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:

Tolerance

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….

Space

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..

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