THE NEAR ABROAD

SUNKA

"A chicken is not a bird, and Sunka is not abroad" is a saying in Primorye. For the local inhabitants the "near abroad" is not Belarus or Kazakhstan, but the Chinese border towns, which do not require a visa from Russians for a visit. The most popular place is Suifenhe, until recently a simple border village, but in the past 25 years has grown into a city. It is about 250 km by highway from Vladivostok to Sunka, affectionately known as "that city in Primorye".

There was a surge of "shuttle traders" for Chinese goods here in early 1990's. Today you can purchase not only clothes, household appliances, food products, or auto parts, but also have a good time. On every corner: Cheap Chinese restaurants, hotels, saunas, nightclubs, beauty salons, massage therapists, and acupuncturists. The shop signs are an entertainment all their own (translated from Russian): "Furniture underground city Volodya," "Furry Sasha", "Shop of woolen jumpers", “Beachy", "Everything for health: Tea, Vodka, Books" etc.

Almost everyone in Suifenhe speaks Russian. There are organized Russian courses for merchants and taxi drivers and workshops for officials. The street names are duplicated in Russian. There is even special local lingo. For example, the word for man is turned into "korefan", and woman "kunya". The word "factory" implies the product is of high quality.

The ending price of a transaction can be two to three times lower than the asking price: Bargaining is expected with the Chinese, like in Odessa. Earlier the renminbi and the ruble were often accepted as payment, but now this is officially allowed.

After the ruble's fall in 2014, prices for Chinese goods and services markedly increased, and this has been reflected in the popularity of Suinfenhe (or Khunchunya, as the Russians call it). But Sunka seems to be surviving, being no stranger to difficulties. This city, which began with the shuttle trade, is now focused on neighborly relations with Russia, combining commerce with the service industry and manufacturing. Sunka is evolving, becoming more civilized and hospitable.

Come to Vladivostok!

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