Splendid China: one of Central Florida’s more noteworthy theme park failures. “Failure,” of course, is a relative term. The seventy-five acre space that recreated in miniature some of mainland China’s finest attractions (the Great Wall, the Leshan Buddha) managed to remain open for ten whole years. That’s twice as long as Boardwalk & Baseball.
Unfortunately, for more or less its entire existence, Splendid China was plagued by controversy. Critics lambasted the park, which was purchased by the Chinese government before its 1993 opening from Taiwanese American founder Josephine Chen, for appropriating from other Asian cultures, pushing Communist propaganda, and financial mismanagement (the gov’t owners insisted on importing building materials from China, often at sixteen times the cost). Once Splendid China closed its doors permanently it became a hotspot for ne’er-do-wells, who snuck in through the poorly sealed entrance to steal and/or destroy the abandoned miniatures.
What was left of Splendid China was allegedly demolished last year, but there’s still a large satellite monument to the deleted park’s existence. On West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Kissimmee you’ll find an entire shopping plaza that mimics the architecture we all associate with the Far East (though only in Florida will you find turquoise pagodas). The plaza’s centerpiece is a Winn-Dixie, but you won’t see that grocery chain’s familiar logo anywhere on the building exterior. The only signal anything occupies this space is the presences of Winn-Dixie’s less recognized subtitle, “Marketplace,” above the entryway.
The photo above depicts what you see the moment you enter Kissimmee’s Splendid China Winn-Dixie. Three tiny figures on the balcony of a more realistic-looking pagoda, beckoning you in with warm off-brand “It’s A Small World” charm. As you can see, this store also makes extensive use of track lighting. I’m not sure how true that is to Chinese custom but it certainly gives a grocery store an otherworldly atmosphere.
What’s most interesting about the Splendid China Winn-Dixie is how it seems to cater most exclusively to a British clientele. At any given moment I’d wager a third of Kissimmee’s population is British tourists killing time between laps around the Magic Kingdom. This supermarket is one of the closest there is to Disney, and their selection of imported English products is staggering. Entire endcaps overflowing with big blue cans of Heinz Beans, Lion bars, and slim glass bottles containing a creamy liquid identified only as “salad sauce.”
I didn’t engage any of the employees about what their professional lives are like at the Splendid China Winn-Dixie, but you can sorta see it on their faces. They know they work in a store that’s still modeled after a theme park that closed in 2003. Talking about it isn’t going to make stocking shelves under track lighting any easier.
And yet the place somehow seems decidedly less bizarre than the Planet Hollywood that continues to thrive on Disney property, that drab grey globe surrounding itself with a moat(!) and the miserable spirits of ’90s Hollywood hubris. A restaurant venture between Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis is something that should have remained relegated to the margins of Last Action Hero, not formed fully in our three dimensional world.
“Playing a song on loop is a common publicity stunt to mark a radio station’s format change,” SFGate assures its readers, many of whom might fear Latino Mix 105.7’s decision to go non-stop Nelly is actually some sort of Trilateralist / Illuminati signal aimed at Zeta Reticuli / the Lizard People to let them know the time for full global invasion / permanent McRib reintroduction is nigh. I’m taking that over the more depressing “some of our readers might be too young to have any kind of understanding of terrestrial radio practices.” Oh, you young people and your companions! I vex you!
When I was a high schooler in Central Florida this alt rock station popped up called 93.1 (the) KRO (have always assumed they were trying to snag some of that dark heat from Brandon Lee’s Crow). KRO announced their arrival with twenty-four (plus?) hours of Pizzicato Five’s “Twiggy Twiggy,” a.k.a. that “out there” Japanese song Beavis & Butt-head ripped into on an episode of their show. You remember. Beavis & Butt-head cracked a lot of jokes about the one guy in the video looking like Chip from “My Three Sons.” Is any of this even registering as English to you dumb kids?
KRO did several other Twig-a-thons before turning country in 2000, to ring in the New Year or Halloween or an event of real significance like Larry the Cable Guy’s birthday. I remember my friends and I being all a-titter a week in advance of one of these broadcasts. “Twiggy Twiggy” was considered by many at that time to be one of the most annoying aural properties ever created, and I think we reveled in the fact that it would be inescapable to a certain extent. Of course, anything is annoying after twenty-four hours, even Larry the Cable Guy (I know, heresy).
Hats off to the fearless broadcasters who keep this practice alive. I could barely commit to anything past eight minutes when I was a college radio deejay. I think I faded Black Flag’s “Process of Weeding Out” halfway through every time I put it on.
You kids have to know Black Flag. I’ve seen you Photopasting with the logo on the e-mails! THE E-MAILS!
YOU DAMN KIDS, GET OUT OF MY ROCK GARDEN!