Don’t worry; Russian interrogators are very polite (James B)
The border between Heihe in China’s northeastern Heilongjiang Province and Blagoveshchensk in Russia is located on the Heilongjiang River, making it a land crossing in the winter, a water crossing in the summer and a hybrid land/water crossing in the fall and spring. You will board a sort of hovercraft that takes you across the mix of water and ice. A very cool experience if you get the chance.
I am a Russian and American dual citizen residing in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where I study the language of the ethnic minority group of Uyghur. I speak English, Russian, Putonghua and Uyghur, which further sets me apart from most tourists. With that said, I’ve heard of others having trouble at this border too.
The adventures started when the Chinese border officials saw that I had been to Xinjiang from the visas and stamps in my US passport and asked me what I was doing there. I told them I studied Uyghur, I was a linguist and was writing a book. They asked if I had the book on me. No, I didn’t. One of the officers took my phone and my two passports and went off somewhere. I waited an hour before they gave me my documents back.
I boarded the next boat and crossed the river to Russia. The officer looked at my Russian passport and noted I had been to Ukraine (three years ago) and to some Central Asian countries recently.
“This is going to take some time,” she said. “Please stand off to the side for now.”
Ten minutes later, a professional-looking interrogator named Alexey showed up and took me aside to a small, windowless room where we sat down and had a chat that was, quite honestly, polite and pleasant.
Alexey got my whole biography, as well as my e-mail and Facebook. He also asked me what I was doing in Central Asia. Finally, he let me go just as the boat ticket window was closing.
I had nothing with me except a book. I settled into a student dormitory building for an inexpensive 400 rubles ($7) and simultaneously registered in both Russia and China on the same night. I went out for a quick bite, bought a phone charger (since I hadn’t brought that either) and went back to the dorm just in time for the whole region to lose electricity.
I woke up the next day confident that the trip back to Heihe would be a cinch.
After getting my boat ticket and trying to check out of Russia, another officer told me to stand aside and wait. Forty minutes went by, after which a professional-looking interrogator named Sergey and his two purple-shirted aides showed up and took me to the office next door.
Then I rushed to catch the boat as it was leaving, which I miraculously did.
A computer glitch at Chinese customs delayed our boat’s arrival for yet another hour.
The Chinese customs were nicer to me the second time around, remembering me from the day before, and the hotel didn’t charge me extra for returning past check-out time that day.
It was a hassle I will never forget, as what should have been a visa run of a few hours turned into a full 24. Next time, I think I’ll just muster up the funds and fly.