Saturday, November 24, 2018

Oriental Science Fiction Valley

We based our trip to China this summer on finding super cheap airfare in and out of Hong Kong, so I spent a bunch of time research what we could do near there and trying to balance seeing and doing great stuff with minimizing how much time we'd lose in travel.

Chengdu fell off the list pretty quick, since it's a minimum 10 hour train ride with a transfer in Guangzhou. Zhangjiajie national park and Fenghuang ancient town both fell off the list as being too hard to navigate without a guide.

But then I found news articles about Oriental Science Fiction Valley, a brand-new virtual reality theme park in Guiyang, Guizhou. That sealed the deal... we were definitely going to Guiyang. It's also on a direct bullet train line from Shenzhen to Guilin to Guiyang, making transportation easy. I started finding other great destinations nearby like Qianlingshan park in Guiyang, and nearby Qingyan ancient town. Guiyang - slam dunk!

AAAAaaaaand... Of course, there's no information in English online about it. I couldn't find it on a map, nothing. Luckily, our hostel host was incredibly helpful.

Key information: search  东方科幻谷 in an Apple Maps app
Apple Maps then translates that to "Dongfang Kehuan Guzhuti Park" 
but won't find it if you enter the English/Pinyin writing directly.




The only way I could find Oriental Science Fiction Valley via my iDevice was using the Apple Maps app... the Google Maps app was basically useless in all of China. But the Apple Maps app let me find almost any location we were looking for AND gave excellent public transportation directions, especially in Guiyang. Once we figured that out, we took the bus all around, including to Oriental Science Fiction Valley.

The challenge with figuring out how to find the park was absolutely worth it! The place was a cheese-ball blast. Not all of the rides were open yet, the food was impressively terrible, there was no English anywhere, but it was wonderful! There was almost no one there (we went on a weekday, and it's apparently not drawing big crowds yet), and the employees were all sweet, patient, and giggled at us. They also apparently are required to greet guests with the vulcan hand sign!

On the bus on the way to Oriental Science Fiction Valley

The giant robots are sprinkled all over the park




VR really doesn't lend itself to good photos to highlight the experience... We had a blast.



I don't even remember all the questions I had before our trip... Please comment with questions so I can improve any support I can give! Traveling around China is incredibly easy once you actually get started, but planning is challenging.

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.






Shenzhen - HKIA Ferry

This might have been the most stressful tiny piece of our trip to China this summer, but also the most effective and useful!

There's a ferry that goes from Shenzhen Shekou ferry terminal (and a bunch of other places) directly to the Hong Kong airport, and let's you completely bypass Hong Kong entirely! And, of course, information in English online is sparse and confusing. The airport's page about ferry transfers is super confusing, and the ferry schedule itself is nearly unintelligible. By comparison, taking the train was a piece of cake.

But wow it was convenient!

We didn't really want to go back to Hong Kong at the end of our trip - we were really enjoying Shenzhen. This ferry let us go straight from Shenzhen to the airport, and even got us through very easy security. In theory, if we'd gotten to the ferry terminal early enough, we even could have checked our bags at the terminal all the way through to Seattle - home.

Our flight from Hong Kong to Seattle was set to depart at 10:30am. Working backwards, that meant we were supposed to be on a ferry that reached HKIA by 8:30am. That meant we needed to catch the very first ferry at 7:15am. So we got a taxi at 6am from our hotel that was less than 5 minutes from the ferry terminal.

Waiting for our ultra-early taxi.


Inside was pretty much chaos, though. I had to go to four different counters and automatic terminals before I was able to just get our ferry tickers, and then all the lines were so long and slow-moving that it was 7:30 by the time we got to the security line. Luckily, that was the case for nearly everyone, so the ferry was delayed until everyone was on board.

But, man, once we sat down, it was this easy, quick trip over to the airport, and then we had a separate baggage check and security line just for passengers from the ferries.

Finally onboard the dang ferry.


I don't even remember all the questions I had before our trip... Please comment with questions so I can improve any support I can give! Traveling around China is incredibly easy once you actually get started, but planning is challenging.




(Oh, also... Shekou isn't as exciting as the rest of Shenzhen, but there's an adorable cat cafe!)




If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.



Side-trip to Nanjiang Canyon

During our longer stay in Guiyang, we took a one-night trip out to Nanjiang Canyon. There's virtually no English information about Nanjiang online, which makes sense once you realize that there is no English infrastructure and no English speakers at Nanjiang Canyon. That said, it was a blast and I'd absolutely go back!

Apparently, our tagline for this whole blog series is going to be "It's an amazing place to visit, but pretty overwhelming and hard to plan! Like pretty much all of China..."

More details to come...

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.
























Visiting Xingping, outside gorgeous Guilin

This is where I'll write up what we figured out about Xingping. It's an amazing place to visit, but pretty overwhelming and hard to plan! Like pretty much all of China... More details to come.

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.











Taking the train in China

While we were in China this summer (2018), we took the high-speed bullet train a bunch of times, including both long-distance and short distances. It was pretty hard to find clear information online in English how to purchase tickets, pick up the tickets, and actually navigate the train system, but we figured it out pretty well!

We were traveling as a family of 3 - one adult and two kids, aged 8 and 11. We communicated anything complicated via Google Translate apps, and my 11-yr-old daughter's basic Mandarin learned at school.

