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…


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


…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.


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.”


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.


* 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.




I leave Sunday.

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

a different sort of angel… Dave Mattis: March 24, 1973 – January 2014


At my first haunt, Grisly Gothic Gables, sometimes we needed to have wall panels attached to the floor with concrete screws.  One of our crew members, “Donk,” usually did this for us, so we called it ‘donking the wall.’

This past year – and many years since Grisly – while building the Chamber of Horrors, I found myself checking walls and telling Bones, “No no, we have to Donk this panel, too.”


“Well, let me tell you about someone…”

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Donk is the fellow sorta in the middle of the photo, lounging in front of the fireplace.  This is a crew shot from Grisly, and in many ways I think it describes Donk.  He’s in the middle, but on the edge. He’s almost easy to miss….but only because you’re not there in person.

Donk was a member of our core group, our “Skeleton Crew.”  He was incredibly reliable – I can’t think offhand of him ever missing a performance – and while he refused to take on any sort of management title, he wore a radio for me because he was unofficial security. I knew that if he was in the haunt, my nearby female cast members were safe from any possible mischief or accidents.

When I think of Donk, I always think of his laughter first, his quiet determination to keep people safe second, and his mugging for the camera third.  Although he was generally camera shy in his day to day life, he had so much love for his characters and his special effect contacts that I honestly never realized he was known for avoiding photographs.

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And – as is so common – I didn’t know much about Donk outside the haunt.  I knew he was Wiccan – we discussed it on Facebook a few times – and I knew bits and pieces of his life, but I’m realizing now how little that actually was.  For example:  he wasn’t Dave to me, he was Donk.  He was gloriously DONK.  He loved to bellow “DAH-OOOOOONK!” – I can still hear the sound echoing down Philadelphia streets – and then laugh.  But it was only recently that I met the person that gifted him with that nickname.  It’s a quiet little reminder that, so often, we can love someone and consider them family, and never know every story that makes up that person’s life.

Last month, a stranger responded to a photo I’d posted and tagged Donk in, saying he had passed away.  A large part of me still can’t believe it.  I’ve been wanting to write a memorial since, but it’s an impossible thing to really believe the news.  I’ve found myself reading through old emails…like you do…and found this, which had been a response to my talking to him about my struggle with depression:

“…been there ,but i realized ,that’s when you need to embrace your friends (real friends ) not to shy away cause that’s when the loneliness causes you to do things ..out of character . besides your too sweet and hot to get depressed…”

I remember laughing and feeling wrapped in his affection and understanding.  I read that now and wish I’d had the chance to return that love.

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I don’t generally believe in angels.  I make an exception in Dave’s case.  Most of us never know how much we affect other people’s lives and stories.  Donk’s influence went so much further than he ever knew, and he’s one of those people that just brought joy to others’ lives.  I hope he knew, on some level, how much of a positive he was to the world around him, and I find myself believing wholeheartedly that not only does his joy continue, but that he’s protecting and loving us from wherever he is now.


be vewwy quiet..we’re hunting haunt actors!


(..or, another example of why Bones is a saint.)

We started visiting local area high schools to drop off flyers to teachers, with the hop of drumming up more interest from our target audience.

Bones grabbed a pile of flyers and left me in the car, where I sat, head down, playing with my phone. As you do.

I looked up and saw a hearse parked a few cars away from me. I squeaked, flung open my door, leapt like a gazelle out of the car and to the hearse. Whilst petting the hearse, I noticed a marching band helmet sitting on the dashboard.

SCORE!! This is probably a student’s daily ride!!

I scampered back to our car, opened a back door, found some haunt tickets and a flyer, and tried to use our skull-shaped hole punch to indicate these were about to become free passes to the haunt. And then the hole punch got stuck, so I knelt down on the macadam to use it as a firm surface with which to coerce the punch to work.

That all sounds sorta logical. But what Bones saw, as he walked back to our car, was..

hey, a hearse!
hey, there are two doors open on my car
hey, my wife is missing

Of course, as soon as I noticed him, I bounced back up to my feet, waves the tickets at him, and babbled, “OMG HEARSE I WANT TO GIVE HIM TICKETS I CAN’T MAKE THE PUNCH WORK WAAAAAAAAAH HELP ME!!”

He calmly fixed the now-jammed hole punch, took care of the tickets, and handed me a pen so I could write a quick note inviting the owner of this lovely late-80s hearse to come visit us.

…Bones’ patience with me is always pretty amazing.