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July 3, 2010

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A proud 'King of the Pins'

DESIGNING pins is Virgile Ahouandjinou's special way to promote his home country, the West African Republic of Benin, at all kinds of exhibitions, such as the World Expo.

Nicknamed "King of the Pins," the 50-year-old wears traditional garments to work every day at the Benin booth in the African Joint Pavilion, selling his pins and other handmade jewelry.

He wears several ribbons around neck, each bearing glittering pins he collected or designed.

Ahouandjinou started to design pins in 2000 for the World Expo in Hanover, Germany, where he currently lives.

"The Benin government asked me to represent my home country to show my talent," he said.

His pins, featuring different themes, are bought by visitors as souvenirs.

A pin in the pattern of both the Benin and China national flags symbolizes the friendship of the two countries, he explained. He said his national flag-themed pins for the Expo 2005 Aichi in Japan were popular among Japanese visitors.

Ahouandjinou's products promote the Expo as well as the World Cup. "The pins I design are unique," he said. "I promote the idea that the Expo went from Hanover to Aichi, then to Shanghai, and then will go to Milan."

Moving to Germany at the age of 25 and working as a "communicator" between Germany and Benin, Ahouandjinou's handicraft skills have always been a benefit. "I also made the necklaces I'm selling here," he said, pointing to them with obvious pride.

He's also proud that 42 countries have participated in the Africa Joint Pavilion in Shanghai, saying it gives them an opportunity to display their culture and people.

He admitted the African countries still need time to improve the pavilion. "Many countries haven't showed their exhibits. For example, the Benin stand is still empty," he said, shaking his head. "But as the Expo goes on, I believe the pavilion will be much better."


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