I went to this place knowing I would come away with mixed feelings. Typically Chinese theme parks and businesses like this offer kitsch and commercial melodrama - the 'polar aquarium' can be seen as all of this yet it is a strange experience in itself that may be of interest to some. Every available space has been aestheticised on on an arctic theme, one wanders through twisting corridors surrounded by theatrical polar settings - the inside of a ship, an arctic research station, an aeroplane and a submarine. The whole thing is tacky but weirdly entertaining - after all somebody had to think all this up and after a while you begin to deconstruct it. At it's best it's quirky; who would not want to feed koi fish some bottled liquid that looks like milk tea (I resisted the impulse to lift it to my own lips), or feed fur seals fish? For many Chinese people it must be the closest they ever get to animalia like this.
It's also as close as one should ever wish to be to a polar bear. Standing perhaps three metres high and at the same time magnificent and monstrous two of these creatures live what can only be described as very unfortunate lives in a cramped glazed room perhaps ten meters long. Here they swim back and forth and actually appear quite stressed, and one is left feeling glad of the opportunity to see them at such close quarters yet filled with sadness by their confinement. They must absolutely be the last things to encounter in the wild.
Then there are shows with beluga whales being kissed, blowing air rings underwater - how did they get them to learn that trick? - propelling their human handlers around the pool and much more besides. Further along a seal attraction features an overweight walrus trained to do stomach crunches and spray the audience with water, and a glossy black seal balancing a ball on it's nose and catching rings. You sense an affectionate bond between the trainers and all these mammals which, while all clearly motivated by food, show considerable intelligence. All this added to an appreciation of them I didn't have before I saw this. But as observed by other reviewers tanks for the whales and the seals are much too small and the confinement a bit brutal.
After this the requisite small hall of stuffed toys and cafes and that's pretty much it. Was it worth the money? For me, yes, and I'd certainly recommend a visit as qualified entertainment with some insights embedded it it. Children should especially enjoy it, but the strong feeling that all of these creatures would be infinitely more pleased away in the wild is never far from mind. The connection between performing mammals and their trainer/handlers seemed very close and that was nice.
Not far from downtown Haerbin across the river cab fares to and from should cost too much.
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