The Greatest Toys from the 1980s

Atari 2600
Atari 2600

I am a Gen X, and as such, spent a good chunk of my childhood in the 1980s.  To me, those were interesting times.  Action figures, arcade parlours and Atari reigned supreme, together with the early days of cartoons that were generated chiefly to promote toy lines.  People weren’t “plugged in” or “online” as they are today.  Home computers were starting to become popular, but even so, us kids spent a lot more time playing outside or in the bedroom rather than sitting at a keyboard.  So this is my little walk down memory lane, and my list of what I consider to be the top ten toys from the 1980s (although I acknowledge some of the items I list may have originally been released before then):

Number Ten – Laser Tag 

When I first heard about this concept, it just blew me away… “wait… you get a laser gun, and a laser target each, and you shoot each other, and if your laser hits the target, it beeps and flashes to say you are hit… no way!?”

I had a hard time believing the technology from the movies was available to us kids as a toy line.  As a result, I was possibly one of the absolute first kids in Thailand to have a full laser tag set.  My friends and I spent hours running through the side streets of Bangkok, shooting each other.

The only disappointing thing with laser tag though was that in the adverts, it looked like a visible laser came out of the gun.  In the target reticle there is even a little red dot for aiming.  However, the real toy only emitted an invisible infra-red beam.  It was a let-down after I spent months waiting for it… but that didn’t detract from the game-play.

Number Nine – Ghostbusters

I didn’t collect these, but I loved the movies and the cartoon series, and would have collected them if my parents didn’t think I had too many toys as it was.  The figures and play-sets were really cool, and one of the most sought after items was the Ghostbusters fire station headquarters.  It was nicely detailed on the interior and even had the containment area and the fire pole, straight out of the movie.

Number Eight -My Little Pony

I didn’t collect these, but my sister did, and I have to admit that I did occasionally sneak a pony or two into my action figure battles.  Other than turning heads, the ponies themselves were not posable, but they came with pretty cool play-sets.  Some of the later ponies even had functions like grow-able hair…. pull it out, brush it, and then wind the neck to retract the hair again.

Number Seven – Cabbage Patch Kids

They were aimed more at girls, but I still thought these were cool when they came out, and geez did every girl in class have to get one!  This was one of those must have items courtesy of some very good marketing.  I liked how each kid actually came with a certificate.

Number Six – MASK

MASK’s claim to fame, in addition to a great cartoon series, was to combine the coolness of Transformers type vehicles with small sized action figures (smaller than Star Wars and GI Joe).  The smaller figures meant you could have more elaborate play-sets and large scale wars with your friends.  Unfortunately the toy line never took advantage of this (unlike Dino-Riders), and instead had a fairly limited line-up… a truck, a few cars, motorbikes, choppers, and from memory, just one real play-set… the gas station headquarters.  Also, the smaller size meant the figures weren’t as posable as the GI Joes and didn’t have anywhere near the same level of accessories.

Number Five – Masters of the Universe

“By the Powers of Grayskull! I have the power!!!”  I am sure everyone remembers the Sunbow cartoon series playing on Saturday mornings.  These were some of my favourite cartoons, and I liked how they had a message at the end of each one such as don’t trust strangers.

He-Man
He-Man

The toys themselves were ultra-cool.  The characters were well-sculpted and often came with really cool accessories.  Most characters had spring-loaded waists so that you could line up a couple of figures and have one knock the other over using a spring-loaded strike.

In addition to the cool figures (and awesome character concepts) there were some cool vehicles and play-sets too.  The actual Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain were available, and if you had both of these, you had little space left for your bed in your bedroom.  The toy designers had actually thought out how kids might want to play and included various cool features into the play sets such as trap-doors, escape tubes, prisons, and the like.

The biggest down-side to the MOTU figures though was that they were quite large, meaning the vehicles and play-sets also had to be large, meaning it was hard to have large battles (between friends) and each vehicle/play-set became quite expensive due to size.

Number Four – Transformers

If you couldn’t decide what you wanted… a toy car, or a robot, well, the designers of Transformers solved that problem… why not make it both.  A robot that turns into a car, and vice versa.  This was marketed together with a cartoon series and comic book that brought the characters to life.  These toys offered plenty of hours of battles and I used to enjoy just sitting in class, quietly converting a transformer between car and robot, from under my desk.

However, as cool and creative as these toys were, I found that it didn’t take me too long before I became bored with them.  After all, each individual transformer only converted from a robot into a single type of vehicle.  Also, there was a lack of any real play-sets to make things interactive (with the exception of a large card-board play-set that looked cool but was utterly useless).

