesses that happen to exist around tourist spots such as restaurants or souvenir shops also have their own special stamps), but many of the stamp spots have five or more stamps at the one stand. Rather than being a satisfying completionist activity, stamping becomes a tiresome chore. It’s hard to know which is the “official” stamp for a destination when you have such a selection. Furthermore, because the selection is often so large, sometimes the stamps for one particular location span over one page, especially when you are a bad judge of space like me!
In the example above, I set out to stamp my trip across the Pingxi Line (a narrow gauge railway experience) and ended up taking almost four full pages at one stop, Houtong Cat Village. Every other stop is dwarfed in comparison. Not attractive!
I’m sure I’ll still go back through the pages of my stamp book and appreciate what I see, but it is inevitably going to be messier. I will remember visiting each location with fondness and nostalgia. However, I will also vividly remember the feeling of frustration that each stamp brought in its wake.
I can always choose to not collect these stamps. No one is forcing me to collect them.