One Territory, Two Systems

Nov 14, 2005
*Special to asia!

Disneyland may not be above Hong Kong law, but it certainly behaves that way.

On the eve of Hong Kong Disneyland's opening ceremony, local officials clashed with the theme park after the latter ordered food inspectors to remove their caps and badges before entering the premises, to avoid scaring visitors. The officials were there to investigate complaints of food poisoning. Disney later apologised, but its trouble with locals had just begun. Besides being accused of helping to destroy at least 40 dogs roaming the site when the theme park was under construction, there was also the shark’s fin fiasco when Disney had to withdraw the dish from its menu after protests by environmental groups.

Many local Disney staff complained about long hours, low pay and unreasonable requests, such as the requirement that staff portraying cartoon characters must wear their outfits for long hours, even when temperatures reached 33° C. Hong Kong labour groups said they received numerous calls for action. A few dozen Disney employees are forming a union, which should be up and running before year-end.

Staff unrest came to a head on October 11 when a security guard, sacked for uttering an expletive at a staff meeting, climbed to the top of Disneyland’s most popular attraction, Space Mountain, and threatened suicide by holding a penknife to his throat. A former policeman, he wore a white T-shirt with the words "blood", "reveal the truth" and "SOS" written in red paint. The man was led away after two hours of negotiations with the police and fire fighters.

There were also protests by environmental groups on the choice of Lantau Island as Disneyland's location, which they said destroyed Hong Kong’s green lung.

The groups also claimed the reclamation work killed many types of fish and Chinese white dolphins; and questioned the government's move to allow Disney to display fireworks every night, discharging pollutants into Hong Kong's already foul atmosphere. Disney, inexplicably, has refused to use the more environmentally friendly fireworks-launching technology that was developed and used at Disneyland, California. This is causing concern in the upscale Discovery Bay enclave two kilometres away. Many residents, influential to the last person, are planning to lobby for Disney to change its ways.

lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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