Traveling To Moscow: What If I'm Asian

Basically, being Asian while travelling to Russia is fine...with one minor exception. Which is that things might suddenly turn pretty gloomy, like a policeman or any random person approaching you with a wrong kind of question or attitude, if they for a moment assume that you're Russian-Asian.

Russia has its own sizable Asian minority in Siberia and many guest workers from Central Asian countries. So most of the time when a Russian person sees an Asian guy in Moscow, he or she thinks that it's either a Chinese tourist (as they've been more and more of them every year) or someone who's most likely not from here. And when a policeman thinks that you speak Russian but are not from Moscow itself, especially a policeman next to a big railway terminal, he usually has an 80-100% stronger urge to check your documents or in any other way attack your sense of self-confidence.

If you look at people in the Moscow Metro stopped for random document checks, 5% of the time those people are Russian but drunk, 20% of the time they are Muslim, 75% of the time they are Asian.

The government in recent years has been trying hard to push this idea of Russia being the melting pot of all former Soviet nations, where everyone respects each other regardless of looks and sings 'Kumbaya' holding hands every evening.

And though the situation is light years away from where the levels of nationalism were in the 90s, it is nowhere near ideal.

I just googled in Russian letters 'hatred towards Asians in Russia' and one of the first results was a looong forum thread started by an Russian-Asian guy who was asking, 'Why is it that when I'm in Moscow people always say that I'm Buryat, Yakut or Chinese? But when I'm back home in Yakutiya (one of Russian Siberian districts) people say that I'm Russian?'

Just a random example. But if you have a Russian-Asian friend, and you ask him, 'Have you ever been discriminated against based on your nationality?' You're likely to get a similar story. Or he'll just look at you like, 'Are you seriously asking me this question, dude?' As in - this is a rhetoric question.

So yes, there aren't any loud public expressions of anti-Asian nationalism anywhere in Russia today. But certain passive aggressive behavior or the sense of being looked down upon - might well be present in the daily life of the Russian-Asian community.

Especially, in lives of the community of Central Asian migrants. Central Asia is, essentially, Russian Mexico. The biggest supplier of cheap labor for all sorts of menial tasks in Russia. Construction sites, roadworks, you name them. One of the MOST iconic and recognizable comedy characters of modern Russian entertainment industry is a Tajikistani construction worker named Djamshut, who doesn't always understand what he's being told and... does... some funny things.

The TV sketch was objectively funny sometimes and many Tajikistani don't even look Asian. But that kind of general arrogant, belittling approach, especially in big cities, would in some cases apply to many Russian-Asians here even today, unfortunately.

Should that stop you from coming here?

Absolutely not. Because you're not Russian-, you're most likely a western-Asian if you're reading this. And if that's so, 'Western' in this situation for Russian people comes way on top of your any other possible description. This is where Russia gets almost perfectly impartial and is ready to enjoy your 'westerness' avoiding even noticing your looks at all, whether you're black, Asian or have four hands.

So what's the key advice?

Whether you're an American-Asian, Canadian-Asian, Australian or Singapore-Asian, make sure you always slightly stress that first part of your full Asian 'title' in public and make people around aware what they're dealing with.

Look more like a tourist. This might seem counter-intuitive, as normally, people would suggest you the opposite not to be targeted by criminals. But not in Russia.

Crime is just not happening anywhere in the city center. There so much security around that it's not just crime that's not happening, sometimes nothing is happening at all. Criminals don't target you, you target criminals at this point. (Applies only to the city center).

So put on a pair of nice Beats headphones, relatively expensive kicks or some genuine 'Supreme' junk if you're a young person. Or just carry around a big tourist camera and smile everywhere if you're over 40.

And most importantly, keep loudly speaking English in general and, especially, in any controversial situation. If by some miracle, police actually decides to stop you (say, you're suddenly looking too Russian after a rough night-out or something) just say something like, 'G'day, officer! I'm from Australia!' in the thickest possible accent. And... that'll most likely be the end of the conversation. And there's a good chance that they'll even excuse themselves for bothering you in the first place.

That's how police in the center acts today towards foreigners. You look at them, and you're still not sure what to expect there. But when it comes to talking, you can say right away, 'Oh wow... those guys have certainly been told to be nice'. If they aren't, heck, submit a complaint to the Mayor's Office. Because they absolutely should be at this point.

Alright, I hope that'll help you to stay alert and maintain your composure in any situation throughout your trip and yet make you certain that you actually want to do this trip in the first place.

Russia is a very interesting place to discover. And coming here first time, you'll learn a ton of stuff about history and the world in general. And it's significantly better place to go to today than, I would go as far as to say, ever in its history. But Russia is still Russia...

So my argument is that you take the best of your trip when you're fully aware and warned. And not when someone just keeps telling how 'everything is perfect, just come here'.

Because the good things about Russia you're going to notice without anyone pointing at them. And thankfully, there are enough of those things to be discovered here today. I wish you to find as many as possible during your trip.

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