Friday, April 14, 2006

The Dream is Over

Well, I suppose it had to end somewhere, but Kyrgyzstan were finally knocked out of the AFC Challenge Cup in the semi-finals by Tajikistan 2-0. However, let's hope this has some effect on their FIFA world ranking and they move up from their lowly ranking of 154. More importantly, let's hope they move above Mayotte, the country immediately above them and whom I've never heard of in my life (despite having a fairly good grasp of geography). In case you're wondering, it's a French administered island off the African coast.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why can't you just 'go' like everyone else? OR Goddamn you Russian verbs of motion

Like going to the dentist or cleaning under the bed, I’ve been putting off learning Russian verbs of motion for quite some time. You see, for a long time I was under the mistaken impression that there were just a couple of verbs for ‘going’ and ‘coming’ and I liberally used them for anything vaguely related to movement. So ‘I go’ I thought was ‘Ja idoo’ and whenever I wanted to say I was going somewhere I would use that. However, my wife would constantly correct me, saying ‘no, that should be ‘jedoo’ or ‘pajedoo’ or ‘hozhoo’ in this context, and I dutifully changed it but had no idea why.

Well, according to ‘The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course For Beginners’, Russian verbs of motion are a right little nest of vipers. Alright, it never actually says that, but it’s certainly something to infer when you read passages like this:

‘You will see from these examples that the unidirectional verbs always have the specific meaning of one direction, while the multidirectional verbs are vaguer – so the ‘m’ verbs are used when there is no motion or the number of directions doesn’t matter (rules 2 and 3 above). So, as a ‘rule of thumb’ use the ‘m’ verbs in contexts involving repeated motion’

Are you following this? Really? Ok, well try this:

‘Imperfective future forms of the verbs of motion are rare. As you might expect, the imperfective future of multidirectional (‘chodit’-type) verbs is used for unfinished multidirectional motion and repeated round trips, while the imperfective future of ‘idti’-type verbs (very rare) denotes uncompleted motion in one direction.’

Followed by endless lists of verbs, variations, inflections and examples that are supposed to make some kind of sense. I particularly like the author’s optimistic ‘as you might expect’, as if I’d understood perfectly the previous five pages of this nonsense. So, apparently for every verb of motion (go, fly, walk etc) there is a different form depending on whether it’s in one direction or two, it’s a single trip or a repeated one, it’s on foot or by some form of transport, it’s in the future or the present, it’s a little trip (or kind of trip) or has some kind of preposition after it (go out/in etc). Goodness, why should something such as travel have to be so complicated? Maybe there’s some connection here with the Soviet Union’s reluctance to let any of their citizens go outside of the country – they were worried that the easier unidirectional verbs would discourage any kind of desire to come back.

I started trying to learn these verbs about an hour ago, and like any good procrastinator, decided to write this blog to explain why they are so difficult and to avoid having to go back and look at them again. And if I can’t be bothered, well I’ll have to stick to the one ‘go’ verb I know and spend my whole time here never returning (or going repeatedly, or in the future, or on foot etc etc).

Peace Leader is shot. Criminal Politician threatens Head of Electoral Commission. US Secretary of State proclaims Kyrgyzstan a “stable country”

On the day of the visit of the US Secretary of State Richard Boucher, one of the leaders of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil, Edil Baisalov, was shot in the head, thankfully not fatally. This is the organization I mentioned in a previous post that were protesting peacefully to try and restore law and order to the country. Clearly some people were not too impressed with that idea. Not sure who that might be…

At the same time, I read this report about the notorious Ryspek Akmatbayev. Now, I’m not sure that all its facts can be proven and it does seem to be largely hearsay and rumour, but it’s not encouraging when The Man Who Would Be An Elected Representative is threatening the head of the Electoral Commission and apparently has some “killer material” to blackmail and threaten Kyrgyzstan’s major politicians. Isn’t it nice to know that Kyrgyz democracy is being played out in such a civilized and equitable manner?

So, it’s good to see the US Secretary of State expressing such confidence in the political process, though maybe more in hope than on anything that’s actually happening in the country. Oh, and because they have an airbase here and are worried about the Russian influence in the region, and because it’s the only base they have in Central Asia after being kicked out of Uzbekistan…

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

There's a damn yurta in my garden...

