Embracing the Joy of Having Toys

By Cheah Mi Chelle

May 2024 FEATURE
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Kenny P’ng Chun Loon (left) and Law Lih Pyng (right) strive to provide impeccable service for their loyal customers at Liberty Toys, having officially been in operation since 2017.

AS KIDS NOWADAYS gravitate towards tablets and gadgets, the toy market is being kept afloat mostly by adults. According to data from NPD Group, a huge number of adults spend their disposable income on toys, figurines and other collectibles. [1]

Toy and figurine collecting is a happy pastime for some, much like stamp and coin collecting. There are many reasons why adults immerse themselves in the hobby: escapism, nostalgia, psychological healing, or seeking a sense of community, among others.

I collect robot figurines and model kits, and have done so since 2011. This hobby has been the source of some of my fondest memories, and has led me to meet new friends, and alleviated the stresses and worries of everyday life.

I have, of course, also wondered about the reasons others embrace this seemingly childish yet expensive hobby. I spoke to teams at Penang-based toy shops, Liberty Toys and ToyPanic, about their collecting journeys. Based in Tanjung Tokong, the former specialises in collectible diecast toys, particularly model cars, while the latter focuses on toys, figurines, collectibles and video games.

Selected items from Carly’s collection of his favourite characters (clockwise): Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy, Power from Chainsaw Man and Komi from Komi Can’t Communicate.

No Longer For Kids

“The majority of our customers are in their 30s. Ironically, we don’t have customers our son’s age; children nowadays don’t play with toys anymore and are more intrigued by digital games,” says Kenny P’ng Chun Loon, who runs Liberty Toys with his wife, Law Lih Pyng.

His words ring true, as I watch their child run around the shop with a smartphone in hand, eyes fixated on the screen and paying no heed to the countless shiny diecast cars lining the shop walls.

“Back then, we didn’t have technology so we turned to toys. Now, video games and the like attract kids strongly,” concurs Carly, Business Development Manager at ToyPanic, who has been collecting for 2.5 years.

A collector of scaled anime figurines, Carly realises that not every toy or collectible can be played with or appreciated by children.

There is also an economic reason to collecting toys. P’ng highlights that some get into the hobby with the intention to resell the collectibles; rare or older models do fetch a high price.

“I think fewer people now think toys are just for kids. They are realising that toys can be resold at a higher price,” says Muhammad Farhan Azmi, another Business Development Manager at ToyPanic and a collector of robot figurines since he was six.

Influenced by her husband’s passion for the hobby, Law Lih Pyng began collecting model cars herself, captivated by their adorable yet detailed designs.

A Collecting Community

Like any other hobby, toy collecting has been a way for collectors to meet and connect with new people. “I play at tournaments, and I meet new friends there,” says Toh Jun Sheng from ToyPanic, who, like Muhammad, began his collecting journey at the age of six. His main interest is in Trading Card Games (TCG) such as Pokémon, and he attends regular tournaments as well as larger scaled ones like Comic Fiesta.

For Toh, collecting is not just a solitary hobby, but one that allows him to join large tournaments and engage with others who share the same interest.

As part of his work at ToyPanic, Carly creates videos for the shop’s YouTube channel where he shares the joy of receiving an anticipated item and unboxing new purchases. “I love filming and editing videos. You get to share your thoughts and connect with fellow collectors. It’s my favourite part of collecting.”

The passion of the collector community cannot be understated. Despite its niche product oferings, Liberty Toys’ selection of beautiful diecast cars attracts customers who are willing to travel thousands of kilometres to get hold of them.

“We’ve gotten customers from Sabah and Sarawak, as well as from Australia and Hong Kong. When they come to Penang, some will ask their tour bus to drop them at our shop,” says P’ng. He notes with amusement that their shop has become an important stop on the itinerary of some of their overseas customers.

A selection of cards from Toh Jun Sheng’s collection. To protect their condition, he keeps the cards in albums or toploaders, thick plastic casings used to store cards.

Of Nostalgia and Joy

Many adults venture into the vibrant world of toy and figurine collecting out of a sense of nostalgia; owning miniatures of their favourite TV or movie characters brings them joy.

“One of my prized toys was from the first Transformers TV show I watched; I remember it aired on TV2. It is now almost 20 years old,” reminisces Muhammad as he shows of a toy Optimus Prime from the cartoon, Transformers: Cybertron. He has always loved toys, and now, as an adult with disposable income, he is able to buy the very things that give him immense joy.

Similarly, Carly collects figurines and statues of his favourite characters, one of which is Tifa Lockhart from the video game series, Final Fantasy. “This Tifa statue is my favourite in my collection; she also happens to be the most expensive. I think she cost approximately RM3,000?” The statue stands tall, and the intricately detailed sculpt reflects the high price point.

Displayed prominently in a case equipped with lighting, this limited edition Ghostbusters Ectomobile is one of Kenny P’ng Chun Loon’s cherished possessions.

Like Muhammad and Carly, P’ng enjoys collecting representations of his favourite films and television shows, owning model cars from movies such as Ghostbusters and Knight Rider. His enthusiasm for the hobby is infectious, and has influenced his partner, Law, to begin collecting as well.

“I love their designs. The small cars are very cute, especially when displayed together,” Law remarks fondly, excitedly showing of her humble collection on display in Liberty Toys.

Selected items from Muhammad Farhan Azmi’s collection. On the right in bright red is Optimus Prime from Transformers: Cybertron.

Hobbies provide one with not only enjoyment and fulfilment, but also a reprieve from the trials and tribulations of daily life. Muhammad thinks that the Covid-19 pandemic brought many into the collecting hobby, especially those who have lost loved ones.

“Perhaps many of them realised how fragile life is, so now they just want to be happy and to go for the little things, like remembering their childhood and their favourite toys. I might die tomorrow so I might as well buy something that makes me happy,” he says with a smile.

  • [1] https://www.cnbc.com/2022/12/19/kidults-biggest-sales-driver-toyindustry.html
Cheah Mi Chelle

is a copywriter and a Bachelor’s and Master's graduate in English and Related Literature. A huge fan of sentient robot fiction, she loves volunteering with children and is interested in various topics such as the study of emotions, embodiment, and the relationship between image and text, particularly in comics and graphic novels.