Jeffrey Koh is well known in the local toy scene, maybe even in the world, for his extensive collection of toys. His Instagram account is a visual archive of the man’s seemingly endless line-up of figurines, statues and pop culture accoutrements.

Just before COVID hit, Koh had mentioned that he managed to clean up the front space at his office. “I was so happy. But during COVID, when staff couldn’t come into the office, I filled it up with boxes and stocks. It bugs the [crap] out of me every day I come into the office because I really wanted to clear that area and run, like, a little guerrilla pop-up.”

He’s not kidding. In fact, in our humble opinion, it might even be an understatement. Step into his foyer and you’re met with brown cardboard boxes, stacked floor-to-ceiling, to your right. To your left, are a hint of what he has—his toys, all black, arranged like tiny idols. You’ll have to leave your shoes at the front and enter through the narrow path into his main office where more of his toys are kept. Many of them loose from their packaging, some, still in their boxes. It’s a hoarder’s dream and a relative-of-said-hoarder-who-is-crushed-under-felled-boxes’ nightmare.

Almost every bit of nook and cranny of his office is taken up by a figurine or a pop culture artefact. So mountainous is his trove that you’d fail to notice his staff at their desk if it weren’t for the sounds of mouse and keyboard clicks.

1. BOBA FETT (2014)

“In the early ’80s, my dad’s friend from Malaysia bought a 12-inch Boba Fett toy. Boba Fett was this super cool guy, so badass and then he had such a lame death [in Return of the Jedi]. I did this piece with Luke [Chueh], which was based on his artwork. It was a brilliant idea. He knows that I’m crazy about Boba Fett so when he came to Singapore, he asked if I’d be interested in making the toy. I immediately jumped at it. To date, we’ve done seven colourways; all sold out. We could put out different colourways every year but money was never the aim. When we do a colourway, it has to feel right.”

2. ABOVE: STAR WARS “BOBA FETT" CARDBACK PROTOTYPE 47A (1981)

“I was on a lot of the Star Wars bulletin boards and there was this guy who posted pictures of packaging prototypes that he found in a dumpster outside the Kenner offices in Ohio. I had to sell some stuff to buy [this prototype cardback]. Think I paid a lot for it and I believe it to be one of a kind. At least, I haven’t seen any replication of this prototype till now.”

BELOW: STAR WARS “3 NEW ACTION FIGURES” SHELF WOBBLER (1978)

“It was known to be rare in the 90s. One day, I saw it being auctioned on eBay. Nobody really knew what it was during that time. I put in a bid and got it for a steal. To others, it’s just a piece of plastic but this is one of the rarer display pieces from that era and in that condition, it can go for up to USD2,000. It’s not a lot of money but finding this online and getting it for a reasonable price… that’s the thrill.”

Here’s the kicker: despite the cornucopia that we have witnessed here, he still has a storage space where more toys are stored. “I just keep running out of storage space,” Koh says. “I’m considering renting a small warehouse. Maybe about 500 square feet.”

It’s a constant struggle, he tells us. Something that many collectors will contend with. The overflow of material joy and the scarcity of space. This will be Koh’s bugbear but he has always lived for the moment; that’s why he collects.

In a way, Koh opines, collecting for him is most collectors’ raison d’etre: reliving their childhood; buying stuff that they didn’t have back then. Nostalgia: it's a hell of a drug.

“It’s never about having the biggest collection in Singapore. I’m just lucky to have a space and the means to buy these toys.”

While it feels like there’s no rhyme nor reason to his purchases, Koh boils it down to “stuff that catches his fancy”. Regret never comes into play. “It sounds a little snobbish to say but I’ve never cared about the investment value of the toys I get,” Koh says. “People ask what my favourite toy is and I’d answer that it’s the one I haven’t bought. Just buy whatever makes you happy.”

And that joy of acquisition, perhaps is collecting at its purest. He still keeps the boxes the toys come in but not because the packaging has more value if he resells his toys, rather he rotates out the toys that are displayed for the ones in the boxes. “Without the boxes, it’ll be difficult to store them.”

He adds that people, with the intention to resell the toys, often will not make much profit. “Here’s the thing with Star Wars... the toys from the ’70s or ’80s fetch a lot of money on the reseller markers as not many people bought them at the time. When Hasbro [the American toy company] released ‘The Power of the Force’ line, people started hoarding them but now they can’t sell them for five bucks.”

3. PAPA (2013)

“We were making stuff on Lee Kuan Yew’s likeness way before he died. We did one with Budi Nugroho and the idea is that LKY is dispensing advice like candy; each piece has a quote he made over the years. So, we put his head on Pez candy dispensers. All of us like sweets but too many are bad for our health. It’s the idea of taking things in moderation.”