Well, not actually in my garden but the yard in front of my tower block. I saw some guys standing in a line looking appreciative last night but the trees obscured the view and I assumed that it was a dry wall or a German car they were staring admiringly at. Yurtas are the traditional Kyrgyz dwellings that you rarely see in the city, but in the villages some people still live in them. Anyhow, here’s the one currently doing duty in front of my apartment.

What the hell is going on? I’m hoping this is a temporary thing for a celebration or wedding or something and not the government’s solution to the housing shortage problem.

Kyrgyzstan to meet Tajikistan in AFC Challenge semi-final

Updating the never popular tournament in Bangladesh, little to report as my title kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Just to fill space, Kyrgyzstan will meet Tajikistan in the semi-final (really? You don’t say?). Tajikistan thrashed the host nation 6-1 in the quarters, so looks like the defence is going to be kept on its toes again.

Peace Protestors Politely Ask To Speak To The President. The President Politely Says No

On Saturday there was another protest in front of the government building, but this time it was by 2000 people looking for an end to all the corruption, intimidation and violent protesting. Read the report here. They gathered outside the president’s palace and requested an audience with Bakiev. He said no. Interesting really, given that when the supporters of dodgy parliamentarian Ryspek Akmatbaev asked for a similar audience, he said yes. Twice. Seems that using intimidation and the threat of violence is a far more effective way of getting to speak to the head of the country.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Speaking in (three) tongues...

My ten-month old son can recognize words in three languages: show him a picture of a group of animals and say bear, Medved (Russian) or Yulu (Kyrgyz..well that may not be the word but it sounds like that) and he’ll pick out the proverbially wood-defecating animal. Impressive, eh?

Now, this is not going to be a post claiming some kind of ridiculous precocity on my son’s part. Firstly, that’s not true. He’s no more precocious than babies speaking one language at that age. It just so happens that he’s exposed to three languages: English totally from me, English and Russian from his mother, Russian from his aunties and Kyrgyz and Russian from his grandparents.

But I am beginning to think about how you bring up a bilingual or trilingual child. How do you make sure he’s fluent in all of them? Can you make one of the languages his ‘first’ language? Do you have to have rules about who speaks to him in what language? I vaguely remember reading somewhere that you have to speak the minority language in the home, i.e. the language that he won’t be exposed to in the country you’re living, and the majority language outside the home. That would mean English indoors and Russian outside. But of course, I could have misread that and it was the opposite.

Anyhow, I really do want English to be his first language. This isn’t some kind of prejudice, just a practical acknowledgement that his future will be much brighter if that’s his mother tongue. But I also want him to speak Russian fluently and at least have a working knowledge of Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz I think will be the trickiest, simply because I think at some point we’ll move away from Kyrgyzstan and my wife isn’t totally fluent in the language (something she’s somewhat ashamed of given her nationality). If anyone has any advice, It’s be welcome..

Monday, April 10, 2006

They think it's all is now

AFC Challenge Cup Update No.2:

Well, the boys did good. Facing strong opposition from the Palestine side, Kyrgyzstan edged into the semis of the AFC Challenge Cup in Bangladesh with a last minute winner from Ruslan Djamshidov. Keeping a blank sheet against a team who thrashed Guam 11-0 is quite a feat! And now they get to face either Bangladesh or Tajikistan in the semi-final. I'm a bit divided on this one: Bangladesh are the host nation, so it will at least guarantee some kind of crowd (I'm assuming, though probably not of Maracana proportions); on the other hand, Tajikistan are their local rivals, so racking up a victory against them would do some good for the ole Central Asian pride.

What I'm particularly enjoying about this tournament - apart from its utter willful obscurity - are the match reports from the newspapers in the region. Reading both
this and this one, they seem to belong to a slightly different era where goalkeepers are called 'custodians' and scoring two goals is invariably described as a 'brace'. There's something very charming about it.

Anyhow, after this tournament is over, I feel the urge to construct a website dedicated to the Kyrgyzstan national football team. But only if they win...that is the deal.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Ok, updating the AFC Challenge Cup in Bangladesh. Kyrgyzstan have now progressed to the quarter-finals after a solid 2-0 victory over Macau and the last 8 line-up is complete: Sri Lanka v Chinese Taipei, Tajikistan v Bangladesh, India Under 20s v Nepal and Kyrgyzstan v Palestine.

