Ordos is know as one of China’s “ghost cities”. It was built with the intention of housing millions of people, instead it only houses thousands.
If you’ve lived in China for a while, Ordos is strange. People do live there, and there are a fair number of people wandering around, but the roads are nearly empty, there aren’t people trying to shove past you at every opportunity, and there’s free transportation with room for everyone on board. The city still seems populated, albeit sparsely.
You may have read in articles around the interwebs that the city is an abandoned and failed project. This didn’t seem to be quite true. There are still active developments in progress and people are still moving into the city. It is true that most of the property is owned by entrepreneurs outside of the city, and you do get the feeling wandering around that most of the people are working merely to allow the city to exist. It’s as if the city is just waiting for an event that will suddenly make it the biggest place in China.
The airport is probably the least busiest airport I’ve ever visited. It’s the only airport I’ve ever been in that I haven’t felt the need to rush to get checked-in, through security and on to the plane. It’s quite an impressive building as well. We’d even got to the airport early to make sure we could catch our flights, but now we had 4 hours left to spare.
We spotted a building site and a hospital in the distance so we decided to go exploring before boarding our planes. We got to the building site and confirmed the obvious: we wouldn’t be able to explore this. What we did learn, however, was that this area near the airport was empty. The streets were ridiculously clean and there were no people wandering around. It was eerie – it made me think of a nuclear test site without the dummies. Despite the lack of people here there was still a free bus service running (all buses in Ordos are free to use).
We went to the hospital and spoke to the guards outside. They were perfectly fine with us going in to look around. The hospital was almost empty – hosting a skeleton crew who were just sitting there, waiting. There were eight counters, with only one staffed. There were several empty surgery rooms. Several doctor’s offices – only one occupied by a doctor. It was like the place was just waiting for their first customer. On the way out we asked how many patients the hospital had. Zero. The answer was zero. They were still waiting for their first patient.
On the way to the hospital we also spotted a school. There were no guards this time so we just wandered in. This was a sunday, so we were surprised so see staff in the canteen. They were excite to see us and showed us around the school. The kitchen was clean and well stocked. They had students to feed, although not many. Next, they took us to the badminton court. I was surprised by how nice the facilities were in this school. It seemed a shame that so few people would ever see them and take advantage of them, but then if there were a lot of people here would it be maintained as well as it was.
Ordos is a strange city. It seems to be waiting for something, some kind of big event. Maybe it’s China’s backup capital in case of some horrific event? It certainly was more impressive than Beijing in many ways. Conspiracy theories aside, it is still too early to call this city a failure. It hasn’t succeeded yet either, but I wonder what this city will become in the next ten years? It’s not the ghost city people will tell you it is – it still has investors and there is still development going on here. It has enough people here to maintain the city, keeping it ready. Ready for the day people finally come here.