the food feature you’ve been waiting for (or, why I stopped eating in China) (or, simply, NOPE)

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Our new hotel did indeed offer us food that was much more familiar and palatable for breakfast and dinner.  (For lunch, we were still at the mercy of park food.)

I’ve previously explained that contact with the states was very sporadic.  The glorious new hotel provided us with wifi all over the place, not just in our rooms for a few hours at night, and I started updating my friend Heidi with shots of what I was absolutely refusing to eat.  What follows is snippets of those texted conversations.

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Me:  Fish head in clay pot.  NOPE.
Heidi:  I would try it.
Me:  You are my hero.  But NOPE.

food 4Heidi: Wonder what ancestral means?  Is it a really old pig?

Me:  I know what it means.  It means NOPE.

food 6Heidi:  Are those supposed to be peeps?

Me:  It’s some sort of sweet potato roll, it says.  But it’s filled with a organ-looking goo.  So..NOPE.

food 7Me:  What’s THAT?  We like it, but we don’t recognize it.
Heidi: Dragonfruit!

(side note: This is one of the many ways in which Heidi helped keep me sane during the trip.  I could pretty much ask her ANYTHING and she’d help me figure out the answer.)

food 8Me:  Tonight’s critter sushi was just kinda weird.  Would not recommend although it was very cute.  The bunny was just sweet rice and the duck was…a small bit of fish? on white rice.

Heidi:  Oh, I thought it was a salad!

food 9

food 10

Heidi:  Meat floss?
Me:  Love me some meat floss.

Heidi.  You know I would’ve tried it…

Me:  And I would be right beside you saying NOPE.

Heidi:  And I would try to feed you some.

Me: And I love you so I’d let you but I’d still whine.

Heidi:  And then I’d ask you if you wanted cheese with that whine…

Me:  You’re making me laugh!

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NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE!!!!!!!!

escaping the ghetto

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While we sleep, J’s lawyer contacts our client and reminds them of what our contract stipulates as far as housing.  Miraculously, this phone call results in two rooms suddenly opening up at the main resort hotel.  Hallelujah!  We’re moving on up!

But first, a trip to the breakfast buffet, where I grab an apple for later and a large plastic cup full of Nescafe’ to take on the drive to the park.

We discover that some of the tombstones have fallen over during the night because of the aforementioned hill.  Additionally, one of our mausoleums has gotten a little wobbly overnight, which is…odd.  J decides that we need to ask for dirt to be brought in, and we’ll pile that in front of the tombstones to keep them upright.

Dirt is actually being brought into the area several times a day because there are lots of palm plants being placed along the sides of the road.  There’s also a lot of welding going.  I’m still not entirely sure why…but it’s pretty to watch.  (Not pictured is the welder behind this gentleman that’s using a piece of cardboard as a welding mask.)  (I wish I was kidding.)

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When J and the guys try to ask our helpers if we could have dirt to line the hilly roads with, both for tombstone support and to make the area look more like a cemetery, we are told no.  No, dirt washes away.  But they will bring us leaves.

Um. Won’t leaves blow away?  The boys pick up leaves and puff on them, blowing them to the ground. Won’t this happen?

Not with these leaves.

Um.  If the leaves are so strong, can we put down leaves and then put dirt on top of the leaves?

No.  Leaves will be enough.  They will not blow away.

(I ask later if the guys could please find a reason to discuss blowing with the Chinese fellas every day, because this has been by far my most favourite moment of the trip.  They, of course, ignore me.  Alas.)

Besides leaves, they bring us ancient animated figures to use along the pathway.  These things are so old that, when we touch them, clouds of latex dust puff out into the air.  Considering that the park has only been doing Halloween since 2011, I’m really not sure where these figures came from.  But they definitely need some work.  Still, we really didn’t bring enough stuff to do everything we’re now being asked to do for this attraction, so any additional stuff is Of The Good.

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Now, I’ve talked a little about my Very Glamorous Job on this trip.  Frankly, I’m used to being a jack of all trades…I’ve done pretty much everything except design a maze.  But on this trip, my tool of choice was not my DeWalt.  It was…a glue gun.

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And my expression shows exactly how I felt about that.  Not pictured are the numerous hot glue gun blisters and burnt fingertips.  My job, in part, was to put together 12 custom costumes for the zombie attraction.  One of those costumes had a tear-away arm, which was…challenging to figure out, and probably took longer than it should have.  But success was mine!

At some point during the day, the thrill of sitting on the cement for hours on end gluing stuff together loses its appeal. (I know, hard to believe, huh?)  My sense of direction, which is never great at the best of times, gives me reason to get well and truly lost in the park when I venture out in search of a ladies room.

toilet

…oh, HELL no…

While looking for a toilet that includes a bowl, I get to explore the park a little.  Every day, new Halloween stuff was making an appearance, and it was…kinda cute.  The actual Halloween event is scheduled to start October 15th, so this is all a week or so early, but there’s clearly a lot of Halloween decorating to be done.

