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40 som/сом №4 March 2009
Rafting the River Chui in a Ramstore dinghy
Hallucinate your way through March with our guide to absinthe Sunday excursions: Burana Tower and a decrepit Soviet spa ...and much more!
Hunting White Russians
Tourist Map What’s On Restaurant Guide
Restaurant : Leisure complex
• Restaurant serving gourmet Turkish and European cuisine • Kalian (hookah pipes) • Private banquet/function rooms • Iranian folklore program • Unwind in our massage parlour, we offer 20 different types of massage including Balinese, Thai, Chinese, and Swedish • Relax in our comfortable ‘Aria Hotel’
Sovietskaya, 27 (near the Sovietskaya & Druzhba intersection -5 mins walk from the VEFA Centre) Tel: 0312 67 56 93 e-mail: aria_bishkek@yahoo. com
добро пожаловать в центр отдыха
•Гурманам предлагаем оценить турецкую и европеискую кухни в нашем уютном кафе • В наличии разнообразные шоупрограммы, фольклор Ирана • Приглашаем окунуться в завораживающую атмосферу ЮгоВосточной Азии • К Вашим услугам более 20 видов массажа традиционный Таиский, Балииский, Китаиский, Классический, Шведский и др. •Вы сможете спокойно отдохнуть в комфортабельных номерах гостиничного центра отдыха ‘Aria’
The Spektator Magazine
Editor & publisher: Tom Wellings (email@example.com) Staff writers: Alex Ward (alexward@ thespektator.co.uk), Robert Marks (firstname.lastname@example.org), Andreas Hedfors, Chris Rickleton, Anders Conway, Anthony Butts (email@example.com), Asel Orozalieva Guest Contributer: Yevgeniy Trapeznikov Design: Tom Wellings Advertising Manager: Irina Kasymova (email: firstname.lastname@example.org mobile: 0772 304146)
Out & About
Voyage of the Seahawk
Antony D’Avirro recounts his valiant attempt to ride the River Chui from IssykKul to Bishkek in a six-foot rubber boat.
4 8 9
Jolly weekend jaunts
Alex ward spends his weekend bathing at a decrepit Soviet spa, and then marvels at Tokmok’s premier (and only) attraction - the Burana Tower.
Don’t get lost.
News and Views
Opinions on the closure of the American air base.
10 12 14 18 20
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs What’s On Ski Map
All the best bars and clubs in town.
Health and efficiency
The latest energy efficiency project completed by local NGO UNISON.
All the fun of the conference Conjuring green fairies
Behind the scenes at a UNDF conference. Absinthe - once the tipple of choice for artists and bohemians in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, now home-brewed in Bishkek. The Spektator reveals all.
COVER STORY: Paraguay’s White Russians
A chance encounter with a memorial in the Paraguayan bush leads our very own Dr. Kropotkin to discover an intriguing story of emigre White Russians to South America.
23 26 27 28
The pick of the entertainment listings.
Catch the last of the snow this month.
Want to contribute as a freelance writer? Please contact: email@example.com
Crosswords, sudoku, and other things to do over a coffee.
COVER PHOTO (by Jose Baptista Salvador Di Santos)
Dr Pavel Kropotkin poses as a gun-wielding ponce
The Spektator Magazine is available at locations throughout Bishkek, including: (Travel Agencies) Adventure Seller, Ak-Sai Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Celestial Mountains, Eotour, Glavtour,Kyrgyz Concept, Kyrgyz Travel, Muza, NoviNomad (Bars & Restaurants) Cowboy, Hollywood, Metro, New York Pizza, No1, 2x2, Boulevard, Coffeehouse, Doka, Fatboy’s, Four Seasons, Live Bar, Lounge Bar, Meri, Navigator, Stary Edgar’s Veranda, Adriatico, Cyclone, Dolce Vita, Santa Maria, Golden Bull (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpinist (Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.
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Out & About
Right The only surviving photograph of the trusty Seahawk, taken moments before it was stolen by a couple of Russian heroin addicts (Library image)
T’S A GREAT TIME TO BE ALIVE in Bishkek; everywhere one looks one sees the signs of progress, the signs of economic flourish. Take the Ramstore, for example: where is prosperity more evident than in the aisles of this modern marvel? Where else can the city’s tiny bourgeoisie and the London School’s teaching staff come for second-world goods at first-world prices with third-world service? For those few who can afford it, Ramstore offers all the amenities of modern living. I learned this one brisk summer day last year during a not-so-average shopping excursion with a comrade-in-arms, fellow student Rory Mullarkey. Nestled amidst overpriced Turkish groceries in the back of this mega mart, we found a small inflatable dinghy with an ironically intimidating name: the Seahawk. To the untrained eye this resplendent chariot might have appeared to be merely a pool toy, a distraction for children or businessmen looking to lounge away on Issyk-Kul with some kielbasa and a tumbler of vodka. For us however, it was to become the stuff of legends. The plan was half-baked and simple, as are most plans dreamt up from the bottom of one too many Karagandinskoe bottles by enterprising young expats. We were to find ourselves a raft, hitch a ride to Issyk-Kul with naught but the lowly vessel, a komuz, (a traditional Kyrgyz stringed instrument) and the clothes on our backs, and then sail back to Bishkek via a river which may or may not have existed. It was infallible, save for the part about the river. By our estimation it was called the Chui, and it should have taken us from Issyk-Kul somewhere back to the vicinity of Bishkek. Trying to verify this with the locals proved to exacerbate the situation: it seemed there were two rivers, the Chu and Chui, Top Right Silk Way Water Sports can offer the both of which seemed to flow in both directions, real deal when it comes to rafting, check out and it was highly likely we would end up dead their website at www.rafting.com.kg (photo by the rapids or in a Kazakh jail for attempting to courtesy of Silk Way Water Sports) cross the border illegally, and of course we were Antony D’Avirro, a lover of Karagandinskoe beer and rip-roaring adventure, attempts to raft from Lake Issyk-Kul to Bishkek in an inflateable dingy he bought in a Turkish supermarket. March 2009 The Spektator
both “symashetshi.” But, being perhaps the most heedlessly absurd scheme in a long list of heedless, absurd schemes Rory and I had undertaken, details such as these didn’t matter. We had our boat, and we both dreamt that our triumphant return to the capital would be greeted as that of Manas himself. This was a dream after all. What was Ramstore doing selling “Seahawks” in the first place? I mean, with increasing inflation and a growing murmur of dissent, what sensible, hard-working Kyrgyz citizen would ever consider spending over half his monthly salary on a rubber raft? In a country with as many problems as this, who is it that keeps Ramstore in business by buying up all these rafts? It’s us, apparently. Some MigrosTurk executive is sleeping soundly in Istanbul because we are neither sensible, nor hard-working, nor Kyrgyz, and so in the shameless spirit of globalization, riding on the bountiful and historic coat-tails of societal inequality, we purchased our modest vessel for about $100 and set off to begin her maiden voyage. The 250-odd kilometre road from Bishkek to Issyk-Kul is magnificent only once. Though Kyrgyzstan is a supposedly 95% mountainous, this road in the far north skirts the mountains and for the most part is firmly entrenched in the great Central Asian Steppe. With repeated journeys one grows weary of the flat expanse and innumerous dilapidated Soviet oddities which line the highway. To the south the silver peaks of the Ala-Too range break the otherwise bleak skyline, and to the north the back gardens of village houses stretch endlessly towards the point where the grass ceases to be Kyrgyz and becomes Kazakh. Although I’ve seen all this many times before, a slight grin still creeps across my drowsy face this morning as I recall that, somewhere just beyond this point, is the factory where Karagandinskoe is brewed and bottled. www.thespektator.co.uk
Out & About
Issyk-kul is an alpine lake, however, and eventually the road heads into the mountains. When the grade first becomes steeper is when the river Chu[i] comes into view. At some points the magnificent icy blue of its water is hidden in steep ravines to the side of the road, but at others it is but a few meters from the car window. At these moments Rory and I glance at each other giddy with suppressed anguish. We’ve risked health and happiness before on mountain peaks and sleazy nighttime avenues, but never with something so inhumanly fierce. Though tame compared to the rivers in the interior, these rapids are big. Our raft isn’t exactly meant for professional-class swells, we aren’t exactly professional rafters, and we don’t exactly have professional rafting equipment like, say, life jackets. Or helmets. When you reach the lake’s altitude but can’t yet see it, when the mountains begin to open up and hint that there is something very grand and startling around the next bend, there is a podunk rest stop which with the right mindset is one of the most romantic places in the country. It is here that every Issyk-Kul bound taxi and marshrutka stop and all the men come out and crouch and smoke in the shade and a small cafe sells piroshki and beer and vodka. The wind is always blowing here, and I’ve enjoyed many a cigarette in the whirling dust, encircled by the mountains and tasting the air. Off in the distance you can see the road to Naryn bridge the river and wind up over some unseen ridge, and you know that over that ridge there is another and then a dozen more. Something here gives it the unmistakable quality of being in another time or place. Perhaps it’s just all too subconsciously familiar; all too wild-west; but whatever the reason it’s at this place that you first get a sense of a Kyrgyzstan very different from the capital; one with problems, but one with identity. www.thespektator.co.uk
More importantly, it was here that this whole boat business first came into my mind. The river is very calm at this point and drifts up right to the road. On my previous excursions I often imagined that the magical qualities of the place would increase ten-fold should it be encountered on a “maritime” expedition. This recollection dispelled the immense fear which had overtaken me on
“Our raft isn’t exactly meant for professional-class swells, we aren’t exactly professional rafters, and we don’t exactly have professional rafting equipment like, say, life jackets. Or helmets”
the drive up, and so when the journey continued we began discussing a good time to exit the taxi. “Zdyes’, shtoli?” the driver exclaimed upon our request to stop in what was rightfully the middle of nowhere. Yes, we assured him we meant to get out here. He pulled over and we said our quick goodbyes, exchanged numbers for the return drive out of politeness, and soon became Kerouac’s dispersing specks receding on the plain. For the first time I understood fully the words “it’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” Lean we did. The river had abruptly veered away from the road, so we walked a few hundred meters of moonlike, wind shaped field, over the old Russian railroad tracks, past some meandering cows, and finally came to the soft bank of the Chu[i]. Rory joked as he began to pump up the Seahawk’s outer chamber that our adventures always involved some sort of manual hand motion.
