Chinese tourists who come to Dandong, the border city with North Korea often hop on boats for excursions to a virtual human zoo: They cross the Yalu River and motor along the other side to gawk at poor North Koreans.
On the Chinese side, high-rise hotels and modern condos tower overhead. Huge outdoor plasma-screen monitors brighten the fronts of karaoke bars, massage parlors and bathhouses. Late-model cars ply the manicured streets along the riverfront, where boats with dragon motifs fill with tourists for cruises.
At nighttime, the Chinese side is ablaze in neon lighting.
Barely a light flickers on the North Korean side, a sign of dire energy shortages in the most closed society in the world. Some 350,000 residents dwell in the border city of Sinuiju, but smokestacks over dilapidated factories issue nary a wisp. Along the river, rusted fishing boats list, and residents squat, staring aimlessly.
"When you compare the two sides, you see how prosperous China is," said Wu Zhanjun, 36, who's from Liaoning province, in China's surrounding industrial heartland.
"I saw their children catching fish," added Han Quanyi, a truck owner who was taking a vacation here. "They don't look like Chinese children. They are very thin. Their clothes are old and dirty. And the women have mud all over their bodies."