Andraw Tang Shek-tung is an ardent toy collector, having spent anywhere between one and two million Hong Kong dollars over the past fifteen years to build a collection of 10,000 Japanese toys and action figures.
He points out that he could embark on his passion only at a later stage in his life as circumstances prevented him from starting early.
Growing up in a middle-class family and as the son of a police inspector, Tang was told that he should study hard and play less.
“My family would buy me educational toys and games. But they were not the ones I wanted. My family did not understand the value of toys, let alone see toys as a necessity,” he says.
Eventually, it was not until he was thirty-five that Tang was finally able to start pursuing his dream.
Though he is fifty now, Tang looks much younger than he actually is. “Toys really play a vital role in reducing stress,” he exclaims.
Tang’s toys are not really “toys” because an estimated 70 percent of the collection remains unopened. To him, they are “trophies” to be cherished for the moment.
His ultimate plan is to open a toy shop during his retirement years. “I count on them,” he says.
Tang’s favorite is Alien Baltan from the Ultraman franchise. This character alone accounts for about 10 percent of his total collection — this means, over 1,000 figures of the same kind. Tang knows the Alien Baltan figures so well that he can tell from which factory or in which year a figure was made.
Ultraman is a popular Japanese TV drama series first aired in 1966. In each episode, the protagonist Ultraman restores order and peace on planet Earth by killing the alien or the monster using signature moves such as “Specium Ray”. In Tang’s opinion, Alien Baltan is “the archenemy of Ultraman”.
“Some people may misunderstand Alien Baltan as a lobster or a crab because of the big claws. He is the most prominent villain indeed. Several generations of the Baltans have been incorporated in the series for over ten years.”
“The Baltans are ‘Space Ninjas’, with incredible surviving skills. Their specialties include walking through walls, and enlarging or shrinking themselves,” Tang adds. Even if they may not fight well, they will be able to escape with ease whenever in danger.
Seemingly only the true fans of Alien Baltan can discover and appreciate these extraordinary qualities underneath the creature’s bizarre look. “Yes, I know most people find it ugly, but he doesn’t look that bad to me,” Tang says.
When asked if it is a pity that most of his collectibles are unopened, Tang explains his rationale.
“These toys are targeted at the kidults and collectors. To preserve the best of their values, the packages should be maintained intact. We toy lovers treasure the ways how we have tracked them down and how well we have looked after them.”
Tang goes to great lengths to keep his valuables safe in his study. “I make the room dry by air-conditioning and I also have to keep it dark to avoid any direct sunlight onto my collection.”
If Tang unavoidably needs to open a package, he will handle it with great caution. “I will first open the flap carefully with the help of a thin metal ruler because it is the most vulnerable part that would be torn or folded.”
Unlike many other Japanese toy collectors, Tang is not interested in cosplay events or anime festivals, not to mention the crazy overnight queuing for souvenirs. However, Tang did queue up overnight once for a figure by chance.
Back then he was in Shinjuku, Japan in 2004 and read about the sale of the limited edition of Kamen Rider Chalice figure from a magazine.
“When I arrived at the HMV store at 11 pm, I was already the sixtieth in the queue. In front of me there had been around forty Hongkongers.” He wondered if the Hong Kong shoppers genuinely adored the Chalice figure, or whether they were merely there to make a quick buck by reselling the items.
Tang’s suspicion turned out to be quite accurate. The silver Chalice figure was priced at 1,500 yen (nearly HK$100 in today’s exchange rates) at that time. Tang says the same figure is now being offered at HK$1,700 in a Hong Kong shop. So, the value has appreciated stunningly.
Tang shares with us another insightful story which shows us the importance of being decisive.
“I was once in a toy shop queue. The girl at the front was hesitating over whether she should buy the yellow Alien Baltan figure. As soon as she left, I bought it right away because I really love that.”
Later the girl returned for the figure but she could not find it anymore, he says. Since the toy figures are of limited supply, one should buy their favorite as soon as they get a chance, he recommends.
Tang lives in a 1,200-square-foot home in Central mid-levels. With toys lying all over the apartment, he says: “Yes … yes … I know it is a bit crazy!”
On top of his home, he has rented a mini storage room and he has also taken up a bedroom in his mother-in-law’s flat to house his collection.
“It is a lot of hard work, but it is worth it! When I look at them, I can recall how I have tracked them down, and enjoy the memories from the past.”
Tang is a consultant at the Hospitality Industry Training and Development Centre. Working in the service industry, one has to flexible and be able to cater to the different needs of customers from all walks of life.
The Alien Baltan perhaps reminds him of the importance of flexibility and that is why he likes the character the most!
This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 8.
Translation by Ben Kwok.
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