Category Archives: China

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.

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.

Visa in 30 Minutes or it’s Free

Well it’s not free but getting a Chinese visa has been one of the easiest things I’ve done recently. Actually getting to the office is another story.

The first thing to know is that the visa office is not in the Chinese Embassy proper. It’s in a small office complex near Georgetown in Washington DC. There are two problems with this. The first is that the building is completely unmarked in any way. 2201 Wisconsin Avenue is a gray building, no flags or signs or anything. If you didn’t write the address down you’re going to have trouble. The second issue is that the office is located in one of the few areas of the city not served by a metro stop. The two closes stops are each about two miles away, not too far but not close either.

One of the sights close to the visa office is the US Naval Observatory, the home of the national president. Using my amazing powers of planning and Google Maps I decided on taking the slightly more complicated walk from the Woodley Park/Zoo metro stop to the office since that would lead me right past the Observatory complex. Why not? Get my paperwork done and do a little sightseeing. My other option was to get off at the Tenleytown stop and follow Wisconsin straight to the office. The safe but boring option.

Making my way to the office from the Woodley Park stop was an exercise in futility to say the least. Google Maps makes it look like there’s a nice circular road that surrounds the Observatory. Right before that road is a small park with some foot trails to hike though. It didn’t help a whole lot that it rained the previous day, lots of mud and wet leaves to manage.

But I was getting close to the road. I had a map on my phone and was tracking my progress through the park. I finally got to where I would be able to reach the road….. and there was a big ole fence. Sometimes I don’t let things like fences stop me often going over or try to slip through. However the vice president’s abode is not one of those times. I can be daring, but I’m not dumb. I don’t want any Secret Service attention.

So I followed the fence and using my map I slowly worked my way out of the park and got on to a proper road. The Observatory complex actually forced me to go about a mile out of my way so I spent an extra thirty minutes trying to make it to my destination.

I finally got to the office at 9:35. The office opens at 9:30. I felt pretty good that I made it so early even after getting lost and battling some messy trails in my nice shoes. I walked into the office, got a ticket with my number, and noticed there were fifteen people ahead of me.

I settled in for a long wait. It is the government after all. They never can work quickly. I pulled out my Kindle and listened to numbers be called. They were actually going through all the numbers quite quickly. People who didn’t respond within thirty seconds of their number being called were just skipped, on to the next person. The visa officers were not there to waste time. Far sooner than I expected my number was called.

I made it a point to have all my paperwork organized before I left the house, the information about what is needed is easy to find on the embassy’s website. I passed over all my papers, the lady helped me fill in some parts of the application I wasn’t sure on and then I was done. Unfortunately they weren’t able to rush job the visa so I could get it the same day. I was required to return in two days to receive my passport and visa, so I made plans to come back into the city. I gathered my belongings and walked out the door. As I left I checked my watch. 10:05

Three Days Late. Two Hundred Dollars Short.

It hasn’t been the smoothest of weeks over here. I’ve been impatiently waiting for my invitation letter from China. That’s right I’m moving to China. Wuxi to be exact. In fact I should be there right now. But before I can leave I need to get my affairs in order.

I bought my ticket from Air China a little over a month ago once I was offered the position. The plan was to leave on January 26. That should be plenty of time do everything. My employer needed an FBI background I that he could bring to the Chinese authorities to prove I’m not criminal. I expressed mailed that during the holiday season. It wasn’t my fault, it just so happens that’s when I was offered the job and I sent it out as soon as possible.

It finally got there and my boss went through all the hoops, he’s an American who’s been there for over a decade and knows the game, and got my invitation letter. I’m officially welcome by the Chinese government! It may be a formality but it’s still kind of cool.

He express mails the paperwork back to me so I can go to the embassy, I still need a visa. He used EMS, which is the USPS overseas branch. The letter was dropped in the mail January 11, just over two weeks to get here. No one can screw that up right?

Wrong. Six days later it is returned to the office as undeliverable. What? After reconfirming my information and knowing it was EMS not him who screwed up, my boss sent it off again on January 18.

The days are passing. Him and I are in constant communication about the status of the parcel. I’m concerned. I need these papers to arrive so I can go to the embassy to get my visa. With this invitation letter it’s just a rubber stamp but the last day it can arrive and I make my flight is January 24. I can’t wait for the mail and get to the embassy in DC in the same day. It’s delivered pretty late where I am out in the boondocks.

