flying into the future

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I am a very nervous traveler.  In case I haven’t made that clear enough.

By the time my date of departure has arrived, I’ve left Bones copious notes on how to run the office without me.  He has copies of my travel itinerary, travel insurance, and visa. And he’s had to deal with my almost-frantic need to be at the airport 2 hours early.

“It’s a tiny airport,” he reassures me.  “An hour will be fine.”

As it turns out, my itinerary has the wrong departure time on it, and we end up arriving at Kalamazoo Int’l Airport about 10 minutes before my flight is supposed to leave.

*cue panic*

Of course, everything is fine – it’s always fine – and Bones walks me up to  Security.  I realize that the last person to do this was my mother, in North Carolina, many years ago.  I pretty much always fly alone, which is partly why I’m so nervous about travel.  (Ironically, someone that was a love interest for half a second told me I was a ‘cupcake’ and he couldn’t imagine me navigating an airport alone.  That statement still has too much volume in my head.)  Don’t get me wrong..I love travel. I love flying. I love the adventure of it all and I think I even love the overly inflated sense of responsibility I have to make sure everything I can control goes right.  But anyway….yes, Bones walks with me and I am overwhelmed by how patient and supportive he is.

I start to cry.

“You’re going to AUSTRALIA!” he says, and hugs me, and he looks so damn happy for me that it makes me cry a little more.  He’s so selfless.  Never at any point has he acted jealous or negative in any way about this trip, this opportunity.

I am so very, very lucky.

~~~

The Kalamazoo airport is just minutes from my house, and it may be one of the nicest airports I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.  I board a small plane that hops me over to Detroit, where I decide to go get a drink and some lunch.  Idly, I check in with JS and discover he’s also in Detroit, a few gates over from me!  (We’d been joking about racing to see who got to Australia first..after we actually compare our tickets, we realize we’re on the same flight from LA to Australia.  So much for racing!)

JS and I visit for a bit. His flight is scheduled to leave a bit after mine, and he strikes me as someone who is remarkably ok with waiting for the next stage of his trip.  (I get a little restless, I admit, and while I like to be at my gate early, I will also tend to go look at the local shops to kill some time.)  Then it’s off on our next flights, to meet again in LA!

This is my second time at LAX, and I can’t say I’ve cared for my experiences there yet.  Today is no exception.  A glance at the departure board tells me I need to go to gate 52B.  Which takes some searching.  Because it looks like this:

airport a

As it turns out, we have to take a shuttle bus from this gate to the int’l terminal.  Have you ever wanted to be in a vehicle driving alongside planes? I did not want that experience. But I got it. We are taken to a TOTALLY EMPTY terminal and I won’t lie, it’s a little creepy..

airport c

I send JS a series of Facebook emails (that he doesn’t see until he gets to Australia) telling him what to expect, as the passengers that share the shuttle with me admit they’d all been sitting up by this sign for far too long, not knowing they had to go somewhere else, and I know JS has a shorter layover than I do.  I then walk along with my six fellow travelers to what I’m pretty sure is our certain doooooooooom (Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, anyone?), but  – lo and behold! – instead we find ourselves in the happily busy international terminal.  YAY!  I get my American money converted into Australian dollars, find some much needed coffee, eventually find JS, and get in line to get onto the next plane.  Which, as it turns out, is on Virgin Australia.

Ok, Virgin. I think I love you. Everyone gets water, eye masks, ear plugs, book marks, and a pen. Snacks and sodas by the rest rooms so you can serve your own dang self all thorugh the 13 hour flight.  Also? USB plug so I can charge my phone  AND an entire row to myself so I can stretch out and SLEEP!

airport d

Next stop?  AUSTRALIA!!!

 

i’ve got the power?

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Back at home, I realize that most of the packing I’ve already done should probably be redone.  One suitcase is dedicated to costuming, and contains wigs, makeup, 3 pairs of shoes that have all been test-worn to make sure they’re comfy, 3 costumes (2 dresses and one coat-and-pants outfit in case it rains), a glue gun, needle and thread, zip ties, varied types of plug adapters, some small hand tools…anything I can think of that might be useful for build/tear down as well as costume repair and daily haunt work.

I keep reminding myself that this is not China, that I’ll be able to buy things if I need them.

I keep ignoring that rational part of my brain and rethinking everything I’ve already packed.

The other suitcase contains day to day needs.  Clothing for down time, work clothing, sunblock, hats, pain killers, bandages, protein bars, antacids, Zip Fizz…I keep rechecking the weight of the suitcase, reconsidering the contents, adding stuff, taking stuff out..

Bones tolerates the chaos very well.  Because the man is a saint.

Several trips to the thrift store later, I’m pretty sure I’m as prepared as I’m gonna get.  Maybe.  Probably.

