Saturday, August 08, 2009

On The Border

Back in Manzhouli for a few hours before our flight back to Beijing, we decided to go out to the China-Russia border, which is located at the edge of town. Now, this border area is no longer the main crossing point between the two countries. (Apparently, most traffic occurs at a newer, more distant location.) That said, it is the central place where trains, including the Trans-Siberian railroad, go back and forth.

Marked by two enormous gates, which all trains pass under as they negotiate the crossing, this spot struck us as unusual in a couple of respects. For starters, as you walk up to the gates, you are greeted by an old steam train set up in a parking lot. As our driver explained to us, this train is significant because it is the first train Mao Zedong ever rode in (or something to that effect). George Washington slept here!

The border also struck us as weird because there is a gate where you have to by admission tickets. Now, what we were buying admissions for was not exactly clear. Do we get to go closer to Russia? (Presumably, without visas, we would not be able to step into Russia itself.)

No matter. As I walked up to the window, the ticket seller informed me that waiguoren are not allowed to go through. "Really!?" came my startled reply. "Yes, really." I was tempted to ask why, but then I decided it just wasn't worth it. Rather, these four Americans just walked away from the border between China and Russia.

Well, actually, what we did was walk away from the tourist section of the border. We strolled off the beaten path. Down an alley between a couple of empty buildings. Through a marketplace that sells trinkets to Chinese and Russian tourists. Finally to an area where there was double fencing. Ah! A border that we can actually walk right up to! And we didn't even have to pay thirty kuai each!

~Steve

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