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PTR:David's EPIC Asia trip! TPR China +Japan, Korea, Taiwan!


David H
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Wow. A really amazing "digest version" of the tour David. Really first rate!

 

I loved it. And that is MY ARM in the back of that Tagada!

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This is it - and there I am in back, hanging on for dear life, LOL

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Thanks, Bill

 

If you're referring to the hand in the very back in that picture higher than the rest, then that's actually me, in my white Fujin/Raijin (the painting, not the coaster pair) shirt from the museum in Tokyo I went to many updates back. You were wearing a gray t-shirt on that day, which I can see in other pictures in this series. You were originally sitting right next to me, but none of us ended up seated in place for long! I think that might be you between me and Chuck.

 

Still, the best picture I have of you is the one I posted here with you and the Chinese girls who wanted the picture of you -- with the hat I insisted you wear, of course! That picture is so very you.

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Kyle, I'd actually meant to ask guest relations about Eagle's Fortress, but forgot in the efforts to get tickets for the mazes. At the park, they don't even acknowledge that it's there, which unfortunately might be our answer. I wasn't sure where it had been, but I didn't see it from any of the open areas I went through. I could see part of it from the lift hill of Rolling X-Train, so at least some of it is still there.

 

Bill, I was so glad I found that hat in the store for you to wear for the picture! Afterwards, I wished that I'd bought it for you!

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Bill, I was so glad I found that hat in the store for you to wear for the picture! Afterwards, I wished that I'd bought it for you!

 

Oh, there will always be another time, another tour, and another hat, David.

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Day 14: Beijing sightseeing, Forbidden City

 

When we last left off, I was about to leave Seoul, after staying up all night at the bars and clubs of Itaewon in Seoul. It probably wasn’t the best idea to start a three week coaster tour on no sleep, but that’s what happened. To save time, I took a taxi to the main Seoul train station, and then the fast and efficient train to Gimpo airport. Most people traveling internationally will take Incheon Airport, but since there are many flights to Beijing’s airport from both Seoul airports, I opted for using Gimpo, since it is significantly closer to downtown Seoul. Everything went smoothly at the train station and airport, and I was soon seated on my flight. Unfortunatly, I was seated next to this very odd old Chinese man, who would regularly randomly start giggling excessively for no particular reason. It would have been amusing, but this wasn’t looking good for my chances of getting at least SOME sleep before China. Luckily, since there were plenty of empty seats, once it was close to takeoff time, the flight attendants let me move to an empty row, allowing me to get an hour or so of much-needed sleep. Also, even on short flights, Asian airlines give meals, unlike their US counterparts.

 

I arrived at Beijing’s airport and quickly got through customs. The first thing I noticed was the smog. It was so bad that I could TASTE it in the air! And that’s indoors at the airport from the minute I got off the plane! As I left the secure area, someone was waiting for me with my name on a sign! That’s the first time I’ve ever had that, so it was kind of an exciting start to the high-class TPR tour! We had to wait for James’ flight to arrive, and then we were off to the hotel. But when we arrived at the hotel, I realized that it wasn’t the hotel we were supposed to be at, which got me very nervous! Here I am in a strange country where not that many people speak English, and we could be at the wrong hotel. We got to the desk and it was the right place, so apparently, the travel agency had changed the hotels without telling anyone. Robb and Elissa would later tell us that even THEY hadn’t been told. The problem was that several of us had rented mifi (portable wifi) devices and/or sim cards so that we could use wifi on our phones for maps, translating, Facebook, etc. that were shipped to what we thought was our hotel. Not only might we not have those, but if they’d gotten lost, we’d be responsible for the cost of them! And I’d feel really bad, because I’d suggested this idea to the others in the group. It wouldn’t be surprising for a hotel that gets a lot of American tourists to not accept a package for people that weren’t staying at that hotel – especially in this post-9/11 world. I went to the room to drop off my bags (my roommate Bill had already spent one night there) and see if the package was there. Nope. I checked with the concierge and they didn’t have the package. He called the other hotel, who said that they didn’t have it either. Now, I was getting nervous. It took a whole bunch of calls before it turned out that the hotel DID have my package – and ones for two others in our group. I agreed to pay for a taxi, if they’d send the packages over to us.

 

Meanwhile, two of the other people on the trip were waiting for me, which I felt bad about. Most of the rest of the group had gone off on a day of credit whoring, in an official TPR pre-tour day, but since we were arriving the next day, after they were leaving, we opted out. Plus, we wanted to do some sightseeing. We’d agreed to meet in the lobby and go to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Elissa had said we would be going there, but we probably wouldn’t be going inside the Forbidden City itself. And as much as I like credit whoring, there would be PLENTY of that on the trip, but I really wanted to see the Forbidden City while I was in China. Apparently, we missed a Chinese knockoff SLC, a spinning mouse, and a few kiddie coasters. Oh well. Soon James, Bjorn and I hopped into a taxi and headed to the Forbidden City. We were pretty sure that the taxi driver really ripped us off, but I guess that’s part of the China experience!

 

We walked around Tiananmen Sq. for a while snapping pictures. We didn’t have time to take in the museums and halls surrounding the square, which was a shame. It would have been nice to at least have seen the National Museum of China. But The Forbidden City was our priority. Of course, if we’d known that we would actually end up going inside the Forbidden City the next day after all, we’d probably have checked out the museum. But we didn’t. Se we took tons of pictures of everything, including two MASSIVE TV screens, then headed across the street to the Forbidden City aka the Imperial Palace and the Palace Museum.

 

There seemed to be large crowds at the main entrance, but a friendly man offered to show us a faster way in through a side entrance. As we suspected, he had another agenda, which involved us seeing a small art gallery he ran at the side entrance. He wrote our names out in Chinese, hoping we’d buy nice frames for it – or at least something else. Not only didn’t we want to lug anything around all day. But I had to watch out what I bought, since I’d be carrying it for 5 more weeks, and airlines have strict weight restrictions. But he did let us keep our names in Chinese. And, as promised, there were no lines at this side entrance. However, we’d quickly discover that there was no easy way over to the main part of the Forbidden City, and we had to walk through a large area with not much to see before we could get over there. So it’s debatable if we actually saved any time. But there were also some nice museum sections over there that we walked through. Eventually, we found our way towards the front of the main area and randomly ran into Scottish Steve and Karl, who we’d continue the tour with.