My carry-on contains,among other small items, yet another pair of shoes and a power converter with an adapter plug.  This is something that completely confused me on my China trip, and so I’m overcompensating this time around.  I think most of us know that the electricity in the US is 110V and 220V pretty much everywhere else.  Which means you need to buy a power converter.  However, the outlets are also different, so you also need a plug converter.  When I went to China, I only bought the plug converter…and honestly, when you do a search on ‘power converter’ on Amazon, you get more plug converters than power converters, so I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s not purchased both parts of the needed system.

Additionally in China, we had power surges and people using the converters that didn’t really know how to use them…so we had lots of fried equipment.  The trick with converters is to get one that will handle the wattage you plan to use…so you have to take a look at the electronics you’re bringing and figure out how strong a converter you need to purchase.  If you underestimate your wattage need, that’s when your electronics get destroyed.  After a lot of thought and looking at my budget, I decided I really didn’t need to bring a hair dryer or flat iron, so a 100 watt converter would probably be fine, and I already had a plug adapter.

I actually can’t find a pic of my adapter, but it looks sorta like this.  I purchased this power converter, which is a heavy lil’ guy, so I packed it in my carry-on bag, and while it could handle my glue gun, it probably couldn’t have handled a hairdryer.  I liked the USB port on it, because it meant we could charge multiple things at one time.  That said, if all you’re worried about is keeping your celphone charged, you could totally buy something like this and make your life much easier.

In the days leading up to my departure date, I obsess about supermarkets and food prices and how the guys don’t seem nearly as concerned as I am but I’m on a super tight budget and I am WORRIED and B1 told us to do it THIS WAY and maybe no one but me intends to do that and maybe I can get a slick little ‘buy from us and we’ll give you deals’ card from the stores but oh I can’t get that mailed to me in time and maybe I shouldn’t bring so MANY shoes but I’m so scared my plantar fasciitis might flare and that’s a hell I just don’t want to ever face again ever and is that really strong enough sunblock and…

Proof of Bones’ sainthood is that he didn’t strangle me during those final days of preparation.

 

frozen bottles of waters might just save your life

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One of the things that I was immediately impressed with about the prep for my Australia trip was the lack of things I had to worry about.

“What airport do you want to fly out of?”

“Ummm…Kalamazoo, if it’s possible…”

“You got it!  Your visas will be emailed to you soon.”

“Wait, I don’t have to apply for those?”

“Nope!  It’s covered.”

“What about travel insurance?”

“Covered!  Details are coming.”

“How many suitcases can I bring…?”

“Two.”

“What’s the luggage fee?”

“….It’s covered!”

“BUT I STILL HAVE CONCERNS AND QUESTIONS AND AUUUUUGH!!!” *

“We’re having a one day meeting/training here before you leave the country!”

The way this process usually works is that people interested in joining Haunt Team USA head to Ohio for a two-day “boot camp” in which candidates get into costume and practice the types of things they will have to do in Australia.  It’s a tough, intense audition.  People that end up going don’t always get selected their first time through the boot camp.  But it is, hands down, the absolute best way B&B can prepare their team, and we’re at a disadvantage because we aren’t getting the benefit of that training.  Instead, we’re having a very abbreviated ‘here’s what you need to know’ intensive workshop.

That meeting was when I first met the people I’d be living with for about a month…JS, the oldest member of our team as well as the most extreme of us (think Rob Zombie covered in gore with a heart of gold and you’ve sorta kinda got JS in your mind), W, the youngest member of the team with the most experience for this gig (this would be his 7th show in Australia!), and R, W’s girlfriend (an Aussie and a sorta-team-member).  We spent maybe 5 hours going over the gritty details of what we needed to know to be really prepared for this upcoming adventure.  B&B do an outstanding job of prepping the members of Haunt Team USA, and their notes include a suggested shopping list, as buying groceries is something you might only get one chance to do so.

B1 focuses a lot on buying groceries.  “Grab two carts.  Fill them.  Spend $100 for each person.  Have your list ready ahead of time.  Buy anything you think you might want, and then take turns cooking meals for the group.”  He makes it very clear that the best way to get through this venture is to work as a team.

He warns us that good insoles will be your best friend.  Also, frozen bottles of water might  just save your life.  Oh, and bring things you don’t mind not bringing back with you.

“Haunted houses are still new in Australia.  The audience there is not like what you find here.  They will scare differently.”

We’re given instructions on how to manage ticket collecting at the door…told to try to defuse situations at the haunt rather than be aggressive about them…told to watch out for Vietnamese gangs that might try to steal tickets from us.

And also?  Fear the daystar.

“There’s no ozone layer over Australia,” B&B warn us.

“Ummm…say what now?”

“No, really,” R chimes in.  “It’s a serious thing.”

B&B, as well as W, share stories of sunburn – “My eyelids got burned!” is one in particular that terrifies me – that make me want to run from the room screaming in terror.  I can get more surnburn in 30 minutes than most people will get over an entire summer. Finally!  Something I can for real legit worry about:  How will I ever survive nearly a month without being burned to a crisp??

