Monday, September 17, 2007

Toys for the Big Boy

(full length article on Big Boy Cheng; the edited version will appear in the next issue of Homestyle)

Toys for the Big Boy
by rick olivares

One can say that Big Boy Cheng is enjoying his second childhood. Only if that were true. The truth is, his childhood never left him. At 30 years old, Cheng is like the eternal kid. He has parlayed his love, no, obsession for toys into a more than a collection; more than a business, but into his life.

While most men his age will have gravitated to more ephemeral techy and bigger toys – well, Cheng has them too – the ones that strike his fancy now are the designer toys that cost much more than the playthings of our youth. For the uninitiated, designer toys are expensive collectibles that are produced in limited quantities by creators who have backgrounds in graphic design and illustration, lowbrow art such as graffiti, and even music. It’s far from the action figures or transforming robots that hold kids’ attention today. It makes for a flourishing industry where the toys are first and foremost collectibles that are better suited to display cases than bins or trunks. His toy specialty store, Fresh, which he co-owns with some like-minded friends, is doing well. Scouring the Internet for new items to collect and to sell is a daily ritual.

“The first ever designer toy that I bought was a Michael Lau (a Hong Kong artist known for his use of vinyl in toy manufacture and who has a profound effect in Asian and American street culture) that cost over HK $800,” recalls Big Boy. “I thought about it several times over before buying it but I eventually did. I still have it and its value is several times over now.”

The collection is easily worth a small fortune that is why great care is taken to ensure the toys are dust free and shielded from light that dulls their colors. The house help have also been instructed on the toys’ proper maintenance (they’re cleaned once a week) and care using special imported brushes called swiffers.

Big Boy’s home has a playroom feel albeit with the minimalist and elegant furnishings of Italian interior designers Cassina. “I like them because they’re stylish, innovative yet very humanistic,” he gushes. “The world’s leading museums and best designed houses make use of their products so you know they’re truly world class.”

While not particularly skilled at architectural illustration or interior design, he has an eye for beauty when he sees it. “I know what I want and have my own design group -- ahem, named Bigboy -- interpret and manufacture them. That way they’re done to my specifications.”

Every room has display cases of his personal design to house his massive toy collection by noted designers like Paul Frank, James Jarvis, Yoshitomo Nara, and Lau, as well as companies such as Kidrobot, Toy2R, Circus Punks, and Devilrobots among many others. His walls bear prints by famous graffiti artists D’Face and Banksy and a framed original and autographed 1992 US Men’s Olympic Basketball team jersey (“the one true Dream team,” he says). The rooms are lighted in such a way so they’re not harmful to the toys. “What I like about Poltrona Frau is that they’re more than just lamps; they’re lighted sculptures”

Big Boy has his own badminton court where he holds tournaments every three months (he’s often crowned the winner of the aptly named Big Boy Cup). And he literally has his own home theater; a small sized one that seats around 25 people where he can enjoy his favorite movies and anime.

His playroom also contains amplifiers, guitars, and a drum set. “Music -- can’t live without it,” he says as his eyes light up at the mention of his other great love. He frequently jams with his cousins and friends playing only so far in parties and family affairs. Like his toys, music has carried over to his family life as well.

His eldest son, Kurt, was named after the late Nirvana frontman. “He should have been named Stone (after Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam’s rhythm guitarist), but somehow, my wife and my parents thought that people might get the wrong impression,” he snickers with child-like glee. As for his second son, Miguel – “he’s named after my favorite beer,” he cheerfully says as you sift through your knowledge of rock n’ roll history for musicians of the same name.

Kurt and Miguel have their own collections – Pokemons, Transformers, and Marvel Super-heroes, but despite their youth, they regard their father’s collections with fascination and have begun to stoke an interest in them. “When I move on, they will inherit my toys,” jokes Cheng.

Together the three of them are like best friends with family meals at times having that gleeful air of a toy convention. “My wife, Jeanette, refers to us as her three children,” he fondly relates of his supportive wife.

Upon a person’s first visit, he feels the tug of that inner child’s wonder at the massive collection of toys. Even a couple of foreign news crews have asked if they could feature them on television. Big Boy can empathize; the toys do leave him with a sense of fulfillment. “You only live once so I try to collect what I can,” he says before he’s off to search the Internet.

Fresh is located at 5 Sgt. Esguerra St., South Triangle, Quezon City.

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