This image features black & white product photos of Polly Pocket™ toys.
Letters To What We Want is a series of letters composed by friends, responding to the question ‘What do you want? In 2021 and beyond?’. The format was left open, as was the choice to sign off anonymously or with a pseudonym.
In exchange, I sent them an artwork, which can be viewed at the end of the post.
31st December 2020
Dear Chinese Hopping Vampires, Immobilized:
You are a pair of 28mm-scale geung si, made in pewter alloy. You came in a set of four.
Your siblings had vampire canines and arms stretched out menacingly. But you two had talisman paper stuck to your faces — so you stood stiff as old fence posts, poor and harmless.
Geung si minatures by John Jenkins Designs.
You were sculpted by John Jenkins Designs, a small tabletop miniature studio based in Hong Kong. John Jenkins mainly makes historical wargaming figures. Toy soldiers, essentially; hobbyists play out battles with formations and dice on felt-lined tables. They come unpainted; painting them is half the hobby.
You were part of an unusual detour into Chinese fantasy: I remember there also being a mummy in a jade burial suit, and terracotta warriors.
A John Jenkins Designs jade mummy with his two terracotta warrior attendants, painted by Mr Saturday.
I don’t know who John Jenkins is. I may have emailed him? I vaguely recall. It was not so easy then, online shopping. No Shopee.
And no money. I was working my first job, and trying also to be a sophisticated almost-twenty-year-old. So of course I couldn’t afford shipping in USD.
Now it is too late. Finding photos of you took some searching. A forum thread from 2009 talks about how difficult it is to find images of you. You were taken off John Jenkins’ website, when you were discontinued.
That I still want you says a lot, maybe. I could stick all sorts of metaphors and angsts to you two, like magic seals:
How I wanted to get you, but didn’t, and now it is too late — something something about paths not taken, opportunities not seized.
Regret, something something.
How I suddenly thought about you, again, today — nostalgia, I suppose? I’m still the twenty-something I used to be. I still want to spend all day hunched under a desk lamp, detail brush in hand; I still want to spend all night dancing.
Twilight Actiongirl 10th Anniversary Finale Party. Photo by Danny Lim, circa 2013.
Except now both my hands have RSI, and I can’t stay up all night, and I’ll be thirty-five.
How you are not-very-good figures — but this is exactly the reason I want you.
There’s just something about you two. Cute — not in a “Look imma cute monster” chibi-trope way; but cute because you were made with personal interest and perhaps some sentimentality.. Sculpted in putty and casted, by a hobbyist’s hand. Made before the 2010s. More: “Geung Si Sin Sang is so fun” and less: “jiangshi will fill a niche in the PoC-stories-and-monsters growth market”, maybe. Maybe.
Screenshot from Mr. Vampire (dir. Ricky Lau, 1985).
How I want to paint toy soldiers — this month I spent close to a thousand ringgit, money I still can’t really afford, buying new paints and new brushes and spray primer and plastic cement and a headband-mounted magnifying glasses.
Every few years I return to the hobby. I remember Rizal saying that my interest in miniatures reflected a desire for a smaller world.
I remember feeling defensive. But it was a true observation, made jokingly, not meanly. Rizal himself reared betta fish, as a hobby.
I want to look at you with magnifying glasses and 0-size brushes like I look at nearites in tide-pools and ant-trails on a long bean vine. Or at neighbourhood associations and local unions. Attention to smaller worlds — because the bigger picture never talks about its hegemonic assumptions, and doesn’t know how it is blind.
Anyway. Chinese Hopping Vampires, Immobilized — I think you two are really cool.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have you. I’ll settle for the next-best thing: living a life where I can make things that make me feel like you make me feel.
Image of Country Musik: Movements #11, given in exchange for this letter.
An edition of this work is available in the shop.