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Hong Kong – State of the Ark

A full-size replica of Noah's lifeboat is making waves in Hong Kong.

Illustration Graham Roumieu

IF THE PAST YEAR’S downpour of bad economic news feels a little like a flood, one might consider the opening this past April of Noah’s Ark on Hong Kong’s Ma Wan island to be well timed. Though by no means the world’s only replica of the Ark (there’s one in the Netherlands, for example, that floats), it’s the only one built to the exact specs (450 feet long, 75 wide and 45 high) detailed in the Bible—except for a couple of elements. For instance, the luxury hotel built atop it, called Noah’s Resort (rooms start at a reasonable $130), the restaurant and the Ark Theatre with “Sensational Surround-Sound.”

According to its creators, who include the billionaire Kwok brothers, the YMCA and a handful of other Christian organizations, Noah’s Ark is meant to “promote family values and teach love, social harmony and care for the environment.” To that end, there are 67 matching pairs of fiberglass animals—elephants, giraffes, kangaroos, tigers, camels, polar bears, etc.—marching, hopping and lumbering two-by-two out of the Ark’s door. There are also lush gardens planted around it and educational exhibits scattered throughout the five-level vessel, which sits on a 270,000-square-foot plot of land. Guests are invited to “Enjoy a Healthy Retreat” and “Sunbathe on the Beach by the Ark.” Provided, of course, it doesn’t rain.

One young mother of three from Kowloon named Winsome Lau pushes a stroller past the Ark’s looming stern. “This is good for children,” Lau says, as pairs of Noah’s bald eagles and lions look on protectively. “They can see all the beautiful plants and the animals, and they can also learn a message about life.”

That message has generated some controversy, in part because Noah’s Ark happened to open its doors just as the familiar debate over the merits of evolutionary science versus intelligent design began heating up. The city government recently changed the curriculum to include both, in response to which an organization called the Concern Group for Hong Kong Education circulated a petition demanding a science-based curriculum.

Meanwhile, Noah’s Ark itself has given up on at least one planned design element: Builders tried to install a permanent rainbow using complicated light refraction, but eventually gave up. The science proved too difficult. —ROSEANNE BARRETT

San Mateo, California
Full Steam Ahead

It takes something pretty special to upstage battling robot warships and elaborately choreographed Diet Coke-and-Mentos explosions. But the consensus at this year’s Maker Faire, held at the fairgrounds in San Mateo, California, seems to be that the Snail Art Car has pulled it off. Once a 1966 VW Beetle, it’s somehow been transformed into a brass-tinted mollusk with antennae that shoot flames when its creator yanks on a set of leather reins.

Part Burning Man, part science fair, part intergalactic craft show, the Faire, now in its fourth year, attracts gritty bike messenger types and hippies, as well as high-tech workers and code monkeys, who come to see two-story Tesla coils crackling with homemade lightning, soaring air-powered rockets and countless other inventions.

But it’s the Snail Art Car, the brainchild of Oakland blacksmith and metalworker Jon Sarriugarte, that’s getting the buzz. The car is an example of a genre known as “steampunk,” a crafts subculture born in the ’90s that marries elaborate turn-of-the-20th-century costumes, the speculative fiction of authors like H.G. Wells, the technology of yesterday (like steam) and the gadgets of next week.

“We’re more gearhead than drama club,” admits Sarriugarte, who nonetheless sports an old-timey cap and suspenders, along with mutton chops that would have made Martin Van Buren proud. He prefers to describe his aesthetic as “oil punk,” a narrow subset of steampunk.

“It’s about taking the best of yesteryear and using it today,” he explains. “Like old glass, steel, leather…stuff that lasts.”

Twenty yards away, in the shadow of a self-propelled Victorian townhouse on wheels, David Farish sits in the command position of the Hennepin Crawler, a pedal-powered jalopy with four enormous wheels, which can actually be ridden on railroad tracks. Sporting a rumpled bowler, he chats with a young guy in a white lab coat about how he built his “mutant rideable sculpture” from salvaged lawn furniture and bike parts.

There’s an unmistakable high-pitched whistle in the distance as an impeccably refurbished green and red 1917 steam locomotive chugs by on the horizon. For a moment, no one speaks as they watch it huff pass. —0’CONNOR

New York City
Like Hotcakes

On Sunday, June 7, at precisely 9:16 a.m., a tweet went out. It stated that Kogi BBQ, the much buzzed-about Los Angeles–based mobile food operation (a taco truck)—known for its blend of Mexican and Korean cuisines and its habit of announcing upcoming locations via Twitter—would be making a surprise appearance in Midtown Manhattan for 60 magical minutes, starting at noon, “and then POOF! we’re outta there.”

