A clinic for friends with memories


Wang Qian
Wednesday 15 December 2021 12:15 GMT
Zhu Boming and a customer in his workshop at home in Shanghai
Zhu Boming and a customer in his workshop at home in Shanghai (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

For many they are the first friends. They hear secrets, and though they cannot speak they are the recipients of confidences.

Stuffed animals and dolls are among most people’s first experience of sharing and communication during childhood. Some people maintain an emotional attachment that lasts well into their adulthood. But with the passage of time, sometimes the soft and cuddly companions become worn and ragged or break.

Zhu Boming, a 74-year-old retiree in Shanghai, has opened a special clinic in his home to nurse damaged toys back to health. From a thorough cleaning and restitching, to major surgery, Zhu, the clinic’s self-styled doctor, has treated hundreds of cuddly companions sent from all over the country and even from abroad.

“Every friend comes with a soul and is irreplaceable to their owners,” Zhu says. “Behind them there is always a precious link to the past, no matter whether it is happy or sad.”

In fact the process is like a journey to reach their owners’ deepest regrets or fondest memories. To help Zhu better understand their special needs, many people like to tell the stories of their plush pals, some of which speak of happy old days, while others are gifts from people to whom they are very attached, he says.

Once a toy is received, Zhu sets up a record that includes its name, gender, birthday, treatment plan and ownership story. The oldest one is 55 years old.

Giving new life to these stuffed friends means a lot to their owners. Liu Juan’s companion has been with her for 30 years, a gift from her father when she was four. Her father died when she was 28 years old.

“Four years ago the doll was worn out, which worried me, because it symbolised my father’s love for me,” says Liu, of Beijing. “I heard about Zhu’s workshop through the media. After one-month’s treatment my doll came back in the same pristine condition as when I got it for the first time.”

Zhu, who found he had a talent for needlework when he was a boy, helped his family of five to sew clothes. More than 20 years ago, working as an engineer, he welcomed his first furry patient, a stuffed polar bear from his son. He recalls paying 17 yuan (£2) for the bear to be with his son, because he was too busy with work.

“Before my son asked me to repair it I didn’t know that he had given the bear a name, Mingming, and they had become best friends. They used to share a bed.”

A teddy bear bought 41 years ago before and after Zhu’s restoration
A teddy bear bought 41 years ago before and after Zhu’s restoration (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Zhu says that he now regrets having been an absent father so often. Trying in some way to make up for that, he replaced the stuffing and stitched up Mingming’s injuries. However, rather than rejoicing in his companion’s makeover, the son lamented that what had made Mingming had disappeared. After talking with his son, Zhu realised that his son had wanted his bear conserved rather than changed.

“This bear had to match his memories. As a boy, what eased him into sleep when he went to bed was to touch Mingming’s mouth. But after the repair that smile had gone.”

Before another operation to restore the bear they discussed every detail, including hair colour, facial expressions, angle of smile and even personality, to restore the bear.

“It was then that I realised why some people are so attached to their bears or dolls,” Zhu says. “The most important thing about restoring toys is to communicate with the owners and observe things, which helps to travel back into the owners’ memories trying to retrieve the moments they want to remember.”

Toys represent childhood memories that need to be retained and mended, he says.

Previously published on Chinadaily.com.cn

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