He recalled the furious sawing of planks from an abandoned ski hut atop a glacier in early April of that year; a desperate attempt to start a fire and keep warm in the face of the setting sun. Now had none of that urgency, but all of the same disbelief in the reality of the present. We were here, and there was no turning back. The Seahawk was finally restored to the glory she’d had on display in the Ramstore. She sat before us fully inflated and loaded with our few supplies. We had stuffed our spare clothes and the pump and other bits into the Hawk’s box and placed the box in the middle of the raft as a divider between us. Space was not a luxury we would enjoy. To top it off, the neck of my komuz was sticking out of the top as some sort of ornamental mast. We paused for a quick photo and to admire the sheer absurdity of it all, then squeezed into our seats and cast off. In the following seconds the utter impossibility of our journey became painfully apparent. Just twenty five meters from our origin I was already exhausted from rowing. We pushed on in abandon however and eventually our thoughts of quitting subsided as we worked out a clumsy technique of rowing together and the current picked up. For a few glorious minutes we coasted along the river at a comfortable pace. Hope was restored. We worked out a shopping list, primarily of vodka and cigarettes, for when we arrived back at the rest stop. The anticipation grew with every wide and gentle curve of the water. The Seahawk was taking flight. Unfortunately for us, so was a lone magpie among the reeds of the river. It was right after Rory spotted this avian harbinger of doom (myself having no clue what a magpie looked like or that it was a supposed bad omen to see one without a mate) that the situation went from good, to bad, to worse, and then dissolved entirely. March 2009 The Spektator
Out & About
At first it started to rain. It came gently, but in an instant the clouds had become archaic and grey. We knew this was to be a wet trip and accordingly had wrapped what few spare clothes we had in a layer of plastic, but it seemed almost cruel that the mettle of our preparations was going to be tested before we even reached the rapids. Nature can be cruel though, and as we paddled on in vain this was proved. Far above the peaks of the Tien Shan fierce pressure fronts shifted and collided, the clouds were bruised and swollen and this whole volatile mess was about to rupture upon us. The rain picked up and soaked my shirt and the wind blew it hard against my frozen skin. I began to wonder whether it would be better to drown or die of pneumonia. Maybe thrown against the rocks? If you hit your head it should be painless; just a few seconds of wet, crimson confusion, no? These were the thoughts running through my mind when the first flashes of lightning penetrated the valley. Two facts become immediate: I know water conducts electricity, and that in the even of lightning an open field is undoubtedly the worst place to be. Does it rightly follow then, that in the event of lightning, it is in fact direr to be soaking wet, on a river, in the middle of an open field? So electrocution rounds off the eclectic choice of options before us. To the sound of thunder we begin to brainstorm. Perhaps brainstorm is an overstatement, though. It was more of a general, implied consensus, achieved via trilingual obscenities and frantic hand motioning, to get off the river as fast as humanly possible. We fought the current and eventually pulled ashore. My body was moving without my brain’s influence. We dragged the raft up to the meagre shelter offered by a bush, threw the stuff out of it, sat down in the wet grass, and pulled it over our heads. Time to think was needed. So how was it that we came to be huddled, shivering, beneath this infernal raft, on an island of the Chu[i] river in the mountains of Central Asia, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm? Predicaments such as this can come into existence solely due to a sincere lack of method in the first place. And what were we to do now? In the economy of human experience, the exchange rate of absurdity remains perilously high with that of memory. With that in mind, I decided to capitalize on the situation. I took my soaking komuz from the box and began to strum away. March 2009 The Spektator
The Spanish have a term: duende. It’s nigh untranslatable, but is related to performance art (though chiefly music) and roughly means a quality in a performance or performer where the artist has a tangible, almost visceral awareness of death, and this awareness is translated through said performance. I don’t claim to have a gypsy’s soul, but let me just say: the few notes I played amidst those reeds would have had Federico Garcia Lorca in the throes of ecstasy. Unfortunately deceased Spanish poets were not among my audience that day. Instead I played to the empty jailoo, one rightfully pissed off Englishman, and the Kyrgyz rain. None of the listeners were too appreciative, and my shivering was bordering on epilepsy, so the concert was a quick one. It’s of
“So how was it that we came to be huddled, shivering, beneath this infernal raft, on an island of the Chu[i] river in the mountains of Central Asia, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm? “
some worth noting the irony, however, that at the time the only song I knew how to play was “SaryOi,” a melancholic Kyrgyz folk ballad about a man in the mountains who scans the horizon for nothing other than: a magpie. Perhaps it was the foreboding in this small coincidence, perhaps it was the simple fact that, though we had tried hard to pretend otherwise, this was not the 19th century. The Great Game was long since won and we were not Russian spies in uncharted territory on a mission of immense importance. What we were was two middle class Westerners accustomed to a certain amount of comfort in life and who enjoyed drinking and warm beds and hot food. With this in mind we extinguished the last small flames of hope in our journey and began devising a plan to get off the island, across the river, up to the road, and back to civilization. In a flurry of movement we flipped the raft, loaded her, and jumped back into the current. It was strong now, and on the opposite side of the river the banks
were high. We drifted another two kilometres before we could finally build up enough momentum coming around a bend to launch off to the shore. Here the bank was low and flooded and when we leapt from the raft we were ankle deep in water. Before we could head towards the road however we were presented with the task of navigating, with all our supplies and the boat, a small but steep incline on the bank of the river. This proved harder than imagined; the relentless rain had made the grass as slick as ice and both myself and Rory came sliding down the hill on our first attempt up it. When we did scramble to the top we were in the most pitiful of states: soaked from head to toe, limbs frozen stiff. The cardboard of the Seahawk’s neatly packed box had long since given in to the water and so all our gear was scattered and about, plastic bags of clothes tied to the boat and to one another, passports and cameras in varying states of decay, and our tumble down the hill had left us both covered in thick mud. It was then at the point of greatest abandon that we saw, just above the tall grass a few meters away, a kalpak. It is a strange thing to encounter another human whose existence is so different from one’s own that you are almost transparent to one another. As I approached the man hiding under this kalpak, I had trouble deciphering what exactly I was looking at. It was only when I was right before him that I made out clearly the lines of his face and the form of his body. It’s equally strange, however, that even now I can picture in my mind clearly those exact lines and forms, for once they formed in my vision they were absolutely striking. He was a man of short stature, easily in his eighties, wearing standard Kyrgyz village clothes but wrapped in a great black cape to fend off the wind and stinging rain. But though his clothes were standard, his face was otherworldly. The skin was wrinkled and hung loose around the bones, and its colour! He was darker than any other Kyrgyz I had ever seen. This skin belonged to a life lived entirely in the heart of the Sahara, not the light olive of most jailoo-dwellers. And around the eyes this black skin hung especially loose so as to cover their whites. His irises were a very dark brown so it was hard to tell where they stopped and his pupils begin. The whole effect of this together gave a wholly inhuman look; part alien, part Bambi. www.thespektator.co.uk
Out & About
He was a shepherd. Behind him there was a small flock of grazing sheep, indifferent to the violent storm. In a way their owner seemed indifferent too. Rory, having some grasp of Kyrgyz, attempted to engage him in conversation. “We’ve come from the river. Where is the road?” My barely-elementary Kyrgyz allowed me to understand the man’s response: “Abdan suk.” It’s very cold. Yes he was right about that. Rory continued on, but was met with the same reply: abdan suk. He seemed not to move at all, even as he spoke. Then he said something else, but it was a strange mixture of Kyrgyz and Russian which neither of us could understand. He pointed at his foot, however, and so we took it to be a comment upon the fact that I was barefoot. Then once more for good measure: abdan suk. It was all too much. The cold and the wind and the rain were too intense for us to stand and contemplate this perplexing individual. Looking back though, one can only wonder: amidst a roaring thunderstorm on the banks of the river Chu[i], there met two young Westerners with their muddy clothes and their bare feet and their boat, and an ancient Kyrgyz shepherd with his flock. Who was more baffled to see who? A valid question, but superseded by the baffling nature of what happened next. Because then there was light. This writer’s lack of religious faith makes the average vodka-loving, bride-stealing Kyrgyz look like the Ayatollah, and it’s certainly ignorant of me to point out divine Christian parallels in events that involved a Muslim, but this was simply too coincidental to overlook. The fact was that the precise moment we had taken leave of this lone shepherd, the skies cleared. It was absolutely haunting. We had been in the pits of despair from the storm and our failed adventure, then we come across a peculiar shepherd and his flock of sheep in the middle of nowhere and all indifferent to the swirling chaos around them, and as soon as we pass him the rain suddenly stops, and rays of sunlight pierce the receding black, and hope is found? We both turned in astonishment and saw the old man staring at us with the same solemn expression and alien eyes. He hadn’t moved. Some people conceive divine intervention in merely looking upon the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. This event was simply surreal. Though the rain had stopped, the wind was still blowing furiously, and this made the task of carrying an inflated boat above our heads some five hundred meters to the road, through a field laden with sheep faeces, exponentially more difficult. Did I mention I was barefoot? With much fussing and obscenity however we reached the road, but another problem presented itself. Our hands were frozen to the point where we couldn’t move our fingers and so it was impossible to unscrew the cap and deflate the raft. What unsuspecting Kyrgyz driver was going to sacrifice the upholstery in his Mercedes to two muddy, wet foreigners with a six foot boat? Was there no end to this comedy of errors? Call it stupid luck then, because the first vehicle which came roaring up the road to Balukchi was neither a Mercedes nor Kyrgyz, but a Russian truck driver with an empty truck bed, hilarious taste in clothing, and even better taste in music. We flagged him down, threw the boat in the back of his truck, and climbed in the cab. He was a friendly young man with a pink dress shirt and a mix tape of 80s German pop music. What he was doing or where he was going during a storm like this are questions best left unanswered. I collapsed in the backseat, too exhausted to particiwww.thespektator.co.uk
pate in the banter between Rory and our driver in the front. As we drove away, however, we saw, down in the same spot by the river, the shepherd, still unmoving, a speck receding on the plain. It with much pride that I can firmly claim that, throughout the in the vast span of history, no one has ever approached the cesspool of Balukchi with more excitement than Rory and I did on that day. It’s the kind For those who have less of an indifference to of place we relish: a backwater town with nothing to their own deaths, fear not, there are companies offer, a speck on the map whose only real importance that can take you on fully organised whitewater arises from the fact that in order to get to Issyk-Kul you rafting excursions, and (probably) provide all have to drive through it. It sits on the sandy shores of the necessary safety equipment. the lake though, and in a way reminds me of California, my home. It certainly felt like a homecoming that We recommend Silk Way Water Sports (tel. 0312 day as we were dropped off in front of the first gos- 609 919 / www.rafting.co.kg) who offer a variety tinitsa on the main street. Three hundred soms got us of water related activites in addition to whitetwo beds and an electric kettle. Much fuss was made water rafting including kayaking and fishing. among the owners and other guests when they laid They can also arrange rafting training courses. eyes on our boat and my komuz, but we were too exPrices for a ninety minute trip start from 8USD hausted to indulge them. The rest of the day was spent recuperating. We (if you have 16 rafting inclined friends) to changed from soaking wet clothes into only slightly 24USD for two rafters. Day trips on the Chu or wet clothes, I resumed the practice of wearing shoes, Chon-Kemin Rivers vary from 25-90USD per and then we headed towards Balukchi’s attempt at a person depending on the size of your party. “downtown.” There was one open cafe, but given the Silk Way also offer longer three or four day circumstances I’d rank the meal we had of lagman, excursions in many regions of Kyrgyzstan and manti, and plenty of Karagandinskoe as one of the further afield. Check out their website for more best of my life. Hunger satisfied, we went back to our details. room to nap. The evening held promise though: next to the hotel there was a 24 hour pool hall and bar, and such an opportunity to mix with Balukchi’s seed- Most rafting takes place between May and Sepiest was not one to be passed up. Luckily we woke tember, although some tours operate in April. up that night to find ourselves inexplicably locked Until then, Seahawks can be obtained throughinside the hotel, thus preventing the knife fights and out the city from reputable Turkish supermarbanditry which surely would have ensued. In the end kets. the night was spent drinking vodka we had bought earlier on the back step, engaging in the special kind of conversation that can only happen between young men riding the long high of adventure. While we talked we noticed the amazing spectacle of the moon: it was enshrouded by clouds and right above the black silhouette of the mountains in the distance. At first we couldn’t tell what it was, and in drunken fervour we rapidly expounded on the possibilities of nuclear detonation in China’s volatile Xingjang region. Perhaps the Dungans had finally had enough? When we took it for what it was, the night gave way to rambling on about the shepherd as the Father, the metrosexual Russian truck driver as the Son, and this ethereal moon as the Holy Spirit. And then there was sleep sound and warm. The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast of manti and big mugs of “Nashe Pivo” from a small cafe in Balukchi’s almost-bustling avtovokzal. On the way back to the hotel we ran into the taxi driver who had brought us up the day before and negotiated a good price for the return journey. Packed and in his car, we pulled into a petrol station before getting on the highway. The attendant came up and barked “Cho, v gorod, shtoli?” Da. V Gorod. Thus concluded the first voyage of the Seahawk; a bastard child of globalization and instigator of cultural diffusion. We were to accompany her on many further adventures until one fateful morning in late July when she was high-jacked from us on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia by two Russian heroin addicts. But as I watched Mikha and Volodya paddle away in our beloved boat with a bottle of Tolstyak between them, I knew it was a fitting end to the Hawk’s beginning. In a world which is flowing Top left Silk Way also offer more sedate rafting towards increasing absurdity, what can you do but experiences (photo courtesy of Silk Way Water paddle out and let the current take you back? Sports)
rafting in KG
March 2009 The Spektator
If the financial crisis has made weekend breaks an unthinkable extravagance to most people in the West, it’s time to remember that you’re in Bishkek and an affordable world of snowy peaks, hot springs and litter-strewn nature lies just a 300 som taxi ride away. Alex Ward recently donned his wellies, hoisted up his swimming trunks and sucked in the icy mountain air to give you a couple of ideas. strelnikova, koi-tash
Out & About
Top Burana-rama (All photos by Evan Harris) Below Remains of ancient civilisation lie all around the Burana Tower
BOUT A FORTY-MINUTE taxi ride out of town, the spa baths at Tyoply Kluchi (near Koi-Tash and Strelnikova) provide a pleasant short day trip. Nice, but not spectacular, mountain views abound on the path into the mountains from the sanatorium itself, the main advantage being that it’s a flat route requiring minimal effort for a relaxed saunter. By the time you’ve worked up a bit of a sweat you may be tempted by the Soviet spring water pool in the sanatorium. It is, however, not for the fainthearted – the pool is less-than-sparkling and the changing rooms are a dilapidated grotto of dripping dampness. On the plus side it’s free and the water’s warm. Whether or not it carries the mythical health benefits the locals claim is up to you to decide: we have no miraculous changes in health to report since our plunge, but none of us contracted verrucas either. After our hike and dip, we helped ourselves to a sneaky peak around the disused sanatorium, which provided an intriguing incite into what went on inside these quirky relics of the Soviet Union. If you’ve ever broached the subject with a local you’ll know that sanatoriums are seen by some as a sure fire route to healthy existence. As we crept through back passages we happened upon strange gymnasiums and rooms full of bizarre instruments that made any prospective of healthiness seem unworthy of the effort. Beds with tubes protruding from basins sunk into the mattress and a whole variety of other gadgets and gizmos strewn about make you wonder exactly how relaxing the sanatorium experience must have been. The whole place has the atmosphere of a horror film set, and having resisted the temptation to try a DIY colonic irrigation, we retreated to our waiting taxi. Worth a look though. Burana Tower If you haven’t already visited Burana tower, you’ve probably heard of it. Standing proud in the Kyrgyz consciousness as a beacon of history and culture and complete with its own legend, this minaret in the Chui
Valley is worth the short journey from Bishkek. Burana tower was originally part of a mosque that stood in the centre of Balasagun, a city that was built by the Karakanids at the end of the tenth century and received its name from Uyghur poet Yusuf Balasagun – of 1000-som banknote fame – who was born there in the eleventh century. Thanks to a series of earthquakes the tower is only around half its original size today, at just under twenty-five metres. Visitors can squeeze up the narrow staircase to reach a viewing platform at the top, and peruse the small museum nearby which showcases a variety of artefacts unearthed on archaeological digs including Nestorian crosses, rusted chainmail and arrowheads. A number of charming stories offer different accounts of the tower’s history. The most well-known claims that a local king built the tower in order to house and protect his daughter after being told by a witch that she would die on reaching maturity. The only person allowed contact with the young princess was a servant who brought her food. However she was bitten by a deadly spider that lurked in one of the food deliveries when she was just 18 years old, fulfilling the witch’s prophecy. Variations on this tale exist, including that the king built the tower to protect his daughter from would-be suitors until she was killed by the sting of a scorpion which made him cry so much that the top part of the tower fell off. There’s a moral lurking in there somewhere… How to get there The cheapest way is to take a marshrutka from the old bus station to Tokmok (40 som) and then hire a taxi to take you a further several kilometres to Burana and back. The going rate for a round trip with a 1.5 hour wait at the tower seems to be 400 som, although if you possess better negotiating skills than the Spektator you may be able to get yourself a better deal. The entrance fee for both the tower and museum is 40 som. If you’re feeling thirsty after all that climbing, the Traktir bar in Tokmok has a pleasant atmosphere with friendly waitresses and beer on tap. www.thespektator.co.uk
