Wonderland (Abandoned) Amusement Park

A few weeks ago, an intriguing write-up in Time Out magazine caught my eye. It appeared to be a castle in countryside Beijing. Castles are definitely not a common theme around here, so we decided to investigate further. The land for 沃德兰 (wo-de-lan) amusement park was purchased back in 1998 and it was supposed to become Asia’s largest amusement park. As land prices increased with the upcoming Olympics and pressure mounted from pre-existing parks, the project was abandoned and only the skeleton of the park exists today.

Andy, Michelle, Zac and I hired a Beijing cabbie for the day. At first he seemed pretty cool, but he started to have a bit of a stress attack as we got further out of the city. We’d printed off Baidu and Google maps and we assured him that we knew where we were going, which changed to “oh, we’ve been there before – don’t worry”. This, of course, is only a problem if the maps are wrong. Guess what??

We found exotic “Pine Valley” out in Changping. It appeared to be a luxury riding and golf course.

We ended up in a massive queue of trucks down a horrible under-construction-‘road’ when we realised there was no way we were in the right place. Breaking the news to cabbie that we were in the wrong place didn’t go down so well, until we offered some more cash – then we were set.

So, we started asking the locals questions. Asking people who’ve grown up with an abandoned amusement park around them, doesn’t translate so well. Most people just said there weren’t any amusement parks around. Finally, Andy noticed some castle-esque points in the distance. We made our way back to the freeway and found the correct exit this time.

Wandering in the back way.

We approached the blue turrets from the side, stationary flags atop. We found ourselves in a massive field with an eerie cement tower and the frame of a gigantic pavilion.

The staircase to nowhere.

Some veggies growing in the allotment.

The skeleton pavilion.

At least someone is making use of it.

The looming castle in the tilled field.

The castle dungeon.

Need some tree seedlings, anyone? A great place for advertising.

“Strictly no entry into the tower. Enter at your own risk.”

Old newspapers lining the walls of a small booth next to the massive castle. Perhaps a security guard’s box, a potential snack shop or the first souvenir store.

Piles of old baskets around the back of the castle.

Crops in the field

The car was a mystery until Zac climbed into the castle and found a girl having a professional photo shoot inside.

The surrounds of the castle were littered with odds and ends.

Enter at your own risk.

The gardening ladies employed to keep the front looking respectable.

I feel that the above photo sums up China beautifully. Andy wandered into an open door and met a bunch of old women playing cards in the dim light. After shouting at him that he shouldn’t be there they slowly drifted out and began their gardening duties. I suspect just because we were there. The front hedges and the carpark are maintained beautifully. It’s all about appearances.

Creativity in door construction.

Window reflections

Relics of the previous construction work. 

Abandoned air-conditioning units.

Prince Charming won’t be exiting through this door.

(Have a look at my photos from a fake disneyland in Beijing)


Chinese Cooking Class

In return for my curry cooking lesson a few weeks ago, Yuan Yuan invited Zac and I over for a return Chinese cooking class!

(Yes, peeling potatoes can be hilarious)

On the menu was:

红薯米饭 (Hong shu mi fan) Sweet Potato Rice

Cook 1.5 cups of rice and 0.5 cups of sticky rice and some chopped sweet potato into a rice cooker with 4 cups of water.

玉香鸡丝 (Yu xiang ji si) Fish-flavoured chicken

Clean and chop some pre-soaked wood-ear mushrooms. Slice chicken and carrot into thin strips. Mix some starch and rice wine into the chicken. Heat a pan with some oil and fry the chicken. Take out the chicken. Add the vegetables and continue to fry on high heat. Return the chicken. Add the ‘yuxiang’ flavouring.

鸡蛋西红柿汤 Tomato and Egg Soup

Boil some water. Add chopped tomatoes. Mix some starch and water. Keep the water boiling and stir in the starch. Mix 2 eggs in a bowl. Pour into the saucepan onto the boiling water without stirring. Add salt and chopped spring onion.

I’m particularly proud of this because it looks JUST like what the restaurants make!

白菜炖豆腐 (Bai cai dun dou fu) Cabbage and Tofu (A typical Beijing dish)

The best thing I learnt from this dish was that Yuan Yuan freezes the tofu before she cooks with it. This solves the problem of soft tofu falling apart when being fried. Amazing! Put the frozen block in warm water for a few minutes. Chop up the tofu. Chop up the chinese cabbage into large pieces. Heat lots of oil in a pan and fry the cabbage. Add some sugar to taste. Add water halfway up the pan. Add the tofu. Add a little dark soy sauce and salt to taste. Stew for a few minutes.

