First Published on Monday, Aug 30, 2010 , The New Paper
Article by :Veena Bhawani
THEIRS look like a typical five-room HDB flat in Hougang.
But step into one of the bedrooms and you’re bound to do a double-take.
The room is filled from floor to ceiling with thousands of soft toys packed in plastic bags.
And if you are not careful, you might trigger a soft toy avalanche and be buried under a pile of Lilo and Stitch and Winnie the Pooh toys.
Meet the Wong family, who is obsessed with collecting soft toys.
Said housewife Madeline Wong, 38, with a laugh: “We love collecting soft toys. We are not crazy, we just have a hobby.”
~ Xavier Wong, 11, in front of his family’s soft toy room
Mrs Wong and her husband Wong Keng Chong, 41, who works in sales, have two children, Xavier, 11 and Xenith, 9.
Between 2005 and the end of last year, at the height of their obsession, they spent at least five nights a week at an arcade in Hougang playing arcade games to win soft toys. They spent between two to three hours each time.
Mr Wong, who declined to reveal how much he earns, said they sometimes forked out more than $800 a month for the games.
So far, they have spent well over $24,000 trying to win soft toys – and they haven’t stopped.
“It started when Xavier was six years old. He liked the character Stitch from the cartoon Lilo and Stitch. So, we started going to the arcade to collect Stitch soft toys,” said Mrs Wong.
“After you get one, you want to get the entire series. One is just not enough.”
The Wongs have a strategy when they play the arcade games to win the soft toys.
Explained Mrs Wong: “We’ve played the games so many times that we now know which ‘catchers’ have a better grip, so we choose those.”
There were some nights when they would come home with more than 20 soft toys.
Said Xavier: “It’s fun to win and carry them home.”
Mrs Wong said the toys were available only at the arcade, and could not be bought in toy stores here.
She added that when they first started playing, it sometimes took them up to 15 tries to win one toy. They won very few toys in the beginning and would display them around the flat.
When their collection grew, they began keeping the toys in a bedroom.
“At first, the toys took up just a small corner, then half the room. But, before long, the entire room was taken up,” she said.
But the Wongs do not go to the arcade as much these days as their children have too much homework on weekdays, she said.
The children’s bedroom has been converted into a soft toy shrine – there is a shelf stacked with over 150 identical Scrump alien dolls, a character from the cartoon Lilo and Stitch.
The children sleep with their parents, so their beds have been used to display another 20 soft toys.
They also collect other toys like Barbie dolls, which are still in boxes, stacked in the corner of the bedroom and other parts of the home.
But cleaning is a big problem, Mrs Wong confessed.
“I keep the windows of the soft toy room closed all the time,” she said. The family does not have a maid.
Every Chinese New Year, Mrs Wong does a thorough cleaning of the soft toy room and has developed a system over the years.
She explained: “I first take out all the soft toys and lay them out on the living room floor. Then I reorganise them into batches and change the plastic bags. I vacuum the room thoroughly and mop the floors. It takes a whole week.”
They have never thrown away a single soft toy. Instead, Mrs Wong has started to give some away.
“I have also donated some soft toys to other game tournaments like the Animal Kaiser tournaments that we have participated in and I want to donate more to welfare homes,” she said.
The family has moved on to collecting other items that do not take as much space, such as arcade game cards.
The New Paper featured the Wong family two Sundays ago on their love for the Animal Kaiser game, an arcade-based game in which you collect cards. They have amassed over 1,000 cards.
Mrs Wong said her mother and sister are also worried about their obsession.
She said: “My mother tells me all the time that the toys are a fire hazard. It is really unsafe. That’s why I want to start donating them.”
But Mr Wong has other ideas.
He said cheekily: “I have a dream, that once I retire, I’ll open a shop and sell them.”
Not abnormal hobby: psychiatrist
WHILE some might think that the Wongs have gone overboard with their hobby, a psychiatrist felt it was not an issue.
Dr R Nagulendran, a psychiatrist in private practice, said the family did not let their hobby interfere with their daily lives.
“The adults take care of themselves and the children’s lives are not affected as well,” said Dr Nagulendran.
“This is not an abnormal hobby.”
He added the family doesn’t suffer from a hoarding problem, which can be a manifestation of a mental illness like schizophrenia or dementia.
He said: “Those with these illnesses start storing rubbish and this really affects their quality of life.”
Psychologist Daniel Koh from Insights Mind Centre also felt that their hobby is well under control.
He said: “It’s actually a good thing as this family does it to stay close and they have developed a special bond. Nowadays, there are not many families who share a hobby together. Most family members tend to pursue individual interests.”