Travel Note

26th April 2019

Our second day in Zhengzhou was devoted to a number of smaller parks that we got to using a combination of the city metro and local buses. By the time these words are read it may well be possible to get to everywhere using the metro alone, as the system is being expanded at a phenomenal rate; eight new lines spanning an incredible 178km are under construction as of this writing, and all are expected to open before the end of 2020.

 

People's Park Zhengzhou

26th April 2019

Every major city in China has its own People's Park, and some thirty-one branches around the country are known to have roller coasters. The park in Zhengzhou is one of seven to have two in its collection, though that may not be the case for much longer; signage on the platform of its signature coaster quotes a twenty year service life that came to an end in September of last year.

Roller Coaster (#2620) is the oldest surviving example of the Loop and Spiral Coaster from Shanghai Amusement Machine Engineering Ltd. The type isn't massively beloved of enthusiasts due to uncomfortable seats and poor tracking, and given that it wouldn't have been overly upsetting to find it closed. For better or worse it was open however, and as such we handed over 40 RMB (~€5.19) per person for our tickets. The experience was not good, though it wasn't as bad as it might have been, with the only really awful moment being a sideways slam in the turnaround between the first and second inversion. We had a small audience of septuagenarians for our ride who were justifiably amused at the group of mentally disenfranchised westerners in their midst.

Bungee

The park's second coaster is located at the opposite end of the facility some five hundred metres to the east. The route leads past a selection of spin rides, an enormous Ferris wheel, and a bungee tower with three separate ride experiences: a traditional jump above water, a parachute drop, and a cage with two seats whose exact motion was not immediately obvious. We spotted one brave soul working his way up the tower and hung around to watch; seeing his body being thrown around like a rag doll reaffirmed my belief that those prepared to risk their lives on the strength of a few bungee cords are certifiably insane.

In due course we ended up at Spinning Coaster (#2621). This looked at first glance like a Golden Horse ride, but closer inspection revealed it to be a knock-off of the usual knock-off created by Lianyungang Yaqiao Machinery Manufacturing Ltd. Seven versions of the design were sold between 2006-2010, and just three remain in service as of 2019, a fact that speaks volumes about the longevity of the hardware. The 30 RMB (~€3.90) ride was eminently forgettable, managing no more than two full rotations over the length of the course.

 

Zhengzhou Zoo

26th April 2019

Our visit to Zhengzhou Zoo started with a minor challenge: the self-service ticketing machines were only available in Chinese, and the resolution of the screens was insufficient for Google Translate to give meaningful results. After a few moments of confusion we were rescued by a member of staff, who pressed buttons for us in rapid succession then asked whether we would pay with AliPay or WeChat Pay. She seemed surprised at the fact that we could offer neither, but pointed us towards a building on the opposite side of the entrance where a lone staff member was able to accept payment in cash.

One curiosity of the park is that all its signage is printed in four languages: Chinese, English, French, and Korean. The verbosity of the instructions is different for each country; a stolid and prosaic be careful by the side of a lake compares with the rather more colourful ne vous baignez pas et attention à votre sécurité, s'il vous plaît in French. I found myself thinking back to a story explained to me a long time ago about a naked zone in a German spa; the local textilfreier bereich was transmogrified into clothing should not be worn in this area. (I'm still hugely entertained by the fact that two words are deemed sufficient to politely convey this message in German. But I digress.)

Entrance

A collection of amusement rides can be found roughly two hundred metres from the main entrance, including two roller coasters. The first is Fruit Worm Coaster (#2622), which despite its name is a decent sized family ride with a height differential of around fifteen feet. The layout consists of a continuous descent in the shape of a figure eight, culminating in a climb of a few feet leading back to the station. I've since realised it to be a duplicate of two coasters I experienced on the same day back in 2012 at Guangzhou Zoological Garden and Tianhe Park.

Our other hit was Jungle Flying Squirrel (#2623), an unexpectedly good mouse that proved to be far and away the finest example of the species I've encountered in China. The hardware looks like it was built to last; each support frame has cross-bracing and high tension cables strung between opposite corners to protect against deformation, and as if that were not enough the frames are interconnected both by the thick spine supporting the track and by additional beams in strategic locations. The rails are clipped in place rather than welded, which presumably allows some flexibility as the single seat cars race along it. The result is absolutely brilliant; tight turns are negotiated with panache and without even the vaguest hint of jarring. We did three laps, and would happily have done more had they not cost us 40 RMB (~€5.19) each.

