Border Towns




border saw mill raw material
bunker incredible pale in comparison
pave sparse reservations (3)
dire abandon infrastructure
detour throw in get together
roof disrepair look the other way
ruins extinct reconsider
ant garrison match (3)
tile formality procedure
hub contrast impressed
treaty incentive landscape
kitschy point out earn a living
version backdrop back each other
praise announce make money off of
lumber interact plain to see
brisk proximity administer
glitter catch up shopping spree
envy so far (2) arrangement
awe deserted fall behind






A border crossing in southeast Siberia where Russia ends and China begins.

Trains filled with Russian wood help feed China’s appetite for raw materials.

I’m still standing in Russia, in the town of Zabaykalsk, 7,000 kilometers east of Moscow.

The old Russian border post pales in comparison with China’s new facility.

The remains of bunkers dot the landscape in the hills surrounding Zabaykalsk. Only a few decades ago, the Soviet Union feared a Chinese attack in this sparsely populated region.

The relationship between Russia and China has been a history of ups and downs.

I want to find out what people on both sides of the border think of each other today.

I’m driving to the center of Zabaykalsk, on the Russian side of the border. The town’s main street was recently paved after Russian president Vladimir Putin announced a visit. But otherwise not much has changed here since Soviet times.

For the town’s 11,000 resident’s the glittering lights of Moscow are a world away.

Twenty-nine year old Anastasia Yunjiikova grew up in Zabaykalsk. Now she’s a mother herself. But she feels that authorities have abandoned the area.

Anastasia says it isn’t pretty here and the town is in dire need of better infrastructure.

And she wishes there was more to do. She says she likes living here but it would be nice to have a pool nearby, cafes, a club or at least a movie theater.

People usually get together at home. And today Anastasia’s friend, Ana Filipova, is visiting.

She lives in the administrative capital Chita, some seven hours away by car.

The two have offered to take me across the border into China.

Ana says that China is close to her heart, and that she likes the country’s culture, literature, and the Chinese attitude towards life. She’s been learning Chinese since the first grade and thinks it’s an interesting language.

Before we cross into China, we take a detour through the town of Mirnaya.

In Soviet times, soldiers were stationed here to keep a watch on their neighbor. The troops were withdrawn after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ana is a journalist and often reports on former garrison towns such as Mirnaya. Many are now falling into disrepair.

She doesn’t understand how the Russian government can simply look the other way and let that happen.

Ana says it pains her to see places full of ruins all over her home region. She hopes that the government would reconsider and hopes that things will change.

“Mirnaya” means peaceful in Russian. But instead of peaceful, it looks more like extinct here.

The people who still live here are surrounded by ruins.

Most who can, choose to leave Mirnaya. That’s what these young Russians tell us.

They say it practically impossible to find work here, a problem that’s made worse to the proximity to China.

Andrey Podoyozin says that a roof tile factory recently built nearby hired mostly Chinese migrant workers—not Russians. He says the reason why is that Russians want one day off a week so they can drink…but the Chinese are like ants: they just work and work.

Back in Zabaykalsk at the border station, buses cross once an hour.

Russians traveling in a group no longer need visas. And for individuals in the region traveling on their own, getting a visa is a mere formality.

I’m not allowed to film the passport and customs control on either side. The entire procedure takes about an hour.

And then, we’re in China.

Manzhouli is the city on this side of the border.

I’m impressed by the large, new buildings and the roads that are in top condition.

Even without Ana’s Chinese language skills, we would have no problem finding our way: all the signs for businesses and hotels are also in Russian.

Two decades ago, Manzhouli was just a village; nowadays the booming commercial hub is home to some 300,000 people.

Anastasia says it’s incredible how Manzhouli has changed since the first time she visited ten years ago. It’s a stark contrast to Zabaykalsk where not much has changed.

She says Manzhouli’s goal of attracting visitors has been an incentive to develop faster and faster every year.

Anastasia says the boom wouldn’t have happened if weren’t for the trade with Russia.

Manzhouli has even dedicated a monument to good neighborly relations: Matryoshka Square. In 2001, the Chinese and Russian governments signed a twenty-year friendship treaty.

