Foreigner Street: China's obsession with wacky replicas and large bathrooms
Yangren Jie (洋人街), otherwise known as Foreigner Street, is a Chinese theme park open 24/7, for free.
The 3.5-square-kilometer park is located in Chongqing, a sprawling city in western China also known for attempting to create the nation’s first sex-themed park (which shut down amid a public outcry three weeks after it opened in 2009).
Clearly, this is a city that knows its entertainment.
At Yangren Jie, the theme is “foreign” with a capital "F." Opened in 2006, it includes all the best of what ain’t from China.
Recreations of international landmarks are dotted about, including a miniature New York, Venetian canals, a 10-meter Christ the Redeemer, a 150-meter-long Great Wall of China (not foreign, but it made the cut) and, from Thailand, an exotic dance show.
Yangren Jie is also known for hosting the largest public bathroom in the world, which checks in at 40,000 square meters.
The park is overly kitschy, which either adds to or detracts from the fun, depending on your point of view.
And there's more: bumper cars, a haunted house, a miniature train, wedding halls, a steepled church, an Ethiopian-themed bar, Indian food, a couple of generic bars, several KTV spots and a wholesale store for imported alcohol. Phew.
Theme park by accident
Yangren Jie wasn’t meant to be a theme park at all.
At the beginning, the backers envisioned a European-style pedestrian street, with an emphasis on multiculturalism. The international community was supposed to open authentic bars, restaurants and other entertaiments.
The name Yangren Jie was chosen, says a spokesperson for the park, because in 2006 Chongqing’s foreign population had grown to 5,000 (the city was home to more than 30 million at the time).
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However, the blueprint was followed by a clash between plans and reality (there were rumors about a fallout between the investor and the workers), and the project finished with a very different but certainly interesting outcome.
So what do residents reckon?
The theme park's name is still fooling Chongqing residents.
“Foreigner Street was one of the first places of interest [that my friend and I] heard about after arriving to Chongqing,” says John Crue, 25, a once-disgruntled visitor from the United States, who has lived in Chongqing for several years.
“I initially thought it was a street filled with foreign restaurants and bars, [but it] totally sucks -- there are no authentic foreign restaurants.”
Louis Melançon, 28, is another foreign resident of Chongqing who instead opts to embrace Yangren Jie for its heaps of kitsch.
“It’s tacky [but it’s] entertaining,” says Melançon, who hails from Canada.
“I go to revel in the tackiness and to drink cheap beer or whiskey. I first came during Spring Festival in 2009, and couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Melançon adds that the park does much the same for cultural understanding of foreign nations as Las Vegas does for its visitors: “[Both are] decorated cheaply to no redeeming value but again, both are great places to get drunk.”
Local Vivian Wong, 24, puts Yangren Jie on her itinerary for visiting friends “[to show them] the funny statues and sculptures,” she says.
“The park shows local people exotic architectures from other countries, but it doesn’t reflect the connotations and essence of those foreign cultures,” adds Wong.
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Nevertheless, this free theme park, with (some) international food, mind-boggling re-interpretations of landmarks, plenty of booze and late-night KTV and -- of course -- traditional theme park rides for the purists, still manages to pull in masses of visitors every day, from both Chongqing and from further afield.
Danzishi, Nan’an District, Chongqing 重庆市南岸区弹子石
+86 23 6250 3775
Open 24 hours
Admission: free, individual attractions may charge