Parks and Police in Bishkek

I stayed in Bishkek a week. It was a nice break and I found the city enjoyable, with nice weather, lots of parks, good restaurants, and friendly people. It’s a great place to hole up in a cafe or bar and study Russian, which is what I did a lot. I decided since I will be traveling through a number of countries where Russian is spoken I better be able to say more than da and nyet. I also had a number of minor things to get done, such as buy a map of Kyrgyzstan, get my Uzbekistan visa, and replace a brake cable on my bike.

I spent a lot of time in a cafe with these waitresses, who took time to help me with my Russian. Here are Aijan, Narsipa, Nazgul and Nargiza. You can see the various ethnic variations. Some people have a more asian look while others seem more middle eastern or turkish.

I found this girl selling drinks by the road. I thought she had an interesting face.

Some views of people in the park.

There are several nice fountains in the main square

Someone trying to get away from the crowds

Most of the old Soviet statues have been removed, but a couple still remain. Here is Lenin, forgotten but not gone.

One of the friends I made in Bishkek, a mangy little puppy who followed me around one day.

But Bishkek has a darker side–literally. There are very few street lights, so walking around, especially in the parks, is dangerous for two reasons: thieves and manholes. Many manhole covers are missing so if you are not careful you can step into a huge hole and break a leg. I had to carry a flashlight around at night.

The other annoyance is–guess— the police again. In China they were pervasive but generally just following orders. Here, they are corrupt. Twice now the police have checked my documents and pretended there was a problem. One guy even held my passport and made to go with him to a  small shack where he and a colleague tried to threaten me into giving them a bribe. They started asking a lot of questions in Russian and stalling for time. I was nervous at first but then I got angry and started remonstrating that my papers are in order so give me my passport and let me go! Eventually they did, since I was right and they knew they had nothing to hold against me.

Another one demanded I get in his police car after I gave him a copy of my passport (I never give out the real thing anymore). I refused to get in. Eventually he let me go.

I usually try to cooperate with the police but when they start that crap I just get angry. If I had an expired visa, OK, they would be in the right. But I am completely legal; they just want to squeeze me for a few bucks. I hate that. It is not the money really. They only want a few dollars, but the way they go about it really gets my blood boiling. Just because they have a uniform and a gun these dim-witted high school dropouts think they can bully people around.

A big part of the problem is that most government employees earn very little, so they see bribery as way to suplement their meager income. Plus, bribes have been a part  of the culture for thousands of years so it is almost expected. Nevertheless, I hesitate to pay a bribe unless I am forced to.