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And, of course, there’s just the park in general.  (I took pics of the dancing troupe because they were almost wearing Tardis dresses.  Or maybe I was just hoping really hard that that’s what they were wearing. Also?  YAY PIRATES!)

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The haunted house shipment arrives as we’re finishing up for the day.  We don’t have an opportunity to go check on the shipment – though we’re hoping like heck that the haunt fared better than the haunted trail props did, because wow was there a lot of broken stuff to fix in that first shipment – because we have to go back to our home in the ghetto, pack up as fast as possible, and get back to our driver who will be waiting to take us to our new temporary home.  It’s almost as if we’re staging an escape from a hostage situation.  Our clothes are barely fitting into our bags.  I personally leave some clothing behind – and really, I’m fine with that, even now.

go go goC’mon, teddy, let’s get the hell OUT of here!

(Side note:  The backpack is what I wore every day to carry my tools, paperwork, etc.  Much thanks to my dear friend Mandi for giving me said backpack!  It was perfect.  Also?  Yes, that is my Scooby Doo-esque suitcase.  Yes, I was teased for it.  Yes, we could ALL find it at baggage claim.  And yes, Mandi, your painted skulls are still on the front of it.)

This pic shows piles of stuff on the curb because…you probably guessed this…our driver does not in fact wait for us.  J is back on the phone with M, trying to get another van to come out and get us.  Meanwhile, we all take turns running across the street to a small convenience store to pick up sodas and – at least in my case – a Hershey’s bar.  Oh, Pennsylvania, I love seeing evidence of you in China!

Waiting for a ride does turn out, in fact, to be very very very very worth the wait.  Behold the lobby of our new hotel:

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I turn to J and ask, “Where the heck have they been hiding this place??”

We check in and are told we can eat for free at the buffet…which scares me a little, considering what the last buffet was like.  Still, we go up to our rooms – which are friggin’ amazing!! – and then walk down to the White Tiger restaurant.  (I did say that this place has more white tigers than anyone else in the world, yes?)

Sorry, buffet is closed.  Try the Butterfly Lounge.  Which isn’t covered by our hosts, of course.  Still, we’re starving, so off we go in search of this other source of food.  And?  It’s totally, totally worth it.

coffeeThat is seriously the most beautiful cup of coffee I have ever seen.

C orders quite a bit of food.  J and S decide to go for the pasta, pictured below and (I’m told) very edible indeed.  After some hesitation, I decide that it only makes sense to order sushi in Asia, so I opt for that.

spaghettiBut we’re all still a little unsure about mealtime.  As C’s first course shows up, J can’t resist making comments…because he can’t seem to resist making every meal a nightmare..

J:  What’s that?

C: Curry.

J:  When I had a cat, he made things like that.

C:  OH COME ON.

J:  His steamed like that, too.

C:  I WILL KILL YOU.

J:  Everything over here is made of grisly fingernails or goes squirt….

My food comes last, because they bring the wrong thing out a few times.  I could probably just make coffee my meal, but C offers me some of his third course – a sushi sampler platter – as he dips a bit into some wasabi.  Which is clearly stronger than American wasabi.  He kicks back from the table, clearly in pain, and I am absolutely not exaggerating when I say that at least one member of our party (me) almost peed from laughing so hard.  And because they keep bringing the wrong dishes out?  We keep getting more and more wasabi.

owWe may have tried to get him to eat all of the wasabi.  We may have failed.

Next it was off to the hotel’s main lobby and the bar therein.  Where there was a cover band singing disco.  Which OMG TOTALLY MADE MY NIGHT and had I had any money whatsoever, I would have tried to ask them for a CD.  Because really, hearing them sing a Bee Gees song was just about perfect.

Instead, it was back to our rooms to rest up for the main event…haunted house set-up!

 

in China, everything goes squish

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The morning brings another trip to the breakfast buffet.

This is my second trip to this horror show of foods I absolutely do not recognize.  Mostly I stick with something that might be a chicken sausage, a bit of toast, orange juice, and Nescafe’.  Coffee seems to be non-existent in China, but the Nescafe’ machine is an ok substitute.  I try something that…has the texture of shredded potato but the colouring of scrapple.  I have no idea what it is, but declare to the boys, “Nope. It tastes like grey.”

I never thought I would long for scrapple.

“You should try the pastry,” C suggests.  “It’s coconut.”

I gingerly try one of these small bun-looking pastries.  I don’t think it has any relation to coconut whatsoever…but!  It’s filled with a dollop of peanut butter!  YAY!  I grab a few and shove them into my backpack for later snacking while J and S describe the rest of the food offerings in horrible ways.  J drops some sort of roll on his plate and looks at it, disgusted. “In China?  Everything goes squish.”

I am already starting to fear meal time.

We return to the park.  I realize too late that I’ve forgotten my work ID, and the team teases me about it, building up varied silly scenarios about how the security guards will deal with me.  Since they don’t speak English, what actually happens is that we all gesture back and forth and finally the guard sighs and lets me through the gate.

