I accept that I’m part of the 99% and always will be. Still, I’ve always dreamt of going on a roller coaster—hell, have a whole amusement park—for myself. Forget the lines and the annoying crowds and the jerks trying too hard to show off to their girlfriends. I wanted any ride any time I wanted. I stumbled on my chance at the Nanshan Amusement Park in the Shandong Province. The park is run by the Nanshan Group and describes itself as “mainly designed for visitors to experience and participate in person, and the main entertainment equipments [sic] and projects include luxurious carrousels, whirlwind knights, self-controlled flying elephants, mermaids, bumper cars, large-sized slides, double bungee jumping, space cruiser and pleasure boat wharf. Happy Island is an ideal place for having a thrilling and exciting experience, recreation and body building.”
I went during regular hours on a weekday and to my surprise, it was a ghost town aside from the occasional worker. The design of many of the rides felt like a cheaply imitated animation factory spat out strangely cartoonish characters with an Asian slant.
The main attraction is called the Loop and Cork Screw Coaster. It was built in 2009 by the Beijing Shibaolai Amusement Equipment Company and reaches a maximum velocity of 75 kilometers per hour, handling 24 riders per trip. There are two cork screws and a single loop. For all purposes, it looked like something that would fit right into Six Flags Magic Mountain in the States. There is no fee for entering the park, though you pay for each of the individual rides. The Loop and Cork Screw Coaster costs 40RMB (about 7USD) and when I asked the ticket salesperson why there were no people, she shrugged and mentioned weekends were usually busier. Next to the roller coaster is a statue of what looks like grim soldiers side by side with magical broom figures from Fantasia. Initially, there was no one at the roller coaster booth. The attendant arrived a few minutes later, having had to use the bathroom. After I got on, the attendant asked that we wait until more riders come. I strapped myself in and he gave a cursory inspection before going back to his booth and surfing the web. I wondered how long the wait would be when an alarm went off and the ride began (see video). Having been used to safety precautions at American parks, I wondered if everything was in good condition. My sudden premonitions of death weren’t allayed by how much the coaster shook along the path. Strange how poignantly poetic fear can make you—I wondered what an article headlining my death would read like if the belt snapped and I fell out, plummeting to a yellow railed death. Fortunately, the belt held and there was enough g-force to provide some thrills. It was only a minute long and when I finished, I unstrapped myself and jumped out. When I looked back at the attendant, he was still surfing the web on his phone.
The rest of the amusement park appeared to be empty and whenever I presumed a ride was closed, some attendant would appear out of nowhere and ask if I had a ticket. After I’d shake my head, they would go back to whatever it was they were doing. Rather than feeling special, the whole place made me feel lonely and desolate and even a little miserable. I’d heard of abandoned amusement parks throughout China as well as the New South China Mall that was over 7.1 million square feet and 98% empty. I wondered at the workers who toiled to build the place. It depressed me to think that someone somewhere thought these grand businesses would be cash cows only to find the cow was already dead and no one gave a shit. It was a living mausoleum to failed dreams.
As none of the other rides seemed particularly compelling, I circled around and headed for the exit. That’s when I noticed a game shooting balloons using BB guns that looked like authentic military weapons. Honestly, if someone pointed those guns at me, I’d have given them my all my money and sung them a song too. I lifted up the fake machine gun and remembered how a few months ago, my wife’s college had a shooter who went on a rampage. He used an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle and had over 1,300 rounds of ammo in his duffel bag, hoping to maximize carnage. He was killed in the library, but not before murdering five people in his wake. My wife had been going there to take some extra classes and fortunately had the day off when it happened.
It’s a real mind-fuck when you have to add the fear of being murdered by a crazy killer while cramming for your finals. It’s fucked up too to gain an irrationally paralyzing fear of guns to the point where we contemplated wearing bulletproof vests in all public venues. At least in China, strict gun control meant I had more to fear from errant cars on the street than guns. Holding that gun in my hand felt liberating as I burst rainbow-colored balloons through the narrow scope of my rifle. I felt like I was blowing up my neuroses, one BB at a time. The attendant was excited when he found out I was from America and told me to shoot as much as I wanted. If something like this game were at a typical American amusement park with these kind of realistic props, I could imagine there would be some type of movement to force the amusement park to replace them either with red-tipped ends or fake-looking guns altogether, ignoring the bigger issue of public massacres. I appreciated the lack of visual censorship on my guns. It felt less hypocritical.
Tired from the heat, I went to a store, hoping to buy some drinks and ice cream. No one was there, even though I looked all around. This was an unusual amusement park where the stores were empty and I couldn’t buy overpriced snacks even if I wanted to. It could have been worse. At least they weren’t trying to sell me stupid t-shirts and hats at every corner.