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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 2 in Mohe: Northernmost Town in China

Woke up early and wondered around Beiji Village. Skies are cleaer today and at least I had a bit more
blue skies today. Visited a mud flat turned tourist park which contains monuments dedicated to
China's northernmost point as well as northernmost toilet.  Also posted a post card from China's
northernmost post office and visited China's northernmost military post which I was told appears in
CCTV's annual new year variety celebration show.

We looked across the Heilongjiang/Amur to the Russian village of Ignashino which looked dilapidated
and deserted. Its remote location and distance from larger cities meant that the young had all
abandoned the village.  In comparion, Beiji Village has done well in recent years. It used to be
pathetically poor - remote and blessed neither with fertile soil nor farming-friendly climate,it could have
suffered the same fate as Ignashino if not for the emergence of a Chinese middle class anxious to visit
remote corners of the country.  Beiji village's location as China's northernmost village has brought
thousands of visitors to this remote corner.  Every farmer has converted his home into an inn and
restaurants and souvenir shops are everywhere.  Young people can now stay back and run the
tourism industry.  The alternative would be to suffer the fate of many of China's villages abandoned by
the young who seek work in big cities faraway.

We completed the sites of Beiji Village ahead of time and then headed for Mohe town, again through
that horrendous road.  The journey between Mohe and Beiji used to take slightly more than an hour
but it now takes 2 hours plus due to the rebuilding of a faster motorway from Mohe.  The 50km or so
could easilybe built within a short time elsewhere in China, given the country's legendary construction
efficiency, but this road will take 3 years to complete.  This is due to the permafrost conditions that
renders the ground hard, as well as the fact that construction can only take place during spring and
autumn as a result of the harsh weather of this region.

We also visited the shrine of a Qing official renowned for his good deeds of upholding justice in this
remote region and protecting local gold miners from the oppression of Russian intruders.  The original
shrine had long fell into dilapidation but tourism officials have rebuilt it and have plans to construct
hotels, a huge lake and a gold mining theme park of sorts in the surrounding area.  Alas, the Chinese
must look at everything from a commercial perspective... a cemetery for prostitutes also stood nearby
but access had been blocked.  During the era of Mohe's gold mining boom, whores of many
nationalities used to work here which added to the long faded legends of this land.

Not far is the giant statue of Guanyin of the Woods, apparently made in Hainan by the people who
built the Buddhist theme park of sorts adjacent to the world's largest Guanyin statue, and then
transported here.  The locals claim that this statue is so sacred that "fo guang" or "Buddha's light" has
been observed around it on several occasions.  I would have love to believe in this but I have always
been slightly sceptical about the Hainan theme park.  My driver even told me about how a driver
refused to transport this Buddha and then suffered a terrible accident, whereas everything went well
for the driver who drove the Buddha here.  Guanyin is the manifestation of great compassion.  Would
her holiness have been so vicious?

Back to Mohe, I walked along the streets, admiring the Russian style architecture built after the great
fire of 1987.  If no one had told me about the fire, I would have believed that these were all old
buildings built in the 19th century, like those in Harbin.  I visited the Fire Memorial Museum which
presented rather well the tragic fire disaster and the rebuilding efforts.

Tonight, I will be taking the overnight train to Daqing in the southern part of Heilongjiang province.

Posted via email from Nomadic Republic2

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