Beer O’clock in a Chinese Ghost Town

by Michael Tveter

A thick, grey layer of pollution choked my sight as our bus rushed across the newly paved road. We – a group of foreign diplomats – could only see contours of workers as they paved the opposite lane.

We were guided through the industrial sites outside of Jieyang with a handful of factory staff standing idly next to machines set to demonstration-mode. They controlled empty cardboard boxes making aimless roundtrips on the same conveyor belts. 

We were taken past unused office spaces and sales offices occupied only by brochures and sample products. The smell of plastic and freshly assembled furniture followed us in every room. 

A representative from the development center directed us through the whole site and answered our questions with little conviction. It was the sales tour-version of a speed date. He shepherded us back onto our bus for a two-minute ride across the Golden River: a short, constructed strip of polluted water accentuated by gondolas to emphasize the internationality of the place. 

Our bus stopped in front of a red and white neon sign that read “Bier Zeit,” the German version of “beer o’clock.” The doors opened and introduced a portal to a bar. Between Oktoberfest signs and leftover ornaments from Chinese New Year celebrations, young, local servers carried jugs of “German beer,” a light brew that tasted remarkably like Tsing Tao. 

We were seated at three separate tables in the middle of the room. The tables had no dents, no scratches, nothing that stopped my fingers from gliding across the unused surface. Ushered to a different corner was all the staff members we had met that day, including a jolly, newly appointed “German” engineer who spoke English with a thick Polish accent. Everyone who had seen our group today gathered under the same roof, bereaving the streets and the factory floors of people. 

The mayor had joined our table. He stood up, gazed across the crowd, and signaled his hopes for future cooperation between his city and the represented countries. “There is great potential in Jieyang,” he started. His assistant and the Vice Mayor listened eagerly; a few guests courteously tilted their heads to align their eyes with him. Most, however, inspected their odorless food or sipped their lukewarm beer. 

“The development of the Sino-German Metal Eco City brings a new dynamic to our part of the province,” he continued. His words drowned when what started as a light drizzle turned to raindrops hammering on the poorly insulated roof. 

It turned to night. We ran through the raindrops and entered our bus. The staff got in their cars – their work was done. As we drove across the industrial sites, I saw the lights being turned off from Bier Zeit. Seconds later, there were no streetlights, no lights on the Golden River, and nothing to light up the replica of a grandiose German clock tower. Now, our bus’s headlights were the only sign of life between the city and the industrial site. 

BIO: Michael Tveter works for the Norwegian Foreign Service, having been posted in Guangzhou, China and Ankara, Turkey. He has a passion for reading and writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and his work has previously been published in Venture Magazine and Assisi Journal.



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