No I was not mocking him
... okay I was. Uzbek popular culture.
Tashkent - capital of Uzbekistan ... yet everybody speaks Russian. Okay, so it makes sense, since Uzbekistan was a Russian state until the break up of the USSR - but that was 15 years ago. Yet today, people still continue to speak Russian in Tashkent, and most people (to our untrained eyes) definitely don't look or dress like what we thought an Uzbek would dress like - which goes to show just how silly we are. Because, you see, today, to be an Uzbek, means that you have some kind of Russianness in you.
The interesting thing about Uzbekistan is that its a hybrid of Soviet and Turkic culture. The people have feature sets that combine facets of Russian, Turkic and Chinese, and have all combinations/permutations of these. It leads to a particularly interesting spectrum of appearances, and more so, probably makes fathers question the origins of some of their more 'different-looking' children :p
The result of so many years of 'sovietization' is that the cultures have merged to give (in our limited experience) a very much 'anything goes'. You see the ultra-conservative bearded Muslim guy walking next to his mini-skirted tweeny, followed closely by a Russian blonde
Hi Ho Tamerlane
This was the famous king of Uzbekistan that was ruler of the world - biggest kingdom ever apparently for one king
married to an Arabic business man. But this is only in Tashkent - the capital. Outside, you see a much better preserved Uzbekishness.
A quick history lesson. The major cities of Uzbekistan (Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent) were major oasis points for the legendary "Silk Road" - the name given to a set of caravan trading routes that linked Europe with China. This was the land of camels, caravans, emirs, Arabic citadels, slave traders, minarets, scimitars, and guys with big beards. Yet, being the hub of trade, it was open to all kinds of external influences - eg. at one time, the queen was a Chinese princess. This whole romantic Arabian nights setting continued well into the late 1800s, before one day, the big red army came in and sovietized it. Nevertheless, so much of the old architecture has been faithfully preserved, making exploring Uzbekistan like stepping back into the land of Aladdin.
Okay... so back to our travels. Day 1 in Uzbekistan started out like all Thambiratnam holidays - eating at the glorious hotel breakfast buffet, where we got to sample some great Russian breakfast items, including these delicious pancakes stuffed with meat, and lots of yummy cold sausages.
My buddies Al and Kazim
People loved taking photos with us - so we took photos with them too.
Of course, since it was a buffet, we overdid it, so we had to head back to our room to sleep off a very full stomach.
First stop was down-town Tashkent to explore some of the historic spots. The most surprising thing was how green Tashkent was. Central Asia is known for its harsh climates, including some crazy deserts. Tashkent was supposedly an oasis city - well it must have been some oasis because this city is crazily green and has lots of fountains spouting bucket loads of water everywhere. We walked through parks and past monuments learning quite a lot of history about this place. Did you know, for example, that Timur-i-leg aka Tamerlane was the king of this region in the 1300s and supposedly had the biggest empire EVER conquered by a single ruler? (we always thought this belonged to good old Genghis).
While catching subways around, we were stopped twice by Uzbek police and asked for 'our papers'. Wow - it felt so soviet. We were a little excited, but at the same time a tad worried. The first encounter was pretty quick - the guy looked at our passports, got a bit confused that
Some beautiful pictures of things we would see in the coming days
I said I was Australian and then said I was Sri Lankan, but finally let us go. The second though was a bit more nerve wrecking. We were stopped by a jolly smiling guard that flipped through our passport. We thought he would let us go, but nope - he decided to 'escort' us to a little room in the back where there was a scary looking 'boss policeman' sitting in a fairly darkly lit room. They then proceeded to flip through our passport more thoroughly, and seemed particularly curious that we lived in China. Next, we had to show them the contents of our bags - they kind of peeked at each item and were satisfied that we weren't terrorists. It was then on to the wallets - here they decided to be really curious, looking at things like my drivers license, business cards, ATM cards. They were particularly thrilled to see Chinese money, and giggled amongst themselves. It was at this point that we cottoned on to what was happening .... we weren't in trouble - they were just curious guards that were bored and enjoyed looking through other peoples stuff. It was like watching a bunch of
Doing what we do best
On display - Shashkaleik, Grishka, Kutlet and Plov
kids digging through a big box of junk - they even had child-like smiles on their faces. So, after 15 minutes of holding our breaths in nervousness, they let us go with smiles and laughs.
Lunch time arrived, and we were keen to tuck into so local stuff. We stopped by a smoke-filled diner/canteen and selected random items from the Russian menu. Turns out we ordered some yummy kebabs, some little pseudo-rice/lentily thing called gritchka (not sure of spelling) and a most delicious meat cutlet. This was typical Russian lunch food in a standard Russian cafe, and despite the complaints many bloggers have about Russian food in Uzbekistan, we absolutely loved it. Full of oil, fat and all those other tasty things that just make me salivate just thinking about it.
That afternoon we headed over to Chorsu bazaar - a large indoor/outdoor market that sells everything from fruit/vege to clothes to material to mops and buckets. Having lived in China, open-air markets were no longer that fascinating to us, but of course ... where there is a market - there's food. First we tried some samsas (little meat parcels wrapped in pastry), followed by kebab-like sandwiches, and
I left my heart in Uzbekistan
It was this fair creature that captured my love.
topped off with Uzbek ice-cream - the creamiest ice-cream we've ever tasted. We meandered a bit more before getting to the most exciting part - the fruit-and-vege market.
Okay... so it was a standard fruit-and-vege market, but it was full of friendly men and women that seemed thrilled to see a dark skinned guy. Wherever I went, I got calls of 'where are you from' and 'Namaste'. This was a fabulous opportunity to be able to meet and chat, and we found ourselves having lots of little chats with locals. We met a guy that used to be a Russian teacher in Urumqi (northwest china) but then broke his back and thus was now selling veges in the market. Turns out that he knew one of the people we flew into Uzbekistan with (who was also a Russian teacher returning from Urumqi). Everybody also asked us whether we had any kids - turns out kids are a big thing here, because every guy proudly declared he had 2 or 3 kids, and had "only been married for 2 years". We soon realized that probably saying we didn't have kids was like 'shaming' ourselves publicly.
People were particularly interested
Chorsu Bazaar vendors
So friendly, smiley and always willing to so hello. And even willing to do silly poses with vegetables!
which country I was from - guesses ranged from Africa to one far of guess of Brazil. Turns out they don't see many dark skinned people, so after the 20th call of 'where are you from', I decided to mess with people minds and tell them I came from random places like Nigeria and Guyana. Melenie pointed out though that the conversation in the market the next day would be fairly confused, because one guy would claim he met a guy from Africa, another met a guy from Guyana, a third from Afghanistan, .... - they would probably conclude that there was some kind of global convention at the Chorsu markets that day.
It was a scorchingly hot day, so we decided to be old people and head back to the hotel for a late afternoon snooze. Bad idea - because once we were in the air-conditioning, all desire to head back out again died. So we had an early night, justifying it by the fact that we would be super-energetic for the next day.
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