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This is a visual story about how dinosaurs, Chinese heavy industry and Egyptian children all have fun together in a tax-free zone by the Suez channel.

TEDA is a major Chinese company, you may know it, but in case you don’t then they have about $40 billion in assets and $11 billion in annual turnover. They trade heavily in Africa and have set up factories in the Suez Special Economic Zone (SEZONE) in Egypt.

Getting interest for other companies to set up factories in the middle of nowhere is a challenge and the existing plants had difficulty to get Egyptian workers to run the 24-hour shifts they do in China – this is where the fun starts.

The Chinese state owned company TEDA has started winning hearts and minds of Egypt’s workers and children, and this seems to be the relatively strange logic they have to set up not one, but four theme parks inside the SEZONE under the name TEDA Fun Valley. The zone is right by the Suez Canal and about an hour and a half away from Cairo. There is Dinosaur World, Candy World, Water World, Automotive World and also (unsurprisingly) an Egyptian restaurant, as well as a Chinese restaurant, Bank, swimming pool, basketball court and more.

The backstory behind this is interesting as the driving force is economics, but not economics in the sense that revenue from the theme parks is the focus. Fun Valley is a story about China’s involvement in Africa and how they are doing their own “winning hearts and minds” projects. Images of dinosaurs, Egyptian families and general theme-park oddness, are juxtaposed against the financial reality of Chinese soft propaganda.

In the corporate material from TEDA they list the reason behind this in their report as building smiles on Egyptian children in order to generate a prosperous future or as it is put like this;

“A happy childhood lays a happy life, happy children will foster a happy society. TEDA Fun Valley cares the happy growth of Egyptian children, and is committed to sow happy seeds in their pure hearts with the expectation of extending the happiness to the future and injecting a happy force to the civilized country. Producing happiness, and passing laughter; happy kids, happy Egypt!”

Go Inside China’s Bizarre Theme Park in the Egyptian Desert (Wired, Oct 2016)
by Charley Locke

OUT IN THE desert beyond Cairo, where sand stretches to the horizon and oil refineries dot the landscape, Hello Kitty schmoozes with a sharpshooter and a penguin. Imperial stormtroopers guard a bank next to the waterslides. And tourists in bumper cars gleefully attack each other with lasers.

The bizarre pop-cultural mashup brings Western entertainment to Egypt by way of China, which financed the construction of four theme parks in the Ain Sokhna desert. “It was a very strange showcase of special interests exerting themselves,” says Klaus Thymann. “I couldn’t work out if it is incredibly clumsy or really clever.”

Either way, Fun Valley is surreal. When Thymann read about the place online, he hightailed it there for a visit in May while on assignment in Cairo.

China built the theme park to entertain the families of those working in the Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone. It turns out folks aren’t too eager to work in the desert if there isn’t much to do, so the state-owned company TEDA broke ground on Fun Valley in April 2015. The company plowed $5.6 million into the project.

Each of the four parks is the size of a football field. Kids ride robotic dinosaurs through the Jurassic landscape of Dinosaur Park. Women in burkinis enjoy the waterslides of Water World. Candy World is “like Cloud Cuckoo Land from The Lego Movie,” Thymann says, and families get behind the wheel of bumper cars to drive across five continents in a riff on Disneylands’ classic Autopia attraction. “It looks like if you did a Google search on popular kids entertainment and mixed it together,” says Thymann. “It’s quite a bizarre compilation.”

The most striking thing about the theme park is how it combines kitsch with Chinese propaganda to, in the words of the company that built it, “inject a happy force” into Egypt. A happy force, and a bit of absurdity.