Number Three – Star Wars

The biggest movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s would have to be the Star Wars franchise.  In addition to defining a new standard for sci-fi blockbusters, Star Wars also defined new standards for action figures by starting the trend with the 3 3/4 inch posable figurines, vehicles and play-sets.  These figures, in mint condition packaging today, are some of the most sought after collectors items.  Even back then, Star Wars toys were something I constantly had my eye out for whenever I was on a shopping expedition with my parents.

Star Wars figure collection
Star Wars figure collection

The great thing about the Star Wars toys were that you could recreate your favourite battles from the movies.  In addition, some of the vehicles that Kenner created were truly amazing.  The Millenium Falcon (although slightly off scale), the Y-Wing and the Emperor’s Shuttle were awesome models.  Unfortunately, the sculpting on the figures left a lot to be desired and the figures only had limited posing ability (arms up/down, legs forward/backward and head rotates left/right).  Even Lego minifigs had more movement than this, and the lack of movement impacted on the figures’ ability to interact with the awesome vehicles and play-sets.

Number Two – GI Joe

GI Joe would have to be one of the leaders of the pack when it came to marketing strategy in the 1980s.  These toys were highly advertised, quite often in very subtle ways such that kids don’t even realise they are being marketed to.  For instance, the entire Marvel GI Joe comic was written very much with the objective of showing off each new line of GI Joe figures and vehicles.  Larry Hama did a fantastic job of writing new characters into his stories that I didn’t realise until I was well into my teens.

However, ignoring the questionable marketing strategy aimed at children, GI Joe was at least a great product.  For the first time, you had a toy line where the figures were small enough that you could set up large scale battles with your friends, but still large enough to be fully detailed and fully posable.  Each figure came with a file card that gave some good information about skills, and also came with different weapons and accessories.  In addition, you could mix and match, creating new accessories and roles for your favourite figures.  If you read the comics, you learned to really love your GI Joes, because the stories really breathed a lot of personality into all of the characters.  This would easily have to be why Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow became the two most sought-after characters.

USS Flagg
USS Flagg

Lets not forget the vehicles.  The manufacturers of the toy line didn’t just come up with tanks, jeeps and a few army type accessories.  Instead, they added in boats (some that really floated), helicopters with winches and rotating propellers, jets (with retractable landing gear, working parachutes and swing wings) and the piece de resistance, a whole aircraft carrier that was over 7 feet long!  I actually had the aircraft carrier, and I spent many weekends in my back yard with my friends, launching amphibious raids on Cobra from the flight deck.  Those moments constitute some of my fondest childhood memories.  Too bad about the Sunbow GI Joe cartoon series… it was so childish compared to the comic book.

Number One – Lego

Okay, this one existed well before the 1980s, and I first started on Lego back in the 1970s.  However, Lego really started becoming cool in the 1980s when they introduced proper mini-figures (aka minifigs) with movable arms, legs and rotatable hands.  Hand in hand with the minifigs, Lego became more serious about its different themes, such as Lego Town, Space and Castle.  Pieces started becoming more specialised, such as laser guns, and figures could now actually sit inside cars, boats, helicopters, and houses and they each had cool opening doors and hatches to get the figures in or out.

Lego trains
Lego trains

Out of all my toys, Lego was definitely the one I spent most time with.  I was constantly dreaming up new concepts and then building them.  Usually I would create vehicles, bridges or towers out of technic and then start integrating minifig elements to it.  I even used to create vehicles out of Lego that I would then use with my Star Wars or GI Joe action figures.

Because there was no limit to what I could create, Lego was easily the top toy of the 1980s.

My Thoughts

To me, what made these toys cool was in how the toy companies worked with other media such as cartoons and comic books to create more personality to the characters featured by the toys.  The other important factor to me was attention to detail.  I liked a lot of working features such as detachable missiles, guns with multiple removable parts, removable backpacks, and lots of extra accessories with each figure.  Lego doesn’t quite fit any of these criteria (ie no cartoons or comics, barely any guns at all and no war themes) but because it was a complex building tool, it was impossible for me to get bored with it.

A lot of the same types of toys are still available today… but I am not sure if the impact is the same any more… I somehow feel that technology and the internet have changed the way kids play to a large extent.

