Ala-Too SquareDay 26, July 21, 2009, Tuesday, Sheishembi
The Flower Clock in the central Square in Bishkek
I was awakened at 6:20 this morning by a telephone call from Marat asking me who was at home here. Ainura, Orgungul, Gulnara, Timka, Asi and I were the only ones here. He asked me to tell Ainura to call him. Told me he was still in Osh but leaving this morning. Then he said goodbye. Then the house phone rang. Ainura answered. A few moments later, she came into my room to retrieve a military uniform from the closet saying that it was Marat's. And five minutes later in comes Marat, hair cut short, and carrying a small bag. He changes quickly into the uniform and says he has to go. And he is out the door without much explanation. Since I got to watch the news last night I was able to glean that Bakiev had called up the reserves and that an extra 1500 military types would be in Bishkek for the next few days to prevent any disturbances related to the election on Thursday. It is interesting that he would take such steps because he himself came to power when his supporters protested in the streets seven years ago
Another Ala-Too View
New benches and flowers mark the improvements to the square
following a disputed election, in what was an amazing event. I suppose that he has learned the lesson of history and wants no repeat. One of the man on the street interviews yesterday that I saw on television featured a 40'ish housewife who said Bakiev had gotten rich already and so the next seven years he would focus on helping the people. Actually, Bakiev and his seven brothers have all gotten rich in the past seven years. In order to get a permit for opening any kind of business or to do construction, apparently there are payoffs or systems that have enriched the Bakiev family. Bakiev has raised the visibility of Kyrgyzstan and its importance in the various international diplomatic struggles that go on in the region. There is still a bit of the great game going on here with the US, Russia, and China vying for influence. It is interesting to view from the position of an observer who does have some interest in seeing a stable economy, improved education, and a reduction in inflation in the country. At any rate, hopefully, we will see Maraka later today. Timka will be sorry to have missed the brief appearance of
A Statue of Freedom graces the plaza in front of the Historical Museum
this morning. He holds Marat in some level of esteem, not just because they are cousins, but because he has a genuine affection for him.
Yesterday is the first day they have let me loose by myself on the town, sort of. I needed to get a flash drive of about 4 gigabites to move some items off my laptop in order to continue to process photos into the iPhoto application. I am taking as many as 30 or 40 photos a day, and that has apparently created a bit of a burden for the MacBook Air. I also managed on the flight from Osh to loose one of the earpiece covers on my earphones for the Ipod Nano. So, I thought I will just find a spare earphone set and buy that, too. I also wanted to take the opportunity to get to the internet at the Internet Cassa at the Vefa Center to at least post a small item on Facebook and respond to some of the email. Timka was not prepared to go since he is apparently helping here with the construction project and getting some financial reward. I said that was good and that I
It was moved to the rear plaza of the museum when the Freedom statue was installed.
would go alone. Gulnara considered the situation, I said that I would probably see Ulan, Sapar, and that Nurbek was scheduled to meet me. All of which was true at the time, but which later turned out not to be the case. Gulnara dropped me at the center, I went down to the Internet space and worked for about an hour. I then went shopping for some of the things I needed, including looking at some items in the bookstore. I bought a couple of pamphlets on the flora and fauna of Kyrgyzstan so I could learn the names of the birds and flowers I am seeing. I then decided to have a little lunch at the Turkish fast food place that has been installed at the food court on the third floor. Then walked around again looking for the flash drive and the earphones. None of the kiosks or stores had them where you could see them. Then finally, I remembered seeing some on the second floor at a freestanding kiosk that sells cell phones and iPhone covers, etc.
I looked over the flash drives and saw that there were 2 and 4 gigabyte Scandisk flash drives, but was puzzled because the price on them was marked at 400 Soms regardless of size. I thought, well, that can't be right and called it to the Russian clerk's attention. She was embarrassed and laughed, looked up the price of the 4 gigabyte and repriced it at 550 Soms, or $12.80, which I figured was a bargain. So I bought that and asked if there were earphone replacements. She had an Iphone earphone set and that will work in the Nano, so I took that for 350 Soms, or $8.10, a real bargain since I have been paying about $10.00 in the US for earphones at the discounters. Having accomplished those critical purchases, I headed downstairs again for a cup of coffee at the Cafe de Paris, which serves Jacobs coffee. I had a café American, 80 Soms, and a glass of water, 30 Soms, or a total of $127 Soms after a service fee was added on. So about the cost of a cup of coffee at the Starbucks at Montrose and Hawthorne in Houston.
My friend Nurbek called and said that he had been delayed and that if I could hang around a little longer he thought he could make it. So I spent a couple of hours watching people come and go at the Vefa Center. It is a remarkable place and you can tell that many people are seeing it for the first time when they enter the lobby. There are escalators that are open to view from the ground floor that reach to the third floor. The center of the top of the lobby is about four or five floors up and there is a stylized yurt opening at the top, but that has now been ruined by the placement of an ugly chandelier. But there is also a bullet-shaped glass elevator that runs up and down with a view to the lobby. There are stylized electronically lighted palms in the lobby and a certain garishness that lends a strange charm to the place. The faces of children light up in big smiles when they see it, sophisticated teens take all in stride jumping on the escalators to explore the clothing stores on the second floor which includes a Levi's, Columbia Sports, Ecco shoes, and a number of pricey women's and men's stores. It was a little distressing to note that a number of spaces that had been occupied when I saw it last year at this time were now vacant. I think the financial crisis has taken a toll on those who may have entered into high end retail with short capital reserves here in Bishkek. There were less customers in the stores than I had seen before in my last two visits.
Eventually, I realized that Nurbek was not going to make it. I went to the Ramstor Grocery at the center, purchased some chocolate cookies, some fruit drops, and a glass pitcher so I could make cold brewed tea for iced tea. I found myself craving that Texas treat the other day and discovered there were nothing but crystal fruit juice pitchers in the house. So, with my treasures of the day, I headed outside the center and located a taxi, told the driver that I wanted to go to Aristocrat Restaurant, pointed in the general direction, agreed to the 100 Soms price and arrived safely home all by myself, to everyone's amazement. I did not get lost, I did not get robbed, though Gulnarra said I should have only paid 70 Soms for the cab ride, and had a lovely day.
I may have to try a new solo venture today. I still want to go to the Bishkek Museum, where I am told that the main feature is a solid glorification of Lenin. I need to take some daytime photographs of Ala-Too Square, and the Honor Guard, and I learned last night on the news that the park area next to the square has also been cleaned up and replanted with flowers. We will see what the day brings. It is now about 9:40 am and the house is stirring to life. Time to drink more coffee and see what's up.
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