Culture and History
Yesterday Rauan on the Kazakh version of our blog wrote that while all casinos have been closed in the cities, people in rural areas play cards for money bets. Perhaps, it’s really incredible and crying phenomenon in the traditional villages. But in the cities, illicit gambling is full speed ahead – and sometimes not too illicitly.
Ban on casinos was introduced on the Fool’s day, April 1, 2007, and has led to some changes in the city life. In Almaty the gambling machines have disappeared from food stores and kids, students and pensioners stopped spending their scarce money on them – which is, certainly, very good. The cabmen don’t get tired of complaining – now they have far less clients in the nighttime. Common people earlier used automats to change money – now they utilize vending machines with this purpose; by the way, vending machines business is booming these days. Companies that used to produce gambling automats now cooperate with the city administration and manufacture socially useful fast-payment terminals. Casinos are replaced with new cafes (by the way, the legendary – in Soviet times – Mirage café is now being reborn as Coffedelia) and stores.
Meanwhile, many people’s passion for gambling has not vanished after administrative decision of the government. It’s hard to accuse them – playing cards was not declared illegal whatsoever, and playing cards is not more sinful than playing billiards. Many Almatians have already seen how quiet cafes with separate rooms are visited by good-looking people with cards or a portable roulette. Now, smart guys, here are a couple of questions: should the owner of a café bear responsibility for hosting players? And the second one: whether we should expect a rise of criminal statistics soon – you know, gambling in a cozy company can raise some questions to the croupier, who doesn’t formally belong to casino?
One of the most striking things about Turkmenistan is the difference between the older and the younger generation. Unlike in Western countries, it is not so much the way they behave, dress or spend free time that distinguishes the young from the old ones. Naturally, such differences are visible, but not as much as for example in Russia or countries of Eastern Europe.
The main difference between the middle-aged or older Turkmen and the younger generation is the way they perceive the world. While for the young people Turkmenistan is the entire world, for the older ones it is the former Soviet Union, where they were born and grew up. The latter know a bit about Ukraine, they have been to Moscow, spent their holiday in Crimea, served in the army in Poland or East Germany, whereas young people have no idea about what the world looks like outside Turkmenistan.
When talking to young people, one notices the consequences of brainwashing they were subject to during Turkmenbashi’s rule (mainly at schools). Unable to think independently, they almost never criticize the government. What’s more, they consider the late Turkmenbashi one of the greatest men in the history of Turkmenistan and think that his policy was the only just one. Sometimes it is embarrassing to listen to all the clichés. What’s even worse, they really believe it; it is not that they are affraid or pressed to say it. The only exception are the people who have traveled abroad, at least to Russia: their horizons are much broader.
Surprisingly, it is easier to talk to the „Soviet” people who criticize the government much more freely, especially when talking to a foreigner. This makes Turkmenistan an exception in the post-Soviet region, because, as a rule, it is the younger people who are more open, less suspicious and more eager to make contact with foreigners.
It is not so much the increased income from gas sales and foreign investments that the Turkmen people need in order to develop and keep the country away from falling into a complete stagnation. First of all, they need exit visas to be abolished, borders to be opened and the Ruhnama to be withdrawn from the school curricula. Despite the hopes expressed by many observers and journalists, it is not very likely to happen in the near future.
Shock, horror! Swedish logistics company Sweco has suggested that Santa Claus should leave his traditional home in Lapland and relocate to Kyrgyzstan.
The company drew this conclusion on the basis that:
By starting his journey there [from Kyrgyzstan], Santa can achieve the most efficient around-the-world trip to distribute Christmas gifts. He can eliminate time-consuming detours and avoid subjecting his reindeer to undue strain.
The Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat provides more details about how this startling conclusion was reached after half a day’s (!) calculations:
Santa has to make it to 2.5 billion households in just one night.For the delivery of gifts, Father Christmas can spare a massive 34 microseconds (millionths of a second) per home. And on the round-the-world delivery route Santa’s reindeer sleigh will travel at the modest speed of 5,800 kilometres per second. Logistically speaking, all this would be easiest done from Kyrgyzstan. If Santa lived in Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland – a place traditionally branded as the location of Santa’s Grotto for Finnish children – the presented figures would be significantly higher.
However, like most people, I doubt Santa will be trading in his trusty reindeer for a herd of shaggy yaks just yet. So does Sweco’s representative, who was quick to reaffirm his belief that Santa’s true home is Korvatunturi. Nevertheless, I’m sure both Sweco and Kyrgyzstan will welcome such good-humoured publicity.
â€œApologies to all of our recently acquired Uzbek friends, but rip-offs in Uzbekistan – particularly along the touristy parts of the Silk Road – seem endemic.â€?- says one of the tourists, who recently paid a visit to the historic sites of Uzbekistan.
