At China’s Chimelong Paradise theme
park, there is a designated “vomit bin” positioned helpfully at the exit of a
giant roller coaster, a North American Lumbering Burlesque Show featuring
seemingly Russian performers, and a thrill ride called the Sky Drop, whose
description wonderfully translates to “the whole trip just likes riding on a
super happily jumping frog, amazingly and fantastically”.
Add to all
of that a gnawing fear of the country’s none-too-healthy
record with Occupational Safety and Health, and China’s largest amusement
park is a completely unique – and terrifying – experience.
Paradise is 13km south of Guangzhou, the third-largest city in the People’s
Republic. The region is better known for its countless factories than its
thrill rides, and during the half-hour taxi ride from the city centre, drab
apartment blocks rise and vanish from the incessant haze like dull, grey
landscape changes once the taxi turns off the motorway onto the 60-hectare park
surrounds. The ever-present haze remains, but in place of the high-rise
buildings, twisted, skeletal frames of roller coasters soar.
facility has a crocodile park, circus, safari and a full-scale water park, all housed
in separate areas in the facility and all available at extra cost. The theme
park itself has more than 60 rides, including a Guinness World Record-holding
coaster with 10 stomach-churning inversions,
visited, there was no one around. As I passed acres of empty car parks on the
way to the large, arched entrance, I felt a bit like the only swimmer left in
the water after a shark alert – was there something everyone else knew that I did
alone up pathways wide enough to hold hundreds, past giant sculptures of white
tigers, I ran straight to the front of the line of the first rollercoaster I
could find: the Motorbike Launch Coaster, on which the rider straddles a
replica motorcycle. As I mounted this strange ride, three words formed in my
head – Occupational Health and Safety. Or, rather, China’s fairly abysmal
record with it.
In 2001, the
International Labour Organisation estimated that there were about 90,000
workplace deaths in China, accounting for almost a
quarter of the world’s work related fatal accidents. And in 2010, a theme
park disaster in neighbouring Shenzhen killed six people and injured 10
Just as I
was about to back out, a safety harness clunked down and I was launched around
the track for the scariest ride of my life.
scariest, of course, until I rode the Dive Coaster, the big daddy of Chimelong
Paradise. I rode in the front of the 30-person car, a decision I regretted
shortly after when I was left hanging 80m off the ground, before plunging
toward the earth at 120km per hour and through turns that would make a jet
the punters have a choice: the vomit bag or the vomit bin. I managed to choose
prefer a less stressful experience are invited to take a seat and witness some
of the finest, most bizarre entertainment on offer in the People’s Republic:
the North American Lumbering Burlesque Show. In this, two teams of suspiciously
Russian-looking cowboys and girls compete against each other by throwing axes
at targets, waving around large chainsaws and alternating between fist fighting
and folk dancing. The promotional material promises the audiences will “harvest
limitless pleasures”. It is not wrong.
To see this
show, its action-packed sibling Countdown (a sort of live action film, complete
with jumping jet skis and large explosions), and the rest of the main
attractions, park-goers will need a whole day. There is the Sky Drop, which did
not resemble a super happily jumping frog (as the translation read) as much as
it did a lurching, pneumatic bouncing ball; the Halfpipe, a pedal-powered
see-saw; the Superior Large Pendulum, which hoists people in the air as it
spins them around and around high above the ground; and a host of other, more
family-friendly rides and attractions.
It is an
experience like no other to have free reign over a mostly empty theme park,
with hardly anyone around who speaks English, some seriously scary roller coasters
and the lurking feeling that the whole thing could collapse at any second. In
reality, there is, of course, nothing to fear. Except a little nausea – but
then, that is what the vomit bin is for.