SHENZHEN WEEKEND: PART TWO
October 21, 2007
It was some ungodly hour of the morning when the phone began to ring. I would have answered it to make the ringing stop, but chances are I would need to wake someone else up to understand the person on the other end anyways. Following the lease path of resistance, then, I pulled the covers up, threw my head under the pillow, and waited for someone else to grab the phone. Sounds of movement followed, and a quick and quiet “Wai?” from Mao stopped the ringing. Buried in my sleeping cocoon, I drifted away from the waking world once again.
And then the phone rang. Mentally it seemed as though it had not bee too long from the first instance; however, my body was feeling significantly less lethargic this time. Had it been minutes, hours since the last phone interrupted my sleep? This remained unknown.
More noises filled the room, and Josinan answered the phone this time. Hmmm… It must be later or he might have curled up inside his bed once again to avoid the real world for the inevitability of joining it at some point in time.
Economics says that goods have diminishing returns. The more sleep you get, the less you want to give up a moment of being awake for an extra moment of sleep. The difficulty with this is that there is no set function for anyone’s sleep/wake trade off over the long run: each night poses new factors that vary the slope and magnitude of the extremes. A night of Karaoke and drinking makes sleep significantly more desirable. Weeks of little sleep in order to study and hopefully not fail midterms causes the sleep to become increasingly demanded in the nights that follow. Whatever the theory, I was still more than willing to give up hours awake for sleep this morning.
Mao and Josinan both appeared to be awake. They were discussing things in Chinese, and they thought I must still be asleep. Despite any personal motives towards sleep, surprising everyone else by popping up wide awake at such an opportune moment is much rarer and has a bigger payoff than trying to stay asleep: could we even jump to a new and higher utility curve? The time was ripe to find out. Up I sat, and Mao and Josinan giggled – less shocked than amused. It was time to get up and take on the day. I opened up the windows to let the light in and check out what kind of view we had from the 24th floor.
Room service had just arrived, and Mao said we needed to eat quickly and get ready: someone was waiting for us. I didn’t really understand who, but I hopped into the shower, ate some Chinese breakfast, and got dressed for the day. The plan was to go to some amusement park in Shenzhen for Jean’s birthday where there would be “many games to play.” The actual translation would be “many rides to ride.” Jean and Tracy came in as I finished eating, and we turned on the TV while we waited for Josinan. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic were “in town” (playing at the new Venetian resort hotel and casino in Macau) for an exhibition game and I was hoping that some of it might be on television, and we were able to catch a small portion of the Cavaliers vs Magic game while waiting for Josinan to get ready.
Mao came up ready to go, asking if we were all ready. We were, except for Josinan, so Mao pounded on the bathroom door until he emerged. We collected the items we needed for the day, went down stairs, jumped into an awaiting van, and headed for the theme park.
I am not sure what my expectations were for a Chinese theme park. I suppose I expected something akin to a second or third tier theme park in the United States: one with local or possibly regional draw, but not the national draw that Universal or Disney have. For my own experience, I assumed something larger than the Minnesota State Fair or Conney Island in New York City, but smaller than a Six Flags or Sea World. Hershey Park would be a fair estimate of my expectations, or my ignorant impression of what King’s Island must be like in Ohio: a handful of thrilling rides, a few smaller rides, impossible games to steal your money, and a show or two for people who don’t want to ride the rides. The park is in Shenzhen, the most economically prosperous city in China, so one never knows when to under estimate based on the China factor, or over estimate based on the business factor. All of these things I pondered as our van took us on a Mr. Toad styled ride through the streets and highways on approach to the park.
When we got nearer to the park, ie. when the van began to drive at a slower pace, the streets and set up looked as they would on approach to any major theme park in the U.S.: building facades are better kept-up, landscaping looks increasingly planned and better executed as we near, and the tell-tale stream of park attendees grows larger with each block. Finally the van stops, and we exit to take a look at our day’s destination: Happy Kingdom!
The entrance and ambiance of Happy Kingdom definitely looked better than Six Flags, in a China sort of way, but was far from the quality control of a Disney theme park. Regardless of the comparison between this park and any others, I was extremely impressed by the obvious effort, thought, and execution by the Chinese on Happy Kingdom. True, the model of the park out in front could use some touch-up work, but the “Happy Store” is classic and they’ve got Halloween themed elements including R.L. Stein’s Haunted Lighthouse in 4D! Who could ask for more?