In the midst of my worry, it’s suggested I go get the metric poop ton of costuming I’ve brought along with me to go over character ideas with B2 while B1 continues to talk to the rest of the team.  Part of the interview process for this gig was sending photos of myself in varied haunt costumes, and I thought I was more or less prepared costume-wise, but in my panic over sunburn and heat stroke, I’m already eliminating about half of what I’ve brought with me.  (Admittedly, part of my problem is that my focus has always been more on operations than on performing; so, although I have characters, haunt acting is secondary to me.)  B2 patiently dealt with my panicked self as I babbled my concerns at her, threw costuming all over her living room, and whittled my choices down to three.  B2 then had a photographer-friend shoot some pics of me to be considered for use for a booth display B&B were taking to TransWorld in a few weeks…

Next was dinner, and then an extended bit of chatter after everyone but me had left (extended, in part, because I friggin’ love B&B and hadn’t seen them in much too long)…which means I got home ungodly late.  But it was worth it.  Because now not only did I feel more prepared, but – as previously mentioned – I now had something to actually obsess about…sun protection!

Back at home to repack my suitcases a few dozen more times over the next week, and then….to the airport we go!

 

* I wasn’t entirely this bad.  I think.  Probably.

…No, I was totally insanely bad.

globe-trotter haunter

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I think it was in 2012 when I first heard that my friends B&B were recruiting haunters to come and audition to work for a show in Australia. There were multiple opportunities lasting from 3 weeks to 2 months and I was so very curious…I remember taking to Bones about it, trying to figure out the logistics, and ultimately I just wasn’t sure it was practical. Or that I was fit enough. Or young enough. Or a strong enough actor.

The following year, I thought about it again, but not as seriously. Then the China gig came up, and I jumped into that experience with absolutely NO idea what I was really getting into.

I came back and told Bones, “Ok. The need to go to Australia is out of my system.”

…Which made the universe sit up, take notice, and ask, “Oh, really?”

B&B knew I’d been to China – we had discussed it very briefly, and they know J, the guy that hired me on. And of course they knew I had an interest in Australia.

– I mean, what no one has known until this moment is how many sweepstakes I’ve entered where a trip to Australia was the grand prize. When The Bloggess wrote about going there as a result of a “bucket list” contest, I looked into that. I have had a long obsession with the wildlife. I’ve been trying to get Bones to agree that what we really need to make our lives complete is a wallaby butler and a platypus to keep him company.

So you could say I’ve put a LOT of energy over a LOT of years manifesting this opportunity.

…Anyway! Earlier this year, I received an email from B&B asking if I knew anyone that might be interested in going to Australia in March. I sent a few emails to people I thought would be AMAZING candidates…and then, after talking to Bones, I took a deep breath and filed out the application myself.

After several emails about gig details, asking for a bio, and photo requests, I learned (a) I was their runner up choice for their team of three, and (b) one of their three wasn’t able to make it. What followed was a long honest discussion with B&B about the logistics of this trip..how hard it was going to be..how serious I was about going.

Here’s the deal: Most haunts operate for a few set hours a night. Yes, there’s hours of prep involved, but actual operations are not that long, and usually they’re focused on weekends. This gig? It’s a whole different animal. It’s set up/training actors/running the show for 14 days straight, 10-12 hours a day, starting at 9am/tear down/go home. It’s set up in something that’s sorta a county fair on steroids, which…I’ve worked a haunt at a county fair before. It’s probably a lot like working a haunt on the Jersey boardwalk. So you’re talking hot and sun and rain and nonstop work.

So, not a cake walk.

But.  But but but…AUSTRALIA!

Did I have any health concerns?  Well, yes. My feet.  My feet are a recurring issue for me.

Was Bones ok with me going?  Yes.

Do I have a valid passport?  Yes.

Have I ever worked with a microphone before?  Yes.  Granted, not in a haunted house, but if you can talk on headset answering visitors’ questions while working in a minizoo with a screaming parrot and a gaggle of teenage volunteers, you can probably handle being on headset at a haunt, yes?

Have I been in costume for 12 hours?  Ummm…sorta?  Does a ren faire count?

At the end of the call, I was advised to go talk to Bones some more and spend some more time thinking about everything that had been discussed in the past 30 minutes, and to let B&B know in 24 hours if I was still in or not.

…I didn’t need that much time to email them back and say, ‘Yes please!’

*cue the panic to get everything done and documented at work so that Bones will be in the best possible position for me to be gone for 3+ weeks*

AUSTRALIA!!!

 

in which i seriously reconsider my 5K fixation

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This past Sunday was what might be my last 5K of the season – maybe my last one ever.  Not because of this experience, but because overall I feel…well, a little silly.  A little defeated.  More than a little convinced I could be getting the same actual workout by going disc golfing with my husband.

