Playtime for grown-ups

Playtime for grown-ups

Toys are no longer only for children - as a new exhibition shows

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The toy museum showcase at HKDI has hundreds of newly-designed items on show, alongside the vast collection of Joel Chung Yin-chai.
The toy museum showcase at HKDI has hundreds of newly-designed items on show, alongside the vast collection of Joel Chung Yin-chai.
Photos: Nora Tam & Dickson Lee/SCMP
While most people grow out of toys as children, Joel Chung Yin-chai's passion for them began much later as a design student. Some years on, the toy collector is now showcasing more than 1,000 pieces of his collection, in a bid to educate people about their culture and meaning. The public can see the pieces at the "Toys Paradise - Creativity & Toy Culture of Hong Kong" exhibition, organised by the Federation of Hong Kong Industries.

Chung says his passion started when he went on a school trip to the international Expo in Tsukuba, Japan, in 1985. "The most amazing experience was when I got lost exploring the city and went into a tin toy museum by accident," he says.

"I saw parents explaining passionately to their kids about the toys that they grew up playing with, and the children were excited by the toys despite having never played with them. This led me to think that toys are timeless valuables that are worth collecting."

Prior to this, Chung's interest was in timepieces, but he sold his timepiece collection to make way for toys. "I began buying batches of toys from toy retailers near Central and Sheung Wan," he says. "My main targets were old Japanese tin toys. Later I switched my focus to 'made in Hong Kong' toys after an inspiring meeting with the famous Japanese toy collector Teruhisa Kitahara."

Chung says Kitahara taught him the right way to be a successful toy collector. "Kitahara reminded me that toys are part of a nation's culture - they are closely related to people's lives, technology and economic development.

"For example, the 1970s Japanese TV character Kamen Man rode a motorcycle; there were an abundance of motorcycle toys at that time because it was the Japanese motorcycle industry's golden age. Japanese toys are worth collecting but they will never be part of my culture because I am from Hong Kong. I must collect 'made in Hong Kong' toys in order to carry on the culture," he says.

Besides seeing Chung's toy collection, visitors to the exhibition are also treated to 300 new toy creations from inventors. Under the guidance of 12 local and overseas artists, more than 200 local students have created many innovative toys.

Lo Sui-kwan, a visual communication graduate from the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI), created the "Memory Collection" for the exhibition. She drew images of an old city district on a plastic ball to highlight the importance of preserving culture.

"I grew up in an old district and witnessed our traditional culture disappearing, just like toys," she says. "Today, children no longer play with real toys, they play with building blocks on iPads and iPhones by themselves instead of real wooden blocks with friends. Toys are children's treasure - playing in a virtual world takes creativity away from them."

HKDI student Lee Yan-kiu pushes creative boundaries with her exhibit of a sofa with red lips and feet. "The sofa has a story," explains Lee. "It sat in a furniture shop and was often reprimanded by the shopkeeper because it could not be sold. So it grew a mouth to talk back. Later it started quarrelling with others and was beaten up, so it grew a pair of legs to escape."

The exhibition runs until March 19 at HKDI. Admission is free.

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