Ghost town… let that phrase sink in for a moment.
Does it conjure up images of Wild West one horse towns, tumble weeds rolling through the dusty streets, the doors swinging on the nearby saloon, the pianola playing haunting tunes under ghostly fingertips?
Now, take that image and throw it away. China is now the world leader in ghost towns, and they are nothing like anything you can imagine. Maverick urbexer Jude pestered Burbex to go on a roadtrip to the dusty suburbs of Tianjin to check out a new city called Jingjin New Town.
You may remember that Burbex is no stranger to Tianjin having explored the ghostly Tianjin Chest Hospital earlier in the year. This was a completely different kind of project altogether though. As Burbex and Jude left the uncommonly blue skies of Beijing and went across the border into Hebei, the smog got thicker and thicker.
From the end of the Tianjin subway line, a minibus arrived just in time to take us the fifty kilometres to Jingjin New Town. Neither Burbex nor Jude knew what they were looking for, but as they travelled further the already toxic smog closed in further almost blocking the view altogether.
Finally, poking through the smog clouds the peaks of some of the faux-ancient buildings could be seen. Enormous constructions were everywhere stretching as far as the eye could see (which wasn’t actually that far in the smog). Burbex and co. jumped off at one of the many entrances, and went into a packed internet bar for refreshments.
No wonder the complex was empty, Burbex thought as he looked at the packed net bar (note the girl picking her nose up front). This was probably the premier entertainment venue in the whole city.
The first part of the complex that the duo investigated were the tower blocks, which while in a quite lovely neighbourhood, were for the most part completely empty. A local resident said that it was common for families to buy apartments here so they could gain urban household registration for their children, meaning they have certain advantages in examinations. At the same time they could still retain their rural registrations which has other benefits.
Sneaking up the roof of these near-empty buildings was a cinch. Out of the smog mirage, beyond the luxury villas and faux-americana villas, there seemed to be a palace calling to the explorers.
The apartment blocks were divided from the villas by a scuzzy filth infested ditch which the explorers chose to circumnavigate. Taking the long way round the urbexers finally found their way into a parallel universe. Americana never looked so good. Burbex was just waiting for Freddy Kruger to appear and tear this dream to shreds.
Somewhat like the The Olympic Homko Ghost Town in Beijing, the houses are beautifully designed and are obviously intended for commuters, since most of them have adjoining garages and outdoor parking.
The houses are all very similar and just go on for ever and ever as the map below suggests. This was just one small section of a suburban area that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Of course, Freddy Kruger was not required to know that this place was not some beautiful dream. Many of the buildings are completely empty and falling down.
The ones beside the river are in slightly better condition, but this is only because they have been squatted by the country bumpkin contingent of security guards, migrant workers, and janitors who run the place.
The security guards seemed very concerned when they saw the duo taking photos and ushered them away. When asked how many of these places were occupied the security guard replied about ninety percent. This was obviously bullshit as not a soul could be seen on this winter day.
Pushing further into suburbia the villas grew larger and more glorious until they suddenly transform into full-on mansions basking by marshy lakes. The irony of these mansions is that they are even more dilapidated than the smaller ones.
Built on marsh lands, the mansions are prone to flooding, and most of the ones observed were impassable on the ground and basement floors. This simply meant that Burbex and Jude had a fair amount of climbing to do to get into the upper floors.
But once onto the rooftops and the view of the sun slowly setting through the smog over the rest of the mansions was well-worth the visit. Burbex and Jude thought that they had already seen the best of what Jingjin New Town had to offer, but there was still a great deal left for them to discover.
By the way, if you are interested in real ghostly locations like The Qianmen Gate Haunted Hotel or cursed places with horror stories of dead workers and terrible fengshui like Longyan International Park, be sure to check out the rest of the site. Also be sure to check out this great article from Lazarus about Ghost Cities in China.
In the meantime, if you ever want to come out exploring, just get in contact with Brin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can set up a time to meet. Don’t forget to bring your pollution mask.