Aaaaaaanyway…

Sunday was World Run Day.   I signed up over a month ago to do the Dirty Herd 5k up at Pretty Lake, Mattawan, partly because it was sorta kinda local, partly because money raised goes back to Pretty Lake Camp and its work with at-risk kids,  and partly because the name of the group made me laugh. Bones had a thing to go to as well and somehow from agreeing the night before that us leaving at 8:30AM was fine to when we actually started to leave, I panicked and announced I would never make it on time.

This was to be true in ways I couldn’t anticipate at that point.

We got Bones to his thing a bit early, and me to my thing on time.   As in, the runners hadn’t left yet.  But by the time I figured out where registration was (“Oh, we already shut down!  Hold on…”), confirmed that yes I still wanted to do the walk, and made it back outside, everyone was gone.

I walked up to people that looked like they were working the event.  “Can I still go?”

“Oh!  Sure!  You’re just..let’s see…about 11 minutes behind the group.

“Is it well marked?”

“Yup!”

I started down a road. As it turned out, this would be the only paved path for the entire walk.  Initially there were white arrows painted on the road, but as I turned onto a dirt road, that wasn’t the case.  I fairly quickly found my path blocked by plastic orange tape, with no obvious markers telling me where to go next.

This was the…well, the fifth time that morning that I seriously considered not doing this silly thing.  I could have totally ditched and no one except Bones would have known.  I next considered crying out of frustration.  I finally decided to just duck past the ribbon and keep walking.  Worst case scenario, I figured, was that I’d have a nice walk around Pretty Lake.

So pretty, y’all.  I could hear the music of the start/finish area pouring across the water and I thought at the time that maybe the 5K/10K was just a trail that would go all the way around the lake.  And then I finally found some people working the event, stationed behind a table covered in cups of water.  They informed me that I was indeed on the right path (surprise!) and I wanted to follow the path marked by the orange ribbons rather than the blue ones.  (As a side note:  I didn’t see a single walkie on any staff person, which really surprised me.)

I hadn’t seen any blue ones yet, but I thanked them and continued..and finally did find where the path broke off.  This album gives you an idea of what the start of this event looked like.  (I never saw this many people.  Alas.)  What isn’t shown is that the trail took us off road and into the woods.  It was gorgeous and just hilly enough to make my calves ache for a day or so afterwards….and honestly, it was a little nerve wracking to be alone in the woods so afraid of falling.  My right foot is still not fully healed from all my falls last month. 😦  But!  I did not fall!

A lot of the trail followed ones they clearly use over the summer, and people that know how to read trail markers would have felt more comfortable than I did, as those trail markers were frequently placed and highly visible.  And it was honestly so lovely.  Even with my feeling nervous about falling, I loved this location and trail, and kept thinking that Bones should be there because he would have really enjoyed the hike.  At the same time, I started thinking that yeah, I could probably get the same benefit from walking along with him while he’s disc golfing…so, there’s that.

I did finally start to encounter people doing the 10K, and I passed one walker (!!!!), so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t DEAD last.  We didn’t have timing chips on our bibs, but I think my total time was probably my worst one yet – just over an hour.  OTOH, it was hilly and I got lost and I’m actually ok with my time being not too speedy.  I had a lot of time to think about my 5K fixation and just as I was thinking to myself, ‘This is really stupid.  Everyone knows you’re slow.  You’d rather be riding a bike.  You’re not ever going to run.  Hell, walking is a challenge!  What the hell are you doing?  This is your last one,’ a 10K runner passed me and said hi.  I looked up and saw he had a prosthetic foot.

I assume he also managed not to fall on this trail.

Soooooo…ok, brain weasels.  STFU.

Will I do another 5K? Maybe.

Is it in part because I got another medal?

Hell yes.

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in which i start a (probably short-lived) obsession with 5k walks

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..Mostly because I got a medal at my first one.
……Which is a whole lot less impressive than it sounds, I assure you.

Last spring, my friend Jeanne was talking about participating in a 5K run/walk, Alive and Running. This is an event for suicide awareness, which is near and dear to my heart, and so I tenatively said I’d probably very possibly maybe join her.

(Geminis are the consummate hedgers.)

I changed my mind many times over the next 5 months. I’m not a runner.  I don’t actually enjoy walking..I’d rather ride my bike.  OTOH, I’m very goal driven, and when I was a kid, I used to do the CROP walk.  I can’t remember if I ever raised much money – probably not – and I definitely remember hating the last mile or there of the walk every year. (I remember it being, like, 20 miles, but I suspect it was only 5.) Still, by God, I did it, and so I should be able to walk 5K (3.1mi).

