Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Kyrgyz Culture Shock

No, I haven't had another run-in with the shower bucket; that's just what they call it when you've been in a foreign country long enough to realize that it really isn't like what you're used to and that you really aren't that open to new things. I've been in Kyrgyzstan for a week and a day now, and I've hit that point, something I've managed to skip in China. So this is me reacting to everything that seems stupid about society here right now. Don't take me too seriously; if I was going to live here for years I'd get over it and then laugh off this post.

First, I hate it how people here grab your arms. I was going to get a taxi once, a competing guy wanted me to look at his car ("Audi" he was probably repeating to impress me with his wheels) and he grabbed my arm. I was ready to fight him. I stopped, shook him off in likely a very unpolite way, and then kept walking all mad.

I hate how everything is so far apart here, and how they have stores where you have to buy things instead of hole-in-the-wall places like they do in China where you can just look in and see if it has what you need.

And I hate the feeling of being ripped off. I don't always know if I am, because I can't ask a native about every transaction I make, but it feels like it. I'm only shielded if I already know what the price should be: a kg of laundry costs 45 som here, otherwise the lady at Karakol wouldn't have gone below 100. The taxi from the bus station to the place I'm staying should have been 150; they started at 700! And despite me repeatedly saying "Don't rip me off because I'm a foreigner" (in English, let's remember where I am), they refused to go below 200. And I hate how you have to negotiate for taxis instead of just reading the meter, and I hate how an 8 hour drive costs 250 som but a drive anywhere in town costs at least 200 round trip. And then I see the minibuses that you ride in for 8 hours, and I realize how they can be so inexpensive when you have 18 people in one van, and I hate that too. I don't like it how little kids ride in these buses, too, and then throw up in the seat in front of you.

And I don't like how everyone here is ugly. I'm finally in a land with white people; give me some beautiful ones to remind me of home. And I don't like how they speak more than one language here, so I don't even know which one I should be trying to learn, or which one to speak, as if I knew overlapping words. So I don't like how I say "thank you" in Kyrgyz, "hello" in Russian, "five" in Kyrgyz and all the other numbers in Russian, and that's it. I should order vodka just because I know what I'd be getting.

Speaking of that, I hate how none of the restaurants have picture menus. And how they eat so much bread here, and how expensive food is. Where are the fruit sellers like in China?

A lot of my frustration has come not from this being different from America, but from it being different than China. It's like I managed to totally accept what goes on there, and now I expect that every foreign country is like that. I wish Kyrgyzstan was like China, because I understand the way things work there, even the things I don't like.

In China they freak out over foreigners and make you show your passport every time you check into a hotel. Here, they don't, and I was wondering how I had gotten away with not showing my passport the whole time I've been staying here. My passport is at the Kazakh embassy now, so I wanted them to sign my photocopy so that when I have to show it, they'll know that my real one is actually with the Kazakhs. They said that wasn't necessary, but I didn't trust them and had the girl here write it in Russian so they would understand if anyone hassles me.

The only people who hassle you, though, are crooked cops looking for trouble or a bribe, and I don't know who those cops are and what to do about them. I don't like how all the cars drive here without concern for the people--it's fine if they want to speed, but if I'm crossing the street, swerve a little instead of making me run for my life. And I don't like how it's not safe at night.

I think that covers most of it. I'm sure I've forgotten something, but you get the idea. So what should I do? Leave the country, of course. Really. I need to head back to China sometime, and it's not like I'd have the time to adjust if I stuck around for another week. I'm not even retreating to America, I'm just going back to a different foreign country. That's totally fine, I think.

And I don't like how often they use the word "no."


Anonymous said...

I feel for you Will. Great job identifying the source of what you're feeling, and then describing it so well! Love Dad!

April said...

You had me pretty well, but I couldn't help but laugh at the hatred for all ugly people.
At least you know you're the best looking person in an entire country. How many people can say that?