We’re the only ones on the site at this early hour.  S catches a glimpse of a tiny lizard..the first bit of wildlife we’ve seen so far.  I manage to scoop the little guy up onto a leaf.  I’ve no idea what kind of beastie he was, but he looks like a stretched out bearded dragon..

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I go back to my costumes.  In theory, I’m supposed to figure out how to make two costumes that have rip-away arms on them.  I honestly haven’t a clue how to do that…but I start to build up a fake arm using bubble wrap, tape, and a rubber hand offered to me by J.  The hand is way too heavy, but I futz with it for a while..

A request comes in:  The client would like us to decorate the trains.  In retrospect, I think they wanted something more like this; however, we really didn’t bring extra stuff for such a project.  J and I grab some cloth and my bag of zip ties and we spend…too much time draping cloth off of the train cars.  Meanwhile, the archway is finally going up onto its posts.  (The face is, of course, the front of the archway.)

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Storywise, visitors will pass by the skull thrones first, where they will see videos of a scary witch projected animation.  The train then goes under this archway, passes through a cemetery, and then enters a zombie area. A second witch animation will let visitors know things are about to get really bad, and the haunt actors in this area will be a lot more attacky than the previous ones.

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C and I assemble cage walls, using black plastic chicken wire (which is lovely, non-ouchy stuff) and the guys assemble the cages near the end of the path to give actors a place to ‘escape’ from before they attack the shooter-laden trains.

We’re still waiting for the bulk of our supplies to arrive on this side of the world.  Two of us go back to building mausoleums, and the other two proceed to attack a new twist to this zombie train shoot-em-up attraction.  We’ve been asked to decorate the trains.  All we have with us are a few bags of ‘creepy cloth‘ and zip ties from my backpack, but we hang cloth bits from the top of the train cars, and I catch a glimpse of a bit more of the local flora and fauna…

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I’m also asked to set up the cemetery scenes.

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It’s a challenge to get help, even though (a) most of the stones are not that heavy and (b) there is a horde of men standing around doing nothing.  Finally one of the younger guys sees me struggling to move things and gets all the guys to help me move stones to their final resting places, which are on slight inclines.  (This will prove to be an issue very soon.)  (This is also my first solid experience showing that being a woman is going to put me at a disadvantage with this particular crew.)

We’re told we should work until 7:30 that night.  We try to negotiate an early let’s-go-home time, but fail.  We do, however, manage to get in touch with the better-English-speaking liason and beg him to take us somewhere for dinner with food we might recognize.  M promises to meet us at a Canadian-themed restaurant, which sounds like a bit of foodie paradise.

Back to the hotel to hose off, and down to the lobby to meet our driver for the evening, who whisks us away to a tiny bit of tourist heaven.  There’s a series of restaurants here, all looking completely acceptable.  I look longingly at one that advertises hard cider on its front door, but M directs us via phone to the place he’s thinking we’ll like more.  It’s a relief to see food we recognize on the menu!  We probably order more food and drink than M anticipated…it’s as if we’ve not eaten in days.  Which isn’t entirely true, of course.

During dinner, M talks about how awesome Halloween events in America are, and that it’s because of the haunt actors.  (Yay us!) He also gives us some idea of the kinds of people we’re working with, which I can’t say helps as much as one would think.  Upon hearing that we were exploring the area around the hotel, he looks a little..shocked, and suggests that we not do that again, as the area is not very safe.  He then explains that the hotel we’re in is known for its food, but is one of the park’s oldest resort hotels. We are staying there, he says, because there were no openings at the main hotel.

M hooks us up with a cab to get us back to our home in the ghetto.  I try to take advantage of my bit of down time to get online….which is a dismal failure.

China censors the internet pretty heavily.  The hotel has wifi, but for some reason my Nook can’t make the connection, and the only signal my phone can find is in my room and only at night.  My original plan was to do work on my haunt while I was here, by handling actor scheduling and communication, but I find myself pretty much unable to do anything except text my three contacts via What’s App.  I’ve already lost track of what day it is here, let alone in the states, and I have no idea what time it is.  The watch that I brought with me to help keep me on track has stopped working.  I annoy my contacts by asking them nearly every day, “What time is it?  What day is it?”  Even writing up these blogs, it’s a little hard for me to remember what happened when, and even though my dates are wrong on the pictures, those numbers are helping me put together a timeline…

 

wandering around the ‘hood

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I confess, I find it odd that in some ways I don’t really feel like I’m in another country.  Sure, I’m clinging to my passport and my letters of invitation, and I can’t really talk to anyone, but as far as the feel of the place?  Really not so different from America.

We ask some cab drivers to direct us to the nearest bar, and are told yes, several miles away, we should get a ride.

Eh.  We’ll go exploring.

(As it turns out, this is our only chance to see China, so we chose wisely to go wandering out into the night.)

