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Siberia, September 6, 1999

An Army of Capitalists

Shuttle traders would buy out Manhattan if the Trans-Siberian stopped there!

The Attack of the Blue Bags!
Women be working here!
The best in Chinese engineering
Capitalism, Russian Style

You want some swank plastic shoes?
Selling those 'Niike' fast!
I'm back in Novosibirsk (I told you I liked the city!) after a turn around central Siberia. Next week, I'll be back on the train heading for Irkutsk, but I'm not exactly looking forward to the trip. Not only will I be leaving the best city this side of the Urals, but also I'll have to face the traders again!

At every major stop, and especially for the largest city in Siberia, an army of shuttle traders descends on the trains. They are called shuttle traders cuz they shuttle all over the CIS selling anything they can. On the flights to and from Turkey, half the plane was traders and the other half holiday'ers. On the flights back, 90% of the luggage was huge blue and white checkered plastic bags that are the signature of the shuttle trader. In Moscow, there is a massive market, completely surrounding the Lushinki Olympic Stadium, just for the international traders to sell their ware's to the domestic traders.

These domestic traders are what ply the rails, and completely dominate the third class wagons. The last time I took a train east from Novo, I bough one of the last tickets, and that was 24 hours before the train left! Women and their massive blue bags filled all the rest of the spots. A very cursory survey gave me the impression that each lady had three to four of these bags, all filled to the maximum with clothes, shoes, and what-not from Turkey or China, the main sources.

Out of curiosity and a bit of boredom, I started a conversation with one lady and heard an interesting tale. Each month, she travels from her home in Krasnoyarsk to Beijing, China, and buys one ton (yes, 1,000 kg!, or about one English ton) of clothes, which she then transports back to Krasnoyarsk to sell in her three street stands. Looking at this petite lady, I was skeptical, that is until I saw her unload eight massive bags all by herself. Her partner grabbed another eight or so, and they disappeared under a mountain of blue and white checkers before arranging a cab to take them home.

Now you might be wondering how she could sell so much, so fast, and there is a simple explanation. Even with the costs of transporting the goods from China, and the bribes she has to pay for her spots in downtown Krasnoyarsk, she makes a decent living selling the clothes cheaper than the regular stores that surround her stand. Your average Siberian Russian doesn't make all that much, so the cheaper clothes win every time.

I checked out her goods, when I saw her stand on the street, and although I would not buy 'em, they were not so bad. Not withstanding the odd English phrases designed by Chinese (Hot Boy Sport, Kol Girl), the clothes looked like they would last a few months of hand washing in the tub before they disintegrated. Her shoes were the standard Payless Shoes Store kind, and at 7$ a pop, perfect for the Russian market, though not up to my Doc Marten standards. Oddly enough, she had a decent selection of ballerina shoes. Not knowing why there would be so many ballerinas in Siberia, I asked, and was told, that many young girls in Krasnoyarsk practice to live the dream of attending the ballerina school in Novosibirsk or (gasp!) Moscow.

With the demand for ballerina shoes so high, I'm not sure why I'm leaving Russia now. I could stick around in this soon-to-be frozen tundra and make my second fortune the old fashioned way, selling Chinese clothes to Russians!

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