March 2009 The Spektator
ia ya Gvard Moloda
dia aya Gvar Molod
ve. Manas a
. anas ave M
. anas ave M
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March 2009 The Spektator
Kyrgyz doctors deny treatment to undesirables
BISHKEK, Feb 20 (EurasiaNet) - Lev Babenko broke his collarbone five years ago. At the time, he was an intravenous heroin user, and he told the doctor that, due to his habit, he needed a higher dose of anesthesia to be administered and monitored. He had already had bad experiences at the dentist, he explained. The doctors agreed, accepted an additional payment, and began the procedure. The only problem was that the doctors did not bother to anesthetize Babenko. “They tied me down. One doctor held me down, pushed me to the table, and the second doctor gave the operation. I was screaming, awake, feeling all the pain, screaming and screaming as they hammered the nails into my bones,” Babenko, 28, recalled. “After the operation, I asked him, “Why didn’t you give me anesthesia”? He said, ’Because you are a drug user. If I give you anesthesia, you will remember your drugs and tomorrow go buy more,’” he said. Such practices are not uncommon in KyrOde to a Mountain Girl I almost Pulled gyzstan, according to a recent report that Babenko helped to write. In a nation where the Underneath your silken sash, healthcare system is crumbling and resources Behind your bullet eyes and noseare scarce, drug users, former users, and HIV paSo Aquiline, I almost cried tients are so stigmatized that many are denied From joy to find my Pamir Rose. adequate treatment. It reached a point years ago that many Kyrgyz citizens living on the marBetween the lines of prose you write, gins of society became afraid of seeking medical From tongue I either knew or spoke attention for their ills. In lives now passed - myself I saw Lev stopped using heroin four years ago. AfThrough frothy clouds of poppies’ smoke. ter rehabilitation and subsequent training in psychology, he co-founded Aman-Plus, a supBut as your needle sews my soul, port center where those with substance abuse New Opiates I’ll surely find, problems can obtain clean needles, a bed and Amidst half woven tapestries, help readjusting to a mainstream existence. Which nimble fingers so designed. “Many of our clients are former prisoners” who used drugs in prison, Babenko said. After Divine the time we spent as one! they get out of prison, many do not have docuAn awkward smile, the scent of plov. ments for living in Bishkek, or anywhere. AmanThe texture of your peasant thumb, Plus helps them get back on their feet. The thoughts we made no mention of. Published with assistance from the Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan, the report detailed the The tension in a passing glance! mistreatment of drug users in hospitals around The passion in a silenced thought! the country. It documented numerous cases in The highlights of a train that passed, which medical workers refused drug users lifeThe pain our nearly love has brought. saving treatment and violated patients’ rights to anonymity. [For background see the Eurasia Christopher Rickleton Insight archive]. [Editor’s Note: The Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan, via the Soros Foundations Network, is affiliated with the New York-based Open Society Institute (OSI). EurasiaNet operates under OSI’s auspices]. One doctor interviewed for the study said a drug user should not receive medical care in life-threatening situations, “because the person made a personal decision to choose such a lifestyle; to each his own.” A drug user, who wished to be known as Nikita, reported visiting a hospital in Bishkek in the company of a social worker known to help users: “When the doctor noticed me and the person
Poetry Corner with Christopher Rickleton
who brought me there, he started saying loudly that I was HIV infected, although that was not true. The employees from the registration desk joined in with him and didn’t want to serve me.” This attitude will only exacerbate public health problems, says Aibek Mukambetov, Director of the Public Health Program at the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan. Drug users are at a higher risk of HIV infection, he says, adding that treating those infected, instead of shunning them, is in everyone’s public health interest. “It is for the benefit of society that harm reduction philosophy should be integrated in the public health system, penitentiary system and accepted by the broader communities so that the spread of HIV/AIDS is not that drastic.” A visit to the drop-in center at Aman-Plus seemed to confirm the report’s accuracy. Vladimir, 51, recounted that he had spent approximately half his life in prison, gaining release in 2007. A year before release, doctors failed to treat his gangrene until finally they were forced to amputate his leg above the knee. “There is no attention to drug users in prison, doctors think [an illness] will pass, that it will be okay,” he said. He now lives at the drop-in center and hobbles around on one crutch and an old cane. Other clients at Aman-Plus say they fell through the cracks in different ways. Lev Dunaev, 50, spent over 28 years in prison for various crimes, including murder. In prison he injected heroin. Freed one year ago, Dunaev pronounced himself to be a “non-citizen.” The only passport he ever had was issued during the Soviet era. He says he was born in Russia, but he has no way to prove it. Now, he has no passport, no citizenship, and cannot leave the country to search for his sister. He believes she is somewhere in Russia. Aman-Plus helped Dunaev with documents, issuing him papers he can show the police when he is stopped, and that helped him get a job in a shoe factory. He has managed to stay away from drugs and alcohol, but every day is a challenge, he says. Former prisoners are especially vulnerable as police often pick them up and charge them with random misdemeanors, often unjustly. “I just want people to understand us; I am a normal person,” Dunaev said. “If [Aman-Plus] didn’t exist, I’d be somewhere out at night, would drink, fight and again go back to prison . . . It is very difficult to start life over.” Babenko is positive about the potential for change. “After independence, we had no rights; we had no laws. One year ago we had only laws, but no rights. But now we have some rights,” he said. The problem is that doctors are slow to recognize them. “The doctors have the opinion that drug users are the garbage of society.” It is a product of their Soviet education, he believes. Editor’s Note: David Trilling is the Central Asia Coordinator for EurasiaNet. www.thespektator.co.uk
March 2009 The Spektator
Last flight out of Manas: America’s departure
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (Washington Post) - For two weeks, the U.S. struggle to hold on to its last air base in Central Asia has made headlines, and the vote in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament yesterday to close Manas Air Base will spark still more coverage. Analysts have rushed to portray this as a new chess match between a resurgent Russian Federation and a recalibrating United States; just as a new American president seeks to bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the principal land corridor from Pakistan is severed through a bridge bombing and the likely air base closure threatens the Obama administration’s plan. The oversimplified but oft-repeated explanation is that Kremlin pressure is the source of Washington’s predicament. Having served as Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to the United States from 1996 to 2005, I know a great deal about the establishment of the base and the struggle to keep it open. It’s true that our friends in Moscow were never happy that the base was opened and that they have exerted pressure to close it. But a nation’s decision to offer a friend territory for military purposes involves a number of complex considerations. A base agreement rests on the shared interests of the host and the country that sends troops or supplies through it. When the base was opened in 2001, my nation was moved by several factors: Kyrgyz were deeply touched and saddened by the events of Sept. 11, and we were intent on showing support for our American friends. Moreover, we shared a common foe and a common pain: Fifty of our uniformed servicemen had been killed from 1999 to 2001 in gun battles with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organization that formally allied itself with al-Qaeda and that operated out of bases in Afghanistan it maintained with al-Qaeda and Taliban support. The U.S. commitment to end those operations corresponded with the national security interests of my country. Kyrgyzstan also hoped to benefit economically from the base, a wish that was never hidden. There is no doubt that my country gained from having the base on its territory. For us, the most important development was that allied forces dealt the IMU a devastating blow. But all has not proceeded as we had hoped. For one thing, economic arrangements relating to the base have air base. In the end, this shift served neither country’s interests. Kyrgyzstan was the scene of a popular revolution in 2005 fueled by complaints about corruption and hopes for greater democracy. My people’s hopes have receded as our nation has steadily become more authoritarian. Kyrgyzstan may still be the most democratic nation in Central Asia, but the ways in which it differs from its more authoritarian neighbors are steadily being erased. Millions of Kyrgyz dream of a better, more democratic future. They were long heartened by the criticisms that the United States used to voice against authoritarian regimes; they drew inspiration from unwavering admonishments to stay on the difficult path to democracy. That was the voice of a true friend. But after the air base opened, that voice was lost. Our constitution was changed several times to allow autocrats to consolidate their power. Political opposition has been criminalized, and corruption has grown more widespread. The country’s economic mismanagement most recently manifested itself in a power crisis - in a nation once expected to be a giant in hydropower production and a net exporter of electricity to our region. I will be sad to see the Americans leave Manas. But if the base’s closure results in the United States regaining its critical voice and once again taking seriously its advocacy of democracy and human rights, that would be a silver lining to this disappointing story. It would mean an America that values its allies’ long-term stability more than a single military installation - and that could be a better investment in a secure future for all of us.
“If the base’s closure results in the United States regaining its critical voice and once again taking seriously its advocacy of democracy and human rights, that would be a silver lining to this disappointing story”
Villagers worry about lost income after base closure
always been obscure, and the employment and support relationships that many expected have not been realized. A couple of very troubling incidents, including the shooting death of a Kyrgyz man in 2006, have left many in Kyrgyzstan concerned about the candor of American officials and the attitude with which they approached their Central Asian partners. Every relationship has its peaks and valleys. But one thing has consistently troubled me about the relationship between the United States and my country. Once the base was set up, I saw a fairly radical change in American attitudes. Before, Washington had consistently juggled a series of priorities - broadly speaking, they were security concerns, economic concerns, and advocacy of human rights and democracy. But The writer, a visiting professor of history and politionce the base was established, it became clear cal science at Utah Valley University, was Kyrgyzstan’s that while other concerns might be voiced from ambassador to the United States and Canada from time to time, only one thing really mattered: the 1997 to 2005.
MANAS, Kyrgyzstan, Feb 24 (Reuters) - In a corner of a Kyrgyz market, Tatyana sells second-hand Tshirts passed on by personnel at a nearby U.S. military air base. Three of her sons work on the base as builders so she was shocked to hear that Kyrgyzstan’s government had decided to shut the Manas air base - a vital hub for troops and supplies for the U.S. and NATO campaign in neigbouring Afghanistan and also a main source of income for many local villagers. “It will be very tough to survive without the Americans,” said Tatyana, unfolding one cotton T-shift that said ‘Cleveland, 1863’ across the front. “All of our money comes from the base.” Tatyana, who asked not to use her surname, said the base often donated clothes to local communities as a charity gesture. Many, like her, sometimes resold those goods at the market to make ends meet, she said. The Manas air base was set up in 2001 to help U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. Since then, a whole economy, including black market activity such as Tatyana’s, has blossomed around its barbed wire fence. The base says 650 local contracwww.thespektator.com
tors officially work on its premises as builders and cleaners but many more benefit indirectly. Local workers earn about 10,000 soms ($245) a month on average at the base - nearly double the nationwide average. Washington pays $17.4 million a year for Manas. Its total assistance to Kyrgyzstan is $150 million a year --a considerable amount relative to Kyrgyzstan’s $4 billion economy. The air base’s planned closure comes at a difficult time for Kyrgyzstan, already struggling with the effects of the global financial crisis as income sent home by Kyrgyz labourers working abroad mainly in Russia - begins to dry up. “Given the current economic situation, closing the base will seriously impact our citizens particularly those who work at the base,” Alikbek Jekshenkulov, an opposition leader, told Reuters. Kyrgyzstan accused the United States of refusing to pay more rent for the base and handed Washington a formal eviction notice on Feb. 20, giving the U.S. military six months to leave. But villagers living in the wind-lashed pastures around Manas said shutting the base would only erode their in-
comes. About 10,000 people live in the area. Residents of one village said they feared closing the base would lead to more crime. “Before the Americans came there were no jobs around there,” said Orumkul Aimenova, a 49-yearold woman standing on a dirt track outside her wooden hut. “What will young people do? Many of them will turn to crime because there is nothing else to do,” she said, glancing at the silhouettes of U.S. military planes gliding above the steppe. Kyrgyzstan’s government says it will do everything to help those who lost their jobs as a result of the base closure. “We will study the impact in terms of jobs and how it will affect families,” said a labour ministry spokesman. But some said they were only happy to see the Americans go and spoke of air pollution, damaged crops and ensuing health problems: “Because of the Americans all the crops are damaged, trees have all turned yellow. People’s hair has started to fall out,” one old villager in ragged clothes said as he angrily shook his fist. “They should have closed the air base a long time ago.” March 2009 The Spektator
Laura Morcillo Montalba reports on the latest energy efficiency project carried out by local NGO, UNISON.
Health efficiency and K
LAURA MORCILLO MONTALBA
Find out more at www.unison.kg
OMMUNA VILLAGE lies in Batken oblast, ship, bringing hope to the villagers and a sense of Kyrgyzstan’s south-eastern appendage shared purpose. In order to ensure a reliable and affordable selfthat juts out to meet the tangled borders of energy supply and to offer quality medical service, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the Ferghana Valley. In this troubled region of the country the new medical facility was built to a design that unemployment, economic difficulty and competi- optimizes its capability to harness energy from the tion over natural resources are leading to segrega- sun and retain heat throughout the day – its special tion, conflict and increasing inter-ethnic tensions. features include advanced thermal insulation, ‘smart’ In such an environment finding ways of cutting en- windows and a solar thermal system that provides a ergy consumption is vital as it can allow sustainable cheap method of heating water. The building was development, save money, and ultimately improve constructed according to a new methodology with prefabricated wooden panels sandwiching an insupeople’s quality of life. The mission of CEF UNISON, a Kyrgyz non- lating layer of cane, this system also guarantees addprofit organization, is to revive and develop re- ed resistance to earthquakes. All building materials were locally available and mote rural areas and alleviate environmental “The existing medical facility in environmentally friendly. The hard work has and social problems by improving energy effi- Kommuna was not able to provide paid off: the total annual ciency. UNISON has re- adequate levels of care. It lacked energy performance of the new facility is 105 cently put a lot of effort into a long-term Energy sufficient medical equipment, suf- kWh/m2 per year, an Efficiency & Renewable fered from frequent power cuts and improvement of 70% if compared with the referEnergy project (EERE) in operated out of a single room in the ence energy baseline.The Kommuna village. The building was also awardproject ran for fifteen local teahouse” ed the highest energy months and aimed to performance rating after improve not only the an energy assessment standard of living but was carried out. In addition to the excellent energy also forge a spirit of community participation. The showpiece of the project was the construc- efficiency statistics, the project also resulted in new tion of a new, energy efficient medical facility to partnerships between local associations. An examreplace the village’s aging an inadequate medi- ple of this was pointed out by Mairam Tashbaeva, a cal centre. The project was developed and imple- doctor from Kommuna: “Before this time the service mented with the Centre of Energy Efficiency Build- was insufficient, especially for women. Patients had ing in Central Asia (CEEBA). Nurzat Abdyrasulova, to travel to other villages or to the regional hospital. director of UNISON, said: “Kommuna village was Now, once a week, a group of doctors comes to see chosen as it is one of the most neglected villages our patients, and we can consult our patients in priin Kyrgyzstan. Our EERE project aims to help re- vacy and undertake procedures.” The key factors in the project’s sustainability were duce social conflicts, poverty and dependency on the use of local materials, the encouragement of loan external energy supply.” The existing medical facility in Kommuna was not cal people to volunteer, the involvement of local able to provide adequate levels of care to the local government, and the training of local people in techcommunity. It lacked sufficient medical equipment, nical and construction skills that will enable them to suffered from frequent power cuts and operated out carry out their own innovative projects in the future. of a single room located in the local chaikhana (tea- The training of villagers and other stakeholders was house). The conditions allowed patients no privacy implemented by UNISON with the collaboration of the local association ‘Sarydobo’. and severely hampered the doctors’ work. Today, the completed medical facility demonBefore construction work could begin members strates to a wide range of visitors, patients and of the community were trained by UNISON and CEEBA experts and were formed into a local energy stakeholders involved in the project how Kyrteam. The energy team members were taught the gyzstan can use renewable energy in combination basic principles of energy efficiency and trained to with energy conservation measures in order to implement thermal insulation of buildings with lo- provide a sustainable energy supply to communically available materials. Upon completion of their ties in remote rural regions of Kyrgyzstan. Accordtraining the team constructed the energy efficient ing to local community leaders it is also evidence medical facility whilst the women helped by prepar- of what communities can attain through similar ing food for everyone and giving general support to effort and activity. This EERE project, that proved the community. Villagers were also given informa- such a success in Kommuna, could be applied to tion about energy planning and efficient stoves, and other remote areas. Kommuna villagers and UNIwere given training that will enable them to develop SON learnt how to work together in the spirit of their own initiatives aimed at improving commu- ashar (community work) and have created not nity participation and civil society. The experience only an energy efficiency building but have also brought a fresh air of self-governance and owner- set an example for others to follow. www.thespektator.co.uk
March 2009 The Spektator
The NCCR North-South is one of twenty National Centres of Competence in Research implemented by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Created in the understanding that development research and cooperation are of primary concern to Switzerland, it currently comprises a network of about 400 researchers worldwide.
