a conclusion i couldn’t have predicted


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!


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.


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.


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


wrapping things up


(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.


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..)


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


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…


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


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.


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):

100_0423 100_0421 100_0420 100_0419

Just inside the front entrance:

 100_0428   100_0429   100_0426


Found on my wander through the park:

100_0435 100_0436 100_0438 100_0440 100_0443 100_0445 100_0451 100_0452


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.


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.


everything goes away in china


I know that my over focus on food must seem a little odd.  But really, it is remarkable how quickly finding something one can persuade one’s stomach to tolerate becomes of utmost importance…

Normally, I’m not a fan of eggs.  But this?  This is a truly beautiful sight.


…get the hell out of our way, we know what that is!!

Also?  This hotel has live animals on display in the buffet restaurant.  (There’s also live animals in other parts of the hotel grounds, but I personally never made it out that far to see them.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         animals 1     animals 2

The bird atrium has flamingos – two types – and scarlet ibises.  The tiger enclosure has two females and a male.  After the first hotel, this is all very surreal, I assure you.

We are also now close enough to the park that we don’t need to risk our lives in a car anymore.  This is an honest to goodness resort hotel, complete with walking paths to the nearby parks.  The kerfluffle of the day, however, is that the park is undergoing a government inspection today.  J was asked to hide all the tech stuff included with the haunt – all the TVs and video players and the like.  As it turns out, that’s already been done by the time we get to the park.  In fact, hiding things becomes a daily issue, with every morning becoming a search for things we just had the day before…everything from AV equipment to batteries to cables to zip ties to paint brushes.

This may be more maddening than it sounds.

As the inspection continues, our interpreter comes over and asks J if he could go decorate the trains now.  I jump in and tell him I’ll do it.  We have four boxes of blow-mold skeletons and I have zip ties stashed in my backpack.  In theory, I can deal with this project.

One of the English-speaking workers grabs a buddy and I follow them back to the zombie shoot-em-up attraction and down an access road, leaving the boxes of stuff behind for now.  And we walk. And walk.  It gets more remote.  Still walking.

I’m pretty sure I’m being punked.

After walking maybe 2-1/2, 3 miles, we get to a huge chainlink fence topped with barbed wire and padlocked shut.  On a hill behind the fence sit the trains and cars.  There’s zero chance of me getting to those cars, let alone dragging boxes of stuff to them even if the gate wasn’t locked.

I remind my escort that I need to get to those trains.  (And when I say ‘train’ you should picture a tractor sort of thing pulling two long cars.)

My escort looks confused.  He starts to talk to one of the people on the other side of the fence.

I am now well and truly sure I’m being punked.  I turn my back on the conversation and I start to walk back to the zombie train path.  After a few minutes, my escort follows me.

I walk to the boxes of stuff and I try to explain that all of this needs to get to the trains.  This is after I’ve grabbed a cart and loaded all of the boxes onto it, then pushed it towards where the trains are.  My escort – who now has 4 more guys with him – take the cart from me and tell me that the trains will be brought here in the afternoon.

This never happens.

I gesture to the cart and try to make it clear that these things should stay right here.

That doesn’t happen, either.

I go back to the haunt.  The boys are frustrated with standing around and so they decide to start assembling the haunt.  Most of the work was done in the US – the walls are painted, the props are ready to go, there are spots on the walls indicating where decor should go, and  the panels are all numbered.  Our location is a little confusing.  It’s a metal pole tent with heavy black plastic walls and ceiling over a cheap cement floor.  It may have been a dining area?  There are two tiki gods on the roof, which sorta match the always-closed Hawaiian restaurant across the way from us, and there’s a little concrete shack in the front of the location.  Because of the placement of the plastic walls and the gated queue area, there’s no way our facade is going to be seen…which is a shame, as it’s unique to the park and beautifully painted by Stuartizm Designs.

The guys start bringing pallets of walls into the haunt location and organizing panels by numbers.  We only have a short time of working alone, as we are fairly quickly joined by about a dozen Chinese helpers, who look at the blueprint and start working on the other side of the site.  Which sounds useful, but…not so much.

IMG_6243       IMG_6242

The strange angle of the second pic is because I took the shot while holding onto a section of panels, pulling out the next panel in line for assembly.  You see work at a stop because (a) they were going so fast they were putting panels up upside down and (b) the panels were not touching the ground.  The ones in the corner were level, but as construction went on, the panels were angling up.  I try to get their attention, but have to ask C to come over and make them stop.  As our helpers argue and tear apart everything they’ve already assembled, I point at one panel still waiting to go up and gesture for it to be brought back to me.  I then cling to all of the panels I have and gesture a very clear “NO DO NOT TOUCH MINE!!!” while clinging to the panels like a cat.

Haunting. It’s allllll about dignity.

The helpers finally go to lunch.  We do not.  But, as with pretty much every haunt I’ve ever worked on, the haunt layout is fighting back with the physical reality of the space, so having a crew that doesn’t speak English working almost at odds with the designer that’s trying to figure out how to make adjustments to the floor plan…it’s becoming a maddening experience.

Up until now, I though the most frustrating part of a build was being the person that everyone needs to talk to and get directions from.  That’s nothing compared to a dozen people that speak a different language, follow you around, and seem to be determined to work on things without direction from you…which makes things that much more complicated.

We go to a late lunch. I mostly just drink sodas.  It’s so very very hot.

More work, and an exhausted walk back to the hotel.  I realize I’m starting to get blisters on my feet.  The guys are all starting to get sores from their shoes as well.  We have plans to put together a list of things to do tomorrow…but we all end up just falling asleep instead. 


real time update: chamber of horrors


Guys, our haunt is so beautiful.  So.  Beautiful.

We have our second and last weekend in a few days and our numbers were really low opening weekend.  The weather was not so great.  I am full of hope for this weekend.

I want lots of people to see the gorgeous thing we have created with our crew, and that our wonderful actors has brought to life.  I am overwhelmingly proud of every bit of the show and the work we have done to bring this haunt into being.

…I so don’t want to take it down next month.

We had a TV interview on Monday.  And I say ‘we’ because, even though my trip to China was the main focus, for me it is all about the haunt and about bringing people into our corner of Halloween.

It’s all about doing everything I can to help support Bones’ dream of having a professional haunted attraction.  He is brilliant, and I love working with him more than I have words to describe.

Anyway.  Interview and article is here:


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


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.

food 3

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!

food 11


escaping the ghetto


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.)


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.


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.


…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.


J:  His steamed like that, too.


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


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


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.


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.