A couple of weeks into the lockdown, as everyone started to turn to baking or gardening, both soothing and comforting activities during a period of stress and uncertainty, I felt no such urge.
While flour started to run out in stores and my cousin and her husband gave their sourdough starter a nickname, the time I spent in the kitchen was minimal—just enough to reheat food or whip up a quick meal. And you wouldn’t want me near plants anyway. Just ask my ex-boyfriend who left his beloved chili plant with me after he flew back to his home country. It had flourished under his care, producing surprisingly big and vibrant chili peppers. With me, it shriveled up and died in days. (Sorry, chili plant. Sorry, ex-boyfriend.)
“Huh, I am surprisingly okay,” I thought repeatedly during quarantine. Maybe my meds were doing a really good job at keeping me stable. Maybe drowning myself in work was a good coping mechanism. Maybe my dog really is the best lockdown buddy.
But pills, deadlines and even a dog do not make you invincible to what started to feel like an avalanche of bad news. Before the pandemic, I never kept alcohol in the house. But every day, something happened in this country that made me go, “Ugh, I need a drink.” And so three months into the lockdown, our government’s dismal response to the new coronavirus disease drove me to do something I had never done before: I stocked up on beer and tequila and I started drinking alone at home.
That didn’t last long though. I’ve moved on to something that’s kinder to my liver: playing.
I’ve never outgrown toys. I’m an almost 40-year-old adult who loves Duffy the Disney Bear, Gudetama and Fuchiko. I still collect Polly Pocket (the good ones from the ’90s) and vintage trolls (and by trolls I mean the crazy-haired Russ and Dam dolls, not the nasty internet kind).
It was actually my search for the 10-inch Funko Pop Chase Troll on the website of Geek Ph that led me to discover the world of Pop Mart blind boxes. The designer toy company partners with artists from all over the world, producing vinyl figures of their creations that fans can collect. There’s Molly by Kenny Wong of Hong Kong, Satyr Rory by Seulgie from Korea, Pucky from Hong Kong, Momiji from the United Kingdom, Dimoo by Chinese artist Ayan Tang, Labubu by Belgium-based artist Kasing Lung and others. These cute characters have multiple blind box series dedicated to them. There are different themes—circus, school, space, career, Halloween, Christmas, winter and so many more.
I bought a few blind boxes—Momiji Circus, Pucky Space Babies, Molly Auction, Pucky Sleeping Babies. Part of the fun is unboxing the toys and not knowing exactly what you’re going to get.
Soon, I was hooked. There are five stores that sell Pop Mart blind boxes in the Philippines—Geek PH, R&G Enterprises, Hobbiestock Collectibles, Bully Boy Collectibles, Big Boys Toy Store—and within a couple of weeks, I had purchased toys from all of them.
They make shopping easy even for those of us who are still refusing to go out. Their brick and mortar shops are open but you can also buy through their websites (geekphstore.com, randgtoys.com, hobbiestock.com, bullyboyph.com, bigboys.ph), Facebook pages, and Shopee and Lazada stores. My collection of Molly, Pucky, Momiji, Satyr Rory and Vivicat has been growing steadily. And I haven’t just been collecting, I’ve actually been playing with them.
For the students from the Molly School of Life series, I built a classroom using recycled materials. The classroom wall is an old Lush gift box, the blackboard a Gorilla perfume box that I cut up, the bookshelves made of washi tape, tiny notebooks made using the cardboard from my dog’s box of treats, and desks and chairs out of the brown packaging my online orders arrived in. For my Pucky Space Baby, I created a black and gold galaxy using black construction paper and a cut-up Twix bag. My Sleeping Sloth Pucky got a forest made out of a cardboard box, brown paper shavings and a background of trees that I ripped out of an old Frieze magazine.
I’ve dug up my old miniature food and kitchen supplies made by Japanese brand Re-ment for my little chef from the Molly Career series. My multiple Molly artists also have an art studio made of wooden boxes, artwork I cut up from an issue of Vanity Fair and tiny Re-ment art supplies.
I’ve been stalking my favorite secondhand Japanese toy resellers on Facebook (there are so many of them!) in search of more miniatures and I’ve also been buying new sets of Re-ment from stores like Geek Freaks Philippines (geekfreaks.ph) and Great Toys Online (greattoysonline.com). I have Sculpey in different colors waiting to be molded into accessories for my little friends.
Sitting on my bed and playing with my toys has been a great way to relieve stress. It’s so relaxing, it feels almost therapeutic. During those blissful minutes, I can focus on how cute Molly is or how tiny this piece of sushi is and momentarily not think about the horrors that are happening in Congress. Playing has been challenging me creatively and getting me to use my hands to make stuff. It has also helped me connect with other people which is so important during such an isolating time. I’ve joined communities of fellow collectors and toy lovers like Pop Mart Collectors PH, Mini Vinyls Philippines and Re-ment Philippines and discovered with joy that there are plenty of grownups like me who still enjoy playing. I’ve also had fun communicating with sellers who are helping me hunt down toys I have yet to find.
“Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival,” writes author and doctor Stuart Brown in the book “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.”
“Particularly in tough times, we need to play more than ever,” writes Brown, who has dedicated his career to studying the science of play. “It is a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition. We are designed by nature to flourish through play.”
Brown believes playing is “essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve and more . . . The beneficial effects of getting just a little true play can spread through our lives, actually making us more productive and happier in everything we do.”
And so I say it with no shame: I am a grown woman who still plays. In fact, I’m getting ready for a fun tea party for my Satyr Rory Adventures in Wonderland figures.