Walking into the HiPencil Studio and Café, I found a group of kids transfixed on an episode wherein pencil and his lady friend were creaming another set of characters in a game of volleyball. One kid stood up and put his tiny hand on the screen, while a girl tumbled off of the indoor swingset and started to cry.
The whole place was brightly lit, and the playroom was painted like a giant box of crayons had exploded on the white walls. The menu special of the month was a hamburger and spaghetti set, and the girl working there took my order (black iced tea) with a scowl. She gave me VND27,000 in change (all in VND1,000 notes), and then apparently forgot that I’d ordered anything as I sat there for 10 minutes before having to walk back up and ask her about it. One sip showed she’d forgotten the khong duong part of the conversation as well.
The Serious Playroom
Kids were crawling all over each other and I was starting to feel way out of place. It was then that one of the owners stood up, clapped her hands and invited everybody up to the studio on the second floor where the show is made.
The studio also acts as a workshop where kids can learn to make their own stop-motion cartoons. It looked like the real deal: boxes of clay and stuffed toys, top-dong cameras for filming, and computers where the kids could edit their work down to a working episode.
I wandered away from the workshop and up through the other floors, which consisted of another editing room, a business office and an empty rooftop. Not bad for kids who just a few years ago were freaking out about their senior animation project.
Now they have four seasons hosted on their website, xinchaobutchi.com, a range of toys for aspiring young cartoonists and this café. Walking back down past the workshop, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a group of children so quiet and focused on something in a long time.
Downstairs was empty at this point, allowing the Word team a chance to really give that indoor swingset a try.
Gumby was cool, but all of this is way cooler. HiPencil offers parents a chance to kick back at the café, while their kids get to play with their imagination. — Matt Bender
HiPencil Studio and Café is at 150 Duong D2, Binh Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City