Category Archives: Modern Ruins
Last week, DK and I stumbled on a strange abandoned school in northern Beijing. We were looking for the city’s largest recycling center, but this mad statue was a far tastier find.
Seven demonic babes, lounging, suckling, emerging from the concrete.
“Can you imagine seeing this every day? As a kid?”
It was strange. But so was the trip.
The sprawling neighborhood, the entire neighborhood, is being demolished for new high rises. Block after block was sprayed in the graffiti’d 拆, for “demolish.” Red banners wrapped across buildings and trees read “Quickly quickly, move move” in Chinese pentameter. A man cycled by, his tricycle piled high with his bulging luggage.
Just off the beaches of Chennai, covered in crow guano, trash and cow dung, lies the creepily gorgeous ruins of the Snowball amusement park.
It used to be a retreat. 90 years ago, the French spent 9 months building Bokor Hill Station up as the ultimate getaway: escape from the miserable heat and humidity of Phnom Penh. 900 laborers died while building it, but to the French all these ghosts were worth it. There was a casino, a ballroom, a hotel, and when all the sinning was done, a Catholic church.
But this was a century ago.
What is it with these half-built, then abandoned, Beijing amusement parks? We’re old fans of The Romance Park of the Heart, which is filled with Swiss chalets, Siamese pagodas, and packs of wild dogs looking to tear your legs off. But we kept hearing about another one, in the opposite direction… Wonderland!
The Beijing suburbs are expanding like mad.
We spent the last ten days living in a small Tongzhou village, an hour east of Beijing, and construction was non-stop. Every day we were there, a ramshackle house was torn down and replaced by a building site. New walls would go up in hours. Bricks and dust were everywhere. Often, a 4′ pile of sand would block our driveway. If we wanted to drive anywhere, the six of us would have to pick up shovels and move it ourselves. (The builders would hide around the corner, leaving only their shovels behind.)
Just beyond the village, though, there were mostly fields. At the ends of many of the fields were graves. Conical mounds of dirt, with an inscribed gravestone, sitting on top of the plough lines. Old women were squatting at the ends of the fields, planting new crops.
It seemed a strange place for graves, so we asked a local friend about them.
“Ha,” he laughed, “I don’t think those are real graves. There probably are no bodies down there.”
Fake graves? Outside our Tongzhou village??
“Yes. The villagers know that the land is going to be developed, and the government will only give them so much money. But if it’s a graveyard, they may pay more. So the local villagers build fake graves on their fields, to get more money. You know the expression ‘shǎjīng?’” I didn’t. “It means stupid-clever. That’s what they are. Shajing shajing.” He laughed at his own expression, as he repeated it again. “傻精傻精.”
It seemed strange to dedicate graves to government payouts. But just a few miles away, close enough to see if the pollution wasn’t too heavy, there were high rise apartment buildings. A short bus ride away, there was a new subway line. Two of my friends had recently bought houses near here. This land was no longer just for planting Chinese cabbage. It was becoming real estate.
(As usual, many of the pictures — and in this case, I think all of them — are by Woo.)