 

Elissa had described Forbidden City to us as something to the effect of “You walk by this big, pretty temple or palace, and you go up and down a ton of steps, then you go to the next temple or palace that looks exactly like the last one and you keep doing that over and over until you want to kill yourself.” On some level, she’s right. The best part, though, is that each of those temples has increasingly grandiose names that sound very similar and that probably have nothing to do with the actual purpose of those temples. There was the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the Hall for Worship of Ancestors, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (you can never have enough supreme harmony!), the Hall of Preserved Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony (they sure love their harmony!), the Hall of Union and Peace, the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, the Gate of Heavenly Purity, and my favorite: the Hill of Accumulated Elegance -- a large pile of rocks (but very ELEGANT rocks!) And tons more. Let’s not forget the large stone carving called – you guessed it -- Large Stone Carving! It was still fascinating to see such history, and there’s actually a lot more to see there than that, as you’ll see in the pictures. But a lot of those temples do look almost exactly alike, and it takes forever to walk through the whole area! It’s nearly a kilometer long by ¾ of a kilometer wide. (Or nearly a half mile in each direction.)

 

We took our time wandering around and seeing as much as we could, taking tons of pictures. The architecture and detail was amazing, if somewhat repetitive. There were some nice displays in a lot of the temples and on-site museums. The rock garden (including the Hill of Accumulated Elegance) was particularly impressive. At one point, we saw a building with a blue dome on top that looked like a giant blue penis. For some reason, we spent a long time trying to get through the maze of buildings to get to that giant blue penis, with no luck. Apparently giant penises are very hard to come by in China.

 

Eventually, we’d had our fill of Supreme Harmony, and headed back to the hotel by subway. The subway system was very modern and easy to find our way around. And a hell of a lot cheaper than our overpriced ripoff taxi ride!

 

When I got back to the hotel, the concierge told me that the packages with the mifi devices had arrived! And it turned out that the sim card inside it did work in my phone, so I didn’t need the device, but it was good to have it, just in case. One nice thing about the plan we got is that for $5 extra, we got a VPN service, which allowed us access to sites like Facebook and Twitter and Youtube, which are blocked in China by the government. After freshening up in our rooms, and finally meeting my roommate Bill, it was time to meet up with everyone from TPR for dinner.

 

We took a bus to a restaurant for the first official meal of the trip. Most of the meals would consist of us going to big restaurants that were mostly for tourist groups like us. We’d sit at three or so big tables with spinning lazy susan turntables in the middle, and they’d continually put out all sorts of different food for us. I’m a fairly picky eater and honestly not very experimental. But I always managed to find some things that I liked. Of course, I imagine that a lot of what we ate was specifically made for a western crowd and probably locals never ate half of the things we did! There were plenty of decent dishes of chicken, beef or pork (and sometimes fish) with various sauces on them – and those dishes disappeared most quickly. There was lots of more Chinese things too, which some people were eager to try, while others just watched! Occasionally, they’d bring us a refill plate, but not often. We also got a drink with some of the meals (besides tea), but the Chinese use TINY cups. Think maybe slightly bigger than the cups you use in the bathroom to rinse with!

 

After dinner, a bunch of us headed out to find some snacks and/or water and juice and/or booze. Remember, you don’t want to drink tap water in China, unless you enjoy spending excessive amounts of time in the bathroom, which wouldn’t exactly be convenient on a roller coaster trip! Luckily, all of our hotels had at least two bottles of complimentary water, although there were also bottles you had to pay for, so you had to be careful which ones you used. But water and other drinks were quite cheap in China, usually under a dollar a bottle, even at amusement parks. So, it was easy to safely remain hydrated. But most of us were after liquor anyways. Most people bought beer, but since I HATE the taste of beer, I opted for a clear liquor that I’d hoped was vodka. Nope! It was some local liquor (I think it was ergoutou), which was strong as hell and had a REALLY odd taste. We headed back to someone’s room and relaxed and hung out for a while. Most people reconnected, but I didn’t know anyone, so it was good to get to know some people. Some people had bought some bizarre foods at the store, too, and we all watched while people ate things like dried duck’s feet. I managed to drink some of the awful liquor mixed with orange juice, but it wasn’t easy! Eventually, it was time for bed. Probably a good idea, since I was going on an hour’s sleep!

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Bye, Seoul! I'll be back some day!

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Arriving in Beijing, I ran into a caravan of flight attendants!

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How bad can China be when one of the first things you see upon arriving is a KFC? We would see many of them on the trip, and eat at several.

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On one hand, it was pretty exciting to have someone waiting at the airport for me with a sign with my name on it, for the first time in my life.

On the other hand, would you get in a car in a strange country with this man?

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Some culture at the airport while waiting for James.

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Some ancient wall we drove by.

(Now watch; someone will post that it's 10 years old.)

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Tiananmen Square isn't all that impressive to look at itself, unless it's crowded with people (or tanks running over dissident students.) And it can and has apparently held hundreds of thousands of people.

By the way, that's not an overcast sky. That's smog.

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Behind us is the Monument to the People's Heroes in the Square itself, with the Great Hall of the People across the street.

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The National Museum of China, which we didn't have time to visit.

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How's that for a GIANT TV screen?

There were two of them, side by side.

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Supposedly, my name in Chinese.

Or maybe it says, "cheap American who didn't buy anything from me."

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After not buying anything from the art gallery director, we made our way inside the side entrance of the Forbidden City.

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We stumbled upon a nice rock garden.

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OK, we're definitely lost now.

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Still lost.

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Dragons make everything better!

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This looks more interesting.

James and Bjorn look so small up there!

They are getting ready for a photo shoot of what looked like a wedding over on the left, though it's hard to tell in this small picture. But he's in a tux, and she's in a long white gown.

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Emperor Bjorn is ready to address the masses!

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Inside one of the museums on the property.

