I've been fortunate enough to visit China on a number of occasions over the years, in all but one case as part of a coaster club group organised through CITC, the official Chinese tourist agency. Travel in this fashion makes it easy to visit a lot of different locations without the hassle of planning, but it is also an expensive way to get around and one has to follow the group itinerary. I've come to realise that I much prefer exploring at my own pace, and as such, I was quite enthusiastic when my employer offered me the chance to spend a few weeks working in Beijing.
My trip began with two full days to adjust to the local time zone prior to going into the office. The only catch was that the first of those days was my arrival day, and my flight was due to land at 5:00am local, right when I was ready to go to bed. The time of day and my long haul middle seat conspired against any sleep on the plane, leaving me in a distinctly suboptimal condition by the time that I arrived at my hotel. It would have been nice to go to bed for a few hours, but instead I had a quick shower and a coffee before heading for the nearest metro station.
One of the greatest inventions of recent years, at least from the perspective of the tourist, is satellite navigation. It is now possible to drive nearly anywhere, provided that one has GPS coordinates and a bit of patience. However, no Westerner could survive on the roads in China, where the standard of driving is best summarised by thinking of the 1980s computer game "Frogger". It is not difficult to hire a driver for a day, but the prices increase exponentially when one tries to make a reservation in English. One of the major suppliers told me that they'd need to apply a $60 surcharge to make a five mile detour on one of my proposed day trips, bringing the total price to $240, well over double the going rate.
Rather than be ripped off, I decided to experiment with public transport for my first two days, as the locations on my list were relatively easy to access that way. This is certainly the cheapest way to explore China, as the fares are well below what would be normal in other countries; a trip on the Beijing Metro, for example, costs the equivalent of $0.25 regardless of journey length. The trick, however, is figuring out where one is supposed to go after arriving at the nearest station. To solve that problem, I bought myself a Garmin Fenix, a bulky but functional GPS wristwatch, and programmed it with exact waypoints for the various parks. Though the current software cannot show street maps, a directional arrow and an exact distance is all that one really needs to track down those elusive Jungle Mice.
6th October 2013
Victory Kingdom is an easy thirty minute walk from Wuqing Train Station, which itself is just twenty minutes by high speed rail from Beijing South. It was impossible not to feel moderately smug while strolling nonchalantly past the gauntlet of taxi drivers on the way out of the station, safe in the knowledge that they were not going to be able to overcharge me today.
The park opened its gates in 1992 as Yangcun Small World. It was rebranded and expanded last year into a larger facility with seven distinct areas; Victory Square, Passion Amusement Park, Space Base, Through In Infinite (I'm not quite sure what this was meant to be), In Somalia, Adventure, and Children's World. These areas are quite small and lack the distinctive boundaries seen at larger parks, but they do have their own distinctive theme elements which can be seen when one looks closely.
The first coaster for me today was the Golden Horse copy of the Vekoma SLC, here branded as Suspended Looping Coaster (#1958). The queue looked short, but after I'd been standing in it for a few minutes I realised that didn't mean very much. It was three quarters of an hour (or five trains) later when I finally made my way into the station and parked myself in a not-terribly-comfortable seat towards the back of the train. The restraint checking process took an eternity, but in due course it was done and our train was dispatched on its journey.
A wave of relief passed over me as the train negotiated the first drop and vertical loop smoothly without any signifiant head-banging. Unfortunately, it was quickly apparent that I'd judged the book by its cover, as the train crashed hard into the cobra roll element, followed by an inline twist in which the train thumped from side to side so violently that I wondered whether it might derail. The best bit, as expected, was the final brake run, when I muttered "ch-ching!" as I waited to disembark.
The second credit, a Golden Horse Spinning Coaster (#1959), earned the same sound effect, its prime selling point being the fact that it failed to inflict any additional bruises. RCDB reports that there are sixty-five of these rides in operation now, mostly in China, but the real number is likely to be higher (though perhaps not if one discounts all the ones that are out of order!). Whatever the case, I can now say that I've ridden over a quarter of the known installations, not that that's anything to be particularly proud of!
My next stop was at what I'd argue is the signature attraction in the park, a brand new design from Intamin. U-Shaped Roller Coaster (#1960) is a development of the moderately successful Intamin Impulse coasters seen around the turn of the millennium. The train is no longer inverted, but instead follows the current trend of putting seats on the outside of the track, as with the B&M Wing Riders and Intamin’s own Furius Baco. The train seats a total of thirty-two in two groups of sixteen, and with a nod to the Vekoma Invertigo rides, all rows apart from front and back have face-to-face seating. Better yet, the restraint is a simple lap bar that pulls down from an arm attached to the side of each car.
This first installation has an interesting oddity that is probably as much a function of China as of Intamin, namely that a wood decking has been built for the full horizontal length of the ride. Instead of a barrier at the edge of the loading platform, a simple piece of tape on the ground indicates an area that one probably isn’t supposed to enter. Furthermore, the LIM motors stick up from the rail right next to the train, and guests can easily step over (or on!) them in order to cross from one side of the platform to the other. If this design is ever deployed in another park I’d predict that some form of moving barrier will be put in place to stop that happening, though how easy that will be to do is anybody’s guess.
The loading speed of this ride is even worse than on the Suspended Looping Coaster. Oncoming riders are kept in a cattle grid some thirty seconds walk from the ride platform until a full train load is ready and the station has been emptied. Once at the platform, all loose objects must be placed into cubby holes (which I support, but why not do this earlier in in the process?) before passengers are allowed to board the train.
The ride cycle begins without any audible warning or safety announcement once all the restraints have been checked. The initial kick is powerful, with the smooth acceleration carrying the train three quarters of the way up the first spike on its first launch, and all the way to the top of the second spike by the second. The cycle is reasonably lengthy, with several full height launches in each direction – and certainly enough to keep riders satisfied.
For me the best feature of the ride was the fun factor brought on by the face-to-face seating. Part of that may be luck, as my first ride had two Chinese teenagers opposite me, one of whom was enjoying the ride while the other screamed in pure unadulterated terror; I suspect all long term enthusiasts have a streak of sadism in them somewhere! I also tried a front seat for comparison, and while the wind-in-your-face feeling was fun, it was fundamentally less enjoyable than the people watching had been.
My last ride of the morning was on Across Amazon (#1961), a Golden Horse-built water coaster that stretches the definition of credit to breaking point. I've decided to adopt the RCDB policy on this (it climbs under momentum, therefore it's countable). The only thing I'd say about this ride is that it is well worth purchasing a poncho, as the amount of water dumped on the boat is enough to drench, and the colour of the water is best described as frightening.
I did consider trying some of the flat rides before leaving, but in the end I decided to brave the Stomach King restaurant instead. I'm pleased to report that I lived to tell the tale, though I did feel just a tiny bit unsettled as I began a gentle stroll in the general direction of Youth Paradise.
6th October 2013
It took me just over half an hour to walk directly to Youth Paradise, best described as a city park with a few amusement rides in it, the biggest of which was the Crazy Flying Mouse (#1962). This ride proved to be quite a bit better than I'd anticipated, thanks to cars which negotiated the tight layout without any unexpected jarring.
The powered Gliding Dragon was located around two hundred metres away from the main ride area, and rather than walk over with me, the operator decided to use his electric scooter to cover the distance. He could have done with the exercise, but I digress. I'd been expecting this to be an embarrassing non-credit, and arguably it was just that, but the shame was mitigated by somewhat by a faster-than-normal motor which resulted in quite an enthusiastic ride.