CC JoyLand

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Entrance to the park

CC Joyland is one of China’s newest amusement parks. It’s located near the city of Changzhou in Jiangsu province, a bit over 150 kilometers from Shanghai. When it opened the park rose to fame in America for being a shameless rip off of Blizzard’s Warcraft and Starcraft video game franchises. This infamy is what put Joyland high on my China to-do list.

Like many amusement parks, Joyland is broken up into themed sections: Fantasy Square (park entrance), Taobao Street (shopping), Terrain of Magic (Warcraft clone), Universe of Starship (Starcraft theme), World of Legend (more Warcraft), and Mole’s World (for children). All these sections surround a central lake with an island covered in fountains in the middle.

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The view from the lake

I think the Terrain of Magic is the best of the sections. The decorations are a really well done; it’s obvious the designers spent more time and money here than the others. The music pumping out of hidden speakers sounded just like some music you’d find in a video like Zelda. While walking down the street, the orchestra is happy and upbeat. As you get closer to the attractions the music changes to something more dark and forbidding.

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The most common type of attraction at Joyland is the 4D movie where the riders wear a set of 3D glasses and the seats move and shake in time with the video. Some of these movies are pretty good, especially the one where the seats move along a track instead of just staying still and shuddering. Through the park, about half the attractions we visited were these 4D movies. As a fan of amusement parks and rides, this was a bit disappointing. Of course we visited near the end of the season and right before the large national holiday so while the park was basically empty it also meant that many attractions were closed. Maybe if we visited at a different time more attractions would be open.

 

Presumably some World of Warcraft character.

Presumably some World of Warcraft character.

There are some more traditional rides like a tower drop, three roller coasters, a flume ride, and a couple of water slides to beat the summer heat. But compared to a place like Hershey Park there isn’t much.

 

Overall I had a good time at Joyland but that had more to do with the fact that it was something new to see than any technical wonder of the park. The shameless intellectual property rip offs were pretty entertaining. One thing the Warcraft theme did inspire me to do is visit the Harry Potter park in Florida sometime. I bet that’s a lot better since it was built properly with everyone’s blessing. But if you’re visiting Joyland as a theme park aficionado you’re going to leave let down. I’m sure part of the reason is the difference between Chinese and American park goers. Chinese people seem much more interested in the 4D movies so park builders cater to those desires. Or maybe Joyland just isn’t a great park and there are better ones near Shanghai or Beijing with bigger and faster roller coasters.

 

Getting there:

You can take a shuttle bus from the Wuxi long distance bus station or the Changzhou train station. We left from Changzhou and the bus took about an hour. It was pretty difficult to find where the bus in Changzhou left from. It was a small, kind of dingy waiting room separated from the rest of the station. If you don’t have a Chinese speaker to continually ask for directions to the waiting you might have trouble finding it.

 

The park costs 200 RMB to enter, but that also includes the free shuttle to and from the park. Even if you drive to the park it still costs 200 RMB.

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Mid-Autumn Festival

Well today is the mid-Autumn Festival in China. It’s a national holiday so most people have the day off. The festival is on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. This year it happened to fall on September 19th.

In ancient China people used to worship the sun in the spring and moon in the fall. The festival is always held when the moon is the large in the sky.

Like everything in China, there’s a bit of folklore behind this festival. One story mentions how there once were ten suns that would always burn the farmers’ crops. Deciding enough was enough a hero named Hou Yi climbed Kunlun Mountain and shot nine of the suns out of the sky with his magic bow.

One day Hou Yi ran across the Empress Wangmu of Heaven. The empress gave him a special potion that would turn Hou Yi into a celestial being. He didn’t want to part with his lovely wife Chang E so he gave her the potion for safe keeping. This was all seen by local troublemaker and scoundrel Penguin Meng.

Chang E was alone at home one day when CRASH, Peng Meng smashed the door to splinters and began to cause a ruckus. ‘Hand over the potion or I’ll stick this knife in you!’ Afraid and unable to beat Peng Meng, Chang E quickly drank the potion. Her body floated out the window and into the sky.