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So, funny story and in-joke. With the Chinese economy so much stronger these days, a lot of Chinese students and tourists come to Boston. I used to work in a seafood restaurant which a lot of them visited. But the service in their restaurants is very different from ours, and they don't seem to understand the differences or even to TRY to understand them -- not even students who've been here for 2-4 years! They just constantly URGENTLY wave at just about everyone who walks by whenever they want anything, which can be REALLY frustrating when you're not even their server, and they try to hand you a plate while your arms are completely full. Especially when new managers are wondering why you're not paying them enough attention!

I promised my coworkers that one of the first things I'd do when I got to China would be to just start waving! But I forgot it until now. So, here I am, in the middle of a national treasure, waving for a drink of water!

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Would I look good in these?

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We made or way back to the front of the Forbidden City and ran into a familiar Scotsman!

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Forbidden City, baby!

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Obligatory group shot!

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Dragon!

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Even the ceilings are intricately decorated..

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The Hall of Supreme Harmony.

Don't you feel harmonious just looking at it?

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There are 308 copper and iron vats scattered around the forbidden city. They were used for fighting fires in ancient times.

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A room fit for an emperor.

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DRAGON!

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One of the emperor's several gardens in the Forbidden City.

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Don't these rocks just SCREAM "elegance" to you?

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See, I told you!

Honestly, it's pretty cool.

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Well, THAT was random.

Hauling dirt in the Forbidden City.

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OK, maybe it doesn't look THAT much like a big, blue penis, but it kept us entertained while we were lost, and that's all that mattered! We never did get any closer than this to it, despite trying!

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I could be totally wrong on this, but I think this was on the way to the subway station. I have no idea what it is, but it looked old, so I took a picture! ;-)

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There is construction EVERYWHERE in China, as people move from the countryside into the bigger cities.

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That's our hotel behind this old wall.

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The first of many, many lazy susan turntables full of food!

If you're a watermelon fan, this would have been heaven, because almost every meal ended with it!

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Daring James eating something that most westerners wouldn't consider trying!

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^ I don't honestly remember, which is why I was being vague! Dried duck feet, maybe? It was something he bought at the variety/liquor store that was dried and packaged. You'll have to ask James.

Edited by David H
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TPR Best of China Tour – Some General Impressions and Discussion

 

This is going to be a different kind of update, another sort of overview. Since I like to tell the story of the trip and the days of the trip, rather than just list the rides and show pictures, I thought I’d take a little time to talk about the Theme Park Review Best of China tour overall. My thoughts on the trip, how it was organized, and all sorts of general observations that might not fit in the days’ reports, or more likely would apply to many or most of the days of the trip. I’ll also talk a bit about China overall. This will be a lot longer than most of my (already long) posts, but it’s discussion that pertains to all three weeks of the trip. So, I figured I’d get it out of the way here, keeping it out of the individual daily updates. Also, there won’t be any pictures in this update, so if you’re looking for those, sorry! There will be plenty of pictures over the next three weeks worth of updates!

 

(However, I did just post an update with pictures yesterday, so if you haven't seen that yet, scroll up!)

 

Since I’ve been on a bunch of organized coaster trips with both the American Coaster Enthusiasts and the European Coaster Club, now that I’ve been on a tour with Theme Park Review, a bunch of people have asked me how they compare with trips from the other groups. So, I thought I’d use this opportunity to talk a bit about the overall experience of the trip with TPR, and compare and contrast them with the other trips I’ve been on.

 

One thing I should say up front is that if you’re ever going to go on ANY type of group tour, you have to understand that it’s not going to be YOUR absolutely ideal perfect trip. There are lots of other people whose needs need to be met too, and it must be very tough trying to keep everyone as happy as is reasonably possible. Hell, even when you plan a trip yourself, you have to make lots of compromises, as I certainly did on the rest of the trip I planned myself. Pesky things like park hours, distance, train and plane schedules, weather and much more get in the way, unless you’re exceedingly rich and can take months for each trip. That’s just reality, which can get in the way of what you want to do! But in a group, you also have to deal with different people’s needs. For instance, personally, I’m a night owl, who would much rather sleep late, and would love nighttime ERT at every park. Unfortunately, I’m in the minority in that department, which is something I’ve come to accept. Especially overseas, where parks are rarely open late. As long as you go into one of these trips understanding up front that not everything will be exactly as you want it, but it will still be a ton of fun, you’ll do fine.

 

I’ve been on overseas tours with three groups now, and let’s be honest: all of them are a bunch of coaster and theme park geeks traveling around to theme parks and riding coasters. But there are some differences, too. Let’s get it out of the way up front and say that a TPR trip costs more. But there’s a good reason for that. Robb and Elissa have made TPR their full time jobs. And the trips help pay the bills. But that also means that they have much more time to get all of the little details right. Anyone has tried to plan a long coaster trip on their own can tell you how much work it is, especially if you want to get it all right. And let’s be honest: no one is better at planning and organizing complicated trips than Elissa. Not even me! Also, having her working on the trips more or less full time means that everything is planned well in advance. We had all the info we needed to get our Chinese visas very early, along with our hotel info and a whole lot more. That often has not been the case on some trips I’ve been on, though that’s starting to change. But I know some people who are going to China this summer with another group who are feeling frustrated right about now. And I knew that with Elissa’s planning, I wouldn’t have to worry about that. For a trip to China, I know that having Elissa and Robb’s expertise would be crucial, and worth the money.

 

The thing that really struck me about this trip is that this is Robb and Elissa’s job, and I mean that in a good way. That meant that they were there to make the trip go smoothly, not just to enjoy their days riding. If they didn’t need the credit or Robb didn’t need video of that ride, they’d often skip some rides. Elissa was organizing as much as possible, sometimes on the fly. Robb was constantly online, either trying to secure us filming time at the parks, or posting updates to TPR and Youtube. At most of the smaller parks, Robb and/or Elissa would walk us from coaster to coaster, making sure that everyone got a ticket and got to ride. You almost didn’t have to take any pictures, because you knew that Robb would have tons of video and pictures of everything. In fact, I took fewer pictures in China than I did everywhere else because of that fact, though I still took a ton. But if you don’t see amazing shots of every coaster from me, that’s why.

