Chocoholics flock to Beijing's Willy Wonka-style park

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Thousands of Chinese on Friday flocked to a new chocolate theme park, gobbling the sweet treat and savouring the visual feast of replicas of the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and even a sleek BMW.

Organisers are hoping that Beijing's "World Chocolate Wonderland", on the Olympic Green near the Bird's Nest Stadium, will boost the chocolate market in China, where the candy is not as popular as it is in Western countries.

"Hmmm!" exclaimed Dai Qing, a 20-year-old student, as she watched an expert make designs out of chocolate.

"I love eating chocolate, so I wanted to see the process of making it and to understand the chocolate culture," she said.

The 20,000-square-metre (215,000 square-foot) venue includes three halls full of exhibits and demonstrations, all temperature-controlled to keep the elaborate replicas - safely behind huge glass panes - from melting.

Long queues of people milled past the cocoa terracotta warriors - both life-size and a miniature army - the car, and a 10-metre-long model of the Great Wall.

One exhibit was dedicated to sport, with a chocolate basketball player soaring towards the hoop. The BMW, located in the same hall, attracted huge attention.

According to a report in the official China Daily newspaper, 10 craftsmen needed four tonnes of chocolate and six months to make the car.

In another display, a huge array of chocolate fountains sent 1.5 tonnes of the smooth, dark liquid spilling in various directions - recalling Roald Dahl's beloved book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".

"The break sound of the deluxe chocolate is clear and crisp, and the break line is straight," said one explanatory panel on the chocolate knowledge wall.

In the courtyard outside, techno music blared out as two clowns performed tricks with audience members on a stage, a bouncy castle stood - empty - and people dressed in chocolate-coloured costumes milled around.

Back inside, employees shouted "move forward" at regular intervals as more and more people - mostly students on holiday - filed past exhibits detailing chocolate traditions in countries such as France, Switzerland and Belgium.

The exhibit that attracted most people was the building devoted to candy, which housed interactive games and displays allowing customers to experience different sweet flavours from around the world.

At the entrance - where tickets cost a steep 80 yuan (12 dollars), a high price for the average Chinese consumer - men dressed in purple cloaks and pointed hats welcomed visitors.

"It's great but the entrance fee is expensive, especially for students," said 21-year-old Liang Miao.

"I think this is going to be popular for a short period of time but not in the long term. It's right next to the Bird's Nest, and for 80 yuan, people would rather go there than here."

Organisers hope to attract one million visitors to the park before it closes in April, when the weather will begin to get too warm. It will then reopen next January, with all-new displays.

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