Vladivostok, Far East, Russia, November 2008.

I don’t know why but I like this photo, the young woman’s smile seems so genuine, and she looks perfectly Russian. Not everybody was smiling though, by far. During our stay there were a couple of reports on Russia, one in The Economist which had a piece titled: Wanted but not welcomed, on the low-skilled migrants workers coming from Central Asia and, in the Far East, from China. We saw the building of a long highway tunnel cutting through some of the city’s numerous hills, all workers were Chinese. And the magazine mentioned the harassment from the police and the skinheads but also the “xenophobic public [who] habitually vents its anger on the immigrants, even though they are estimated to generate 8% of Russia’s GDP”. The reason is universal: “they are prepared to work for a pittance and take our jobs” [29 November 2008, p.14 of special report]We had also noticed eight out of ten cars, the luxury type, SUVs, were right-wheeled, showing they came from across the sea. In Japan they drive on the wrong side, like the Brits. Now, crisis oblige, the government increased tariffs on imported cars, we saw the first protests and lots of police (below), and our boat had about one hundred traders, down from a peak of 300.


Vladivostok, Far East, Russia, November 2008.


Vladivostok, Far East, Russia, November 2008.

The Master of the Orient was ugly and ostentatious as only a nouveau riche can be, at least in select neighborhoods. SUVs going up the hill to the Vladivostok Hotel area, smart stores, big Western brands (see last photo), delis, and the Nostalgia restaurant – where a disdainful receptionist sent us when he heard we had gone to a cafeteria for dinner. And tens of posters advertising Pole Dance, which at first I innocently thought were women from Poland! In the elevator of our own hotel, I found posted a business card with the face of a woman and a telephone number…


Vladivostok, Far East, Russia, November 2008.

Not all Russians hate immigrants, some love them. This plumply blonde marries a Chinese. Actually, many Russian women prefer foreigners. Marina, a 38-year old in Semlevo, 250 km west of Moscow, has a Tajik husband. No surprise, a third of the workers in that village are from that country. “He does not drink or beat her up”, while her previous, Russian husband “drank himself to death at the age of 47, leaving her with three children. Her 19-year old son is unemployed and drinks heavily”. The problem is all over Russia whose population is fast shrinking, “The death rate is double the average for developed countries. The life expectancy of Russian males, at just 60 years, is one of the lowest in the world” [Economist op. cit. p.12]


Vladivostok, Far East, Russia, November 2008.

Otherwise, people were kind of indifferent. But they responded. We entered a Samsung store on Ulitsa Aleutskaya, it was empty save for four young saleswomen, I simply asked if they knew of an internet café – signs were few and facilities often well hidden as in the Central Asian capitals. They all four came to us, and started inquiring among themselves. Naturally they knew no English, one dialed home on her cell so her sister could translate for us. Meanwhile another one was drawing a little sketch, complete with streets, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. The place was just one big block away and they could have simply said it was in the post office building in front of the train station.


Vladivostok, Far East, Russia, November 2008.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gilberto Ovalle December 25, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I like this journal. It is interesting how Russians live. I would like to visit the region and they seem to welcom foreigners.

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