Burbex has lived in China since 2004, but even he is not
immune to the wiles of the Public Security Bureau, who have this week sent him
to Hong Kong to update his new visa. You might have guessed Burbex is not a big
shopper and certainly isn’t going to push through the mainland tourists to buy
cans of milk powder. But if you want to get away from the people mountain
people sea, there is a place you can go where it is always quiet.
Up hidden amongst the winding paths that dissect The Peak,
set on three levels you can find the decaying pre-war mansion Dragon’s Peak
Lodge, or as its better known, “The Most
Haunted House in Hong Kong”. Although it has some of the choicest real
estate in Hong Kong, it has fallen foul to the the usual triple whammy of
corruption, bad fengshui, and ghosts.
Apparently the original owner of the house which was built
before World War 2 went bankrupt, and the subsequent owner died in the house.
Later it is reputed that the Japanese occupied the property and several
Catholic nuns were decapitated in the grounds. The gruesome reputation of the
property made sure that it lay derelict for decades.
No. 32 Lugard Road last changed hands in 2004 for HK$76
million, but renovations have been constantly thwarted by construction crews
who are convinced that the building is haunted, and in which they have heard an
unseen child’s cries. The closest that Burbex got to any living creature nearby
was an enormous porcupine that raised its quills and secreted some kind of
pungent piss into the surrounding air.
The premises is set over three different levels, the main
four-story house with ample attic space on the highest level, the staff
quarters where a tower of 1980s washing machines still stands features in the
middle level, and smaller art studios can be found on the bottom level. The
house itself also faces out onto a massive garden, which in turn commands an
incredible view of the bay on a clear day.
Kaifeng… um? There’s not a lot to be said about the place really. It’s got a good food street where you can get all kinds of chuan’er and those bins full of old chuan’er skewers looking a lot like massive porcupines. It’s got a fancy hotel with hot springs that smell particularly sulphorous, good for the skin apparently. No, not a lot to say about Kaifeng really. Oh, except maybe that enormous abandoned university right in the middle of the city.
That’s one of the things about these faceless cities, they often have the best forgotten sites. Burbex wasn’t expecting much when he jumped over the fence, least of all an abandoned library, chemistry lab, sculptures and a shoe full of blood, but that’s one of the draws of urban exploration, it’s full of surprises.
Burbex tries to look the part when he goes exploring, tight black clothes that don’t snag easily, and Nike Air Max which are great for softening his landings. Broken glass was everywhere, literally more blades of glass than grass on the expansive lawns. As Annie Lennox suggests, walking on broken glass is no mean feat, but Burbex successfully crunched through the glass on tiptoes and found his way into the library.
In something reminiscent of the beginning of Ghostbusters, dozens of book file card cabinets had been flung open and cards covered the floor. On the walls portraits of Einstein and Marx looked down with their inspirational quotes, but looking more simian than human, think Planet of the Apes.
In the sculpture
department, Burbex found Chinese rip-offs of David by Michelangelo, which were
at least more human-looking than the hairy-faced Darwin. It was around this
time Burbex noticed a wheezing sound coming from his right Nike, accompanied by
a squelch. A shard of glass had not only gone right through the Nike causing it
to deflate the bubble, but also right through it the sole of his foot causing
the shoe to fill with blood. Apparently, you only need three tetanus shots in
your whole life, so Burbex was pretty sure he was safe against lockjaw, but
hobbling back to the hotel with that squelch not only deflated his shoe but
also his pride.
Later, sitting in a sulfurous hot tub examining the injuries, Burbex decided that Nike Air Max are no longer part of his kit, after all that’s the third pair he’s popped. First pair, nail in Guosen Mall, second pair jumping from a wall in the abandoned Olympic Volleyball Court. Back to skate shoes maybe? Please remember that exploring abandoned places can be very dangerous not just for your health but also your shoes. Please take care when you’re exploring.
You may remember in the last post Burbex was nursing a midlife crisis. What better way is there to find a new identity than exploring the frozen bowels of abandoned Changchun bathhouse? Unlike mushroom trips at The PLA Hospital or spending time with the disembodied residents at The Catholic School, Burbex wasn’t sure if he was going to reemerge this time.
The Changchun Bathhouse had seen thousands of weddings over the past two decades, but not unlike Mrs. Haversham’s wedding in Great Expectations, the wedding scenes have been left to rot, and the groom is nowhere to be seen.
Burbex had not been invited to the wedding party though. Despite the grandiose decor and luxurious rooms, he was heading straight for the basement, where the upper crust of Changchun society used to bath away their filthy richness.
Penetrating the lower levels of the bathhouse, everything was caked in darkness, only glimmers and glints from the spectacular chandeliers stood out in the dark, slowly swaying from unfelt gusts of spirit movement.
A word of warning before he entered the subterranean world. “Leave your clothes here and don’t forget to lock up your valuables.” The gaping mouths of the rotten lockers suggested, “We’re not responsible for anything you lose tonight… especially not your life!”
Burbex followed a streaking trail of red light beyond the changing room. Already in the icy depths of the bathhouse, he could feel the metamorphosis about to begin. Electricity crackled around him, drawing him to the fire pit.
A great spark of light, and the fire took it corporeal form. When the fire was brightest, only then could the spectres who became viscous in the thick darkness which hides in hidden corridors and secret corners be called upon.
Burbex uttered the soundless vowels of their tongue, and with promises of blood, he drew forth a spectre which bathed in the light of the fire. It tapped its feet and drummed it’s fingers, working up the gusto for a dance.
The barely visible spectre emerged fully and danced his long forgotten dance:
Follow the balls of fire to the mirror,
where our two worlds are riven,
there within the mirrored cage,
unto you a new life shall be given
The heavenly orbs appeared as promised and lit the way for Burbex to follow. Six mirrors to other worlds before him stood, dark tendrils emanated from five, but one glowed a lustful red, drawing Burbex towards it, to touch it, and move through it.