I drove to the event and instantly panicked because I couldn’t find Jeanne and I felt completely out of place. I’m not a runner, I’m not an athlete, and I’m certainly not in the kind of shape I’d like to be.  I’d been thinking a lot about this post by Kyle, and it helped me not get back into the car and go the heck home.  But I didn’t.  Yay me.  🙂

Found Jeanne and her crew just before the start of the race/walk.  Her husband was the only one of us that was running, which helped my brain…but goodness, I confess I struggled for the first half.  Between my wonky ankles and my plantar fasciatis flare-ups, I was in a fair bit of pain.  We slowed down a little, which helped, and pushing through it did help as well.  Still, how frustrating.  😦

Final time was 58:30; I came in 230 out of 262.  I’m not sure where that puts me as far as walkers go; there’s obviously room for improvement.

Still, I’m not unhappy with my results.    And I’m planning to do a few more of these events this year.

…And I totally wore my medal all day. Which helped me not mind so much that I was icing my feet afterwards because ow.

yay medal!!!

a conclusion i couldn’t have predicted

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Last day in China!

And I did NOT want to get out of bed.

The deal was that we were supposed to be up wicked early to go finish up everything in time for our inspection by the boss, then head off to the airport in the afternoon.  I am ashamed to say that I just didn’t care about waking up on time.  😦  To the boys’ credit, they tried to make sure I was cared for by making sure I could get breakfast before I went to the job site, but I didn’t know that, so I didn’t go to the restaurant.  I grabbed some fruit, checked my luggage with everyone else’s in the hotel lobby, and met up with the boys maybe an hour after they had started working.

One of the jobs I took on was to paint some 2x4s black to be used as bracing in the haunt.  I ignored my audience of 6 guys, found some black paint, could not find a paint brush…could, however, find a full sized roller sans holder.  (I should say, I did find other people painting over by the zombie shoot-em-up ride, but completely failed at getting anyone to understand that I could really really use a paint brush.  *sigh*) So I shrugged, dipped the end of the roller into the paint, and started slowly painting the bracing.

Wanna feel really stupid?  Go try to paint 2xs with just a roller.  It’s a great time.

After maybe 30 minutes, one of my audience member found a small roller on a piece of coat hanger wire.  He dipped it into the paint, rolled it across a board, and handed me the improvised roller.  I thanked him, tried using it, found it to be completely useless, walked over to a trash can, threw it away.  Went back to my big roller.

Then I had a great idea!  I found C and asked him if he could ask the audience to paint these boards.

Instantly, a box of paint brushes showed up!

FML.

As I failed at painting, I noticed there was a small pile of haunt walls off to the side.  They looked much the worse for wear, and we sorta raised an eyebrow, but we had a lot to get done, so a random pile of walls was nowhere near our list of things to worry about right then.  A bigger concern was the random park attendees that decided the haunt must be open for business and started wandering through as we were trying to finish up last minute details.

Good times, y’all!

Our inspection went very well, outside of a request for the videos J had provided to be in Chinese, not English.  Duly noted, he’ll work on that, let’s get the heck out of here!

We had a few hours before we had to go to the airport, and had been told we’d be able to go take showers before we left the country.  As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.  Our room keys didn’t work.  While I retrieved my suitcase, the boys were realizing we had no room, and the ever-resourceful J resorted to stealing a key from a maid’s cart and breaking back into one of our rooms so we could clean up a little.

In the meantime, S realized he had left his laptop back at the haunt.  Dammit!  We got a hold of someone at the park, and were told, “Oh, we’ll bring it to you at the park gate.”  We got into our shuttle van, went to the park, and were greeted by one of our interpreters who was holding just the laptop, not the bag/power source/assorted stuff.  So S had to run back into the park to get his stuff.

He came back looking really unsettled.

“What happened?” J asked.

“Well.  Um. You know that pile of walls?  Since we’ve been gone, they tore the front facade off the haunt and extended the front of the haunt with those walls, and then put the facade back on.”

I don’t have an ‘after’ pic, but I’ll try to make that make sense.  This is what the front of the haunt looked like when we left it.

100_0515.JPG

Our actual haunt had a full beautifully detailed facade, but you can’t see it because of this archway thing that was in front of the concrete pad where we were told to install the haunt.  What the owner had opted to do was to move the facade in front of this arch and then use the extra wall panels to connect the facade to the rest of the haunt.

I’ve never seen J look so stunned.  I still personally can’t imagine how that could have worked.  But somehow, this final tailspin of confusion and bewilderment seems to me to have been the most fitting way for the gig to have ended.

I’m so very glad I had the opportunity to haunt overseas.  It was amazing and bewildering and it taught me things about myself I didn’t expect to discover.  Not all of those discoveries were good, and I’m still processing some of that.  But overall?  Holy poop, y’all.  I helped build a haunted house in CHINA.

**CHINA**.

That’s pretty dang amazing.

And here, have some very random pics I didn’t share yet…

signage/other haunted attractions in the park

the insanity in our hotels

our haunt

random

wrapping things up

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(This is a belated update to the China story – last post here.)