Rumors had been swirling for months that Koji was preparing an attack on the New York food scene, but most local street-food mavens still assumed that booking a flight to L.A. would be the only way to sample the legendary Koji kimchi taco. Now chef Roy Choi and crew were truly alighting in Gotham, taking up temporary residence in Jerome Chang’s Dessert Truck—another lauded mobile food operation. Within minutes, every food blog in town had the news up.

All of which helps explain the line that forms at 11 the next morning at the corner of Lexington and 55th Street. Someone emerges from the truck and tapes a paper sign bearing the Koji logo to a window, sending a buzz through the crowd. By 11:45, the line stretches nearly to the end of the block. Just before noon a member of the Koji kitchen staff emerges and fires up the crowd with a shout of “Are you hungry?”

Finally, at the stroke of noon the window opens, and out they come: $4 plates—one to a customer—of kimchi quesadillas, along with dessert: a paper cup of chocolate mousse with a peanut butter center. The orders are maddeningly small, but sublime. Each serving is quickly devoured. The scene is electric.

As the hour’s end approaches, a desperate Cinderella-at-midnight vibe settles over the unlucky latecomers. “Are you guys waiting for soup or something?” an elderly passerby asks.

“No, Korean tacos,” explains Alice White, a 26-year-old advertising executive who was the first in line. “It’s a truck from L.A. that’s here just for an hour.”

The guy walks off puzzled. “He thinks we’re all crazy,” she says. —NICHOLAS GILL

Washington, D.C.

They pluck snap peas. They harvest lettuce. But what the merry band of fifth-graders from Bancroft Elementary in Washington’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood are most interested in is the tall, elegant woman with storied arms dressed in coral-colored jeans, a flowered cardigan and sneakers. “Aren’t you sick of me already?” she asks them (it’s their third visit this year) as she strides toward the herb patch of her garden—which just happens to be on the White House lawn.

Apparently they aren’t. Under a threatening sky, students dressed in T-shirts and jeans swarm around Michelle Obama. Like a patient traffic cop, or a den mother, or the coolest teacher ever to chaperone a field trip, the first lady directs them to various parts of the garden— first, to gather the enormous rosettes of lettuce, later to wash and weigh the bounty. Eventually, their tasks complete, it’s time to eat.

“Who wants to help me over here?” their host calls from a picnic table covered in a red checked tablecloth. (Answer: everyone.) “Come on. Let’s go! Let’s go!”

Obama is concerned about what children today are eating, so after the kids take their seats, they wait for servers to deliver a healthy meal of baked chicken, salad, snap peas, brown rice and cupcakes covered in fruit. “Alright. Let’s eat,” Obama says as she sits down. Then she picks up her plastic fork and knife and begins to pound them on the table, leading a chant: “We want to eat! We want to eat!” —JANE BLACK

Monte Carlo
Full House

“I’m still learning, still messing up,” admits the rap star Nelly, ordering lunch from the snack bar at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo moments after being bumped from the 2009 European Poker Tour’s grand finale tournament. Europe’s answer to the U.S.’s World Series of Poker, the EPT is an array of tournaments culminating in a championship, which this year brought 935 players to Monaco, on the Côte d’Azur.

Rather than seeming chastened after his losses, the multiplatinum artist wants more. “I’ll stick around for some other games,” he says. “It’s not like other kinds of gambling where you’re just playing against the house. It’s personal.”

Besides, you have to start somewhere. Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier had a respectable job as a corporate lawyer in Montreal, but she quit to become a dealer and is now one of the top players in the world, complete with her own clothing line and a memoir currently being adapted by a pair of screenwriters. “I will never go back to law, ever, ever,” she says, relaxing on a plush red sofa in the players lounge. “My message is, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do you’re going to be miserable.”

Chicago native Gavin Griffin, a top U.S. pro, was a speech pathology major in Texas when he started playing kitchen table poker with friends. He drove to Vegas for the 2004 World Series of Poker, won a tournament in an upset and quit school to go pro. “My parents weren’t real happy about it,” he recalls with a boyish smirk. Now 27, Griffin has earned $4.5 million.

Nelly, despite receiving just so-so reviews for his last album, 2008’s Brass Knuckles, insists poker will remain strictly a hobby. “After this,” he says, “I got to get back to work.” —JEFFREY STANLEY

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