The Central Asia partnership region comprises Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Work in this region has been particularly challenging as the highly specialised and disciplinary research tradition inherited from the Soviet period did not support integrated approaches, methodologies and concepts. Since its inception in 2001, efforts by the NCCR North-South and its local partners have had a major impact on inter-institutional research collaboration within the region.
The Alpine Fund
About Us Founded in 2000 by American climber Garth Willis, The Alpine Fund seeks to connect Kyrgyzstan’s two greatest resources - its youth and its mountains. We are a small but very active organization. Our total budget is currently $1500 per month, yet our dedicated team is able to provide education and mountains programs to about 40 youth each week. (how it all began) What we do We currently offer four integrated programs that combine experiential education in the mountains with more traditional lessons in the city: Clouds at their Feet is the wilderness-education program that provides a weekly outing - hiking, trekking, climbing or camping. Participants learn new skills and important environmental lessons. Imagine the change of perspective when an adolescent who has never left the concrete walls of the city has the opportunity to literally climb high above their perceived limitations and look down upon where they once were. The Alpine Club is the tutoring program located at the Alpine Fund office in Bishkek where children receive twice weekly assistance in learning English and weekly lessons in computer skills. The Alpine Fund office has two computers accessible to its students. Alpine Interns is an opportunity for young adults who have been involved in the previous two programs to share what they have learned with younger students. By instructing and leading outings for younger students the Alpine Interns build up their own skill-sets. Increased self-confidence and leadership abilities make Alpine Interns more employable in the tourism field. The Alpine Learning Center is a cabin near Bishkek that serves as the staging area and launching point for Alpine Fund outings. Camping participants often camp outside the cabin, enjoy breakfast from the kitchen and launch their own hiking ‘expeditions’ from this base camp. The primary reason for using this cabin is to provide a safe shelter from the weather but children here are also able to learn independent living skills such as preparing breakfast and maintaining good hygiene. Help us out! As we are a very small non-profit organization we always have to watch every dollar in our efforts to provide high quality education and mountain experiences for our students. It is exactly this small nature, however, that ensures every donation directly supports our students. Check out our website to learn how to make a donation:
funof the conference
HERE IS SOMETHING very special about TheSpektator’s Chris Rickleton takes a look waking up to Issyk-Kul. From the sixth floor behind the scenes at the peculiar world of of the Kyrgyzskoe Morye Hotel it looks like the ‘NGO conference’ - three days of neon a giant sapphire sunk into the earth, ringed post-it notes, chunky coloured pens, interby rock hewn aksakals with snowy peaks for national pingpong matches, and an over- kalpaks. Its even more special when there’s a cloudpowering infatuation with a curly-haired, less sky and the experience is paid for in full by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF). sweet-voiced ekologistka.
It was September and the NGO I worked for was the facilitating organization for a three-day conference in the region, the theme of which was peace and development in Bishkek. Our troop consisted of our energetic Direktor, veteran of Kyrgyz civil society, our staff from the head office in Bishkek and the bosses from our three branches in the South. Direktor Rayana was particularly keen for me to see how the organization operated ‘in the field’ so despite the UNDF’s objections on financial grounds, I found myself hauled out of the office and preparing to lose my conference virginity aged just twenty-four years old. The location for the conference changed twice as Kyrgyzskoe Morye - which had won the tender to host it - failed to meet Rayana’s high standards and the Four Seasons was far too expensive for an extended stay. We eventually settled on the Royal Hotel, a slight downgrade from the Four Seasons but a definite improvement on Kyrgyskoye Morye with its vanishing staff and pan fried frankfurter lunches. Once we had unloaded all the bags, whiteboards and boxes of coloured stickers from the van, she beamed, informing me: “We Kyrgyz are Nomads. We can’t live our life without going here and there all the time. Now you can say that you’ve been to Issyk-Kul only once but that you’ve been in three separate hotels!” Top Dancing the conga fosters team-building, The price difference between Kyrgyskoye Morye self belief, and abstract thinking (All photos by and the plusher, prettier Royal Hotel would be addChris Rickleton) ed onto the budget, much to the rancour of UNDF‘s middle echelons. The folks at the former were also Right Ordination of conference participants sufficiently peeved to have lost the custom of a parinto coloured teams was taken more seriously ty of about forty people, but in the form of my small by some than others and determined Direktor they met an unassailable March 2009 The Spektator
force that wouldn’t be reasoned or negotiated with on her quest for the perfect conference. The event brought together representatives of state structures, civil society, religious organizations and the business sector in an attempt to bounce ideas around and unearth workable solutions to Bishkek‘s main problems in the space of twenty-four working hours. No small task, then. After two days of glorious rest, the morning of the conference arrived and Rayana was in Field Marshal mode, mapping out proceedings for the first day, reminding everyone of their briefs and prevailing over the pre-conference tension in a crescendo of confidence. Tasks were devised, assigned and accepted, although it was quickly established that I personally had nothing to do. “What will I be working on?” I asked during a rare ellipse in her Churchillian address. It was an interruption greeted like a profanity, as if a substitute had butted in to ask Bill Shankly whether or not he might get a game in the middle of one of the great man’s most inspirational half time team talks. “We don’t know,” was the response which followed the silence. “We’re working on it.” “I could take notes,” I suggested helpfully. “The UNDF already have official note-takers here,” a colleague replied “Clean up afterwards?” “The hotel staff do that. We‘ll think of a job for you. In the meantime, look busy. You‘re on the budget.” The Participants Outside the seminar room, the participants were bumbling, full of blurted introductions and nervous energy. Rayana Ezhe rose over the cacophony and commanded their attention in a clear, loud voice. “Respected participants. Welcome to the Vision of Bishkek Conference. We have invited you here today because we believe you are change makers, leaders in your respected fields, doers and thinkers...” My eyes panned around the hall. The doers and thinkers had clustered into clearly demarcated groups. The www.thespektator.co.uk
business sector, most of whom were women, were by far the dressiest bunch. The state structures trailed in their wake with white shirts and boring ties whilst the NGO stalwarts were united in their diversity, a smart-casual multi-coloured clump: a hotchpotch of different ideas and backgrounds. One of our analytics then went around the hall, attaching coloured stickers onto the participants’ heads as Rayana continued to speak. This was the source of much tentative laughter, but also some disgruntlement amongst the business sector, whose suppressed mumbling suggested they hadn’t put their busy lives on hold to play sticker heads. Rayana, with an orange dot planted in the space between her eyebrows, had effortlessly assumed the air of a Brahmin mystic. Her newfound disciples had taken to the look more awkwardly than she had, and some of them just looked plain stupid. “Now move around the room!’’ she declared ‘’Talk, shout - dance if you wish, but when I say stop, stop moving.” And when she said stop, a serene smile spread over her face. Though it was straight out of the first page of the manual on teambuilding exercises, she had achieved her aim. The sector-based clusters had been broken up and the participants had realigned themselves according to the colour of their stickers. How predictable! In a moment of contempt for mankind’s total malleability and teambuilding exercises in general, I prayed that the whole effort would backfire and that internecine sticker-head warfare would break out, with stationary based battles amongst the Pinkies, the Orangies and the Greenies. Maybe it would all end in staple guns and blood. I tried to calm down. Once the exercise was over, the sticker heads formed another circle and stepped into it, one by one to announce their name, their line of work and their expectations for the conference. First up was a rather gruff sounding, unshaven Uzbek man who introduced himself as Ulughbek. He was the leader of an NGO that monitored the Jorgu Kernesh Parliament, and he expected the conference to come up with some practical answers to the city’s problems, although - he acknowledged - some of these problems would take a long time to solve. He was followed swiftly by a businesswomen that owned a telecommunications outlet, and who confessed she didn’t really have a concrete expectation, but was interested as to what sort of ideas it would throw up. The third participant to step up - or in as it were - was the head of a union for Muslims in Kyrgyzstan. He was a short and kindly looking old man wearing a traditional cap on the crown of his head, but his face was wracked with doubt and worry. He proffered frankly and with some sorrow that he had absolutely no idea what the conference hoped to achieve or how it might impact on his day to day working life. There were a few gasps and some additional murmurs of discontent. With all the society characters present and the widespread cluelessness it was all beginning to look more like a game of murder mystery than a real conference. Direktor Rayana hovered in the background, unperturbed. After all, she had encountered ambivalence at such events before and had steamrollered over it ruthlessly with her own infectious brand of activism and idealism. But my own reservations were broken in a somewhat different manner. Suddenly, into the midst of these well meaning but ordinary looking folk, there walked a curly-haired angel robed in earthy colours. She was fifteen or twenty years younger than most of the other sticker heads and possessed a sense of grace and timing befitting to a www.thespektator.co.uk fairy queen from a Hans Christian Anderson yarn. “How the hell did she get in here?” I whispered to my friend. “Same as you, through the front door,” he replied. “Menya zavoot Ileana,” she announced. “Ya ekologistka.” It was one of those moments depicted only in poorly directed films. The room was immediately bathed in glorious light and my ears were filled with overbearing classical music to the extent that I never
“You all need to take off your rose tinted spectacles!” he lambasted. “In ten years time parts of Europe will be under water as a result of global warming, and Bishkek will also suffer from shortages in basic necessities.”
discovered what Ileana’s expectations actually were. The preambles of the other participants also passed me by. When I finally made to sit down I was sufficiently awestruck to take a seat at the wrong table. “You’re not a participant Chris,” my friend reminded me with a grin. But I wasn’t a facilitator either. What was I? Perhaps logically, given that there was literally nothing else for me to do, I fell in love with Ileana. Not that it was that hard - her manner seemed to demand infatuation. During one of the preliminary presentations she ran her fingers through the kinks in her auburn locks and made a paper boat out of an envelope on the table. In the coffee break afterwards she struck up a conversation with the representative for Muslims in Kyrgyzstan and instantly charmed him out of his strop. On the evening of the same day I saw her giving someone from one of the state structures
a lesson in botany, taking her round the second floor and telling her about each and every potted flower placed on the windowsill. Men and women were melted by the girl with equal efficiency - her rays did not discriminate. Had her subjects been icebergs they would have simply flooded out of the lobby door and washed over the beach to join Issyk-Kul in its eternal commune of liquid bliss. “Take pictures,” said my friend, handing me his Olympus just as my idle mind was spinning out of control. And so I did. Mainly of Ileana and the representative for Muslims in Kyrgyzstan who in his own special and religious way, was also very photogenic. The conference proper kicked off with a speech from the event organizer. Given that we had set up the conference room, someone else had invited the participants and Rayana appeared to be single handedly running the show, I was at a bit of a loss as to what the event organizer actually did. Later I found out over a relaxed game of table tennis that after his customary appearance during each session, he went swimming in the hotel pool. ‘The water is warm - lovely!’ he remarked between rallies. It was apparent that he was the UNDF’s local point man in northern Kyrgyzstan, yet quite how he had risen to such a lofty position with such a laissez-faire attitude was a genuine mystery. Not least to the other UNDF staff from various parts of the world who tried and failed to cajole him into action several times over the course of the next three days. I had several conversations with this most laid back of individuals and rather liked him. He resembled John Travolta in a very Central Asian sort of a way and his attitude to his work made me feel infinitely more justified about my own non-role at the conference. “You can’t get a local to do anything,” hissed one UNDF Brit who by his own admission had spent far too long working in the former Soviet Union. “You have to do it all yourself.”