As we were all waiting around to see what we were to do next, I started snapping photos to capture the day, forcing a reluctant Jean to get a birthday photo with her roommate Tracy in front of the park’s steps. King Mao made a phone call, and moments later a park worker walked up with five tickets. Benco and his girlfriend were not joining us today, so that would cover the group of us. We took our tickets and proceeded into the park.
The first thing that caught my eye was a giant park mascot of sorts: which looks like a giant cartoonish rat. Where did they think up this crazy thing?!? I forced Jean to come and take a picture with it, despite her claims of “But… That’s so stupid! You are soooo stupid!” I got the photo, and we proceeded towards some rides. Mao’s first choice of ride was the tower called “Space Shot,” where you sit in the chair and it launches riders up 60 meters (~200 ft) and lets you free fall two or three times before the ride ends. Jean and Josinan are not what I might call big thrill riders, so we wandered off to find a better “first” ride to go on, before ramping up the adrenaline factor. We walked from Mt. Adventure over to Gold Mine Town and got in line for a ride officially titled Gold Mine Train, but which is better suited by the name “NOT Thunder Mountain.”
The lines were as you might expect on a weekend at the largest theme park in China: ridiculously long. Typically we waited for an hour, rode a ride for at most five minutes, and then found a new line to join. It’s the standard large theme park experience.
Following a fun Gold Mine Train ride, we went for Shoot the Chute. This is one of those rides where everyone on the boat is guaranteed to get soaked. In China, however, they’ve figured a way around this potential patron dwindling aspect of the ride: for 1 RMB riders can purchase a poncho to stay dry! Despite how ridiculous it sounds, it keeps the lines long and the patrons riding! Water still has a way of finding its way through the thin, less-than-kitchen-trash-bag-strength ponchos: so most everyone still gets soaked, and the world continues to turn.
I didn’t get too wet, but my shoes were soaked through. Mao got drenched, and was ringing water out of his clothes for a good while after. To aid the drying process we jumped into line for the Typhoon-Eye, which spins riders around rapidly as it tilts 90 degrees to each side. While being terribly fun, it also scared the pants off of Jean and Josinan. We took lunch after this, allowing for a momentary break from the mayhem of lines and rides for those who needed it. After lunch, though, it was back to business.
We wandered over to investigate R.L. Stein’s 4D movie, but were about 5 minutes too late for the show about to start. We went for bumper cars instead, figuring it might be just about time for the next show by the time we finished up. While in the bumper cars line, we encountered our first blatant line-cutting of the day: I was surprised it had taken so long, based on all the other lines I’ve stood in both in China and Hong Kong. Regardless of expectations, it was still obnoxious, especially as the culprits jumped directly in front of our group. This played to their disadvantage, though, as it split their group in half for the 12 available cars running – which meant two of them had to ride with our group, and Mao and I set our sights on the two sheep separated from their pack.
Remember the Batman TV show? No, not the mid 90s cartoon that had the style of “Metropolis,” but the original 1960s version with Adam West playing Batman/Bruce Wayne and Burt Ward as Robin/Dick Grayson. Remember the intro? That was our bumper car session, with Mao and I dealing out the “POW”, “ZAP”, and “WHAM”s on our line-hoppers. Meaningless retribution for minor social infractions can be so much fun to deal out, especially via such a spectacularly ingenious means as bumper cars.
I think this should be an appropriate add-on punishment for actual criminals, as well. Let them sit in a bumper car that goes slower than all the rest, and allow those wronged to get a good 10 minutes to drive around and slam into the injured fawn. It really gets the whole rage thing out of one’s system.
Any ideas on how the bumper cars might aid rehabilitation of drug adicts? I think, at the very least, they couldn’t hurt the process. Let them ride in their cars and smash into others, too!
Following that sweet release, we double backed to the 4D theater: missed it again. Oh well… Next ride!
It was starting to get late in the day, so we went for the Space Shot. Mao was, of course, our leader for this entire excursion. It would be a shame if we did not ride his favorite ride at the park. The line was shorter than it had been earlier in the day; however, it was still quite the wait. The beauty of waiting for the Space Shot is that with every group going before us, it was another chance to up the tension level in our rookie thrill-riders. While not necessarily making the ride any more fun, it certainly made the wait more fun! With every 60 meter blast off, we anticipated our own shot up to the moon. An hour or more later we got our chance.
