commerce on the edges

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The long-distance bus station in Ruili, China hosts a colorful collage of products, tastes, and languages. Staples of Chinese rest stop cuisine – instant noodles in waxed-paper cups and stewed beans in aluminum cans – share shelves with their equivalents from over the border in Myanmar/Burma – spiced mangoes, and dried sweet and salty plums. Chinese cigarettes, ranging from less than US $1 a pack to upwards of $50 (getting you a colorful, durable, repurposable, and high-status-conferring metal cigarette tin, squatter and wider around than a typical soda can), share space with cheroots, slim cigarillos rolled from banana leaves and stuffed with tobacco. The spaces where languages, cultures, alphabets collide – where, the 6-lane imposing asphalt dwindles into semi paved, one-and-a-half lane roads and line-based, rod-straight Chinese characters are forced alongside curvaceous, flowing Burmese letters on the city’s shelves and signs.

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