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’

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!