Ghosts of tourism past

If second-tier Asian tourist attractions are sometimes creepy and forlorn, China’s contributions excel in creating a mood of melancholy creakiness. I think I first became aware of this when visiting the original site of the Harbin Ice Festival, a small park in the city centre. The bulk of the festival has moved across the river and turned into a gloriously gaudy mini-Disneyland-of-ice that really has to be seen to be believed — but the original location is still home to a nearly deserted and rather shoddy display of ice-animals, aircraft carriers, and submarines.

I noticed this phenomenon again on a much larger scale at the Chinese National Aviation Museum, located on a particularly dusty strip of land outside of Beijing’s North Sixth Ring Road. The complex is huge, looking rather like a derelict James Bond set, and housing more F-6 fighters (Chinese-made MiG-19s) than anyone is likely ever to want to see. It is also home to a massive display hangar built into the side of a mountain, and a giant aviation graveyard containing crashed and/or rusting old trainers, bombers, fighters, transports and helicopters, Liberation jeeps, mobile radar stations, missiles, and the private aircraft of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. All of this is nicely complemented by a deserted children’s merry-go-round near the museum’s entrance. The visit took place a few weeks ago, just before the spring weather started moving in.

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F-6 Takeoff Tiananmen Troops

Tiananmen Tanks 1 Tiananmen Tanks 2 Movie Hall
Row of F-6s Missile launcher PLA paint job
Mark in F-6 Need seat cushion 顶枪(?)
Accident Prop trainer rear cockpit Tea with Mao
Mao's bed Mao's slippers Creepy children's ride
007 Museum hangar and bunker Discussing transportation


2 thoughts on “Ghosts of tourism past”

  1. Great stuff, I received similarly nasty impressions from my three-world-heritage-site-pilgrimage to Shanxi province this wu yi. The supposedly glorious Buddha-containing caves of Da Tong were in very poor repair, but I suppose this is understandable after 1,400 years of continental weather patterns. What is shocking is the little care and attention that appears to be being paid at the moment to slow down this disintegration process. At the same time, the cave site is nicely contrasted by a big ugly coal mine on the opposite side of the road.

    Not only the tourist sites are disturbing, but so are the tourists – three members of our travel group were threatened with arrest after hitting and kicking a young, inexperienced and admittedly not very efficient tour guide in Ping Yao.

    The hotels, too, were foul, with damp sheets, cigarette burns and cigarette odour everywhere. Most telling of all was the presence of a list of every item in the room, along with its price – should the traveller wish to smash a few things. For example; tv 1,999yuan; teacup, 7yuan; bedsheet, 239yuan. Unbelievable. I originally thought that Paul Theroux was being unkind and unfair in his constant criticism of the Chinese (Riding the Iron Rooster), but my experiences have proven him to be absolutely spot on.

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