Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mint Museum of Toys

Back in October, Bryan and I went on a wild-goose chase in Little India, looking for the no-longer-in-existence Museum of Shanghai Toys.  We later found out that the museum had closed several years ago, but had reopened in another location as the Mint Museum of Toys (why "Mint,"  you ask?  Good question.  I have no idea).  We set out to check it out over the weekend, and were happy to find that its new location near City Hall MRT, behind Raffles Hotel, was very easy to find.

The museum is a really narrow building with five stories.  We started at the top floor, with "Outerspace" themed toys.  Artistically lit display cases were lined with all sorts of funky toys, most of them from the 1960's and earlier.  There were loads of robots, astronauts, space ships, ray guns (my personal favorite), and rockets.  A lot of the toys were made of tin and looked very fragile.  More than a few of the robot toys were creepy!
I'm dying to know how a "Space Gun" is different from a "Mars Gun"
"Space Men" Something about their faces behind those masks gives me the willies.

The outerspace section also had Star Wars and Star Trek toys, including the posters from the original Star Wars movies, which were fantastically retro.  The Star Wars toys were really fun to see, because I recognized some of them as toys that my brothers played with, or that my cousin Mike collected.  In fact, some of them might still be lying around my parents' basement!
"Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you."

Next we went down to level four, the "Characters" level.  There were tons of Astroboy toys.  I didn't really remember seeing Astroboy much before, but apparently he was huge in Japan in the 1950's and has remained popular ever since- there was even an Astroboy movie just a couple of years ago.
Astroboy tank

My favorite character toys were the Batman ones.  In addition to the usual representation of Batman that I recognize, there were all sorts of strange Batmans- green ones, chubby toddler ones, even a vaguely sexual Batman squirt gun with the trigger sticking directly out of Batman's crotch.  And Robin!  He's awfully shapely, don't you think?
Green Batman
Baby Batman, in the days before the Batmobile
What's wrong with this picture?
Robin, showin' a little leg
The rare unmasked Robin

Speed Racer was pretty sweet too!
Go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer, go Speed Racer, go!!!

Level three was "Childhood Favorites" which was a little funny since pretty much the whole museum seemed like childhood favorites to me!  This level had a lot of Popeye and TinTin toys.  I always liked Popeye as a kid, so it was neat to see how long he's been around- long before I was even born!
The Popeye crew

More than a few of the toys were marked with little placards that said things like "Only one known to exist in the world" or "Valued at US $7,000"  I guess collecting antique toys can be pretty lucrative if you known what to look for!  Apparently the toy of Popeye pushing the tank is incredibly rare and valuable.
You might want to pick this up if you ever see it at a garage sale...
I like the Popeye spinach cans in the background

I think Tintin toys might have been before our time, because Bryan and I didn't recognize any of the characters.  The guy did have a really cute dog though!  And nothing says "child's toy" like a whiskey train!
Tintin on the whiskey train
Tintin...riding around in an orca whale?!

By far the weirdest part of the museum was the collection of toys that used racist words and themes from a time when slavery was widely accepted.  Most of these toys were from places like the U.S. and the U.K. and they were really bizarre- they gave you that feeling like you were maybe doing something wrong just by looking at them.  But I think it's a part of history that's necessary to preserve- it's always important to have an accurate picture of how things once were.
Notice the one eating watermelon, a common theme among these toys.
"Darkie toothpaste"
What a strange toy to give a child.
These dolls were called "golliwogs," which is apparently a racist term.

Anyway, to return to the less controversial toys, there were also some classic favorites, like very old Mickey Mouse dolls.  Back in the days when he was just starting out, old Mickey looked much more rodent-like than he does nowadays!
Looking awfully mousy, Mickey
Mickey, atop something called a "Talkie Jecktor", whatever that is.
Awkward Felix the Cat
Awesome Fred Flintstone
Cute little Casper
Old school Donald Duck

The second level was the last one that contained exhibits, since the first level was just the entrance, a little shop, and a sidewalk cafe.  The second level was "collectibles," which, again, I found amusing, since the entire contents of the museum could probably be categorized as collectible.  Anyway, that second level contained a large collection of handmade Chinese dolls.  They were really old and each one was lovely and totally unique.

One of my favorite toys in the museum was this old doll from Singapore.  The doll was from the 1940's- before Singapore was even an independent country!  The chef 's hat said "Sea View Hotel Singapore" and it had a little menu on its apron.  Judging from menu items such as Sauce Yorkshire, English Turkey Nivernaise, and Yuletide Pudding, I'm guessing the Sea View Hotel must have been a colonial hangout!
Hungry?  Chef doll can help!