Hou Yi returned in the evening and learned what happened from the servants. He looked up to the sky and saw how much fuller and brighter the moon was. There was also a shadow that looked like his wife. He chased the moon but was never able to catch it.

Realizing his wife was lost, Hou Yi set a small table of Chang E’s favorite meats and fruits and held a memorial ceremony for her. The local people were so touched by the ceremony they started to pray for Chang E and worship the moon asking for good fortune and peace.

Treasure Hunting

I’m not going to bore anyone with the details of what geocaching is. If you don’t know by now then you can look it up really quickly.

What I am going to tell you is how geocaching can help traveling.

The most obvious use is that you can see things a little off the beaten path. Caches by nature are often hidden in interesting, sometimes remote places. Just hunting down a cache can reveal a different part of a city or area you may never have visited.

The other, less obvious use is how awesome the official Geocaching.com smartphone app is for travelers, even if you don’t want to take part in the activity. For a one time payment of $9.99 you get unlimited, free, GPS enabled, offline maps of almost every place on the world.

How? The app is designed that while you have 3G or wifi you can search for caches where you plan to travel to. Log on to the Geocaching.com site, search for cache near your destination, then plug the GC code – GC27TZ8 or similar – into the app. If you have wifi it’ll bring up the cache info and you’ll find a super useful feature called ‘Save to Offline List’ under the menu in the upper right corner. Choose the option and wait a few moments.

Now you’re done. You have a map of the surrounding area near the cache. You don’t need 3G to view it so data charges need not apply. For better results download multiple caches in the same area.

The only downside is I don’t think there is a way to add your own points to the maps. That can be frustrating not being able to drop a pin on your hotel
And never have a problem finding your way back. Maybe that’ll be a feature in a future update?

I’m in a Chinese city that Lonely Planet offers nothing more than a paragraph to, so the odds of me finding a decent map for the smartphone are between zero and chickens revolting and enslaving mankind. But that also means since I was able to get this trick to work here, it’ll probably work anywhere.

Riding Around

I’ve ways been a fan of public transportation when traveling. I think part of it stems from the lack of options where I’m from back in America. Having to drive everywhere gets old quickly.

The ability to multitask on a bus or subway is pretty great. I’m actually writing this post while taking the bus across town. Instead of sitting and fuming in traffic, I’m sitting and writing in traffic. A much better option I think.

The cost of using the local transportation is also a huge draw. Unlike Washington DC where a single bus trip is more than three dollars, municipal transportation is still seen as a public good in most places which keeps the prices low. It’s always far cheaper to get around like the locals than take a taxi when traveling. I’ll save my money for fun things like food and adventures thank you very much.

A final reason I prefer buses to cabs is what you can see. The bus is great for people watching; everyone going about their daily lives of work and school. It’s a small glimpse into another world. I also enjoy watching the city or scenery go by. You never know what you might find in passing. Taxis have to drive quickly to make more money. Buses have to drive slow and stop often because that’s their job. A bus trip is a great way to learn more about the layout of a place.

However it’s not always perfect on the bus. Sometimes, like literally right in the middle of writing this entry, you realize that you got on the wrong bus. Or in this case the right bus going in the wrong direction. It has happened to me more than once so I’ve learned to give myself lots of time to get somewhere. I can bring a book to wait with.

The Big Buddha

The heat wave finally broke. After almost three weeks of faily temperatures in the upper nineties, things have cooled down. It couldn’t have some soon enough. I was beginning to catch a serious case of cabin fever. When I wasn’t working all I’d be able to do is lay at home next to the fan and try to avoid drowning in sweat. But now that the weather has turned I’m able to get out again and enjoy myself.

 

I’d been wanting to see the Grand Buddha at Lingshan for a long time. Someone had mentioned it to me a while ago and I was seriously interested. The center of the Buddhist universe someone said. I’m pretty sure they were exaggerating just a little bit. But even so, with that kind of recommendation how could I skip going since it’s so close?

