July 22, 2013
There’s a group of Japanese JIKA volunteers (similar to the US Peace Corps) who had been staying at the Beach Camp as part of their orientation to Kyrgyzstan. I’ve been surprised by the rather large Japanese presence in Kyrgyzstan this time around; I don’t recall a single Japanese person from five years ago. This trip I’ve stayed several times at the Sakkura Hostel, owned by a Kyrgyz woman and her Japanese husband, and each time there have been quite a few Japanese tourists staying there. Additionally, there is something on Sovietskaya in Bishkek called something along the lines of the “Kyrgyzstan-Japan House of Friendship.” Last year there was a Japanese student who stayed with Kuban and Rita, and now there’s a group of nine students here. They apparently all study Kyrgyz in Japan, which is quite fascinating to me. Even my cousin’s Japanese friend whom I met during my brief trip to Fukuoka and Beppu back in 2011 is fascinated by Kyrgyzstan, and visited last year. I can understand why there are so many ethnic Koreans here (thanks to Stalin’s relocating of so many from the area around Vladivostok over into Central Asia, there’s a large percentage of ethnic Koreans who were born here, as well as a quite a few who move here to do business with the local Korean population), but the reason for the Japanese interest eludes me.
The weather this morning was cold and wet. As such, I got up, had breakfast, and went back to bed. I awoke around noon when the Japanese JIKA volunteers returned from their hike, making a good deal of racket. I wandered down to the café in search of lunch, only to discover a large collection of Kyrgyz host families from around the region. The Japanese volunteers were being parceled out to various homestays (where they would be staying for only one week, before returning to Bishkek), and the London School’s director was giving an introductory presentation on how to deal with foreigners, similar to the one she gave on the day that I arrived in Toguz Bulak back in May. Rita and Kuban were there, as they were taking in one of the students. The director of the school in Toguz Bulak was there as well, as she too was taking in a student, although unfortunately Rakhat and Altynbek were not present. I chatted with both the director of the school in Toguz Bulak, as well as with Rita. Rita told me that Jarkynai (the two year old) keeps going into “my” room to look for me, and that Котчик continues to sleep in there. (I’m glad that their Japanese student likes cats, as he will at least have company for the next week; although she is afraid of big dogs. As much as I don’t like to think about poor Buddy on a chain, here’s hoping he’s tied up when she’s around, since we know how he reacts when he senses fear.) Rita also told me that Aidai has been using the classroom materials that I left her to conduct English lessons with her friends. Awesomeness.
Rita and Kuban invited me to come down to their yurt in the evening, around 8:45. I met Rita at their yurt, and then we walked over to a different family’s yurt where a Ramadan evening feast was underway. The yurt was packed with various people from around the village, many of whom I had met before, including several former students. The Japanese volunteer who is staying with Rita and Kuban was there as well, and I sat next to her. She spoke fairly good English, and quite excellent Kyrgyz. As my Kyrgyz remains very basic, and her Russian was essentially nonexistent, so we had to rely on her English skills when we communicated with each other. Apparently Котчик has befriended her already; I told her to be sure to sneak him scraps. I learned that when she returns to Bishkek, she will volunteer there as a social worker for two years.
Two of the Beach Camp's Japanese visitors, down in Rita and Kuban's cafe.
I her asked why so many Japanese people are visiting Kyrgyzstan nowadays. From what I could gather, this is due to the gorgeous scenery of Kyrgyzstan and the fact that the Kyrgyz and Japanese languages follow the same structural patterns, making it fairly easy for Japanese folks to learn to speak Kyrgyz. I know very little about Japanese, but I do know that Japanese and Korean follow the same structural patterns. They also sound very similar, as they use similar sounds (specifically similar vowels) to form their words. Now, if Japanese and Kyrgyz follow the same structural patterns, and Japanese and Korean follow the same structural patterns, one can conclude that Korean and Kyrgyz follow the same structural patterns as well. I’d never noticed the similarities between Korean and Kyrgyz before, although my knowledge of both of those languages is fairly limited. Additionally, they both sound very different, as Kyrgyz vowels are vastly different from Korean vowels. However, once I thought about it, the languages do seem to follow the exact same pattern. And when listening to the Japanese student speak Kyrgyz with a Japanese accent, the structural similarities were quite apparent.