Wonderland was supposed to be a luxury outlet mall combined with a theme park. All that’s left today is the skeleton of a knock-off Disney Castle and a ridiculously large entrance hall with nothing inside–not ransacked, just incomplete.
This is no archaeological site of a forgotten civilization. After the ambitious venture went spectacularly bankrupt, this place has been sitting empty since 1998, well visible from a busy highway. Farmers squat the land now, growing what I assume to be corn. But of course, in the dead of the winter, there’s no one.
Back in the city, I try to enter another fantasy land. Youleyuan, or Beijing Amusement Park, was a thriving business until bigger and brighter attractions began popping up in 2006. I spend well over half an hour circling around its expansive premise, trying to see if there is a way to breach its tall fences. The walk takes me from a busy boulevard to a junkyard, then to a trash-strewn slum, where I realize I might be standing on what the occupants use as a communal toilet–an open field of human waste. But the walls stay impenetrable all around.
As mighty as it is, China isn’t immune to the same kind of failures that the rest of the world has experienced. For every billionaire tycoon, there must be plenty more broken entrepreneurs. These empty theme parks are just two burst bubbles in this fast-changing landscape.
(This is from a trip from last winter. More pictures over at Condé Nast Traveler. My Beijing story appears in Washington Post this week.