Desdemona has been following the “ghost city” story since Business Insider first collected satellite photos of new, empty cities in China in 2010. NBC News did a story on the ghosts that haunt China’s landscape in 2012. Business Insider has a new story for 2013: Scary new satellite pictures of China’s ghost cities. Now, Wade Shepard provides another perspective.

First, here’s the 60 Minutes report from 3 March 2013.

Contrast that with the Vagabond Journey report from 29 March 2013.

By Wade Shepard
29 March 2013

(Vagabond Journey) – “We discovered that the most populated country on earth is building houses, districts, and cities with no one in them,” began a report on 60 Minutes which aired on March 3rd. The news program’s timeless correspondent, Lesley Stahl, ventured out to the city of Zhengzhou accompanied by the Hong Kong based financial adviser, Gillem Tulloch, and got the low down on China’s ghost city phenomenon.

Finally, I thought, I will see a proper ghost city.

I’d been chasing reports of deserted cities around China since last December, and I had yet to find one. Over and over again I would read articles in the international media which claim that China is building cities that are never inhabited only to find something very different upon arrival. The New South China Mall had a lot of empty shops but it turned out to be a thriving entertainment center, Dantu showed that an initially stagnant new city can become populated and come alive, and I found that Xinyang’s new district, a place called a ghost city since 2010, wasn’t even close to being built yet. The 60 Minutes report served as portent that there are really ghost cities out here in China. Or so it appeared. […]

The area that 60 Minutes shot in surely looked “ghost-like” on film, but when I arrived there I found an entirely different scene. I found a sparkling new financial district that was full of sparkling new cars, well-dressed pedestrians, corporate offices of major businesses, skyscrapers full of occupied offices, expensive coffee houses, laundry hanging in the windows of luxury condos, there were cars parked in nearly every available parking space, and signs of life everywhere. There was nothing desolate about the Zhengdong CBD, it appears to be functioning as planned.

I located the landmarks that have continuously been used to proclaimed this place a “ghost city,” but I could not snap a photo or take a video which replicated the desolate scenes that have been broadcast around the world. There were just too many people, too many cars, too many businesses, and my shots kept getting buggered by the life that’s sprouting everywhere here. Whereas other media sources are consistently able to get videos that show a ghost city, I was only able to get shots that showed a living and breathing new district.

I walked into the Novotel tower and took an elevator up to the top floor. I wanted to capture the same shot that the 60 Minutes crew made famous a few weeks ago. There are two towers that stand side by side in Zhengdong that have flower petal-like facades emerging from their roofs. 60 Minutes got a shot of one of them by going up in the other. So that’s what I did. Before getting in the elevator I read the directory of business that had offices in the tower, and I could not help but to note that every floor was occupied.

On the top floor I walked into an office and asked permission to take photos out their window. The two women behind the desk nodded and I took a video of the northwestern side of the Zhengdong district. But I could not get the view I wanted of the tower’s flower topped twin, so I descended one floor and made for an office on the opposite side.

I walked though an open door into an large office that was full cubicles and people at work in front of computers. Nobody stopped me as I made for the windows that would provide access to the scene I wanted to capture. There was a row of private offices in my way, so I walked into one and asked the guy sitting behind the desk if I could take a photo. He obliged with a “why not” shrug and showed a moderate amount of amusement at my intrusion. The windows this far up were filthy, and another worker quickly jumped to my aid and opened one of them for me. I got what I was after.

Did 60 Minutes actually go into a skyscraper that was full of businesses, walk into an office full of workers, film a district full of life out of the windows, and then claim that it was all deserted? [more]

A Journey To China’s Largest Ghost City



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