Beijing’s Underground City

Apparently, it’s a well-known secret that Beijing has an intricate tunnel system underneath the city that was dug out many years ago when they thought that there might be a nuclear threat from Russia (or other countries.)  Apparently, the massive tunnel system can hold millions of people. 

I’m not sure what the plans for clean water and unradiated food sources were, but concern was probably not much unlike the nuclear attack drills in the US during the 50s and 60s. 

We’ve seen on the web that we could actually take a tour of a portion of the tunnel system.  Most of the websites warned that it was quite difficult to find and gave some directions through neighborhoods and alleyways.  The fear of not being able to find a place has never stopped us before. 

We hopped in a cab and got off about where we thought it would be, then started asking random people where such and such street was.  We found a non-descript hutong alley and a lady pointed us down the alleyway.  We walked a long way.  I was carrying Andrew in a front pack, and Tenille pushing Caleb in the stroller.  The few people that were out biking or walking stared at us as if aliens.  But, the two guys riding an enormous tricycle, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a face mask hardly got a glance.  About 3/4 of a mile down this dusty hutong, we finally found a building that looked approximately like what we’ve seen in the pictures on the web.  We excitedly hopped into the gate.  To our disappointment, we just saw an 8.5×11 piece of paper on a window that said, “Underground City closed.” 

Then some people came out of the courtyard where we thought the underground tour would be.  They looked at us and waved their hands at us as if saying, you’re in the wrong place.  Then he pointed at the sign.  With heavy steps, we went back outside.  As a consolation prize, we took some pictures outside, That’s when we noticed that the signs have been taken off of the walls and left an imprint of the words “Underground City Tour”.  The place wasn’t just closed for the day.  The place was closed for good.  We started the long trek back out of the Hutong. 

That day, we did end up looking at a new upscale retail area by Qianmen.  It reminded me of a Disney’s main street (or the Promenade in Santa Monica), with tracks laid down for  a trolley and an enormous pedestrian only boulevard.  The only difference was that 1. It was all Chinese themed buildings, and 2. 98% of the buildings were empty.  It was an eerie ghost town of brand new retail stores.  But, what was weird was that there were thousands of Chinese people walking up and down looking at the empty stores.  Walking through this empty prime retail location felt like a gloomy reminder of the economic condition that the world is in.

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