March 2009 The Spektator
Right Participants get down to some serious thinking
Capturing a Conference After a time, I started taking the position of unofficial photographer more seriously (there was of course an official photographer as well) and Ileana seemed to start to notice me a little bit too. Now that I was no longer the fool trying to take pictures of the head of our Osh office when he was picking his nose, or of her, discussing, writing, yawning, gesticulating….. I also felt a sense of self fulfilment. The key to getting a good conference photo is acquainting yourself with the participants themselves. Some of the participants were very active and brought the best out of the more passive participants. You have to anticipate that, and then swoop on your selected prey at the vital moment. When a person is speaking and they lean over and put their elbows on the table, others imitate without thinking. This creates a ‘huddle’ that makes for a great snap. When the assembled are taking turns to stand up and make a point, identify who has dramatic body language and who doesn’t. Don’t waste shots on shrinking violets: that’s the first rule of conference photography. But such enjoyment can only last so long, and when the fun dried up with the batteries, I resigned myself to making my own notes on the seminar and trying to avoid staring at Ileana by talking to the translator. This distraction from a distraction irritated some of the UNDF staff that needed her services more than I did, but the translator was a pleasant, chatty woman who was as much interested in finding out about life in England as she was in doing her job. I did my best to oblige her and in return, during one of the coffee breaks, she gave me some fascinating insights into the ways that big organizations waste money at similarly styled events. “The UNDF are actually pretty good,” she opined. “The IMF are terrible. When they held a conference in Bishkek they flew interpreters in from Moscow - as if they were totally unaware that Russian is widely spoken throughout Kyrgyzstan! Then when I worked for a Canadian joint stock company that had an operation in Talas, I was flown to locations all over the world for these ridiculous five day events. They would sit and talk about nothing all week long!” “It’s so damaging to the environment as well!” I exclaimed loudly and abruptly in Russian as the Ekologistka walked past us. She turned her head and looked confused. The translator was also confused - we’d been talking exclusively in English up until that point. March 2009 The Spektator
Towards the end of the session, participants were all asked to postulate a vision of Bishkek in 2020. They did this on large sheets of paper which they worked on in small focus groups with chunky coloured pens. The whole room and its adjoining annex began to take on the shape of a kindergarten for really big kids and it all looked rather fun. One group drew a traditionally dressed Kyrgyz with
“Her voice was beautiful. I wanted to escape with her and spend the rest of my life in a wind powered bio-house in Wales”
a horse - representing Bishkek’s body and soul. Slogans such as ‘no corruption in education’ and ‘more law and order’ were scrawled on either side of the drawing. A Russian woman from the adjacent group baulked, complaining that this was hardly representative of Bishkek and its multi-ethnic population. At the close of play, someone from each group stood up to explain their vision and its feasibility. The first three out of four presentations were replete with glowing references to the city they loved and its capacity to act as Kyrgyzstan’s cultural, financial and political hub - the throbbing heart of a prosperous and functioning state. The final presentation, made by a tall, fat, thick set man with a booming voice had an altogether more grim prognosis for life in Bishkek eleven years from now. “You all need to take off your rose tinted spectacles!” he lambasted. “In ten years time parts of Europe will be under water as a result of global warming, and Bishkek will also suffer from shortages in basic necessities.” Well that was a rather bleak note to end the session on. I put my hand on my chin and tried to look thoughtfully in Ileana’s direction, only to find that she had disappeared from her seat. Spiralling Before breakfast the next day I took a stroll along Issyk-Kul’s southern shore. The sky was still pink from the residue of daybreak and misty mountains brooded in the background. A long, log pier stretched out from the beach. I walked along it and sat on the edge. Surrounded by such tranquillity I wasn’t sure whether I could face another day of
Bishkek related hullabaloo; bright lighting, markers squeaking on whiteboards, proclamations and accusations - smoke signals sent to the metropolis from the comfort of a lakeside resort. In the dining hall, with no space on the facilitator’s table and a certain fear of sitting with the participants - especially Ileana - I sat at the UNDF table. There I found stressed staff clamouring for the attention of the event manager, who picked through his rice and cutlets in a state of total disinterest as they lobbied him: “We need more coordination. The participants aren’t properly distinguishing between roots, shoots and leaves when they look at the problems.” Then “We should arrange for Julia to do a presentation. She’s got a lot of experience in this field but some of the other participants on her table are dominating her,” and, “We need to streamline our communication more. In Bishkek (at the office HQ) everyone is singing from a different sheet.” The event manager finally lifted his head to speak, his colleagues waiting in silent expectation of something strategic, substantial, perhaps even insightful. “Everyone always sings from a different sheet, “ he said waving his hand. “Life is like this. Take Chris, for instance. Yesterday he told me he was English, but today….he looks….Spanish.”Then he proceeded, much to their total disbelief, to talk about having read on the Internet that Al Capone’s former penthouse in Chicago had been sold at auction for over $200 million. “$200 million!” he repeated. “Can you believe that? Chris - tell me the name of the jail they put Al Capone in, I forget.” “Um, I think it was Alcatraz.” I replied. The rest of the table shot me glances of loathing. On top of being surplus to requirements at the conference I was giving the event manager yet another opportunity to duck out of his responsibilities. When he got up to leave I noticed he was already wearing his swimming trunks and poolside sandals. “Find me when its finished,” he advised me, making a pingpong gesture. “I’ve still got to take revenge for last night!” By the middle of the second session, participants had settled into the groove and a lot of good ground was being covered. Rayana’s powers of motivation were being called on less and less and now it appeared that her main role was to intervene when it seemed participants from the business and state structures www.thespektator.co.uk
were about to come to blows. The translator had been instructed to sit apart from me and not to engage me in conversation during the session, leaving me nothing with which to combat the overwhelming urge to ogle Ileana. She was yet more beautiful than the day before, wearing a hippy skirt, brown suede boots and a light blue long-sleeve, almost definitely made from non-synthetic material. The notes I was taking were rapidly beginning to suffer under the weight of my crush: school racketeering, power cuts, weak economy, migration. Who to blame? Suggestion: change the capital to Osh - reduce internal migration which is placing a strain on Bishkek’s infrastructure. Counter: this strategy has failed in Brazil and Kazakhstan, why will it work for us? Reminder from Rayana: Only talk about Bishkek please, not Osh, Brazil or Kazakhstan. Ileana stretched, tucked her shrub of hair behind her ears and scratched her nose. Bomzh: Byez Opredilonie Mesta Zhityelstvo. It means homeless. They rifle through the garbage because they are hungry. How do we feed and keep the streets clean……the tax code, businessmen have no time to read laws. Poor sewage, soon there will be rats everywhere! ….The department of edu….laws are made but not enfor….children are robbing other children, criminals are sitting in the parliament, the young are not active enough, taxes are BAD! Autumn as a language. Well, I had know idea where that last sentence came from; the weather outside. her brown suede boots or her generally autumnal demeanour. In spite of the ten thirty biscuit break I was rapidly growing starving and lunch couldn’t come quickly enough. Conferences expand the stomach and wreak havoc on the mind. Learning from the previous day’s mistake I sat on my own, as did Ileana, at a table in the corner of the room. Once or twice she did me the courtesy of turning her deep brown eyes at me, before turning them back to her bowl of borsch. When things kicked off again, it was her turn to make a presentation. This time my notes didn’t even make the length of a page in my note pad: Repair factories, bring products up to European standards, women’s committees….ruin local ecology. It received gratuitous applause from the participants who were probably as much in love with her as I was. She winced, blushed and thanked them for listening. “Vsye Spasiba.” Her voice was beautiful. I wanted to escape with her and spend the rest of my life in a wind powered bio-house in Wales, taking baths in recycled toilet water or whatever it was that they did there. We could join a commune! Our children could be named after different vegetables since she was probably vegetarian. I enthusiastically scribbled down a few vegetables next to my surname but only ‘Aubergine’ suited. Not to worry, we would use the Russian translation -or better still, I‘d just change my surname. No, no, no - stop this madness right now! Then, as she was making her way to sit down, she looked around to me and smiled. My heart was wrapping against my ribcage. The madness was getting madder still. Cupid had upgraded to a Kalashnikov. Wrapping things up Or perhaps it was a facial twitch. Either way, I missed my opportunity to capitalize on it. Meal after meal I bottled out of the chance to sit opposite her, choosing instead to sit with my friend or talk more rubbish with the event manager, who was now the new conference leper, having been completely abandoned by the rest of his UNDF colleagues. www.thespektator.co.uk “What do you know about Kiss? He asked me, as he jotted down notes for his final day closing speech. I knew I wanted one from Ileana, but that was about it. I shrugged my shoulders disconsolately. “It’s my opinion” he continued “that they are the greatest rock and roll band that ever existed. I used to buy their tapes on the black market during perestroika!” It wasn’t just me that felt a growing sense of sadness and loss on the last day. Many of the participants had developed genuinely close bonds, and despite the fact that there had almost been a fist fight between two of them over the recently introduced tax code, they would miss one another when it was time to go home. Of course they would exchange numbers, as jurors did following jury duty, but realistically they knew that everyone would head back to their busy lives in the capital and there would be little time to pursue the friendships that had evolved over the course of the conference. Back in the said melting pot, my productivity had ground to a standstill. I was vapid, empty, and incapable of actions, even pointless ones. The director of our office in Jalalabad approached me with a concerned look on his face. “I noticed you’ve stopped taking photos,” he said, indicating the official photographer who was busy snapping away like Margaret Bourke-White. “You know that if your photos are better than hers we’ll use yours in the final report instead.”
“Direktor Rayana, organized as ever, rescheduled the breakfast for the following day so that it would be an hour later. I was full of admiration for her. She even pre-planned hangovers”
“She has a telephoto lens and twelve mega pixels!” I shot back, rather more angrily than I had intended to. “How can I compete with that?” When the final speeches had been made, and Bishkek’s destiny determined, more exercises followed. In sporting terms this might have been referred to as a ‘warm down’, but it involved two teams of participants lining up at opposite ends and charging into the middle of the hall to seize various objects, and was a bit strenuous for some of the older participants. Nevertheless, it got the endorphins flying around the hallway and when Rayana handed out certificates to each and every one of them, gushing, heartfelt thanks were imparted for facilitating such a successful event. The most beautiful speech of all was made by the representative for Muslims in Kyrgyzstan. Although I didn’t catch all of it, he repeated the word soul nine times and amusingly, when he pledged thanks to the organizers of the conference he gestured to Rayana rather than the UNDF’s point man in northern Kyrgyzstan. “Before you had doubts about the workshop but now you’ve been converted!” exclaimed another participant. A poor choice of words perhaps.
Epilogue At the final supper, I was quiet and philosophical, reasoning away my attraction to Ileana and washing down my disappointment with tea. She was just a girl. There’s plenty more fish in the lake. You don’t know her, you idealized her. It’s just because you had This story is fictional. Any similarities to real events or nothing else to do. A couple of hours later I was people is purely coincidental. March 2009 The Spektator
washing it down with beer and vodka as the facilitators, the translator and some UNDF staff gathered to celebrate the end of the conference. It was also the forty-eighth birthday of Jyrgalbek, our Batken boss and one of the most charming, likeable guys you could ever hope to meet. Double the reason to celebrate and double the quantity to drink. Toasts were made, more food was served and a warm fuzzy feeling filled the dining hall. Direktor Rayana, organized as ever, rescheduled the breakfast for the following day so that it would be an hour later. I was full of admiration for her. She even pre-planned hangovers. In the spirit of genuine companionship that ensued I almost forgot about my ekologistka entirely. This was what the event had been all about after all: working together, playing together - talking (yelling), listening, sharing ideas and appreciating good company. When the women made to hit the hay, the men ordered more vodka and played drunken table tennis. We staged an international tournament. I was Great Britain and everyone else was Kyrgyzstan. Naturally Kyrgyzstan won and celebrated riotously. We all went to bed in a total stupor. Waking up the next day was one of the most painful things that has ever happened to me. The room wobbled, my pores spurted out sweat and my digestive system rose up in mutiny against my ailing body. I had the clouds to thank for an overcast day because true daylight would have been an affront too far. A co-worker knocked on the door to compound the misery. “Chris we won’t be going back with you. There’s another conference and we’re going to reschedule it to here instead of Bishkek to save costs. You’ll need to take back some of the equipment.” “Aren’t I invited to the other conference?” I asked impudently. “You weren’t technically invited to this one,” he responded, deadpan. “You can choose whether you go in the mini bus with some of the UNDF staff or in the bigger bus with the participants.” “The fricking participants?” The thought was intolerable. “Their bus leaves later.” In an empty dining room the double yoked eggs that are seemingly standard fare at the Royal hotel eyed me with suspicion from my plate. I ate my porridge first - to layer the shell of a stomach the vodka had left behind. The theory was that after doing so, the rest wouldn’t come straight back up in one long, vengeful torrent of regurgitated borsch and bifsteks. I heard the grumble of the UNDF minibus starting up, and held my head in my hands as the roar of its engine dissipated into the distance. The fricking participants. I’d find a seat far away from their noise, I told myself. Put a coat over my head and make sure Ileana doesn’t see me on the bus. I got a smile after all, I think. If it was a poker game I’d be ‘up‘. So cash the chips in and fall asleep. Someday this hangover will go away and I’ll feel vaguely human again. Then there were footsteps. “Is this seat free?” a voice asked from behind me. I started. It was her; sentient, fresh and smelling of the shower. She sat down on the seat opposite me, and later during the bus ride, next to me. We talked all the way back to Bishkek and exchanged numbers at the end of the journey. The conference at Lake Issyk-Kul had in fact exceeded all expectations.
HE AIR IN THE KITCHEN is tinged with a Those unaccustomed to the trauma of pink hue. The windowsill is covered with battling through a Kyrgyz winter are, by plants, pots, and pans. Ruslan Kibets, a March, quite often on the brink. Yevgeniy software engineering major at the AmeriTrapeznikov examines one way of jollying can University of Central Asia, is fumbling up the last, depressing, lingering days of with a frying pan on the stove. He is conjuring in winter. the kitchen, practising witchcraft to concoct what
Those who have seen the 1952 version of the movie Moulin Rouge might remember Jose Ferrer, who portrayed Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, the postimpressionist French artist, painter, printmaker, and draftsman, who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century. The artist is believed to have developed an addiction to absinthe while minwas in nineteenth-century France a popular bev- gling with Parisian bohemians, which left him with erage but is now considered far more exotic. a case of “delirium tremens.” Absinthe is an alcoholic drink stronger than Back in our Bishkek kitchen, Ruslan’s vaporvodka. Although absinthe can be red or brown, its ous absinthe was passing from the heated bottle, most famous shade is undoubtedly vivid green. through the tube, past a makeshift cooling station The witchcraft Ruslan located on a stool. Clumsi“I sampled Ruslan’s absinthe a ly the twenty-first-century was practising in the kitchen is ordinarily moved his cooling single time. The next day I found my wizard to a spot above the called distillation. station “There are dif- arms, below the elbows, covered dishwasher, to see if that ferent kinds of abworked any better. with scars from guitar strings” sinthe, which are disIn an apartment on the tinguished by their fourth floor of a residential strengths,” the young wizard said, fixing a tube building in Bishkek, even this antique drink could which connects two bottles. “It depends on what not escape a touch of science and modernity. The one uses as a base – spirits or vodka.” improvised cooling station was made of a metallic The plastic tube stretched from the neck of a basin filled with cold tap water. Passing through bottle being heated on the stove into the neck of that area of the tube, the heated fumes underwent a second bottle. It was about two and a half me- a physical change – turning into white-colored ters long. The tube served to conduct distilled liq- droplets. This was it – the long-awaited absinthe, uid – a blend of herbal infusion and vodka – from yet not quite ready to taste. one bottle to the other. “The tube is awkward Who could guess that making one of the most to operate,” Ruslan said, moving one end a little exotic beverages demands salt and a frying pan? higher over the heated bottle. Ingeniously he Handled by a modern sorcerer, even such homehad wired the tube to an air vent over the stove spun things gain magic. A mound of salt heaving inside the incandescent pan tightly held the bottle to keep it in place. Some people believe drinking absinthe can in- where the emerald fluid was boiling, so it wouldn’t duce a hallucinatory state during which a “green fall over. It seemed a small imprisoned volcano fairy” may haunt the drinker. “You can try it out shooting tongues of alcoholic lava. The process when it’s ready,” Ruslan said, smiling when asked was reminiscent of a genie slowly appearing out about the truth of such stories. “Absinthe used to of a magic lamp. But before the genie could turn have a spirituous strength and ingredients that, green and start granting wishes, the wizard had to Top Edgar Degas’ L’Absinthe (1876) Above Tou- when combined, were said to produce a sort of make certain preparations. lous-Lautrec was rather too fond of absinthe, dy- hallucination.” But the software engineering stu“Actually it needs to be kept for three days,” Rusing from alcoholism and syphilis at the age of 36 dent said it had yet to happen to him. lan said. “This liquor is made up of differing herbs: March 2009 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Left Two posters from the early twentieth century advertise the joys of absinthe
wormwood, reindeer, fennel, angelica, etc. The Internet is teeming with recipes. There are at least fifty ways to do it,” he said pouring the contents of the tube into a specially arranged bottle placed at the opposite end of the kitchen. Later, the distilled liquid would be blended with the herbs that lend the drink an ineffable relish – in all probability, making it a habitat for a green fairy. To make his cocktail, Ruslan chose vodka to mix in instead of spirits. This would make the absinthe even stronger, he said. He admitted that his lack of proper equipment kept him from achieving perfect results. “In Almaty, there are devices and chemicals available to make absinthe, which cost about $70. Here I have got a makeshift cooler that I have to add ice to from time to time,” said Ruslan, putting ice cubes, which he took out of the fridge-freezer, into the basin. “It takes about ten hours to finish the process.” One problem that the young Bishkek absinthemaker had not mentioned, was that the drink he was making is officially prohibited in a number of countries, including the USA, France, Belgium, and Switzerland, because of the unpredictable effects it can have on drinkers. In the 1980s, the American government extended its prohibition on absinthe even to soldiers serving outside of the US. The chief component that makes the drink illicit is thujone. “Thujone is contained in almost all of the above herbs, especially wormwood,” Ruslan said. “I get the herbs at the nearest chemist’s shop.” Thujone is thought to be responsible for the psychedelic experience a person may have after drinking absinthe. Some European countries and the US do allow the sale of something called “absinthe”, “absinth” or “absint”, but there are limits on the amount of thujone these cocktails can contain. Some countries only permit the sale of a beverage with absinthe’s flavour, but without thujone. These drinks www.thespektator.co.uk
are not the real thing, since they don’t contain enough thujone to have the same effects as traditional absinthe. Absinthe is not illegal in Kyrgyzstan. Moreover, the drink is officially offered, at least, at two Bishkek chain stores – Seven Days and Narodnyi. Bottles portraying green and red elves and one displaying a tousled, grey-haired old man are sold at prices ranging from $40 to $50 per bottle. The beverage sold at Narodnyi, for example, is labelled “Absinthe,” and claims to be made in Spain – a country that allows the production of absinthe of medium impact. Also Narodnyi’s bottles are tagged “containing thujone.” I sampled Ruslan’s absinthe a single time. There was no way to tell how much thujone it contained or even what percentage of alcohol. The next day I found my arms, below the elbows, covered with scars from guitar strings. I don’t know where they came from. I was also told how I was talking to a friend about nipples in English, though my native language is Russian. I didn’t remember this at all. “I have been making the drink for over two years,” Ruslan said. ”Not regularly, though. Mainly to indulge friends and girls,” the wizard said, winking enigmatically. Although he did not know if his activities were illegal, he did not want to get in any trouble. “I intentionally don’t produce any for sale – just three or four bottles for personal use,” he said. According to Ruslan, it was fine for people to try their hands at such things. “Thanks to the Internet, one can find whatever one wants: from instructions on making absinthe, to instructions on building spacecraft.” Surfing the Internet suggests that absinthe is served in at the Bishkek club, Promzona, for more than $4 per 25 grams. One can order for the drink electronically throughout Bishkek and join, say, the Russian-language Absinthe’s Lovers community on the forum www.diesel.elcat.kg, to learn historical and technical details about the drink.