So yes, Kyrgyzstan get to face Palestine. Now, this may cause some divided loyalties among some of you. I know the Palestinians have had a rough time of it, and I’m very sympathetic to their cause (hey, down with Israel etc), but come on, this is football, and the plight of the refugees in the camps has to take second place for now. I want you all behind the Kyrgyz team. And they’re going to need your support. In Fahed Attal, they have the tournament’s top scorer (admittedly he did get five of those in Palestine’s 11-0 thrashing of Guam). But still, it’s going to be a tough game.

The game is taking place today at some point. For those with even a passing interest in the tournament, they can go to the Wikipedia site here. In the meantime, I’ll sit and wait for the result and ponder on why India, rather insultingly in my view, only sent their Under 20s side to the tournament

Friday, April 07, 2006

Clash of the Central Asian Titans

Yes, I know a lot of you are waiting for the World Cup in Germany in a couple of months, but until then maybe the AFC Challenge in Bangladesh will whet your appetite for the festival of football to come. And I know many of you were eagerly awaiting the result of the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan derby. Well, it seems that Kyrgyzstan sneaked a win, admittedly against an understrength Tajik side. You can read all the gory details here.

Still, Kyrgyzstan can't really rest on their laurels. They have to face the mighty Macau next, and need a win if they’re going to progress to the quarter finals. And even if they manage that, they could face Nepal, Sri Lanka or Tajikistan (again, groan!) in the last eight. I’ll keep you updated.

Oh, in the match report for the Nepal game, there’s my favourite football phrase of the week: ‘the boys from the Himalayas’. Now, that’s something you won’t hear during the World Cup, and I believe the competition will be poorer because of it…

Thursday, April 06, 2006

In Praise of Kyrgyzstan...part one

Looking back over my last few months, I’m struck by the generally negative tone I’ve adopted towards Kyrgyzstan, it’s political system, its inefficient bureaucracy and lack of technology. Kind of makes it seem I don’t like the place that much. But that’s not true. Maybe I’m just a miserable, cynical bugger who sees the worst in everything, but in the spirit of being a better person AND giving my honest opinion, here are some things I like about life in Kyrgyzstan:


When you point out to Kyrgyz people how ethnically diverse and tolerant their country is, they are genuinely taken aback. Yet it’s something that they should be inordinately proud of. There’s a wide range of different ethnic groups here: Kyrgyz, Russian, Uzbek, Tajik, Korean, Dungans, Uygurs and several others. And yet you never really get the sense of them as distinct groups because of the integration between them. It’s a common sight to see a group of friends walking down the street and all of them of a different ethnic hue. I don’t think people here even realize that this is an unusual thing, yet when I tell them that this would be considered progressive in England, they are really surprised.

Lack of interference

The positive flipside to a chaotic political system is a lack of interference in people’s daily lives. When I go back to England, I’m continually frustrated by just how many rules and regulations there are and the ubiquitous presence of CCTV. In Kyrgyzstan, you can pretty much do what you want as long as it isn’t overtly bothering anyone else: you can smoke and drink where you want, drive how you want, buy what you want and, apart from the occasional bribe to keep the traffic police happy, you’re basically left on your own. And, as a good libertarian, that’s how I believe life should be….


It’s only when I come back to Bishkek that I realize just how cramped other cities are. The streets here are ridiculously wide (admittedly this is necessary to give cars a bit of space to swerve round the potholes) and there are loads of parks and open spaces in the city. And well, the rest of the country is just one big space, filled only by mountains and lakes…

Lake Issy Kul

Ok, saying you like Issy Kul is obligatory if you live in Kyrgyzstan. It’s their pride and joy, the one thing they believe (with some justification) that gets them noticed beyond their borders. In case anyone doesn’t know anything about it, it’s, well, a huge lake that occupies a vast portion of the country. It’s the closest thing the Kyrgyz have to the sea and it’s where they all go on holiday in the summer. Now, I’m not sure I actually like Issy Kul, in as much as I’m not a big nature person or a great lover of water, but it is undeniably spectacular…what I love most of all though is the love that Kyrgyz people have for it. When they talk about it, their eyes light up, and you can see they’re already beginning to think about the summer and the chance to go back there again….It’s very, very endearing.

