East of Khasan Urban Settlement
(Along the Russian-North Korean Border Zone)

Two isolated, barren spits of sand sit quietly, just 100 meters apart from one another. Together they form the mouth of the Tumen River, a waterway with an ever-changing history. In recent years this river's course—due to its political demarcation—has remained nearly devoid of any human activity. It exists far removed from most people's worldviews. Here the gentle flow of the Tumen delineates 17 kilometers of shared space between the remote northern reaches of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Primorsky Krai territory of the Russian Far East. It is 17 kilometers from these spits of sand—upriver—to the border of China. Security fencing keeps control in the region and a train bridge passes just above the convergence of the three neighboring lands. There are few inhabitants of this particular socio-geographical region, yet an upcoming and fast approaching future aims to change this drastically.

Lately there has been much chatter amongst the keepers of the border crossings: the few rail workers of Khasan, the boatmen of Rajin & Songbon, and even the welders and retired loggers up north in Posyet Settlement. This waterway should play a key role in the coming Northeast Asian economic miracle. The special economic zone of Rason, a province located in the farthest northeast corner of North Korea has begun to enlist the talents of the Chinese and Russians to help in the matter. Even the South Koreans, Japanese and the Mongolians are on board for discussions. Some claim this area might become a future Rotterdam, Xiamen or Shenzhen. The United Nations Development Project envisions a 20 year plan, one which would prepare the area for a strong economic future.

No citizen of the region—when questioned—can possibly imagine such a vibrant outcome for this forlorn location. The local administrator of the Khasan Urban Settlement still foremost dreams of the long desired foundation of a public tavern for his outpost town. "And might it even include a small hotel!", he can often be heard to mutter, while killing time on the nearest thing he has to local meeting place: the steps of the infrequently used train station platform number 1, part of the rail station structure built years back at the turn of the millennium, solely as a show piece for the inaugural visit of the great leader of the DPRK, the former Kim Jong-Il.
On the few relative warm days of the late summer, back on the nearby eastern coastline, the gap between the banks of sand—observed rarely by border watchmen—becomes a popular gathering point for early evening swimmers. Isolated by a vast expanse of wildlife preserve on the north shore and a rural no man's land on the south, the need to maintain security surveillance at this crossing point is thought by most officials to be pointless at best. And aren't most of the swimmers themselves actually the border guards and customs officials from both sides of the river anyway, here gathered at the end of their shift for relaxation, sport and a bit of conversation.

And if one is fortunate during these daily swimming sessions, they might even spot—kicking up dust on the Russian riverbank road—the speeding enigma that is the fabled Chinese produced Cadillac replica from Khasan proper, with its exotic "In God We Trust" bumper sticker, half worn away on the rear window. The driver of this rusted silver flash, himself not much of a swimmer, likes to take adventurous drives (as he claims, inspired by Hollywood movies), across the coastal lowlands and the wide beaches of the Khasan Preserve. On most long, slow summer evenings, as the sunset hours approach, and with the same maneuvering skills as the clever Manchurian Bush Warbler, odds are likely for a sighting of this lone stunt car vagabond, on his way north towards the seaside cliffs, just in time for an end of the day intermission amongst the shorebirds of the Sea of Japan.


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