Our train trips included:


  • Business-class from Shenhen North to Guilin North - 3 hours - but we got off at Yangshuo with no issues. (Yangshuo is one station before Guilin North, and was closer to our intended desination of Xingping.)
    • I followed some advice I'd found online to not rush buying our tickets because "there are always lots of tickets available!" That wasn't correct... Only business-class tickets were available by the time I purchased a few days before we were ready to head to Yangshuo. They were a little over 100$USD each, which was still less than a domestic flight. Over $300 for our three tickets.
    • For some reason, even though it was the same train ride, CTrip showed no tickets at all available to Yangshuo, but tickets available to Guilin - the next stop after Yangshuo. I was nervous there would be some issue with getting off early, but there wasn't.
  • 2nd-class from Yangshuo to Guiyang East - 3 hours - less than $100 total!


Business class vs 2nd class.
2nd is still much roomier than a flight! The snacks in business class left much to be desired.


  • 2nd-class roundtrip from Guiyang to Nanjiang Canyon and back - less than 1 hour - $32 TOTAL! Round trip, for 3 people! Over half of that was booking fee, so I could have cut the cost down if I bought directly at the railway station counter.
    • This trip was a great decision, despite my making mistakes left and right. I'll post more about this crazy side-trip here.
    • For the trip to Nanjiang, I did it right... Guiyang North (the older station but much closer to the city) to Nanjiang Station. 
    • For the trip back to Guiyang, I messed up and bought the ticket departing from Kaiyang station, which is the next station past Nanjiang away from Guiyang... Luckily, the lovely and infinitely-patient folks at the tiny Nanjiang station let us in no problem, so we just caught the train a station late.

  • 2nd-class Guiyang North back to Shenzhen North - 6 hours! Just under $200 for all three of us, incl $15 booking fee.



Here are a few things I figured out...

We bought all our tickets on CTrip.com English. They have a purchase fee, but tickets were still ultra reasonable.

I only ever bought adult tickets, because I was worried about the various restrictions of the child-fare tickets. Again, the prices were so low that I figured I was paying a bit extra for the convenience.

They didn't always put us together. For the trainride to Nanjiang, my daughter was seated not just several rows away from us, but several cars away. But there are people walking and standing all over the train, so no one blinked at us hanging out in her car as we approached our arrival station.

After buying the tickets on CTrip, I had to go to the train station - any train station - to pick them up. Bring your passport! Without a Chinese ID card, you can't use the automatic ticket machines and have to go to a counter. I found it easiest to pick up several tickets at once. There are plenty of good basic guides online for picking up tickets. Be sure to look for the right ticket counter!

We always arrived WAY too early for the trains... Many websites recommend arriving 2 hours early. For one of our travel legs, 2 hours early got us to the train station a full hour before it even opened. 30 minutes was plenty early enough, but it's true that you need to account for traffic on the way to the station. (On the other hand, 2 hours wasn't early enough for the Shenzhen - Hong Kong Airport ferry! I'll write about that here. Totally awesome and super convenient, but holy logistical nightmare.)

Every railway employee we ever interacted with at any of the train stations was wonderful and patient. We did a lot of passing my phone back and forth to write messages that the app could translate, and they were all duly impressed with my daughter's efforts with her Mandarin.

WAY too early to the train station.



Another view of Business Class vs 2nd Class.
Seriously, the Business Class seats are just unnecessary. 😂


 
We love China Railway!

I don't even remember all the questions I had before our trip... Please comment with questions so I can improve any support I can give! Traveling around China is incredibly easy once you actually get started, but planning is challenging.

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.

A departure from the norm...

My kids and I went to south-central China this summer for about 4 weeks, and visited a bunch of places that were quite challenging to research ahead of time. So I decided that I'd put together a guide/reflection to support others who might want to visit some of those places. Even though this is officially my science teaching blog, it's also my only blog, so this is where that guide is going!


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Get out the vote... for SXSWedu 2017!


Enlearn is an organization developing truly awesome adaptive educational technology, including some of my favorite math games! I've been bugging them to apply to SXSWedu for a couple years, so let's get them in this year!
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/60420

Lisa Castaneda and Foundry10 are doing some incredible work with VR, student-driven learning, gaming, and other amazing areas in education. This is another group new to the SXSWedu community, and they can bring a ton to conversations across the conference. Let's get 'em in!
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/63136

HackPDXXL ! Maggie Powers, Matt Mineau, and I are proposing a problem-solver session to consider how we might scale up the innovation and disruption in classroom, small-scale, and online learning to the massive-scale annual conference PD model... Pretty meta, really.  :-)
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/62987

Ellen and Dan and improvisation... Will be a highly engaging, culture-transforming workshops! They've got two in the hopper, so let's make it really hard for the executive committee to choose between the two.  :-)
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/65603
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/62842

The Real JamCam, in - I think - his SXSWedu debut! Virtual reality in the humanities classroom will be fascinating, and the workshop structure will be very practical... my faves.
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/65415

Charles Shryock and his team leading a design session on school workflow systems... We don't often get above the classroom level to school and district levels, and this session will be incredibly valuable for technology developers and other non-school-based education enthusiasts.
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/65614

Jessica Lura and her team, and critical thinking!
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/64976

Donna, Zeina, and Ian on computational thinking!
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/61916

Ashley, Amanda, and Cheryl
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/67647

Chris and Jill
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/67961


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Sex Ed sessions,  because sex ed should be central to any conversations about making learning more student-centered and promoting preparation for global citizenship and personal independence! I don't know these folks personally, but Cory Silverberg (first link) wrote two of my favorite sex ed resources for young learners!
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/63941
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/60825
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/68144