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The Land of “Crazy”

Thailand… land of smiles.  The culture here is very distinct from Western culture and is built around the notion of “sanuk” or enjoyment as well as conflict avoidance.  As a result, many Westerners have come here, usually on a holiday, and totally fallen in love with the country, culture and its people.  Unfortunately, the “sanuk” and face aspects of the culture can be very disarming for Westerners and the end result is that I see Westerners come to Thailand and start doing crazy things that they would never do back home.  Hence, the title of today’s blog, the Land of “Crazy”.

An expression that the experienced Thailand expat hears a lot these days is that many tourists seem to leave their brains behind at the airport as they enter Thailand.  There really is a lot of truth behind this expression, because some of the antics that I have witnessed could not have been carried out by someone who was operating on all cylinders at the time.  I thought I would put together some of the more classic examples here:

Free house, anyone?

A friend fell in love with a girl that he met in a bar, in a notorious part of Thailand (Pattaya).  He was already married at the time of his holiday.  However, notwithstanding his marriage, he decided (to his detriment) that while in Pattaya, go with the flow.  He therefore found himself a bar girl as a girlfriend, lapped up all the attention she was giving him, and declared his undying love for her.  He returned to his home country (lets just say it was somewhere cold and miserable), and missed his new-found paramour so much that he proposed to her on skype and gave his wife notice that he wanted a divorce… and yes, he has kids with his now ex-wife.

He then decided he wanted to move to Thailand and live there, out in his fiancé’s village, running a small transport operation, delivering rice and vegetables from the fields into the local markets around the province.  While still in his home country, his fiancé said she needed money to build their matrimonial home out in the village.  The cost was only 2 million baht (about $67,000), and so he sent it to her.

Eventually, he had cleared up arrangements in his home country, obtained a visa and moved to Thailand.  He arrived in the village and saw that construction was going well on the new house.  In the meantime, he had to live at his fiancé’s parents’ house, together with his fiancé, her very close brother and other relatives.  The house was soon completed and they moved in, including his fiancé‘s brother.  My friend then had to return to his home country for a short period to deal with a divorce settlement with his ex-wife.

When he returned to the village in Thailand, he noticed no one came to the airport to pick him up.  He chartered a taxi to take him to his fiancé‘s village and at the house, he noticed his key did not work in the lock.  He knocked on the door and the brother answered, but refused to let him in.  When he tried to force his way in, the brother said it was his house, jointly with his wife, and my friend had no right to it.  It turned out the “brother” wasn’t a brother at all, but instead was the husband of my friend’s fiancé.  He ended up retreating back to his home country, having spent all up, over $100,000, on the house, motorbike, furniture, air line tickets etc.  He never sought to take any steps to secure his investment, and instead handed money over to a girl whose job was to fleece “customers” of money.

I guess the question here to any Western guy is, would you fall in love with a prostitute you find at a bar in the West, and before you even marry her, and barely even know or spent time with her, buy her a house (in her name), without any sort of legal protection, security or documentation, and without even verifying whether or not she is already married?

Everyone’s a prostitute?  Really?

This one didn’t happen to a friend of mine, but was in the local news instead.  A European tourist was at an internet café at a beachside resort.  He quite liked the girl who was running the café, so he made up an excuse for her to come over and help him with his computer.  While she was leaning over, he pinched her bum.  She told him off and he promised not to do it again.  She returned to trying to help him, and he did it again, this time the pinch was in a more intimate location.

The café proprietor felt embarrassed, aggrieved and sexually assaulted, so she called the police.  The tourist thought the whole affair was quite comical and so he remained at his terminal, making suggestive remarks to the girl.  The police arrived shortly and after she explained what had happened, they questioned the tourist.  He denied the incident entirely.  The police then reviewed the footage from the café’s security camera, which clearly showed the tourist’s hand in an inappropriate place.

When the police showed the footage to the tourist, he then laughed and admitted that he had pinched her, but he then said that because the girl was a prostitute, that sort of conduct was okay.  The conversation he then had with police revealed that he effectively believed that all of the girls working in that town, whether in a bar, hotel, restaurant, travel agent, or otherwise, were all for sale.  He continued to think the whole matter was a joke, until the police brought out the handcuffs and indicated that he was going to jail.  Only at that point, did he start apologizing profusely.

How not to deal with police

A friend of mine (honest, it wasn’t me) used to get around Bangkok via motorcycle.  I am not talking about one of the big motorbikes that people usually ride in the West, but instead, just a little 125cc Honda with automatic clutch.  The stories about police corruption in Thailand are largely true and particularly towards the end of the month, the police could be a real nuisance as they stood along the road, pulling over motorists and finding excuses in order to extort a bribe from them.  Note, there are also legitimate road blocks where motorists are pulled over for real offences and required to pay a proper fine (for which they receive a receipt).

