It's not an uncommon phenomenon. We research and buy a product that we had not been overly conscious of before. And then as soon as we buy that red car, suddenly there are a whole bunch of other red cars passing us on the motorway that we had never noticed before.
Over the years I have spent a lot of time in China, but I have to confess that I had never heard of Ordos until recently. My Chinese travels have taken me off the beaten track in many instances, as I pursued various agricultural commodities in a previous career. But Ordos had not come on to my radar, until I read that Team Seagate (wearing their inov-8 shoes !) were heading there for the Ordos Adventure Challenge 2012 - a 5 day adventure race over 460km. Then soon after that there was a short news item about the Miss World 2012 finals being held in Ordos. They were of course really only noteworthy for the fact that Miss Malawi used her elbow to effect on Miss New Zealand as the cameras panned the contestants.
And then to complete the red car trifecta a new item popped on to my news feed about a city built for one million people , that was largely a ghost town, and it was in Ordos.
So , why is it that a city I had never heard of, comes into my field of vision 3 times within a few days? Obviously the fact that Team Seagate are using the Ordos race in the lead up to their challenge for the World Adventure Racing tile this year, sparked interest, but it also illustrated that there are significant parts of the world about which we know almost nothing.
Ordos was known as Yekhe Juu until 2001. It is a city of around 1.5 M - not large for China. It is actually in Inner Mongolia ( an autonomous region within China) as opposed to Mongolia, which is an independent state bordering both China and Russia. Ordos is sometime dubbed "China's Dubai". It built it's wealth on an abundance of natural resources - primarily coal. Ordos has one sixth of the total coal reserves in China, and the city's per capita GDP overtook Hong Kong's last year.
The Ordos Adventure Challenge has a very rudimentary website. What it does tell you is the compulsory equipment each team needs, the format of the race and other basics. It also informs us that included in their entry fees, each team will get return airport transfers, ground transportation, meals etc. Also included is 3 nights accommodation in a 4 star hotel and 5 nights accommodation in a bivouac!
But the wonders of Google highlight a much more fascinating aspect of Ordos - the so-called "biggest ghost town in China". Ordos is currently home to 1.5 M people, and this new city has been built within the last few years to house a further 1 M people - but stands largely empty. Although much of the press around this empty city uses terms like "the great Chinese building boom is over" and "a symbol of the excesses of China's real estate boom", there is also a contrary view.
The other view is based on the fact that in 2011 the urban share of China's population surpassed 50% for the first time, compared to less than 20% in 1980. This urbanisation of the population is going to continue - averaging 15 to 20 million people per year moving from the country to cities.
This means that China cannot afford to wait to build it's new cities, and that the "ghost cities" are in fact evidence of planning and foresight we just don't see in the west. By building cities such as this now, they are prepared for the inevitable movement from country to city, before it happens, not struggling to make provision retrospectively.
From a city I had never heard of, to Miss World, an Adventure Challenge and ghost cities (that perhaps represent a lesson for us in urban planning) it is a reminder that there is always something that still surprises us just a little.