I just got to be honest about this one, Bishkek is just awful. This city does not offer much, and I am already looking forward to getting out of here. I got to keep this in perspective though because I initially did not come for Bishkek and knew it would be a bad city from the beginning. I came to see the great outdoors of Central Asia and not the run down cities of soviet times. Unfortunately, I have to live here while I get my Russian up to speed. Its certainly been an eye-opening experience to see how people live here, but its definitely not a place I would ever come again. The biggest draw would be the very cheap Russian courses — far cheaper than in Russia and you don’t need a visa to come here. I’ll run through some of the funny and just terrible aspects living in Bishkek. So if you want to know what Bishkek is really like:
Bishkek looks like nobody has bothered to fix anything in 20 years. Bishkek looks like a city that had a bright future and lots of potential up until 1991 when the Soviet Union fell. After that people literally stopped bothering to repair anything and let the city fall into a state of disrepair. The city is maybe not even 100 years old and was almost entirely built by the Russians and originally named Frunze. It has a very Soviet feel with wide sidewalks, large emotionless plazas, and plenty of parks. Bishkek probably was pretty nice back in the day, but now it feels stuck in 1991 with the only new additions being computers and cell phones.
One of the first things I noticed here was which side of the road the cars drive on. All of them adhere to driving on the right side, but about half of the cars are actually meant for driving on the left side. I think this is pretty common in Central Asia. I was told its because some cars are imported from left drive countries so if you want a certain type of car, you get version that the host country makes it in. They don’t bother making them for the other side when they ship the off to sell in Central Asia. Aside from your odd little things like this, there is a surprising amount of order here compared to other places I have been. Stop lights actually mean something here to the drivers and sidewalks are mostly meant for people.
If you don’t want to pay a lot of money for food, you’re not going to get good food. Lots of destinations around the world have good cheap eats and they’re often one of the biggest attractions of those destinations. Not in Kyrgyzstan. If you don’t want to spend a whole lot, you can, but its going to be bland. On the other hand, there is quite a variety of actual restaurants that are pretty good. Service is generally pretty bad and slow though.
The malls are a joke, really. I’ve been to the best malls in the city, and they’re just old run down buildings selling knock-off clothes. Right by London School is Vefa Center, apparently one of the best malls in Biskek, but most of the stores look like they’re out of business. Usually a mall is a place to hangout out, but these malls just make you depressed. The bazaars aren’t much better. I went to Dordoy Bazaar — the biggest market in Central Asia — recently. It actually was really really big, but it sold nothing but cheap Chinese products and most shops appeared to be selling almost the same thing as the next one. Osh and Orto Say aren’t much different either. They do have really good fresh fruit and vegetables at these bazaars though which I have been eating quite a lot of.
The national museum was entertaining, but that’s because of how bad and weird it was. It was a very dark, old marble stone building mostly paying homage to Red October and Karl Marx with futuristic bronze statues depicting the proletariat rising up. There was a little bit of information on Krygyz culture, but everything was entirely in Russian.
The people aren’t particularly friendly. I mean, I would be too if I lived here. Generally when I meet Russians while traveling, I haven’t found them to be the nicest people and its really no surprise here. They particularly like to sit me down and tell me how great Putin is and that the media — or rather all objective journalism — is just lies.
On a positive note, Bishkek does have a good night life. I went to a very good nightclub the other night. Clean, upscale, and great music. Krygyz women are also stunningly beautiful. I have been told that they aren’t very interested in foreigners and most are interested in getting married as soon as possible, but nevertheless, its nice always nice to go to a nightclub with beautiful women rather than without.
I have been told wonderful things about the mountains just outside of Bishkek which I am just dying to go see. I hope this coming weekend London School will organize a mountain trip. If not, I found a local outfit where I can go with a group on a hike nearby. I’ll post those details on the trip(s) if/when they happen.
As for the classes, Russian is hard. My god, it is hard. There are just so many rules making it very difficult to even say the most basic of things. The classes are quite intense and really leave me feeling worthless at the end of everyday. I am thinking about talking to me teachers to hopefully change my courses a little bit or at least understand their rationale for this current method. I feel that it might not be as necessary to learn to talk about what I will have or have not done in the future (future perfect) when I am more interested in learning how to properly order at a restaurant, negotiate a price with a taxi driver, exchange currency, etc. I have one class of conversation a day which addresses these interests, but its only one class or 25% of all the other things I am studying.