We discover:

* money cannot be obtained at just any old ATM (so hi, this is me still with $3 US in my pocket)

* there is a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut on the other side of a very busy highway that we don’t dare try to cross because HOLY CRAP TRAFFIC

* There is a little courtyard full of random…are those miniature golf figures?  Is that a DINOSAUR?  Excuse me boys, I have to go photograph that shit.

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….I still have NO DAMN IDEA what any of this was all about.  And yes, it means I ditched the boys and ran off into the night to take pictures in someone’s courtyard.  And no, Bones doesn’t know that happened.  But.  But but but…DINOSAURS!!

J walks back and drags me out of WTF Land, and we all circle back to a side street full of open store fronts.  I don’t have photos of it, but it felt a little bit like…well, like a ghetto version of Philly’s South Street, or Pittsburgh’s Carson Street.  Each tiny store catered to one particular sort of thing…luggage, or phones…one looks like a mini hardware shop, and I walk in thinking of stories I’ve been told about going into similar stores in Cairo, trying to find tools that don’t exist in this part of the world.

We find a bar of sorts – a very open, well lit room with large round tables.  Young men are drinking from cases of beer, shouting out chants as they chug tiny glasses of beer.  J and C get something to drink and we politely refuse the offers of…what may be bar food, but really, I can’t say that for sure.  The room is cooled by 5′ tall air conditioners that are blowing clouds of cold into the open room.  It’s pitch black outside but it’s still Philly summer hot.

Outside, there are women sewing with machines dragged out to the sidewalk.  A pair of men play pool on a billiard table that’s also been carried to the curb.  There’s an active night life here, and we are definitely the oddity, but no one seems to really care that we’re wandering around their tiny bit of the world.

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And, in one market…oh, bliss!  Enough chicken feet to feed a small family!

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….Excuse me while I hork.

But the chicken feet market also has alcohol, so the boys stock up and we wander back to the hotel.  We of course take the long way…the next day, we realize that had we dared walk down a terrifying dark alley, we were pretty much right across from the hotel.

I share a drink with the boys, and I go back to my room.  There’s a tiny bit of wifi signal – I’ll later realize that I only get signal in my room, and only at night, which makes communication with the US very difficult indeed.  I had planned on using my Nook Colour to connect to the internet while I was in China, but that never actually works.  All of my contact happens via an iPhone app called “What’s App.”  I send a message to Bones, my brother, and my friend Heidi letting them know  I’m safe, and I turn my attention to sleep.  The bed is wicked hard.  I grab the comforter off of the spare bed and try to use that as a bit of extra padding.

I drift off to sleep thinking I should be using my pillows underneath me as well and just using clothing as a pillow.

 

two seconds of video

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We are in a room that seems to work as a conference room/break room/office suite, at a table filled with people that do not speak English.

This doesn’t bode well.

In the end, we do have a translator – a young woman armed with a notebook and a mostly-working knowledge of our language.  She hovers around the edge of the conversation J has with our client.  The main jist of the conversation is that the haunted house pre-built and shipped from the states is set to arrive in two days.  In the meantime, we are to go tour the site of a side project, a haunted train attraction.  Up to this date, J has only seen a two second video of the path, but he sent props to create varied scenes reminiscent of what one might see in a haunted hayride.

We walk through the park to a small road blocked off by large potted palms and are instructed to sneak behind them to get to the trail, which consists of a looped road that is expected to take eight minutes to travel by ‘train.’

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*blink* *blink*

This is the first time we’ve heard that the attraction is actually a ‘shoot the zombies’ thing and not just a ‘look at the monsters’ thing.  In retrospect, had I known exactly which part of the park we would be working in, I might have been able to find the press release that describes what attractions are being added in 2014.  Which would have been useful.

Still, we have our location, and we have piles of shrink-wrapped pallets full of stuff to start haunting up the place, and we have at least two days to work on this before the main haunted attraction arrives from America for installation.  So!  Let’s start working.

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It’s maybe in the low 90s today, and there’s enough shade to make the work site not bad at all. Pictured are some pallets of walls. Not pictured are the pallets of boxes and props.  Definitely not pictured are the props that have been trashed during transit.  The only tools we have are the hand tools the guys brought in their luggage, and the few small things I packed in my backpack…a hot glue gun, a staple gun, chalk, zip ties, a tape measure.  Not much to work with, which is challenge #1.  Challenge 2 is power.  China runs on 220 volt.  We need 110 volt.  We have some adapters, but the power here seems to be a little on the unstable side, so we get a lot of surges.  Also, you need plug adapters as well as power adapters.  Which is something I hadn’t realized, so I’d just brought an adapter.

And of course that all sounds like Greek, so this is what I mean:   power outlet -> adapter plug -> power converter -> power cord

The resulting pig pile of crap is awkward and heavy and tends to want to fall out of the power outlet.  Additionally, you need to make sure the power converter is converting to the right wattage.  Our converters had two options – 50 watts or 2000 watts.  If you don’t choose the right one, your device might not be able to draw enough power..or it’ll draw too much power, and that means smoke and bad smells.

