So, imagine your traveling the world, thousands of miles from home, and you see a street sign in your native language. The thing is, your language is hardly ever written outside your own country; it’s incredibly rare for non-natives to learn. How would you feel? I’m betting you would experience a mixture of feelings, starting with surprise and ending in happiness. That is exactly how I felt, running into a Russian sign: торговый центр ябао (yabao shopping mall), in central Beijing.
Continuing my walk, I discovered a whole area with Russian signs, restaurants, beauty shops and much more. As it turns out, right at the center of a huge metropolis- Beijing – there is a place, where you can hear Russian radio, try Caucasus cuisine or meet rickshaw drivers fluent in Russian. Chaowai, in Chaoyang district, is the middle of Russiatown.
There are, of course, Chinatowns in big cities all over the world. These districts, no matter how big or small, are mainly inhabited by Chinese, serve Chinese food and sell assorted Chinese goods. And what about China itself? Well, obviously, you wouldn’t find a Chinatown in China. The whole country is Chinatown. However, there is a significant Russian area, which was pretty odd for me to discover. Even in London, where the Russian community is one of the largest minority groups, Russian signs or places where English people speak Russian are few and far between. Why Beijing? Why Russiatown?
Firstly, there is the tight historical, geographical, and political connections between the two countries. In Russia it is easy to find the whole towns populated by the Chinese, especially near the Sino-Russian border. So Russiatown in Beijing should not probably appear as a surprise.
Secondly, the Russian minority group in China is quite big: currently, there are approximately 70,000 Russians residing in the country, 15,000 of which hold Chinese citizenship. The group is even officially recognized by the government as an ethnic minority.
Check out the gallery to get a better idea of the Russiatown:
Images courtesy by Mary Kalenyuk