 

One morning I gathered my things and was planning to head out. I ran into one of my friends here so we sat and had coffee like we often do and just chatted for a few hours. By the time we had finished it was just about noon. No problems I thought, plenty of time left in the day.

 

Getting there: Take bus 88 from the Wuxi train station all the way to the very last stop. The ride is about an hour and half or so.

 

I was on the bus listening to my headphone and dozing off a couple of times since it was such a long ride. Eventually I began to think I had the wrong information and was on the wrong bus. Right about then I looked out the window and saw the Grand Buddha. At 88 meters tall it dominates the surrounding landscape. Eighty-eight because in Chinese eight and rich sound very similar so eight is a lucky number. Anyway that lifted my spirits knowing I was on the right path.

 

At the final stop I hopped off of the bus. By now I was the only person left. I found my way to the ticket booth, bought a ticket (210 RMB, kind of expensive) and began my visit.

 

I was surprised, there was so much more to the area than just the giant statue. In fact, Wuxi Lingshan Buddhist Wonderland is a sprawling complex made of Buddhist museum, temples, gardens, and other attractions. It was built only a few years ago to host the World Buddhist Conference. It was also built with tourists in mind so there are plenty of things that make it convenient like easy to find bathrooms and air conditioning to beat the heat in the buildings. The newness detracts from the sense of history and awe many famous religious sites have, but still 88 meters! That’s huge! It’s twice the size of the Statue of Liberty. The whole park is no different than any other religious construction built through history, it just happens to not be hundreds of years old yet.

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When I purchases my entrance ticket I got a map and another small ticket with a bar code and time printed on it. Obviously it was a ticket to some special event in the park, but I didn’t know exactly what. Turns out I got pretty lucky here and happened to be inside the museum at the right time. The time that’s stamped on the small ticket is for a live show with dancers in masks inside the museum. If I had arrived fifteen minutes later I would have missed my one opportunity to see it.

 

Unfortunately not everything was so wonderful. I didn’t learn until after I had entered the park at around 3:00 that it closes at 6:00. Seriously, 6:00 in the afternoon. I assumed I’d have at least until dark to be there. If I had known it closed so early I would have skipped coffee or just not even gone that day. Because of that and the live show that was about forty-five minutes long I ended up not seeing about half the park. I’ll return with some friends at another time, but that was kind of a downer.

 

Basic Information:

 

Cost: 210 RMB

Hours: 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM (5:00 PM winter)

Directions: Bus 88 from Wuxi train station to the very final stop.

The Old Man and the Kite

Kites are cool. Flipping and flying and floating in the wind, it’s pretty hard to not like a kite. Most people are happy with the simple and cheap kites that you can find anywhere, but some people want something more. Like a random old man I saw at the park one day. Somewhere in his life he decided that building kites was going to be his hobby and he took it up with a passion. This one kite of his was made out of recycled materials and looked like a ‘fracking Gyrados’ in the words of one of my friends.

 

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Eating Out

I’ve been busy getting used to China after moving here that I haven’t had time to actually write anything. I’m trying to get back into the habit so I don’t forget what I did as I figured things out. So here goes.

 

It was the boss’s birthday recently so he treated everyone to a day off to celebrate. Most of the day was spent at the local park where we played a bunch of team building games my friends and I developed for our Green Camps in Armenia. It was fun but nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Dinner was a little different. We all went to a sit down Chinese chain restaurant. Think something like a TGI Fridays or Ruby Tuesday’s in China and you get the picture. Eating out in China is a bit different than eating out in America or Europe. The first difference was that the table was round. That’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but not very common. Another difference comes in how the food is served. Everyone orders from a menu like always, but when they bring the food out it doesn’t go to the person who ordered it. The food is for the table.

