Nostalgia has a value of its own

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 5:53am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 5:53am

There is no shortage of entertainment in the era of hand-held gadgetry. But go back a few generations before computers and Ocean Park and Disneyland, and the best fun to be had by ordinary Hongkongers was at what was fondly known as Lai Yuen. The amusement park at Lai Chi Kok was a must-visit for all children through the 1960s and 1970s, but gradually lost its charm with the arrival of new options. Its temporary reincarnation on the Central waterfront, 18 years after the original closed, is understandably cause for nostalgic excitement for those residents who are of a certain age.

Hundreds of thousands have visited the Lai Yuen Super Summer 2015 amusement park since it opened last week. Grandparents are all a-smile as they hand bananas to grandchildren to feed a robotic elephant, selfies with models of the cartoon character Robocon are popular and as many adults as youngsters are lining up for the Spooky School haunted house, bumper cars and coin-tossing games. But despite the crowds, the attraction will close in early September after only 70 days. The government has, after all, plans for the valuable waterfront site in front of the City Hall.

It is ironic that Lai Yuen is near where the former Star Ferry and Queen's piers were located. The piers' demolition for land reclamation in 2007 sparked fresh interest in heritage conservation and raised the need to preserve certain sites for the sake of collective memory. That is in large part what Lai Yuen is about; although rundown and dilapidated when it closed in 1997, it is the memories it evokes that makes it so special for some people. Those feelings come flooding back when again seeing the rides and games.

Duncan Chiu, the son of the late owner of the original Lai Yuen, the late entrepreneur Deacon Chiu Te-ken, sensed a business opportunity and resurrected the park. He has brought back many a smile and fond recollections. But for those who would like something more permanent, it is up to the market to decide the worth of nostalgia.