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STAMP COLLECTING / Cathy Song The poorest countries have the prettiest stamps as if impracticaUty were a major export shipped with the bananas, t-shirts and coconuts. Take Tonga, where the tourists, expecting a dramatic waterfall replete with birdcalls, are taken to see the island's peculiar mystery: hanging bats with collapsible wings like black umbrellas swing upside down from fruit trees. The Tongan stamp is a fruit. The banana stamp is scalloped like a butter-varnished seashell. The pineapple resembles a volcano, a spout of green on top, and the papaya, a tarnished goat skull. They look impressive, these stamps of countries without a thing to sell except for what is scraped, uprooted and hulled from their mule-scratched hills. They believe in postcards, in portraits of progress: the new dam; a team of young native doctors wearing stethoscopes like exotic ornaments; the recently constructed "Facultad de Medicina," a buUding as lack-lustre as an American motel. The stamps of others are predictable. Lucky is the country that possesses indigenous beauty. Say a tiger or queen. The Japanese can display to the world their blossoms: a spray of pink on green. Like pollen, they drift, airborne. But pity the country that is bleak and stark. Beauty and whimsey are discouraged as indiscreet. Unbreakable as their climate, a monument of ice, 202 · The Missouri Review they issue serious statements, commemorating factories, tramways and aeroplanes; athletes marbled into statues. They turn their noses upon the world, these countries, and offer this: an unrelenting procession of a grim, historic profile. Cathy Song THE MISSOURI REVIEW · 203 ...


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