Russia, through uneducated eyes

I have two regrets in high school:

  1. that I didn’t participate in the annual musical earlier (trust me, brilliant fun, make your kids get involved even if they can’t sing!)
  2. that I didn’t study modern history

In fairness, ancient history was great – but having now visited most of the countries with ancient ruins still standing (albeit crumbling) it seems that everywhere I now visit requires some degree of basic understanding of the world wars. Or the cold war. Or the Vietnamese war, the killing field atrocities, the rigged local elections, or the switch from communism to supposed democracy.

With my extremely basic knowledge of anything Russia has recently been through, there were a few things that took me by surprise.

The US is well and truly present

Doesn’t Russia have the reputation of still hating on the USA? Or did I dream that whole thing up? Of course I only visited the major cities of St Petersburg and Moscow, but there seemed to be more American chain action than in Oz. The famous Arbat St in Moscow was a line of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Starbucks, Johnny Rockets, KFC…repeat. Hate thy nemesis, love its fast food? Is that how the saying goes?

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You need a degree from Prada to survive

I expected the women to be pretty, but the fact is that they were stunning. Gorgeous, well groomed, and perfectly styled out. Long legs strode through the streets in towering high heels, swinging designer handbags, dripping with class. I had actually been secretly hoping for a little classic Eastern European fashion to giggle at, but I can assure you – I was definitely the one being mocked for my faithful havianas.

Public transport will whisk you away

Now I know Australia’s public transport system leaves a lot to be desired. But having lived with the luxury of the tube and bus systems in London for many a year, I think my expectations for public transport are pretty high. Both St Petersburg and Moscow will exceed your expectations. Not only is the transport fast, efficient, and cheap – Moscow metro stations will blow your mind as you gaze up at stain glass windows, detailed ceiling reliefs and carvings, marble décor and chandeliers. Not a bad way to travel (if you don’t mind matching up the Cyrillic alphabet to your metro map).

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Haircuts haven’t caught up with the times

So the women were straight off a catwalk, stylish as you like – but the men. Whoa. Someone has forgotten to tell them that the haircuts they’re seeing on TV on all those American shows that are broadcast are actually kinda ok. There is no real reason to still sport a rats tail (was there ever any real reason?), a short on the sides, long on top and back with a fringe or a mullet. No. Reason. That gorgeous creature on your arm, sir? She deserves a man with a real haircut. Trust me.

Asians are still considered exotic

Sorry you Brits, I’m using the term Asian in the Aussie way here. My Chinese ethnicity did absolutely nothing to dull the already quite stare-accepting culture (seriously, you’ll make eye contact and look away, and they just keep staring. Men, women, babies. Don’t even try and beat them in a no blinking contest.) Was it naïve of me to assume since Russia shares a border with China that I would be a dime a dozen?

Their future looks bright

Despite everything you hear about the current government, the young adults that we met were unafraid to joke about and criticise the powers that be.  Unafraid of political persecution, proud of their heritage and the heartache their country and families have gone through, and optimistic and confident about their future. And in the end, I guess that’s really all I needed to know – that while times have been tough; they’re not giving up the fight.

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