Trouble in Bishkek, Part II

Bishkek Travel Blog

 › entry 20 of 25 › view all entries
The day after we returned from Issyk-Kul was for me a day of rest and recuperation. Although I was quite recovered from my ... ahem ... indisposition, I felt pretty drained. So after breakfast Irina and I just wandered down to the centre of Bishkek to visit Bishkek's biggest store, variously transliterated as Tsum or Zum. It is described as a department store, but is rather different from Debenhams! Spread over three floors, it consists of a large number of what appear to be independent concessions, all operating under one roof - indeed, although dedicated to household goods, clothes and electronics rather than food and groceries it was in atmosphere not unlike a rather genteel bazaar. Although there were many bargains, I was surprised at how expensive some things were - an SD memory card for my camera, for example, which had cost about £20 in London was selling for over 6,000 som - that's nearly £100. Batteries, too, and electronic items generally were very costly, and clearly some of the things that we take now take for granted as being within everyone's reach, such as digital cameras and mobile phones, involved spending serious money. I bought a CD of traditional Russian music, but unfortunately it doesn't play on any player that I've tried - maybe it's an incompatible format, or perhaps it's a pirated version, although I never intended to buy anything other than the genuine article. Tsum had one innovation which I rather liked: at the top of each escalator sat a security woman of fearsome aspect, looking out for possible troublemakers. It made you feel like a transgressor, just to find yourself under such an unforgiving gaze!

Then we visited once again the American University, as Irina needed to speak with her professor. Afterwards we had tea in the cafeteria, and that was the only time that I saw teen notes in use. The basic unit of currency is the som, of which there are about seventy to the pound sterling; but there is a smaller unit, the teen, with one hundred teen to the som - so the teen is a very small unit indeed, and rarely met with. However, calculations involving student discounts meant that I received some teen as change, and so had a chance to handle dinky little banknotes that are worth just fractions of a penny! Kyrgyzstan has no coinage, as it would have been too expensive to mint.

On our way back we heard in the distance the sound of shouting and police sirens, and looking west towards Panfilov Park we saw what appeared to be a large and angry mob. I have already mentioned that, a few weeks before my arrival in Bishkek, there had been a revolution in which the President was driven from office, with much attendant arson, looting and general civil unrest. Naturally, the prospect of witnessing a genuine riot was very attractive, and I wanted to make a sortie to see what was going on and take some pictures; but Irina, who had lived through the earlier episodes and had no wish to repeat the experience - and who understood, also, the likely reaction of the police to a foreigner taking phtographs - insisted, no doubt wisely, that we should head straight home, which we did. On the way we saw shopkeepers boarding up their premises and removing stock, mindful of the travails of only a few weeks before. Once safely home, we spent the rest of the day in the cool and watching some DVDs, of which more anon.

That evening, though, was to bring disappointing news concerning two further expeditions that we had planned. We had intended to spend the weekend in Almaty, the principal city of Kazakhstan, which is only about fifty miles from Bishkek. We also expected to go on an overnight trip with Dmitri and Natalie to a spot the precise merits of which were slightly unclear but which was, I was assured, well worth visiting. However, the renewed civil unrest meant that both of these plans were scuppered. The Kazakhstan trip was problematic because the authorities tended to close the border without warning at such times, with the result that we could have been stranded in Almaty for an indefinite period; this had already happened to Irina's father. And the trip with Dmitri and Natalie was cancelled because he was in the Army, and his services were immediately required. So the remaining few days of my stay were spent in and around Bishkek - which was no hardship as far as I was concerned, as it gave me the opportunity of witnessing more aspects of everyday life there.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
photo by: londonstudent