brighton beach: where cultures merged

It's been 2 months that I've been living in Brooklyn's southeastern edge, Manhattan Beach. And what I can say so far, that it's a love-hate relationship. Mostly because of the obviously long commute to midtown, distance from all of my Williamsburg friends or the humidity from the ocean, which is only a block away from my house.

But there's one thing that Brighton/Manhattan beach area has, that you can't find anywhere else in New York (well, maybe also in Sheepshead Bay, but you get the idea). It's the Russian/Ukrainian/Post-USSR community. Once you get off your long trip on the B train, you don't even feel like you're in Brooklyn anymore. For me, it doesn't quite feel like Russia either. It's a magical merging and peaceful coexistence of two cultures from across the globe whose political leaders also happen to hate each other. 

I got the job offer from J. Walter Thompson on May 19th. That left me only a couple weeks to find a place to stay. I was on Craigslist, Gypsy Housing, Bedly, Listings Project, Leasebreak and a million other websites as I conducted my apartment search. Finally I was able to secure something, a room in a two-story house in Manhattan Beach, with my landlord being a sweet Ukrainian woman in her late 20s. Once I arrived I couldn't believe where I was: it wasn't like any other town I've visited before, and I've been to 25 states and 9 countries. I suddenly had the ability to just speak Russian on the phone outside and not get weird looks from people passing by. I didn't need to care what's organic and what isn't: in Russia we don't differentiate because everything is organic. I also didn't have to watch how much I'm spending on groceries because everything was so cheap, as if people who moved from that side of the world brought notoriously low Eastern European prices with them. Then there's the authentic Russian food. It tastes just like my mom's, or my grandma's. Even though in Oregon, where Russian is third most spoken language (!), you can't find nearly as much of a community. People look out for each other, and I always felt safe walking from the subway stop late at night.

How incredible is this? Even after 2 months, I still can't crack how exactly my ex-pats built this community, so close to its equivalent back home, yet somewhat different. It's almost like they put the culture into a jar, brought it across the ocean, opened the lid, and let it exist and grow just like it did 5000 miles away.

I'm sure the Chinese community did a very similar thing with Chinatown, or the Armenians in LA with Little Armenia. It's fascinating to me how we are capable of preserving our traditions even though by default we, immigrants, are viewed as running away from them to pursue the "American Dream".  

Everyday on my long commute to work I think about exactly that as I board the train and say "Spasibo" to a nice gentleman who gives up his seat for me. It makes me proud for my own culture for being flexible enough to not only survive but stand out, at least for a couple miles in Southern Brooklyn, in these melting pot conditions.