Archive for the ‘Kyrgyzstan’ Category

Freedom of the press in Central Asia

April 10, 2011

I made the trip back from Bishkek to Almaty this afternoon. In fact, it was supposed to be this morning, but the first cab driver arranged by the hotel had a different idea of a fair price than the person who arranged the trip with the hotel. I can’t stress how important it is to verify the arranged price with the actual guy in the driver’s seat. I’ve had this misunderstanding quite a few times, and it’s better to check twice vs. getting left halfway there on the side of the road. After the “mix up” (hotel’s definition, not mine), I got the coolest driver ever. Not so much the guy, he was nice, and a good guy, but he knew this trip really well. Upon starting the car, he pulled out a sign that read “PRESS” in Russian and backed it up with a fake set of press credentials. The border would have taken four hours, but we went straight to the front of the line and were through the border in about 30 minutes. Entering Kazakhstan takes a lot longer than going the other way for sure. They had to inspect the vehicle (seriously inspect the vehicle – like pulling pieces of the interior off of it and checking the undercarriage for things) and I had to walk through the checkpoint separately and meet the car on the other side. While I was waiting, one of the border guards came over and asked me for my passport, and asked if I was from New York City. I replied, no, that I was from San Francisco. He grinned a huge smile and yelled “Schwartzenegger! Governor! Terminator!” This was really, really confusing to me. When i was in Beijing, people didn’t know where San Francisco was, but on the border of KZ and KGZ, the guy new what state it is in, and who the governor was. I wasn’t going to argue with the man with an AK-47, who was obviously happy about past California governance, or inform him that Ahnold was replaced by Moonbeam. The best thing to do when anyone with authority is excited about something is to share in their excitement. He quickly shuffled me to the front of the line I was in though. I resisted the urge to turn around and tell him that “I’d be back” but it made me laugh to think about. I’ll post the picture of the fake press pass after I’m back and can redact the name and picture of the driver to avoid any problems for him in the future. Apparently he writes for “Elite Women’s Vogue.” Seemed legit to me.

The trip itself is a mixture between boring and amazing. The Tian Shan mountain range is just to one side of the road, and the other side is endless flatness of grass. The mountains are amazing. Really amazing! I took four hours of mountain pictures while we drove. The road is better than any freeway than I’ve seen in California. The drivers all drive reasonably and carefully as well (no stupid passing around blind corners going on).

It’s nice to be heading in the general direction of home for sure. Tomorrow I’ll take the recommended walking tour of Almaty and see what there is to see…

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Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (Frunze)

April 9, 2011

My cab arrived at the hotel here in Bishkek at about 8:00 am this morning. I was walking around downtown Bishkek at 8:01 am. Every guidebook talks about the shifty nature of this city, but I didn’t see it at all. Everyone has been very nice so far. This place represents every irrational fear Glen Beck has ever had: Muslim Asian Russians are everywhere! The city is a very interesting central Asian demography. Most ethnicities around the world have a diaspora that is represented in major U.S. Cities (Somalis in Minneapolis, Chinese in San Francisco, Armenians in Los Angeles). This is a great way to familiarize yourself with a culture before you throw yourself into that culture by traveling to a country that you do not understand fully. I have to say, I was completely ignorant to the Kyrgyz people and their culture prior to showing up here. It has been a fantastic time observing people interacting. The demography here is so diverse that you really would not be able to say whether you were in China, the U.S. or Russia from looking around.

The city is built in soviet style, with huge marble buildings and giant statues everywhere. I’ve seen more soviet artwork and monuments here than in Moscow. It’s almost like this place has been in a state of arrest since 1989. I walked good hour and a half to see the Kyrgyz version of the white house, which is near a beautiful park, and the main square that was ground zero for the April 7th 2010 revolution. Further down the road was the National State Museum that has some great (and exclusively Russian language) history of the Kyrgyz Republic. A new wing of the museum was dedicated to last year’s revolution, housing stories and possessions of the people killed during the riots. They also have the actual tear gas canisters that were used, along with bullet casings and arm bands worn by the rioters (see photos below). I kept walking to the amusement park and sat around and observed people having fun and enjoying the weather (it was about 85 degrees today).

After I was tired, and with my foot nice and swollen, I made my way back to the hotel and took a cab to Osh Bazaar. It is one of the largest markets in KR, and the vendors come quite a distance to sell their wares. To be honest, there weren’t too many things that weren’t for everyday household use. If I had wanted a new teapot or a new extension cord, I would have been very happy though. It was very impressive to see how big the market was though. It kept going, and kept spilling out of the sides of the physical boundaries of the market.

Considering I started my day at 4:00 am this morning, I’m surprisingly awake still. I feel lucky that this day feels like it’s been really full and enjoyable so far.

One highlight from the State Museum that I found hilarious: there is a mural depicting Ronald Reagan as a cowboy riding a missile while wearing a grinning skull mask. As you can see from the pictures, it looks as funny as the description sounds. Enjoy the photos…

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Russia, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

January 22, 2011

Yep. End of March…

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