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From Tò He to Tamagotchi: Local Designer Brings Our Childhood Toys to Stamps

For Vietnamese kids today, when it comes to games, there’s a possibility that their childhood is entirely confined to the digital world. From phone applications like Temple Run and Pokemon GO to blockbuster releases on the Nintendo Switch, making your own entertainment is much less of a concern for modern children.

In the case of Nhi Nguyen, a Saigon-based graphic designer, the memories of her youth involve much less fancy fare. Like many Vietnamese young adults today, Nhi grew up with cheap toys bought from local tạp hóa and homemade games revolving around everyday items. These nostalgic contraptions are the focus of “Chơi Gì?” (What to Play), a set of illustrations in stamp form showcasing a range of Vietnamese children's games.

The inspiration behind this album came to Nhi during a visit to a local coffee shop where some of these vintage artifacts were on sale. The range of items on offer reminded her of her own formative years, so she decided to create a collection of artworks featuring some of Vietnam’s most iconic kids’ toys.

There are classic toys that are universal across cultures and continents, such as tamagotchis and the ever-delightful rotating fish pond; but there are also uniquely Vietnamese inventions like tò he and banh đũa. Via a bright, highly saturated color palette, the artist rendered these beloved games as if they’re awash in the tender light of a Sunday morning brimming with glee over playtime.

Have a closer look at Nhi’s “Chơi Gì?” album below:

Banh đũa (Ball & Sticks) is a dexterity-focused games where players have to balance keeping a tennis ball in the air while quickly grabbing a number of chopsticks.

Câu cá (Fishing Game) is a classic toy for children everywhere, not just in Vietnam.

Cân kí involves several chunks of linked-together chain segments acting as weights. Players try to catch as many as possible in the palm of their hand in between hand flips.

Đông Tây Nam Bắc (The Fortune Catching Game) is the most rustic game of the bunch. Players write words on the inside of the shape and pick a number of times to shuffle the four "lobes" before revealing a fortune.

Keo thổi bong bóng (Plastic Bubble Tubes) is iconic thanks to its (probably) stolen Doraemon packaging, but can result in hours of fun.

Lục lạc is a plastic drum attached with two hard balls. Fun for kids but very annoying for adults.

Papier mâché masks.

Tamagotchis are probably one of the biggest trends in the 2000s. Who can forget the grief of losing your beloved digital pet for the first time?

Tò he is a distinctly Vietnamese toy made of dyed glutinous rice powder. Artisans often make figurines based on animals, famous names in traditional plays, or even popular characters in cartoons like Elsa and Mickey Mouse.

Glass marbles might be cheap, but they are powerful tools for vicious matches of bắn bi.

[Illustrations by Nhi Nguyen via Behance]

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