So it’s all very obvious and straightforward and not confusing in the slightest…

…And we fry a few converters in record time.

Still, I manage a small miracle of prop restoration that involves taking a thoroughly smashed styrofoam skull and gluing it back together again.  (No pics, because I was ashamed of the whole project, but after seeing the final result, I wish I’d documented the effort…the one on the left is the uncrushed skull, and the one on the right looks much better than it has any reason to.)

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The skulls under the thrones also needed some TLC.  Anyone that’s ever worked with a Budget Bucky skeleton knows that they tend to fall apart easily under normal circumstances…after being shipped halfway around the world, these skellies were in much need of TLC.  While the guys work on the fun stuff, I fix skellies and start to work on customizing reaper robes into something creepier-looking.  (Enter blister #1, as it’s impossible to work with a hot glue gun and not burn the hell out of yourself a few times.)

The gluing fun pauses at lunch time.  We’re instructed to go over to a specific restaurant in the park, where we’re warned that the food is Chinese.

I probably should have taken the warning look a little more seriously.

I am a timid diner.  When in doubt, I will always order a burger.  I knew meal time would be a bit of a challenge, but I didn’t expect…

chicken footAnd that sound would be my stomach saying NOPE.

I certainly didn’t expect a chicken foot to be in our soup.  I also didn’t expect ice to be a rarity.  Trying to get cold water turns out to be a daily challenge.  Not that ice doesn’t exist…it just doesn’t belong in water.

Back through the Super Secret Entrance and to our slowly-haunted trail.   It becomes increasingly obvious that (a) language is going to be a huge, huge issue and (b) there will always be about a dozen ‘helpers’ hanging out with us, not really doing very much.  A main feature of this trail is a ‘witch gate’ that will straddle the path and needs to be stretched out a bit in the middle before being lifted into place.

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…There seems to me to be reasonable doubt that this will happen any time soon.

We are instructed to work until 6:30PM, when we are to meet up with our driver at the employee entrance and go back to our hotel.   There are several restaurants here, as well as a breakfast buffet that we visited briefly prior to our morning meeting.  One would think that having the ability to eat for free would be a grand thing.

It would be, if you understood a single thing on the menu.

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(The first photo is outside the hotel’s main entrance.  The other two are of the lobby in front of the hotel’s main restaurant.  There are crocodiles mounted EVERYWHERE.  Apparently crocodile soup is a specialty here…)

Although we’re staying at a resort hotel, we struggle to find anyone that speaks English.  We sit down for dinner and find ourselves surrounded by wait staff.  One person tells us, in stilted English, that we must buy 5 meals, even though there are only four people at the table.  We give up trying to understand that, and instead focus on the menu.  Somehow, everything we point at seems to be unavailable.  C, who has a fantastic ability to pantomime questions, gets something ordered…although it only ends up being 3 dishes, and the only dish that looks like something we’d eat is the one C picked out.

A woman who seems to be the restaurant hostess starts shoveling food onto my plate.  I feebly protest, then give up and start saying, “Thanks, mom.”  J shoots me a confused look.  I shrug and nibble at a bit of rice.

We get through the meal and decide what we really need is a damn drink.  And so we go exploring.

 

sleeping on doors

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I had thought it would be fun to be on a plane for 15 hours.

Ha!

How can just sitting be so painful? My knees ache. My feet ache. My lower back aches. We are on a double decker plane with three rows of seats – I had no idea planes could be this big! – and even though I’m pretty much in the back of the plane, I’m too trapped by my seat mates to get out and stretch. Although the one nearest the window has no problem straddling me so she can get out.

(When I’m told later that Chinese people don’t like to get in each other’s personal space, you better believe I’ll think about these mini lap dances!)

The stewardesses hand out little yellow forms. I take one, having zero idea what it’s for, then figure out it’s a paper you fill out listing info about your arrival and departure from the country.

Huh. Ive heard of customs but I had no idea there would be such random paperwork.

We depart from the plane and immediately lose one of our team members. Somehow he hops off fast and gets caught up in a snarl of ‘helpful’ people that whisk him away with his luggage, take his cell phone and passport, and sell him a SIM card he can’t use so he can call us.

We wait around at customs, and at luggage claim, and then with our driver. No sign of S.

(I should introduce the crew. J is the boss, based in Massachusetts. He’s brought C, a mostly unknown young fellow. S is flying in from North Carolina but has worked with J for 20 years.)

We call our contact in China, really not sure what to do. What could have caused Scott to vanish?

(Having something as easy as meeting in a group after departing from the plane become An Issue should have been a huge dang indicator to us as far as how the rest of this trip was going to go.)

(The other warning sign that we didn’t take seriously enough was that we were expected to go from the airport to the hotel, check in, drop off our suitcases, and go right to a meeting.)

There’s another American waiting to go to the same amusement park we are, and he starts to complain to us about how he’s already waited for an hour and a half and has missed his meeting and he needs us to get ourselves together and stop delaying him.