 

Robb’s filming, along with his extensive contacts in the industry, turned out to be essential to the trip. ERT is a foreign concept in China. Parks weren’t going to give us any. But Robb got his contacts at the park manufacturers to try to get the parks to let him film on all the major coasters at the major parks. And when he filmed, he needed extras to ride. Which was us! That meant that effectively, we got ERT. The down side was that he sometimes had to choose who would fit what the manufacturers wanted in the seats he was filming the most (usually the front car), but if you were patient, you could usually get a ride there. Personally, I rarely ride in the middle of trains and would rather wait for the front or back. But since we were actually filming for TPR and the ride manufacturers, I’d fill in the train on this trip. I still got FAR more rides than I ever would have otherwise. And I probably got more front and back seat rides than I would have otherwise, too, so the middle seat rides were a bonus.

 

I can’t stress enough how important these filming sessions were at the Chinese parks. Many of these parks were very busy. And most of them were horribly inefficient at pushing people through quickly. When the trip started, Robb warned us that he’d only had one confirmation of ride time, with a few others possible. But everything fell into place during the trip, and he managed to get us filming time on almost every major coaster – even those at Hong Kong Disneyland, which was especially impressive! Getting on most of the major coasters during filming time (usually, but not always before the parks opened), really allowed us to relax and enjoy the parks a lot more, without the pressure of rushing as much. Now that Robb has introduced the Chinese parks to the concept of filming sessions and exclusive riding time, I’ll be curious to see what other clubs can come up with on their trips to China.

 

I should point out that this wasn’t actually a typical TPR trip from what I’ve seen and been told, for a whole lot of reasons, most of which were actually beyond Robb and Elissa’s control. They used a travel agency, which are apparently all run by the Chinese government. That meant that there were certain things that that tour guides had to do and places they had to take us. They would have gotten in trouble if they didn’t. They had to take us on factory tours that most of us (including Robb and Elissa) had no interest in (although I actually find most of them fairly interesting for a while.) And they also had to try to sell us lots of additional things – whether that was keeping us in the factory showroom for quite a while after the tour in the hopes that we’d spend lots of money, or trying to push us into additional shows or boat cruises, or even selling us their own merchandise, which was made by a friend they conveniently had – who would, of course, give us a special deal (only for us, of course!) Most of our group wasn’t interested in buying much of anything extra, which I’m sure frustrated the tour guides. In fact, the massages that on the first days the guide was trying to sell us which started out as “not that kind of massage” suddenly became a “sexy massage” a couple of days later when no one had opted for one! I probably bought more than most other people (but not a massage!) Four of us went to a Chinese acrobat show, which was full of large tour groups. I could just picture the other tour guides making fun of ours for only getting four of us to go!

 

At the same time, I realize how essential it was to have tour guides on this trip, with the language barrier being a lot tougher in China than I’ve seen on any other trip. Then again, there were a lot of times where the tour guides had no idea what they were doing, when Robb and Elissa did. But the translating helped with everything from buying tickets to finding rides. But there were also a few times when we were pretty sure that the tour guides were deliberately misleading Robb and Elissa and trying to rip them off. There were many times on the trip that I could see the frustration in Robb and Elissa’s eyes from the tour guides!

 

The one place where all of this benefited me personally was that there was a lot more general sightseeing that I’ve ever seen on any group coaster trip. Honestly, one thing I’ve learned about my own tastes is that if I’m traveling – particularly overseas – I want to see more than just amusement parks and coasters. I usually deal with that by adding time on at the beginning and end of official group tours. Luckily, there was a lot more culture than I expected on this trip. Combining that with the fact that most parks close early, and our days usually ended right after dinner, this gave me enough sightseeing opportunities to satisfy me. The one exception, I’ll admit was at the Great Wall, where we only got 30 minutes to explore, after we got up to the wall. Yes, I know we had a very busy day planned, but come on, it’s the GREAT WALL OF CHINA. But other than that, I think the trip struck a good balance.

 

There’s really only one major thing I would have done differently if I were planning this trip. And this isn’t controversial to say, since both Robb and Elissa agree with me. I definitely could have used at least 3-5 fewer days of credit whoring. There are literally hundreds of small, crappy parks in China with not much to offer, other than a crappy coaster to put on our list. And while I realize that we skipped many, many of them, it sometimes didn’t feel that way. Yes a little whoring is always a good thing. And in the US I do it often. But overseas, I’d rather focus on the actually good and notable coasters and parks, as well as some sightseeing. But after a while, it all became a blur of crappy coasters that I didn’t even care about any more. Yet, I understand why they did it. After all, the larger, more notable parks are pretty spread out all over the country. And if we hadn’t done some whoring, we’d have done a lot of nonstop traveling (probably flying), without much of a break in each city, which can be overwhelming. But Robb and Elissa have told me that when TPR does China again, they’re cutting out much of the credit whoring – which I heartily approve of! That said, most of the people on the trip seemed very interested in getting every credit possible, so they were giving us what most of us wanted. Whores!

 

Which actually brings up an interesting point. I know how meticulously Elissa plans trips. It must have killed her to not be able to have a set schedule for a whole lot of reasons, including the tour guides, the possibility of traffic delays and not knowing if the parks would be able to give us any exclusive time to ride. But I was really surprised at how democratic things were. On every other trip I’ve been on with other groups, the schedule was the schedule, and there were no alterations, unless they came from the organizers out of necessity, even if everyone in the group wanted to leave a park early. The entire group I was with even got scolded once in Japan for trying to organize to leave a park early. On most days at larger parks, we’d have a meeting time, and we’d vote on whether to stay or head out, usually to credit whore. Most people were ready to go on most days, but there were some exceptions. You weren’t going to drag TPR away from an Intamin Mega-Lite with hardly any wait, after all! I didn’t always vote with the crowd, but I respected the fact that we were doing what most people wanted. I actually almost stayed at Happy Valley Wuhan for extra rides on the one Dauling Dragon (and would have, if both had been open!) And I was surprised that Robb told me that he’d completely respect if I had done so, and didn’t mind at all if I left the group, as long as I knew I was responsible to get back to the hotel on my own. In fact, he said that he’d actually respect me more if I chose a Gravity Group woodie over credit whoring! And I almost did, but decided not to for various reasons.

