Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friendly Central Asians

I'm not in a good mood right now because I've logged onto my bank account for the first time in a month and found that Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan have been nipping away at my balance every time I've walked near an ATM. So maybe now my mood fits my topic.

People here are weird. (Can you tell I'm still in cultural adjustment?) My first day in Kyrgyzstan I was exposed to it, but I didn't know how to classify my story and have held back until now, when I've just had it happen for the third time.

Here's what happens: I met someone, and after about ten minutes, they ask me to buy them things. I don't know why they do it; at this point I'm so tired of all the differences that I don't really care. But it does make me confused.

The first time it happened I was trying to find a place to change money. I met a guy who took it upon himself to help me. He didn't know any better than I did, of course, but it was nice to have someone who spoke the language and a little English. Eventually we found a bank, and once he saw I really was rich, he started directing us to stores. We bought a drink (I paid for both), then we went to a convenience store and he picked out something for me and him--which I would pay for, of course. When I figured out what he was doing, I told him I had to go home. I didn't know how far I was supposed to recompense him, but he hadn't been that helpful.

I thought it was a tit-for-tat thing.

Then a few nights later on my way home I ended up playing soccer with some local kids against a group of military guys. After we were done playing, the guys asked me to buy them something to drink.

"Why don't you buy something yourself?" I asked him nicely.
"We don't have any money. We spent it all on drinks on our way here, and now we're really thirsty."

I was hesitant, because there were a lot of guys, but they kept talking to me. ("Will," they would say before every phrase, to give it extra punch, "we're not, like, robbers or something. We're good guys.") Finally I agreed to buy us all a liter of Coke (not water--"Will, we drink Coke"), which they said wouldn't be enough but didn't complain after that.

I figured maybe it was something that new friends did for each other.

Then today I bought some water and sat down at the stall to drink it. After a few minutes, a middle-aged guy sitting there motioned for me to sit next to him. We proceeded to have a conversation for the next fifteen minutes. This was a remarkable feat since he didn't speak English and I didn't speak whatever he spoke, but it happened. When I looked about finished, he motioned me up and away.

I started walking with him down the street, not sure where he was leading me. Then me motioned to himself. "Money," he said in an undertone. I played dumb for a few seconds, but he was quite able to communicate his desire for me to buy him something. I talked to him in English about why I wasn't going to give him money.

"No," I said patiently. "I don't have any money to give you. I know I showed you some American money; that's not to buy beer with. I have to use all this money--Almaty is expensive." He said something in Russian. "Not even one. I'm not going to give you money just because I just met you." Eventually we came back to the train station and I told him I had to go back to the bed I'm renting.

So this whole way of doing things is weird. I don't know if it's just because everyone is convinced that Americans are rich, or if it really is something that has to do with friendship here, or whatever. It's just strange and I'm glad I'm going back to China (although when I land in Xinjiang it'll still be foreign until I take another 40 hour train ride to Xi'an).

2 comments:

Mich said...

That is so strange, Will! I hope they don't run you too dry! Enjoy your 40 hour train trip..if that's possible! :)

Julie said...

haha will it seems they don't have the concept of "poor college student" like we do..
good luck and enjoy the train ride!