Today, being a tourist in Uzbekistan is really difficult. People, for who the tourism is the only source of income, do their best to get more money as possible from western (and some eastern) tourists, who are considered to have wallets full of â€œgreensâ€? (the slang local people use referring to US dollars). The â€œoverchargedâ€? journey of tourists begins from the airport, when a group of taxi drivers, seeing that a foreign is coming out of a terminal, literally attacks him/her trying to speak English they were taught at school.
Then, of course, the journey is continued at hotels, cafes and restaurants, and even in state owned banks. Tourists at Uncornered market, who recently paid a visit to Uzbekistan, write about their â€œbest experiencesâ€? of the trip that turned out to be very disappointing regarding financial issues. Being overcharged and cheated several times, they share their experience with others, who are planning a trip to the historical sites of Uzbekistan.
Banking â€“ always count your money. One of their worse experiences happened in Urgench city branch of National Bank of Uzbekistan, which is considered to me in the list of top three banks of the country. After spending 90 minutes to the simplest banking operation â€“ exchange of dollars to Uzbek soms, they left the bank not counting the exchanged money.
When they [bank staff] finally forked it over, we didnâ€™t count it [money], somehow satisfied with the official looking paper bands wrapped around each stack of 50 bills. Only later did we discover that two of our officially-banded stacks were short a few bills. Although we only lost a few dollars in the transaction, the bankâ€™s audacity was infuriating.
Restaurants without menus. In tourist-attractive parts of Uzbekistan, like Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva, some restaurants and cafes do not bring menus to tourists. It is because they overcharge the tourists several times higher than the normal price of the food indicated in menus. Usually owners of the restaurants or cafes do not know about this. This is done mostly by the service personnel of the restaurant or cafÃ©, who want to earn some extra pocket money.
[As waitress did not bring menu] Our friends asked the price of the main dishes before ordering to ensure the place was still within everyoneâ€™s budget. However, upon receiving our bill, we were all shocked by the amount which was a bottom line figure without any detail and several times higher than we had calculated.
However, not all people in Uzbekistan want to rip off the tourists. Tourists from Uncornered market met a young girl, Star (Yulduz), a ceramics seller in Bukhara, who treated them very nicely and told about the life in Bukhara and politics in Uzbekistan. Tourists were pleased to talk to Star.
We enjoyed one of our most enlightening discussions in Uzbekistan in the least likely of places – a ceramics stand in the most touristy area of Bukhara.
It is true that sometimes it is frustrating to be a foreign tourist in the touristy places of Uzbekistan. Everywhere local people try to rip you off, as they think you have piles of dollars in your pocket. However, we can understand these people, as every day the life in Uzbekistan is becoming really difficult. The prices are rising and the government is not doing any effective actions to solve the problem. Hope things will change soon.
This is a translation of the Russian post.
Recently there have been quite a few articles on online news agencies about usage of old Soviet terminology for the trademarks and sale of goods that are symbolic of the USSR. For instance, the Russian online news agency InoSMI published a translated article from the New York Times about the business of brothers Simachev. Several years ago they began using Soviet symbols to promote and sell their goods. Their goods are pretty expensive though. The brothers say that their business is apolitical and the symbols are used as nostalgia about the USSR.
Looks like this trend is developing here in Bishkek. As Omega reports, there is a new place opened up in Bishkek called “Stolovaya Frunze”, the literal translation of which means Canteen Frunze (Frunze is the old name for Bishkek). The article also discusses nostalgia for the USSR, Frunze, and about how green and beautiful the city was during Soviet times. It also says that the Soviet canteens were very clean and this new canteen would remind people of the good old times. Probably, it is just a bit of PR to attract clients.
There are certainly those who do not really welcome this kind of PR ideas. They think that these symbols are reminiscent not only stability and good lives, but also of negative and even tragic moments. Anyway, some older people spent most of their life in the Soviet era, and you cannot deny this. What do you think?
Photo taken from Omega website.
What do Brazil, Morocco, a TV show (allegedly) about cloning, and veiling in a Kyrgyz village have in common? Quite a lot, apparently.
Julie McBrien recently wrote a very interesting article in the ISIM Review making such a connection. She argues that a Brazilian soap opera (“El Clon”) about a love affair between a Moroccan woman and a Brazilian man prompted women to think about their religious identity in new ways. (Neither the article or my google searches shed any light on how cloning figures into the plot… of a show named “The Clone.” Feel free to enlighten me in the comments.)
