Sunday, May 29, 2005

'Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear...'
But not enough of a bite, it seems to withstand the money grasping, blood soaked mitts of Mickey Mouse. An Asian-fried version of Disneyworld is due to open here in September, something that's had the HK tourism board and related industries - most with eyes to the lucrative mainland market - aflutter with excitement. As such there've been a number of nauseating pre-opening promotions -- US$200 special edition Cinderalla, Sleeping Beauty T-shirts, is one and another offering couples a chance to pay a hefty price to be married Disney-style.
Whether Goofy, Donald or Mickey will officiate is unclear, but what's definite are plans for Chinese banquet-style wedding receptions at its Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel starting from HK$11,457 (US$1,470)per table. The fairytale marriage menus will feature "traditional" banquet delicacies such as roast suckling pig, sliced abalone and .. shark fin soup. It's this last banquet item that has drawn the ire and concern of the likes of Greenpeace and local environmental activists and experts.
As Brian Darvell, a former chairman of the HK Marine Conservation Society wrote in an (unanswered) letter to King Disney Rat Michael Eisner ``I think this is a mistake of the highest order. No matter that such soup is perceived as prestigious by some consumers, from whom you simply wish to make money, shame on you.''
Disney has continued to duck the criticism despite an e-mail campaign and efforts by the Standard staff to shame them. Hiding under the leaky umbrella of "cultural sensitivity" their local flak, someone named Esther Wong wants to have it both ways: ''Hong Kong Disneyland takes environmental stewardship very seriously and we are equally sensitive to the local cultures,'' she recited by rote. ``It is customary for Chinese restaurants and 5-star hotels to serve shark fin soup in Hong Kong as the dish is considered as an integral part of Chinese banquets.It's a fine balance, basically, between environmental stewardship and [keeping] it sensitive to the Chinese culture.''
Ethnic Chinese opposed to the practice of slaughtering millions of fish simply for their fins for what can be a US$400 bowl of soup, have slammed Wong as patronizing.
``The irresponsible way out is to throw in the cultural argument -- and that is exactly the cowardly and spineless option Disney took,'' Singapore-based environmentalist Victor Wu said. ''This is a campaign initiated by a Chinese and supported by Chinese people around the world. It belittles the Chinese people to suggest that we are not also environmentally conscious and concerned about shark decline.''
Another trouble, I'm thinking, is that sharks don't exactly have the best PR image. From Jaws to Finding Nemo they've been cast in decidedly non-cuddly roles. If Disney were offering something like panda salad or capuchin monkey smoothies, perhaps the outrage might be greater. But until then we can only hope that Disney ultimately does the right thing, perhaps when pigs and elephants fly.
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