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Russia and China: the border state

Report from Manchuria

Russia and China: the border state
Photo: Alexandra Agafonova

The place I visited was the largest land border crossing point on the Russian-Chinese border. About 60% of China's total imports, which follow to Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe, account for the railway station Zabaikalsk-Manchuria.

The Russian Zabaikalsk and the Chinese city of Manchuria can be called twin cities. They were born almost simultaneously as railway stations when the construction of the Sino-Eastern Railway was completed in 1901. They are located on both sides of the Russian-Chinese border - so close that from the Russian windows you can practically see with the naked eye what is happening in the windows of a foreign neighbor. They are twins in different socio-economic conditions. And if such experiments with people are prohibited, then using the example of cities it is possible to quite legally trace how these conditions affect their development.

Lights of the big Manchuria

From Zabaikalsk to Manchuria a wonderful view opens: the road here climbs on the hill and curls right along the border. A fence with barbed wire, a strip of alienation - and immediately behind it you can see a wide flat highway, piercing a tall array of Chinese skyscrapers. In the evening, Manchuria shimmers with colorful lights just like Las Vegas. There is everything: luxury hotels, restaurants for every taste, spa salons and even casinos. And, of course, a huge number of stores. And if you still strain your eyes a little, you can see a little Chinese Russia: in the square at the highway, the Vasily Blessed Church, Motherland, Bronze Horseman, Worker and Collective Farm Girl, Gagarin and the world's largest thirty-meter matryoshka are clustered, surrounded by two hundred smaller ones . If we turn in the direction of Russia, we will see an ordinary provincial city: roads that have been sung many times in Russian literature, squat five-story buildings alternating with wooden houses and sheds, and cows seeking their livelihood in the city streets.

But this contrast was not always so unfavorable for Russians. “Only ten or fifteen years ago, all these Chinese skyscrapers were not even in sight,” recalls taxi driver Andrei, who was taking me to the border. - Manchuria was an ordinary village: the Chinese lived in clay huts with an earthen floor. Cow cakes were used instead of wall insulation. The roof was covered with whatever was needed - brushwood, straw, shingles. The cattle were raised, the fields were cultivated and they looked with envy at our garden city Zabaikalsk. " Indeed, especially in Soviet times, the local Chinese were amazed by the well-thought-out infrastructure of the Russian city. There were kindergartens, schools, shops here. People lived in stone houses with running water and electricity. And any Manchurian could only dream of such a salary as Soviet citizens received.

Trading subtleties

However, the Russian ruble still does not give rest to the Chinese. "It's because all these skyscrapers were built on our money," the taxi driver Andrei sadly states. "In 92, as soon as Manchuria began active trade with us, their city began to grow in leaps and bounds." In China, prices are surprisingly low, and border residents, of course, try to buy everything there. "There is practically no work in Zabaikalsk now," says my fellow traveler Igor, who also needs to go to Manchuria. "That's why all shuttle traders are now." Here I have a prestigious job and a very good salary. I work at customs and get 30 thousand rubles. 5 thousand I give for utilities, and the rest I try to feed my wife and two daughters. This is possible only if we dress, rest and buy household appliances in Manchuria. "

By the way, local Russians, from Zabaikalsk to distant Chita, thanks to Manchuria, really have the opportunity to dress well and buy everything they need, including a car. And to spend on it completely different money than in Russia. “What do you want to buy in Manchuria? - asks my guide through the Celestial Empire, Sergei, who undertook to transport me across the border. - If, for example, a fur coat, then don't give more than 20 thousand rubles for it. Better bargain before fifteen. "

Seryoga, and that’s how my guide asked himself to be called, a person of quite a characteristic image (golden fix, haircut to “zero”, black glasses, tightly tinted six) has been living in two countries for eight years. Finding a job was difficult, so he came from Chita over 500 kilometers to the border in order to replenish the already numerous rows of shuttles. The principle here is very simple: to buy goods cheaper, to sell in Russia more expensive. “At first, I was selling every little thing, mobile phones, rags, toys,” says Seryoga, while we are waiting for an order at a Manchurian eatery. Along the way, he gives valuable instructions regarding catering: always ask for half the amount: to eat everything that the Chinese bring is simply impossible; immediately ask how much the meal will cost: here everyone tries to warm up the guest. “Trading as I traded before is quite difficult,” my guide returns to the topic. - It is impossible to carry a lot of the same goods across the border. So you had to turn around: buy 50 mobile phones, 5 you carry legally (for wife, sister, mother, father and yourself), five more - you hide in your pockets. The remaining 40 is distributed to four people who transport them in the same way. They in turn give me to bring their goods, for example, several pairs of jeans. " It is clear that it was quite difficult to trade like this, and soon Seryoga came up with his own, exclusive method of working legally and without such difficulties. “Recently I have been working in furniture: you buy one set - the money goes the same, but according to the documents, I'm carrying all 5 things, and all are different. Everything is within the law! ”

By this time, we bring food: green tea, a huge dish of tiny crustaceans under sweet and sour sauce and with a salad (and this is half a serving!), Peppers stuffed with octopuses, fruit in caramel batter. Even with a cursory glance you can see, it's impossible to eat at a time, although it's very insulting: everything is very fresh and tasty. And while I'm enjoying my meal, my companion brings order: "Kunya (Chinese treatment, similar to our "girl")!! And where are the corn tortillas? And why the bill is so big: yesterday there was a completely different price for crayfish! "By the way, for the day spent in Manchuria, for the whole meal for two we gave no more than a hundred rubles.

