When you wander through the streets of Bishkek, you probably won’t immediately like it. It is not as huge and owerwhelmingly intimidating as Moscow or other metropolises, has not the scruffy, old and wrecked down charme of cities like Marseille or – sometimes Berlin, which I personally am really into, nor is it close to anything advertising brochures would probably print on their front – thus: the “real, objective” beauty of a city.
Like most tourists or newbies I spent the first days walking around the centre, where the most representative, soviet buildings are situated and where there are big shopping malls and you can even get good coffee (I’ll explain that somewhere else). Right now, seeing the news on the internet, I am already a little bit familiar with those places and although most Western journalists (if it ever comes to the rare event that they have to report about Kyrgyzstan) tend to look for the “oriental” flare, therefore showing the markets and some people with headscarves (which seem extremely rare to me – at least in the capital, I see less people wearing it than in Berlin), or the typical kyrgyz hats some men are wearing. This made me think quite quickly after some days that the city is easy to get used to. And I have to admit that I was even a little bit disappointed about how “Western” Bishkek seemed to me.
This is one part of the story. The urge to find differences.
Another part are the ideas in our heads. Just like the headscarves and the Kyrgyz hats, I had my personal imagination about the White House, where the revolutions (more about that later) in 2005 and 2010 took place. When I first walked by it, I had the media’s pictures in my head and saw the square in front of the huge fence crowded with screaming people, tearing down or climbing on the metal fence and in the end destroying it.
There was nobody.
Usually, as often as I walked by it now, the vast area of the White House seems empty and it’s just a boring (but golden) sovjet-style building that is far too big and, as far as I know, contains far too many officials and their paper work.
Pictures in your head! And media. Just showing the extreme examples. Although we all know it, it is amazing how it really influences us.
The last part of the story I want to mention is about getting only a part of it.
For example, although everything you buy here is stuffed into at least one plastic bag (mostly two to make it easier to carry) and noone seems to care too much about environmental issues (of course there is no waste separation) the streets are quite clean, which I personally hadn’t expected after having been to several other countries. So, when my collegue told me she liked Berlin, because the streets were so clean, I was really surprised.
But you know: everything is relative. And when she went on telling me, she’d just been to “Mitte” (the central district of Berlin with the government buildings and touristy stuff), it already made more sense to me. And that’s why, I won’t continue telling you about how empty, clean, “GDR-like” and easy to understand Bishkek really is.