Anyhow, no time now to continue, but I’ll add a few more thoughts on my favourite things about Kyrgyzstan tomorrow..

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gadget Freak

My name’s David Read and I’m a gadgetholic. There, I’ve said it. It feels a lot better now I’ve got that out in the open. I’ve certainly tried to deny it: oh, I’m just interested in electronics, they’re labour-saving devices, they will help me work/study/organize my life better. But these rationalizations can’t really justify the sheer amount of money I’ve spent on gadgets over the last few years (and probably what I’m going to spend in the future). I realized the truth of my addiction yesterday when I was clearing up my apartment and logged all the stuff that I’ve got. Take a deep breath:

Three digital cameras, one video camera, two mobile phones, one dictaphone, two mp3/4 players, one PDA, two laptops, one portable hard drive, one Playstation 2, one Sony PSP, one printer, one wireless router, one DVD player and a bloody partridge in a pear tree.

And this is just the stuff I’ve got at the moment. I’ve sold or given away numerous other gadgets that I didn’t use or I’d replaced with something newer and funkier.

Now, the bizarre thing is that I was a bit of a technophobe until I was in my mid-twenties. I had never really touched a computer until then, and it was only that my new job came with a PC that I had to confront that fear and buckle down and learn how to a) turn on a computer and b) use it. Maybe it was just the elation of overcoming that fear that fed my obsession, but now it’s become a real financial drain. I went to work in Korea for a month recently and before going, I was literally sweating with anticipation. Not because I would experience a new culture, new food, meet new people, but because Seoul has the largest electronics market in the world (called Yongsan). I realized when I finally got there that there is no way in hell that I could ever live in Korea or Japan. I would be broke within a week and my wife and child would have to live on whatever food scraps they could afford with the money left over from my latest gadget purchase.

But I’m trying to get control of my addiction. I told my wife I would only buy one major gadget this year (notice the sly use of the word major, a get-out clause for a series of smaller purchases) and so far I’ve stuck to my word. I bought a new laptop in Korea and I’m determined that will be the only thing I buy. Still, I feel a bit like a nicotine addict who’s promised himself he’ll smoke only five a day, and it’s now midday and he’s smoked all of them. Christ, it’s only April, and I know that Sony are releasing their ebook reader in the spring and that looks really cool. I don’t suppose that would be considered a major purchase, would it my dear?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ryspek Akmatbayev Redux

Quick update on the attempts of Ryspek Akmatbayev to be allowed to run for election (see previous post: Another day, Another protest). According to this report, the government have overturned their original decision and now he's going to be allowed to stand. I do like the last line of the article, which just about sums up the state of politics here: 'It was not clear why the court overturned the decision'. Ooh...fear? Intimidation? Bribery? Any other offers?

(cold) water, (cold) water everywhere...

Ominous signs over the last couple of days in my flat. The hot water is taking longer and longer to come through and this normally signifies the Kyrgyz government’s annual turn-off-the-hot-water-for-a-month-athon in order to teach its citizens the value of a brisk cold shower. Actually, I don’t think that is the reason, though I’m still not a hundred per cent sure why for one month in the spring every year they turn off the hot water here. Some say it’s to carry out major repairs on the pipes (is that easier when there’s no hot water?), others that they need to conserve water before the demands of the tourist season kick in (can you actually conserve hot water – god I know nothing about these things?).

Whatever. It’s bloody inconvenient, especially for a pampered, spoilt overgrown schoolboy like myself. For a month the house is a constant haze of steam and humidity as the only way to generate hot water is to boil pans on the stove. Having a bath is an exercise in patience and muscular strength as it takes a good five or six large pots of water to fill the tub to a point where it’s licking your ankles. The first few years I was here I used this kind of portable heat sink thingy. You know, it’s like the thing you have at the bottom of the kettle for heating the water (you may be gathering by now that I’m not a science major), except bigger and with a handle and a plug. You have to fill the bath up with cold water, then stick this thing in it and plug it in and it heats it up. It’s frickin’ lethal. You have to remember to unplug it every time you want to stick your hand in the water to check it. And it takes forever as well. I was always scared that I was going to forget to unplug it and I was going to be found dead, slumped naked over the bath with big Einstein hair. That’s not how I want to be remembered, so in the end I stopped using it.