• Traditionally, absinthe is poured into a glass over which a specially designed slotted spoon is placed. A sugar cube is then deposited in the bowl of the spoon. Ice-cold water is poured or dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted to between a 3:1 to 5:1 ratio. During this process, the components that are not soluble in water, mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise, come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche. The addition of water is important, causing the herbs to “blossom” and bringing out many of the flavours originally overpowered by the anise. • Numerous artists and writers living in France in the late 19th and early 20th century were noted absinthe drinkers who featured absinthe in their work. These included Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Manet, Amedeo Modigliani, Arthur Rimbaud, Guy de Maupassant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Verlaine. Later artists and writers drew from this cultural well, including Pablo Picasso, August Strindberg, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway. Further resources on absinthe are available at: • www.newspeakdictionary.com/pf-absinthe • chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryhowtoguide • www.wikihow.com/Make-Absinthe • www.a1b2c3.com • www.originalabsinthe.com; • www.youtube.com (which has an interactive course on making absinthe at home) • www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-Absinthe • www.realabsinthe.blogspot.com
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March 2009 The Spektator
Right and far Right Scenes from the Paraguayan Chaco - a humid wilderness of bramble, cactus, and venemous insects. It is also the last place in South America, apart from the Amazon, where tribes of truly wild indigenous Indians still live. (P. Kropotkin)
DR PAVEL KROPOTKIN
ARAGUAY SITS IN THE MIDDLE of South Dr Pavel Kropotkin (the Spektator’s South America, but outside the well known geoand Central America correspondent) tells graphical references, it’s not in the Amathe story of the Russian refugees who took zon, neither it is in the Andes. Nothing is part in the Gran Chaco War - the bloodiest associated with the word ‘Paraguay’. Think South American conflict of the 20th cen- of Peru and ‘Incas’ and ‘gold ‘spring to mind, Argentury. tina – ‘Maradona’, Brazil – ’Amazon’, Colombia – ‘co-
caine’, but the word ‘Paraguay’ conjures up nothing. Paraguay is a country that only started discarding its 200 year old tradition of isolation in the last twenty years. It also has the dubious distinction of taking part in the two bloodiest South American wars, conflicts that it has still not recovered from to this day. Paraguay, equally a mystery to Europeans and South Americans alike, has the most unusual and downright bizarre history of any Latin American country. A Brief History of Paraguay Paraguay prides itself on the fact that the arriving Spanish never conquered the industrious, agricultural Guarani Indians who inhabited what is now Paraguay. Instead the conquistadors were absorbed into the local society, each Spaniard given land and a harem of women. The Spaniards were more than content: better swing in the hammock doted on by your harem than battle anthropophagous tribes in the jungle or Inca armies of tens of thousands. This merger with Indians created an unusual society – Guarani language is, alongside Spanish, the official language of Paraguay, and lingua franca in the countryside and amongst the urban working class. Indian heritage, a source of shame among the Hispanic and white élites of other South American countries, is a matter of pride in Paraguay. After independence Paraguay was transformed into a South American version of North Korea – the paranoid dictator Dr Rodriguez de Francia banned foreigners from entering (apart from German military instructors), executed most of those already there, banned all trade with the exterior, proclaimed economic self-sufficiency and built up the biggest army in South America. To promote Paraguayan ‘Indianness’ further, whites were prohibited by law from marrying other whites. Looking for further challenges, his successor, Carlos Lopez simultaneously declared
war on neighbouring Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. After an initial bright start, Paraguay was slowly annihilated: most of the male population was killed, and almost a third of its territory lost. Led by the inept yet revered (most of main roads and shopping malls in Paraguay are named after him) Marshal Lopez, fanatical and hardy Paraguayan soldiers were ground down and exterminated by the superior joint forces of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in what became South America’s biggest and bloodiest ever conflict – The War of the Triple Alliance (1864 – 1870). Paraguay never recovered from the War of the Triple Alliance. It was ruled by a succession of dictatorships until 1988 and the country lived (and still does) on beef exports and contraband. Goods of every description are imported into Paraguay virtually tax free and then smuggled into Argentina and Brazil for sale. Corruption is rife and you can do whatever you want in Paraguay if you have the cash. This lawless freedom (strangely Paraguay is not a violent country, Paraguayans are the most polite and gentle people you would care to meet) has, over the years, attracted migrants, adventurers and just people who did not want to be found, like numerous Nazis. Paraguay is sometimes regarded as the forgotten country, the black hole of South America. The whole of Western Paraguay is a huge wilderness known as El Chaco, with only one paved road, where even now the last stone age tribes might spear a rancher or a bulldozer driver, the last place outside the Amazon where truly wild Indians exist. Capitàn Cassianoff –Rusos Blancos In 2008 I cycled solo from the southern tip of South America to French Guiana. I took a route through the Chaco, which had never been crossed by bike from South to North. I was crossing into Paraguay from Argentina in the middle of the region known as El Impenetrable. Argentineans who lived close to the border never ventured into Paraguay and had no interest in doing so. ‘Tigres’ (jaguars) ‘bandidos’ and ‘indos’ seemed to be the sole inhabitants of the forest on the other side. I considered myself to be fairly well versed in Paraguayan history even as I was still edging my www.thespektator.co.uk
March 2009 The Spektator
way closer to its border on my bike, but I underestimated Paraguay’s capacity to surprise. The forest road turned into a trail and then a collapsed wooden gate signaled the start of the ‘territorio nacional’ of La Republica de Paraguay, no ‘tigres’ or ‘bandidos’ in sight though, so I cycled ahead.Twenty-four hours later, nursing a huge hangover as a result of a party the Paraguayan police threw in my honour, I was at a small junction in the Chaco. In the middle stood a monument to a thin-necked European with a pith helmet. I cycled closer: Capitan Boris Cassianoff, died in combat in 1933. Below a memotrial plaque: ’en honor de los señores profesores, jefes y oficiales rusos blancos, ex combatientes de la Guerra del Chaco, por el Señor Presidente de la Republica…’ Almost ninety years ago, and very far away from Paraguay, the White Russian armies (Byelogvardeitsy) from Siberia to Crimea were being pushed to the borders of Russia after several years of savage fighting. Knowing better than to face the wrath of the Bolsheviks the leaders of the White Movement were tearfully but prudently leaving Mother Russia to the mercy of Lenin and Trotsky and making off for China, Turkey, Iran or Yugoslavia. They were colourful characters: in Siberia, Baron Ungern von Sternberg, a Cossack ataman of Baltic German descent, was a bloodthirsty Buddhist with deep interest in all things Asian. His troops were renowned for their indiscriminate brutality. He became known as either ‘Bloody’ or ‘Mad’ Baron. An avid anti-Semite, he spoke Chinese, Mongolian and several indigenous Siberian languages and believed himself to be the reincarnation of Genghis-Khan. He took his men into Mongolia were they happily roamed about planning revenge of the Reds and terrorizing the locals. In March 1921 The Mad Baron became the ruler of Mongolia after driving out the Chinese. General Juan Beliaeff Not quite as exotic and bloodthirsty was General Ivan Timofeevich Belyaev, a frail- looking man with a goatee, an artillery officer who distinguished himself in WWI. Since childhood he had been obsessed with www.thespektator.co.uk
South America, Indians and, for reasons best known to himself, Paraguay. Fleeing Crimea with General Denekin’s troops he ended up in exile in France. Russians are intensely patriotic, convinced of Holy Russia’s cultural superiority. It’s therefore unsurprising that once in exile they furiously went about forming a plethora of organizations aimed at preserving the mighty Russian culture and spirit while Holy Mother Russia itself was being violated by godless Bolsheviks. Ivan Timofeevich decided to try his luck in South America: setting up a colony of Russians in the New World where they could ‘preserve millennial culture
“Over 3000 Russian soldiers and officers fought in the Chaco War. Their names pop up unexpectedly in present day Paraguay, a street named after Comandante Canonnikoff, a small town called Fortin Serebriakoff…”
and traditions’ while all hell was breaking loose back home. He first tried Argentina but the local Russian diaspora quickly elbowed him out, I suspect he was seen as a bit of an embarrassment, penniless, raving on about Indians and Russian revival. Not impressed with the reception he got in Argentina, Belyaev went to Paraguay, there he was welcomed with open arms. Ivan Timofeevich took to Paraguay like duck to water. He deemed the British-built Asuncion railway station to be identical to the one in Tsarskoye Selo near St Petersburg and even more surprisingly he claimed that the capital Asuncion reminded him of Vladikavkaz (capital of ever turbulent Ossetia), of all places. The Paraguayan government was keen on receiving educated Europeans with military experience, and Belyaev’s project was given a green light, but Ivan Timofeevich’s delight was not long lived. Neighbouring Bolivia was making advances in the Chaco, claiming most of the region as a historic part of its territory and was busy establishing a network of roads and
fortified garrisons. Such actions scared Paraguayans witless; the loss of over a third of national territory in the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance was very much fresh in their collective memory. Belyaev was quickly given the rank of general in the Paraguayan Army and dispatched into the wilds of Chaco. Making friendly contact with local Indians, mapping out the territory and finding water sources in arid Chaco were the priority. Delighted to be able to carry out his boyhood fantasies, Belyaev did a fantastic job: rivers and lakes were found, Indians befriended (he even managed to write dictionaries of two local Indian languages) and Bolivians’ perfidious plans were laid clear. He carried out several expeditions into the Chaco before hostilities broke out in 1932. By that time a large number of White Russians had made their way to Paraguay, most of them military men, including three generals and a collection of colonels from various branches of service. The newly arrived ‘Rusos Blancos’ must have found their new theater of operations in the Chaco very different from what they had encountered in their previous campaigns, even allowing for the gloriously varied geography of the Motherland. To give you an idea of El Chaco: take the thickest bramble thicket, raise the temperature to over 40 centigrade, add huge trees and cacti, remove all moisture and all sources of water, equip every branch with spines the size of syringe needles and populate the thicket with very unfriendly Indians and a variety of venomous snakes and biting insects. Ivan Timofeevich himself, I suspect, was fully Chaco-proof by the time the war broke out. The Chaco War The Chaco War was South America’s biggest and bloodiest conflict of the 20th century. Sixty thousand Bolivian and forty thousand Paraguayan soldiers died, the least fortunate ones died of thirst. It became known as La Guerra de Sed, the War of Thirst.Cavalrymen driven mad by thirst would open up their equally thirsty horses’ veins and gulp down the blood. Water deliveries to the troops often led to wild shootouts between delirious soldiers scrambling to get their rations. March 2009 The Spektator
Above The bespectacled General Belyaev, seen here with bare brested Indian woman in tow, had always been fascinated by Paraguay. (Library image)
Bolivian troops were led by a German general Kundt (who ironically fought on the Eastern Front in WWI), sported flamethrowers and even Vickers tanks. They also enjoyed air superiority thanks to their larger fleet of biplanes. Action revolved around small strongTop Right The relentless Paraguayan sun beats points (fortìn) which became an archipelago of down upon the bust of one of its fallen White microstalingrads in the forests of the Chaco. Whereas Russian heros, Captain Cassianoff (P. Kropot- White Generals Ivan Beliayev and Nikolai Ern are credited with almost every Paraguayan success in the war kin) by Russian sources, it appears that their main contribution was construction and strategic positioning of of fortìns and other strongpoints. Waves and waves of Bolivian attacks were sent against the fortìns to be cut down by Paraguayan crossed machinegun fire. Aviation also played a role, mercenaries and adventurers mainly Italians and Argentineans, flocked to Paraguay for a bit of action in old biplanes. How a very non-Latin aviator Capitàn Vladimir Porfirenko fitted into their company remains unknown, but his unmistakably Slavic face can be found in any book on the glorious Aviaciòn Paraguaya. Altogether over 3000 Russian soldiers and officers fought in the Chaco War. Their names pop up unexpectedly in present day Paraguay, a street named after Comandante Canonnikoff, a small town called Fortin Serebriakoff… The Chaco war was a catastrophe for Bolivia, who suffered horrific casualties and lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers as prisoners. Bolivian troops with Paraguayans in hot pursuit eventually retreated almost to the foothills of Andes, deep into Bolivian territory. Most of Chaco was eventually awarded to Paraguay by an international arbitration commission. The Chaco War is seen as a national humiliation in Bolivia but in Paraguay it is remembered as a triumph of national spirit and redemption for the disaster of the War of Triple Alliance. Contemporary Paraguayan references to ‘Rusos Blancos’ are full of admiration, hispanicized Russian first names followed by Russian surnames adorned with double ‘f’s are mentioned with reverence. The last dictator of Paraguay Col. Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled until 1988, had served under the Russians in the Chaco War as a young lieutenant and was very much in awe of Rusos Blancos, which ensured their legacy in post war times.
