This past Saturday, I spent nearly the entire day working on my lesson plans for Monday. Luckily, the levels of the classes I teach go in order (Elementary 2,3,4, Pre-Intermediate 1), so next month when everyone moves up a level, I’ll only have to plan lessons for Pre-Intermediate 2; I’ll be able to recycle the lesson plans from the previous groups. Of course, this means that this month – in addition to having a morning class – I am spending an absurd amount of time planning lessons. I can only imagine how exhausted I will be by the end of the month!
Sunday I finally made it to downtown Bishkek. I was meeting someone in a café downtown, and at that point didn’t know how long it would take me to make it down there... as such, I left very early. As it turns out, downtown Bishkek is approximately a 30 minute walk from my apartment. As I made it to my destination with about an hour to spare, I decided to walk about for a bit and take some pictures. All of the information I’m providing below regarding the pictures is based on information in Lonely Planet, so if it turns out any of my facts are incorrect, blame them.
The first thing of note that I came to when I reached downtown Bishkek was a large square with a statue honoring martyrs of the revolution. One assumes they mean Ye Olde Soviet Revolution, back in the day.
While pondering non-Pushkin, a man thundered past me on a pony which looked way too small to be racing around bearing someone of his stature:
After leaving the area of non-Puskin behind, I made it to Ala Too Square, which used to be dominated (as were all central squares back in Soviet times) by a gigantic statue of Lenin. He’s been replaced by what my book labels as the Erkindik (Freedom) Statue. It’s really too bad that the sky was so hazy. On a clear day, one can see the mountains from the square (I’ve seen pictures...), although I could barely make them out. You can’t see them at all in my photos.
In addition to the Erkindik Statue, Ala Too Square is also home to the Kyrgyz Flag, which remains under armed ceremonial guard. I personally found it odd that a flag warranting two armed guards would be so small.
Located directly behind the Erkindik Statue is a historical museum. To its right sits a group of large stones, most of which look like nothing more than, well, large stones. However, on some, one can see that they have weathered carvings, giving them features. These stones are balbals, which Lonely Planet defines as centuries old “Turkic, totem-like stone markers.”
Not far from the balbal garden is the statue of Lenin, who was relocated to a less prominent position after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I didn’t actually make it over to Lenin, as at that point I realized I needed to be heading back if I was going to make it to my destination of the evening on time. (Turns out I needn’t have worried; I got there with several minutes to spare.)
My destination was a restaurant with the unlikely name of Fatboy’s, located in central Bishkek. There I met up with BI, a local fellow who runs a variety of local blogs, websites, and other fabulous things, and who is completely awesome. We had Turkish plov and... burritos! I have no idea how this is possible, but the burritos at Fatboy’s tasted almost like real burritos. This seems to never happen outside of the US and Mexico... and yet somehow I found myself eating something damn close to a genuine burrito out here in Central Asia of all places.
After dinner we did quite a lot of walking around Bishkek, looking at architecture and prostitutes and whatnot. There were definitely some interesting places that I must go back and photograph in the daytime. (No, not the hookers, the architecture. Jeez.)
On Monday I had my first classes of the year, and I must say that it was quite nice to get back into teaching. It’s amazing how much I actually enjoy doing it, and my classes here are fantastic. Unfortunately, after six hours on my feet I am exhausted, and want nothing more than to collapse into my bed.
Thus far the most amusing answer to a question that I’ve received was to the question of “How long is our class?” I was going for either 80 minutes or one hour and twenty minutes, but received the answer of “About five meters.” I have several ethnically Korean students, and one Korean citizen student. He’s in probably 9th grade, and currently lives here with his uncle and cousin, but spent last year in Daejeon with his family. I spoke a little Korean to him and he broke out into the biggest grin. Awesome. I do wonder why exactly he got sent off to K-stan to live with his uncle, though.
Tuesday, in between morning and afternoon classes, several of the other teachers and I got to go to the national AIDS center to be tested. Apparently, one must have proof of being HIV-negative in order to register as a resident, and Kyrgyzstan only accepts tests done here in K-stan. The AIDS center was one of the most depressing places I have ever been in my entire life – miserably cold (where was their state-provided heat?), dark and prison-like. The blood-drawing itself was quite sanitary... although then my syringe-full of blood was squeezed into an open test-tube that was located on a rack next to several dozen other un-corked test tubes full of blood. That was rather disconcerting, and I would’ve loved to get a picture; however, I suspect that would’ve caused numerous problems.
After leaving the AIDS center, I went to the Turkish Airlines office, which was FINALLY open again after the winter holidays. Inside there was a New Year’s Tree (like a Christmas tree, only without the Christ part), and underneath it a huge pile of suitcases – and my giant red backpack was among them. Yay! I have finally been reunited with the rest of my things. Life is wonderful.
Bee is always “nursing” on Gee, despite the fact that not only is Gee not Bee’s mother, but Bee is the bigger of the two cats. In some ways it’s really quite endearing. However, sometimes Bee just starts slurping away so loudly and enthusiastically that it’s rather disconcerting! (You might notice that the cats are most definitely indoor cats, directives against having cats inside notwithstanding!)
This thing (a nice Soviet skhaf) is in my living room / kitchen:
You might notice from my reflection how I am not wearing my fabulous warm and fuzzy leopard print pajamas mom got for me before I left. Instead, I’m wearing a tank top and shorts; it’s damn hot inside. Kyrgyzstan suffers from that same oddity of Soviet-era engineering that plagues Russia: state provided heat. This means that it is inevitably turned on several weeks too late, is way too hot (and un-adjustable) throughout the winter, and will undoubtedly be shut off several weeks before the weather actually warms up. So for now, in the dead of winter, I’m lounging around my apartment in my summer jammies.
I have yet to have any Kyrgyz food. Instead I keep finding Russian foods that please me to no end. Like the chocolate – Russian chocolate is here! Oh, happiness. And in addition, look what else we’ve got:
On the left we have the Kyrgyz take on Korean Cabbage. While it’s slightly different from its Russian counterpart (more herbs and peppers), it is nothing at all like kimchi. On the right we have “Korean” carrot salad, which is *exactly* the same as it was in Russia. (This “Korean” carrot salad is a staple throughout the former Soviet Union, and I’ve never once seen it in Korea.) Yum.
Look what this isn’t. It looks like doshirak, it tastes like doshirak, but it ain’t doshirak. At first I thought that perhaps the doshirak people decided to give their product a Russian name (doshirak means lunchbox in Korean; lapsha means ramen in Russian), but upon closer examination, this stuff is produced in Moscow, not Korea. Boo. But this makes up for it:
An extra large sirok with sgushonka! Need I say more?