Since I've been in Bishkek, I haven't really done much except re-explore my old paths. My main goal while here was to get our visas to travel to Tajikistan. It was a much easier experience than the one I had last year trying to get visas to Uzbekistan.
Last week in the relative cool of the evening, Dan and I found ourselves walking around the fountains in Ala-Too Square, Oak Park, and the giant Kyrgyz flag. A lot of Kyrgyz were hanging out there as well.
A week ago Friday, it was "The Last Bell" meaning the end of school and graduation. Groups of graduates were celebrating throughout the day in this area as well. Some wore the traditional cap and gown, some their school uniforms, and some wore "French Maid" costumes. Apparently, the French Maid Costume is a nod to the Czarist Russian era when girls' school uniforms were black and white. In the Soviet Union, the black and white uniform for girls was prohibited, until Stalin relaxed that ruling. Now, it is a fun costume whose roots have probably been forgotten. I think the fluffy hair bows are a recent addition to the costume.
Next to the giant flag, there is a monument to Manas on horseback. Real or legend I don't know, but the Manas Epic defines the Kyrgyz identity. The epic was first written down about 150 years ago but its oral roots are hundreds of years old. The length of the story is said to be more than a million lines long. There is two-volume condensed version available in English that hits the high points.
Kyrgyz men and women, known as Manaschi, who have memorized the Manas epic and can chant it for hours or days are stars in Kyrgyz culture. The National Art Museum has a permanent photographic exhibit of portraits of famous Manaschi.
Since I have not read the Manas epic, here I quote a summary from a NYT article (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/01/02/world/a-legendary-hero-guides-a-reborn-kyrgyzstan.html):
The eponymous hero of this epic is described as a towering figure who could uproot any tree and hurl boulders from the heights of the Tian Shan mountain range. He vowed at age 12 to free his people from oppression, and lived a noble life until he was treacherously killed. His burial place is secret, and when anyone seeking it comes too close, a storm is said to break out that can only be calmed by reciting the epic.
Next to the monument to Manas, the giant Kyrgyz flag is flanked by two guards standing at attention from dawn to dusk. Every hour there is a changing of the guard ceremony that goes quickly, but is interesting to watch. The two guards with an escort emerge from below the museum and in a goose-stepping style, come forward to relieve the guards that have been standing at attention for the last hour. Then the procedure is reversed with the newly relieved guards and escort goose-stepping back to their office below the museum.
Last night, we went to a dinner and fashion show at the Hyatt Hotel sponsored on by the Bishkek International Women's Club (BIWC). We had a nice time and met lots of people mostly connected with the US Embassy. If we ever return to Bishkek, I look forward being a part of this group.
Next stop, Dushanbe, Tajikistan.