A Russian Christmas in Myanmar

An intrepid American migrant attends a Christmas party at the Russian embassy. In place of sinister stereotypes, he finds J-Donuts and a blue Santa.

When my little brother Jackson showed up to the Russian embassy, he thought the building was a prison.

When his Russian friend (whose name I don’t remember but have begun calling Romanova) confirmed that the concrete structure, festively decked in boughs of razor wire, was indeed Russian soil, he began to regret his last Facebook post, which read:

I am currently celebrating the holidays at the Russian embassy. In light of post-Cold War tensions, I’ve had my friend teach me some useful phrases for the evening:

Простите, как пройти в серверную?

“Excuse me, which way is the server room?”

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Не возражаете, если я вставлю сюда свою флешку?

“Would you mind if I put my flash drive here?”

Не обращайте внимания на мерцающий свет; это флешка с рождественской темой.

“Don’t mind the blinking light. It’s Christmas themed.”

Jackson had intended the post as joke, but after being ushered through a tiny steel door and seeing his phone signal die, he was certain the evening would be spent among thugs in black turtlenecks and ex-KGB agents drinking expensive vodka before disappearing into dim parlours amid discussions of how to deal with the skinny American who probably isn’t a spy but better have Ivan get the jumper cables ready just to be sure.

“This place looks like it was built by communists,” Romanava remarked as they entered an antechamber that could have belonged to a Bond villain.

Yet beneath that ponderous architecture, the scene was… festive? There was a modest Christmas tree and a dessert table laden with J-Donuts. There were a number of older men certain to have shaken Putin’s hand at some point, but only one thuggish looking man in a black turtleneck, who turned out to be an engineer. He was immensely flattered when Jackson admitted that he had expected the man to be able to knock him unconscious in one punch.

Not to say the party wasn’t very, very Russian. Firstly, it was the language everyone else spoke, which left Jackson at the mercy of Romanova, although her translations did not help him understand the image-based trivia game.

What do a demolished building, a traffic jam and a random Russian politician have in common? The answer may surprise you! (Because it doesn’t translate well and you’d never really get it.)

Father Christmas made an appearance and performed a song and dance with the children, although the Slavic Santa Claus figure, Ded Moroz, wears blue, not red, and has at least one confirmed child kill – a greedy girl who demanded too many presents and drew his icy wrath. Or something like that: Jackson was a little fuzzy on the details. He heard the story from a pretty brunette with whom he found all sorts in common, such as being able to speak English, and being at the embassy Christmas party.

As they chatted, Jackson could feel the post-cold war tension thawing and resisted the urge to use a nuclear fission-based pickup line. Soon it felt as if there were no East nor West, no Russo nor Anglo. There was only one language, one culture: Christmas cheer, peace on earth and goodwill towards men.

…until Jackson asked for her number while awkwardly mumbling about the 50th Street pub quiz and got shot down like a rusty MiG fighter jet.

Sorry, little brother, but in the words of Ded Moroz: Если ты не переносишь водку – выбирай француженок.

By Backpage

By Backpage

Backpage is a series of mini-sketches and reflections on life and work in Myanmar that seek to inform, engage and entertain.
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