It would have been nicer if we all could have sat on the same side, but the structure of Happy Kingdom’s ride is that each side of the tower only seats 3 people. Mao insisted the two of us sit on the side facing out over the park towards the sunset, as it had the best view. We then insisted that Jean take the remaining seat next to us, even though we were all well aware that it would be a warm night in hell before her eyes opened up on a ride like this.
We strapped down, the attendants checked our buckles and harness grip, and then they took their positions. I gave an enthusiastic count down: “YAT-YI-SAM!” and off we went into the stratosphere.
Approaching the apex of our flight, I was finally able to let out a wild yell. Mao followed suit during the initial decent. We were having a blast, and it’s a shame they didn’t have a camera up there. I started taping Jean on the face, telling her to check out the view, but she was having none of it. It was all she could do to find her happy place, but after 10 seconds, the ride was over, and we were being slowly lowered down the lower 5 meteres to the ground.
It was 5:45 now. The Space Shot closed at 6pm. Most every ride closed at 6pm. Happy Kingdom has not figured out the whole “operating rides at night” thing yet, but that’s probably to our benefit not to be in the charter evening opearting session. We wandered out towards the exit, but decided to see if the Haunted Lighthouse was still showing past ride closing time: the park itself didn’t close for another 3 hours.
Sure enough there was a 6:30 showing, and we joined an already long line for the show. 6:15 they ushered us into the theater, and by 6:30 we were watching a Chinese dubbed R.L. Stein’s Haunted Lighthouse. I didn’t understand the words, but the story was R.L. Steins’s and, surprise: there was not all that much to it. Here’s the 60 second synopsis:
Kids are playing on the Beach.
Crazy sailor who runs a shop (Christopher Lloyd) tells them some warning.
Another kid comes up, tells them he’s going to the lighthouse, and invites them along.
PEER PRESSURE – All three go.
<Don’t do drugs>
When they get there, the weather turns sour.
Christopher Lloyd sees the note about the kids going to the light house. Goes to save them.
At the Lighthouse, Kids see a spooky girl: it’s the strange kid’s sister. She’s a Ghost.
PLOT TWIST-So is her brother.
<Don’t play with ghosts>
Crazy 4D-ness ensues, just to show off ‘how cool’ 4D movies can be when poorly done.
Ghost kids were waiting for their parents, who never arrived because the lighthouse light was off and their ship crashed at sea or something.
<It was in Chinese>
They all work together to get the light house light to turn on, as a ghost ship arrives.
<Not the same one from the movie GHOST SHIP, which would be GREAT in 3D>
The ship turns. Out float the ghost kids’ parents, played by Michael McKean and Lea Thompson.
Christopher Lloyd arrives, in crazy Doc Brown fashion.
They all lived happily ever after. YAY!
That took a good 20 minutes to watch. What they do with the other 40 minutes between each show, we have no idea. Regardless, it was a fantastic way to end our splendid day at Happy Kingdom. We left the park for the subway, passing by the park Windows on the World on our walk. We took the train back to the hotel, and set about finding a spot to have Jean’s birthday dinner. Since Jean is from Chongqing, China, we found a place with Chongqing style hot-pot for some home-style cooking.
Hot pot is a fun experience. There’s a gas burner underneath the table, and a pot of soup is heated over the gas in the center of the table. We ordered whatever type of food we wanted. When it arrives, it is prepared for eating, but frozen. The food is then put into the hot pot to be cooked, gaining the flavor of the particular broth its put in. Our hot pot had two sections of broth: ridiculously hot chilies and a tomato based flavor.
The dinner was a great time, in spite of the fact that most of our conversation was in Chinese. What that means, essentially, is that I understand all that’s going on: I just can’t participate. I certainly wasn’t pushed out of joining by everyone; but, being Jean’s birthday I felt it more appropriate to allow for some non-English speaking time. This also gave me the opportunity to focus on all of the food! It tasted just like it smelled: DELICIOUS!
Following dinner, we gathered our remaining items that had been abandoned in our hotel room for the day, ate the fruit platter which was in our room, allowed Mao to call room service for his laundry (I’m telling you, he lives like a King up here in Shenzhen!), and mosey on South back to Hong Kong. A quick subway ride, a few stops through customs and immigration, a train, another subway, and a bus found us back at HKUST.
We wandered down the road, taking the longer, non-elevator path, which winds down past the palatial President’s residence to our dorm. We arrived back to our cramped room. Despite the luxury and wild times in Shenzhen, it was nice to be back to some familiarity, some type of home.