I wake up calmer the next day and join the boys for breakfast, squirreling away fruit to eat later on.  (Thank all the gods ever that created fruit!!)  The boys tell me that they didn’t actually get to see much of the Halloween show the night before because schedules got screwed up, they were tired and sore, and ended up spending most of their time waiting for the zombie shoot-em-up ride to get going.

I feel vaguely better about having opted for a night crying in the tub.

At the haunt, we’ve hit a point where  the effects are ready to be set up – air cannons, animated props, computer screens and the like.

100_0518

First room of the haunt.

The problem we run into almost immediately is that the Chinese workers assigned to help us are trying very very hard to learn everything they can about everything we’re doing.  This means that there’s a constant conga line of guys following J around, watching everything he’s doing, and as soon as he walks away from a project, they’re touching it..and more often than not, they’re breaking it.  And we can’t easily get new parts to fix what’s been broken.  And we can’t get our helpers to stop ‘helping.’

We’re getting down to only having hours left to finish the project. Having to do something two or three times is making our work load – and our brains – explode.

There’s a crazy-making mix of things to deal with as we go along.  Our helpers keep taking batteries out of remote controls, or just taking the remotes.  J and S spend hours getting a ghost projection effect to work..and someone else hits a button on it and deletes everything the guys just accomplished.  Someone drops a pre-programmed animation controller that’s run via dip switches, and the boys scramble to try to figure out how to reset the switches correctly.

It’s all more frustrating than I can even begin to describe here.  I finish hanging bits of fabric across all of the haunt hallway doors to give visitors a sense of overhead ick, and J asks me to start working on some ‘cryotube’ props.  In the corner of the haunt housing the air conditioner, there’s to be three large plastic tubes. One will contain an actor; the others, monsters of some sort.  C has already hung blue lights in the tubes, so now it’s my job to go find stuff and make monsters out of it.

…Okie dokie!

So these tubes are sorta like huge half cylinders on bases.  I scrounge up some scraps of wood and create stands that I drape with fabric…I find some masks in one of the boxes of random stuff J packed for this gig… I dry brush the inside of the tubes so that it sorta kinda looks like they’re frosted inside…and I come up with the crappiest puppets I’ve ever created.

…And my creations immediately scare our interpreter when she walks through to check on our progress.  So, yay, I guess!

I also work on fixing one broken prop, whose arms were snapped in transit…

..and repaint a prop to try to take it from ‘wow that’s a horrible fake red’ to ‘wow that’s still pretty horrible but at least it’s not O HAI I’M BLOODY RED!  (All of this, of course, is being done with whatever we brought with us.  I still kinda wish I could have had all of my paints and brushes with me..)

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worst pinata ever…

Meanwhile, the boys had pretty much finished as much as they could for the night, so we packed up and went back to our hotel.  I may  have some of this out of sequence at this point, but I think this was our last full day of work..

i cannot go home…but i *can* go to bed

3

Be aware, Gentle Reader, that there are things I’ve forgotten to include in my story thus far.  A team member losing track of his passport for over a day.  Another person losing his wallet.  The discovery that our Chinese teammates are going through our bags, pulling out catalogs and reading them.  We start to forget that each of us is not alone in our ability to speak English, and we start pantomiming our sentences to each other because we forget we share a language.  Every day contained some sort of crisis; no day contained more than a few moments of down time.

So.  It’s a new day in our surreal resort paradise and our buffet restaurant decorated with living animals.  We decide that C and S are going to go to the park and start working, while J and I will go back to the business center and try to order some video players for the haunt.

J hasn’t really experienced the frustration that is censored internet access.  He cannot access his AOL email account, so he can’t get to the things emailed to him the night before.  I guess (correctly) that Amazon.com probably has a Chinese counterpart; however,the player we need is not available.  I jump over to the US site and find the item.  As we wait for the torturously slow connection to progress through the order, I also find the website of the made-in-China videoplayer J wants to order.

We order the player on Amazon, but we can’t have it shipped to China.  We also can’t find a direct contact number for the manufacturer.  J is confused and frustrated; I am becoming snappish and frustrated.  We give up and just walk to the park, where I take him to the only entrance I know….and he loses sight of me because he’s on the phone and doesn’t see me go into the security office to ask for help.

We get into the park. He’s not seen the decor I posted photos of in my last entry.  Of course, I’ve not seen the progress at the haunt, which is impressive.  I sit and work on yet another costume, sewing a latex chest piece into a robe, and I perform a few fixes on broken props discovered as the guys keep working.

I think it’s at this point that we start to realize that certain people seem to be assigned to each of the guys. (I’m a girl, so I don’t count.  Also, no one cares about someone hot gluing and sewing shit together.)  There’s also a LOT of guys trying to ‘help’ us, even when we beg our interpreter to please only give us two people, not twelve.  (In hindsight, it seems very possible that this was a classic example of how China claims to have such a low unemployment rate.  The helpers may not be helping, but they’re certainly on hand and ready to help. Maybe.)  There are literally so many people milling around the build site that, when J walks past me, I chirp out, “Yaaaaay!  It’s a PARADE!!”

