Detective Note

Vol.63-Childhood Play


Interviewer:  Yonglin Ke

Mende:Are we talking about childhood play today?

Ke:Yes.  I have a sister, two years younger than me, and we used to play together all the time when we were younger.

Mende:Did you play house?

Ke:Yes.  We also played house growing up in China.

Mende:Girls usually play with dolls and such, but being a boy that is very rare.

Ke:Yes.  My father was a very busy man, so I only had my sister at home to play with.

Mende:Didn’t you play outside?

Ke:Before I started school we used to go to the park or amusement parks fairly often, but once I started elementary school I would invite my friends over and we would play video games.

Mende: Yes, I thought this might come up in our talk today.  That is your generation.

Ke:How did you spend your childhood?

Mende:I sometimes played by myself, but usually I played with several friends.  This might sound a little dramatic, but play for children is like work and business for adults.  So even during play communication between your friends is very important.  How many friends did you play video games with?

Ke:Maybe 2 or 3 friends and we would play Mario Kart, Contra, or other strategy games. 

Mende:Many people play against the computer now, right.  When I was a kid, of course we didn’t have computers and television was still broadcast over “street televisions” in store windows.   There was a TV in a local soba noodle shop, but instead of ordering soba, I would just buy a soda pop and the owners would let me watch.   I didn’t have a computer, but I think I had a pretty happy childhood.   My friends and I would think up games and play together.   We would dig holes and make secret forts in nearby vacant lots.  We were inventors of play!

Ke:Inventors of play!! That’s amazing!

Mende:Although there were moments of danger, we even invented things to ride on and makeshift forts.   One time, we wanted to climb a tree so we built an elevator-like contraption, but we fell out of the tree and blood was everywhere.   Once I started jr. high school, I think I stayed home more.  I used to build trains from HO Gauge,  1/80 train model sets. 

Ke:The trains were all hand-build?

Mende:There were train wheels in the model kits, but I would make trestles and things out of construction paper.   The rich kids always had the better Tenshodo model sets, but they were too expensive.  My friends and I were only able to buy the power locomotive and then we made the rest ourselves.

Ke:Did you have stations, too?

Mende:Oh, yes.  We made stations and the surrounding townscape.  Modeling materials are not cheap, so we all brought what we could and built it all together.  It was pretty big, as I recall.   That is what we did indoors.

Ke:Outside I used to try to grab fish in a pond with my sister.

Mende:You mean not fishing, but grabbed the fish with your hands.

Ke:Yes. The bottom of the pond was very slimy, but we would walk right in and scoop them out.

Mende:That sounds a little dangerous.  Didn’t somebody tell you not to go to that pond?

Ke:Oh, yes, they told us, but the two of us went anyway.  It was just a small pond in the garden of a local newspaper office building. 

Mende:Oh, it wasn’t a pond out in the countryside.  You did grow up in the metropolis of Shenzhen, didn’t you?  Did you make up any play?

Ke:We used to make up scripts for playing house. 

Mende:I think we used to invent our play because we were not given very many toys to begin with.   We did some dangerous things though.  We had some firecrackers we used to call 2B.  If we scratched the edge against a matchbox, and it would catch fire and end with a big bang a few seconds later.

Ke:Were you able to buy firecrackers?  In China, they were only sold on the black market.

Mende:I don’t know about now, but when I was younger they were sold at the local candy store.

Ke:That is unbelievable now!

Mende:We would light them and then quickly throw them somewhere.  Things used to catch fire and somebody was always getting burned.   We did a lot of dangerous things we called to play.  So when you become a dad, I think it is fine to let your kids play video games,  but sometimes just give them a cardboard box to play with and let them think of something to do.  I think you will be surprised. 

Ke:Childhood play and entertainment were very different for both of us.   If I ever have kids I want them to invent their own type of play.  Also, be able to play outside and enjoy nature.  Thank you for our talk today.