I took the wrong number four bus after work the other day. Like the 5 and 1 bus, there are two types, so you have to pay attention to which one you catch…I’ve managed to ride all the wrong ones once or twice in my time here.
This particular time I wound up three blocks away from where I wanted to be, so I needed to walk through a few back roads that passed businesses and factories of some sort or another. At about 6 pm most people were trekking back home, too. Dark-skinned Han in hard hats, many wearing fatigue army pants or solid blue or orange work jackets moved along the sidewalks, chatting away in thick local dialect. A few glanced my way, no doubt curious about the lone foreigner in a shirt and tie walking down their streets. A couple actually talked with me.
As I drew closer to my apartment I realized I’d wandered down a road I’d never been on. To the right, across the street, a large cast-iron gate bordered an over-grown yard with statues in it. I crossed the street to get a better look, and I couldn’t believe what I saw.
What I took for a few plaster statues along the fringes of the fence turned out to be a field filled to the brim with them. All looked to be at varying levels of deterioration. Some seemed to grow directly from the ground, having spent enough time for the grass and weeds to nearly swallow them while others could have been placed there the day before.
Communist and Kuomintang soldiers, Qing government officials, and ancient Buddhist goddesses scattered across the field gave the place an eerie feeling, almost as if I were walking through some bizarre graveyard where the dead refused to stay buried.
I followed the fence until I came to a gate opening guarded by a short, thin, bald man in street clothes. He regarded me suspiciously until I asked him if I could take a look at in the yard. He said no, but then I told him that I’ve lived here for almost three years and never saw this place. Whether or not that was a particularly convincing argument or because I am a foreigner, he changed his mind and said I could look around. “Jin lai, kan kan ba.”
As I left, I thanked him and then took a picture of the name of the building so I could figure out what the place was. Turns out, it’s an official cultural ministry building of some sort. Pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be inthere because as I walked out, a group of workers in hard hats also asked if they could come in and the guard said no. I walked quietly down the street, not wanting to hear the “You let the foreigner in,” discussion.