 

There were a lot of really nice parks on the trip, from the huge to the small. While there were a lot of truly crappy coasters, particularly Chinese knockoff clones, there were also a bunch of truly world class coasters in China, too, particularly ALL of the woodies. I was surprised to find so many dark rides and haunted walkthroughs in China, from the modern and high-tech to the truly ghetto, at parks of all sizes. There were some flat rides we’d never ridden before (at least not in America), some of which were crazy! If you go on a water ride in China, expect to get SOAKED. Not just from the ride itself, but from the upcharge soakers, some of which were effectively fire hoses! While many of the parks were really cheap and dilapidated, a lot of the newer ones were really nice with some incredible theming. On the other hand, the operations at a lot of the parks were truly awful. Sometimes rides would open later or not at all for seemingly no reason. At Happy Valley Beijing, they opened their SLC for us for our filming, then closed it for the rest of the day. And that was with one of their other major coasters broken. Really? If I’d been a local paying admission, I’d have been pissed. Even worse, if I’d been a tourist without a filming session, I’d have been really pissed! On the plus side, food and drinks at the parks were really cheap – if not always that good. But you could get a drink at most parks for the equivalent of a dollar or two.

 

Some general points about China:

 

-- Yes, the smog is THAT bad. Seriously. I TASTED it as soon as I got off the plane. When it rained, it cleared up and got somewhat better. But there were whole days with no clouds in the sky where we couldn’t see the sun. And it makes for crappy pictures, too. So, make sure that you have a camera that takes good low light pictures if you’re going there!

 

-- Yes, many of the Chinese people are as rude as you’ve heard. Or more accurately, impatient. There would be 5 of us waiting to buy a drink at a park, and someone would just walk up and push past us and demand one. And they would sell it to them. And I don’t think it was because we were foreigners. That’s just how they are. The traffic situation was CRAZY. Cars and bikes would just push their way through, with no regard to safety. At several points, our bus came literally within an inch of other cars. We had to be super careful when getting off busses, because other cars or bikes would NOT stop and would happily run you over. Interestingly, our last tour guide tried to warn us about the lack of social graces, and apologized for it, which was kind of funny, since we’d already been there for 2 weeks! She explained that most of the people have moved from much smaller areas throughout the country into the cities, and don’t really have any experience with the social graces that most of us who live with lots of other people have. At the same time, there were lots of people who were very kind and tried to help us.

 

-- If you’re non-Asian or getting off a bus in any city (particularly Shanghai), expect to be practically ACCOSTED by people trying to sell you something. There were many times when we’d get off of our bus, to find 5-10 people blocking our way, trying to sell us something. And they’ll follow you for blocks down the street if you pay them even the slightest attention!

 

-- Very few people speak English in CHina, particularly the further you get from Beijing and Shanghai. However, this is changing, with many of the students learning English in school now. And if you want to use Google translate or maps, you might need a VPN service, so be warned! That said, we’re visiting THEIR country, and outside of people in touristy cities with touristy jobs, there really isn’t any need for them to understand our language. But thanks to having tour guides, we mostly did fine.

 

-- Food wasn’t as much of an issue as you might think, even if you’re a picky eater, like I am. For our trip, we had breakfast included almost every day. Every hotel we stayed at had at least one restaurant with pretty western breakfast options. Most of our other meals were at touristy restaurants with spinning lazy susans on the tables, where they put large plates with all different kinds of food. But every place we ate had at least a few dishes that were chicken or pork or beef in some kind of fairly tasty sauce. There were also some local dishes for the more experimental in the group. For those who weren’t satisfied, there are Pizza Huts and KFC’s and McDonalds almost everywhere, at least in large cities, which was almost always where we were staying.

 

-- All of our hotels were quite nice, and very upscale. I usually prefer to stay in cheaper hotels to save money, to be honest, but in China, it made sense to stay in nicer hotels. Elissa warned us not to drink the tap water, or even to brush our teeth with it, but all of our hotels included at least two complimentary bottles of water. Plus, I’d bought a Steripen to decontaminate the tap water, but I rarely ended up using it. There were also convenience stores near almost every hotel. Also, most of the hotels were right downtown, which made it possible to do some sightseeing at night.

 

-- You can and should haggle for almost anything in China. Most of the stores, especially at parks had set prices. But anything near any tourist trap could be haggled for. They deliberately raise the prices for tourists, figuring that we'll pay them. And haggle aggressively. One good example: in Shanghai, everyone was selling laser pointers. In stores, on the streets, etc. One of us wanted one at a booth outside on oft he tourist spots we visited. The asking price was 120 yuan. He offered 100. They agreed on 110. That night, after a boat cruise, we were accosted by street sellers, who were selling them. They were asking around 100 yuan for them. Larry got one for 20 yuan, after being stubborn and talkng the guy down! The trick was to seem not all that interested. A couple of nights later, I lad some woman who was trying to sell one to me and a couple of other guys calling me stupid and liar when I claimed that a friend had gotten one for 20 yuan. I pointed out that insulting a potential customer isn't a very good sales technique!

 

-- What the hell was up with all of the guys with their shirts pulled halfway up, exposing their bellies? And I'm not talking guys with six-packs either!

 

Overall, it was a really great trip. I honestly went to China kind of expecting to go once and never need to go back. And I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. I’ll definitely go back at some point, though it may be a decade or so before I do.

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I spent many hours getting caught up and can't wait to read the next parts. I'm especially looking forward to Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as those are places I have been to myself (hoping to add Japan to that list next year and now you've got me curious about Korea). I definitely agree with you about China. I had a good time there and I would love to see more of the country since it seems like it has a lot to offer, but I got tired of dealing with the constant rudeness and having to haggle for everything. I get it is how they do it there and it is a population not that many generations removed from the Cultural Revolution, but it is a huge culture shock. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Taiwan as I've spent a lot of time there and found it more laid back and friendly than China (parents are from there so I'm a bit biased).

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Thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is actually reading my "walls of text".

 

Shanghai and Hong Kong (plus Macau) were among my favorite cities on the trip! It also helped that I was able to get out into both cities and see a lot more of them.

