For extremists, completists, purists, possibly masochists too, the longest trawl Eastwards out of Ulan Uday is towards the Trans-Siberian Railway’s termination point: Vladivostok, where it ultimately connected in 1905. The vast sweeping ark of this final leg circumnavigates the extended northerly reach of the Chinese empire, finally arcing down into the city itself. That’s a brutal 3648 km, if you can stand it.
With it’s name translating as “Lord of the East”, it is Russia’s major port on the Pacific Ocean, crucial with regard to it’s strategic location for both civilian trade and naval purposes. Indeed it was founded as a military outpost in 1860, increasing in prominence until it became home for Russia’s Pacific Fleet. Such a status resulted in Vladivostik being declared “closed” to all foreign shipping (and foreigners generally)from the latter part of the 1950’s until the Soviet collapse in the 90’s, after which its role in international trade continued to grow substantially.
Perhaps a return to “business as usual” would be a better fit, as Vladivostok had long established its status as porto-franco prior to the Soviet era. Also know as a “free zone”, this refers to the allowance of incoming goods (that are also intended for re-export), to be temporarily held without import duties. Obviously a great boon where the routing of foreign trade is concerned.
The lifting of Soviet restrictions revealed to both tourists and traders alike: the water-edged city centre laced with grand 19th century boulevards in stately decay, the over-spill of growth onto Russkiy, Popov and Reineke islands (the latter two smaller and sparsely populated), a chessboard of decaying Soviet blocks and modern tower-block dwellings, sloping; overlooking hills and beautiful oak woodland surrounds.
Vladivostok’s population currently rests around the 600,000 mark, mostly Ukranian and Russian, all spread over an area of 600 square kilometres. Outside of civilian shipping and fishing, the other main industry is rooted in the import of Japanese cars, and attendant trades (repairs, fitting etc.), so much so that one in every three workers in Vladivostok and its surrounding territory are connected to the automotive industry in some way. It’s vast, with one quarter of a million imported vehicles leaving the hands of Vladivostok dealers annually.
Somewhat a victim of its own success, Putin, having seen the resulting detriment to Russia’s own automotive industry, duly increased import tariffs on foreign vehicles in a bid to redress the financial balance -much to the distress of a good many Vladivostok workers. In a curiously Stalin-esque move he also ordered the Sollers car manufacturers to relocate an assembly plant to Vladivostok – from Moscow! No mean feat and a truly overt way of jamming Russian automotive manufacture into the heart of the Vladivostok success story. And, by way of compensation, establishing extra jobs for those hit by the import tax.
In spite of the vast amount of human resources engaged in car imports, around 80% of Vladivostok’s commercial product is rooted in the fishing industry. So if a combination of fish and foreign cars are your thing; then Vladivostok is the place to be.
By the way, we haven’t stopped Trips and Tales here at the Trans-Siberian’s eastern conclusion. We’re taking the other branch-line! There’s some more Mongolian to come and then we’re headed to China. First though, a little more Vlad.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 98)
Last stop: Vladivostok – a closer look
[Photo by Sistak]