Basically, Kyrgyz women watch the show and observe modern veil styles that are both fashionable and acceptable in Moroccan public life. Although the depictions of Morocco are highly Orientalized, wearing Muslim dress is portrayed as something that normal, trendy, pretty women do.
For instance, here is a group of Moroccan women getting a leg wax; ouch. WARNING: Soap operas are addictive, so view at your own risk. Read the full story »
When travelling to Turkmenistan, one naturally expects to see the desert, however in reality it looks very much different from what we imagine it to look like. The first thing that strikes us is the space, the overwhelming vastness. Hundreds of kilometres of emptiness with virtually nothing around. Only a lonely camel occasionally appears on the horizon, roaming around – who knows what for. But there is not much sand or dunes on the Kara Kum desert. Although it rains very seldom and the sun beats down mercilessly even in mid-September, thorny camelthorn covers the vast stretches of the desert, so it is always green despite the unbearable heat.
The most unwelcoming land covers the territory of the Yomuds (one of the Turkmen tribes) in western Turkmenistan and the central part of the country. Drilled wells separated by dozens of kilometres are the only source of water, which used to keep alive the flocks of sheep, goats and camels bread by the nomads. There are also occasional salty lakes with rust-coloured water containing the entire Mendeleev’s table.
While travelling across Turkmenistan, one wonders how the Turkmen managed to survive in such a barren land before the Karakum Canal – currently the main source of water for the whole country – was built. The nomads were able to get by even in such extreme conditions. The Turkmen yashuli, or the commonly respected elders, say that people used to drink horse blood in order not to die of thirst. The Turkmen horsemen traversing the desert carried a special kind of straws with them. If they ran out of water, they used the straw to prick the horse’s skin and drink its blood. Horses were fed with mutton fat which quenched their thirst.
The southern wind, also called the Afghan wind, was another danger in the desert apart from the lack of water and the heat. Its blows stir up the desert dust and carry away clouds of sand, so that a complete darkness falls within a few minutes. But the desert brought not only death. It also provided an excellent natural refuge for the Turkmen tribes and ensured their independence. The Persians, Bukharis and Khorezmians avoided venturing deep into the desert, as they did not know where to find water. And so the Turkmen could raid their land and escape unpunished.
The desert is, therefore, a blessing for Turkmenistan. The Turkmen would not have survived without the desert, they would most certainly be conquered and assimilated by neighbouring nations which at that time represented a higher level of civilization.
A new multiplex is being built in one of the populated districts of Bishkek, reports Akipress. The new building will consist of four movie halls with 200 seats each. It will also have bowling playing hall, restaurant, and playground for kids. The multiplex will be finished a year from now and it will be one of the movie theaters of Cinematica Ltd, a movie chain company that already runs three modern movie theaters in Bishkek.
I think it is good news for Bishkek, which is lack of modern cultural and entertainment places, especially for families with children. However, the movie theater industry could develop more.
The ticket prices are comparable with prices in USA, given that the exchange rate of USD is falling. Average ticket price in one of the midwestern cities of America is about $5-7 for regular movies, and $1-2 for small movie theaters which show movies with a 2-3 month delay. And a ticket price for adult in Bishkek is 150 soms, or 4 US dollars. It becomes evident that people in Kyrgyzstan can not spend the same share of their income for going to movies. Of course, many things are cheaper in United States, and it is not a complaint, although ticket price for movies could be a bit cheaper in Kyrgyzstan.
Translation of Marat’s post from the Russian-language blog
This is the question that I have been interested in since morning. So, I studied the statistical data and took the most recent published figures (which are for January-March 2007) and divided the number of divorces on the number of marriages. Here is the diagram (in Russian).
As you see, the patriarchal southern and western regions have fewer divorces, while there are significantly more of them in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The gap is as strong as 12 per cent in South Kazakhstan Oblast to 53 per cent in the Pavlodar (northern) Oblast. Besides, the number of divorces correlate with the natural increaseof population; also a lot depends on the region’s economic conditions.
The US embassy has been sponsoring a number of educational programs
recently, offering to take Turkmen students to the United States for
better education. The Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program,
established in 1992 and covering all of Central Asia, allows students
to study in US universities for up to two years, and provides the
students with a large scholarship that includes airfare, tuition,
allowances for housing and books, and training in the English
A new program, called the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program,
will take sixty secondary school teachers from Eurasia to the United
States for a six week program that trains them in American teaching
methodologies. More importantly, it will show them the usefulness of
computers in schools, and train the teachers in the use of word
processors, spreadsheets, and the Internet. After the programs are
completed, they will return to their home country and train other
teachers. They will also be receiving grants from the United States
to purchase educational materials for their schools, which will no
doubt be of use in a country where there are few computers and even
fewer with an internet connection.