4. FRANK KOZIK’S MECHANANA BRONZE (2009)

“Kozik is a visionary. Way ahead of his time. I wouldn’t put myself at his level but I do see some similarities between the two of us in that we don’t care what other people think. But, I think, he’s actually very kind. I’ve seen his softer side. The idea of a soft fruit being translated into something hard with rivets appealed to me. It’s punk. I bought this piece from Kozik’s wife.”

Koh points to a moment when he had a chance to purchase a rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype. The action figure prototype was shown at the New York Toy Fair in 1979 but it was never mass-produced due to concerns that the missile was a safety hazard to children. There was a chance to buy it for USD7,000. “But I was in my early 20s and that amount at that age was too much for me,” Koh adds, “a graded version went for USD200K.”

He puts out his own toys as well under the arm of FLABSLAB, the acronym for Muhammad Ali’s quote “Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. FLABSLAB isn’t about making money. No, that responsibility belongs to his creative agency Nerf Creative. FLABSLAB is a passion project, a platform for Koh to take his ideas and make them real.

The toys created through FLABSLAB are things that Koh would buy for himself. “In a way, it’s a little bit of a dictatorship,” Koh says, “of course, I’ll listen to input—it is a collaboration—but the toys produced are just stuff that I like.

“A lot of people say that I’m an artist. I feel kind of insulted on behalf of actual artists who dedicate their lives to the craft. I just have stupid ideas [and I need artists to help make it a reality].”


5. DEAD KOZIK: THE MAN INSIDE EDITION (2013)
“This was by Kevin Gosselin and it was from his Kickstarter project. He made this in the style of Kozik’s celebrity busts. This one is a custom, showing Kozik in half his human form and the other as a skull. This is the only one in the world.”

Koh is realistic about his toy collection when he dies. He knows that he can’t take it with him. He tells us about images that he reposted on his IG account about a toy collector who passed away two years ago. A man who had so many toys that it took his friends and relatives that long to unpack everything. “It’s a burden, a burden that’s left for the family to deal with. I don’t want that for my own family so the plan is to liquidate everything and have them split the money among themselves.”

Patience isn’t his strongest suit. He bristles at the thought of cataloguing his toys and dealing with—in his own words—”stupid” buyers. “I long for the day when someone would appear at my doorstep and just buy everything. Everything, including the office, and I’ll walk away.”

When that day comes, it’ll feel like an empire has come to an end. But to Jeffrey Koh, the enfant terrible of the toy world, maybe it might feel that he finally has the much-needed space to breathe in.

And who knows, maybe he’ll feel the need to fill it up once again.

Photography by Jaya Khadir

He hardly looks like a man with a green thumb, let alone a whole garden. Darren Loke, who is behind Omitir, Veblen Supplies and handles operations at Aa Furniture, collects plants—mostly aroids and caudiciforms.

His interest in them was first piqued during his time with his ex. She had plants, and in those heady days of romance, he lapped up her overspilt passion. He started his own collection; a few here and there initially. Until his hobby blossomed into an obsession. When the pandemic hit, he was plunged even deeper into his garden.

“Obviously, when you start a hobby, you want to explore and understand the craft,” Loke explains. “There are plants that grow around us but then you discover others from the highlands [ecosystem] or more temperamental ones like cold-loving plants that won’t survive in Singapore. It came to a point where I had to concede to only growing plants that can thrive in our climate.”

Before the use of hashtags, interest in plants stopped short of simply knowing their general nomenclature, not even their genus. When it comes to describing a tree, most can say that it has leaves and is covered with bark, but falter if pressed for specifics.


1. OPERCULICARYA PACHYPUS
“This would be my most expensive purchase. The plant takes decades to reach a certain size and is hard to root. If you were to get one with a 30cm trunk, it could set you back between SGD1,700 and SGD3,800. I got one for about SGD850 but it died. It’s hard to grow but I took it as a challenge. Of the three that I bought, only one has survived. They are succulents so they love dry conditions. You probably have to water them just once a week so they are quite low maintenance. The only downside is that they need a lot of light, preferably under a full sun.”

2. PHILODENDRON MAYOI
“It’s the look of the plant that caught my eye. I like the shape, the way the foliage forms. I probably got this for SGD5 at a supermarket. This was the first plant that I got in 2014. It now resides at my grandma’s but I’ve another in the office. As a climbing plant, it has grown quite tall.

Then, social media made it easier to identify plant types. COVID brought about a heightened insularity that accelerated plant interest for shut-ins. “It used to be that any plant tips you get would most probably be from a US writer with knowledge about plants in their region,” Loke said. “Now it’s more varied.”

