Collecting memories and medals

Updated: 2012-08-12 07:50

By Shi Yingying and Ma Yiyun (China Daily)

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Collecting memories and medals
Chen Hongkang has a huge collection of Olympic and other Games medals and badges that he wants to share with other hobbyists. [Zhang Xinyan / for China Daily]

It is not just the athletes who have a passion for Olympic medals. In Shanghai, Shi Yingying and Ma Yiyun chance upon an old gentleman who collects these badges of glory.

Swimming superstar Sun Yang and hero hurdler Liu Xiang are not the only ones chasing after gold every four years during the Olympic Games. Chen Hongkang, too, shares that passionate pursuit - only he has been collecting them for more than 35 years.

As he proudly shows off cabinets full of badges, medals and emblems, the 78-year-old Shanghai native is ever ready to tell the stories behind each and every one.

Chen has been collecting them since 1976, and in 2004, he decided to turn a bedroom into a showroom, showing off 3,000 items by rotation, all hand-picked from his collection of more than 15,000 pieces.

He has attracted about 2,000 visitors in the last eight years.

"My showroom is the only one of its kind in China, I think no one in the country has more of these sports souvenirs than me," he says proudly.

The most treasured items are replicas of pins from the first and second Olympic Games in Athens and Paris. The oldest badge is from the 1918 Far Eastern Championship Games, considered as the precursor to the Asian Games .

Chen, short but wiry, with little eyes and big glasses, discovered his enthusiasm for sports when he was in his 30s, developing interests in snooker, table tennis, shooting and motorcycle sports.

"I was fascinated by sports," Chen says. He was once coach of a Shanghai-based motorcycling team while working for Shanghai's municipal sports committee.

As he traveled to various worldwide competitions and on his business trips, Chen made the acquaintance of many sportsmen. He started exchanging souvenirs with foreign sports teams, and collected dozens of emblems, flags, souvenirs, medals and trophies from different games held in more than 100 countries. Some of his souvenirs are the only ones of their kind in China.

"They are treasures to me, even though they may mean nothing to others," Chen says.

After he retired in 1995, he started getting serious about collecting Olympic Games souvenirs, and lost no chance to seek them out.

He visits flea markets and second-hand shops almost every week, where he has discovered many badges and trophies. During the Athens and Beijing Olympic Games, any friends and colleagues visiting the Games were persuaded to buy more souvenirs for him.

"I manage to stay connected to sports by collecting these medals and emblems," Chen says.

He spends more than 20,000 yuan ($3,140), or about 40 percent of his pension on these Olympic medals, commemorative silver coins and other souvenirs every year.

His collection grew and one cabinet could no longer hold it all.

Fortunately, Chen is supported by his family, especially his wife.

Zhu Hua, his wife, helped him turn space in their home into a showroom in March 2004, rearranging the room, displaying the collection - and keeping it all neat and clean.

She takes a backseat when Chen shows his visitors around, quietly standing by with a camera in hand. She loves to take photos for her husband while he talks to his visitors.

"He looks happy then," Zhu says.

Increasing numbers have come to visit Chen after his story was published by a local community newspaper.

Sometimes he gets more than 10 visitors at the same time.

The showroom attracts not just visitors from various parts of China, but also foreign enthusiasts.

Tom Lewis from Britain dropped in after he got to know about Chen's showroom and collection from the Internet in 2007.

"He was on a business trip to Shanghai and he showed great interest in the emblems," Chen says.

Chen hopes more people can see his treasures. He has taken part in 35 exhibitions on sports, including two World Olympic Collectors Fair in 2007 and 2010 in Beijing.

He has never taken any money from the organizers although he had to pay for his train tickets.

"Every souvenir has a story," Chen says. "I hope people can know more about the history and culture of the various games through my collection, especially the Olympic Games."

But his wife worries that it may be getting too much for him.

Whenever the old man travels to an exhibition, he takes all his medals and emblems with him, because he thinks they may be damaged by careless couriers.

"It's too heavy for him," Zhu says.

As his collection grows, Chen has run out of space, and he needs a larger showroom.

He has already sold off some of his precious emblems and coins to other collectors, but he still has many lying in drawers waiting to be displayed.

Guo Guanyuan, an official of Kang Jian community's publicity department, says that the local residential committee is planning to help him by offering a space over the community sports hall.

"Chen is a constant reminder of the good old days of the different Games. We hope to help him nurture the culture of sports," Guo says.

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