Well. Alrighty then.

J runs off to keep looking for S. S finally gets his phone back from his ‘helpful’ buddies on the other side of the customs wall. Our driver calls our client and the other American talks to him…then the driver hands me the phone. Our client rep, M, speaks very good English and asks me to please try to find J because M has found S and S is on his way to us…and oh, there may be a problem with getting all of our luggage in the driver’s car.

As it turns out, that’s a legit concern. But we do get everyone to the car and everyone’s stuff into the car and we start off to the hotel.

The land is like a weird mix of Pennsylvania and Florida. The buildings are predominantly pink and a mix of what looks like 1970s hotels and Chinatown.

The traffic is….insane. Just insane. Lots of trucks and scooters and cars, some bicycles, all sharing the road. And by ‘share’ I mean lots of honking, fast swerves, and the yellow line in the middle of the road is a suggestion. Every trip in a car here involves several cringes and “oh holy craps” from any of us that have made the poor choice to pay attention to traffic.

I don’t think even a “Masshole” driver would stand a chance on these roads.

By contract, we were to stay in a resort hotel owned by our client, owners of Chimelong Paradise, Night Zoo, and International Circus. A google search state side had only served to confuse me – was this Vegas? a safari park? a circus? The answer is that this is sorta China’s Disney. They have the world’s largest collection of white tigers. They also have three baby pandas and a fancy looking aquarium and two amusement parks side by side. And several hotels, liberally decorated with taxidermied animals.

We were being put up in their oldest hotel. We hadn’t been warned about the animals.

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(Pretty sure they’re hiding from the buffet.)

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(I sent that pic to Bones with the description, “This hotel has a lemur pooping in the lobby.” In retrospect, that would maybe have explained the smell of the hotel lobby..)

We check into our rooms, which are almost quaint in their dated design. But then there are the beds.

“They don’t have mattresses!” S insists. We all agree that it’s gonna be like sleeping on doors. Before that can really process, though, we’re off to our business meeting.

leaving the country

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Truth be told, I’m a nervous traveler. I prefer to be sitting waiting at the gate for an hour. If it’s a plane in question? I want two hours. It’s never necessary, but it’s one part of the trip I can control.

We had 15 minutes this morning to make the train. “I’m gonna miss it.”

Bones shot me a surprised look. “We’re fine. Trains are never early.”

I stared at the clock. “Ten minutes. I’m gonna miss it.” I would have started to paw through my carry on again had I not left it in the trunk. “My bags will be too heavy. I should repack.” I want to touch my passport again, just to make sure it’s really in my bag.

Bones holds my hand.

We’re early.

My suitcase is only 26lbs.

It’s probably best that he’s not going with me. I might make him crazy.

He waits with me for the train. I’m not used to having anyone with me at the start or end of a journey.

“I’d go get you some coffee but I might miss you and the train,” he says.

I’m still surprised by his thoughtfulness.

I try to not paw through my bags.

He kisses me goodbye. I kiss him again and turn away. I never watch him leave. Honestly, I never watch anyone leave me. When I was a kid, I would watch my mom leave after a visit, and I would cry for what seemed like hours. So now I don’t watch people leave, if I can help it.
~~~
We talked last night over a brief dinner about my trip. “Well, if anything happens to me, you’re my beneficiary,” I told Bones. “So you’ll be able to buy that trailer you want!”

He didn’t laugh along with me. “If anything happens, I’m giving away the keys to the haunt. I won’t want it anymore.”

This wasn’t what I expected to hear. “You haunted without me before…”

“I have more fun with you than I ever did before. I don’t want to do it without you.”

I squeezed his hand. “Everything will be fine. Promise.”
~~~~
I’m on an Amtrak train to Chicago, where I’ll have to catch a commuter train to Chicago O’Hare airport. I’ve only done this sort of travel to and from Philly, and so I am thinking wistfully of those journeys and about how I may never make that trip again.

It’s odd how much train yards look so similar…factories in the distance, scrubby determined weeds pushing through rocks and growing, welcome or not.

I review the notes Bones printed off for me that explain how to get from the Amtrak station to the airport.

We’re being delayed by freight trains.

I look at the clock. I have…5 hours to get to the terminal.

I wish it were ten hours.
~~~~
We reach the Chicago Amtrak station and I am completely blocked from getting my suitcase until everyone else has departed from the train.

“I ONLY HAVE FOUR HOURS!!!” I text Bones. “I hate Chicago.”

He is probably wishing I’d left my phone at home as I’d planned on doing.

I find the public transit train that will take me to the airport. Lordy, this is already a long journey.
~~~~
I get to the terminal so early that there’s no assigned departure gate yet. That’s pretty much perfect in my book.

I’ve overthought a lot of this trip and have probably made varied friends crazy with questions. I have multiple copies of my itinerary and visa paperwork. I’m wearing my skeleton crew vest from Grisly Gothic Gables, so I can keep all my paperwork and my passport on me without the worry of a purse. I have clothing in my carry on in case my luggage gets lost in transit. I’ve packed extra shoes. I have protein bars and Airborne and immodium just in case.