 

It's hard for me to form a fair view of Taiwan. It was the sixth week of the trip and I was in serious trip burnout mode. And after three weeks of early mornings and strict deadlines with TPR in China, I was exhausted and slept later than I should have almost every day -- and still didn't completely catch up on sleep. My patience was almost completely gone by that point, which made everything more frustrating than it needed to be. What made it worse was that I spent most of my time outside of Taipei, and hardly anyone spoke ANY English anywhere. I had counted on Google Maps for sightseeing, but it wasn't very helpful, because almost none of the sights I was looking for were listed as points of interest in English. I'd search for X Temple, and 6 options would show up all over the city, all in Chinese! I also tried to cram way too much to my time there, which added to my frustration, as I was rushing around like a madman, and everyone else was, as you mentioned, very laid back. Ultimately, my overriding memory of Taiwan was frustration. But again, most of that was my own fault. But I still managed to have fun and loved the night markets. And the parks were really well themed and almost completely deserted during the week in October, which allowed me more time for sightseeing. More on Taiwan when I get there in the PTR's.

 

The next update is almost done....

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There’s really only one major thing I would have done differently if I were planning this trip. And this isn’t controversial to say, since both Robb and Elissa agree with me. I definitely could have used at least 3-5 fewer days of credit whoring. There are literally hundreds of small, crappy parks in China with not much to offer, other than a crappy coaster to put on our list. And while I realize that we skipped many, many of them, it sometimes didn’t feel that way. Yes a little whoring is always a good thing. And in the US I do it often. But overseas, I’d rather focus on the actually good and notable coasters and parks.

We initially pitched this trip as the "best of China" and originally hadn't planned on hitting a lot of those little parks. But we always like to get input from our tour members, as the trips are more for them than us, and it became apparent that the credit whore stops were important.

 

What's funny is that we actually did hit far LESS on this trip than we did on our 2008 or 2009 trips, yet it still felt like we hit a ton of crappy little kiddie coasters!

 

The reality is this - as much as most people would say they "don't care" about those small little parks and coasters, when you tell them "There's a Wacky Worm 10 minutes away, who wants to hit it?" The majority of the group puts their hands up!

 

And then the other reality is also that if we didn't tell people about that Wacky Worm 10 minutes away, I guarantee you we'd have more than one person come up to us and complain "Robb! Elissa! Did you know there was a Wacky Worm 10 minutes away from where we were? Why didn't we stop!??!?!"

 

*sigh*

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More awesome, fascinating updates! Thanks so much again! The Forbidden City looks spectacular; it's been on my bucket list forever. And after reading through this latest bit, I'm convinced the ONLY way I'll ever visit parks in China is with TPR. (I did have a good laugh reading some of your insights. I only spent a week in China, but I remember the traffic; holy damn, that was terrifying. I learned to just not pay an attention at all and pray for a quick, painless death, if it came to that.)

 

And I did not know there was a Chinese coaster enthusiast group; that rocks!

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We initially pitched this trip as the "best of China" and originally hadn't planned on hitting a lot of those little parks. But we always like to get input from our tour members, as the trips are more for them than us, and it became apparent that the credit whore stops were important.

 

What's funny is that we actually did hit far LESS on this trip than we did on our 2008 or 2009 trips, yet it still felt like we hit a ton of crappy little kiddie coasters!

 

The reality is this - as much as most people would say they "don't care" about those small little parks and coasters, when you tell them "There's a Wacky Worm 10 minutes away, who wants to hit it?" The majority of the group puts their hands up!

 

And then the other reality is also that if we didn't tell people about that Wacky Worm 10 minutes away, I guarantee you we'd have more than one person come up to us and complain "Robb! Elissa! Did you know there was a Wacky Worm 10 minutes away from where we were? Why didn't we stop!??!?!"

 

*sigh*

 

Oh, I totally understand. Like I said at the very beginning of that overview, going on any group trip means understanding that it's everyone's trip, not just yours. I knew I was on a trip full of whores! And honestly, if this had been 5-10 years ago, I totally would have been all in for the whoring.

 

Like I said, I was impressed at how often you guys gave everyone a say in what we were doing. And if the group wanted to be whores, then so be it.

 

Some day you guys should do a 2 month total credit whore trip to China. Just non-stop whoring. I bet you cold fill a bus with people who'd want to massively increase their counts all at once!

 

 

As to the Chinese coaster club, yep, we met with members of their group on several stops along the trip. The club is called Roller Coaster Dream of China.

 

Speaking of which, I was originally thinking of this facetiously, but now I'm wondering if it's not actually feasible. Next time instead of dealing with a tour agency run by the government, would it be possible to just rent busses and have someone like Candice (RCD's president) be the tour guide? She'd have been infinitely more helpful than any of the guides we had, since she knows better what we want. And she'd have a lot more fun, too.

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Day 15: TPR China begins! Beijing Sightseeing. Great Wall, Forbidden City, factory tours

 

Nothing I write here is going to matter, because this is going to be remembered as the update with the picture of Robb with a skirt! So, skip ahead to that picture now, and meet me back here.

 

Back? Good.

 

After just a meal the night before, the Theme Park Review Best of China tour was ready to really begin, with a day of sightseeing, and a surprise maybe credit, depending on how much of a credit whore you are. First we had a breakfast buffet, which had a surprising amount of western foods. Of course, I didn’t really get to appreciate it, since I’m not much of a morning person, and usually show up at breakfast 10 minutes before we have to leave! I value sleep more than breakfast. Usually on these trips, I have my roommate shower first, then wake me when he’s ready to leave for breakfast. Luckily, I can get ready pretty quickly. Then I head down for breakfast, rushing in, as the restaurant people try to slowly seat me. I just rush past them, give them my meal coupon and tell them I’m meeting friends inside, to save time. I grab a few quick things, slug down some juice, and throw a pile of bacon and/or sausages in a napkin to take with me. Yeah, it’s tacky, but with what we were paying for those hotels, I didn’t feel bad! They still saved a ton compared to what they’d have paid if I’d sat down for a nice meal!