To me, Matryoshka Square seems kitschy. But I notice that Chinese visitors seem to enjoy the Russian backdrop.

Ana points out that Russia and China now almost always back each others’ political positions. And she think that’s good.

But it’s equally important how people from the two countries interact and talk to one another when they come into contact here.

Ana plans to move to China, most likely to Manzhouli, for a few years at least. She says she could earn a good living teaching Russian.

But for Anastasia, the idea of living in China is unimaginable. She still has reservations about the Chinese.

Anastasia says she is often frightened by China’s huge population living right next door. Russia would be no match if China were to attack.

But here in Manzhouli, her fears are deflected because the Chinese are here to do business with Russia. They want to get along well and make money off of us, Anastasia says.

There are shops and malls on every corner in Manzhouli.

Anastasia and Ana spend most of their time here shopping.

Many items are four times cheaper than they back home in Siberia.

Prices are even cheaper if you know how to bargain.

Friends who aren’t able to travel to China as frequently, often give the two women shopping lists and throw in a little extra for travel costs.

Anastasia says the selection in Manzhouli is a lot bigger than in Zabaykalsk. She says most Chinese clothing goes to other parts of Russia, to the big cities. She says that here they can pick and choose and don’t have to settle for limited offerings.

Sales people in Manzhoulie all speak at least a little Russian. And many Chinese have adopted a Russian version of their Chinese name. Shop own Chang Tsiao Fang tells his Russian customers to call him Andrey.

Business is brisk today and he sings the praises of his Russian neighbors. The small businessman says that Russians are good people and friends.

“When Mao and the Communists liberated China seventy years ago, the Soviet Union was like an older brother. Lenin and Stalin were friends of China. They did a lot to help us,” says Chang.

But everywhere you look in Manzhouli, it’s plain to see that China no longer wants to play the part of little brother. It doesn’t need help from Russia. It wants to buy Russian raw materials.

While Ana and Anastasia continue their shopping spree, I pay a visit to one of the many saw mills on the edge of town. China’s economy takes all the wood it can get from Russia. The trade helps create new jobs.

Sawmill manager Wang Wei says 12,000 new jobs have been added in Manzhouli alone. Wang Wei says that wood is needed everywhere in China. His country has few forests and depends on deliveries from Russia. In return the Russians often re-import finished wood products.

The mill likes good quality and ships its lumber all over China.

I caught up with Anastasia and Ana in one of Manzhouli’s numerous restaurants. The two don’t go out to eat very often back home in Siberia since it’s more expensive. And they say the food doesn’t taste as good.

But cooking aside, Anastasia says China remains very foreign to her. Anastasia says the two countries’ good relations are based on business dealings. She doesn’t know how solid the friendship would be without trade.

She says Russians and Chinese have a different mentality and the two cultures are not alike.

But so far it appears that the arrangement is working well.

After dinner, the two friends head out back shopping.

Back home in Zabaykalsk, shops would be closed at this time of day and the town would be deserted.

To me Manzhouli seems more lively and modern. I can understand why Russians living near the border look to China with awe and envy. And fear that Russia is falling further and further behind.


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1. Where are Zabaykalsk and Manzhouli? Are they far from each other?

2. Describe Zabaykalsk. Has it changed since the Soviet Era? Do residents visit cafes, clubs and movie theaters?

3. Mirnaya used to be a garrison town. True or false? What has happened to Mirnaya? Describe its economy.

4. Is Anastasia surprised by Manzhouli?

5. Visitors must know Chinese or Enligh in Manzhouli. Is this right or wrong?

6. What can visitors and tourists see and do in Manzhouli?

7. Ana and Anastasia have the same views and attitudes towards China. Yes or no?

8. What are Manzhouli’s industries? Describe its economy.

9. What will happen in the future?
A. There are border towns and cities in my country. Is this correct or incorrect?

B. Are they busy? What happens in these border areas?

C. Do the border cities in both countries look and feel similar or is there a big difference between them?

D. People from border regions often visit neighboring countries. Yes or no?

E. All borders should be open and unrestricted. Do you agree or disagree?

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