Ever since the Year of Russia in China began, on March 21, hardly a week has gone by in Beijing without some sort of event celebrating China's links to its neighbour. The swish opening ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, attended by President Hu Jintao and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has been followed by air shows, demonstrations of Russian folk dancing and ballet, as well as a succession of high-level economic and political summits. In certain parts of Beijing, though, it feels as if you're in Moscow or Khaborovsk - the closest major Russian city to China - every day. Just south of the Second Ring Road, near Dongzhimen, the vast Russian embassy, reputedly the biggest embassy in the world, dominates the area. Inside its grounds, there's a school and a Russian Orthodox church, complete with a priest whose dark beard and long black robes conjure thoughts of Rasputin. In the surrounding streets, there are Russian restaurants, and shops stocking Russian caviar and vodka. But it's the area around Ritan Park, in central Beijing, that is the true heart of the Russian community in the capital. Home to the old Russian market, the area has been associated with Russia for so long that the advertising billboards and shop signs are in both Cyrillic and Chinese. People who work in the shops greet every foreigner with a burst of fluent Russian. Business is the reason why hundreds of Russians converge on Yabao Lu, the neighbourhood's main road, every day. The shops sell everything from jewellery and electronic goods to silk and furs, all of which can be sold for a profit in Russia. 'All our customers are Russian,' says one woman working in a shop that sells fur hats for 660 yuan and fur coats from 16,320 yuan. The fur is Chinese mink, and the coats and hats are made in Hong Kong. The Russians have been coming to Yabao Lu since the late 1980s. Now, a whole series of mini-industries have sprung up to service them. Money changers with wads of US dollars in their pockets wait outside the most popular stores, along with women selling SIM cards. Rickshaw drivers ferry the traders to the many Russian restaurants at lunchtime, while in the side streets, trucks are crammed full of boxes for the long haul up to the Russian border. At night, a different sort of trade goes on. The Russian-themed nightclubs off Yabao Lu attract visiting Chinese businessmen and scores of Russian prostitutes. The latter, mostly from Siberia and Vladivostok, come to Beijing on three-month tourist visas. It's not the sort of cultural exchange that presidents Hu and Putin had in mind when they launched the Year of Russia in China, but it is further proof of the close relationship between the two countries.