Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Rene Monory. Dr. Louis Alberto LaCalle Herrera. Rlaluih Serge Voho. Lennart Meri. The names roll off the tongue and of course, you've undoubtedly heard of them. They are, according to a sign I saw yesterday in a SZ theme park called Splendid China, some of the "Most Famous People in the World." They and other distinguished luminaries have had the distinction not only of being some of the world's best known personalities but they've also planted trees in Splendid China.
Though theme parks, leper colonies, Turkish prisons and Kenny G. concerts are pretty much equals in my priorities when it comes to amusement what brought me to Splendid China was urging from newly arrived fellow barbarian James (his blog is at and desperation when it came to entertaining Yochan. You see, other than shopping and bar hopping, Shenzhen really doesn't have a lot to offer out of town visitors, especially if you don't drive and can't speak enough Chinese to hire a cab to take you outside the "special zone" that encircles the city.
Hence, theme parks make up a lot of the tourist attractions. So far, I'd been able to side-step them, sort of like how I haven't caught hepatitis A or B yet, but James, who is a native Angelino, was born on the day Disneyland opened and finally 'fessed up about 3 hours into our sorjourn through Splendid China that he was a model train freak as a kid had repeatedly urged me to see it. This last detail is critical, because Splendid China consists of two parts - one of which is acres of China in minature. You can see the entire country and its' scenic highlights in an hour if you hurry. There's a two-foot high Great Wall stretching a full kilometer, for instance and the magnificent 3 Gorges rendered in artificial rock with a very small artificial stream, just like it looked before the Yangtze River was dammed up. Don't miss Beijing's Forbidden City either, also two feet high and staffed with hundreds of Chinese GI Joes in Ming Dynasty costumes feet firmly glued to the ground, except for the ones who have sat out in the elements too long and are now listing to one side, their minature umbrellas and banners in tatters.
It all looks like some kind of beserk Sino-obsessed gardener-landscaper run amok, or an enormous minature golf course if you factor in the enormous fiberglass dragons, fake pagodas and what appear to be old Big Boys from the hamburger chain who have been repainted and slightly reshaped as various monkey gods and Happy Buddhas.
But the World's Most Famous People who have planted trees there was a definite highlight. Though most are notables like the ones mentioned above (president of the French senate, president of Uruguay, prime minister of Vanuatu, president of Estonia, respectively) we did spot ones planted by unknowns like George Bush I and war criminal-ex-socialite Henry Kissinger.
The second part of Splendid China was a tad more interesting. Most Chinese are Han people who dominate 50-some "ethinic minorities", 22 of which are more or less represented in mini-folk villages in the park. It's sort of like visiting a sanitized Indian reservation in the U.S. - one without wretched dwellings, abandoned trucks, alcoholism and casinos. Throw in some Hispanics in colorful somberos and costumes dancing and playing mariachi music, some African-Americans tap dancing or playing Dixieland and some drunken Irish dressed as 19th century cops and you're approaching the general idea.
There's a live re-creation of Genghis Khan and his horse back hordes in a Chinese rodeo arena, though I don't think Genghis employed fog machines or wore a fire helmet and I swear that the lip-synched soundtrack, complete with the sounds of clashing swords, grunts, thuds and screams was identical to one I'd heard while watching a 1980s-era Hong Kong chop-sockie flick on the TV a few days before.
I thought that to make it really complete Splendid China needs an opium village, some barbarians dressed as 19th century British naval officers and as U.S. Marines circa 1900 putting down the Boxer Rebellion and maybe some Red Guards taunting and beating a university professor in a dunce cap.
But James and I discovered a mini-scandal. Some of these minorities weren't what they were dressed up to be.
Case #1. Kounterfeit Koreans. Because Korea borders China, some Koreans live in China and are counted as minorities. We spotted two women dressed in traditional Korean dresses near the "Korean Folk Village" and as James and Yochan photographed them I seized on the opportunity to try out my limited Korean language skills, which still outstrip my Chinese. They looked at me as if I was speaking Spanish and it became apparent that they were as Korean as Britney Spears. They were Chinese dressed as Koreans.
Case #2. Make-believe Muslims. There's a gaudy concrete "mosque", complete with a crescent moon on the domed roof. Like 98% of the other prefab ethnic structures, it's actually sheltering an overpriced gift shop. Two "Chinese Muslim" women kept urging us to check it out but we were weary and broke and James finally broached the question. "Are you real Muslims? If you are we'll come inside."
"No!" they admitted in unison, giggling. "Oh no! Not Muslim!"
Well, we're not real foreigners with unlimited funds either.

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