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Visitors to Changchun can now visit many of the stately old governmental buildings dating from the time - illusory palaces for a Puppet Emperor.Put a map of Changchun on the wall and you could well use it as a dart board - concentric rings of long, straight roads encircle the centre of Changchun, a small roundabout at the People's Square - and riding along these boulevards after my arrival, I struck upon my first impression of the city.Unlike many crowded Dongbei towns, Changchun was exceptionally clean, and the sky was surprisingly clear.

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She told me that Changchun is a fresh and beautiful place to live, spacious and thriving - adjectives I'd never before heard used to describe cities in the Chinese Northeast.

Taking the long, broad central North-South running street (Great Renmin Street) down towards the plush hotel where I would be staying, we passed the small Children's Park, a sweet, leafy affair with a small lake in the centre of town, and continued down to Nanhu (South Lake) Park, which is the largest piece of green on the map.

Great Renmin Street runs parallel to the city's river, the Yitong, which divides the nicer parts of town from the barer suburbs to the East.

The whole of Jilin province is a mystery to most Chinese people, less industrialised than the more well-known Liaoning, and thought to be a virtual desert of poor farmlands - which is what much of Jilin actually is.

Changchun, as the capital, is of course a little more developed, and I anticipated rather correctly that it is a well-planned city with long avenues and a plethora of sharp-looking old buildings dating back from the days of Japanese occupation.

When the Japanese forces openly invaded Manchurian China in 1932, they set up a makeshift capital in Changchun and dubbed the entire region 'Manchukuo' in a move to spiritually separate the provinces from the rest of China.

During the Second World War era they even coerced deposed Qing Emperor Pu Yi (known as the 'Last Emperor' of China) to act as a powerless head of state.

It was a classic situation - I was called upon by a friend to represent his business - an English school - as an educational consultant during an expositional fair in Changchun city.

I didn't know anything about his school, and I had no idea what would be required of me, but the free plane ticket would have been enough to convince anybody - and so I agreed, carried the bogus namecards they'd already printed out for me, and packed my things.

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