uted to the diaspora in Europe enticing the displaced Russians to start a new life there. The plan however failed. Several groups of settlers arrived in Paraguay, but the country impoverished by the war could offer nothing but land, there were simply no tools and materials. Several influential Byelogvardeitsy in Europe were also striving to lead the Russian immigration and eventually Belyaev and ‘Nadezhda’ were muscled out. A further blow was the deaths (some with the aid of NKVD, the future KGB) of the leaders of the White Movement who were on Belyaev’s side. Most of the new arrivals in Paraguay eventually left for far more prosperous Uruguay, Brazil or Argentina, nevertheless several thousand stayed on. Undoubtedly disappointed, Belyaev turned his attentions back to the Indians. He founded an organization to lobby for their rights and achieved notable successes, awarding land rights to several tribes in the Chaco. Belyaev eventually became Administrator-General of Indian Colonies of Paraguay and kept publishing works on Indian culture and language. He promoted a theory of non-intervention letting Indians remain on their ancestral lands, giving them state protection, but not trying to civilize them. The General was a celebrity in Asuncion, a war hero, explorer, anthropologist, linguist, educationalist, and was regarded as one of the greatest ever Paraguayans. What happened next is unclear; all existing references to Ivan Timofeevich suddenly mention the General’s extreme poverty. His austere house was always full of visiting Indians, who treated it as a safe haven while away from the Chaco. Again, it appears that Belyaev was seen as a madman and became an embarrassment for many fellow Russians and Paraguayans. Belyaev eventually moved to an island on the River Paraguay, just off Asuncion, which was home to a colony of Makka Indians. He lived there in a simple hut, teaching Indians with the aid of Dr Bronislava Sushnik, a fellow White Russian émigré. Shortly before his death Ivan Timofeevich became the cacique (chief) of the Jaguar Clan of Chimakok Indians. Belyaev died in 1957 and was buried with full state honours in Asuncion as ‘…a great hero and patriot, Russian by birth, Paraguayan by heart’. His body was carried across Asuncion to the Orthodox Cathedral by veterans of the Chaco War and countless Indians who sang Orthodox chants translated into Chimakok by Belyaev. After the War – back to the Indians After the war Belyaev turned his energies on the con- The Chimakok Indians took possession of the coffin struction of Russian Refuge ‘Nadezhda’ (Hope) in Par- and buried Cacique Beliaeff on their island in a simple aguay. A monthly publication ‘Paragvai’ was distrib- tomb, which reads simply ‘Here lays Beliaeff’. www.thespektator.co.uk
March 2009 The Spektator
Bars and restaurants
There’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in Armenian Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions are marked with a star * Landau (Manas/Gorky) Fancy something a little different? If you can tolerate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary Price Guide (main course and a garnish) goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme$ - Expect change from 150 som nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near $$ - A little over 200 should do the trick Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$ $$$ - Expect to pay in the region of 350 $$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint New York Pizza (177, Kievskaya) Decorated with pictures of the Big Apple and serving a fine selection of steaks and other Americanthemed dishes, NYP is sure to get New Yorkers thinking of home. Also serves what many believe to be the best pizza in town. $$$
Steinbrau (5, Gerzena) Don your beer drinking trousers and head down to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut. $$$
2x2 (Isanova/Chui) Trendy drinking hole with a circular bar and friendly staff. A good place for knocking back a few prenightclub cocktails. Slouch into one of the comfy lounge seats and try to look cool. $$$
Avant Gard (127, Sovietskaya) We’re not so sure what’s so avant-garde about Avant-Gard. They put candles on the tables in the American evenings, but there is a distinct lack of Parisian Cowboy (Toktogul/Orozbekova) Bohemians. Still, the food is fine and the relaxed Bishkek’s all-American restaurant-cum-dance club Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui) 7 Young bird (6) ambience means AG is a good place for a converhas now gone a little more up-market, but wild With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way sation, or a debate on existentialism. $$ 12,14 Polluted precipitation nights are still to be had. Dig in to a kilo of chicken and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you (4,4) wings and then hit the dance floor. $$$ are getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own Beatles Bar (Gorky/Sovietskaya) personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select A Beatles themed bar to make Bishkek scousers feel 15 Carve etc so as to Hollywood (Druzhba/Sovietskaya)raise As you would probably guess, decorated with a variety of unusual chinese delicacies to throw in. at home. Huge screen outside for sporting events. from surface (6) movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although delicious, may Shashlyk and cool beer. $$ 16 Elevation (of Hollywood is popular bunch of American kitsch. the spirit) (6) leave delicate stomachs in some distress several with Move in fromis usually packed from hours later - consider the ‘not-spicy’ sauce as a Boulevard (Erkindik/Kievskaya) 17 a younger crowd and margin (6) A small stylish restaurant, offering a refined atmomid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few drinks suitable alternative $$ 19 Mountoff to the clubs. $$ (5) — musketeer sphere, delicious cakes and wi-fi internet. By Bishkek Peking Duck I & II before heading standards, the service is usually excellent. $$$$ (Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.) 20 Pool (5) Metro (133, Chui) Huge portions to feed even the biggest of glut- Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo) In the impressive location of a former theatre, Met- tons and an English language menu that provides Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection Want more? Access over 4,000 hole for ex-pats. ro remains the première drinking archive puzzles plenty of amusing translations. Dancing occasionof evocatively named dishes including ‘Fish from the at guardian.co.uk/crossword. A high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- ally kicks off on more raucous evenings. $$ ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’. Stuck? Then call our menu and a wide selection ment a good Tex-Mex solutions line on 09068 Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows 338 248. Calls is one of the best bets for catchDungan of drinks. Metrocost 60p per minute at all times. create a hybrid underwater log cabin experience. Service supplied by ATS. ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the Luk-Fu (Orozbekova/Kievskaya) Spirits, cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$ Get 8 great Guardian puzzle books for only £20 hideously late kickoff times for Champions League In many Bishkek joints the lepyoshka is stale and the inc p&p (save £40). Visit guardianbooks.co.uk football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting service makes you look for candid cameras. At Luk- Coffee House (9, Manas) or unless it’s 606 one. up call 0845 a big4232 $$$ Fu, despite its stolovaya atmosphere, not so. Add to Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and Solutionthis month’s crossword that generous portions and cheap prices and the cakes Bishkek has to offer at the imaginatively Answers to No 12,084 named ‘Coffee House’, a cosy boutique café with a pearl. One of few S h o r t f u S e a m place is a vegetarian meals. establishments offering European flavour. Curl up and read a book, or just satisfying $ a a o i a r e a Hui Min (Ibraimova/Frunze - next to Esperanza Casino) drop in for a caffeine hit and a chocolate fix. $$$ p r i v i l e g e c g Don’t be put off by the slightly decrepit feel to this Concord (Alatoo Square) k e l N S h u N place, they serve up some damn fine Dungan eat- Waiting staff dressed as airline stewards and an inpeppers, spices, rice), S p mo l a r e e ing. Try the gan-fan (meat,going all day and you’ll terior featuring some aeronautical paraphernalia its big enough to keep you to lend a little c u r l e W l i N N e t get change from a ton. Also, ask for the special attemptAla-too Square. glamour to this small diner just off Good, cheap food and furDungan tea, it’s rather good. $ u o a g e i ther deals for lunch during midweek make this a
Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova) This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy, but in a nice way. $
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Mimino (27, Kievskaya) Re-opening soon we’re told, Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steaming, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds a-plenty. We recommend the Georgian cheese bread and anything that’s served in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe at the door. $$$
popular spot during the daytime. $$
Cosmo Bar (Sovietska/Toktogul) Board the sweet smelling elevator, ascend to the top-floor Cosmo Bar and splash the cash with your fellow free-spending cosmonauts. Elegant interior, plush sofas, fancy drinks and pretty waitresses. Huzzah! $$$$ March 2009 The Spektator
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Jam (179, Toktogula) An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a full menu and a lounge bar atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$ Lounge Bar (338a, Frunze) One of our favourite places to drink in the Summertime, when we can afford it. Outdoor balconycum-terrace high above the street with slouchcouches and fine veiws of the circus - which you can sometimes smell in the summer. Nice. $$$
Doka Pizza (97, Akhunbaeva) The ever-popular Doka Pizza, has now, sadly, burnt down. Doka Pizza (153, Kievskaya) More sexed up than its Akhunbaeva sister bar, there’s a strip bar downstairs, Doka Kievskaya is often a post-party chillout venue for Bishkek’s young, rich kids. Enjoy the good food, the lively vibe, and the coquettish waitresses – just don’t break your beer glass, there’s a stiff fine. Also non-stop. $$$
Adriatico (219, Chui) Classy restaurant with it’s own Italian chef. Great pizza, improved service, and a fine selection of pasta dishes. $$$ Cyclone (136, Chui) Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient, polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to alleviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$ Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva) Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serving excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime dining. $$
Meri (33, Gorkova) Fatboy’s (Chui/Tynastanova) In the summer months, Meri has one of the prettiest Civilised, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town dining areas in Bishkek. International cuisine served 24 and a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot hours a day, more lively nights see jiving on the dance for conversation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini- floor to all your favourite Kyrgyz pop tunes. $$$ library to peruse (although literary classics are thin on the ground). Check out the American pancakes Navigator (103, Moskovskaya) for breakfast, top marks. $$$ A pricey, but pleasant place to while away an afternoon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) in the airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. service and a refreshing selection of salads, a good Elegant, yet modern interior and polite service. place for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease Great place to splash out on a special occasion or are getting you down. $$$ just for the hell of it. $$$$ Pit Stop (Toktogul/Orozbekova) Open 24-hours. Stands out for its rather expensive Griffon (Microregion 7) A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting drinks, its big Michael Shumacher poster and the central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the home-made formula 1 decorations. Classy. $$$ waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase. Stary Edgar’s (15, Panfilova) The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre conLive Bar (Kulatova/Pravda - near Ibiza club ) ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base24 hour sports bar with live music at weekends. ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection Plenty of leather couches provide the ideal place of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s to sip cocktails whilst watching the Champions an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés. league at 3 in the morning. $$ A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a romantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$
Aoyama (93, Toktogula) Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals. The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape together enough soms. $$$$ Watari (Shevchenko, Frunze) A small Japanese-owned restaurant that serves sushi as well as dishes with a more indian flavour. The refined atmosphere makes it ideal for a business meeting or just a sophisticated night out $$$
Petel (52, Zhykeeva Pudovkin) Operating in the back room of a Korean family’s house, this is Korean style home-cooking at its most personal. Closed on Sunday. Ring: 0543 922539 $$ Santa Maria (217, Chui) Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites, including exciting Korean barbecues where you get to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive European menu. $$$
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U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya) Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant. Descend into this underground warren and tuck in. Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sisterrabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$ Vavilon (Microregion 7) Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60 som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and a music playlist that mixes up a bit of soul, jazz, swing and classical tracks played at just the right volume. Live music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai for about 1.5km) $$$ Veranda (Gorky/Soviet. Vefa Centre roof ) Wow, what a view. Eat rather decent international cuisine whilst taking in a superb view of the mountains from the 4th floor terrace above the Vefa centre. Now under the protection of a retractable winterproof roof. $$$$
Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze) Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve enticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus, and tasty little meat pie things. $$$
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Office Tel: 61-41-96
Arabica (Sovietskaya/Kulatova) Descend the steps into an aromatic cloud of hooka smoke. The music’s normally reasonably decent chilled out sort of stuff, the food’s good, and the waitresses smile. At me, anyway. $$$
Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and thespektator.co.uk
March 2009 The Spektator
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Arzu-II (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those who get cravings for lagman or manty at four in the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed, sometimes it is, however the food and prices are constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats to dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$
Carlson (166, Sovietskaya) Great outdoor eating area. We recommend the tavuk sote (chicken, peppers, tomatoes) and a big lavash bread - a good feed. A good outdoor terrace, but be prepared to be serenaded by god-awful Karaoke style crooners. $$ Ibrahim (Gorkova/Oshskaya) Several dining rooms including private booths and a covered outdoor terrace with an extravagant waterfall fountain to help you keep cool while tucking into your kebabs in the summer. $$
Arbat (9, Karl Marks) Tel. 512094; 512087 Smart ‘elite’ club popular with a slightly older crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building. (Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450 som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som) City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina) Tel. 511513; 510581 So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the poshest clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly people beware) and spend your evening with gangster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh businessmen and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500
