“Everything is bad”: a review of CyberChaikhana

Translator’s Note: As neweurasia’s book “CyberChaikhana: Digital Conversations Central Asia” spreads across the region, it’s received many diverse reviews in local blogs. We’ve decided to publish some of the most interesting ones, beginning with this sharply critical piece by Kazakh blogger Sadenova entitled, “Everything is bad”. “After finishing the book, I thought I would keep my opinion to myself, but I couldn’t help but speak out,” she writes. “That’s because our young Kaznet has already turned into some kind of bulk [of] daydreaming girls and humble teenage boys constantly ‘liking’ every other content online.” The original post can be read @ http://yvision.kz/yv/147165.

The book was accompanied with several presentations that first made me look forward to reading it; I even asked my favorite colleague Victoria Hafisovna to buy one copy for me and bring it to Astana. We met at the central station during 15 minutes break between our transfers; she passed through the book as something extremely valuable.

Some parts I read quite carefully, trying to get into every line, some parts were not that interesting and I just looked them through very fast. After finishing the book, I thought I would keep my opinion to myself (according to the custom, “Either say something nice or don’t say anything at at all”), but I couldn’t help but speak out. That’s because our young Kaznet has already turned into some kind of bulk space with “sacred cows grazing in the shadows of the palm-trees” [ed: a reference to the Hindu practice of revering cows, i.e., taboo topics], daydreaming girls and humble teenage boys constantly “liking” every other content online. Besides, the authors of the book seem to be quite adequate, hope they will accept critique accordingly:

Everything is bad.

So, you read the book and there is always a thought digging into your brain (like a cat digging and cluttering the content of its litter box) that everything is so bad both here and there and even somewhere at Nuraika‘s direction in Issyk-Kul.

CyberChaikhana is neweurasia‘s result of a “five-year-work”. No. It can’t be so. How can such an interesting project like neweurasia, which has introduced me to thousands of new stories, new people, new shades of life in the neighboring countries, be summarized in a work that looks like a simple “fix” for the international organizations?  The so-called style of the early 2000s, when even NGOs were labeled as “unclear pro-western organizations” [trans: “непонятная прозападная организация” – from “НПО”) for the ways in which they were financed by Western sources.

One of the “cutest” posts included in the book was the story about “an acquaintance from New-York”. The story goes like this: a girl studies architecture at Columbia University and is interested in Soviet-style buildings. Well, I assume  the italics font (which is practically against all Russian language rules) symbolizes the trepidation of the authors. Anyway, she comes to Astana, and while admiring the soviet architecture, remarks, “This kind of style is what I see everywhere – in Dubai, Singapore, Dallas, Los Angeles. These ‘new things’ are boring”. And here we go with the same old story about the “bad Astana”. She is right. Most of today’s architecture can be “picked with a mouse click”. However, what’s bad about that? Perhaps it is your understanding that cities should resemble outdoor museums memorializing legendary times when you were young and the “grass was greener”. But I, myself live in a new modern building and feel great that it is not a Soviet type; nothing is leaking and stinking.

Here’s another example: “Kazakhstan is filling its vast terrain with skyscrapers leaving less space for national, local etc. authenticity”. So, white people visit us and say they want authenticity, which in their case is usually the way we live, talk and look, but then we are actually the ones who have to live, talk and look the way we are. Sorry, but it has been quite a while we have been making it without yurts, camels and colorful beads.

Anyway, I was almost ready to put the book away when my favorite topic came along: the women chapter, “No daughters of tradition””. Publicist wrote an interesting post about female professions, but oddly enough the book’s authors came to a very weird conclusion from it: “The facts Publicist describes demonstrate that Soviet reforms have not entirely penetrated local people’s minds – the fact that upsets most progressive elements in the Central Asian republics…”. I don’t know what to say to this. Does it mean that I am not a progressive element of my native country because I don’t regret the “shallow penetration” of Soviet reforms?

From time to time my posts also get published at neweurasia; not so often, since I haven’t written anything in their format for a long time, more often writing about myself, about simple routines in the life of this “one local nation”. After reading this book, perhaps, that change is for good.

Nevertheless, I recommend that you read this collection of posts, CyberChaikhana. I think you will like it, especially if you are a fan of the “reflections on the critical social issues”-type of information.


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