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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