Burbex stepped through into the mirror room where a thousand reflected identities had been stored. Burbex snatched at the first new identity, which grew furnace hot and glowed proudly within his chest.
What identity Burbex grabbed out of that place or whether he’ll make it out of that mirrored cell, we’ll never know, but if you are ever looking to rediscover yourself, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe he can take you to the other side too.
Lucky scavengers will take in some of Beijing’s most unique spots, as you pit their wits against two of Burbex’s most challenging locations. Scavengers need to bring a fully charged smart phone, and suit up in durable clothes that cover the legs.
Scavengers will meet at Anheqiao Station at the end of subway line 4 at 10:30am, where they will be met by Burbex and given their instructions.
The Scavenger Hunt will begin on Saturday, May 6 at 11am and will last 2 to 3 hours.
Only 8 spots are available, at $35 per ticket. More spaces may open up if there is a lot of demand.
NOTE FOR ATTENDEES
Attendees need to be reasonably fit; able to climb a small fence and run around.
Attendees should wear dark clothes—hoodies are ideal. Clothes should not have too many straps or loose cords.
Attendees need to bring a smart phone with 3G/4G. A camera is also recommended, but nothing too heavy.
Check out the full lineup of amazing adventures taking place all around the world on Obscura Day, our annual celebration of discovery!
Use the #obscuraday hashtag on your favorite social media platforms to show us how you’re celebrating. We’ll be featuring your posts on our own platforms all day, and you could even win some Atlas Obscura prizes.
But most of all… they have to have lots and lots of GUTS!
Beijing is an unusual place when it comes to Burbex, the main reason for this is that it is sadly lacking in historical buildings to explore. Apart from Chaoyang 81 and the Nationalist Hotel, which have both been renovated and had their ghostly residents evicted, historical buildings are thin on the ground in Beijing. That is what makes the Catholic School such a pleasure to explore.
The Catholic School came to Burbex’s attention a few years ago, exploring the attics which used to be filled with junk, but it has been locked up for some time now, each of the vast rooms hosting dormitories full of itinerant workers who have left their mark on the building, re-sculpting it to their own purposes.
The attic area itself is divided into four long areas, each supported with thick redwood beams supporting gray/blue bricks which may have been there since it was constructed more than one hundred years ago. Unusually, it seems that the workers have tried to take apart a lot of the walls on the top floor, and massive stone blocks are scattered everywhere.
The other joyful think that Burbex found about the attic space is the afternoon light which just pours into the windows. Many of the large rooms on the third floor, which were likely school dormitories and altars must have been bathed in sunshine when the original inhabitants lived here.
On the ground floor, half hidden in the dark, are rooms full of junk, possibly from when the school was used as a hospital. There are suitcases full of old shoes and clothes. There was also a lot of old computer equipment, which always brings a smile to Burbex’s face. Additonally, there was a huge collection of cassette tapes for everyone’s favourite <Boyzone>, who were of course hugely popular in China.
On the ground floor, everything is locked up tight, and the junk collects dust quietly in the dark. Judith, Burbex’s companion on this trip, was pleased with the number of “mise en scene” shots that we could achieve in the dark, like this little cherub…
…and this fake tree growing indoors…
…and an abandoned army cap…
which all seem to mix up the history of the catholic school even more. Even more confusing is that the school seemed to have acted as a hospital at some point with abandoned hospital equipment and rooms left behind in the dark. This sign below is for the night surgery department.
The building started to get strange and a little scary when Burbex and Judith found a hole outside which led into a semi-collapsed cellar with many stony rooms leading off to each side. Down here everything is pitch black, and even the echoes die in the dead cool air.
It is hard to decide what purpose many of these underground rooms served, but Burbex deduced that the one below was a ice room for storing food and drinks. It probably would’ve been insulated with tiles originally, but none of them remain. Burbex found that it was significantly colder in this chamber than the other.
The other rooms probably would’ve been for storing coal, as many of them have chutes which lead in from the front of the building. These are room whose walls seem to seep with moisture and other weird ectoplasm that Judith was reluctant to examine.
The first time Burbex came down here with Judith was a few months ago. Judith screamed in the dark, and Burbex ran to find her in the room that was by far the weirdest and most gruesome of them all. Burbex affectionately calls this The Organ Room.
WARNING: THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS IMAGES THAT VIEWERS MIGHT FIND DISTURBING.
In this solitary chamber Burbex found three jars each containing a complete set of human organs. One of the jars had cracked open, and the organs inside had turned to a bloody mush, but the other jars contained perfectly preserved sets of organs, some bagged and other tagged.
To Judith’s disgust, Burbex could not resist taking the lid off one of the jars. The smell of formaldehyde filled the room, and Judith retreated to the doorway.
A closer look reveals a brain on the left and possible a set of intestines on the right. This gruesome find was highly unusual given that these organs were the only items left in the whole of the basement area. Perhaps the workers who cleared the building were too superstitious to move them.
Burbex and Judith were happy to make their way out of The Organ Room and into the sunshine again, but leaving The Catholic School, they both got the sense that they had left a little part of themselves down there in that dark basement.
In summary, this is not the first time Burbex has seen organs at a site, Tianjin Chest Hospital offered a strong looking pair of lungs, and when it comes to darkness Longyan International Park cannot be beaten. However The Catholic School’s combination of attic space, abandoned cellars and abandoned guts makes it an unforgettable experience earning it a solid GRADE A-.
Of course, if you have any suggestions for places to explore, or would like to come out with Burbex some time, please drop a line to email@example.com. If you are coming along to The Catholic School you had better bring along a crucifix and a pair of latex gloves.