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DALIAN, Liaoning - It was a sunny spring weekend and Jin Fan decided it was a good time to go to the suburbs and peer at the sky.
Jin, 70, is a hardcore believer in UFOs, and has set up a special site with three other retirees to search the stars for evidence of alien life.
"This is a perfect place for observing the sky," Jin told China Daily. "It's located in a vast field, far away from the city. In the evening, if you stand on a higher place, it seems that the stars in the sky are within your reach."
The one-square-kilometer farm is located in Pulandian, some 100 kilometers north of Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province.
Amid the vast fields are two cottages of mud and bricks. Inside are four wooden beds, a big table and a makeshift stove - simple accommodations, but enough for Jin and his like-minded friends when they stay overnight on the farm.
"We had planned to maintain the station by making money from raising poultry and growing vegetables on the farm," Jin said, while planting seeds in two patches of land close to the cottages.
But after two years of operation and more than 200,000 yuan ($31,000), the farm still looks like a vast expanse of barren fields in the spring sun.
"None of us have the sense and ability to turn the farming business into a success," Jin said with a self-mocking smile. "The best we've achieved is to ensure that in one or two months, the farm will yield enough vegetables to sustain our weekend stays here."
But the avid UFO fan has not been discouraged.
Jin is looking for partners to sustain the running of the farm and the observation base, and to finance necessary observation equipment.
So far, the best equipment they have is a telescope, camcorders and a camera. It costs at least 300,000 yuan to purchase a complete set of automatic observation equipment.
"If possible, I want to build an exhibition center on the farm so that people can come to learn about UFOs," Jin said. "In fact, it has become a gathering place for enthusiasts in Dalian. In the winter when the weather drops to below -10 C, only five or six of us keep coming here every week. In the summer, however, more people are joining us and we usually stay for several days or even longer."
Jin, an engineer, is the founder and chairman of the Dalian UFO Research Society, which was established in 1984. The society has some 400 members.
Their activities focus on investigating witness reports, sharing information and discussing UFOs.
"It was the end of 1979 when I saw an article in People's Daily about world mysteries including the Bermuda Triangle and UFOs," Jin recalled. "Somehow I took to UFOs immediately.
"It was something that held me aloof from the rest of the world. When I turned my eyes to the sky and space, I felt at peace with myself."
In 1984, Jin established the research society in Dalian. Almost all the money he made from managing companies and hospitals, and teaching at a local university, was used for research.
In 2005, Jin organized a world UFO conference in Dalian, which attracted more than 200 enthusiasts from a dozen countries and regions.
"He sold two apartments for the preparation of the conference, leaving the two of us only a small apartment of 50 square meters to live in," grumbles Jin's wife Chen Xiaomei.
"But this is what he is really interested in. I don't have the heart to force him to quit."
Despite his decades of devotion, Jin said he has only witnessed two UFOs.
The second time was in September 2002 when Jin spotted a quickly-rotating orange object in the southwestern sky from the balcony of his 21st-floor apartment.
But as China's most famous UFO fan, Jin has had the opportunity to hear from hundreds of other witnesses across the country. Many people who claim to have witnessed UFOs or have communicated with extraterrestrials call to tell him their stories.
"We still need a scientific attitude and approach to study UFOs. That's why an observation base is essential," Jin said.
"It can't be true that human beings are the only intelligent life in the vast universe."