Over the years, spent between the two countries, Sergei was able to really improve his well-being: he bought a foreign car and an apartment in Chita. "It cost me dearly, one and a half million," he complains, "although the infrastructure is not very much there, and ecology. But I still want to live here in Russia, and that's forked up. But my old men sent to live in China. On their pension in Chita you will not live, and there they feel like kings. " To settle his parents in the PRC, Sergei had to buy an apartment there. True, this living space cost an order of magnitude lower: for only 500 thousand rubles, he was able to buy a three-room apartment in a decent area. "Medicine, entertainment, cheap clothes, healthy food - you can not imagine! - Recognizes Serega. - They receive money on the credit card. Only once a month you need to cross the border, and you can live in clover! And there are no problems with the language - in our opinion, the Chinese all say that they take rubles with pleasure. "

Brothers forever: family quibbles

Surprisingly, indeed all the inhabitants of Manchuria speak Russian. Of course, the local dialect is far from academic ("Hodi Ciuda, Sito Nnada?" (Come here! What do you want to buy?)). But this is only for the time being: by 2015, the Chinese authorities are planning to open the Russian Language Institute in Manchuria. But our compatriots do not even plan to study the neighbor's language. This is completely incomprehensible to the Chinese: "They do not teach the language, they do not build anything at all, only they drink vodka - strange these Russians", the Chinese seller, who for the sake of simplicity of circulation everyone calls Vasya, is surprised. And in Vasya's words there is some truth. For a long time, nothing new was being built in the border towns: after the crisis of 98, there were many long-term projects that remind of the grandiose plans of the local authorities that have not been realized. All new buildings - a block of residential buildings in nearby Krasnokamensk, a school in Zabaikalsk, a shopping center - were built by Chinese workers. So it goes much cheaper and faster than building yourself. Surprisingly, Chinese builders built the residential block in just a few months. In addition to diligence and a passionate desire to earn a Russian ruble, there is a foreign neighbor and another secret of such a rapid erection of buildings. The blocks from which the houses are built are already equipped at the factory with all the necessary wiring, and then they are assembled as a designer. This is how the multi-storey Manchuria grew.

Yes, and about the vodka Chinese Vasya noticed correctly: in Manchuria this topic is really problematic. Local rice vodka, in addition to being better quality than domestic alcohol, costs almost a penny. The liter of the drink here will cost 5-6 Yuan, which in the calculation equals only 30 rubles. Of course, it is very difficult for our person to restrain himself. A good drink, the Russians begin to remember the neighbor everything from the Soviet-Chinese conflict to the Chinese Eastern Railway in 1929.

Of course, the Russians have a reciprocal claim to the “brother forever”: the Chinese are too enterprising, everywhere they strive to cheat, to deceive, to slip a bad product. It’s impossible to walk calmly on the street: you have to keep track of your own pockets and bags, and it’s impossible to get rid of the merchants: you just have to say a word ñ how you’ll have to buy things you don’t need. Absolutely wild stories about Chinese robberies, murders and even trafficking in human organs are walking between Transbaikalians.

Some dreams for two

But despite all the "horror stories", the flow of tourists from Russia to Manchuria is not weakening, so the streets of this city are never empty. In the afternoon, Manchuria looks very neat and cute: high light houses: offices, hotels, banks, restaurants; Spacious avenues, a lot of squares, on each of which stands a bronze monument. That Russian dances, a caravan of camels, a retro car - there are a total of about thirty of them. By the way, in Zabaikalsk there are only three monuments: Lenin, the Unknown Soldier and the soldiers-internationalists.

Of course, the main Manchurian attraction, for which they come here, is shopping. Actually, the entire lower part of the city (up to the third floor) consists of shopping arcades. The lowest prices are given in the basement shops and markets. It is here that Russian tour operators do not advise walking: here they can rob and even cripple. However, with the escorted Serega, this prospect does not threaten: he has his own suppliers, who, fearing losing a regular customer, offer even more friendly prices.

On the windows of such basement shops all the latest technological innovations are presented. iPhone 4s For two thousand rubles, iPad - for three. Of course, both are crude forgeries with primitive graphics and sound effects from '98. However, they are wildly popular among Russians. In general, the Manchu shopping arcade is a very interesting place for observing human nature. Russians here become stern, businesslike, and calculating. They try to buy as much goods as possible for the amount that is in their pocket, and for this they have to bargain, bicker and even threaten Chinese sellers. The Chinese side is also behaving quite aggressively. It can be seen with the naked eye that bargaining is quite appropriate here, and the stakes are quite high. But after all, everyone is happy! 

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