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Siberian report
On the bank of the Black Dragon

The great river Amur and the great river Heilongjiang are one and the same river. It depends on from which bank you look. From Blagoveshchensk city its the Amur. And from Heihe its the Heilongjiang, which means the river of the Black Dragon.

In the past the citizens of Blagoveshchensk looked down towards that bank. 20 years ago there was no city there. It was more like a village: huts of clayed osier-bed. There was a blast furnace in each yard (at that time the Chinese were going through a great leap, and each family made cast iron). But nothing came of it (family metallurgy is too difficult). But the great leap did take place. Later and under other circumstances.

In 1992, after a long-lasting hostility Russia and China smoked the pipe of peace. They agreed on mutual benefit and opened the boundaries. Crossing the river the Chinese and Chinese goods flooded Russia. Deficit-worn Russia sucked in faked Adidas and instant noodles. Timber, metal scrap, tractors and cranes were imported to the far bank. In 1992, the trade turnover between northern provinces of China and the Far East made up 2,6 billion dollars. Just then new towns were built in northern provinces.

Now the citizens of Heihe look at Blagoveshchensk from above from 20-storeyed glass and concrete buildings. Cranes on that bank work day and night. The construction is going on.

The purple sun sets in Heihe city, and the smoke from factory chimneys melting with clouds pictures red and black dragons above the city.

Bricks and torches

There are 500 meters of light ice with black holes between Blagoveshchensk and Heihe. Until the ice gets thick and solid the only means of transport here is an air-cushion vehicle. Its called Puma. At nights Pumas are moored on the Russian bank. At the crack of dawn a pack of Pumas sails to China with roaring propellers raising clouds of snow dust. They skirr till dusk conveying bricks.

Alexandra Sergeevna is a brick. She carries goods from Heihe to Blagoveshchensk. Till last spring Alexandra Sergeevna was a teacher of the Russian literature. But last spring she decided to change her life. She kicked her husband who was an officer and wasted their salaries in a casino out of the house. She stayed alone with her son Slava. Stone-broken. Her friend who also worked as a teacher in the past introduced her to a Chinese man, Ivan, at the Central market. He gave her a job of a brick.

She makes a round trip to China and back per day. Within the framework of mutually beneficial cooperation and visa-free exchange. To buy decorations for Christmas tree. Its the hottest product on New Year Eve. On that bank they give her a huge 50-kilo bag (maximum tax-free weight). Chinese Ivan pays 300 rubles for each bag (exclusive of fare). Alexandra Sergeevna travels with her 5-year old son. He also can take 50 tax-free kilos. Young bricks are called torches in Blagoveshchensk. For a month a brick Alexandra Sergeevna and a torch Slava earn twice the salary of a teacher of the Russian literature.
Turning over the pages of the foreign passport Alexandra Sergeevna sighs, The only bad thing is that soon there will be no room to stamp.

Dream bridge

Alexander Gordeev looks at Heihe from the window of the Regional Administration. He is the deputy governor of the Amur Region, the head of the Department of Economic Development and Foreign Relations.

Everything that is built there is built at our expense he says nodding towards the river. With the money earned at the local market.
Why do they build much and fast, the correspondent of The Izvestiya says nodding towards the river, and here we build little and slowly? Where is the mutual benefit?

Because theirs is a free economic area. And here all the proceeds go to the Federal Budget, Gordeev bangs the table with the fist.

The deputy governor Gordeev also dreams of a free economic area. Here. In Blagoveshchensk. The project is to connect two free economic areas on this and that bank - with a bridge.

All Blagoveshchensk citizens dream of the bridge that will connect two banks and two civilizations. Bricks, taxi-drivers, market traders and everyone in the Administration of the Amur Region dream of it. They began to build the bridge in 1992. On paper. Set up a financial and construction company The Bridge. Took vouchers from people. Found a Chinese investor. Large delegations travelled from one bank to another and divided the work: the Chinese will erect poles and we will assemble bays. Local deputies gained the majority at the elections promising to build the bridge. All Amur governors came in with the slogan There will be the bridge! But there was no progress.

One of the plans of Heilongjiang province for 21 century looks like this: By the year 2010 we are going to accomplish industrialization. By 2030 - to complete industrialization and then proceed to modernization. By 2050 - to complete modernization aimed at turning of a province rich in raw materials into a province with powerful economy.

One of the plans of the Amur Region is to build the bridge.