There are two things that Ryan has decided are magical (and I quote – magical) about living in Bishkek: the marshrutkas and Osh Bazaar. The marshrutkas are tiny van buses that span the city and provide a ride anywhere for 10 som (the equivalent of about 17 cents). In the summer heat I find them a bit less than magical, but when we’ve found an empty seat and aren’t standing and holding on to the rails while jostling other passengers, marshrutkas haven’t been so bad. His second magical wonder of Bishkek, Osh Bazaar, I find more exciting.
In Korea we did much of our grocery shopping at Home Plus, a megastore which was generally overpriced but carried a wide selection of produce and other foods, even offering a decent range of foreign fare. It was nearly impossible to go grocery shopping in Korea and spend under $30, and that was including the CSA that we subscribed to which provided most of our produce. Here we have been mind-boggled at the amount of fresh produce, bread, and other goods that we can get for such a small amount.
Now when we head to a grocery store the produce tends to look a little flat and awfully expensive compared to the bazaar. With the exception of a few things (a kilo of cashews cost us about 800 som – over $10), we can walk into the bazaar and walk out loaded down with fresh produce for extremely cheap. For example, on one trip we brought about 1000 som, and we left with 1 kg strawberries, 3 big eggplants, 4 big heirloom tomatoes, 6 apples, 4 kiwis, and a set of screwdrivers and some change. We’ve also feasted on raspberries, blackberries, peaches, peppers, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, millet and brown rice, and an iced tea for good measure, all from the very magical Osh Bazaar.
Other than the prices, there’s also the advantage of incredible people-watching and delving into the lives of locals. I was nervous to bring my camera so I went with my older, cheaper dslr and kept it strapped around me as we wandered the market (even Ryan’s ever-the-optimist brother reminded us to limit the cash that we brought). There were so many beautiful things to take in – the colors of the food and the geometry of the rows and rows of vendors, as well as the wide variety of people and emotions blended together. I need to get braver about taking pictures of people. I can’t shake the feeling that the perception is that I’m trying to capture a caricature rather than a person, but the magic of traveling is the people, and I want to get better about capturing them, too.
The last two Sundays we’ve started a tradition of coffee and waffles then heading to the bazaar to get a majority of the shopping done for the week. We’ve heard numerous times that you can get anything you want at the bazaar, but have found wandering through it a little like Harry Potter’s room of requirement. Sometimes things pop up just when you need them, but then next time you just don’t remember which section you found them in. I looked to see if there was a map of the sections of Osh but couldn’t find anything. If you know of one, direct me to it. If not, maybe there’s a project in my future.
We’ve been in settle-in mode for the last three weeks. We planned to do a lot when we arrived, perhaps to take a few trips to the mountains and in between brush up on our Russian skills, but that has all passed us by as we’ve lingered in Bishkek getting the feel for our new home (which, since we’re still on summer break, now consists of long morning walks with Roxie, cribbage at the coffee shop, lazing around on hot afternoons, and evenings with a glass of wine and a home-cooked dinner or exploring new restaurants). The knowledge that we’ll be here for at least two years makes that ok, though, so for now we’re exploring close to home.