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Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium) Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European dishes and a homely atmosphere. It’s probably a little too chilly for al fresco dining these days, but there’s also a great outdoor terrace. $$ Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out for its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes overlooked. Probably at its best in summer, when the shashlyk masters flanking the entrance offer their creations straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style tables – cross your legs and see how long you can last before cramp sets in. $
Jetigen (Gorky/Logvinenko) Diskoklubs A new place offering European cuisine as well as the usual local specials. Stands out for it’s deli- Heaven (Frunze/Pravda - in the Hotel Dostuk) cious lagman, fresh lepyoshka bread, and attentive As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is suprisingly unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion service. $ of the well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in Smile (Chui/Sovietskaya) tatty jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out Despite the name, you’ll be lucky to see one on the of place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables waitresses face. Nevertheless, if it’s decent cheap by the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks food you’re after, this isn’t a bad place to look. The up to this value. (Entrance charge 200-300 som) eggs are just as good as those at Fatboys next door, Pharoah 1 (East side of the he Philharmonic) and half the price. Think about it. $ People tell us this place is well worth a dance and a screwdriver - but the Spektator can’t vouch for this Syrian as is currently on medication, can’t drink alcohol and Damasc (54, Manas - opposite the Humanities Uni) hasn’t been out much lately. (Entrance charge ?) See a full review of Damasc in next month’s Spektator! Infinity (Micro region 7) Yet to be investigated. Ask a taxi driver to take you Russian/Ukrainian to ‘Infinity’ (and beyond) in the 7th micro region. It’s located way out near the hotel Jannat. Any rePirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo) Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century ports would be welcome! (Entrance charge ?) atmosphere serving Russian specialities. $$$ Apple (28, Manas) Taras Bulba (Pr. Mira/Jibek Jolu) We haven’t had time to check this Ukrainian place out yet - although the word is that it’s well worth stopping by for a borsht po-ukrainski. Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars, large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-300 som)
Istanbul (48, Chui) Discretely tucked away on Chui Prospekt, Istanbul is a low key cafe offering tasty Turkish cuisine. Puff away on a hookah pipe or slurp lentil soup to your Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo) Tel. 620131 heart’s content, all at a nice price. $$ A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova) literally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ staff, cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back charge [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/ room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, Sat. ‘Foreigners’ free.) the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh, and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended! $$ Ibiza (9, Kulatova) A cavernous space with a large dance floor. Dancers suspended on platforms 15 feet above the floor, strobe lighting, smoke machines and banging dance tunes. Bishkek’s (half-arsed) attempt to create a little bit of the party island. Efforts to negotiate a cheaper entrance fee are futile. (EnThere are some Bishkek old-hands who say that trance charge 350-400 som) things aren’t what they used to be when it comes to nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights Retro Metro (24, Mira) of carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that www.retrometro.kg Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his reccontemporary Bishkek struggles to offer. Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below ords from inside the front of a VW camper van. One and we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit of the most popular places for post-2am partying. and debauchery in town to keep everyone happy. (Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450 som Fri/Sat. Reservation price 200 som)
Promzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya) www.promzona.kg Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi ride or a long walk home are in order at the end of a night. Nevertheless, this trendy live music venue has a lot going for it: good bands, an extensive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring, strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night. Rock or blues bands normally play at the weekends. (Music charge 200-350 som) Tequila Blues (Turesbekova/Engels) Recently re-opened! A possible misnomer, the tequila is just fine, but the blues is pretty much non-existent. Young Russian studenty types mosh away the nights to rock bands in an atmospheric underground bunker. Weekends are not for the fainthearted, or the claustrophobic. (Entrance charge 100-150 som)
Zeppelin (43, Chui) Zeppelin is in the same vein as Tequila Blues but not quite so spit and sawdust. On the nights we’ve visited, there’s been a line up of young rock or punk bands strutting their stuff, heavier beats seem to go down best with the young Russian crowd. Full Mojito (Micro region 12) Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira) restaurant menu. Recently opened, Zaporyzhia is a cossack fla- Another place to be checked out. Do they actually (Entrance charge 100-150 som) voured restauraunt in a varnish-scented log cab- serve mojitos? Possibly. Is it a Hemingwayesque in. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere. club reminicent of 1950s Havana? Probably not.. Live music also common at Stary Edgar’s and Beatles Bar (see ‘bars/restaurants’) (Entrance charge 100-300 som) Recommended! $$$ www.thespektator.co.uk March 2009 The Spektator
Special Event Saturday, March 14
Tales from the Vienna Woods
Ballet by Johan Strauss II Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 17:00 Tel. 66 15 48
Sunday, March 29
Ballet by Guiseppe Verdi Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 17:00 Tel. 66 15 48
The Vagina Monologues
Metro Bar, 133 Chui A performance for V-Day Community Campaign 2009 “Until the Violence Stops” Saturday, March 28 @ 7pm (English) Saturday, April 11 @ 7pm (Russian) 100% of ticket proceeds will go to Sezim + Labrys + Tais plus shelters for women and children. V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. www.vday.org
Sunday, March 15
The Three Pigs
Ballet for children by Svetlana Kibirova Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 11:00 Tel. 66 15 48
The Conservatory Jantosheva, 115 Tel: 479542 Concerts by students and professors. The Puppet Theatre Sovietskaya/Michurina Performances on Sundays at 11:00am. Kyrgyz State Philharmonic Chui Prospect, 253 Tel: 212262, 212235 Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for special performances) There are two concert halls featuring classical, traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety of shows. Russian Drama Theatre Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park) Tel.: 662032, 621571 Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00 Tickets 30-100 som A range of local and international plays in Russian. The Abdylas Maldybaev Opera and Ballet Theatre Abdyrahmanova, 167 Tel: 661548; Tickets 50-300 som The theatre has resident opera and ballet companies with occasional guest companies. The season usually runs from autumn to spring but there are often performances at other times of the year as well. The Kyrgyz Drama Theatre Panfilov, 273 (behind the Government House) Tel: 665802, 216958 Hours: 8:00-20:00 in summer Tickets 20-200 som The resident company performs a range of local and international plays – performances are in Kyrgyz or Russian.
Women’s Day Parties
“Shows for Hot Women”
Arbat Nightclub, 9 Karl Marks Tel. 512094; 512087 A special programme of shows for Women’s Day on the evenings of 7th, 8th & 9th March
Opera by Guiseppe Verdi Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 17:00 Tel. 66 15 48
Friday, March 20
“Concert of Young Opera Soloists”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 18:00 Tel. 66 15 48
City Club, 85/1 Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina We’ve been told that on the evening of March 8th entrance to City Club is free owing to the ‘internaSunday, March 22 tional crisis’ but we advise you to check with the The Three Pigs club yourself beforehand! Ballet for children by Svetlana Kibirova Tel. 511513; 510581 Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 11:00 Concert for International Women’s Day Tel. 66 15 48 Presented by Ernst Akramov Saturday 7th March Aida Tickets: Free Opera by Guiseppe Verdi Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 16:00 Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 17:00 Tel. 66 15 48 Tel. 66 15 48
Women’s Day Party
Sunday, March 8
Traditional Kyrgyz Music
Seimek Beishekeev Philharmonic, 253 Chui Prospect, 18:30 Tel: 61 40 15 Tickets: 300 som
Saturday, March 28
Premiere: Doctor Aibolit
Ballet by Igor Morozov Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 17:00 Tel. 66 15 48
Monday, March 9
Traditional Kyrgyz Music
Seimek Beishekeev Philharmonic, 253 Chui Prospect, 18:30 Tel: 61 40 15 Tickets: 300 som
Sunday, March 29
Premiere: Doctor Aibolit
Ballet by Igor Morozov Opera Ballet, 167 Abdyrahmanova, 17:00 Tel. 66 15 48
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March 2009 The Spektator
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1. Strelnikova. 2. Uzun-Bulak 3. Politekh 4. Kashka-Suu (2100m) Restaurant, bar, sauna, ice-skating, 2 conference halls. Six ski-runs of up to 2000m in length. Chair lift and rope tow. 5. Great Alarchinsky Glacier (summer skiing) 6. Edelweiss 7. Kalga-Kar 8. Oruu-Sai (2100m) Conference hall for 30 people, cafe, bar, sauna, billiards, table tennis. Three ski runs of up to 1000m in length. 9. Kyzgyz-Bezel 10. Almaluu 11. Noruz (2000m) Slopes up to 2300m in length 12. Toguz-Bulak (1900m) Ski runs up to 3000m in length. Chair lifts. Home of the Kyrgyz national snowboarding team. 13. Orlovka Nine ski runs of up to 2800m in length. Two chair lifts and two rope tows. Tel. 0773-121 215 (base) 937 873 (Bishkek office) Restaurant, bar, billiards, sauna. 14. Sosnovka 15. Tö-Ashu No lifts, car lift 100 som or use your own. In this high-altitude location, snow remains through April. Chair and cabin lifts planned for 2009. Spectacular scenery. Heliskiing.
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Renting gear: 300-800 s. Try ‘Snowland’ near the Narodny in the 10th mikrorayon, ‘Limpapo’ on Isanova opposite Beta Stores (phone 610 120, call here also to reserve places on Mikhailov’s tours), ‘Red Fox’ on Sovietskaya/Gorky and in Tashrabat precinct, or ‘Avtogid Gazeta’ on Moskovskaya/Korchinskaya. Most ski bases also offer a rental service, but stocks are limited. Lift tickets: All day 400-500 s for systems with chair lifts, 150-250 s for the others. Instruction: 500 s/h adults, 400 s/h children.
There are many companies that specialise in heliskiing (flying into the wilds in a sexy Soviet helicopter for a bit of off-piste skiing). Try the following sites for more info: www.kyrgyzstan-mountain-sports. com, www.edelweiss.elcat.kg, www.ak-sai.com and tien-shan.com
March 2009 The Spektator
28 Weekend quick crossword No 12,084
1 2 3 4 5 8 9 10 11 15 12 13 16 14 6 7
11 Plastic art (9) 12 Guardian (9) 13 Agency — money (5) 14 Authority — one hand (5) 18 See 4 19 Small tower (6) 22 Smile (4) 23 Egg-shaped (4)
17 20 21 24 25 26
1. had On which one is quick to 1 an improvised incendiary lose one’s after him? weapon namedtemper (5,4) 2.8 Region of Captain Ahab’s body What part (4) 9 Special right off? did Moby Dick bite(9) 10 Avoid (4) 3. When Mountain’s Fall was the last 13 Tooth (5) novel of which recently deceased 15 Moorland bird (6) writer? 416 Songbird (to 6 18) (6) picture Which film won the best 17 There but not yet effective Oscar last month? Who was the di(6) rector? 19 English river (6) 5. Who is older, Madonna or Kylie 20 Call loudly (5) Minogue? By how many years? 21 Alter course — Fiction? 6. Who directed Pulpriding gear (4) 7. The island on which Marco Polo 24 Extra-high gear (9) was born belongs to which mod25 Covering of house (4) ern day country? 26 At once (9) 8. Which imaginary number is the square root of -1? Down
Answers: 1) Vyacheslav Molotov 2) His leg 3) Chingiz Aitmatov 4) Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle 5) Kylie, by 10 years 6) Quentin Tarantino 7) Croatia 8) i
2 Listen! (4) 3 Wild party (4) 4,18 “____ and don’t dilly-dally on the way” (6,3,3) 5 Indicator (6) found on page 23 6 Main adversary (9) 7 Attractive force (9) SUDOKU
qUICK qUIZ Which Soviet foreign minister Across
Constitution of Marshutkastan
1. The fee is always 8 som – hiked up from 5 som after a marshutka drivers’ strike earlier last year.
Solution No 12,083 2. If you’re closest to the driver, expect to find yourc om p r e h e N S i v e self administering change for the entire population
Want more? Access over 4,000 archive puzzles at guardian.co.uk/crossword. Stuck? Then call our solutions line on 09068 338 248. Calls cost 60p per minute at all times. Service supplied by ATS. Get 8 great Guardian puzzle books for only £20 inc p&p (save £40). Visit guardianbooks.co.uk or call 0845 606 4232 Across
Answers to this month’s crossword can be
a a e o e N x c a r b u t istfull r c u no-one except the e when p 3. The marshutka h k u p d o u driver hascroom to breathe. At this point he’ll stop e l e t i o N a m e N taking passengers until someone gets off the bulgt t t d e g ing vehicle. a N makes a marshutka ride a bit like p i e m This h a S S l e i l u r u Twister.cSometimes fun, sometimes kinky, always t o o l S N a k e p i t painful. S N p l r p u t r o c a d e r o oWN 4. o m youtwant to get off shout: “Astana-veet-ye When S o r i pazhalsta!” or “Na astanovkye iastanoveetye!”. Slam p S y c h o S om a t c
1 On which one is quick to lose one’s temper (5,4) 8 Region (4) 9 Special right (9) 10 Avoid (4) 13 Tooth (5) 15 Moorland bird (6) 16 Songbird (to 6 18) (6) 17 There but not yet effective (6) 19 English river (6) 20 Call loudly (5) 21 Alter course - riding gear (4) 24 Extra-high gear (9) 25 Covering of house (4) 26 At once (9)
the door too hard and expect to incur the drivers wrath. 5. If you feel a hand in your pocket, you’re getting robbed. Try to twist the random wrist that’s doing the robbing. Or better still, wear a back pack, which is harder to rob inconspicuously, but will make you fewer friends amongst the cramped population as a whole. 6. Most drivers have had their personality ground out of them by the nature of the work. If you get a talker, treat him like a long lost brother. He might actually help you get off at the right place. 7. If a policeman gets on the marshutka, treat him like a long lost brother, because if he decides to put his hand in your pocket, you’re screwed.
2 Listen! (4) 3 Wild party (4) 4,18 “___ and don’t dilly-dally on the way” (6,3,3) 5 Indicator (6) 6 Main adversary (9) 7 Attractive force (9) 11 Plastic art (9) 12 Guardian (9) 13 Agency - money (5) 14 Authority - one hand (5) 18 See 4 19 Small tower (6) 22 Smile (4) 23 Egg-shaped (4)
8. If a woman is pregnant, with a kid, over fifty-five or prematurely afflicted by bunions, give up your seat. If not she gets kicked and shoved like the rest of them. 9. If a man of roughly sixty gets on the marshutka, he normally gets one too. Some men younger than this seem to command enough respect to earn a seat. Normally this happens if they are traditional looking, with a felt or sheepskin shapka on their head. I saw one man replace his traditional hat with a Planet Hollywood cap when he got off the marshutka. Whether this was a ploy or a necessity dictated by the burning sun I couldn’t say. 10. Standing on someone’s foot and apologizing after the event is likely to get you more contempt than respect. 11. Try to memorize the route to your destination by the number of turns rather than landmarks. Craning to look out of the window will also make you unpopular as people have to adapt their own positions to your new body shape. 12. Try not to fart - it adds tension to the experience. www.thespektator.co.uk
You have just walked into a dark two-storey house. There are three light switches on the first floor A, B and C. Only one of the switches works, and it turns on the light on the second floor. You cannot see the second floor light from the first floor and there are no windows in the building, but you do have a flashlight. You can only make one trip up the stairs, and you can only flip one switch at a time. How do you determine which of the three switches turns on the light on the second floor ?
Answers to last month’s brainteasers Berlin, tar and nicotine
March 2009 The Spektator
A bottle of wine cost £10. The wine was worth £9 more than the bottle. How much was the bottle worth? (Hint: the answer is not £1)
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