Re­liv­ing a child­hood dream

One man’s pas­sion for toy and model cars, aero­planes and fa­mous struc­tures has been turned into an en­ter­prise.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By N. RAMA LO­HAN star2@thes­

FOR those of us who were once lit­tle boys, there’s a mem­ory which is in­ex­tri­ca­ble from our first ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing with a toy car. We’d likely have seen the real thing be­fore the minia­ture ver­sion, so, that tac­tile sen­sa­tion of feel­ing its con­tours, open­ing doors (where pos­si­ble) and gaug­ing the au­then­tic­ity of its de­tail, re­main life-long im­agery.

Elvin Chew be­lieves in con­stantly re­liv­ing that mo­ment. But, in his case, his pur­chases even­tu­ally amounted to the in­stal­la­tion of a mu­seum.

Dream Big World houses a cu­ri­ous col­lec­tion of toy/model cars, model avi­a­tion and minia­ture replica cities. It is lo­cated on one of Ipoh’s most fa­bled roads, Concubine Lane. Amidst the tourist at­trac­tions there, some­where in the middle of the lane, a brand new sign catches the eye ... Toy Car Mu­seum, fetch­ingly jux­ta­posed against a back­drop of pre-war build­ings.

Chew’s orig­i­nal plan for Dream Big World was a con­ven­tional one – sell­ing model kits and toy cars, just re­tail mer­chan­dis­ing ... some­thing sus­tain­able.

“Then I thought of turn­ing it into a mu­seum, and also sell­ing mod­els, a two-in-one sort of place. With the mag­a­zines and books I’ve col­lected, I’ve suc­ceeded in in­tro­duc­ing an ed­u­ca­tional el­e­ment as well,” ex­plained the founder and manager of the mu­seum.

By Klang Val­ley stan­dards, Perak’s cap­i­tal may have been viewed as a sleepy hol­low in the last few decades. How­ever, in­ter­est in the once-rich tin-min­ing hub has been reignited re­cently, courtesy of the many colo­nial build­ings in the old town area get­ting face-lifts and re­pur­pos­ing jobs.

“This whole area has been re­vamped and is now a tourist at­trac­tion,” con­curred the 40-yearold.

The lot was once a book­store, and the wal­let-friendly rent spurred him to do some­thing for his home state by start­ing this SME, which opened last De­cem­ber.

The toys housed in Dream Big World are all part of Chew’s own col­lec­tion, amassed from the time he was a kid, pur­chases made pos­si­ble by sav­ings from pocket money.

“I used money I got as birth­day pre­sents and ang pow,” he in­ti­mated. His mum may not have been elated he was spend­ing money on toys, but she was at least pleased he was a good kid (an only child) who didn’t mix with bad com­pany, stayed at home, and the worst he got up to was build­ing model kits.

Back in the 1980s, when a num­ber of em­po­ri­ums (they weren’t called malls or shop­ping com­plexes then) stood tall, the likes of Beauty, Crescendo, An­gel, Ipoh Gar­den Plaza, and of course, the ven­er­a­ble duo of Super Kinta and Yik Foong, all serv­ing Ipoh’s com­mu­nity, Chew poked his head into the toy sec­tions of all these places to get his eager

mitts on the wares of the day.

With on­line re­tail and auc­tion sites now in full bloom, pur­chas­ing meth­ods have evolved, with Chew reach­ing out to hobby stores in Ja­pan for his fix. He still trav­els to buy toys, mak­ing at least two trips to Hong Kong yearly.

At Dream Big World, his prized pos­ses­sions in­clude mod­els from the mak­ers of Fer­rari, Mercedes, BMW, Rolls-Royce, Bent­ley and Lam­borgh­ini. The mu­seum com­prises a cor­nu­copia of the best of the auto in­dus­try, and what is quickly ap­par­ent is Chew’s at­ten­tion to de­tail in hav­ing as many mod­els as pos­si­ble within each car make.

