Having just returned from Vietnam, Arnaud Zein El Din got tons of messages from Vietnamese people, offering to give him the paper horse he was not able to take to the airplane.
The 44-year-old Arnaud Zein El Din arrived in Hanoi in early-July, and collected representative items from Vietnam, including a joss paper horse and bring them back home with him.
Zein El Din carrying the paper horse at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport on August 3, 2023.
Unfortunately, his flight operator refused to let him bring the paper horse with him on the airplane, saying that it exceeded the allowed luggage size. When news broke, locals sympathized with the man and his love for traditional Vietnamese culture so much that they banded together to buy him a new one and have it sent to him as a gift overseas.
Son Dang, an architect in Hanoi, came up with the idea of looking for a paper horse similar to the one Mexican Zein El Din bought and sending it to him by post.
He shared the idea with a few friends of his and posted it on his Facebook account asking for donations. The group of friends received VND1.8 million (around $76) from donors, and Son added an additional VND2.2 million to cover the shipping fees. The process took four days.
Son and his friends searched all over Hanoi but couldn’t find a horse looking exactly similar to Zein El Din's effigy. They had to reach out further to joss paper factories in Hanoi’s outskirts district of Thuong Tin and its neighboring province Bac Ninh.
They found several similar horses there, but all of them were too big to be delivered to Zein El Din. So, Son bought a smaller but more sophisticated horse and texted Zein El Din asking for his shipping address.
The horse was then sent to the courier service and is expected to be delivered to Zein El Din in 7 to 10 days.
Responding to Son’s messages, Zein El Din said he was astonished by the impact of the images of him carrying the horse at the airport. He revealed that he had gotten many messages from strangers, offering to send gifts to him.
"The horse Son bought looks shinier and more sophisticated [than the one I had]. I’m touched by the love I got from Vietnamese people," Zein El Din said.
"There are not only beautiful sceneries, but also beautiful and kind hearts in Vietnam."
Love for Vietnam
Arnaud Zein El Din arrived in Hanoi in early-July, starting a three-week journey through Vietnam. He was drawn to Vietnamese culture during his stay in the country, so he decided to collect representative items and bring them back home with him.
Things Zein El Din collected in Vietnam.
His collection eventually included things like a pith helmet, traditional bamboo water pipe, a sedge mat, a mask, a glass cup, a broom, various other handmade items, and a joss paper horse.
Among these things, Zein El Din loved the paper horse the most. He was most impressed with the design and the patterns printed on it.
"I didn’t even know the paper horse was supposed to be burned as an offering to the deceased, I just thought of it as a sophisticated handmade item," Zein El Din said. "But that is a great ritual and I felt bad having to leave it at the airport."
Zein El Din said his trip to Vietnam was "great," and he made the right decision by extending the trip from 10 to 21 days.
The Mexican man explored every corner of the capital city and had a lot of unique experiences. He tried swimming nude at the Red River, attended a trance ceremony, drank with local people, and enjoyed various specialties, including coffee at sidewalk stalls, fresh beer, bun cha (grilled pork with vermicelli noodles), cha ca La Vong (pan-fried fish), and banh cuon (steamed rice rolls).
"I think I'm Vietnamese sometimes, as I quickly adapted to crossing the roads, enjoyed hearing noises from the streets, and looking at the crowds of people driving their motorbikes," Zein El Din said.
Zein El Din is planning to establish a digital museum displaying his personal collection of handmade items. He said he would come back to Vietnam, since he left part of his heart in "the beautiful country."