Also in the room were a number of other familiar figures, including an ancient Barbie doll and some rather adorable representations of the dwarfs from Snow White.
A long way from today's Barbie
Bashful, Sleepy, Happy

Also in this room was display case after display case full of cars- tin trucks, matchbox cars, racecars, and more.  I think my dad could have spent hours ogling all this stuff!  Bryan and I took lots of pictures for him, so I'm only going to put a few on here.  The number of toys with their original boxes was really impressive.
Ford Edsel
Old police patrol car
Super weird delivery truck
Chillin' with the toys

The collectible room also had a bunch of relics from the Beatlemania era, including original Beatles autographs.  Some of the stuff was pretty standard Beatles memorabilia, and others (e.g. stuff done in Yellow Submarine style) were a little more unusual.
Freaky Beatles

Throughout the museum were these things called string holders.  Bryan and I were kind of confused by them- why were there so many different types?  Why exactly did people need string holders back in the day?  Why are they almost all super eerie?
Character string holders
Clark Kent, I think you have something in your teeth

After a thorough exploration of the museum, Bryan and I headed out to the sidewalk cafe for a break.  As luck would have it, they had one of my favorite beverages on the menu- Wychwood Green Goblin hard cider!  After having spent a few days sick with whatever nasty bug is all over Singapore right now, it was great to sit outside and enjoy the breeze, a cold drink, Bryan's company, and a nice view of Raffles Hotel.
Ahhhhh, relaxation
Raffles Hotel from the back
It was a great end to an interesting day.  Who knew the toy museum would be so fascinating?  I recommend checking it out if you're in Singapore- it's a good twist on the typical day at the museum.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Silly Signs Part Seven

With six editions of "Silly Signs," I thought that I was pretty much running out of material around Singapore.  But it seems that there's a never-ending pool of ridiculous stuff to draw from around here.  I give you one of my all-time favorites: the "DO NOT TOUCH ME" elf.  Hilarious!  It looks like an ad to prevent molestation!  I want to turn it into a T-shirt and wear it when I'm having a bad day.  Despite the extreme seriousness, the sign was actually just about not touching the Christmas decorations at Jurong Point.
If you touch me, I will cry a big sad crocodile tear.

I found this next sign at Outram Park MRT station and I have to admit that I'm pretty mystified by it.  I'm guessing it's warning against scammers who are selling stones that they claim have magical powers?  Perhaps these stones hold special appeal for older Singaporeans, who seem to be much more superstitious than the younger generation.  As a middle-aged waiter at Casa Latina told us, "No, I am not superstitious.  Superstition is silly.  But I don't mess around with black magic.  Black magic is REAL.  And it's serious.  I don't mess around."   Bryan and I did our best to nod sympathetically and not burst into giggles as I grumbled something about casting the Avada Kedavra spell.
Hey, you wanna give me a load of cash for this rock I found in that drain over there?  No? forgot to tell you!  It's MAGICAL!!!!

In the year 2000, Singapore launched the "Speak Good English Movement" to encourage Singaporeans to use more grammatically correct English and less of the local Singlish patois.  They have a number of campaigns- some of them encourage Singaporeans to send in photos of grammatically incorrect signs so that they can be corrected, and another campaign posts signs of frequent Singlish phrases and how they can be corrected to be proper English.  I guess it's a good idea overall- it's good for Singaporeans, particularly those involved in business, to be able to speak proper English so that they can be understood by non-Singaporeans.  Although I have to say, I find Singlish endearing and expressive, so I hope the government never aims to eradicate it completely.  It's part of the local flavor.  And besides, if you're ever having a real problem understanding, that's what the Coxford Singlish Dictionary is for!
Borrow you $5?!  Wah, why you so cheapo, lah?!  Cannot.

I got the image of this next sign off of the Singapore Stomp site.  I've seen the signs several times but due to the nature of them, they're often in high-traffic areas where it would be awkward to stop to take a photo.  The signs are usually put up after very serious or fatal accidents and the figures at the bottom change depending on who was involved, e.g. if a lorry hit a motorbike, that's what would be on the sign instead of the taxi, van, and pedestrians portrayed in this one.  I've never seen anything like them in the U.S.
Walking can be dangerous business around here

So you see, I haven't yet run out of strange and unusual signs.  Bryan and I have a trip to an exciting destination planned for the first week of February, so we'll see if we run across any gems while we're there.  Stay tuned for more!