There isn’t! I swear, there is no escape. It’s like the mafia, once you’re in there is no leaving.
I’m talking about Russia, of course.
A young Russian from St. Petersburg is renting the aparment opposite ours, where he was staying with his wife and baby before he packed them off back to the Motherland a few weeks ago. He often has visitors in the form of two other young Russians, with the result that most times I am in the communal pool I end up speaking more in Russian than I do English, none of them being able to speak the latter. There is also another Russian family living in the condominium, and there is an American chap living here with a Russian wife.
My wife has discovered that gay Russian men like to live in Phuket to practice the homosexuality which is so frowned upon in Russia, meaning that whenever we are out together we inevitably meet one or two or three Russian men she knows, and a conversation ensues in Russian.
Last week a Russian friend of ours from Sakhalin called us up to say he’s in town, and so I dutifully joined him on a tour of several bars and clubs during which no more than two words of English were spoken all night; it was all Russian, along with a couple of pitchers of margarita and countless gin and tonics. A few nights ago he showed up around our apartment with a large bottle of whisky and a six pack of Singha beer, which we put a good dent in, and – as anybody knows – helped me to understand most of the conversation. Then last night I went out with him and his two mates, with me being the only English speaker in the group, and spent four hours discussing everything from the state of the various ports around Sakhalin to being a pioneer in the USSR.
I love it. There is something liberating – especially when you’re a Brit tourist in a place like Phuket – about being able to converse with a group of people for several hours without using your native language.
And of course, I love hanging out with Russians. You’d strangle them in an instant when you have to deal with them in a bank or governmental authority or company HR department, but meeting a Russian socially is always going to be a hoot, especially one they learn you’ve lived in Russia and can speak a bit of the language.
I worried when I left Sakhalin that I’d start to forget my Russian and I’d have to (horror!) speak it with my wife. Not a chance. I’ve spoken more Russian here than I did in any two weeks of my last year in Sakhalin, and the way this condominium is slowly being populated, it looks as though I’ll be required to speak an awful lot more!
There’s no escape.