Ten years ago I left university and felt lost in life. Back then no one talked about the Belt and Road Initiative, nor Russia as an area of interest for Hongkongers. At that time I just came back from my overseas study in the Netherlands and Singapore. And I didn’t want to settle for an ordinary job. So I took my chance and explored overseas opportunities. One day I got an email inviting me to work for a media company in Sochi. My world has never been the same since then.
Living in a new country, life was uneasy without being able to speak Russian. Staying in a village house in rural Sochi and living on a salary of 20,000 rubles (roughly 2,200 HKD) — with delaying payment as a norm — I had a cultural shock between my fantasy of living abroad and the brutal reality. Three months later, I got a chance to join an international media brand and restarted my career in Hong Kong. Still, Russia seemed a chapter unfinished and occasionally I kept thinking about returning to this mysterious land.
In 2014, I left my day job and pondered on the direction of my future. Through a referral of a Russian correspondent in Hong Kong, I started working on a project called Russia Beyond the Headlines, publishing a monthly supplement focusing on Russia and Hong Kong in South China Morning Post. This opportunity reconnected me to Russia and later I got other opportunities to join various media tours and international forums hosted by the Russian government and companies. Now, I have visited over a dozen Russian cities and each journey was a unique experience.
Stepping Inside a Foreign Land — Russia documents some of the most topical issues, the life of some iconic individuals and the local culture of different Russian cities. It might sound factual but the narrative is based on my personal experience in this vast land. Like many other foreign countries, one can mostly learn about another place through major media outlets and sometimes there is bias. Through my publication, I want to provoke imagination and curiosity on this mysterious country: Russia.
There are three sections in this book. The first section is titled Traveling Russia North to South, which is dedicated to the history and culture of seven cities. They include some familiar ones such as Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Vladivostok; there are also some less well-known places like Kazan, Sochi, Mirny and Crimea. As the world’s largest country by land area, Russia is interesting when it comes to its diversity. While sharing the rich Russian culture, each Russian region has its own history and locality.
The second section is named the Russian Soul. This phrase often appears in Russian literature from renowned authors: Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the Nobel-Prize winning writer Svetlana Alexievich, just to name a few. As a collection of some interview articles, I talked to the country’s elites and also some common people about their life in Russia.
The last section is called The Stories Behind the Headlines. In response to the information gap between Russia and Hong Kong, I revisit some of the most important news I covered in the past, including Sino-Russian relations, the role of Hong Kong, BRICS economies, generational gap, mega sports event, gay propaganda law and corruption. Even though these news topics will continue to evolve along with the constantly changing international politics, my first-hand experience might offer an alternate, non-Western media angle.
Looking back on my adventure in Russia, I love and hate this mysterious country. Whenever I had a moment of doubt, Russia ‘called’ me back. This never-ending cycle makes me feel that maybe Russia has become part of me.
I hope this book will serve the same purpose as the first email I got from Russia, bringing my readers to get closer to this foreign land and discover its mystery.