 

What ends up happening is the table is stacked with dozens of dishes. Each dish has about enough food for one person to eat completely and be pretty satisfied. But the dishes aren’t for anyone in particular, it’s community fare. It’s a little different, but no different than many family style restaurants where the food arrives and people serve themselves.

 

The big difference is how you eat the food. There’s no filling up of plates and settling in. You could do that, you do get an empty plate, but it’s not what you’re supposed to do. Instead of piling your plate high with food, you reach across with your chopsticks and grab a bite of whatever you think looks good. Every bite you take you’re reaching across the table trying to get something. When eight people are around a table and you have eight arms and eight pairs of chopsticks pecking at the food, it gets a bit fun and chaotic.

 

I think there are a couple of real advantages to this style of eating. First, it’s really social. There’s no way for you not to interact with the others around the table. It’s all too common in American restaurants to have a good conversation interrupted by the arrival of the food. All of the sudden everyone is more interested in what instead of who is in front of them. The social benefits get even more interesting. The way you address the food is so different. It’s ‘Try the chicken,’ not ‘Try my chicken.’ There seem to be fewer barriers when eating communal food instead of individual portions.

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The other great benefit is less metaphysical and more immediate. It can help you lose weight. Overeating is common because many people eat too fast. What happens is they put food into themselves so quickly their stomach doesn’t have time to register it’s already full. When you have to make a small effort and spend a few extra seconds in between every single bite, the time spent actually eating during a meal drops. Your stomach has more time to process the food and by the time your stomach feels full you’ve probably eaten less than you would have at an American restaurant.

 

Eating this way isn’t just when you go out to eat. I’ve visited a Chinese friend’s home for dinner a few times and it’s exactly the same with less food. I think it’s the best way to eat a meal with others. Except for burgers and sandwiches. Those would get difficult to share.

Our Hangout

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It’s a crummy shot but at the top you see the three characters? That’s BAR. Going down the front is BILLIARD.

I loved this place when I was in Peace Corps. Eight of us lived within a two hour walk of Martuni, the central town for all of us. This is where we’d always hang out while waiting for other people to show up. I’m positive we Americans were the only people who ever actually drank booze there, all the Armenians just drank coffee, smoked, and played pool. In two years I never saw anyone other than us with alcohol. Best beer in town, the only place to get it actually on tap. Way better than what you’d get at a restaurant; just a bottle poured into a glass.

Lots of great stories too. Vachik was this big bouncer dude who worked in his late 40s early 50s who just adored us. Called all the guys in our group his sons. He would always tell us about his time in the Soviet Army and him being a wild youth. It was my favorite way to practice my Armenian. A funny thing happened once. A German couchsurfer was staying with me so me and him went out for a couple of beers. Vachik was talking to me and I was translated for the German. He kept saying ‘Germanatsi, germanatsi’ when referring to the German guy. Well, ‘Germanatsi’ is German in Armenian but trying saying it out loud. After Vachik left the guy asked me, ‘Why did he keep calling me a Nazi? I felt very uncomfortable.’ I explained it to him and he laughed it off and ordered another round.

Once I was with some Armenian girls at this weekend camp training I was hosting. I had longish hair and it was near Halloween. I was on a Boondocks kick and decided to get my hair cornrowed and go as Gin Rummy. So the girls did it for me and after the training I went to hang out with Vachik a bit. Fast forward a week. My hair was coming undone and I wanted to do it again. I went to the stylist but couldn’t really explain what I wanted. I went and asked Vachik if he could help since he had seen what I had. Him an I leave the bar and we’re walking down the street and then I just hear him yell ‘Hey! This is my good friend here. He wants his hair done. This is how you’ll do it for him.’ Then I got it all done.

What a dude.

A Layover too Long in LAX

LAX kind of sucks for a layover. I’ve dealt with long layovers before but this seems to be worse. My first thought was ‘Wow this place is crowded.’ There are so many people around. But the biggest problem for layovers is how disconnected the terminals are. After disembarking in a domestic terminal you have to go outside and enter the international terminal through the regular departure area. More security screenings!

