THE BEAUTIFUL SIDE OF BORDER TOWNS
(P1) International borders can be difficult to cross and easy to hate. Lines are long, TEMPERS SHORT, guns PLENTIFUL.
(P2) Borders mean HASSLES like paperwork and annoying questions – exactly the sort of NONSENSE you want to escape when you travel. Borders are INCONVENIENT, an OBSTACLE separating where you are from where you want to be.
(P3) It seems that no one likes borders. Charitable organisations choose names like Doctors Without Borders, Teachers Without Borders, or even Clowns Without Borders.
(P4) BORDER TOWNS are RIFE with naked OPPORTUNISM. And nowhere is this more true than in the Burmese border town of Tachileik. SNUGGLED along the Thai border, it’s one giant BAZAAR, a WARREN of tiny stalls stretching in every direction and PROFFERING every imaginable WARE. From the moment I SET FOOT IN the town until I left a few hours later, I was SHADOWED by a young man with PASSABLE English and a DISARMING smile, DETERMINED to sell me pirated DVDs, Louis Vuitton KNOCK-OFFS and BLACK MARKET Viagra.
(P5) Borders are all of these things, yet it is not the whole story. Borders serve a purpose, and there is pleasure, even beauty, to be found amid the BARBED WIRE and persistent HAWKERS.
(P6) At a very basic level, borders provide contrast. It’s been said that time is nature’s way of ensuring everything doesn’t happen at once. Likewise, borders are mankind’s way of ensuring everything doesn’t happen in the same place. At some boundaries, life on either side stands in STARK RELIEF to the other. I felt that most strongly during a visit to Berlin when the city was still divided. After crossing from West to East Berlin (a process that involved as much paperwork and HAIR-TRIGGER tension as any I’d experienced before or since) I felt as if I’d stepped into not only another country but another world, one RENDERED entirely in black and white, in sharp contrast to the living colour I’d left behind.
(P7) Borders can also serve as a SAFETY VALVE. At the Wagah border crossing separating Indian and Pakistan, I realized as soldiers from both nations angrily STOMPED and HIGH-STEPPED, MERE metres apart from one another. This daily PANTOMIME of violence, I realized, helps prevent the real thing from breaking out again.
(P8) Sometimes borders are almost comical in their ARBITRARINESS. The US-Canadian border BISECTS the towns of Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec. The boundary runs directly through a library, which I visited recently. It was great fun BROWSING science fiction in Canada and then walking a few steps to GAZE at self-help in the US. (A line of MASKING TAPE on the floor DEMARCATES the boundary.)
(P9) Even the RENOWNED SLEAZINESS of some border towns is, in a way, admirable. Such ENTREPRENEURSHIP TAKES ROOT for SOUND economic reasons. In a border town, everyone wants everything now, so people who are RESOURCEFUL or DESPERATE take advantage of that. Can you blame them? Borders represent cracks in the wall of commerce, and for the desperate, cracks mean opportunities.
(P10) There’s something LIBERATING about a good border town, and very liberating about a bad one. Neither here nor there, these INTERSTITIAL places stand apart from the usual rules that govern the rest of the world. There’s something about their roughness, their raw energy, their INSOUCIANCE that I find IRRESISTIBLE.
(P11) View these frontiers as inconveniences or IMPEDIMENTS, and that’s what they will be. But view them for what they are – magical points on the atlas – and the possibilities are BOUNDLESS.
If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.
- Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
- What countries does your country share a border with? Are they friendly borders?
- Have you ever visited a border town? What was it like?
- Border towns and PORT CITIES are unfortunately well-known for crime, and they can be dangerous. Why is this true?
- Do you have a PASSPORT? What foreign countries have you traveled to?
EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:
What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.
- Short temper
- Border town
- Set foot in
- Black market
- Barbed wire
- Safety valve
- Masking tape
- Take root
- Port city