I’m a nervous traveler but I love flying, even though my left ear often reacts badly to landing, can block up leaving me partially dead for a while and can be painful all the way down to my collarbone. Every flight is a gamble. This time, I leave the plane only moderately deaf.
~~~~
Our team is meeting in L.A. I get my suitcase and am told I have to walk 10 minutes or so to the international terminal and go through check-in and security again. I only have three hours. But that’s more time than the boys have. Obviously the Chinese clients got the cosmic message to give the neurotic American lots of extra time. Thank you, God.

I send the boss a text about having to walk a gazillion miles, but I’m here. He doesn’t understand what I’m saying until he’s told he has to make the same journey. Which means the boys all end up racing to the terminal and arriving just as boarding has started.

This means that J hasn’t had a chance to hit an ATM. Which means no money for me. Which means I’m leaving the country with about $3 in my pocket. Which is not my ideal plan…

so if you’ve ever wondered how much it costs to get a last minute visa…

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…the answer is, “IT COSTS A LOT!!!”  If you have the option of applying for a travel visa waaaaaaay in advance of your trip or doing it, oh, the week before?  Do it waaaaaaaaaaay in advance, no matter how thrilling it might seem to wait until the last minute.  Like, go ahead and start NOW.

Mind you, most travel doesn’t require a visa.  So, ya know, I’m mostly just talking to myself.  And anyone that wants to go to/from China to work or go to school.

In another life, I was responsible for making sure Chinese college-level students and professors got their travel visas to allow them to come from there to here.  This meant procuring:

* a letter of invitation from the US that specified the length of the student’s stay in the US

* a letter proving the student had enough money in the bank to be financially ok while here (in part to make sure no one’s getting a job while they’re here)

* a copy of their passport’s front page and other ID

* payment for their visa application

I then had to fill out their application, submit it online, send the documents to our college’s visa processing gods, and keep everyone informed of the progress of the application.  The tricky part was watching those deadlines.  If we ended up getting too close to the specified dates of travel, we had to alter the visa application.

I didn’t enjoy the process very much because I found it nerve wracking.  Looking  back, though, I’m very glad I had this experience, because it helped me with my own application quite a lot.

So!  Jump from 2012/2013 to June 2014.

Bones and I run into a friend of mine who has a lot of haunt building to do over the summer.  He asks, jokingly, if either of us are available to help.  I say, “Maybe!  Let us know.”

Jump to September 2014.  Said friend posts to Facebook, “Hey!  I need a fourth person to join my team to go to China to build haunt houses!”

I text him, saying, “I have a passport.”

He calls.  “You do?  Can you really go?”

I look at the calendar.  It’s maybe the second week of September.  Haunt build is due to be completed by September 25th.  Trip will have us leaving September 17th or so.  My haunt opens October 17th.

“…Yeah, I can do that,” I say.

We talk again a few days later and he officially invites me to join his crew.  I do not squee.  I really want to squee.

Email arrives with instructions on how to fill out the visa application, but we’re all waiting on the invitation letter from the Chinese client.

We wait a bit longer.

Finally,  J finds out that the client has pushed back the opening date to…October 15th.  So now we’re leaving in October.

*cue panic*

J runs a haunt in…SALEM.  No way does he want to NOT be in Salem in OCTOBER.

We regroup and figure out that yes, we can all still go.  Departure date is now October 5th.  We return October 14th.  My  haunt still opens October 17th.

*CUE PANIC*

We all get the paperwork we need for the visa applications and submit on September 24th.  (Allow me to refer you to the beginning of this blog…you really do not want any of this panic.)  I am using the passport that shows my name prior to marrying Bones.  That application shows that I have a Pennsylvania address, but since I’m in Michigan and the visa is to be shipped to Michigan, I’ve sent my passport and application and a ton of documentation to Chicago.

Chicago calls.  “Um, you should have sent this to the NYC office.  But the Chinese embassy there is closed Oct 1st to the 3rd.  In fact, most of the Chinese embassies are closed for most of this week…you’ll never get this back by the 4th.”

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!!!

So I explain that, um, I have two addresses, I AM married, I AM in Michigan.

“Do you also travel to Massachusetts to work for…is that Bone…yard?”

“No, I need to travel to CHINA to work for this guy in Massachusetts.”  At this point, I nearly blurted out, “..And I’m not a terrorist, I swear.”

“Oooooo..kay.  So email us a letter explaining all of that with a copy of your ID from Michigan and you should be good.”

No, I’m pretty sure I’m close to being the oddest visa applicant they’ve had this year.  But.  I do as she asks – this is all on September 29th – and the application goes to the embassy.

I’ve spent the week hitting ‘refresh’ on my application status page, and I’m still kinda stunned that it’s here, in my hand, on October 3rd.

