We are not at work this week so my plan is to do nothing. Sit around the apartment. Relax. Play on the computer. The trouble is that my apartment, as I mentioned before, is cold. I was sitting here working when I glanced out of my window and realised that it's actually a beautiful sunny day so I decided to go for a walk to get warm. Seems a peculiar state of affairs when you have to go out to get warm, but there you are. This is China.
Anyway, I decided to go for a walk. Now, I live almost at the northern limit of the city so naturally I decided to go north. In my early days in Baiyin, when I used to go for long walks regularly to familiarise myself with the place, I went for a walk to north, but that was a couple of miles further west , following one of the roads out of the city. Today I went straight north from my apartment, across the railway and along a dusty track. I was startled to find myself in a well-developed, modern town. There were clearly several thousand residential units in the new, clean apartment blocks. There were easily a couple of hundred retail units. There were offices. There was even a small park and a school. Of course somethings weren't there. Roads, for example. The spaces between all the buildings were unfinished sandy dirt tracks. Unfit for walking on, let alone driving.
Oh yes, and people. There were no people. The apartment blocks were clearly unoccupied with uncurtained windows and, where I was close enough to see, no furnishings or other signs of habitation. The retail units were shuttered and closed and obviously unused. The offices were vacant. The park had trees and benches but no signs of human life. The school had obviously never heard the tread of child's foot or the sound of a child's voice.
It was a ghost town. Built but never occupied. It was bizarre and eerie... and only ten minutes walk from my aprtment.
I continued on, out of the other side of this strange non-town and back onto the expected sandy paths. The path turned left, heading further west. I followed it expecting eventually to strike the road that I had walked on months ago. When I took that walk I passed an area of what can only be described as slums. They were visible from the elevated road though there was no obvious way to reach them. They consisted of single story brick buildings, shored up with random pieces of corrugated metal, old scraps of wood, odd pieces of furniture pressed into service as walls. I had seen smoke rising from the chimneys and people moving around. They were clearly inhabited though equally clearly not connected to electricity, gas or water. It looked a grim way to live.
I found today that my road angled down towards them. From this level they were stranger still. They consisted of a large number of walled dwellings separated by dirt paths. The walls surrounded them completely, with a single gate into each. Usually the walls were brick. Occasional they were augmented with random pieces of repurposed metal or wood. I strolled on down between them, sure that it would bring me to the road. What it brought me to eventually was a ten foot high wall between me and the road that stretched off without a break as far as I could see in either direction. I'm not sure why it's there unless it's to prevent people from the prosperous part of the city even seeing this less prosperous are but it was inconvenient for me. I turned around and retraced my steps all the way back to my apartment.
9 hours ago