Monday, June 8, 2009

At the Old Sanatorium

Beyond the city of Karakol, at the eastern end of Kyrgyzstan's huge, scenic, saline lake of Issyk-Kul, and beyond the small town of Ak-Suu, rests this old Russian sanatorium, at the start of a great alpine valley, and beside the roaring Ak-Suu River. Incredibly, the sanatorium is still in use. I saw a few chamber maids strolling outside the building, though inside all the doors were locked. For some reason, my thoughts turned to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, and its central character Hans Castorp.

Instead of stairs, this section contains a series of ziz-zagging elevated slopes - perhaps for the benefit of wheelchair-ridden patients.

Beyond the sanatorium is the domain of herders and nomads. Also occational foreign trekkers.

Deep in the valley, these women are using a crank-contraption to separate cream from milk.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Conversation Pieces: Bishkek Series

Only the most diehard of diehard fans of this blog would recall an image that appeared a few weeks ago of the Tashkent Circus. Even further back, there might have been a mention of the Ulaanbaatar Circus. Well, there is also a Bishkek Circus, and it may be the most ridiculous spectacle of the three. I am currently staying in a cheap hotel directly behind this circus, so it is the first object I see when I rise in the morning. I believe that the strangle geometric creasings are harboring thousands of birds, as the area becomes a frantic cacophany of birdtalk starting at five AM. To my knowledge, Russian-inspired circus acts no longer perform in the Bishkek Circus (nor in Tashkent or Ulaanbaatar), making the circus an irrelevent architectural curio.

Near the circus is another irrelevant landmark: the Savoy Nightclub (now known only as the Crooked 'S' N-H-UB). This must have been quite the nightclub before it fell on hardtimes.

For the third bizarre picture of this set, I am including a bazaar shot (though there's actually nothing bizarre about it).

Bishkek is Full of Stone Heads

The parks, street medians, and squares of Bishkek are remarkably full of statues and sculpture - most of which are inexplicable/esoteric for a foreign visitor.

One such stone head, mounted on a pedestal:

A second stone head:

Lenin himself!

A reclining stone dryad:

An ancient Turkic balbal, on the grounds of the State Historical Museum:

A Bishkek Laundrette

One of my more memorable forays in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, was to go have my laundry done at a local laundromat. Rather hard to find, the entrance was around the back of a decaying fifties-era Soviet wreak of a building. Here was the laundry collection room we were directed to, on the second floor. (Note the Dutch tourist in the background).

View of the rear of the building. At nightfall, gusts of steam shoot up like spectral geysers from vents in the asphalt.

Ceiling-Gazing in Bishkek

A ceiling-theme is beginning to creep into the postings of this blog, starting with the tesselated fresco madness of Uzbekistan's holy Muslim architecture. This installment features just three of the many ceiling murals of Biskek's State Historical Museum. While the entire second floor treats the Great Communist Revolution, with a great musty assortment of anachronistic tripe, like mouldering manifestos, yellowing newspaper clippings, and an eerie, intimidating Lenin showcase, the third floor focuses on Kyrgyzstan.

The most interesting of the ceiling murals was this one, of a clearly anti-nuclear-proliferation theme. Dean Starnes, writing in the Lonely Planet guidebook, identifies the skull-masked cowboy riding the bomb Dr. Strangelove style as Ronald Regan!

Another anti-A Bomb mural, but this one distinctly Kyrgyz in treatment. Note the strangely doll-like boy, riding naked (but emasculated) on a horse. Perhaps this has to do with radiation poisoning?

A reindeer woman with her reindeer.

Portait of a Uighur

On my first day in Bishkek, capital of the small, mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan, I met this Uighur man while taking pictures of the Philharmonia (see behind statue). Most of the Uighur people live in China's western frontier province of Xinjiang, though they are also represented in Kyrgyzstan and other neighboring countries. Unfortunately, I was unable to have a chat with this gentleman, due to severe language difficulties!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Yet Another Alpine Plateau

Above the village of Arslanbab, Kyrgyzstan, one finds views and scenes such as this peak.

Horses led up here to graze.

Burnt, spindly stalks.

Speculative cows.

The Punching Machine

In the small, isolated, heavily conservative Kyrgyz mountain village of Arslanbob, predominantly comprised of strict Muslim Uzbeks, there is only ONE source of entertainment. THE PUNCHING MACHINE. Having spend some years in South Korea, I am well familiar with this great invention. In cities such as Seoul, gangs of frustrated office workers regularly hit the bottle after slaving through hours of stultifying overtime work, and then ... head for the nearest PUNCHING MACHINE. Taking turns punching or kicking the machine, while obviously visualizing their boss, they then compare scores, and perhaps head to the batting cages next. Some of the Korean punching machines have a human form - specifically, they resemble American soldiers.

Being a great fan of the punching machine, it was a delight to find one (a model i had never seen before) in such a far flung place as Arslanbob.

An Intrepid Visit to an Uzbek Silk Factory

Usually I don't do this sort of thing - visit silk factories -, but in this case I did. Like the market featured in the previous post, the factory is located in the small city of Margilon, in the Uzbek portion of the Fergana Valley. Impressively, the factory continues to use ancient methods of production.

At the beginning of the process we have silk worm pupae. Note the cocoons and the pupae themselves. In Korea, these silk worm pupae are known as bundegi, and served in streetside stalls as a pungent yet tasty snack!

Extracting the silk from the cocoons. (This woman's job title is 'the extractor of the essence').

Another stage in the process: making the dyes from natural sources.

At the loom. Many of the weaving women stick pictures of their favorite heartthrobs onto the frames of their loom apparatuses, thus increasing the speed of production and the quality of their work (presumably).

A coy carpeteer.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Margilon Market - Virgin Ground for Tourists

While staying in Fergana City, Uzbekistan, I was able to make a side trip to the small town of Margilon. A few days before, there had been a suicide bombing 'incident' in the city of Andijon, nearby, but it was business as usual in the market and town, with the people seeming, for the most part, friendly and unfazed. The Margilon bazaar was one of the least touristed, and hence most 'authentic' that I have ever visited. Within a minute curious marketeers were asking where we were from. Though the people were shy about their appearances, and usually declined photo requests, photographic opportunities abounded. Here are some of the people of the market - a representative portrait of the people of the Fergana Valley, who continue to live in close communities and to practice strong traditions, centered upon their unique brand of Islam.

A photo taken upon the request of the shopkeepers.

Fresh greens.

Peppers and powders redder than red.

This venerable old fellow has two wives and six children.

Spicy sauces.

Korean Food - Uzbek Style

As a great fan of Korean food, one my main goals in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, was to go to a Korean restaurant or two. Among the many forced migrations and relocations orchestrated by Stalin, hundreds of thousands of Russian-Koreans, living in the far southeast corner of the empire, were moved to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. These communities are now into their third and fourth generations, and have lost their mother tongues, along with much of their original culture. 

Here is one of the more conspicuous Korean restaurants, in the south of town (just off Shota Rustaveli Street).  Dishes are grossly overpriced compared to restaurants in Korea proper!

In a more humble restaurant, on Ivleva Street, I ordered a very affordable serving of 'bo-shin-tang' - the famous, invigorating Korean dog-stew. While the meat seemed closer in texture and taste to beef, raising my suspicions, it was still a tasty meal.

Here is the Uzbek version of a classic Korean soup - twen-jang-ji-gae. Again, it was a bit of a hybrid version, unlike any that could be found in Korea itself.