Dandong in Liaoning province is a gritty frontier city best known for its ferry trips across the Yalu River to visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Dandong is in the process of transforming itself from a city of laofang (old houses) and smokestack factories into another thrusting high-rise metropolis.
"Over here it's all light," says taxi driver Feng Qiang on an evening tour of the city, while pointing out the brightly lit "International Friendship Bridge" that spans the river.
The 27-year-old studied Italian at a Beijing university for a year but prefers Dandong. "It's beautiful. Fresh water, bracing air and seafood are three of the best things."
He says there's plenty to do, citing the city center and riverside bars and coffee shops that are popular with foreigners.
Locals, he adds, prefer long, seafood dinners washed down with Jin Ba beer brewed from Yalu ("duck green") River water, sourced from Changbai Mountain Pool.
Feng then takes me on a drive around tacky Yankiang Road, a strip of restaurants, KTVs and "adult entertainment" bars.
While shopping doesn't compare with what's on offer elsewhere in China's mega cities, Xin'an Street is a broad pedestrian precinct for what may be loosely termed "upmarket" goods.
Of more interest to most visitors are Er Jing and San Jing streets, where the store signs are as likely to be in Korean script as Chinese.
Dandong is a city where DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK) unite. Many people from DPRK have settled here over the years, as have South Koreans since the 1992 normalization of diplomatic relations.
They run barbecue restaurants and own small shops selling ginseng, or other traditional Chinese medicines.
North Koreans are said to be identifiable by lapel badges of the "Dear Leader".
The only badges I found were sold for 50 yuan ($7) by vendors at the war museum and a man surnamed Peng on the waterfront. He wouldn't let me photograph it.
Zhang Weiji, a retired teacher and the owner of a photography shop by the bus station, says DPRK VIPs browse in his shop when they come over on tours.
But the assistant at a nearby travel agency advertising trips to DPRK says tourist traffic between the two nations has dried up and it's impossible to get a visa.
"There are more South Koreans these days," says Feng. "They have the businesses, cars and money."
They also create jobs and bring expertise. Man Soon-noh runs Jang Sa Bu, one of a chain of restaurants specializing in chicken ginseng soup, with a pleasant wooden dcor and large flat-screen TV.
She is from Seoul and her husband is a local businessman. They shuttle between the two places on direct flights that started last year.
Business is good, she says through a Korean/Chinese staff member who also acts as an interpreter, adding she feels at home even though she doesn't speak Mandarin.
She's not the only one. According to the Dandong government website, the city of 750,000 people is home to more than 20,000 Koreans, while 30 percent of the population is ethnically Manchu and has its own dialect.
Dandong is not one of those places that never sleeps, it has a natural rhythm and stirs at first light when workers pour into the ports and factories.
This is a boom time for the city that was known as Andong before 1965, for its historic role as a border city and "pacifying the east".
More recently Dandong has been attempting to turn itself into a service oriented city and tourism hub for the region.
The sight of fiberglass cows "grazing" on snow-covered grass at Yalu River Scenic Spot, framed by construction and factory smoke, sums it up.
(China Daily December 25, 2008)