Vincent Au Yeung Wai-hong, who is in his forties, has been collecting products which were made in Hong Kong between the 1950s and 1980s for over 20 years. He says he collects toys from the perspective of design. Au Yueng appreciates the creativity of old toys. He makes a detailed profile for each item he has collected so that both the current and future generations can know about these toys and products.
Au Yeung says when he was a child, not many families in Hong Kong could afford to buy toys, so children would use any item they could get hold of and use them as toys. Au Yeung remembers he used to have a money-box that was shaped like a house. As a child, he would spend the whole afternoon playing with it for hours alongside other actual toys.
“I cried out when I found the same money-box in a store!” Au Yeung said with laughter. He feels particularly excited when he discovers the toys he used to play with, and this also motivates him to find the story behind every toy, because to Au Yeung, every toy represents a childhood memory. “I have special feelings towards toys and I want to share them with others,” he says.
Au Yeung is not the only toy collector who is devoted to collecting Hong Kong toys. Joel Chung Yin-chai is 46 and the founder of a local cultural study organisation, Hong Kong Creates. He is also a dedicated toy collector who has collected tens of thousands of toys over the past 26 years. In fact, his collection is so large, he rents a 2,000 square feet warehouse to store it in.
Chung used to collect watches and his passion for collecting toys came to him unexpectedly when he made an unplanned visit to a toy museum in Japan. It was in 1985 when Chung was still studying advertising in Japan when he stumbled into a toy museum in Urahara. Chung says he will never forget the experience. “I felt like time had stopped from the moment I stepped inside, it was like The Matrix, you could hear no sound,” says Chung.
Chung says that when he started to realise there were also other visitors in the museum, he saw the way children and their families looked at the toys with joy in their eyes. “Toys bring people fantasy,” says Chung. He believes that through playing with toys, people live out their fantasies – they can be soldiers, astronauts or whatever they want, and this is why people find toys so fascinating.
Amazed by how much happiness toys could bring to people, Chung decided to start collecting toys. After he came back to Hong Kong in 1986, he sold off most of his watch collection for around HK$7,000 and began to collect toys instead.
Chung says he has no specific requirements when it comes to his toy collection, but he especially appreciates old toys. He says most toys were hand-made in the past but are mainly produced by machines nowadays. “Old toys are crude but they have their own aesthetic value, new toys are exquisite but they feel cold to me.”
When Chung is looking for toys he says he just follows his gut feeling. He recalls the first toy he bought was a broken space buggy he found for a dollar at a temporary stall in Sham Shui Po. Chung says that buggy was just “outstanding among the other rubbish”. He also relates an incident when he was riding on a minibus with a friend and suddenly told the driver to stop, got off and started randomly looking for toys in the street, “I just felt like they are yelling for help!” Chung laughs when he finishes telling the story.