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Archive for Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hong Kong Disneyland mixes Mickey with feng shui

September 14, 2005

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— When Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck landed in Paris in 1992, French officials shunned the opening of Euro Disney, intellectuals decried the invasion of American pop culture, and park workers protested the strict dress code.

Disney's latest experience - its new park in Hong Kong - couldn't have been more different.

Hong Kong Disneyland opened Monday with musicians clanging cymbals, Chinese lion dancers prancing precariously on tall poles, and fireworks bursting in the sky. Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong joined Disney executives in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, declaring the park Hong Kong's "eternal carnival."

The ceremony ended with a parade of skipping Disney characters old and new: Mickey, Donald Duck, Mushu the dragon, Lilo and Winnie the Pooh.

Earlier, hundreds of people lined up outside the gate, waiting to get in despite the sweltering heat.

Michael Kuzma, of Celebration, Fla., was first in line. "For over 50 years, the American people have experienced the happiness of Disney theme parks. I hope the people of China can enjoy the happiness," the 36-year-old consultant said.

It was a much warmer welcome than in France, where officials skipped the opening ceremony and critics complained that Euro Disney was an assault on French culture.

A government agency filed a complaint contending Euro Disney's ban on beards, mustaches and colored hosiery may have violated France's work code. And President Francois Mitterrand dismissed the park as "not exactly my cup of tea."

Hong Kong's government, however, is the biggest investor in the new $3.5 billion park, believing the attraction will help turn this global financial capital into Asia's best holiday spot. Disneyland says it employs 5,000 people and will draw 5.6 million visitors in its first year.

Hong Kong's embrace of Disneyland is also the product of a Westernized, ruthlessly capitalistic and non-ideological mindset that's short on cultural roots. The territory was ruled by Britain for more than 150 years, and it's still governed separately.

Ordinary Hong Kongers don't see Mickey and Donald as a cultural threat.

"Hong Kong is used to customs from all over the world," said Thomas Choi, a 45-year-old clerk.

Even so Disney deferred to Hong Kong custom, tweaking the park design after consulting masters of feng shui, the Chinese belief of improving fortunes by adjusting the layout of objects and keeping various elements in harmony.

Disney hopes the park - the 11th in its global empire - will be a magnet for increasingly wealthy Chinese tourists, who have a reputation for being big spenders.

The attraction and its two resort hotels are surrounded by mountains on lush Lantau Island, just 30 minutes away by subway from bustling central Hong Kong. It looks like the first Disneyland in California, with a Space Mountain ride, a classic Cinderella Carousel and the Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Hong Kong Disneyland hasn't been all smooth sailing. The park has drawn criticism from environmentalists for wanting to serve shark's fin, eventually dropped from the menu, and letting stray dogs at the site be rounded up and put to death.

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