While Michael was visiting from Shanghai in June, one of the things we decided to check out for kicks was the Binhai Aircraft Carrier Amusement Park. Sounds bizarre? Well, I'm just getting started. We spotted this in a tourist map which Michael bought showing the best attractions for the Tianjin area. Upon further investigation of online materials, we were surprised to see the description clearly stating that simulated battles take place at the ship and visitors can fire missile launchers. We just had to see these missile launches and battles for ourselves didn't we?
We boarded a taxi cab in TEDA and drove for at least half an hour. Leaving the city outskirts, we passed by massive buildings such as the TEDA soccer stadium and an international meeting center. Soon, the greenery and buildings of TEDA gave way to barren, dusty empty land which was crawling with countless construction machines. We predicted that soon, these miles of empty space will become filled with new development as TEDA grows to become a bustling hub of economic activity. Along the way, we passed what appeared to be a shipbreaking yard as well as a huge storage space for shipping containers. There were large shipping crates piled up as tall as mid-sized buildings! There was also a verdant green golf course-community set right in the middle of nowhere! Right before the park, we passed a large school for nautical studies which had a massive anchor set out right in front of it.
We passed an equally enormous sign advertising the park (maybe it could be seen via Google Earth) and the driver swerved into a grass and tree lined boulevard. This road went on for about a kilometer passing empty buildings and old military hardware along the roadside which was on display. There were MiG fighter jets, various mobile artillery units and some large tanks. Soon, the massive aircraft carrier loomed into sight and signs of other human life was abundant. We were worried that there would be no cabs ferry us back, but to our relief, there was an abundance of cabs in the parking lot that were ready to take customers back to TEDA.
The aircraft carrier named, Kiev (written on the side of the ship in Cyrilic) is Russian made and was bought by the TEDA development group some time ago. Though TEDA is very close to the sea, I have no idea how this hulk of Russian engineering was brought to this location. The basin that it sat in was far too shallow for sailing the juggernaught and it was closed off on all sides. Either this ship was driven here when there was more water or it was airlifted by some miracle of science. Though called an amusement park, there was only the ship there present in the park area. Perhaps more rides and other items of interest will pop up soon as TEDA expands. Near the ship, there were amphibious military vehicles one could pay to take a ride in around the ship or some speed boats which would give you a thrill in the shallow basin.
Michael and I paid for tickets to the ship then headed into the looming hulk of steel. Inside, things were heavily renovated and very Chinese-tourist friendly. I could tell that this was not an attraction for foreigners (Who goes to China to see a Russian Aircraft Carrier, really now?) due to the absence of English. Michael and I toured the ship, making our way through anchor rooms, ammunition storage rooms, crew living quarters, aircraft storage hangers, on the flight deck, the control deck and we also toured the bow where the heavy missile launchers were. There were huge replica plastic missiles in all of the right locations. The areas open for tourists were well renovated and pleasing to the eye. We could tell that these areas were renovated because we stumbled across a section that had been left in its original state. It was heavily rusted, dark and ominous and was barred off by a gate. We discovered that the gate could be forced open. Michael courageously stepped inside while I looked was on the lookout for guards. He dropped his cellphone in the dark area while browsing, and it almost fell down a deep, dark hatch. We both wondered that if it did fall down the hole (it was only a foot away from doing so) if it would be lost forever. At this point, both him and I decided that further exploration in the abandoned section would not be a good idea. There were a countless number of military fatigue-clad ship personnel around for helping visitors and making sure that people kept out of trouble. However, unlike many people's experiences, these guards were not intrusive at all. They did not follow us, cast angry glances our way or berate us during our visit. I was terrified that one of these nice individuals would come around the corner any second as Michael groped around in the dark assembling the cellphone after its fall. Some footsteps I heard though were only another park visitor as we were relieved to discover.
One could pay to stay on the ship overnight in the officer's quarters. We had the chance to look at one of such genuine rooms. It reminded me a lot of my room in University residence in first year! It wasn't all that bad, it was well furnished with a single bed, desk and plush chair. It also had a TV in it that definitely was not from the cold-war era unlike the rest of the ship's authentic technology. All of the essential wiring had been completely destroyed as we could see what used to be thick stands of wires that were cut and missing large sections. I suppose this was just to ensure that no one in China decides to start sailing the ship around again. While on the flight deck, we had the treat of watching a performance. The performers were certainly not Han-Chinese and looked more like Russian-Chinese mixes. Michael informed me that they were Uygers who were likely brought to the ship especially for performances. They performed a comic military-style marching show. All of the performers were female except for two men. One of them was there for comic relief and the other performed spectacular feats with his ear. He twirled a heavy bucket full off water using a strange pulley-like device he attached to his ear. He also pulled one of the military planes on deck using this strange device! It was a memorable show and seeing some more mixed-chinese-ish people helped me feel more at home. These people were not exploited nor sad in any way, the smiled genuinely during the show and performed in a natural way. I can usually tell when a smile or actions are forced but these people seemed very happy and quite comfortable with their environment.
We took plenty of photos with various random things, striking poses just like the local Chinese. This posing at every occasion for a photo is a very foreign concept to me, but I'm slowly but surely getting more comfortable with it. There were no live battles on display yet as school was still in session at the time in China. Apparently, during peak season the park gets 3 -4 thousand visitors dialy. We passed the missile launchers four visitor use, they were inside and certainly not what we expected. They were electronic ones set up in front of a huge video screen. One could pay 10 RMB to blow up a digitally generated tank as it rolled across the battlefield on the screen. I half expected to see giant nerf-guns instead of these high-tech contraptions! There were also abundant galleries on the inside which presented information and pictures on Chinese military history, aircraft carrier development through the ages and put various military hardware both ancient and modern on display. Soon enough, after at least 3 hours on ship, it was time to castoff. Michael had to catch his train back to Shanghai and I had some email checking to get to. We boarded up one of the taxis in the parking lot who drove us back at an incredibly fast (and very exciting pace). We saluted the ship goodbye as it disappeared into the distance, our trip to a modern amusement park for new age Chinese was one to remember. Dasvidania Comrade Kiev!