I know in the grander scheme of things this isn’t terribly bad, not like living in the deserts of Africa or the jungles of South America. But hey, that’s why I never volunteered to work in places like that: I like the cool feel of ceramic on my buttocks when I go to toilet and the assurance that when I turn on a lightswitch I’m going to get light. And I like to have hot water as well. Anyhow, the whole purpose of this is to explain to people why I’m likely to be a grumpy bugger over the next month. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Monday, April 03, 2006

Zum the Pirate King

Not, as you might think, some kind of local Kyrgyz bandito – and fairly unlikely given the country’s landlocked status – but my own name for the temple to dodgy goods and illegal stuff that is Bishkek’s central department store.

Yes, I know that in many countries you can buy pirated DVDs, software, knock-off mobile phones etc, but they are very few where you can buy them in the capital’s biggest and most prominent department store. In ‘Zum’, I’m pretty sure nothing has been obtained or produced in a legal fashion. Every DVD or piece of software is a copy, every mobile phone you buy was intended for some other market – I’ve had two phones here so far: the first was clearly meant to be sold in Britain (the plug was a bit of a giveaway) and the second in France (the start-up screen welcomed me with a hearty ‘bienvenue’). And it’s such a wondrous and shifting metaphor for the country’s struggle to come to grips with entrepreneurism and capitalism. The little shops and kiosks inside it close, open, expand, contract on an alarming regular basis – the chances of you buying a product there and going back six months later and finding the same shop/owner are pretty slim. The warranties you get are normally hastily scribbled on some random piece of paper and are about as legitimate as…well, about as legitimate as the product you’re buying.

I absolutely love the place and have no qualms about buying stuff from there. To start with, there is no alternative legal market. As far as I know, it’s impossible to actually buy legal DVDs and software in Kyrgyzstan; well, it may be possible but I can’t imagine any business would last for more than five minutes. I mean, how much does an official copy of Windows or Office go for these days? $200? $300? Given that the average Kyrgyz salary is about $50-75 a month (source: my wife, her sister, and a taxi driver I spoke to), I don’t think Bill Gates is going to get his bathroom retiled based on the sales of his products here. And why should the Kyrgyz people be denied the latest software? It’s not really their fault that the economy is screwed and it’s not exactly going to pick up if the only exposure to technology they had was some crappy old computer running Windows 95.

So, if you’re ever in Bishkek, go to Zum and see what you can pick up….Oh, souvenirs are on the fourth floor in case you’re wondering (they may actually be the only genuine things in the whole place).

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Another Day, Another Protest...

I got the usual warnings from the British Embassy, there was the usual gathering of military and police on the main street and the usual group of disgruntled folk massed outside the government building. Oh, the people who are there change each time, but the reason is just a variation on a theme: either the government are letting someone run for parliament who they think shouldn’t or they’re not letting someone run who they think should.

In this case it was the latter. This time it was Ryspek Akmatbaev, who has impeccable credentials to be a member of parliament: he was just recently acquitted of murder and, while trying not to judge a book by its cover, looks like a two-bit hoodlum. Apparently he couldn’t run for election because he didn’t disclose a previous criminal conviction and he hadn’t lived in Kyrgyzstan permanently for the last five years; but by golly, he’s not going to let a pesky thing like the law stand in his way…

Most of these guys just want to set up their little criminal fiefdoms in some town in Kyrgyzstan, and the quickest way is to get into political office. They throw a few hundred dollars at the townsfolk, promise them a good meal and free drink if they agree to turn up in the capital and make some noise. They’re hoping that the government is so weak and ineffectual that they might actually agree to their demands rather than have to deal with such visible signs of civil disturbance…and hey, they may be right. The president was so scared, he actually came out and dignified this mob with his presence and gave a little conciliatory speech.

I don’t know what the future holds for Kyrgyzstan if someone like this can have the government shaking in its boots. This time the crowd finally dispersed, but they threatened to be back – and to be armed – if they didn’t get their way. And even if it isn’t them, it will be someone else with the bright idea of bringing a rent-a-mob to the capital to see what they can squeeze out of the government. The future isn’t looking that bright for President Bakiev.