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Ian Teh December 10, 2010

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in China.

Chinese bosses and Russians, Suifenhe, China 2009

Ian Teh (b.1971, Malaysia) is a freelance photographer based in London. His book, Undercurrents, was published in conjunction of his solo exhibit in Beijing. Additional works have featured in art publications such as in Elena-Ochoa Foster’s C-International Photo Magazine and archived in the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A retrospective of his work in China for the past ten years was recently published in the summer issue of Granta Magazine. His photographs were highly commended for the Prix Pictet prize in 2009. Ian is currently working on a project called Traces.

About the Photograph:

“This picture was taken in a bar near the Sino Russian border. The bar was called Wanda. It was a Russian bar for Russians but was owned by Chinese businessmen. The town, Suifenhe, means ‘Little Moscow’. It was an out of the way town where, everyday, busloads of tourists and traders come to shop in the markets for cheaply manufactured Chinese goods. The Chinese in these market stalls spoke enough Russian to cut deals with their guests and the Wanda was one of the venues that Russians would go to for a night out to get away. Russian prostitutes would visit later in the night and sit and wait for business.”

“Five years later, when I revisited the town again, I set off looking for the same bar. I couldn’t remember the name but I remembered its location. When I got there it was just a run down empty shell. I asked around and was told that the bar had moved round the corner. As I approached the entrance a man shouted from a car, “Hey, no Chinese allowed in there!” I turned around to explain to him that I was a foreigner traveling through and at that moment a look of recognition crossed both our faces. I realized that he and his companions were the very same Chinese bosses I had photographed five years earlier. The project was a road trip exploring the border towns along the Sino Russian and North Korean border where the Chinese Government had created special economic zones partly as a sign of mutual cooperation and partly to settle past territorial disputes. I am interested in the merging of such different cultures, and the shared political history of these countries.”