American doctor’s love for Vietnamese ethnic culture hinh anh 1(Mark Rapoport presents artifacts to Vietnamese Women’s Museum (Photo: Vietnamplus)

Hanoi (VNA) - In 1969, Mark Rapoport was one of the American doctors who volunteered to treat ethnic minorities in central Vietnam. Since then, Mark has fallen in love with the traditional culture of indigenous groups.

From a doctor, he became an expert in heritage research, a famous collector in Hanoi with more than 10,000 artifacts on the culture of Vietnamese ethnic groups.

Falling in love with Vietnamese culture

After visiting Vietnam as a volunteer, Mark returned to New York, USA to work. Around the year of 2000, Mark and his wife decided to undertake a huge change, traveling the world and getting out of their daily life routine. To date, they've visited more than 70 countries worldwide.

In 2002, when his wife, Jane Hughes, had a business trip to Vietnam, Mark and his children decided to go with her. The whole family packed up and moved to Hanoi. Mrs. Jane worked as a representative for the Population Council, and Mr. Mark participated in a study of effects of agent orange.

“My whole family is in love with Vietnam and especially Hanoi. After 20 years, we have become Hanoians,” he said.

It’s started when he visited an ethnic minority village in Quang Ngai province. At that time, the interpreter told him that the people in the village were very poor and they willing to sell anything they have to buy food.

American doctor’s love for Vietnamese ethnic culture hinh anh 2Mark Rapoport and an item he collected when visiting an ethnic village in Vietnam (Photo: Vietnamplus)

Curiosity and compassion have urged Mark to buy a rice basket and a three-compartment bags that looked like backpacks. From those early artifacts, Mark has great collections of artifacts about the culture of Vietnamese ethnic groups.

He opened a small private museum called Gallery 54 Traditions (54 ethnic groups) at 33 Hang Bun in Hanoi to display his collections.

“Sometimes I come across an object that will take me to a completely new direction of collection, such as the spiritual artifacts of the northern mountain minorities, typically church paintings,” Mark shared.

He found it’s interesting that most of paintings have wires to tie to the priest's forehead so that they can connect with the God painted in the painting.

Most faces depicted in the painting are male. However, about 10% of paintings about are female gods (such as Nine Goddesses and the Mu Goddesses). This aroused Mark's interest, so he has put a lot of effort into finding the goddess paintings to enrich his collection.

Sharing a happy memory on his journey to collect heritage items, he said: “During a trip to villages in the northern mountainous region, I saw an elderly woman was having difficulties weaving with her sight, and as a doctor, I knew she has senile astigmatism and needed to wear glasses. It’s a great feeling to help those people out.”

American doctor’s love for Vietnamese ethnic culture hinh anh 3An ethnic woman with glasses gifted by Mark (Photo: Vietnamplus)

Mark always bring with him two pairs of glasses, so he gave one to the elderly lady. Thankfully, she could see everything clearly. He realized that a dollar's worth of glasses would help those women continue to contribute economically to their families while preserving their traditions. After that, he bought 100 more pairs of glasses to give to elderly ethnic people he met. The project "Glasses for ethnic minority women" was born. With the help of his friends, after nearly 20 years, he has donated 9,000 pairs of glasses.

Thanks to Mark’s collection, typical artifacts of 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups have been introduced at big museums in the USA and worldwide./.