Traditional games may be a vanishing trade in today’s digital era but it’s a culture we should preserve.
You could say Seow Cheng Wee, 64, of Mareara Trading is one of our pioneer entrepreneurs in his younger years. Driven by his personal interest in handmade funfair game sets, he learned the traits of the trade and turned it into a business. And he was quick to jump on the bandwagon, too. In the ‘60s, these handmade game sets were all the rave. Game sets like Mr Seow’s made frequent rounds at pasar malams (night markets), carnivals and funfairs as entertainment for adults and children.
These traditional games are not as easy as they look, most require good hand-eye coordination, precision and timing.
Fast forward four decades later, these games are now a rare sight and are called “traditional games” often synonymous with phrases such as “nostalgic memories” or “the good ol’ days”. These games barely survived the last twenty years – would they survive the next?
Between the 1960s and the 2000s, technology boomed and the digital era has taken precedence. Games like pinball, coin dozer, shoot the duck have all gone digital rendering their physical counterparts close to extinction. It’s the same grim reality for Mareara Trading and its handmade game sets; Mr Seow’s business has suffered greatly, and he sometimes had to use his own savings to cover his shop rent.
He recounts how games have changed through the years, children no longer go out to play, choosing instead to be reclusive and face a computer or tablet screen for hours on end. In his business’ heyday, a few handmade game sets shared amongst the kampong kids can bring joy and excitement to the entire community, giving Mr Seow a sense of fulfillment having brought fun and smiles to his customers.
If there’s anything his succeeding generations have lost, it’s the kampong spirit. The game culture he was accustomed to, and in which his handmade game sets flourished, required face-to-face social interaction (not FaceTime, if I may add) fostered kinship, and encouraged group activities with a little bit of friendly competition.
Rental for these handmade games are $20 per week.
What few know is the detailed workmanship behind every game set. If starting from scratch, it can take two to three months, and Mr Seow is mindful of safety and ensures that the carved wood finish is smooth to prevent players from getting scratched. Maintenance is also a concern as these game sets are made of wood and would sometimes get mouldy. He meticulously spends about an hour cleaning and disinfecting each set after they have been returned from rental.
Mr Seow understands the shift in culture and with the help of his friend’s son, Wilson Ang, 32, Mareara Trading “went social” and the Facebook page Kampong Wonderland was set up beginning of this year. He has also started giving his handmade game sets modern makeovers by incorporating popular characters like Hello Kitty, Doraemon and Angry Birds into the design. On top of these game sets, he sells party favours available in Disney movie themes like Frozen and the likes. Old favourites like Old Maid card game, five stones, spinning top and kuti kuti are also available.
Bringing fun and joy to kids through games was what inspired Mr Seow to set up his business in the 1960s.
With some social media presence especially as the nation celebrates SG50 this year, Mr Seow and Wilson aim to raise awareness about these handmade games, encourage a stronger sense of community and spread more joy to children everywhere.
Mareara Trading is open everyday and is located at Blk 163 Bukit Merah Central, #03-3571, Singapore 150163. Follow their Facebook page for details and updates.