Map collector fashions plan to promote Olympics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am

Map collector Marcopolo Tam Siu-cheung wants to turn part of his extensive collection into haute couture to promote the Olympics.

Among his 230,000 cartographs, antique papers and photographs are maps of Olympic cities, and to bolster support for Beijing and Hong Kong's hosting of the Games in 2008, he plans to copy these maps onto ties and scarves.

He has travelled the world for the past 25 years collecting antique maps and atlases, as well as rare wall rubbings.

His name reflects his obsession with maps and travel. He started calling himself Marcopolo last year after the famed Italian explorer. 'I decided to use the name because I appreciate Marco Polo. I made it one word because Marco Polo was someone who bridged eastern and western cultures,' he said.

Displaying colourful images of horses and riders copied onto paper from engravings and wall relief pictures in China, Mr Tam said he hoped to popularise those images to show that holding the equestrian part of the Olympics in Hong Kong was a continuation of China's historical relationship with horses.

The paper images, which he calls 'cultural maps', were copied in the 1930s and 1940s, and are among 80,000 paper rubbings Mr Tam has collected. Most of the originals were created in the Tang (618-907) and Han (206BC-220AD) dynasties, and many were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.

Depicting horses being used for sport, work and leisure, Mr Tam hopes these images can also be transferred to clothing and pictures to promote the Olympic Games equestrian event in Hong Kong. His collection includes hundreds of maps from all the cities in which the Olympics have been held since the first modern Games were held in Athens in 1896, but he still sees room for improvement.

'I have about five or six from Helsinki and Stockholm but I would like to find better ones as next year, I will publish a book of Olympic cities,' he said.

'By collecting cultural maps, I learn about life and traditions. You can see acupuncture being carried out in pictures from the Han dynasty. You can see people playing polo from the Tang dynasty and pictures of people making paper.

'Every week I discover something new by looking at the pictures in depth. I am preparing to transform my maps into pictures and products. Many of these have been popular culture in the past but have disappeared for some reason.

'An antique map gives you a unique slice of what life was like then. An old map can capture me, surround me and swallow me.'

His quest for maps and historical documents has culminated in a collection that weighs 10 tonnes, he said. Some of it is housed in libraries, universities, and storage facilities, as well as huge filing cabinets in his home.

Mr Tam began donating maps to libraries after being diagnosed with a brain tumour four years ago. The surgery was successful but the health scare made him acutely aware that he needed to find homes for his ever-expanding collection.

Since then he has handed over more than 2,500 maps to the Central Library in Hong Kong and about 1,000 to the National Library in Singapore.