Couchsurfing Culture Kyrgyzstan Travel

Holiday greetings from Bishkek – 4 weeks later #latercard

24. August 2016

Just a few days go, a friend of mine asked if I intend to write here more about my trip to Kyrgyzstan. I would love to but I promised myself not to do so before my postcards from Kyrgyzstan reach their recipients. This has happenend now – only five weeks after having sent them.

One of the postcards I sent from the post office in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, got into my own hands when I arrived back in Bern. That is because I had sent it to the department I work for. And this it what it looks like (the postcard, not the department):

DSC02702_800x600Yes, later, I will also show the front side of the card. But let us first analyze the elements on the content page of the card:

First, you will recognize the seal that says “PAR AVION”. Concerning the fact that this card was travelling for a whole month you could conclude that Kyrgyzsian planes are flying very slow. Or that the mail of Kyrgyzstan gave this card to fly with the Solar Impulse.

Next you will recognize the Cyrillic letters in the first line of the address field. Actually, I can not read them (although I wrote them), but I know that this is Russian for “Switzerland”. As a journalist and caring mother who really prepares for a trip to foreign countries I found out that on each letter or postcard being sent from Kyrgyzstan the address has to be written like that: COUNTRY – NAME – STREET – CITY. And the name of the destination country has to be written in Russian with Cyrillic letters. English will not work because how should the mail man know where to send the card? Not many people in this country know English.

Fortunately, I found a web site that explained this rule and also showed some country names written in Cyrillic.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to leave the postcards at the reception desk of the hotel we stayed in so the employees would take care of them. They indeed asked us to which countries our cards were intended to be shipped, and the destinations Switzerland, Turkey and Germany were also considered valid (whatever criteria therefore exist – are there like forbidden countries? If so which are those? Prussia or the BRD GmbH?), but the postcards had to be given to the Kirghiz mail by ourselves. This does not mean that you buy some stamps somewhere (e.g. kiosk, automat) and drop the franked postcards into a public mailbox afterwards. Things like this do not exist in Bishkek.

Instead the clerks at the reception desk explained to us how to get to the main post office in Bishkek (“main” sounds fun – I guess there is only one). This is located at the rather most central square of the city and looks like this:

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A quite attractive building from better, from Soviet times. Somewhere inside there is the Kirghiz telekom which is also responsible for the country’s postal system. In the foreground, the yellow thing, a billboard of Beeline, a Russian telecommunication provider who gives away free SIM cards at the airport of Bishkek. Clever move. We were thankful for that..

From the vague information I found in Google Maps and based on the fact that there was a huge sign on this building saying “Telekom” I reasoned the post office would be inside there, too. Slowly we (me and my son) sneaked off to this eerie monster of architecture. And then entered a random, unlabelled door. There sat, in a box made from wood and glass, a janitor. Acting more like a bouncer. He approached us and I tried to explain to him that we would like to send postcards. The bouncer indicated his wish to have a look at our postcards (again the check in which countries the cards were supposed to be shipped to and if – see above – this would be possible). After a short inspection (the relevant part of the address was written in Russian so no time lost there), he asked us to enter another unimpressive, wooden door.

And there we were – in the post office. Except one more person (a customer who wrote adresses on enveloppes) there was noone.

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Pretty typical for Kirghiy architecture: there are nor windows. Makes everything look a bit gloomy but on the other hand you are protected from the sun and the heat. And maybe copied from the traditional Kyrgyz tents, the yurts in which the nomadic people used to live in former times. More about this later.

The office where we were allowed to hand our postcards to an employee of the Kyrgyz mail – it had its special kind of beauty:

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An interesting journey back in time, to the German Democratic Republic GDR of the 80s. Again, no windows. Thus, at least, you are safe from chemtrails.

Somehow, we also made it out of the building:

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My son was the first one to be out again and at the first moment, he seemed to be a bit irritated by the sunlight which he hadn’t seen for some time!

Okay, I don’t want overact – the whole process from entering until leaving the house took less than 10 minutes. But time always seems to be so much longer when you are at foreign places.

I guess now you want to know something about the front page, the picture of the postcard. Forget it. First, some things about the stamp (see above, in the first picture): it shows a very typical Kirghiz headdress: the kalpak. And by “typical” I mean that the Kyrgyz really wear this, e.g. in the streets. Okay, only men, not the Kyrgyz women.

As a reward for being a helping hand on a farm during my couchsurfing stay in Aral Blijny close to the city of Sokuluk I also received a kalpak. I wear it with pride:

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Pretty posh – and a bit risky – I wear my kalpak also during hiking trips through Switzerland. In doing so, I combine it with one of my other souvenirs: OAKEY glasses from Turkey. Yes, you read right: not an OAKLEY (too common) but an Oakey. Okay?

Finally, a few words regarding the front page of the postcard. This is what it looks like:

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Yes, this picture shows the postcard’s original colors. It looks like their printers are still from Soviet times.

The postcard shows the Victory Monument located at the Victory Square in the city centre of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek. We never managed to stand under this monument due to the fact that whenever we showed up there was a bunch of people celebrating a wedding and taking lots of pictures:

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It is so obvious: as soon as I take a picture, the whole party gang steps aside and acts as if everybody could go up these stairs. But as soon as you move into this direction they threaten you with Kung Fu and forced marriage.

The monument was erected to commemorate having defeated Nazi Germany. More details can be found in the link list below which will also be the end of this post. (It’s a new whim: link lists at the end of a post instead of links directly in the text. I learnt this from my current employer, the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF. It’s about accessibility and also keeps you from being distracted from my text. I like it.)

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