Hong Kong: The animals went in two by two

By Graham Reid

Noah's Ark in Hong Kong, built exactly according to the measurements given to Noah in the Bible, is complete with realistic-looking animals, a museum and gift shop. Photo / Graham Reid
Noah's Ark in Hong Kong, built exactly according to the measurements given to Noah in the Bible, is complete with realistic-looking animals, a museum and gift shop. Photo / Graham Reid

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, 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.

The huge ark-cum-museum-cum-gift shop is quite a sight. It soars above your head right up to the Tsing Ma Bridge, dominating the view from the nearby Noah's Resort, a swanky new hotel with a seaside cafe.

This huge, 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 pairs of exotic animals, which are, unfortunately, just fibreglass replicas.

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

Noah's Ark is a strange one by any measure. The brainchild of Chinese Christian billionaires, the Kwok brothers of the real estate company SHKP, it opened in May 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 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 that have always been troubling you: how long were they on board (371 days) and how many ravens were there (seven pairs).

How 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 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 and ceramic teapots with animals on them - but only the cute ones such as pandas, giraffes and cats.

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 - one at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, another in Israel and Los Angeles. But this one in Hong Kong is 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 local bus MTR 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. The corollary is the blurring of the line between myth and science, of belief and scientific fact.

None of the fossils is dated but the unanswered question was, does the fossil record foreshadow the future of mankind?

You can be cynical about Noah's Ark, and I am. Although it didn't harm me a bit. In fact, I enjoyed the sheer gall of it.

But where the animals once 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 like he'd been beamed in from a Cantonese historical epic and maybe lots of cute stuffed animals for their bedrooms. 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.

Graham Reid travelled to Hong Kong with assistance from Cathay Pacific.

- Herald on Sunday

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