Hong Kong: When the rain comes they run and hide their heads

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Hong Kong: When the rain comes they run and hide their heads

When the serious rains come, that end-of-days Flood you may have heard about, the question won’t be, “Would I get on Noah’s Ark?”. It will be, “Quick, where is it?”

In this, I can help.

Noah’s Ark -- and you won’t believe this -- is in Hong Kong and if you’ve ever been to that exciting city you probably drove right over the top of it on your way to or from the airport on Lantau Island.

Noah’s Ark -- or at least an actual-size replica based on the biblical proportions, which makes it an impressive 135m long and 13.5m high -- is under the flyover which soars above Ma Wan Island between Lantau and the central city. Appropriately, you might think after you’ve seen it, it isn’t too far from Hong Kong’s Disneyland.

This massive ark-cum-museum-cum-gift shop (with pretty gardens and the ark looking like it has been washed ashore on the nearby beach) is quite a sight. It soars above your head right up to the Tsing Ma Bridge and so dominates the view from the nearby Noah’s Resort (a swanky new hotel with a seaside cafĂ©).

This massive windowless, wooden replica of something which may not have existed certainly makes you feel small, particularly when you amble through the adjacent Noah’s Garden where you can look at the pairs of exotic animals . . . which are, unfortunately, just fibreglass replicas.

But you can get a nice photo of yourself up-close and personal with rather realistic looking bears, tigers and whatnot while an international aircraft whizzes low overhead.

Noah’s Ark is a strange one by any measure.

The brainchild of Chinese Christian billionaires (the Kwok bothers of the real estate company SHKP), it opened in May 2009 with the heavily promoted concepts of family values and faith. It is an impressive physical achievement although a sceptic might reasonably ask serious questions: like the high-tech display showing Noah’s diary. Who knew he kept one?

The whole story of Noah and the Flood -- the drunkenness of Noah, who lived until he was 950, doesn’t get a mention -- is offered as fact with a veneer of archaeological justification.

The displays answer those questions which have always been troubling you: how long were they on board (371 days) and how many ravens were there? (Seven different pairs since you were asking.)

How such diverse animals co-existed goes unexplained, but you do get to interactively feed some computer-generated animals. I thought the toucan was just a model too until it released a long dribble of defecation, which seemed a little too realistic for the target audience of school-age groups and families.

There is some truly kitsch stuff too: a whole gallery with small and rather ugly models of arks from various countries; arks in snow-globes; ceramic teapot-arks with animals on them -- but only the cute ones like pandas, giraffes and cats.

I don’t recall seeing any warthogs, hyenas or buzzards.

The story of Noah is told in an expensive video film -- everyone is Chinese of course -- and the floor actually shakes and the wind blows at the appropriate moments. The kids loved it.

So did I, but for different reasons.

This ark isn’t alone, there is a widely-dispersed flotilla of them it seems: there is one at a Creation Museum in Kentucky, another in Israel and another in Los Angeles. Greenpeace has one somewhere too: the whole “world is an ark” metaphor thing.

But this one in Hong Kong is, given its size, just like the real thing. With computer graphics and a gift shop.

Noah’s Ark would not be on too many tourists’ agendas while in Hong Kong -- although the trip there by MTR then local bus takes you through high-rise areas you might not otherwise see, and offers spectacular views of those extraordinary bridges between Lantau, Hong Kong and the mainland.

But the ark isn’t without interest. It has an overlay message of conservation, the destruction of species and the dangers of climate change . . . which are fine as far as they go.

The corollary is the blurring of line between myth and science, of belief and scientific fact.

None of the fossils are dated but the question -- unanswered -- was, does the fossil record foreshadow the future of Mankind?

You can be cynical about Noah’s Ark -- and I am. It didn’t harm me a bit, in fact I enjoyed the sheer gall of it.

But where once the animals went in two-by-two, at this ark school kids were going in class by class.

I wondered what they got out of it: an animal story; something about a guy with a long white beard who looked liked been beamed in from a Cantonese historical epic; and maybe lots of cute stuffed animals from the gift shop for their bedroom?

I don’t know.

What I do know is this though: if it rains solidly for 38 days and I think there is no sign of let-up, then I’m on the first plane to Hong Kong.

You can be cynical, but never too careful.


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