To celebrate the upcoming release of our new book HappySad Souvenirs, we ask author Paul Hiller stories behind 5 images.
For August 2019 I was planning a trip through Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. My first stop before Ho Chi Minh city was a stopover in Beijing. I landed at 5:30 in the morning. For my short 15 hours stay in Beijing this time, I had only one destination: Beijing Happy Valley. The largest Amusement Park of Beijing on the other side of the city. After immigration and a taxi ride, I was standing in front of the park gates at 7:30 am.
It was about an hour before the park opening. When I was finally allowed to enter the park, I was one of the first park visitors. It was a clear summer day with turquoise blue skies and besides me, there were apparently more employees than guests at that time. One of them was a lonely painter with a pot of sky blue color who disappeared behind a candy pink roller coaster building shortly after my photo.
It was Hanami 2018 (cherry blossom season) when I visited Toshimaen Amusement Park located in Nerima City, north-east of Tokyo. I took the picture from a higher position. An interesting view with many details: an empty carousel on the other side, a light-blue rollercoaster rail in the middle of the picture, two typical Japanese vending machines for sodas on the right, a freshly set outdoor restaurant directly under some cherry blossom trees on the left and in the middle directly in front of me: some weird looking plush animals. These animals actually are cars for children, who can ride with them for some coins all through the park. It’s quite funny to look at them riding. But this time it’s even more funny to see how they have gathered in the empty space in front of me and stare at me. It seems as if the animals are on patrol in the park. The Toshimaen Amusement Park closed it gates for good in 2020.
The Haw Par Villa is one of the most unique and strangest places in Singapore. It’s a mixture of a garden, an outdoor art gallery and an amusement park. The themes of the park are scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, legends, history and illustrations of Confucianism. Built in 1937 from the millionaire philanthropist Aw Boon Haw as a domicile for his younger brother Aw Boon Par. The two brothers became successful all over the world through the marketing of the “Tiger Balm”.
When I visited the Park in October 2018 it was very hot and humid, the regular weather for Singapore. Although it has easy traffic access and there is no entry fee, you could hardly find any visitors at this place that day. Therefore I was very happy to see a group of elderly women who stood in front of me with a pink colored umbrella.
One of the most remarkable places of all my travels was the Suoi Tien Theme Park in Ho Chi Minh City. A Buddhist-themed amusement park, decorated with colorful statues of mythical creatures such as dragons, turtles and phoenixes, as well as buildings and shrines of Buddha. People come to this place to pray to various gods in countless small and large temples. But they can also come to ride a rollercoaster or relax at a man-made beach.
The water area impressed me the most: In front if a 70 Meter high Statue of Lac Long Quan, a mythical king and founder of ancient Vietnam, surrounded by water-slides and sea monsters you can swim in a giant sea water wave pool. Uff! not enough? Grab a bath mat and slide down one of the many waterfalls from the artificial mountains.
When I visit amusement parks, I don’t try to take stereotypical pictures of these places, I observe and I try to create its own aesthetic and mood. Sometimes I wait hours for the right light or the right moment. Sometimes it doesn’t work either. In March 2019 I already made my second trip to Nagoya to visit the nearby Nagashima Spa Land. I started my day at a capsule hotel at the main station Nagoya and took the bus to the Park.
This time the weather was perfect and the park was almost empty – perfect condition for my work! Impressed by a 90 meters high Ferris wheel and the highest steel rollercoaster of the world I was looking for my motives. A lost man, took a seat in the picnic area next to a space-shuttle to take a rest. this kind of loneliness, that being lost, at a place like this, is what interests me.
More information about the book here.