“I have almost the en­tire fleet of Lam­borgh­ini cars. I’ve al­ways pri­ori­tised two things: his­tor­i­cal value, which amounts to the sig­nif­i­cance of a car; and, aes­thetic value, mean­ing its pop­u­lar­ity. I’ve al­ways tar­geted com­plet­ing each range of a car brand.”

Au­then­tic­ity is key, and Chew is al­ways metic­u­lous: “I fo­cus on toy cars that look as real as pos­si­ble ... stuff with a mu­seum feel.”

The cars in the mu­seum are im­mac­u­late, look­ing like they rolled off the as­sem­bly line yes­ter­day, hence, no restora­tion work has been nec­es­sary.

“I used to play with the toys when I was younger, but as I got older, I built model kits and placed them on dis­play there­after, which is how I’ve kept them in great con­di­tion,” Chew ex­plained.

More than 500 cars, worth around RM500,000, are con­tained in this fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum, and while he loves them all, some stand out.

For in­stance, his RM10,000 resin model La Fer­rari is the ap­ple of his eye. Only 30 were made, and his is se­rial num­bered at No.11. At the time of this in­ter­view, he was ex­pect­ing the im­mi­nent ar­rival of a Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6, the Ger­man car maker’s largest SUV to date.

Any­one wish­ing to tra­verse this road of a make-be­lieve world should arm them­selves with the right knowl­edge, he cau­tions. “You have to have a ba­sic in­ter­est in cars. Start by read­ing up and know­ing the his­tory, mod­els and evo­lu­tion. Find out more with ev­ery pur­chase,” he said, shar­ing his ac­crued wis­dom.

He was also forth­com­ing with some sim­ple do’s and don’ts: “Look for some­thing you like and don’t be too am­bi­tious. Don’t go for some­thing too high-end. Start with a cur­rent se­ries, be­cause you’ll only need to pay mar­ket price. That gets your col­lec­tion going at least, then later, by all means, go for older mod­els.”

Au­to­mo­tive ob­ses­sions aside, Dream Big World also has an avi­a­tion sec­tion, with a va­ri­ety of air­lin­ers on dis­play, from the Boe­ing and Air­bus sta­bles, among oth­ers. There’s also a sec­tion with minia­ture cities, all of which con­trib­ute to the ed­u­ca­tional el­e­ment, which Chew is ac­tively pro­mot­ing, es­pe­cially be­ing the child of teacher par­ents. A trip to the mu­seum caters to a vis­i­tor learn­ing about car en­gine op­er­a­tion, physics, his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy and his own spe­cial area of in­ter­est – ro­tary en­gines.

The me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer may have the great­est fas­ci­na­tion for cov­eted au­to­mo­biles, but when it comes to his per­sonal choice of wheels, a Pero­dua Ke­nari and an old Mazda 323 do just fine.

“I’m a Point A to Point B kind of guy,” he said, beam­ing.

And with a RM5 price of ad­mis­sion for adults and RM3 for kids (three to 12 years old), Dream Big World has made it­self quite a must­see at­trac­tion in Ipoh.


Chew with minia­ture iconic build­ings from around the world.

— Photos: N. RAMA LO­HAN/The Star

Some of the world’s sky­scrapers get the minia­turised treat­ment.

The McDonell Dou­glas DC-3, one of the old­est air­lin­ers, and a plane that served in nu­mer­ous wars, is a wel­come para­dox among the mod­ern planes on dis­play.

The toy and model cars at Dream Big World are from the per­sonal col­lec­tion of its owner, Chew.

Span­ning the his­tory of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, there’s a bit of old and new at this toy car mu­seum.

The La Fer­rari, with its gor­geous paint­work, is Chew’s pride and joy.

World her­itage build­ings share room with newer city con­struc­tions.


Chew’s model of the Benz Patent Mo­tor Car, ar­guably the world’s first au­to­mo­bile.


Ed­u­ca­tion is as much a part of the mu­seum ex­pe­ri­ence, with ex­pla­na­tions on how en­gines work.

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