Growing up, fish meant lunch, or dinner, or both. Typically, swimming in mustard oil, accompanied by fresh
Growing up, fish meant lunch, or dinner, or both. Typically, swimming in mustard oil, accompanied by freshgreen chillies that stung. The only exceptions were inhabitants of a cloudy green tank the size of eight shoeboxes at a dimly lit Chinese restaurant—one that also served first-rate chilli fish. So, standing next to an aquarium the size of a private pool, swarming with giant fish that could have me for dinner instead, is mostly disconcerting. But such apocalyptic thoughts—including the improbable event of the water from the world’s ninth most voluminous aquarium gushing out in a tsunami—are held at bay, once I scan the faces of other surprisingly calm spectators at Hong Kong’s Aqua City.
A brand new wing of Ocean Park (oceanpark.com) in the Aberdeen area, part of a HK$ 5.5 billion redevelopment plan, Aqua City is effectively about three things—an egg-shaped Grand Aquarium; a fine-dining restaurant with an underwater view and excellent tuna on the menu; and Symbio, an audio-visual show with a 360° water screen and pyrotechnics set to the music of Oscar-winning composer Peter Lehmann. Add to that a large retail area for souvenirs and a café to recover from a day in the park, and you’ve covered enough ground. Several of these key attractions are also listed among the firsts and onlies in the history of oceana-riums and amusement parks. Here, everything is bigger, better, larger than something else. In fact, there are more superlatives swilling round than marine animals—5,000 creatures of 400 species, weighing a staggering 43,000 kilos—in the tank.
But then, entertaining children (and their minders) is serious business. Hong Kong should know. Disneyland crossed the Pacific to get here. And now Ocean Park, the city’s oldest theme park, is banking on its growing reputation as the Florida of the East, with new, improved inducements.
I’m hooked too, watching the manta rays and the cownose rays in the aquarium flap their fins like giant birds in flight. I can’t hear the goop-goop-goop of the water being displaced, but I watch how the stingrays stir that ugly, ungainly napoleon (fish) from its post-meal stupor. Seconds later, a hammerhead grazes past with a school of tiny, overconfident golden jacks hovering around its snout for scraps of food. Down in the corridors, I hear children cackle nervously, dipping into touch pools lined with sea cucumbers and starfish.
Drowned by the din of the celebrations, though, are murmurs in the local community and allegations in the city’s newspapers of mishandling and death of some of the animals during transportation. Clearly, those tracks have been covered and safety measures put in place. And by the time Ocean Park’s maverick chairman, Allan Zeman, a Richard Branson-esque figure, fired the cylinders strapped to his back and floated above the opening ceremony venue like a noisy chopper, the air certainly seemed lighter.