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Hailar
Hailar District (Chinese: º£À­¶ûÇø; pinyin: H¨£il¨¡¡®¨§r Q¨±) is an urban district which serves as the seat of the prefecture-level city Hulunbuir in northeastern Inner Mongolia, People¡®s Republic of China. Hulunbuir, due to its massive size, is a city in administrative terms only, being mainly grassland and rural. Hailar, therefore, is a de facto city. Hailar can also refer to the urban area around the Hailar district, with Hulunbuir being the wider geographical region that contains the urban area.

Long known as the "Pearl of the Grasslands", Hailar acts as a gateway between China and Russia. The district has an estimated population of 256,000.

History

If the town museum is anything to go by, Hailar¡®s recorded history would appear to have been fairly modest prior to the 2nd world war. As a part of Inner Mongolia it hasn¡®t always been under Chinese rule and indeed, celebrations on Chinese state television in 2007 celebrated 50 years of Inner Mongolia as an Autonomous Region, without giving any details at as to what this meant in real terms or what occurred before 1947.

Hailar was founded as a Chinese fort in 1734, and during the administration of the Republic of China it was the capital city of Xing¡®an Province. It is now a centre of agricultural production on the Chinese Eastern RR. Once known as Hulun, Hailar today is a relatively small but thriving modern industrial city of around 300,000, its population having soared from an estimated 20,000 some fifty years ago. It was occupied by the Japanese in the 2nd world war and perhaps the oldest building in Hailar that stands today was left by the invading forces.

Transportation

Hailar Dongshan Airport serves the city, with flights to Beijing and Shenyang amongst others. Hailar¡®s railway station is the penultimate major station before Manzhouli, the port city that stands close to the Russian border. It is on the famous Manchuria branch of the Trans-Siberian express route. Trains to Harbin take about 12 hours, trains to Beijing 27. Hailar has a frequent series of buses that cover the town, albeit that they do not run after 6.30. As is the case all over urban China, taxis are ubiquitous 24/7.

Services and shopping

Hailar has two major department stores- Friendship Shopping Center (it also had a four star hotel: Friendship International Hotel) and Busen store- which are a major innovation and improvement on anything Hailar had even ten years ago and are similar to Western ones in their scope and variety, if not quite as good. On the other hand, the progress is much more dramatic in some areas than others. Whilst it is possible to buy a flat screen television there is nowhere where fresh orange juice can currently be bought or indeed, a bread knife. As yet, there is no McDonalds or Starbucks, though there is a KFC and an imitation Starbucks coffee house.

Architecture and environment

On the outskirts of Hailar there are still many red brick, one storey houses which might be called slums. These are steadily being replaced by six storey blocks of flats. Many steps have been made to beautify the town. Ghengis Khan park is notable for its sculptures and landscaping, with a strong Mongolian motif running throughout. The main bridge that runs into town has a new clock which chimes "Westminster Chimes" the same tune as Big Ben. In winter, extensive ice sculptures are put up about the town, although they now melt a month earlier than they once did, due to rising temperatures. And finally, with its fake plastic trees with different colour neon leaves, Hailar is arguably a beautiful sight at night.

Culture

Hailar is discernibly an ethnic minority town with a strong Han contingent. As such, signs are usually bi-lingual and Mongolian influence pervades in songs played on shop CD players, domes on buildings and the chitter chatter of some locals. As is the case with any Northern Chinese city, cultural facilities differ from those in the West. There is no theatre,opera house or bar running salsa classes. Nor indeed a public library. On the other hand, it does have many KTVs dotted about the town, including one luxurious one in the Yes-Se Nightclub, a new black building (and one of the highest in Hailar). Hailar also has a sophisticated sex worker industry, ranging from impoverished massage parlours whose days are probably numbered to services provided in KTVs, bathhouses and hotels.

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