Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Rediscover your inner child

The Taiwan Toy Museum should revive more than a few memories and teach a thing or two about the simple joys of simple toys

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chiang Wen-ching, director of Taiwan Toy Museum, shows how to play chicken eating rice, a popular toy in 1950s.

PHOTO: VICO LEE, TAIPEI TIMES

Standing at a primitive 1960s pinball machine, Chiang Wen-ching (江文敬) wears the proud expression of the king of the playground.

Though 50, Chiang is visibly most content when surrounded by the more than 1,000 kinds of toys that make up his vast collection assembled over 30 years and which he now displays at his own Taiwan Toy Museum (台灣玩具博物館).

On a recent visit, when a group of visitors is stumped on how to use a stringless top, he eagerly intervenes with a thorough explanation in a tone of affection not unlike a father introducing his child to his friends.

Nearly every visitor to this apartment-sized museum is subjected to Chiang's enthusiastic and detailed guided tour through the history of toys in Taiwan. And despite having opened only recently, and its out-of-the-way location on the edge of Taipei, a non-stop flow mainly of students comes here to test themselves on the traditional interlocked rings and marvel at other old Taiwanese toys most have never heard of.

Toys from antiquity

The displays are arranged in chronological order, starting with a reproduction of the prehistoric Yellow Emperor's soccer ball, made of his enemy's skull wrapped in straw, and tou-hu, a prototype dart-throwing game that dates to the Spring and Autumn Period about 2,500 years ago.

Another of the oldest toys on exhibit is a can car dating from the late Qing dynasty. It's simply a tin can attached to a bamboo stick, but has proven to be a hit with visitors of all ages.

"Toys from before the 1930s were mostly wooden gadgets or simple structures. At that time, whatever moved, had bright colors and made sound was a toy," Chiang said.

Some of the items are of particular historical interest. Chinese chess pieces dating from World War II, for example, were named after the military titles of that time, while pictures on a roulette table from the 1950s say: "Recover the mainland and eliminate communists."

There's a large number of German iron toy cars from the 1970s and a full set of English matchbox cars, which are now worth thousands of NT dollars each.

Raised in rural southern Taiwan, Chiang started collecting toys in middle school, just when his friends were beginning to abandon theirs. "The economy was bad, so throwing away toys was wasteful. But maybe I just couldn't part with them because they're so much fun," Chiang said between tours for elementary school children.

Chiang has always surrounded himself with toys, taking his first job as a salesperson at a Matchbox car manufacturer's Taiwan branch and later working for a Japanese toy-model company. He later opened a convenience store, which, he said, sold more toys than food.

Lost for good

Old toys are disappearing fast, even at the flea market under Taipei County's Chung-xin Bridge, where Chiang acquired the bulk of his collection. Recently, he's turned to China as his new toy-hunting ground.

"It's hard to estimate how many kinds of toys Taiwan has had over the years, because people used to make their own toys. Maybe some inventions we'll never find again," Chiang said.

"There have been several elderly visitors who described to us the toys they used to play, but we have no idea what they are," said Chiang's wife, while busy assembling "cherries," a toy composed of two cherry-colored wooden balls connected by a string, which Chiang built from memory. By holding the middle of the string and pulling it in the right way, the two balls collide repeatedly, making a pleasant rhythmic sound.

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