Tag Archives: cholpon-ata

the beach at issyk kul

I’ve an unexpected morning in Bishkek to type out my thoughts. It’s overwhelming. Where to start? Perhaps with a correction on the Bishparmak statement in the last post. Many Kazakhs do love their national dish, and were horrified to hear that anyone felt otherwise. Though it’s popular here in Kyrgyzstan as well, I’ve still yet to try it. My friend here, Jamilya, explained that perhaps I haven’t had it because it is only made for big celebrations and a horse or sheep must be slaughtered for the dish. Trying it in a restaurant (entirely possible) just isn’t the same.

I left Kazakhstan on the 14th for Kyrgyzstan, and spent a few days at Issyk-kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world (after Titicaca in Peru). The fresh air was quite a treat. I went from night bus (not my choice of travel, but I took it for Guka. A mistake that snapped our friendship, strained from communicating poorly and being together too much. A painful lesson learned, is being learned, here) to soviet four-person bunk room with Guka, Nadilya, and her two kids. Then I met up with Jamilya at a lovely guesthouse in the next town, unfortunately overrun by an obnoxiously loud family, replete with drunken, obstreperous, egotistical father and screaming, miserable child. They left the dining area and bathrooms an obscene mess. The family was so uncouth that I’d no idea they were of the new rich. Only when we walked back to the guesthouse and Jamilya pointed out the obnoxious father’s giant black Mitsubishi SUV did I realize that this unbearable family is of the new wealthy class—and also Kazakh. There seems to be some animosity from the Kyrgyz toward the wealthier Kazakhs. Jamilya said of the man and the new rich, “Yes, of course he is! They are all loud and intolerable and terribly full of themselves. It’s unbearable”

View from Aunt's Flat, Issyl Kul
View from Aunt’s Flat, Issyl Kul

It is understood in the ’Stans that if someone is wealthy, he is wildly unscrupulous. Especially if he joins the ranks of his impudent, SUV-driving comrades. Unfortunately, this is usually true. The resort town of Cholpon-Ata was overrun by such people and the vibe was unpleasant.

Like beach towns in the West, Soviet resort towns all have a similar feel. Open-air cafes line the streets, each crowded with plastic tables and chairs shaded by umbrellas emblazoned with cigarette ads. TVs for Karaoke blast head-splitting pop music. People stroll along in beachwear drinking beer, eating ice cream and relaxing. From Baltic and Black Sea beaches to the shores of Issyk-kul, on to the Pacific coasts of the Russian Far East, it is more or less the same scene. Generally people are quite easygoing, but here in Cholpon-Ata, everyone had something to prove, or show off.

Those with new money strut about in tight, gaudy bright-colored clothing (this isn’t fashionable Moscow) and sport a scowl that screams of their boredom and superiority. It seems a thin veneer over a wretched, lonely misery of never, ever enough. Of “Do they have more than me and if so can I hide it ’til I get it too? How do I get it too? Am I enough? What is wrong?” It won’t be long until Prozac arrives here, if it hasn’t already.

After a night at the guesthouse, Jamilya, her mother, sister, and I left for their aunt’s flat a few towns east. Quiet! No hot water, but clean and quiet, and a kitchen to cook in. Much better for the yoga retreat: morning and afternoon sessions on the beach. Tuesday, a giant rainbow passed over the lake as we practiced. Wednesday, I moved again for a photo project at elderly centers in Balykchi, and then onto Bishkek, where I stayed at Jamilya’s house with her father, who was alone for the week while the family vacationed at the lake.

While I hugely appreciate Guka and Jamilya’s hospitality, it overwhelms me. I was relieved to be on my own for a bit.