Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The ATKs' Kyrgyz adventure begins!

The title of this post is a direct rip off of a recently discovered blog on life in Kyrgyzstan. Some would call it a classic; perhaps even a masterpiece. That blog is Jonathan's Kyrgyz Adventure. You read that right. Apparently, Mr. ATK had his own blog back in the aughts, which he never mentioned, despite writing, like, 50 posts! He was quite prolific for about a year. This tells me that his Peace Corps site had internet... so really it was more like "Posh Corps." But check it out if you are so inclined. I liked the one where he asked readers to submit possible names for a new calf. The name "Dwight K. Schrute" ended up winning (so topical!), but I prefer "Pork Chop" which came in second place (or was the second runner up, I guess.)

So on to my first impressions...

1. The City
It's very square. The city is a total grid (bless you, Soviet planning!) No wandering through winding backstreets try to figure out where you are. (I'm looking at you Old Delhi!) The buildings are all very square too. Again, Soviet architecture. Function over form I guess. From what I understand the Kyrgyz were nomadic people before the czar and his troops came to town and made, well, the town. As a result there are very few "old" buildings. Everything looks like it's from 1950.
The Kyrgyz White House, the seat of the Executive branch. It's not quite a square, but you get what I'm saying.

2. People
Well, it is not crowded. I think there are only around 5 million people in the whole country and maybe around a million of them here in Bishkek (though I don't know where they are.) This is obviously quite different than India, where they would refer to a town of a million as a "small village." I kid you not. When I told my Indian co-workers we would be going to a country with only 5 million people, they laughed and said there were more people in Defence Colony (our neighborhood in New Delhi.)
I actually have no idea what this building is, but see how there are no people? On this large plaza?  Those are the Tien Shan mountains in the background, FYI.

3. Roads
 Lots of statues and giant tree-lined boulevards. Bishkek is very walkable--likely because of the previous mentioned observations. It's a  nice grid, with nice sidewalks, and very few people on them. Mr. ATK and I have walked all over town. Lots of plazas with statues in the middle of them. Except for the giant statue of Lenin, Mr. ATK has not been very helpful in identifying who these people are.
Привет, Господин Ленин!

The cars can be a bit overzealous at times, but there are so few of them that I'm not terribly worried. I, of course, practice pedestrian safety, you know, looking both ways before crossing the street and all that, but I just don't think the traffic is that bad. There is way more traffic in India (shocking!) and La Paz (Bolivia, for the geography-impaired). There is at least 500% less honking here than in India. (Remember Beep beep, Beep beep, YEAH!? Well, there is none of that here.) It could be that the traffic doesn't seem so bad because of those giant Soviet roads. I mean, La Paz isn't a huge city, but it is a colonial one with tiny colonial streets. Cars + colonial streets = No fun driving.
Doesn't this look like a nice boulevard to walk along? There are, like, tons of these around town.
4. Restaurants
There are no American chain restaurants of any kind here, as far as I can tell. Except for one TGI Friday's sign. But that doesn't seem to actually be attached to a restaurant.

See? Just a sign on the corner

Still, there seem to be quite a few decent restaurants, including one with a menu by Gordon Ramsey. (I actually think that is true since word on the street is that Ramsey was here on one of those cultural diplomacy trips not to long ago. Though I can't see to find any information about it online, so who knows?) There are a surprising number of sushi places for a landlocked country with suspect cold chain storage. Oh, there is also a place called "Obama Grill." I assume it has no affiliation with the actual President Obama of the U.S.A. You can take a picture with his cardboard cut-out, if you are so inclined.

Yep, the Obama grill is actually a thing.

Gordon Ramsey at the Bellagio. No, not the one in Las Vegas.

5. Food.
The food is very meat based. Mr. ATK had mentioned this many times before we arrived, so it's not that surprising, but it's worth mentioning, I think. Vegetables are not standard nomadic fare, I guess. (Hard to cultivate food if you are always on the go, ya know?) It also seems to be a very dumpling-based culture. There are these dumplings called manti that are quite tasty.  Mr. ATK informs me that because of the nomadic culture, all true Kyrgyz food is meant to be eaten with one's hands. Whenever I pointed out an exception, he's like, "That's Uzbek food." They are also very big on nuts and dried fruits, which is awesome. I guess you can just pick those wherever you find them. I can tell what I'll be eating on Meatless Mondays.

Nuts and dried fruits at the market.
6. Weather
So far, so good. It was about 55 degrees yesterday. It reminded me of our last few days in Guntersville, Alabama. Mornings and evening are in the high 30s. Frankly, I think it's nicer here than in Wisconsin right now. Sunny days and clear blue skies. It had snowed before we arrived, but that all melted. I imagine this will get worse as we get farther into winter, but for right now, I couldn't ask for better weather.

7. Miscellany 
The squirrels here have rabbit ears! Look at this thing-

Rabbit squirrel!
Crazy, right?

Well, I think this is enough for now. As a parting gift, I'd like to leave you with this video, Jalpak Tash: A Kyrgyzstan Epic. It was made by North Face about back country skiing here, but it's pretty interesting and shows the beautiful landscape. I hope to do some skiing while we are here, but, uh, the stuff they are doing looks a little intense. I'm trying to find a place with chair lifts.

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