Home to Tino the Elephant, bumper cars, the Ferris wheel, and more, Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park – known as Lai Yuen to locals – was once the largest amusement park of Hong Kong. It’s a wonderful memory shared by many of the city’s older generation, but the park is on its way to creating new memories for the younger generation, as Lai Yuen Super Summer re-opens for its second year.
The park offers new and exciting activities, such as Hong Kong’s first electric go-kart facility and a 110-metre-long inflatable obstacle course, but Lam Pei, a local artist, guarantees to take you back in time. Lam will be there along with her well-known character Flying Sofye to join the fun.
“Sofye is another kind of bridge [between the new and the old],” says Lam.
Born in 2010, Sofye is a little thief, the kind that is “sneaky, eavesdropping, likes to gossip; she has a sense of justice, but more importantly, she’s looking for things she cherish,” explains Lam.
Lam is obsessed with old stuff herself. Her studio is packed with old clocks, Polaroid cameras, and even thermoses and fans from old stores across Hong Kong.
“In a way, I find treasures among discarded items and take people’s memories with it,” she says, and Sofye does the same, which encourages people to cherish what they have.
“What Sofye likes the most are the things that are disappearing, but they’re important to her,” says Lam. “It’s the memory of the past that makes you who you are today.”
As the youngest child in her family and often left alone at home, Lam has been drawing and painting since she was little.
“My works have been more on the dark side, as a way to vent ... until Sofye came along.” Lam says Sofye has brought out the bright side of her: “She is too cute! She forced me to think positively.”
Thinking positively isn’t the only trick leading to Lam’s success. Running a studio at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre for eight years, Lam has had to learn to take on everything by herself, from making printouts to dealing with clients. “The time when artists don’t have to worry about anything other than art is gone, but more opportunities are offered,” she says. “It’s not difficult to be famous [these days], but it’s difficult to keep working on your thing.”
But working on so many other parts of her business has given Lam a confidence to see the big picture and get things done. “I wouldn’t have the faith the take a big project like working with Lai Yuen if it weren’t for the experience I’ve had,” she says.
That big project is an art installation of Sofye that greets you as you enter Lai Yuen. The installation shows Sofye and her buddies doing one of their favourite activities: jumping into old paintings to meet new friends. But as she’s doing this, she loses track of her old pals Rabbit Billy and Sum Bear.
Seeing a painting of the old Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park, Sofye – together with some new friends – jumps in to find her old friends.
That’s when things really come alive, because beyond the painting is a 600-square-metre maze. While Sofye searches for her friends in the picture, you can wander through the real life maze, hunting for hidden treasures of Lai Chi Kok’s glory days.
“I want to give everyone a good taste of the old Lai Yuen,” Lam explains. Different routes of the maze present different parts of the old park, but all roads lead to the brand new Lai Yuen Super Summer.
“In the old days, a lot of Hong Kong families went to Lai Yuen and had a lot of fun with animals and different attractions,” says Lam. “Many of those people who went as children are now parents, so I want to remind them of the old Lai Yuen so they can share the good old days with their children.”
This new version of Lai Yuen is going on at AsiaWorld-Expo, but Lam says it doesn’t matter where the park is, it’s who you go with, what happens there, and the fun you have that you’ll remember. And Lam will be happy if her creations help Hongkongers make some happy new memories.
Lai Yuen Super Summer will run from July 16 to August 7 at AsiaWorld-Expo.