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Published: December 6th 2013
Here are a few pictures of Bishkek and the surroundings of the capital of Kyrgyzstan at the end of October. As you can see on the photos, the weather was nice ( I was wearing short sleeves to cycle) but it also snowed for a few days. The contrasts between the jammed city center and the silent hills around Bishkek are remarkable. You don’t want to be driving in Bishkek. The down-town area is small and it’s much faster and convenient to ride a bike (if you’re not scared) or walk.
After a month spent with Becky in China, it was obviously very hard to leave her. On the other hand, I missed my bike (I had left it in Bishkek) and I was happy to get back on the saddle and explore new places in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan was a fabulous destination in September (see the previous blog entries when my folks paid me a visit) and I was looking forward to seeing more of the mountains around Bishkek and also to the west of the country towards Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
I am lucky to have a friend in Bishkek and I ended up staying with James more than
10 days. I got in town at a difficult time in his life and so I think we had a positive influence on each other. I felt a bit lonely without Becky, and James felt the same after some complications in his marriage. So what did we do? We cycled, wind in our hair (beards!); we went to the countryside where a sweet French family is running a farm with horses and goats. We ate goat cheese (oh MY!!!! After years in China, I had forgotten how good goat cheese can be!). James baked; we downed a few glasses of wine, and we talked and talked for hours (good for keeping up with my French! ;-)
James has a child from a Kyrgyz lady in Bishkek and we got to spend quite a bit of time with her children. The daughter Acelya invited me to her friend’s wedding ceremony. It was very simple and both groom and bride were very young. In Kyrgyzstan many people get married before they reach the age of 23. It doesn’t seem like common people in Bishkek have so much money but they rent the biggest limos (Mercedes or Hummer!) It doesn’t matter what
season it is, if you come to Kyrgyzstan you will see couples getting married all the time! They all go to the same building to get married and receive the certificate (it’s a religious wedding) and then the couple, followed by the guests, drives to a public square to have a toast with everyone in front of the ever-burning flame. The newly-wedded couple and the family came from a small town in the countryside and this is where they organized dinner afterwards, which I didn’t attend because of the distance.
Many Kyrgyz teenagers and university students in Bishkek lead a pretty dull life, especially the girls. Their moms and grandmas protect them a lot and most of the time they are not allowed to go out. I invited Acelya to have dinner after the ceremony, and it was the first time ever that she was eating out without her mom! Young ladies do the housework. They often take care of their younger siblings (as their mom and dad are working) and then they have to study on top of this. It’s not easy to find a well-paid job in Bishkek so young people are not independent. You can see
why they get married early as a result. Marriage is their gate to freedom.
From what I heard from the people I talked to in Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan salaries are very low. A surgeon will barely earn more than 600 dollars a month. You can imagine what a hotel maid will receive at the end of the month. But on the other hand, James gets to rent a small apartment for a monthly 500dollars. Is the local landlord overcharging him? Probably. But still rents are expensive given the fact that Bishkek is merely a big, spread-out village with a lot of traffic… Please feel free to comment on this. You might have more exact info on the life style in Kyrgyzstan than I do, and I would love to learn more about this society.
I enjoyed Bishkek for pretty much the same reasons that I enjoy living in China. It’s busy, crowded, noisy, surprising in many ways with the bazaars, the weird food sometimes, but people are friendly and curious about us, foreigners. Bishkek is a true Central Asian city, with Turkish food, Russian shops, a local dialect, and colorful markets. I think that naturally because the country
is developing, there are many opportunities to be seized (for teachers, businessmen, entrepreneurs, doctors…) but it also seems like there is a high level of corruption at different levels. I have heard bad stories from other cyclists who had to deal with the police after they had gotten hit by a drunk local driver… It seems like it’s extremely difficult to get anything done there without having connections up higher. Once again, I am very curious to hear if anyone of you, world travelers, have more to say on the subject.
I have also heard that many people believe in shamanism and some doctors still believe we can “give cancer to someone…” Sigh… It’s an interesting place.
More to come soon!
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