I’m not worried about getting through security (I’m actually waiting in the airport right now) since my layover is so long. But I can easily imagine how that might be a problem for some people, especially since I need to get a boarding pass from the China Southern desk, American wasn’t able to print them all out for me in DC. The problem is that China Southern only flies one flight a day from here at 10 PM. The counter opens at 6:20 PM. I still have two hours to wait before I can even get my boarding pass. Until them I’m stuck in a mall food court.

That’s the easiest way to explain the waiting area. There’s a handful of fast food places and scattered seating. McDonalds and Panda Express are the two big ones. I that doesn’t scream mall food I don’t know what does. There actually is a single sit down restaurant, but they want $15 for a hamburger. All the places are way overpriced. I was forced to get something from McDonalds since American Airlines doesn’t offer food service on their flights and because it was the cheapest by far but still way more than it was worth.

There is free wifi that’s decent aside from having to reconnect every hour or so.  But it doesn’t work well with mobile devices. For some reason i cant check my email on my phone. It blows my mind that a large and international airport like LAX can’t provide wifi that works with mobiles.

This, coupled with the American Airlines disappointment is creating a pretty poor trip so far.

American Airlines

Nickel and dining seems to be the new way for airlines to make money. I don’t know how widespread the practice is, flying from DC to my LA layover was my first ever domestic flight. Maybe all the national airlines do it.

First is the overhead compartments. The pilot mentioned repeatedly that it was a full flight so we were required to keep our winter jackets with us. Like airline seats aren’t cramped enough. Next time get planes that have bin space for every seat in the house.

The in flight entertainment was some move I really wasn’t interested in. That’s common enough. What also is common is have a guide of what movies are going to be shown. We were told there that information was available I in the sear backs, but my row didn’t have anything but safety cards and a few rough looking magazines. But that all wouldn’t bother me so much if AA didn’t want to charge for the headphones. I’ve never been on a flight where you need to pay for the headphones. At least they had the sense to try and spin it that passengers are given the option to use their own headphones. I had that option when you weren’t shaking folks down for a few bucks.

Even after the movie that I didn’t want to watch the entertainment didn’t get much better. The showed NBC shows like The Office, complete with commercials. I have to deal with commercials at home and now on a flight? Also why couldn’t they play 30 Rock? That’s the best show NBC has had in years.

They plane has wifi! That’s pretty awesome right? Well I thought the same until I saw how much it cost. What is this, the year 2000? If you offer wifi you offer free wifi. It should be against the law not to
Speaking of six hours, I figured that a 11 AM flight would offer something in the way of lunch. Seriously, it’s a six hour flight. I could have gotten a bite at the airport for a fraction of the cost of the food on the plane. That’s right, I said ‘the cost of the food on the plane.’ Everyone else I’ve flown on had included something to eat. LOT hooked us up with cookies for an hour hop. But not AA. If you want a tasteless looking sandwich and a bag of chips be ready to shell out $10. For that price I could have gotten a gargantuan burger and fries at Five Guys before leaving. And that would be enjoyable. Of course I’m no rich guy so I passed on lunch. But at least there was complimentary soda or juice. You know, the bare minimum of service.

I really wouldn’t mind this sort if stuff from Southwest or RyanAir. But AA is behaving like a budget airline without passing savings in to customers or even admitting they’re not top tier anymore.
I’m lucky because I bought my ticket through a website. My second leg from LA to China is on China Southern and they give two free checked bags. AA is forced to comply with that although with a sign at the gate boasting ‘First checked bag free!’ I feel like they wish they didn’t have too.

I know it’s hard for the airlines these days. Maybe this is the new normal. Between trimming back freebies, cutting flight attendants pay to when the planes are only actually flying, to overbooking flights, American carriers just aren’t that nice anymore.
If it wasn’t for the mileage rewards no one would willing fly these legacy carriers and now I see why.

The view was awesome though.

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