Submitted by Tim Staermose of Sovereign Man
Guangzhou South Station: Something Out Of A Zombie Movie
When I left my hotel bound for the new Guangzhou South Station the
other day , I didn’t know much about the station– where it was, how far
from the hotel, etc. After about 25 or 30 minutes in the cab, I still
hadn’t seen any signs for the station and grew concerned that the cabbie
was just taking me for a ride.
As we eventually approached the station, I began to understand why it
was so far out of town. Clearly, the only way they could find enough
contiguous land to build this monstrosity was to go WAY into to the
outskirts of the city.
In the end, it was a 27.82 kilometer (17.39 miles) cab ride from my
downtown hotel, and took 49 minutes to get there. I know this because
Chinese taxis are very efficient and give you a highly detailed receipt.
Guangzhou South Station is absolutely COLOSSAL. By comparison, it is
much bigger than any of the 3 international airport terminals in Manila
where I live… and I’d say it’s over 8 times larger than the Central
Airport Express Station in Hong Kong.
For a start, the Guangzhou South Station is built on THREE levels. I
was dropped off at level 2. When I entered there was an “Information”
booth straight ahead. It was unstaffed. In fact, the entire second
level was completely deserted. Very spooky. It was something out of a
low-budget zombie movie.
I went downstairs to the ticketing area where there were a few signs
of life. Of the forty or so ticket windows, well over half were closed,
and there were only a few dozen people mulling about. To give you an
idea of density, imagine the largest football stadium you can think of
with only a few hundred people inside. Ghost town.
ticket in hand, I went up to the departures area… it defies logic that
you have to go upstairs to departures even though the trains are at the
ground level, but my guess is that the Party really wanted to build a
third level just to heighten the grandeur of the train station.
Now, you’d think that if they spent so much money building a station
this large, they would be expecting hundreds of trains steaming in and
out at all hours of the day. Not by long shot. There was only one train
at the platforms. Mine.
It was the same zombie movie theme– areas the size of multiple
football fields with hardly any passengers standing around. And yet,
throughout the entire station over all three levels was expensive, high
quality marble tiles and artistic finishings, all polished to a mirrored
Guangzhou South Station is truly a monument to excess, exemplifying China’s ruinous “build it and they will come” attitude.
When I arrived to Wuhan about 4-hours later (going 300 km per hour on
the high speed bullet train), it was the same theme: acres of empty
space, hardly a soul in sight, yet all very modern and marbled with
dozens of elevators and abandoned information booths. When my train
pulled in, it was the only one at the platforms.
Frankly, the whole episode reminded me of Bangkok and Hong Kong
airports during the SARS epidemic back in 2003. I observed this
firsthand– passenger traffic cratered because most people were scared
silly of catching the deadly virus, and major airports were practically
Similarly, it’s what you would expect Grand Central Station to look like after a flesh-eating virus outbreak.
It’s interesting to note that China’s National Audit Office (NAO)
recently published a report which says the country’s outstanding local
government debt is now equivalent to $1.7 TRILLION. That’s a huge figure
— about 27% of China’s GDP in 2010.
Because the NAO’s figure was based only on a sampling of 6,500 local
government-backed financial vehicles (out of more than 10,000 such
vehicles nationwide), the actual magnitude of local government
indebtedness is likely to be much greater. China’s own Central Bank
estimates the number to be 30% higher than the NAO figure.
All of this certainly begs the question– how many more empty
buildings and unused train stations can they possibly build? More
importantly, what happens to China’s economy when all this fixed asset
spending starts to subside? I’ll explore these questions more in the
coming days… but in the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think about