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Take a ride to Manzhouli and dismount

By Zhang Yue | China Daily | Updated: 2011-10-07 16:38

Take a ride to Manzhouli and dismount

Take a ride to Manzhouli and dismount

Top: Autumn is one of the best times to visit Manzhouli. Left: The city's Matryoshka Square was built as a tourist attraction in 2006, with a 30-meter tall Russian nesting doll standing in the middle. Right: The Blue Tune Club serves Chinese and Russian cuisine and is known for its Russian dancers. Li Shuangxi / for China Daily

The border city in Inner Mongolia has a Russian feel, from the architecture to the frenzied dancing at nightclubs. Zhang Yue reports.

Autumn is one of the best times to visit Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, a city bordering Mongolia and Russia.

We arrived in the evening and it was not until the next morning, when the sun rose at about 4 am, that I had a good view of the city.

It was clear and sunny, but chilly at 15 C. Snow often starts falling in October.

Though the city is still economically underdeveloped, it is profoundly interesting, with a fascinating mix of religions and ethnicities.

Most signs are in both Chinese and Russian, sometimes Mongolian as well, but rarely English, even at the city's only airport.

"When I first arrived, I thought I had arrived in a foreign country," says Wang Qiuchi, a 24-year-old visitor.

Take a walk on any of the city's five main, parallel streets and you will notice there are almost as many Russians as ethnic Chinese here, as it is a popular place for Russians to shop.

One of the most popular souvenirs in Manzhouli is the matryoshka doll, the famous Russia nesting doll.

The city's Matryoshka Square was built as a tourist attraction in 2006, with a 30-meter tall matryoshka standing in the middle and four smaller ones surrounding it. There are even stores inside the monument which, naturally, sell the dolls.

The city square is the central feature of the Russian-style architecture of the city, which has undergone a series of redevelopments since 2004.

The Hulunbuir grasslands, about two hours drive from Manzhouli, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Inner Mongolia.

Guests are welcomed by "dismount wine", a bowl of liquor that everyone has to drink once you dismount from a horse or bus, to show respect to local herdsmen.

Our day trip to the grasslands included a visit to an aobao, or Mongolian yurt, and horse riding in the afternoon. Lunch was the local specialty of steamed mutton, which guests are expected to eat with their hands.

The mutton is steamed for a long time with just water and salt. No other seasoning is added, in order to keep the original flavor.

The horse I rode was about 4 years old, sprightly and gentle. As it was my first time to ride a horse, an instructor sat behind me. The ride was unexpectedly short. The pony ran for about 200 meters and cost me about 150 yuan ($23.50).

Our group's feeling was that horse riding is more a lucrative tourist attraction than a necessity for the herders nowadays.

My impression of Manzhouli's downtown nightlife was that it is quiet, as there were few pedestrians on the streets and most of the shops, including pharmacies, were closed.

But on our last night we took a taxi drive around the city and were taken to a popular nightclub, which is known for its Russian dances.

The Blue Tune Club, in a basement in a commercial building downtown, was almost full of guests at 10 pm, though the performances didn't start until 10:30 pm.

The club serves Chinese and Russian cuisine and more than half of the clientele was Russian, enjoying the beer and food.

We stayed about two hours, sitting in the back row as all the front seats were taken. The show was great, a mixture of group dancing, acrobatics - and pole dancing, which won the loudest applause.

More people poured in as the night went on and the dances became steadily more exciting.

When we left, the place was still hot and crowded. It was my first experience of a nightclub and I never imagined it would take place in a small border city in Inner Mongolia.

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