For the bribe type stops, my friend used to just keep riding, pretending that he did not notice the police officer waving him over.  He wore a helmet, and his registration and license were all up to date, and he knew that when seeking a bribe, the police often tried to extort more from foreigners.  He ignored the police requests for him to stop because he knew that most of the time, they would just let him go and couldn’t be bothered trying to pursue him.  I suspect he also did it because their conduct in extorting bribes was illegal in any event, so he could justify doing wrong himself given they were also in the wrong.

However, one time, he passed a police check-point and he didn’t realize it was legitimate, with a police lieutenant managing it.  A police officer signaled for him to pull in, and he just ignored it.  The policeman had illuminated wands, so there was no excuse for not seeing that he was being signaled.  My friend didn’t slow down and tried to drive past the officer.  When he did so, the officer stuck out his arm and knocked my friend off of his bike.  He fell backwards and hit the back of his head against the road (fortunate that he had a helmet on).  He was fined for failing to stop when requested by police (actually quite a small fine in Western terms) but his bike and helmet got scratched up and he got a few scratches and bruises on himself as well.

In the West, most people (other than desperate criminals) wouldn’t think twice about complying with a request from a police officer to pull over.  My friend doesn’t realize just how lucky he is because in Thailand, the police often don’t think twice about shooting people who fail to stop or try to flee.

Conclusion

The above three examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  I often entertain my friends in Thailand and particularly those who have never been before, it astonishes me at how they readily do things that are outside of their normal character and that they would never dream of doing back home.  Riding motorbikes without a helmet, sitting in a car without a seatbelt, leaving drinks unattended while at a bar, being too trusting of strangers, carrying large sums of cash while wandering the streets intoxicated late at night…  It really does boggle the mind.

New Thailand Tourism Campaign Promotes Stalking

TAT Advert
TAT Advert

I guess the Tourism Authority of Thailand was hoping to be romantic with its latest visit Thailand tourism video.  Unfortunately, I just about fell off my chair, given that the advert clearly promotes stalking women.  Given the various negative press that Thailand has received over the last few years with respect to tourists being hassled and murdered, the pro-stalking campaign is definitely in bad taste.

Okay, maybe I am being a little bit too melodramatic here, so you decide for yourself.  The video itself starts with a guy who is attracted to a bunch of Instagram posts.  He is interested in the photos that a particular user has uploaded (scenery related), and more significantly, he also decides that he wants to track down the girl who is uploading these photos… “I want to find the woman in the photos”.

TAT Advert
TAT Advert

He therefore sets out on a trip to Thailand, identifying the locations in her photos and basically tracking her through the country.  Eventually he finds her on an empty ferry boat (talk about a creepy setting) and asks her if she is the owner of the Love_en_Route instagram profile.  The girl responds that he must be mistaken (which any sensible girl would do in a similar situation when you realise that some strange guy has been stalking you via your on-line activities).

TAT Advert
TAT Advert

In the next scene, the girl is on an idyllic, deserted beach, taking a photo (presumably to upload onto instagram).  The guy is standing behind her and sends her a message asking if she is alone and if she needs a friend.  Her response in the video is then positive and the remainder of the video is of the highlights of their journey through Thailand’s attractions.  However, I think for many women, the scene of the guy behind her, on an empty beach, asking if she is alone, especially after she already rejected the guy once, could be a bit alarming.

The big question… will the Tourism Authority pull the ad, or keep running with it?  Thailand’s tourism industry has already suffered significantly over the last 12 months.  The figures from local travel agents organisation paints a bleaker picture than the statistics released by the government (almost 50% down for January 2015 compared to 12 months ago).

You can view the video here:

http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/tourism-thailand-slammed-for-creepy-ad/story-e6frfq80-1227244433123

Holidaying in Pattaya

Pattaya Guide
Pattaya Guide

Pattaya seems to be a popular spot for tourists, notwithstanding the dirty beaches, red light areas and high crime rate.  Strangely enough, its popularity isn’t tied to just the “naughty boys”, but plenty of mainstream tourists make their way to Pattaya as well.  In fact, the single male traveller is no longer even the dominant tourist in Pattaya.  Instead, the Chinese package tourists and Russian families on budget beach resort trips have taken over.

For those that are interested in taking a trip to Pattaya, I have started a youtube video log which gives comprehensive information about holidaying in sin city by the sea.

The first part of the video is here: http://youtu.be/asVuiwRwgNA

The second part was just uploaded today, and can be found here: http://youtu.be/asVuiwRwgNA