IN THE MEANTIME, I have:

* been working at Bones’ office

* organizing actor sign-ups for this weekend

* getting paperwork together for the actors

* working at the haunt at night

* being interviewed about the haunt

* talking to local schools about our need for actors

* documenting my job for the person that will help Bones in the office while I’m gone

* training said person (probably badly…alas)

* figuring out how to get from my house to Chicago O’Hare via train

* buying travel insurance

* packing

* recruiting more help for Bones for this final push of haunt building

* blogging 🙂

* keeping track of family stuff (did I mention my mom is having health woe?  she is and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!)

…I have 4 different to do lists I’m working from right now.  I’m wicked tired, and I feel very very guilty about leaving Bones.  He is being incredibly, INCREDIBLY supportive.

But.

China.

CHINA.

I leave Sunday.

Holy poop, I’m going to *****CHINA******.

making with the zooooom

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And now, a real-time post.

We are feeling the crunch of too much to do/oh my gawd we open WHEN?!?!? big time right now.  I think half of our rooms are almost done.  We started working on lighting last night, making the change-over to LED spotlights as much as we can.  Two of our new effects for 2014 are pretty much completed.  Media advertising is done.  Actor recruitment is gearing up.  I’m really happy with the haunted mansion portion of the program, and Bones’ cemetery is looking so good!  (Hard to get pics or I’d be posting brag shots, I promise.)

Of course, I’m even slacking off on construction pics, mostly because I’ve been running from project to project and generally covered in paint.  Realized earlier than the camera lens on my phone was too covered in gunk to get a clear shot of anything.  Ooooops.  But here’s a few..

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Part of the reason I’m running a little too much is that I was offered the chance to go to help set up some haunted houses in…CHINA!!!  When I said, “Oh, HELL yes!” the schedule would have had me back very late September.  Of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans of squirrels and men…So now I’m supposed to leave October 5th and be back October 13th. And we open October 17th.

*cue panic mode*

camping!

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The plan was to leave between 8am and 9am. My beloved husband made the 5 hour drive to go get his kidlet Thursday night so we could leave this morning.

7am? He’s up. Because he’s awesome.

7am-8am: I cling to the bed, moaning ‘no no I don’t wanna get up..’

8am? I leap like a gazelle from the bed, realizing I didn’t pull out my picnic basket and air mattress pumps for us to use on this trip. He asks, “You have two pumps..? Never mind. Of course you do!” He laughs, hugs me, and keeps on prepping meals to take with us.

8:30am: I make coffee and feed the cats. My cat (sensitive princess that she is) refuses to eat, so she doesn’t get her vitamins. Again. Kidlet joins us in the kitchen. Coffee and bacon are consumed. I offer bacon to the kitty-princess, sneaking vitamins onto it. She eagerly eats the bacon.

9am: Kitty does a spectacular job horking up bacon in various spots in the living room. 😦 Bones says he’s nowhere near ready. Kidlet gets dressed, I putter around getting ready, packing, watering the garden.

10:30am: Bones is struggling to get all 3 bikes on the bike rack. I suggest we swap out my new bike with my old one. He makes them all fit. Yay!

11am: Yay! We leave!

11:10am: Poop, we forgot some stuff. And hey, do I have water shoes? And a hair tie for the kidlet? (Yes and yes.)

11:20am: Yay! We leave again.

12:15pm: My bike starts to fall off the bike rack at 70mph. Bones VERY QUICKLY pulls over, but the rim is bent. I say it’s ok, let’s just keep going and he and the kidlet can ride without me (…and I can do cross stitch!) He says no, let’s go home and ditch the bikes. We agree to take my bike straight to the bike shop for repairs and…we can get my old bike.

1:30: Yay! We’re back on the road!

3pm: we realize we didn’t being coats or long pants…”Wanna go back?” I suggest. Bones does not kill me..probably only because he’s driving.

5:00pm: We buy groceries. I throw cat food in the cart. “For camping?” “No, for my delicate puking flower at home.”

5:30pn: First campground is full.

6:00pm: Second campground is full..and there are a LOT of boarded up houses here that are probably inhabited by vampires.

6:05pm: Kidlet admits she doesn’t know there’s more than one kind of vampire.
6:06pm: MY HEAD EXPLODES BECAUSE DUDE, HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW ABOUT VAMPIRES?!? What are they teaching kids in school these days?? (Note: the child has informed us the past that Abraham Lincoln really did hunt vampires, and she learned that in school, SO CLEARLY THEY ARE TEACHING READING, WRITING, AND MONSTERS!!)

6:30: Third campground full. Bones is ready to go to a hotel. He looks defeated. I suggest one more GPS search and let’s make a few calls.

6:35pm: Bingo!!!! We find a campground with an open spot..5 min from where we bought groceries around 5pm.

10:36pm: Tent is up. Fire’s going. Husband cooked a great dinner. Kidlet has been riding her bike, had dinner, and decided she’s had enough of being outside an hour ago so she’s in the tent watching Youtube. I’m holding my honey’s hand, typing this, loving him a heckuva lot.