 

On the bus, Robb first spelled out the rules of the trip to everyone. Basically, don’t be late, and don’t be stupid. If you’re late, they WILL leave you behind. If you’re stupid, who knows what might happen! Luckily, there would be very few violations of either rule on the trip, although I did arrive a minute or two before the departure time several times! Then he explained that we’d have to do some factory tours, which were basically mandatory by the Chinese government, who run the tour companies. But they hoped that if we could get most of them out of the way today (along with the tea ceremony they did on the previous add-on day that I skipped,) that hopefully, we wouldn’t have to do any of them on the busier days with the bigger parks. We’d do this for the rest of the trip, trying to do the tours in each area on the credit whoring/sightseeing days.

 

So, our first stop was a jade factory. It was actually kind of interesting watching the workers work on the intricate jade pieces, seeing the various steps that went into each overpriced piece we’d see in the showroom. The jade factory tour guide explained all the steps and also explained how you could tell fake jade: it didn’t have consistent color, if I’m remembering correctly. As with all the factories, after the tour, we’d be lot out into the huge showroom, where we’d see tons of other tour groups, spending a lot more money than we were. I actually bought a little piece of jade and some souvenirs at some of the tours. But I was one of the only people in our group who did. Our tour guide must have hated us!

 

From there, we went to the Great Wall of China. Elissa took the tour guide flag, and we all followed her past tons of tourist stalls selling everything you could imagine and more. We walked by several pens of bears, wallowing in their own feces. They were selling apples and other fruit you could throw to the poor things. Feeling sorry for them, I had to buy a batch, but I wondered if I was just contributing to their fecal condition. They don’t have animal rights protests in China! Soon, we were making our way up to the wall itself, via a surprise mode of transportation: an ALPINE COASTER! Of course, the question is whether this would count as a credit. More on this later. The ride is split up. You sit in trains full of alpine coaster cars, chained together. First you take it up, which is all via a chain lift. Later, when you’re ready to leave, you take it down. I’m sure you could also walk up and down, but this was way more fun, and definitely an appropriate method of transport for TPR!

 

We got up to the top, and once everyone was off, Elissa told us we’d have 30 minutes to explore the wall. Now, I love Elissa, but this was my only major criticism of the trip. It’s the freaking Great Wall of China. It’s massive. I didn’t expect to walk the whole nearly 4000 miles of it or even spend the whole day there, but 30 minutes was a bit silly for such an iconic historic world landmark. For the record, it is actually NOT one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but has been included on several other lists of Seven Wonders over the years, including the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World (which is odd, since it predates Medieval times by nearly 2 millennia!) But like with everything on these trips, you make the best of it. And official wonder or not, it truly is a wonder to behold, branching off endlessly through the mountains as far as the smog would allow us to see. People split up and many of us went as far as we safely could, while leaving enough time to get back. Many, many pictures were taken!

 

Then it was time to head back down, via alpine coaster. I’m still completely torn on whether to count it as a credit. On one hand, I’ve counted the other alpine coasters I’ve ridden. They ride like coasters and are on track. But the guy had the brake on at least somewhat for most of the ride, and it rally was more of a transportation than a ride. It was fun, but not all that coaster-y. I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to count it. Originally, I thought yes, because I count all my other alpine coasters, but I don’t use absolute rules on my list. I count some water coasters, but not others. Take a look at the pictures, and see what you think. At this point, I’m leaning more against counting it.

 

So, we rode the alpine coaster down, and spent a little time in the shopping area. A few people tried various foods like squid on a stick. I picked up a few souvenirs. And then we were off.

 

From there, we headed to another factory tour. This time it was vases and the like. I remember almost nothing about it, which should tell you how exciting it was!

 

Then we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Elissa had though (and hoped!) that we weren’t going inside the city itself. But the tour guide insisted, so we did. If I’d known we were going in, I probably wouldn’t have gone the previous day, and would have done some other sightseeing. But that’s how it worked out. So, we enjoyed the City again, this time with a tour guide who explained a lot of the things that we had seen, but not known what they were the previous day. And we didn’t spend as much time there or see as much as we had the previous day (particularly the indoor museum stuff), so it was still good we’d gone. We also took the first big group photo of the trip, in front of the city.

 

Next up was a tour of a silk factory. It was actually pretty interesting seeing the worms and their cocoons and how the silk was made. They had a bunch of us stretch out the silk to see how strong and flexible it was. Then, of course, they dumped us in the showroom! They kept trying to get us to buy these huge comforters. They wouldn't take no for an answer, no matter how many times we told them that this was the very beginning of a three week trip, and we didn't want to lug a comforter around for three weeks (including four planes!) They can ship them to us, too! Sorry, it's not working with this group, guys. Give it up! We found Larry a suitably garish shirt to buy, and Elissa bought something for KidTums, but I don’t think anyone else bought anything. Instead, some of us spent the time and had fun modeling women’s wear!

 

Then it was another typical meal on a lazy susan and back to the hotel. Some people went to the night market to eat exotic fried foods on a stick, like scorpions and baby birds. I probably would have gone if I’d known they were going, but instead opted to catch up on some trip planning on the computer.

Then, it was bed time. We had REAL coasters to ride the next morning!

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Such a lovely picture of Beijing, eh? The view from our hotel room.

No, that's not fog. In fact, there's barely a cloud in the sky. That's pure smog. The first couple of days were among the worst days of the trip for smog.

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Some cool old buildings we drove by.

If you see them behind the smog!

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A worker making what's I'm sure is a great living carving detail into the jade at the jade factory. Well, until she dies of lung cancer, of course....

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Do you think I could fit this in my suitcase? Would it be under 20 kilos?

Not that I could afford it! But it was pretty damn cool! The detail of the pure jade was amazing.

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Do I really need to insert a joke here? It practically writes itself!

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There were HUGE tables of items that were actually affordable. But if you were rich, there were many sculptures here, too. The rest of us took pictures!

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Could that be some sort of wall?

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Who needs a Chinese tour guide when we had Elissa?

Some day I'll get a crappy picture of her.

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Could that be bears?

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Yep, bears wallowing in their own $#!+...

Would it really be that hard to hose the pen down once in a while?

