Like many snow birds from the Upper Midwest, my grandparents escaped to Florida in the winter. And, like many Americans, my parents made the pilgrimage South to take my sisters and me to Disney World when we went to visit them.
I was afraid of the Excalibur ride at first but I loved riding the boat at It’s A Small World. I dragged my poor father on it more than once (”Just one more time, please?”) and he was a good sport about it because the children from all over the world dancing and frolicking and singing about friendship just made me so happy.
You know the song:
It’s a world of laughter,
A world of tears.
It’s a world of hopes,
And a world of fears.
There’s so much that we share,
That it’s time we’re aware,
It’s a small world after all.
I was reminded of my carefree childhood days, walking around meeting Mickey and Minnie and eating ice cream in the February Florida sun, as I learned about this Most Bizarre Story.
File Under ”Oxymoron”
This week, Joe Jackson, the father of the late King of Pop, was in Vietnam for the ground breaking ceremony for the new amusement park complex called — wait of it – Happyland Vietnam.
The $2 billion project, which Mr. Jackson personally invested in, will feature a 1,000 room hotel, cinemas, water park, floating cities, restaurants, boardwalks and other amusements similar to Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks. And yes, that is Billion with a ”B”.
Developers, investors and government officals hope that the park, scheduled to open in Spring 2014, will attact 14 million Vietnamese and foreign visitors every year due to it’s convenient location about 20 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City near the MeKong river delta in Ben Luc District, Long An province.
According to Happyland Media, there were 2,000 attendees at the ceremony. Government officials and foreign firms participating in the project in attendance were:
- Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan,
- Former Vice President Truong My Hoa,
- Vice Chairman of Ho Chi Miinh City People’s Committee Nguyen Trung Tin
- Chairman of Long An Province People’s Committee Mr. Duong Quoc Xuan,
- Vladimir Pereverzev, Chairman of ALT Group (Russia)
- Brett Laurence, CEO of Biscayne Group Inc., and
- Dennis Speigel, Chairman of International Theme Park Services Inc.
At the festivities,
Mr. Jackson said that his son “lived to make people happy and I am proud to maintain that, making Vietnamese people happier. My wish is to promote this project to all friends across the world so that they understand more about your country.”
The park is developed by Khang Thong Group and designed by the American firm Steelman Partners, based in Las Vegas. In its briefing statement, Khang Thong says that ”Happyland, when put into exploitation and use, will contribute to meet the demands of entertainment, improve the spiritual life of people as well as increase more jobs for local workers and regional training, create a skilled labor force for the tourism sector and attract international tourists to Vietnam.” I can think of a few other things that might better improve the ”spiritual life” of the people of Vietnam. Like not being persecuted for their religious or political beliefs.
But these folks are not in the business of actually wanting to improve peoples’ lives but rather in the business of public relations whitewashing for the sake of making money. Lots of money. Paul Steelman, CEO of the firm said that “Happyland is going to be a huge financial success. You’ve got pent up demand for entertainment offerings in Vietnam, plus a friendly government that’s interested in tourism.”
I guess it all depends on how you define the phrase ”friendly government”.
What’s That Smell, Mommy?
It gets even better. Jackson said he invested in this project because he liked traveling. “I like discovering different cultures in the world. Tourism and environment are also my interests,” he said.
Perhaps he will be disappointed to learn that last October, Nguyen Anh Diep, CEO of Happyland Entertainment Development (part of the Khang Thong Group) said that “the company is very concerned about negative impacts on his Happyland project because of bad odor from the Thu Thua Waste Treatment Complex” which is located only three kilometers away. “Environmental pollution could be occurring…If air is to be polluted, millions of visitors at the tourism area would suffer,” Diep said. He added that the dump will damage views of the park and it ”will be very inconvenient for visitors to see waste being transported”.
The old proverb goes “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck.”
But as legendary Google computer programmer Alex Martelli points outs: “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it could be a dragon doing a duck impersonation. You may not always want to let dragons into a pond, even if they can impersonate a duck.”
It is all dragons in ducks’ clothing in Vietnam and I really doubt any visitors to Happyland will be singing ”It’s A Small World”.