Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January 8, 2012

January 8, 2012

It’s all about managing expectation, about releasing the old routine and the old patterns and developing new ones. So I can’t wake up and exercise. Fine. I’ll wake up, enjoy my tea, and work. Later in the day I’ll go for a long walk. When it warms up and all the ice melts, I’ll embrace the challenge of building up my endurance again. Until then, I find other ways. Once I start teaching, I’ll be so worn out, this excess energy I have won’t be so much an issue.

There’s a point of release—several points, actually—when adapting to a new culture. You fight and fight (at least, I do), trying to hold on to your old life, your old patterns, your old lifestyle. Bit by bit, you release these old things and find new ones to take their place. New routines. Each experience like this—moving to a foreign country—is new, but the emotional pattern is roughly the same.

And I feel like I’m reaching a point where what I’m going through is less culture shock and more homesickness. That’s not to say that there is no culture shock—that there haven’t been bits of it and that there won’t be more. But I’ve always had problems with missing my family and friends. When I’ve spoken to other teachers over the years, the one thing I’ve noticed about the ones that have spent several years traveling and teaching is that they don’t really have close ties to their families. I could never live the way they live. I don’t envy them or feel sorry for them; I just accept that my emotional situation is quite different.

But enough of that whole deep, introspection thing. You’re here to read about Bishkek in January.

Took a walk to Osh Bazaar today. The first couple of days I was here, it was sunny and almost warm-ish (well, warm enough to melt some of the snow during the warmest part of the day). But the last few days? Cold and grey and overcast and… you get the picture. So, in preparation for my walk to the bazaar: long johns, jeans, wool socks, yak-trax on my hiking boots, a long-sleeved tee-shirt, a down coat, a wool coat (yes, two coats), gloves, mittens over the gloves, a scarf, a hat. Oh, and a map of Bishkek (not really necessary as the city is on a grid. On the other hand, all these communist-era concrete structures all look the same, so…) Oh, and side note: streets have two names.

And I set out. Forgot to mention: I brought a copy of my passport with me. You know, just in case I get stopped by the police. Which, in my estimation, was very likely to happen given that I wasn’t wearing the local costume: fur-trimmed black puffy coat with a belt, stylish black hat, knee-high high-heeled black boots, black leggings, shorts or skirt over said leggings. No, I am the stereotypical frumpy American. No make-up, no concern about fashion or how I look. My blue-tinged lips may have led some to believe that I was wearing some shade of counter-culture lipstick—but I sincerely doubt it.

But back to the bazaar. There are several things I both love and dread experiencing when I’m in a foreign country. One is transportation (ALERT: Mom, skip the rest of this paragraph, please). Talk about a thrill. You never really know what you’re going to get and, in some cases, if you’re going to get anywhere alive. I’ve experience some harrowing rides in my time. I wonder what K’Stan will bring.

The other is bazaars. Overwhelming, stressful, and likely to catapult someone into the depths of culture shock. But I was prepared. Well, not really. But I at least knew that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and how I was going to react. And I had an escape plan.

Bazaars are all remarkably similar while being quite different (yes, I know, as far as descriptions go, that one is useless. By the way, what’s the genre or style of writing where the narrator comments on his or her narrative style as the story progresses? ‘Cause I do that a lot. And if there’s no name for it, I’ll have to invent one.)

But, Bazaars.

No, more set-up. When I was in Jersey, I went to Columbus a couple of times. It’s a bit flea market and Amish market south of Princeton. Picture, if you will, the epitome of North American chaos: cars parked in neat rows, fences around the flea market enclosure, tables set up in orderly rows with clear demarcations between them, wide, easily navigable aisles where visitors stroll leisurely, stopping to examine something that catches their eye then moving on. And the produce? In a separate section, across the parking lot, with prices clearly marked.

Now picture a tornado going straight through this scene. What you have left might begin to resemble your typical non-Western bazaar. No straight lines or rows, tarps overhanging booths wedged in to winding, tight alleyways, nothing marked with prices, no sense of where anything is. I have no sense of how large the bazaar was because it was impossible to follow a line from any one end to the other. You simply cross a street, take a deep breath, and plunge in. People hustling and rushing and bumping into one another. Everyone is on a mission; no leisurely browsing. If you stop to look at something it’s because you’re interested in it and the negotiations begin.

Now, picture all of this on top of an ice-skating rink. Because this is, after all, Bishkek in winter—and there’s no salting, no sanding, no shoveling. Children are sliding down inclines (because yes, this is on uneven ground) into the people below, women and holding onto one another for balance, teenage boys are trying to not slip and look like fools. And I’m in the middle of all this, in my frumpy North American wool coat, brown hiking boots and Yak-trax (great on icy, packed snow but pretty useless on solid ice, I must admit), my Pacific Northwest-looking blue striped hat, my wide eyes and vacant expression, trying to pick my way gingerly across the ice, slipping occasionally, arms flailing…

And now I’m in my room, on my second pot of tea. Boiling a chicken thigh to make some soup. Mentally steeling myself for the challenges to come. Because tomorrow, I meet my students.

To be continued…

(And yes, I know it’s hackneyed. But there you have it.)


Just spent ten minutes on the Russian Rosetta Stone. My brain is SO FRIED right now. Wow.


In trying to figure out how to address the now boiled chicken leg in a pot of water (a pot which I will need to make soup in), I wandered into the bathroom, sat on the toilet (with pants still up, mind you), and set the pot of chicken + water on my lap in order to pick the meat off the bones. Let’s just say that Pavlov was on to something with this whole stimulus + conditioned response thing. Now I have a pot of chicken in my bathtub, and empty bladder, and no idea how to proceed from here. (For those of you who are still confused, I had to set the pot in the bathtub so that I could use the toilet).

Yeah. I’m definitely tired.


Things that make America great (and no, NASCAR is not on this list):

Water fountains, frozen vegetables, the to-go container for hot beverages (wasteful but brilliant), peanut butter, fast food restaurants and gas stations that don’t charge you to use the toilet…

See, if we could just export some of the stuff on this list, fewer people would hate us.


Why has my music program classified Thus Spake Zarathustra as romantic music?


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