“What? He got deported.” The glass of Black Silk from Legend aimed at my mouth gets lost along the way. “Well, you know they take security pretty seriously down there you know. They don’t want Johnny Foreigner poking around.” The stout half-soused Scotsman points a finger. “Make sure you stay away from (garbled speech)!” He shifts on his stool. “I gotta piss.” As he stumbles away I grab the Sharpie from my pocket and write on the back of my hand.
I wake up head pounding. Black Silk lives up to its name on the way down, but it’s like sandpaper on the brain the next day. I roll over and notice I’ve made a note on my hand. STATION 51. I crumble out of bed and open my laptop. After an hour of ragged research on Baidu, I find a 1980s map of the Beijing subway. Something doesn’t look right, Pingguoyuan, the current terminal stop for line one, has two extra stations beyond it, stations 51 and 52.
After lining up the old map with current maps, I find two stations up in the hills on either side of a small mountain. The only clue as to their location is the canal leading up the mountainside. My hangover makes a sudden departure. I dress quickly and run for the door.
Two hours later, I’m halfway up a mountain exploring the structure of a massive canal lock. It’s beautiful in its ugliness. From the top, I can see a patch of wasteground – a likely spot for an abandoned subway station. Climbing down I go onto a dusty track where a sign warns foreigners to turn away. I’m in too deep now. I step onto the wasteland, and there, like familiar friends in an unfamiliar place, are three subway entrances.
Granted, they’re not all shiny and new, but they’re radiating 1970s Communism. Two of them are bricked up, but the third has a rusting blue door. There’s something down there and I want to get in. I pull as hard as I can on the door handle, but it doesn’t budge. Where’s a crowbar when I need one? I look down to my left, a dead dog stares at me blankly from wilted grass. This isn’t going to work. I’ll have to come back another day. What about Station 52?
I go deeper into no man’s land and suddenly come across train tracks going through a tiny village, dried maize piled up on doorsteps. Stray dogs run up and down the street barking. I follow the tracks. There it is! You can’t not notice it. It’s a huge tunnel at the base of a mountain. The other thing you can’t help but notice is the massive military complex surrounding the opening of the tunnel – Red Army trains and carriages on the tracks. The word “deportation” forms in a thought bubble above my head. By the time it has popped, my legs have carried me back to the safety of Legend. “You still here?” The Scotsman sounds surprised. “I wasn’t expecting to see you again.”
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the latest episode of Burbex on YouTube, where Brin explores an abandoned at school and discovers some newspapers from 1976 whose history has been erased over the last forty years.