Since it was express mail my boss was told it would take three to five days to arrive. Perfect. At the higher end it’ll still be here on the 23rd and I’ll have plenty of time for the visa.

Come January 21 I wrote telling my boss it hadn’t arrived. Since Wuxi is thirteen hours ahead he went down to the EMS office on the 22nd and raised hell. They guaranteed it would arrive on time for me. This let me relax.

On the 23rd, still no parcel. In fact when I used the USPS tracking system all it would say is that the parcel was processed in China, nothing else. Terribly frustrated I called the USPS customer service trying to find it. I’ve dealt with people who have attitudes before, but this woman took the cake. Holy hell she was rude. I could hear her rolling her eyes and basically not giving one concern about my plight. Forget the fact that the EMS branch of USPS is about to cost me hundreds of dollars, she made me feel like I was ruining her day. I guess working in a call center does that to you.

The 24th came, do or die. I crossed my fingers, maybe USPS botched the tracking info. They already screwed up with the mailing twice. I made the long walk to the mailbox. It was snowing and winding and miserably cold. The mailbox is about a quarter mile away from the house, and I felt every single step. I opened the mailbox, there were a bunch of different envelopes. Excited I grabbed the pile and started to flip through them.

And nothing for me. Just a bunch of junk mail My heart just bottomed out. I wasn’t going to China anytime soon.

The first thing I did when I got back was call the Chinese embassy in Washington. Maybe there was some way they could give me a temporary work visa (I didn’t want a tourist visa) and I could finish it up in China. That wasn’t happening. Even thought she wasn’t able to help me, the wonderful woman who works the visa office phones was so considerate listening to my problems. She seemed to take it as a personal failure that USPS is slower than molasses and the Chinese government has immigration rules that she can’t tweak to help someone.

Then I called Air China. If I can’t get a visa I’ll bite the bullet and pay the money for a changed ticket. Better than wasting all the money on a flight I won’t be on. I was on the phone with another lovely lady for an hour. Dead serious. She tried so hard to find me another flight to put me on. The problem was, and I don’t know if it’s Air China or all carriers, is that a change of ticket means I must fly on the same routes that I originally bought. Since I was flying DC to LA to Beijing to Wuxi, that was the only path I could take. Air China runs a bunch of DC to NYC to Beijing to Wuxi flights, but I couldn’t get on one of those. We finally found a flight that would work, but there was a seventeen hour layover in Beijing. Air China offered to put me up in a Beijing hotel for free so I wouldn’t be camping in the airport for more than a half day. Who am I, a rock star? This wasn’t their fault. They were nothing but professional and kind to me the entire time.

Unfortunately the hotel they could put me up in was not right next to the airport and I’d have to get there myself. And I would be landing the first day of Chinese New Year. And I would be carrying two bags plus a carry-on. And I have no friends who can help in Beijing. And I don’t speak Chinese at all. And I’d be super jet-lagged from. I can think of rougher entries into a country, but not too many. I felt bad because she worked so hard, but I had to turn down the offer. She didn’t seem to mind, in fact she told me that’s what she would do in my situation.

Somehow in dealing with Air China with their aim to please the customer and me being frustrated and confused, both of us missed the most obvious solution. Why don’t I just cancel the ticket and buy a new one? So if I end up flying DC to NYC, no worries. It was such a ‘duh’ head slapping moment when I finally thought of it. I mentioned it to her and I could hear on her the same ‘why didn’t I think of that yet’ tone that I found pretty funny. So I canceled the flight, and now I’m waiting for my refund.

After canceling the flight I looked for another one. I wanted to use Air China because of how great they were to me. But unfortunately for them I was able to find a different carrier that would get me there cheaper than the Air China flights I saw. So I booked with them. In the end the new flight was only $50 more than my original ticket and the cancellation fee was $150. Instead of leaving January 26, I leave February 10 which isn’t a ton of time to wait. I’ll be able to see a few friends who I haven’t seen yet due to lack of time. It’s not a total loss. And my boss said I’ll be reimbursed for the extra costs.

The moral of the story as I learned talking to USPS on multiple occasions is that when overseas, express mail only guarantees three to five day delivery AFTER clearing customs. They might not tell you that at the EMS office, but it’s the truth. So make sure you give them at least an extra week for any time sensitive materials. Or just use FedEx or UPS.