Little Pup

A while back I decided that I wanted to buy a sewing machine, then this idea got lost under holidays and work. Then, it recently resurfaced and I spent a bit of time researching what was available in Beijing and invested in a Brother.

This is my new baby. Note the pretty jars that I bought to put my threads and buttons in – so cute!

I’ve done a little bit of sewing in the past. Mum taught me a few things and I’ve done a few small projects here and there but not for a long time!

Inspired by the talented Andy and Michelle I decided to try my hand at some toys. I bought a copy of More Softies and chose Little Pup as my first victim! And, I think he turned out pretty well.

Chillin’ on the sofa.

Hiding in the lemon balm.

In his new home amongst the bamboo. He’s happy here.

Curry class

The wonderful girls I work with are also so interested in the contents of my lunchbox when I bring leftovers to school. It got to the point were they were poking their chopsticks around in it, querying about what vegetables and seasonings I’d used. So, we decided to do some cooking classes together! I most often bring leftover curry to work, and so we decided that I’d first teach them how to make a curry! This recipe is my husband’s, and it’s a Thai-Indian mix.

Unfortunately, there’s not much in the final-product-photo department, but we have process!

Sophie has her recipe in hand. I didn’t have time to prepare a chinese version, so the girls translated theirs as we went.

Pretending to be a scary TV cooking host.

Aerial view of cooking adventures (clockwise from top: Yuan yuan, Vivi, Sophie and Tara)

Doing some serious crushing.

Zac’s Delicious Curry


1 red onion

3 cloves garlic

2 pieces of smoked tofu

Assorted vegetables

1 can coconut milk

1 can of soaked chickpeas

2 tsp. red curry paste

1 stick cinnamon

1 tsp. crushed peppercorns

5 crushed cardamon pods

1 tsp. crushed fenugreek


Fry up onion and garlic in oil.

When brown, add curry paste.

Fry for 5 minutes, then add tofu and vegetables.

Fry for another 5 minutes.

Add all other ingredients.

Simmer for half and hour.

Serve with rice, pappadums and chutney.

A mystery vegetable #2

This mysterious delicacy looks like a hairy rhinoceros horn. Once the hilarity of running around the house with it on my forehead wore off, I started to research what it was. I worked out that it was a bamboo shoot, but none of the images I found on the internet looked the same as mine. So, I turned to my trusty coworkers and Sophie found out that it was called a horse’s foot bamboo shoot (马蹄笋 ma ti sun). I guess that comes from the hairy outside!

I found a good-looking recipe for a side dish and translated it with Sophie.

I started peeling this ‘horn’ and I peeled it. And peeled it. And peeled it. Until I started getting worried that I was doing the wrong thing and would end up with nothing at all!

So I changed tactics and went for the knife. This was much faster. I just kept going until all the hairy layers were gone.

And, to my surprise, the inside looked like this:

The point looked really cool! It had really delicate layers. From a botanical perspective, it was really interesting.

So here’s the recipe. It had no amounts, so I have adapted it to my liking.

1. Peel and slice the horse’s foot bamboo shoot (sounds much cooler in chinese).

2. Boil some water and blanche the shoots for a few minutes with a little salt. Remove and drain.

3. Mix together 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tbsp of rice vinegar, 1 tbsp of sugar, 1 tbsp of rice wine.

4. Arrange the strips on a plate and pour the sauce over.

5. Sprinkle the shoots with some chopped spring onion and gouqi berries.

6. Heat up some sesame oil and canola oil until the surface shimmers.

7. Pour the sizzling oil carefully over the shoots.

The result is a warm, crispy side dish. It has a crispy texture. It’s really fun to eat the “comb” pieces! And my favourite part was the pointy top! It’s quite soft and the layered parts break apart in your mouth. It was also great to have a recipe that includes gouqi berries. People are always telling me how good they are for you, but I only ever drink them in chrysanthemum tea. I think you could also add some sichuan peppercorns to the oil to give it some spice.

Baked Potatoes – Indian style!

I’m a big sucker for a baked potato… and my favourite Jamie Oliver cookbook has a great section on gourmet ingredients for potatoes. Yum!

I’ve been cooking a lot of Indian food recently, mainly inspired by some mysterious ingredients left with me from my India-expert Nic. So, I thought I’d try an Indian-style baked potato!

To replace sour cream/cheese, I used coconut milk that I infused with lemongrass. A sprinkling of curry powder, a sneak of lemon pickle and a big dollop of homemade chutney. Delicious! Served with baked beets and salad.

After I took the photo, I had a moment of genius and sprinkled the top with some smashed up puppadum. Textural excitement!