Loke had already developed somewhat of a monastic existence a year before the pandemic. He stayed in more, which resulted in an explosion in his plant collection. (Loke also runs an IG account detailing his green wares)

Ficuses are his jam. While commonly found in Singapore, a ficus plant has different subspecies; some hail from Myanmar, others from Japan. Loke is attracted to their forms, finding them “interesting”. Driven by aesthetics, Loke would pair a plant with the pot.

You may have heard people say that having a garden helps them relax. Not Loke. It’s the opposite for him. He used to enjoy tending to his plants whenever he returned from work but his obsession led him to constantly fret about them. “If you think about it, it can be a chore,” Loke says.

One of two rented plots at Chwee Heng Nursery.

He has stopped counting but Loke reckons he has about 400 plant species. Then, catching himself, he adds a disclaimer: “But I’ve cut down a lot.” His current collection is stored in two places: at Aa Furniture showroom and Chwee Nursery in Seletar.

Plants at the nursery blossom due to the humidity. Once they are ready, Loke propagates them and transfers them to the showroom for display and sale. These plants are suitable for indoors and their presence helps customers to visualise, and inspires them to spruce up their own homes with a plant.

He waters the plants twice a week at the showroom and once a week at the nursery. Knowing that his plants are in an environment where they can thrive, assuages his fears about their survival. “I believe,” Loke adds, “that some plants thrive in neglect. Just give them the basics and let nature take care of the rest. In the end, they are plants, right? We shouldn’t be working for them.”

He tried growing a Pachypodium namaquanum but the species is found in dry rocky deserts and thrives in harsh conditions—extreme summer heat and wind. They can survive in a tropical setting, he says. “Think of it as a controlled situation. Air-conditioning with artificial grow lights just to maintain that environment but it’s not sustainable because, at the end of the day, these guys won’t reach their full growth potential.”


3. PHILODENDRON SPIRITUS-SANCTI
“This used to be a unicorn. Hard to get. In the wild, in South America, there could be less than a thousand plants. But over the last few years, several nurseries started tissue-cultivating it to boost the population. It’s easier to find now but it is a slow-growing plant. It took me eight months to get this one from Brazil to acclimatise to Singapore’s weather. But it’s a beautiful plant and worth all the work.”

4. FICUS MACLELLANDII
“They are known for their slender leaves that are broader at the top. They used to be a common landscaping plant [in Singapore] during the ’70s. Then, for some reason, they became hard to find. I’m not sure why that is the case. I asked someone and was told they were used widely in government projects until they were phased out in favour of larger-leafed plants. The one I got is the Ficus alii, a Japanese cultivar with even thinner leaves. I had to get a friend to order it in for me. I find them to be very elegant-looking. They are statement pieces for your home and they are really easy to grow.”

To Loke, a plant is only ready when it starts flowering. “That’s when the plant goes through a full cycle of growth, which means it’s healthy in that current condition. That’s something I definitely learnt. There are a lot of expensive mistakes.”

It is an expensive hobby to get into. The pandemic brought about a price inflation in the plant market, where the entrepreneurial and, depending on who you ask, the exploitative, took advantage by flipping plants for a higher profit. These days, plants are more affordable, the best time to get into the hobby, if you ask us.

Loke doesn’t refute that this can be considered an old man’s hobby. “Gardening taught me to slow down. For the tangible side of things, there are some rare plants that only a few importers can bring in. You’ll just need to make the right contacts. With enough money, you can get almost any plant you want.

“Even so these are life forms that will come and go,” Loke says as he plucked the leaves of a frankincense plant and crushed them between his fingers. With cupped hands, he breathed in the balsamic and woody fragrance.

From the ashes of the pandemic, the local plant community has grown ever larger. While some might opine that it’s just another consideration to create a space for a garden; think about this: it was all green before we intruded. Maybe, space can be made for both.

Photography: Jaya Khidir

Put your records on.

Even though he has never been musically trained and doesn’t play any instrument, Teo Chee Keong (or CK as he’s known to friends) seems inexplicably drawn to music. There were the salad days of listening to Rediffusion in his mother’s kitchen; his father’s cassette tapes that were near to being worn out from constant play. “Boney M and ABBA... the disco stuff, you know?” CK specifies.

Eventually, like the revolutions of a vinyl on a record player, it all comes back full circle with his vinyl obsession starting in 2012, rather late in life, CK admits. Accompanying a friend to Zenn Audio Electronics, CK saw Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind. Even without a turntable, CK was besotted with the band and the album cover. So he bought it. It was priced at SG$70, a pretty penny in those days. “But I love it so much,” CK enthuses. With his prize in hand, CK felt that he had found the Holy Grail but he would not know how fragile a vinyl would be. Leaving Nevermind in his car for a day resulted in the disc getting heat warped. “I had to get it flattened again,” CK laughs. 

