“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
These lines from Corinthians, some of the most recognizable in the Bible, are surprisingly versatile, even for a non-believer such as myself. As a teen, I angrily wielded my newfound atheism as both a symbol of rebellion against my Catholic upbringing and as an excuse to look down on those still keeping the faith, whom I smugly regarded as less enlightened fools. But as the years went on and I gained wisdom and empathy, I aged out of this childish Redditor phase of atheism and learned to appreciate the prosaic and anthropological beauty of the world’s religions.
One particular religious spectacle I’ve come to love as my views on organized religion softened is the diverse spectrum of biblical museums presenting Old Testament tales as historical and scientific fact, often with a heaping pile of reverse-engineered explanations to counter all the reasonable questions that follow audacious claims about man and dinosaur living as contemporaries.
I’ve been to the overpriced Holyland Experience theme park in Florida, the stealthily evangelical giant dinosaurs from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure in California, and, of course, the crown jewel Creation Museum in Kentucky. While I won’t go out of my way for one, if I come across one of these museums in the wild, you can bet I’ll be making a pit stop. So, during a recent trip to Hong Kong, I learned of a museum dedicated to Noah’s Ark housed inside “the world’s first full-scale ark replica,” and I was thrilled for the unexpected opportunity to take my hobby international.
The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the ark grounds was how alone I was relative to my U.S. biblical exhibit pilgrimages. I was worried I’d come during a closed season or something, but a lone ticket vendor assured me the park was very much open.
I started my visit in the Ark Garden, where fiberglass male and female animals were depicted exiting the ark, side by side. They were stationed around two stories of landscaping that made great use of the lush tropical flora native to the region. Mercifully, the signage throughout the entire park was in English, so I was able to enjoy the subtitles that someone had decided to give each animal on their informational placard during my stroll.
“The tallest animal on Earth,” read the sign beneath the giraffes. That sounded about right. “A professional ant eater,” said the one by the anteaters. Hmm. I mean, that’s not incorrect, I suppose. “Gentle mother sleeps during daytime,” poetically offered the red pandas’ sign. Informative, though not exactly keeping the subtitle format.
After exhausting the garden path and enduring the anguish of discovering the supremely righteous-sounding Adventureland and Noah’s Stadium, only to subsequently learn they were “reservation only” affairs, I made my way into the main attraction.
Once inside the ark, it was immediately clear that this would not be as combative an experience as those in the States. Though there were a few displays up front about buoyancy and structural engineering, this museum didn’t seem that concerned with using dubious science and logic to explain things like where all those cubits of wood and floodwaters came from. Instead, the Hong Kong ark seemed more concerned with the overall vibe of the ark.
I sat in on a 4-D Ark experience film with rumbling hydraulic seats that swayed with the flood waves and immersive lightning, fog and rain effects that really conveyed God’s displeasure with the sinful world he’d just destroyed. The elderly church group that was sitting in the ride with me moaned and gasped with fear and delight as our Mandarin-speaking God barked ark instructions to Noah. Their immersion in the attraction truly made it come alive for me.
After the ride/movie, the ark’s exhibits lost the Genesis plot a bit and veered off into strange, secular celebrations of all things animal. There was a section dedicated to famous animal myths with dioramas depicting the race between the tortoise and the hare, the city mouse and country mouse’s strained dinner party, and the not-at-all-a-myth Shiba Inu, Hachikō, loyally waiting for his deceased owner at a Tokyo train station.
Another wall in this area displayed a number of questionable and uncited newspaper articles featuring hero animals like the lions who rescued a kidnapped girl or the pig who flagged down help from a passing motorist after his owner had a heart attack. I presumed these were meant to convey God’s love for us or something.
Elsewhere in this corridor were interactive games projected on the walls. These essentially gussied-up iPhone games had the senior church group members slapping at meteors and bugs to claim high scores. As best I tried, I failed to see the biblical connection here. But they were, again, having a blast so I went along with it.
The most bizarre section of the ark came in the form of a darkened hallway where a cartoonish scene portrayed a bunch of model puffins as mischievous scamps. And this was all under a blacklight with psychedelic neon paint covering them, of course. After leaving the ark, I searched far and wide for something that justified the inclusion of this tonally divergent display, wondering if maybe puffins were a hot new intelligent design argument I was unaware of, but the most I could find was this write-up about how God, in his wisdom, made their eggs pointy. I guess someone at the Hong Kong ark just wanted to let their freak flag fly a little in the most family-friendly way possible.
I finished up my visit at the ark and made my way to the exit where the solitary gatekeeper remained at her post. The same hyper-chipper ice cream truck music that greeted me was playing as I left, ostensibly on a loop. I asked the gate girl if the song was driving her crazy.
“I’m working here,” she began, “so I’d better like it.”
Up until that point, I’d been grappling with what my overall grade of this biblical attraction would be. It had certainly phoned in many of the exhibits, though a number of the attractions wound up as unintentionally enjoyable. Thanks to the (ironically Buddhist) statement from this park employee, my internal verdict had finally arrived.
I resigned myself to having had a great time at Noah’s Ark in Hong Kong, choosing to focus on all the quirky charms and foibles of the exhibits and tantalizing appeal of Noah’s Stadium rather than where it failed to live up to its American counterparts. Besides, with this visit, I could now place myself in the presumably exclusive club of non-religious Bible park attendees who’d taken their bizarre fascination international.