Day 8: Lake Hulun to Manzhouli , Walking Manzhouli

Bronze statues of skaters really look like they are moving - quickly!
Hardened skaters.

Having slept as well as can be expected, we pack up and break camp.

My friends try to find a car to take us back into town. Our taxi driver from yesterday waited while we visited the various attractions on our route. But apparently waiting overnight in a cramped taxi, on the cold shores of a windy lake, was not part of the deal.

After pulling the tent down, we’re left with a pile of plastic bottles and noodle packets. The guys are keen to leave everything in a pile in the grass, as that’s what you do here. I am not so keen, and try to persuade them to help me carry it down to a recycling bin I found the day before.

They try to convince me that we really should just leave it on the grass, as someone will come and get it. But I see lots of other rubbish lying around. I assume that even if someone does stumble across our abandoned campsite, they will at best scavenge for things that are worth something, and leave the rest to be disseminated by the strong wind.

In the end a compromise is made. We drop the recyclables in a pile near a seaside cottage. It doesn’t deliver the same happy glow as dropping plastics into a green bin emblazoned with a progressive logo, but it will have to do.

Back in town, I leave my friends at the hostel and set off on foot for some Dan-time.

The city is a strange place. The shop windows are full of duty free booze, packaged in bottles, shell and grenade casings, and canteens. Chinggis Khan sells for $25, for a large canteen, and $7 for a small.

But there are also Matryoshka dolls, vases, reindeer, fashion faux pas, scale model armoured personnel vehicles and bicycles.

And the commerce spills out onto the streets, too.

I’m happy to stumble over interesting rides on a regular basis.

As well as assorted bicycles, electric scooters are popular here too. They slip silently past almost luxury cars.

And friendly Asian faces contrast with their more gangster looking Russian counterparts.

And then there are the bronze statues.

This city certainly has more than its fair share.

They seem ancient, but upon closer inspection there are giveaways, like roller blades, and a bum bag..

Street vendors lie in wait to fill hungry tourist tummies.

I snack on some sweet corn on the cob and an awesome wrap.

Next stop, old Manzhouli.

Well, perhaps it is not so old, but the buildings have certainly seen better days. There are cracks in some and plaster is crumbling off the walls. I don’t feel particularly safe walking below the towering, ornamental facades.

But in other areas, new buildings are going up. Huge apartment buildings with lake views. The lake is a scum-filled mess, but perhaps it too is a work in progress. I hope so, for the sake of the new inhabitants.

All this walking is making me tired, so when I spy a cake sign it’s a done deal!

Except that it’s not. The lady who comes to take my order informs that there isn’t actually any cake. I spy beer in the fridge and decide that that is a pretty close second. After some discussion, the lady comes back with a large number of sweet buns. They are at least equal in mass to the absent cake.

Over a lonely saxophone jam, I hear two girls and a guy seated in the booth behind mine. They peer over the top and I invite them over. As seems to be somewhat usual now, one of the girls is madly interested in me and the other is like my cake – completely absent. Fan Ya Ru is the one paying attention and promptly signs me up to Whatsapp, because apparently everyone uses that here. I thought that everyone used We Chat.. but I guess there’s room for more than one messaging app in a country of over a billion people.

I learn that they are running the cafe and wonder what the child labour laws are like in this part of the world. The young man introduces himself and I discover that he is a fellow developer. He is very friendly and reminds me of myself, when I first got into web development. Perhaps it is the way that he is dressed, in black shoes, pants, shirt and jacket. It is both formal and casual, projecting confidence, while simultaneously trying to safeguard the recklessness of youth.

Full of beer and cake, I stride off into the Manzhoulian night.

With some charge in my camera, it’s time to take some photos to make up for missed opportunities.

Lamps and LEDs light up the giant masonry facades. And yet, it’s already less impressive than it was only a couple of nights ago.

It seems less chaotic and more orderly, less like watching the birth of the universe, and more like gazing calmly at a clear night sky