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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Festival Celebrates Southeast Asian Solidarity

Under a big blue tarp in the pouring rain, about a thousand expatriates from Southeast Asian countries ate pad thai, sate and spring rolls. Soggy streamers and colorful balloons decorated the residence of Suchitra Hiranprueck, the ambassador of Thailand, for Moscow's first ASEAN fair Saturday.

For the past two years, Hiranprueck has overseen the Thai Autumn Fair -- a day-long celebration of Thai culture. This year, she got a bit more ambitious.

Along with the ambassadors of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam, Hiranprueck hosted Moscow's first event that celebrates and promotes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- the ASEAN Fair.

ASEAN nations export an increasing number of consumer goods -- like textiles and fruit syrups -- to Russia, and are actively seeking to export more. In return, they import technology and unprocessed minerals from the former Soviet Union.

Although the weather was reminiscent of monsoon season, about a thousand umbrella-toting guests paid the $5 entry fee to watch performances, buy goods from ASEAN nations -- ranging from carved wooden elephants and elaborate fabrics to fish sauce -- and eat food seldom seen in Moscow.

Founded in 1967 to create a strong political and economic front during the turbulent era of the Vietnam war, ASEAN has become an important player in international affairs. And this year, ASEAN accepted Russia as a dialogue partner.

"We thought it was a good idea to show ASEAN solidarity," Hiranprueck said. "Most of the Russian public doesn't know about ASEAN -- it's a very important regional grouping. We want to show the Russian people about our culture."

Thai Ngoc Tuan, who is Vietnamese but has lived in Russia for nearly 10 years, stood near his country's booth at the fair chatting with friends. Tuan, who works for Sovico Corp., a Vietnamese-Russian joint venture import-export company, came to Russia to study at St. Petersburg's shipbuilding Institute.

"Every three months, I go back to Vietnam," he said. "In Vietnam, the weather is great. We have two seasons -- rainy and sunny. But it is always warmer than this." Still, he said, he is used to life in Moscow. He has married a Russian woman and has no plans to return to his native city of Saigon. "There are many Vietnamese restaurants here," he said, smiling. "I like it here."

His colleague, Sithumthong Salong, who said Westerners call him Charlie because "it's easier that way," did not share Tuan's enthusiasm. Although he came to Moscow 8 1/2 years ago to study engineering, he still isn't used to the cold. "This is ridiculous," he said, sneering at the rain.