Can you remember which toys you had, and which games you played in your childhood? Toys and games change from generation to generation. Once predominantly handmade, toys are now mostly commercially-made products with sophisticated packaging. With the ubiquity of information technology and the burgeoning computer games industry, children’s “toys” in Taiwan nowadays have become more and more dominated by electronics technology. With the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Hsinchu County Government’s “Open Door, Open Mind Toys Exhibition” at the Hsinchu County Archive, adults can take a trip down memory lane, and children can see for themselves the kinds of toys their parents, and perhaps even their grandparents, used to play with. The exhibition is already underway and will run through the end of September. Admission is free, and people are welcome to come to the exhibition to indulge in the wonderful, laughter-filled world of toys.
The exhibition is organized into five themes — “Taiwanese toys” (aka “Hokkien toys”), “Hakka toys,” “Aboriginal toys,” “puzzle games,” and “modern toys” — with examples of toys for each theme. Toys in Taiwan have gone through major changes over the last century. In the agricultural period, most were made from natural materials, such as from trees, from the soil, from crop fields, or from creeks. For example, tree branches were used to make spinning tops and catapults; longan fruit seeds were used as marbles; and stones, leaves, and flower petals were put to use in “playing house.”
By the industrial period, the toy industry was thriving and children in this period had an increasing variety of toys to choose from. There were still the spinning tops, round menko cards printed with anime characters, marbles, bamboo dragonflies, and shuttlecocks (jianzi) from the agricultural period — although now made commercially, so they were more sophisticated and durable — and also building blocks, toy cars, handheld video games, and the “Holy Warrior” from the anime series Voltron that was very popular at the time. In today’s high-tech world, online games have gradually taken over as the main entertainment for children.
As the exhibition is held in Hsinchu County, which has the highest Hakka population density, Hakka toys and children’s songs are also on display. Generally speaking, Hakka toys were made of materials obtained from local sources, such as bamboo, wood, plastic, iron sheets, and plants, and were primarily made by children themselves. There were also other tribes living in villages in Hsinchu County besides the Hakka, including the Saisiat and the Atayal. Aboriginal children’s toys were mostly made from natural materials, such as bamboo: children would transform pieces of bamboo into catapults or toy guns in no time at all, according to the organizers. Peng Huai-i, a staffer in charge of the exhibition, told the Taipei Times on Monday that because of the scarcity of historical documents, it is difficult to clearly distinguish between Taiwanese, Hakka, and Aboriginal toys.
Last but not least, the exhibition also features science-inspired puzzle games, including slide puzzles, building blocks, board games, and metal ring-link puzzles. You can try these puzzles for yourself at the exhibition to hone your mental skills. All this playing around is hungry work. The good news is that the Hsinchu County Archive is located in the heart of the Kuang Ming Shopping District, teeming with Hakka and exotic restaurants catering to the tastes of gourmet foodies. Therefore, after a “toy tour,” people can embark on a “gourmet tour” and have their fill.
(Lin Ya-ti, Taipei Times)