A Ghost Town Is Born

By Jane Mountain | February 6, 2014

9,639 km so far.

Today was all about combatting boredom. The road was pretty much the same old road, the good ol’ G325, on which we’ve spent ample time during this southern section of our trip. The views were pretty much the same banana tree and rice paddy scenes, too.

Radio Gaga

We started out passing by several large factories in the distance, and then slowly moved into farmland.

Somewhere there's a factory dedicated to making clever house slippers.

Somewhere there’s a factory dedicated to making clever house slippers.

People were hard at work, just like they are every day in China.

We rode by an elderly lady moving a tree from the ditch onto the road for some reason. A man was shifting a huge pile of bricks, brick-by-brick, across his yard. A father was riding a three-wheeled cart, with his young daughter on board. He stopped to pick up a tree branch to add to the already large pile of branches on his cart. At one intersection, I spotted a construction crew shovelling a pile of sand into wheelbarrows. They all stopped what they were doing to watch us ride by.

By kilometre 10, my brain was cursing the sameness of it all, and my legs didn’t want to pedal another damn stroke. I tried to ignore my thoughts, but the more I tried to ignore them, the more they insisted that I was TOO BORED TO RIDE.

road sign in china

Amazing sign warning people of the dangers of piling the whole family onto the farm vehicle.

Before long, I knew I had to do something to make the crazies go away.

Luckily, I had a Radiolab podcast loaded on my phone, so I plugged in the headphones and was whisked away to another world, where The Penningtons read each others’ minds and caterpillars become beautiful butterflies, after a brief pause as caterpillar cell soup. If you want to know what I’m talking about, you can stream the episode, Black Box, here. Have a listen. It’s fascinating.

Flat Rats

In northern and central China, we noticed that there was very little roadkill. We decided this was because there was very little non-industrial space for wildlife to live and breed. In southern China, we have seen flattened animals in their hundreds. The only thing is, they’ve almost all been rats.

Rats seem to be pretty speedy little creatures, but everywhere you look on the highways here, there are flattened rats smushed into the road. I’m not sure why you need to know this, but we see them every day, so I wanted you to be able to imagine them.

road sign in china

What a cute head-on collision.

One of the rare times we’ve seen non-rat roadkill was a couple of days ago. While riding through a village alongside the crappy gravel road on Hainan, we saw about 10 tiny yellow chicks squashed into the dirt.

They looked like perfect cartoon chicks which have just been run over by a cartoon steam roller, as though they would peel themselves off the earth at any second, shake their little chick heads to clear the daze, and start running around pecking at the ground again.

I can’t imagine who or what hit these chicks, but it was a lot more upsetting than all the dead rats.

Ghost Suburb

The outskirts of Qinzhou have a classic case of Chinese ghostcity-itis. There are kilometres of perfect wide six-lane boulevards, lined with towering condo buildings on each side. On the ground level of these buildings are endless shopfronts, displaying logos and signs for all the popular Chinese stores.

A ghost building which will one day have elephants, according to the billboard outside.

A ghost building which will one day have elephants, according to the billboard outside.

The only thing is, there is no one on the roads, except for a couple of foreign cycle tourists. No one lives in the condo buildings, except for a few security guards. And no one was shopping, because not a single shop has ever opened.

Every Chinese city of a certain size has one of these empty suburbs, but Qinzhou’s was remarkable for its size and level of completeness. It felt like you could move in tomorrow, except we’re sure no one is planning to. Possibly ever.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like riding through one of these non-cities. It’s weird, disturbing, and utterly mystifying. Why do they do this? And what is it like to live in a half-populated city?

Fortunately, there are plenty of people in the city centre, and the hotels are thick as flies. We got a room in one of the fancier places we’ve ever stayed, for a third of what we were paying in the Banana Hostel just the other night.

Even though the hotel was fancy, we still brought our bikes inside.

Even though the hotel was fancy, we still brought our bikes inside.

It’s good to be back in non-tourist land again.

Soundtrack: Radiolab podcast | The Beatles, Abbey Road | Wilco, Sky Blue Sky  

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