From Moscow’s ornate GUM retail mall to the incredible Central Market of Irkutsk, Russia can be a shopper’s delight. Not necessarily because of the goods on offer, but it’s more about the real life experiences of buying food from beaming babushkas, drawing smiles from stall holders when you try to speak Russian and as Intrepid’s Tara Kennaway discovered, taking time out to watch traders in Khabarovsk going about their business…
“We’ve travelled over 8500 kilometres (5280 miles) from Moscow and yet we are still in Russia! Travelling across the country on the world-renowned Trans-Siberian railway you certainly believe that this is the biggest country on the planet. And today we have arrived in the Far-Eastern city of Khabarovsk. While the Cyrillic writing all around us as we stroll through the city lets us know we are still on Russian soil, there is most definitely a different and very multicultural feel to this far flung city.
In the late afternoon we head to the embankment of the Amur River which forms the actual border between Russia and China and take a seat on a bench by the pier to watch all the goings on. Within a few minutes a hydrofoil pulls in to dock and Chinese traders disembark with their wares to sell at the local market while Russian shoppers hop on for the trip across to the Chinese town of Fuyuan to do some shopping themselves. We get out our cameras to take photos of the colourful scenes and receive a friendly mix of “Ni hao” and “Zdravstvuyte” from passers by.
Next another ferry chugs in from some of the small islands on the Amur. Russian babushkas and their grandchildren step carefully along the gangplanks laden with buckets of strawberries fresh picked from their dachas (country houses). They look so good we can’t resist and buy a few punnets to snack on as the sun begins to go down.
A smaller private boat now comes in to the pier and its occupants look at us curiously as if they can’t place us. We clearly are not Russian, Chinese or some of the Japanese who visit Khabarovsk frequently on business. They call out “What’s your country?” We answer and are immediately beckoned over to their boat and invited on board. Drinks are poured and passed around. Our new companions aren’t Russian, Chinese or Japanese either. Strangely they are all called Sasha but one is from Azerbaijan, another from Uzbekistan and the third is a Nanai, one of Siberia’s indigenous groups. “Drink!” they command “To international friendship!” It’s our first taste of kvas, a Russian traditional summer drink made from fermented rye bread. Tasting slightly like ginger beer and not altogether disagreeable, we were encouraged to have a second round. By the third glass I still wasn’t sure if it was alcoholic, or if I really liked it but I did know one thing – Khabarovsk is an amazing mix of nationalities and a lovely place to be on a summer evening!”