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Legs in China, eyes on Russia

By Soni Daniel, at Black Dragon River, Chinese border with Russia

Finally, we came across a Chinese rural community! The main city is called Mohe while the small community that effectively separates China from Russia on the North most axis is called Arctic Village by the Chinese. Mohe City is in Heilongjian Province, whose major City is Harbin, a highly developed area in China.

•Chinese Policemen pose with African journalists at border with Russia

Festooned on heavy vegetation systematically developed and sustained by the Chinese government, Mohe, the last city linking China with Russia on the North most axis of the country, is encircled by brooks of water, breath-taking foliage and mountains and is an attractive natural cynosure that pulls crowds like a honey pot.

The tallest building in Mohe has five floors and the Mohe International Convention Centre, a two-star hotel and convention facility, can be counted as one of the most iconic structures in the town but it has real life. Water, electricity, transportation and security are as efficient as in any other city in the Asian country.

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For example, about five minutes after four African delegates sneaked into the town to have hair cut, no fewer than three police vehicles tactically trailed them until they ascertained that we were cleared and brought into the city by the government. That was when they beat a retreat and waved at us with a wry smile.

It is not difficult for the Chinese to spot and take out a stranger in their midst because as an official explained to us during one of our briefings at the National Radio and Television Administration, China makes ample use of Artificial Intelligence to monitor movements into and out of its domain.

As a rule, every new entrant into the city is required to report to the nearest police station for documentation if they don’t stay in a hotel. If the new entrant is to lodge in a hotel, necessary documentations, including confirmation by Border Control and Immigrations would be made before a space is allocated by any hotel in the country.

It was from the city centre that the officials of the Daxinganling District moved us in two massive electric buses to Arctic Village to savour the allure and beauty of the Black Dragon River and have a taste of how a typical Russian village also looks like. It was during the road tour that we came face to face with  what typifies a local road in China.

Yes, make no mistake about it, China has rural roads and communities but they are equipped with the basic needs of human beings.  Though most part of the rural area are farming areas, the farmers are big time income earners. They go to their farms with their choice vehicles and have ready markets for their produce and they live quality life as those who chose to do other white-collar jobs. They are mostly green house farmers who rely on machinery to grow food with ease and make maximum yield from their investments.

The road linking Mohe with Russia is a single-lane road currently undergoing reformation and one feels a bit afraid when two big buses pass each other on the narrow, winding and hilly road with many interruptions occasioned by the rehabilitation works.  Both sides of the road are enveloped by thick vegetation of selected trees and plants that throw up scintillating ornamental flowers of many colours while birds and animals occasionally render sonorous sounds from their locations. Bird nests are provided by the government on some of the tall trees and the whole scenario plays out like a well constructed relaxation hub by Mother Nature.

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Although electric poles and telephone line began to disappear about 40 kilometres to the tourism village, electricity, water and internet facilities work effectively in the village. As a result, we bought ice-cream, wild fruits, nuts and berries; and munched and munched and munched under the blistering sunlight! The experience was like that of the early days of ‘excursions’ in our secondary and university days when a trip outside the school environment brought so much joy and excitement to all.

But the beauty and the feeling triggered by a visit to the Chinese border with Russia provide an exceptional, exciting and lingering memory in you and make you feel like staying back there permanently or always going back there regularly. It is both a tourism delight to behold and a temptation to indulge in! After passing through the final land border post mounted by eagle-eyed Chinese security agents, a wooden bridge welcomes you to the Black Dragon River with solid, well paved and highly decorated playground at the river bank with the best of Chinese cultural artifacts lavishly displayed. The best of exotic Chinese ornamental flowers are also brimming here with life and sometimes kissing the smooth-flowing river that continuously stares at you as if it is  saying ‘come into me and see how beautiful I am’. But there is a problem there! Nobody is ever allowed to jump into the river by the security men who have erected numerous warning signs around the beach, one of which is ‘It is dangerous to jump into a dark river’. Don’t ever do so here!

But the river is so clear, charming and tempting especially to those from riverine communities who can swim. It is also crystal clear it can mirror your face on it.  You can even count the white stones spreading out from the deep to the shore while some tourists even pick out some species of fish from the river bank with their bare hands.

The width of the river from the Chinese to the Russian side is about 500 metres with a clear view between the two borders. While the Russians soldiers mount their military posts openly apparently to ward off intruders, the Chinese security agents merely display some sophisticated patrol boats at the edge of their seafronts but no weapon is openly displayed as they man their duty posts with a sense of seriousness and dedication. Thus, one can put his legs on Chinese soil and see Russia with his eyes across the river. Right there, you can shout in China and be seen and heard in Russia but the rule seems to be that nobody  in China crosses the centre of the river to the  Russian side and vice versa. While we were there, a Chinese patrol boat sailed off from their side of the river but did not make any attempt to cross the median of the water to the Russian side. The Russian soldiers on the other side neither made any gesture to the Chinese side nor seemed attracted by the tourist activities on the Chinese side even as they watched with rapt attention.

This is the scenario that plays out daily during the summer as thousands of tourists continue to flog the Chinese side on a daily basis to enjoy the beauty and serenity consciously provided by the Chinese government.

All over the Chinese front of the Black Dragon River,  which has been built into a tourism Village complete with hotels, luxury apartments,  playgrounds, eco-friendly Chinese restaurants,  are choice artifacts, carvings and sculptures  symbolizing  the virtues of love, strength, favour, peace, wealth, wisdom and general wellbeing. They are festooned on wood, stones  and trees and buried on the ground as a mark of connection with nature with some of them, as old as the history of man. A Chinese journalist confirmed to me that the Chinese border post with Russia, which was remodeled and commissioned in 2014, was already 143 years old at the time. It is a delight to relish in the summer when sunlight peaks as in the tropic and a place to avoid like a plague in the winter when the temperature drops to as low as -24 degrees centigrade.

But the beauty and allure of Mohe is capped with the construction of a wooden tower that can only be accessed by climbing 888 stairs, which is overlooking the Black Dragon River and provides the highest location in Daxinganling district to view the whole town and its environs.  But successfully climbing the stairs requires perseverance, physical fitness and determination.

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It is not a good place for those with fear or phobia for height because they can easily fall off the mountain once they turn to look down.  While Mohe remains a local historical link centre between China and Russia, it has also emerged as a money-spinner, global attention-attracting  relaxation joint and awe-inspiring tourism destination all because China has discovered how to use every natural gift to make wealth for its people.

If you doubt it, go to the Great Wall, the Palace Museum or the Forbidden City, the Beijing Zoo and the Bird’s Next and see how many heads pour in there  daily just to catch a glimpse and what is generated by way of cash!

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