The Ghost Town

At 4:30 a siren sounded and I was sure the boat was sinking. I mentally ran through all the logical escape routes, noting in my mind where the life vests were stored. There had been no emergency drills, and we noticed that as dirty as the water was, if we fell in we’d probably be poisoned to death in minutes. I had not slept hardly a wink all night as we lulled back and forth in the Yangzi’s current. Not a hearty swimmer, I was worried about the possibility of making it to the closest shore before being snatched by the cold or exhaustion or fear of what I could get tangled in in the dirty water. We did not sink, and another siren went off at 5:00am indicating we should, perhaps, prepare to disembark. We were arriving at the ancient Ghost Town, the only Daoist ghost village in China. For 80Rmb a person you could freely roam the two hillsides full of abandoned buildings full of relics of an abandoned religion. The town was a tribute to death and hell. The idea was that if would could pass through the scary underworld and survive, he had been a good person in this life and thus would survive the torment of hell. We marched past neon pools of drainage and waste into a serene valley of abandoned buildings. At the top of one hill there was an empty doorway shaped like a giant dragon’s open mouth. We walked inside alone and down dark stairs where a motion sensor triggered an insane and surreal giant puppet show of flashing lights and life-sized displays of torture and hell. We quickly walked through the haunted house of Daoist hell, but after twenty minutes of giant puppets sawing each other in half, we had not found an exit. Another ten minutes of crazy lights and giant horrors and we finally passed into another hall of Chinese history stories acted out in moving statues. We were too shocked at what we had just walked through to really express any thoughts other then blank stares. Walking out into the bright sunlight we wondered if we had really just marched through hell. After walking around the town a bit more, we headed back to the boat early and beat the crowd. I took a cold shower (no hot water on the boat) and by the time I came out of the disgusting bathroom I felt dirtier than when I went in. Our room mates sat on their bunk, nearly nude, chain smoking and avoiding eye contact. I went topside where I read in the fumes of exhaust and wrote in my journal, all the while snapping pictures of the gorges and hillsides as we passed slowly by. We spent the rest of the day on board playing cards, drinking warm beer, chatting with the Swiss couple, and watching the scenery.

walking through hell

walking through hell

At 21:00 we stopped at a Buddhist temple for a quick trip, but decided to walk around the outside of the temple rather than go inside. This was a depressing revelation. All along the temple there were knocked down homes and piles of rubble with people sifting through debris looking for belongings or scavenging. Little children pestered us to buy rocks and oranges from them while the elderly simply sat and looked at the piles of bricks. The whole town was in piles around the temple, and the people stayed only to try to sell what little they could produce to the tourists who would overpay and then board their boat. The three gorges dam has aroused controversy across China and the world for its massive displacement of people. Reading about the project one could see the large numbers of people who would be moved, but watching them poke at piles of bricks that used to be their homes was heart wrenching. We bought oranges, and then left them on the shore for the children to find and resell, and then we boarded the boat in a sober and depressed mood. Back on board, however, we met a German couple, we thought there was only us and the Swiss on board for foreigners, but the Germans had been hiding in their room until this evening. We chatted lightly and he bought us a round of beers while he talked about his pipe factory in Canton. We ate boiled cabbage and rice with the Germans in the canteen before bed. Returning to the room we found the nearly nudes mid argument. They abruptly silenced themselves and huffed into their beds. We all slept heavily that night as we rolled further away from the depressing shores of devastation.

-posted by Lauren.

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