Border city gives hope to new arrivals

Updated: 2012-09-27 02:03

By Wu Yong and Liu Mingtai in Hunchun, Jilin (China Daily)

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Except for five children in need of care, Svetlana Vlasova's daily life is the same as any other housewife in Hunchun.

The 42-year-old Russian moved to this border city in Jilin province two years ago to ensure her children receive a better education. They purchased a 160-square-meter apartment here and started a new life in China.

"The most important reason is I want them learn Chinese from childhood. Chinese may be the most useful language in the future, as China enjoys the fastest growth around the world," Vlasova explained.

The former Vladivostok resident worked in a bank before coming to China, and her husband is involved in Sino-Russian trade, mainly engaged in building materials.

Vlasova has five children - the two oldest in Russia and the others in China. Two go to primary school and the youngest has entered kindergarten.

She gets up around 5:30 am every day to prepare breakfast for her kids and walk them to school. In the afternoon, she goes shopping and then picks them up to bring back home.

"Good access to both Chinese and Russian culture enables them to have in-depth understanding of both countries. This will make them competitive in the future," the mother told China Daily.

At a crossroads

Hunchun is a small city that borders the eastern region of Russia and northern parts of the Democratic Republic of Korea. The 5,100-sq-km town has three Russian ports.

Since the United Nations Development Programme launched its Tumen River Plan in 1992, this unknown city had attracted global attention. People of all walks of life from Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Mongolia crowded into it looking for opportunities.

Economic and trade exchanges with Russia soared in subsequent years and became one of the pillars of the town. According to the city government, 3,000 Russians arrive in Hunchun every day to shop, travel and do business.

And after years of communication, 192 Russian families choose to buy homes and settle down.

Li Jinlong, director of the city government’s information office, said authorities are negotiating with Russian counterparts to open a new travel route to Vladivostok.

"Hunchun is definitely the first choice for residents of Russia's east region, as we have a good geographic location, mild maritime weather and perfect infrastructure and commerce services," said Mayor Jin Chunshan.

Hunchun is only 15 km from the East China Sea, and the Tumen River runs through China, Russia and the DPRK.

After 20 years of effort, this border city has become a bridgehead not only for Northeastern China but also northeast Asia. The central government passed a package of strategies to build the region into a pilot area.

"This border city is a vital corridor connecting Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces with South China and neighboring countries. It’s a place of hope," said Zhang Huizhi, a professor at Jilin University’s Center for Northeast Asian Studies.

Many opportunities

To help expatriates adapt to life in China, the city has taken a series of measures, including the introduction of Russian language education, and one television station has even started presenting the news in Russian, said Li Jinlong.

After graduating from college, 30-year-old Laroslavna Samsonova arrived in Jilin to learn Chinese.

"I felt China was an amazing country that had more opportunities. And it really is," Samsonova said.

Her major in Russia was Japanese.

"I found work teaching Japanese after graduation but later gave up because it’s so boring. I want a more challenging and colorful life," she said.

After two years studying Chinese, she was invited to work in Hunchun. And she does find many opportunities here, from career to marriage.

"Hunchun is my lucky place. I met my husband, married in China, and now I have a baby," Samsonova said.

She bought a house in Hunchun in 2009 and the price increased more than 30 percent.

She said youth in Russia’s east usually go to Moscow or St. Petersburg for better futures. But Hunchun attracts more people from home and abroad.

"You could hardly imagine what Hunchun looked like five years ago. It is changing and becoming better every day," she said.

Samsonova attributed her success to the help of Chinese friends. One of them, Hong Wanzhuo, is president of the Hunchun Sino-Russian Trade Association.

As a pioneer exploring business opportunities, Hong came from Wenzhou in East China’s Zhejiang province and struggled for 20 years. He has now become one the most successful retail store operators.

"The lifeline of the city is foreign trade and the trade with Russia is the most important. I want to make sure of good and qualified service and goods for them," he explained.

He set up the association to protect the interests of Russians in Hunchun.

"It costs me tens of thousands of yuan to help Russian here. But it is pleasant to see more of them coming here," Hong said.

"Hunchun is a relatively small city along the border between China and Russia due to its area and the business volume. But our environment may be the best and we are willing to do a better job," said Mayor Jin Chunshan.

"China’s teaching is good and my kids take many courses, especially mathematics. This will help them win if they do business," Vlasova added.

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Han Junhong contributed to this story.