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The joy of toys

The Collector - Swee Hock
Superfan Tay Swee Hock has amassed thousands of McDonald’s toys, clothing, burger boxes, pins and other memorabilia. PHOTO: TED CHEN

By Uma Venkatraman

Once a week for 20 years – that’s how often superfan and collector Tay Swee Hock bought McDonald’s Happy Meals. He doubled that frequency in recent years, since McDonald’s started introducing two different toys each week.

The senior engineer with SMRT has collected thousands of McDonald’s toys, clothing, burger boxes, pins, badges, watches and hongbao packets. The 41-year-old says, with a grin: “It gives me joy. It is a part of my life now.”

Artist Johnny Lau

"My joy comes not from playing with the toys, but in collecting them."

- Tay Swee Hock, collector

It is a love story that began 30 years ago. His father had bought him a Happy Meal that came with a Ronald Chinese New Year figurine.

But it was only after he completed his National Service that Swee Hock started collecting. He would go to the nearest McDonald’s outlet every Thursday, to buy his Happy Meal and add the week’s toy to his collection.

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If he were overseas, he’d get his family or friends to buy the toy for him. Even his wife keeps a lookout for things that might interest him despite not sharing his interest in McDonald’s collectibles.

His collection is stored in over 20 boxes scattered throughout his parents’ home. But later this year, Swee Hock will move into his own four-room flat. “After years of keeping them in boxes, I will finally get to display them,” he says of his collectibles, which are still in their packaging. “My joy comes not from playing with the toys, but in collecting them.”

Swee Hock has a spreadsheet where he keeps track of every item in his extensive collection. He lists the year he gets a toy, which box it is stored in, and the location of the storage box. He has also photographs the items and post them on his Facebook page, which he set up three years ago. “I want to share my collection” and show how the toys have evolved over the years.

Of course, he queued for hours or even overnight for the Hello Kitty collection. He also buys collectibles from other collectors and at flea markets, and even gets McDonald’s staff to part with items that are not made available to the public.

Swee Hock’s most treasured possession is a Ronald McDonald statue. “It had special meaning to the person I bought it from, so it took a lot of persuasion for him to sell it to me.” He wishes there were more toys based on McDonald’s characters such as Grimace, Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese.

To aspiring collectors out there, Swee Hock’s advice to you is: “It is easy to start a collection but a lot tougher to keep it going. And it helps that I try not to think of how much I spend on it.”

The collector

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