Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Man Bites Dog: A Grisly Vision of Urban Hunger




On Sunday during a visit to the Chinese market in Ussurisk I saw three men hang a dog and beat it to death with a stool.


I was exploring an area of cargo containers and rail cars where Chinese immigrants live, and the men captured and muzzled a stray German shepherd. They strung it up by the neck, and when the creature thrashed and emitted a throttled yelp, one man grabbed a stool and bashed the dog's skull until it stopped whimpering. Then they butchered the carcass for meat.


Such an incident really indicates little except for a cultural preference for dog (and also a human propensity toward cruelty).


It has nothing to do with the trouble Russia is in: the devaluation of the ruble, the overnight inflation, the regions in Siberia that have said they will cease exporting food to Primorye, where I live.


But somehow the sight of men killing a dog for food has cast this week in a lurid light.


That evening back in Vladivostok, weary from cranking out a story, I strolled down to Ulitsa Russkaya to stretch my legs.


The twilight glowed in the trees and on the street where young parents pushed strollers, but it was dingy in the shop where I went for a beer, and the refrigerated shelves were empty except for some hot dogs, a package of frozen crab sticks, and a great coil of gray sausage made of a hog's colon stuffed with gristle and fat.


I checked the store next door and found it half-empty, and the Nestl? corn flakes and Uncle Ben's sauce that remained were more expensive than the day before. Nearby, I bought two kilos of rice, four cans of kidney beans and some Philippine beer to stock up my girlfriend Nonna's place for one last fiesta.


On Tuesday, 100 people gathered outside the flour mill on Narodny Prospekt, and they hauled away 50-kilo bags of flour to hoard for the lean times ahead. One man and his teenage son each hefted a bag. A swipe of flour powdered the man's jaw. He was working for his bread.


Nonna was with me, and I said, "Maybe we should start buying food to store up." She waved off the notion like a fly. "I've lived through this before, and I never panic and buy food. Maybe they'll issue food coupons. If the shops run out, we can always use your credit card at the Hotel Hundai."


Well, I guess. Anyway, nobody here is starving, and as long as we make dollars from freelancing, we will never go hungry (pay from my real job comes months late, and in rubles of diminishing value).


Still, it gives you pause. How hungry does a man have to get before he looks at a dog and thinks, "Hot dog."


Russell Working is the editor of the Vladivostok News.