On most haunt builds, the person in charge struggles with not getting frustrated by having too many people that want to help but can’t, or need constant supervision.  This project is worse because not only do you have 12 people all wanting to help, they are also working independently of your wishes, they do not speak English, and because they keep messing with things, they keep breaking things.  So all of the projects are taking three times as long as they need to because the guys have to keep going back and fixing things.

At one point, I notice this:

100_0469Huh.  So popping bubble wrap is universal.  I then notice that if the helpers aren’t using their hands to pop bubble wrap, they’re walking on it.  (Well.  To be fair, they walk on EVERYTHING.  They don’t care what it is or who it belongs to..if it’s on the ground, it gets walked on.)  At some point, I suggest to J that he give the helpers a new job:  Pop all the bubble wrap.  He comes back to me later and says, “You’re a genius.  That kept them out of my hair for a good ten minutes!”

At this point, I’m distracted by the sight of people walking on my costumes again.  I excuse myself, walk around to get a lot of concrete dust on my boots, and I go find some of their stuff to walk on.  Yes, it’s petty; yes, it made me feel better.

I finally get to help with the haunt a little by hanging curtains to hide actor access areas in the haunt, which J promptly starts to use to hide from his ‘helpers.’  I also start helping propping out parts of the haunt as the guys keep plugging away at animations.

One corner of the haunt has a huge free-standing air conditioning unit in it.  These units are not uncommon and are easily over 6′ high.  They also generate a lot of condensation…which is starting to pool up in the haunt…which is already starting to warp the panels in this area.  It occurs to me that maybe I should have allowed the workers to let the floors not be level back here after all…

We’re informed that tonight is going to be a dress rehearsal.  The client wants to see the zombie shoot-em-up attraction up and running, with actors, sound, and video all operational.  We still haven’t revisited the trains, but no one’s mentioned it again.  We discuss what needs to be done over lunch.  Well, the boys eat.  My stomach tells me in no uncertain terms that lunch should not happen, and so I announce to the table, “Nope.  I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”

Back to work.  J is asked to go show the actors how to be zombies, and he demonstrates how most good haunt actors in the US would play the role.

He’s told, “They will never do that here.  People do not like to get close, and our actors cannot be as aggressive as you’re describing.”  When he tells us this, I reply, “I call shenanigans.  With as close as these guys are in the haunt?  They’re so close to you guys they keep tripping over each other!  Just tell them to do THAT and it’ll be scary…”

The goal for the end of the day is to finish up, get back to the hotel, eat, and get back to the park by 7PM.  I am still pretty full of nope.  Honestly, all four of us are frustrated, hot, and suffering from blisters on our legs and feet. It’s about 97 degrees every day, and we all feel isolated from our loved ones. It’s just..hard.  But I can’t keep up with the guys.  We do get to see some of the park gearing up for Halloween as we leave, though, and it’s every bit as great as one might think.

park 2 park 1

…Why are there no more photos, you ask?  Because we’re really trying to hurry, and because the guys are pretty sure there will be opportunity for more photos later that night.  I wish I’d gotten pics of the stage show being worked on and the costumes and and and…

Sigh.

The guys get further and further ahead of me as we make our way to the front part entrance, where we find that the gates are closed and we almost can’t get out.  And the guys just keep going and…I am very very full of NOPE.  I’ve walked so much that I’ve broken the worst of the blisters, but I’m just not willing to hurry up and injure myself further.

This means that they go the wrong way and I can’t tell them to turn around.  I hobble my way back to the hotel, where I not only beat them there, I also have a good ol’ pity cry for myself and I get to realize I still have S’s room key rather than my own.  So I have to wait for them in the hallway.

Meanwhile, they realize they’ve lost me and that they themselves are lost.  They ask a cop for help, but the cop – who has clearly been trained in Philadelphia – not only has no idea where the resort hotel directly across from the park is located, but has no idea how to help the lost Americans find their way.  Then J sees a landmark I pointed out to him that morning and is able to get everyone back to the hotel.

We head down to dinner and J realizes he’s left his ID tag back in his room.  I tell him I”ll get it, they just need to go to dinner. And as I get his badge and start back to the restaurant, I realize I can’t do this. I can’t eat dinner.  I can’t go back to the park.  I can’t be around people.

I drop the badge on their table, I go back to my room, I climb into the bathtub, I cry some more, and I text my pain to my dear friend Heidi, who helps me calm down.  And I go the hell to bed.  Forget Halloween, forget adventure, forget everything except bed and a cup of tea and a granola bar.

By the time the guys get back from the preview show, I’m calm enough to be talked into going to the bar, where I consume way too much wine on an empty stomach and then go the hell back to bed.

I do try to explain to J what’s going on with me, but I can’t really articulate it.  I still can’t.  I’m honestly still disappointed in my inability to just keep pushing on.  But hey, now we’re into the final push to get this project done and get the hell home..