 

Century Amusement Park

26th April 2019

It was early afternoon by the time we arrived at Century Amusement Park, a substantial facility located adjacent to the innermost of Zhengzhou's three ring roads. An expansive plaza in front of the entrance was almost completely devoid of people and activity, but the ticket window was open and we made our way there. The cashier told us that we would only need two tickets for our group of three, and though this didn't make any sense to us the language barrier made it impossible to get clarification. It was only later that we realised that each ticket was an unlimited ride pass for two which had to shown prior to each ride.

One of my pet hates in the amusement park world is major attractions that exit into gift shops. There are some particularly egregious examples I've seen where departing guests have to follow a zigzag routing past all manner of junk that nobody in their right mind would ever buy. Century Amusement Park has taken this commercialism to a new level by having its entrance follow a wandering route through a shop that must be retraced at the end of the day when it is time to leave. From a customer service perspective this is a significant black mark, though from a revenue standpoint it feels like a missed opportunity; would it not make sense to peddle an alternative selection of tat at the exit?

Old Gold Mine

Our first stop was at Old Gold Mine Roller Coaster (#2624), a substantial double looper with a design that I'd not seen before. My instinct was that it had to have been copied from somewhere, however, and after some digging I've located an identical Meisho creation that operated at Fuji-Q Highland from 1998-2004. The ride was extremely noisy but comfortable, and I would happily have ridden a second time if my companions had wanted to. (Readers should be aware that the staff require a full train in order to dispatch; those visiting on quiet days should plan accordingly.)

There was a tiny restaurant adjacent to the ride, with an elderly gentleman acting as manager, waiter, chef, and dishwasher. There were three options on the menu, only two of which were available today, but both proved to be very good indeed (and astonishingly cheap by western standards). Our new friend was also able to supply freshly brewed coffee to energise us for the afternoon.

On the way to our next stop I learned that public toilet administrators in China are not allowed to play chess or cards while at work. It said so on the delightfully mistranslated sign on the bathroom wall, which I feel compelled to reproduce for posterity:

  • The public toilet administrator must wear a uniform clothing, wear a chest card, dress neatly, no bareback, wear slippers, civilized services, enhance The staff morals concept, strictly according to the hygienic quality standard carries on the management and the cleaning.
  • The public toilet administrator shall be on time and off duty, and shall not be allowed to do any work unrelated to work, such as setting up stands, playing chess, playing CARDS, etc. Sleep, do private work, on time, stick to the post.
  • Manage and maintain the facilities in and out of public toilets, and report to the public toilets if there is any damage. Use of water for electricity use, public toilet water and water power shall not be diverted without authorization, and the public test shall not be discontinued, for special reasons shall be suspended temporarily. The toilet should be clearly shown.

In due course we wound up at Suspended Looping Coaster Over Water (#2625), a mouthful of a name that can be conveniently (and accurately) abbreviated as SLC-OW. The ride was manufactured by Hebei Zhongye Metallurgical Equipment Manufacturing, though fortunately it tracks far better than their common sit down designs. The first half of the layout is almost respectable, with a curved drop, a loop, an airtime hill, and an Immelmann that is negotiated without particular difficulty. From that point onwards however the experience switches to the bizarre, as much of the track is banked to the side for no reason, putting enormous stress on the track and wheel mechanisms. The result an embarrassment that feels like it was created by an six year old using Roller Coaster Tycoon, as opposed to a professional team of civil engineers.

Castle Cry

We quickly ticked off the off the Spinning Coaster (#2626) then made our way into Castle Cry, a haunted walkthrough with a particularly dramatic facade and an entrance accessed by escalator. A sign just inside the door made it clear that "if you need to take a ride, please queue up consciously and show your tickets on your own initiative", and we did just that. A member of staff handed us foam rubber tubes lined with coloured LEDs that we were supposed to use for seeing our way, though we found them to be rather more useful as offensive weapons. The scenery inside was a mixed bag; some of the rooms were quite detailed, while others were at the level one would expect to see at a travelling carnival. We also tried the Goteborg Ghost Ship, a very similar installation that doubled as a convenient vantage point for coaster photography.