Titanic story of the toothpick master

Published: 03/07/2009 05:00



Tam works on his miniature Titanic in toothpicks.

In 1912, on the night of April 14, the Titanic hit an iceberg near Newfoundland, Canada, leaving over 1,500 people dead and missing, shocking the world.

Ninety-seven years later, the story of a 20-year-old boy in Hoi An City who made a replica of the Titanic out of 70,000 bamboo toothpicks astonished many people.

It took Luong Tran Anh Tam a whole year to complete the miniature. In the end, he was able to declare himself as the first man in the world to build a miniature Titanic out of toothpicks.

Tam’s painting featuring horses is also made out of toothpicks.

Beautiful love

“I was so touched and haunted by the beautiful love between the poor painter Jack Dawson and the young beautiful aristocrat Rose Bukater. Their love did not reach a happy ending because of the ship’s tragic end at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean,” Tam said.

Tam began his construction of the ship in March 2007 and finished it one year later. Everyday at 6pm he started his nightly work on the model. When his parents came home from work, they were glad to see their son in his room, believing he was studying for exams.

Google searches have allowed US to find two British men who created a replica of the ill-fated liner Titanic with matches. The first man is Tim Elkins, 42 years old, who used 147,000 match sticks and spent 3,500hours (during two years) to create the Titanic’s replica to 1:115 scale. He paid 100 pounds for match sticks.

The second man is Mark Colling, 32 years old, who built the replica with 3.5 million match sticks measuring 5.8m long, 2.4m high and 1.8m wide during two years. His ship has sailed into the world’s record book.

Tam’s replica of the ill-fated Titanic is 1m high, 1.4m long, 25-30cm wide and weighs more than 10kg.

To make the ship’s frame and hull, he painstakingly curved then glued the toothpicks together. The most difficult phase of construction was to make the 22 stairways, including two double stairs on the second floor. The ship has six floors, including three floors making up the ship’s body and three floors on the upper region. There is also a complete sets of masts and chimneys, along with 200 sets of main doors, windows, and arches. He also made ten beautiful lifeboats to surround the sides of the ship.

Just before completing the ship he revealed his year-long project to his parents.

‘I was so surprised by his work,” said his mother Tran Thi Dao Nguyen, adding that he has not attended a fine arts school.

‘However, I hope he will get university diploma,” she added.

Hoi An residents

Many art lovers flocked to Hoi An upon hearing about the miniature Titanic made of bamboo toothpicks in order to shower Tam with praise. Some resort owners offered to buy it for VND100 million (US$5,500), but he refused to sell it despite coming from a poor family.

“I’ll never sell it even for a high price. I want to keep it forever as a souvenir,” said Tam.

Luu Kim Phu, an art enthusiast said: “I am indeed very astonished. Tam is so young and didn’t attend a fine arts school, but he meticulously produced a Titanic miniature that looks like the original.”

“I never could have imagined he would be able to create such a wonderful ship,” said Tran Minh Phuc, one of Tam’s closest friends.

Titanic passion

Over the course of a year Tam had to secretly use the money his mother gave him for breakfast to buy the toothpicks and glue he needed. Local sellers thought Tam was buying such a large number of toothpicks to supply local restaurants.

Tam has shown great skill in making matchboxes and slip-lid mobile phones since he was in the 12th grade, even though he has nurtured a dream of becoming a DJ for a long time. In fact, the mobile phone he uses now is made of toothpicks.

“I became very pale while working on the Titanic because I stayed inside a lot. Now that I’m finished I can go out often,” Tam said.

After the great success he had while making the Titanic, Tam continued by making eight large-scale paintings out of bamboo toothpicks, measuring up to 0.8m x 1.2m. They feature hovering dragons and phoenix, horses, and a portrait of President Ho Chi Minh. With each painting made of about 36,000 toothpicks on average, the eight paintings needed nearly 290,000.

“I’ve paid a total of at least VND30 million ($1,700) to pursue my hobby,” Tam said.

Tam’s paintings are on display at his friend’s gallery on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. He has a wish to finish another 8 paintings for a solo exhibition, but doesn’t know where to find the money to do it.

“One day I plan to sell my paintings by auction, so that I can earn money to pay my mother back,” Tam said.

Tam is now taking DJ lessons in HCM City, but as always, he has a great passion for toothpick creations.

“I will also create many other works featuring the My Son sanctuary and Hoi An ancient town,” he said.


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