Most of us bought apples and other fruit to throw to the poor guys.

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OK, everybody. Follow Elissa and the flag. If you're really a true whore, she'll take you past all the cheap merchandise and to a possible credit!

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Credit or not? You be the judge.

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I'm not sure whether he counted it or not, but Bjorn seems to be enjoying the ride.

They even had rainbow neon lighting for many of us on the trip!

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Yes, the smog even made its way out here, ruining my pictures of an amazing historical monument! Too bad my camera sucked in smog!

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All that smog made me squinty in many of my pictures! Well, that and lack of sleep! But hell, I'm at the GREAT WALL OF CHINA, so I'll make the best of it!

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A picture for lovers of either coasters or culture or both! The alpine coaster loads on the left, and you can see part of it in the lower right.

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The wall is truly vast, making tis way for thousands of miles through the mountainous countryside of China. If you can see it!

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Culture and a maybe credit.

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Really? You need to deface an ancient historical structure with graffiti? What is this, Italy?

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Carl photobombing Dan as someone else is taking Dan's picture on his own camera! Apparently, this was revenge from past trip photobombing.

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A spectacular view!

And the wall's pretty nice, too! ;-P

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Stop checking out that @$$, Carl, and smile for the pictures!

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Aww.... Time to head back down.

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You know, sometimes I hate Elissa. I took like 10 pictures here, and this was the best I could get me to come out. And it just happens to be the worst one of her. How does she manage to look fabulous in every damn picture?!?

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The awesome view from the alpine coaster!

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Scottish Steve reenacting the infamous alpine coaster accident from the TPR Japan trip at Mitsui Greenland. I made sure to thank him because I had seen the pictures in PTR's before the trip and used it as a warning so I didn't meet the same fate just 9 days earlier.

Seriously, though, these cars were just sitting there.

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The vase facotory, or something like that. I apparently went here since I have pictures, but I don't remember a thing about it!

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Pretty (and pretty expensive) stuff you could buy here.

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Here's stuff that most of us could actually afford.

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Some building.

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We're back at the Forbidden City.

I wish someone could explain to me why so many Chinese men felt the need to pull up their shirts to expose their bellies. I get that it's hot. But why not take off the shirt completely? And more importantly, why is it always the guys whose bellies you do NOT want to see, instead of the hot guys?!?

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Some soldiers guarding the Forbidden City.

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The soldiers were probably here to watch these shady characters. (Hi, Chuck! But you're looking at the wrong camera.)

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Hello again, Forbidden City. I'm back. I just couldn't stay away!

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What do you think this large stone carving is called?

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You guessed it!

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How's this for a guilt trip, passive aggressive sales pitch? This guy sketched Brian onto a plate without asking. So, of course, he had to buy it!

As soon as he agreed to buy it, he sprayed some stuff over it that would make it permanent. Otherwise, he could just wipe it off.

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Was this the room for the Emperor's concubines? I forget.

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One last factory before dinner!

This time it was the silk factory. This is the different stages of the silk worms in their cocoons.

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Dan at the silk machine.

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They got us to help stretch out the silk to show how soft and strong it is. (NOW BUY SOME!)

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Most of the stuff for sale at the silk factory were comforters and sheets and lots of different types of clothes. But they also had weird knickknacks. I kind of wanted these guys, to be honest!

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Is it me?

It's actually a pretty fabulous jacket.

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How about this?

Nah, the jacket was better!

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And the moment you've all been waiting for (well, not if you skipped ahead, like I told you to do up there):

Robb with a skirt.

We really should have gotten him to actually try it on! I seriously think it would have looked good on him!

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I think the cost of the jade ship you posted was in the neighborhood of a quarter million $US.

 

Unfortunately, as I think Elissa mentioned a few times, the tour guides have to be supplied by an approved government agency. As such, the tour guides are required to bring the tourists to a specified number of factory tours and restaurants. Yes, it would be great if someone like Candace chose the hospitality field as a career and worked for one of those approved companies. However, she would still be required to take groups certain places but she would also understand a roller coaster tour group's priorities.

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^ Yes, I understand that tour guides have to come through the government. What I was wondering is if there's a way to do a group trip without any tour group or guides. And instead have someone like Candace act as an acting tour guide, but not officially one. More in the capacity of a trip planner and translator. Kind of like how Robb and Elissa are on all of the other group trips. (I'm not sure if they're officially licensed or not, but if they aren't, then that's what I mean.)

 

Even if the government would allow it, it might not be feasible, or at least not cost efficient. Especially if the tour agencies could get us better group rates. And we'd obviously need to pay and put up this person in hotels.

 

But if it were possible, it might be something to consider.

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I sometimes wonder how different life in China really is from what we saw. Life there didn't seem all that different from ours, apart from having to take certain factory tours and having to use VPN to get around the government's censorship of Facebook and Youtube. But of course, they only showed us what they wanted us to see.

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The awesome factory tours! I actually didn't mind most of them. The only thing that bothered me was the person that followed you around trying to sell you anytime you stopped to look at something.

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A quick flashback to a mystery solved from earlier in the trip. And it's good news -- for me, at least. If you can remember way back to when I posted the Seoul Land update, I mentioned that I hadn't taken any pictures of the weird Crazy Mouse coaster with the Arrow looping style cars. With the whole trip a blur at points, I couldn't remember riding it, and was considering taking it off my list. Well, I did find a picture of it. I'd gotten confused, since they have changed the color of the track since pictures were posted on RCDB. But, after checking out where in the park that coasters was from a map and seeing a PTR on TPR that showed it with the newer yellow track, I looked more carefully at my pictures. And low and behold I found a crappy picture I'd taken of a yellow track with what is definitely a mouse car on the track. (It has a cartoonish mouse on the front of the car! I'd confused it with Black Hole 2000, since both coasters are yellow, and you can see the lift hill for that coaster in the background of the picture, making it look like one picture. Now that I remember where it was in the park, I vaguely remember riding it. So, now I can definitely count it! Woo hoo!

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See the small mouse car on the track? Despite all the yellow track, that's Crazy Mouse in the foreground, with Black Hole 2000 in the back. (You can tell from the different colored supports.)

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