 

 

i just want to be normal again

0

It’s decided, the next morning that J will try to use the business center while the rest of us finish up breakfast. I am to wait for him and walk to the park with him.

That plan looks great on paper.  And if any of our communication devices were working in a dependable manner, all would have been fine.

However.

The business center is closed.  J’s phone is being quirky, with its broken screen and its inability to keep connected to a phone conversation for longer than a few minutes.  He tries to text me, but the message doesn’t go through, and he walks to the park alone.

I wait at the hotel.  I text.  I walk from the restaurant to the business center back to the restaurant back to the business center.  I text his girlfriend, who has no idea where he is.  I text him again.  Nothing.

I finally decide to make my way to the park as well.  I ask a hotel employee how I should get there, and she instructs me to walk upstairs to the other lobby, pointing at a flight of stairs.

I do so.  There’s just more atrium and shopping and I start to suspect (a) I am being punked again and (b) someone just wants me to jump from the atrium.

I resist the urge and I figure out how to get to the park, which is – happily – much closer than I expected it to be.  But I end up at a main gate, where I pull out all of my paperwork and cajole someone into letting me in without going through my tool-laden backpack.

At this point, it’s after 10AM.  I am wicked late.  I’m also frustrated, my feet hurt, I am developing blisters, my plantar fasciatis from a few years back is starting to flare in both feet, and…screw it, I’m taking photos of what Halloween in China looks like.

The front entrance of the park (and yes, I know my images are badly placed..I have no idea how to make them behave themselves):

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Just inside the front entrance:

 100_0428   100_0429   100_0426

 

Found on my wander through the park:

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I eventually find my way back to the zombie trail, where J finds me working on costume crap yet again.  I’m told that the boys had heard there was an American woman wandering around looking lost, and they assumed it was me.  Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay, I’m faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamous.

Today’s crisis is that the client wants to see the zombie attraction up and running by 4PM.  We have no audio.  All of the sound files we could use are on J’s phone.  We’ve been given a small bag of mp3 players to load up with sound files but no one has the tech right there to do so. I get a list of the sounds he wants, take his phone, take S’s room key so I can use his computer to do the transfer, and I (rather happily) leave my lunch uneaten/unordered.

I make my way back to the hotel.  But I get lost.  Of course.  And it’s still in the high 90s.  Of course.  And I am trying to hurry and I’m still wearing my backpack and my feet hurt more than I can adequately describe (I later learn I’m up to 6 blisters, two of them monstrously huge), and I feel exactly like this:

I get to the hotel.  I really really really want to take a damn shower, but I instead try to get the computer to start up so I can try to get files off of the phone.

Computer will not start.  The battery is dead and the power converter I have isn’t strong enough to get the computer up and running.

I  go to the now-open business center, where I find a computer with iTunes..but not the newest version of iTunes.  Which is what J’s phone is demanding I use to access anything on it.

AWESOME.

I call M, our most dependable interpreter.  He tells me don’t sweat it, none of this is a big deal, just relax, take a leisurely walk back to the park, and he’d be there soon and they’d figure everything out.  Just relax.

(This took two phone calls to convey because – remember – J’s phone can’t keep a call going for more than a few minutes.)

I start my way back to the park.  I do not get lost.  But I also cannot get anyone to let me back into the park. I end up in the hands of the head of security.  It’s 3:30PM and I’m freaking the hell out, but….all of my fight is gone. I try to tell him I have GOT to get to the haunt, but he just keeps leading me further and further away, and I’m too hot/tired/in pain to do anything but follow him back to…the office where we had our first meeting.

And J walks in behind me, looking calm and almost amused.

And I want to throw a tantrum because WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING??!??!!

He talks to tech about getting video files put onto thumb drives, which is a new lesson in frustration because they need to be converted to a format the client’s computers can use, apparently.  This takes entirely too long…JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE.  J ends up leaving me here for another…what, 4 hours?…while someone finds an IT guy that knows what iTunes is.  I find out later that iPhones are not common here, and honestly, no one really uses iTunes.  And if you think iTunes blows chunks?  Try figuring out the new upgrade in Chinese.

4 hours later?  No luck.  I can’t make this happen. And even if I could?  I can’t get the mp3 players to be recognized by the computer.  Someone takes the mp3 players, saying he can delete the files on them, and…they go away.  Because everything goes away in China.

I cannot properly convey how frustrating all of this was, and how competent I generally am about this sort of (theoretically) very easy task.  *sigh*

J finally comes back for me and all four of us start to walk back to the hotel.  He makes some calls back to the US to get his computer guy back home to get music files sent over.  Pretty much the only good thing I can remember about the day is (a) seeing the Halloween decor and (b) the amazing bath I take that night.

I’m pretty sure I cried a few times this day.  I know for sure I cried the next day.

..You’ve been warned.