PHOTO+VIDEO | Now it's a ghost town: It was supposed to be home to a million people, it cost $100 billion

Фото: Wikimedia Commons

"I managed to escape from this place," he laughs a little nervously Nazmi Hanafia. A year ago, this 30-year-old IT (information) engineer moved to Forest City, a large residential complex which China built it in Johor, to the south of Malaysia. He rented a one-room apartment in the skyscraper with a view of the sea, he writes The BBC.

After six months he had had enough. He did not want to continue living, as he said, in "ghost town".

“I didn't care about my deposit, I didn't care about the money. I had to leave," said Hanafia, who met with BBC journalists in the building where he used to live.

"I got goosebumps about coming back here." It's a wilderness here - just you and your thoughts," explains Hanafia.

Photo: Printscreen/Instagram/forestcity_countrygarden

A $100 billion project

Within The Belt and Road Initiative, China's largest real estate company, "Country Garden", presented in 2016 Forest City – a megaproject worth 100 billion dollars. At the time, China's real estate boom was in full swing. Investors borrowed huge amounts of money to build at home and abroad for middle-class buyers.

Country Garden's plan was to build an environmentally friendly metropolis in Malaysia with a golf course, water park, offices, bars and restaurants. The company claimed that Forest City would eventually be home to nearly a million people.

Eight years later, the project stands as a reminder that you don't have to be in China to feel the effects of China's real estate crisis. Only 15 percent of the entire project has been built so far, and according to the latest estimates, a little more than one percent of the total construction is used.

Despite facing debts of almost 200 billion dollars, "Country Garden" told the "BBC" that it is optimistic about the completion of the project.

Photo: Printscreen/Instagram/forestcity_countrygarden

Forrest City was announced as "a dream paradise for all mankind". But in reality it was aimed at the domestic Chinese market, offering ambitious people the opportunity to own a second home abroad. The prices were unaffordable for most ordinary Malaysians.

For Chinese buyers, the property would be an investment that could be rented out to local Malaysians such as Hanafiyyah or to be used as a holiday home. In reality, Forest City's isolated location – built on reclaimed islands far from the nearest major city of Johor Bahru – deterred potential tenants and earned it its local nickname "Ghost Town".

"To be honest, it's creepy here. I had high expectations for this place but it was such a bad experience. There is nothing to do here," Hanafia told the BBC.

Deserted beach and playgrounds

Forest City gives off a strange vibe, it seems abandoned resort. On a deserted beach there is a neglected children's playground, a rusty old car and white concrete stairs that lead nowhere. Warning signs are placed near the water that swimming is not recommended due to crocodiles.

Many shops and restaurants are closed in the purpose-built shopping center. Some bars are not even finished. In the surreal scene, an empty children's train runs in circles in the mall, continuously playing "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" in Chinese.

In the nearby Country Garden showroom, there is a huge model of the city, showing what the finished Forest City should look like. Behind the sales counter are several employees who look as if they are bored. The sign above them reads: "Forest City. Where happiness never ends."

People here seem to be most attracted to the status of the duty-free zone. The beaches are full of discarded alcohol bottles.

Фото: Wikimedia Commons

When night falls, darkness covers Forest City. Each of the huge apartment blocks contains hundreds of flats, but only a few have the lights on. It's hard to believe that someone actually lives here.

“This place is creepy. Even during the day, when you step outside your door, the corridor is dark," says Joan Kaur, one of the few residents.

She and her husband live on the 28th floor of one of the skyscrapers – they are alone on the entire floor. Like Hanafia, they have rented an apartment and plan to leave as soon as they can.

"I feel sorry for the people who actually invested money and bought an apartment here. Google's Forest City is not what you see here today. It should have been the project that was promised to the people, but it is not," Kaur added.

Talking to people in China who have bought apartments in Forest City is not easy. The BBC was able to indirectly contact several owners, but they did not want to comment, even anonymously.

There are no people at all

However, social media offers some anecdotal stories. Under a post praising the project, a customer from Liaoning Province says: "This is very wrong. Today's Forest City is a ghost town. There are no people at all. "It is far from the city, there are incomplete housing facilities and it is difficult to move without a car."

Some asked how they could get a refund on their property, with one saying: "The price of my flat has dropped so much I'm speechless."

This kind of frustration is being felt across China, where the real estate market is in disarray. After years of rampant borrowing by real estate companies, the Chinese government, fearing a bubble, imposed tight restrictions in 2021.

When it comes to China's real estate crisis, Forest City is a classic case of ambition versus reality. Some local factors may have contributed to the current situation, but this is proof that building tens of thousands of apartments in the middle of nowhere is not enough to convince people to live there.

Ultimately, the fate of Forest City – and hundreds of projects across China – rests with the Chinese government. In October, reports emerged that Country Garden had been placed on a preliminary list of companies to receive financial support from the Chinese government – ​​although the extent of that support is still unclear.

People like Hanafia are unlikely to return anyway: "I will certainly choose more carefully next time." I am happy to leave this place, now I have my life back."

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