A set-up for music.

Nevermind may have started the collection but securing a turntable less than a year later to listen to it was the catalyst. “Once I had the means to play a record, I started buying more. I was still staying with my mother and every day, there would be records delivered to my house.”

His vinyl collection didn’t stop growing. In 2013, while holding on to his day job, CK opened a record store with Eugene Ow Yong called Vinylicious. The store was the first local record store to introduce Record Store Day in Singapore. In some way, this invigorated the vinyl-collecting culture in the country.

His vinyl collection is how CK reconnects to key moments in his life when he’d listen to the radio. “I’d listen to Casey Kasem’s America Top 40 on Redifussion religiously. Whenever I play his records now, Casey’s voice would come on and I’m back to my teenage years.”

CASEY KASEM'S AMERICAN TOP 40
“During my teens, I’d be in my parents’ kitchen listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 on Rediffusion. I was fortunate to get copies of the vinyl that were sent to the station to be played. These vinyls are interesting because they are only pressed on one side as they are meant for the radio stations. The stations would have two players so one of them would be playing side one and side two will be on the other player ready to be played once side one is finished.”
MAYDAY'S GOD'S CHILDREN ARE ALL DANCING
“This is the band that my family and I love. My wife and I watched the band seven times whenever they played in Singapore. This record is our favourite because when my wife was giving birth, this was playing in the delivery room. We both think it’s kind of cool, the idea that our son was born listening to Mayday."

It is a formidable form of time travel. For many, a scent or a photograph can unlock a flood of memories. For people like CK, who have a stronger auditory sense, a piece of music can transport them to the moment when they first listened to it.

Aside from a live show, when it comes to the listening experience, the vinyl medium presents more dynamism. Analogue music gives a richer sound; there’s a warmth to it. “CDs and Spotify can’t create that experience. Vinyl does,” CK says.

In his Punggol flat, an entire room is set aside for his record collection. High ceilings made it possible for CK to install custom-made shelves (the design was cribbed from someone else’s collection that CK once came across). The cost of the furnishing? In the ballpark of SG$18,000.

Fully stacked, there is a system to his catalogue. One section houses music from the ’80s. Next to it are his jazz records—one that’s instrumental, another that features vocalists. Another part features genres like funk and soul and classic rock. Yet another is segmented into either the ’90s or the 2000s... it’s a complex directory that only CK knows how to navigate through.

PRINCE'S THE BLACK ALBUM
“I’m a big Prince fan. A week before he was supposed to release this album in 1987, Prince decided to recall all copies because he thought it was a bad omen. Only a lucky few managed to get the album. What I got is the reissue that was released in 1994. It’s not as expensive as the original 1987 version but it’s still worth something.”
PAUL SIMON'S ONE TRICK PONY
“I used to listen to Chris Ho on Rediffusion all the time. He’s my inspiration. When he passed away, his estate sold his music collection. What’s interesting about his collection is that he’d keep any newspaper clipping about the artist and the music. When you buy his collection, it’s like keeping a part of his legacy."

Some collectors are adamant about only acquiring original pressings but CK is non-plussed. “If I have SG$1,000 and if I’ve to get either one SG$1,000 record or several hundreds of records that are reissues or not rare, I’ll get those.”

He does have some grail items and many of them are precious in his sight. His record obsession has infected his son as well. “He’s musically inclined,” CK says. “He even introduced a few musicians to me like Eminem and Måneskin. He saw [the latter] in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2021,” CK says with pride.

It’s a collection that’s still growing. CK ponders if he should start selling some of them soon. So, what happens when his vinyl collection is no more?

NIRVANA'S NEVERMIND
“This was the first vinyl I got. It was at Zenn Audio Electronics. I was there with a friend and I saw the album with the original German pressing. It was expensive, about SGD70, but now it’s worth about SGD300.”
SANTANA'S ABRAXAS (MOFI ONE-STEP)
“For a MoFi (Mobile Fidelity) One Step record, steps in the plating process are reduced to minimise surface noise, which means better audio. I didn’t get it when it first came out and I saw this at Analog Vault and I convinced Sharon [the owner] to sell it to me. I got it for SGD1,200 and I still haven’t unsealed it yet.”

“You mean when I don’t have it with me?”

He looks sad for a moment as though the image of empty shelves in a high-ceilinged room is triggering.

“When I grow older and nearing the end, I can accept the fact that I can’t take it with me. But if for some reason, my collection were to go missing or disappear, I think I might fall into depression.”

Photography: Jaya Khidir
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Photography Assistant: Danial Mirza

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