FEATURE: Grown men show passion for dolls

By Chang Chia-yu and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Sat, Mar 30, 2013 - Page 5

Three grown men working in the entertainment and design industries have recently showcased their extensive collections of “girly toys,” showing that men can also enjoy playing with dolls.

The 42-year-old Joseph Ma (馬國賢), a regular guest on entertainment talk shows and a former member of the now-disbanded boy band Red Hot Boy (紅孩兒), said that since he was a junior-high school student he has been going to Taipei’s Ximending (西門町) to search for imported dolls and stuffed animals.

Influenced by of one of his former girlfriends, Ma said he began focusing his attention on Japanese cartoon icon Hello Kitty and started collecting literally everything featuring the cutesy cat, from stationery to home appliances.

Rather than fading over time, Ma’s craze for Kitty has only grown and has spurred him into amassing more high-end products depicting the cat, such as timepieces and golf sets.

As far as Ma is concerned, his love for Hello Kitty is second only to his family and girlfriends, and his collection therefore rightly deserves an exclusive display cabinet in his living room.

To put his ideas into action, Ma this year custom-made the cabinet for his surprisingly large collection of items, saying he could now get rid of any bad moods simply by admiring his nicely displayed Hello Kitty dolls.

The cartoon character also inspires him to work harder, because by doing so he can afford to buy more Hello Kitty-themed items to put on display, Ma added.

Ma used to hide his “collectomania” from the public, saying it is just a hobby and that different people have different preferences.

“Some women may find men who play with Hello Kitty effeminate and repelling, but there is no denying that my experience in selecting products featuring the cartoon cat has in a way improved my grasp of what women want as gifts,” Ma said.

After his infatuation with the cat was exposed on TV entertainment talk shows, Ma’s craze for the Kitty dolls turned out to be such a hit with audiences that it has opened up more career opportunities for the veteran entertainer, including an invitation for him to showcase his collection at the birthplace of his beloved cat — Japan.

Meanwhile, for 51-year-old Taiwanese fashion designer Goji Lin (林國基), who has more than 2,000 Barbie dolls, the big-eyed, blond-haired and strangely proportioned plastic dolls are fashion muses, rather than stereotypically feminine toys.

Lin said his obsession with Barbie dolls dates back to when he was in junior-high school and fell in love with a ballet Barbie doll flaunted by the brother of one of his classmates at school.

However, for a child of a family that was not very well-off, the pricey dolls seemed out of reach.

Lin said that it was only when he was an adult and traveled to the US that he came across his “first love” and purchased his very first Barbie doll.

From then on, Barbie dolls became a sort of visual record of his overseas trips, Lin said, because he buys a doll every time he travels.

This helps him preserve the memories of each place and country he has visited, ranging from a small town close to Amsterdam in the Netherlands and a flea market in New York, to a boutique shop in Paris.

Most importantly, Lin said, his dolls are his constant muses in his work as a fashion designer.

“The costumes of Barbie dolls encapsulate the fashion trends that marked the time when each of them was manufactured. Even today, most of the outfits are very up-to-date,” Lin said.

In an effort to allow his doll collection to inspire the younger generation and cultivate more talented designers, Lin has in recent years been putting his Barbie dolls on display across the country.

“There is no essential difference in the nature of men and women who play with dolls … what matters most is having respect for each other,” Lin said, urging people not to let a fear of what other people may think keep them from loving what they want to.

As for 39-year-old Taiwanese jewelry designer Jadis Cheng (城兆緯), his collection is more furry and animal-like — a line of Japanese stuffed toy monkeys called Monchhichi that was first released in 1974.

Dubbed “Chicaboo” in the UK, “Mon Cicci” in Italy and “Kiki” in France, Monchhichi was popular in the 1970s. They came in the form of stuffed monkeys, with their faces, hands and feet made of soft plastic and their bodies consisting of brown fur.

However, with most of the furry dolls’ manufacturing lines having moved to China, they are now made of tougher plastics and come with brown eyes instead of their original blue eyes.

Explaining that Monchhichi is a representation of his childhood, Cheng said that since he was little, his family and relatives often purchased the dolls for him as souvenirs from their overseas travels.

“So, when Monchhichi entered the Taiwanese market in 1992, the idea to collect various styles of the dolls started growing in my head,” Cheng said.

He added that he then began collecting the new version of Monchhichi dolls, while searching for originals on the Internet or in his friends’ collections.

While some people collect Monchhichi dolls that come with different costumes or colored fur, Cheng said that he prefers the original version, which had distinctive facial expressions.

Apart from being his childhood playmates, the furry dolls have also become Cheng’s traveling companions. Before each trip, Cheng said, he chooses one or two dolls from the collection as his travel mates and has them photographed at different tourist attractions abroad, posing with local residents.