Sunday, 14 November 2010

Of Red Days and Turkic Towers

It somehow seems an apt demonstration of Central Asia's melting pot of influences from East and West and indeed all points cardinal that I spent last saturday visiting an ancient Turkic tower, eating Chinese food, watching Russian heavy metal bands and ten-pin bowling.
Central Asia has always had an eclectic mix of cultural influences, being the backbone of the ancient Silk Road.  Confusingly this is not a road or made out of silk.  It was a network of trading routes stretching from China, through Central Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa to Europe. Along this route were traded textiles (including silks) spices, walnuts (more about this in a later blog I think), and all manner of goods and wares.
Conaequently, the cities and stop-off points of the Silk Road played host to traders from all manner of nations and consequently an easy going, cosmopolitan attitude developed.  As long as you have stuff to sell or buy from us, the logic went, you can look howsoever you want, and kneel down before any idol that takes your fancy.
And so I find myself about 40 minutes by marshrutka (privately owned van/minibuses that ferry people about, imagine a juddering tin of sardines fried out of a cannon, but slightly less comfortable and comodious) from Bishkek wandering through the Kyrgyz countryside in search of the Baruna Tower.  This was formerly a minaret from a mosque in Basalagun, a city founded by the Karakhanids in the 10th century and an important link in the Silk Road chain.  This being Kyrgyzstan and me being me, when I and my travelling companions arrive at this cultural attraction we find ourselves sharing it with a merrily drunk and rowdy Russian wedding party.

The tower collapsed as a result of a series of earthquakes (the last being in 1900)  and was faithfully and painstakingly reconstructed Soviet-style in the 1970s, with no cupola, some rather modern mortar and a nice shiny, clunky metal spiral staircase which does the authenticity of the site the world of good.  As a result its only half the original size, 26m not 46.

Burana Tower - cheap soviet fix up job comes at no extra cost

On the other hand the sound of a call to prayer emanating from a mosque in nearby Tokmok ululating on the wind gave a slightly goosebump inducing quality to the whole thing

                     Tokmok Mosque (I think) providing appropriate atmospheric chanting                                 
 (probably not for the benefit of passing tourists though)

By all accounts Basalgun was a pretty impressive city, excavations indicate it stretched over a 25 - 30 km square area, they've found Chinese coins, Nestorian christian crosses, Indian Cowries and magical charms so a big tick in the cosmopolitan box (see some of the finds in the dinky little musuem onsite).  The poet Jusup Basalgun took his name from it and he's now on the 1000 som note so a big Kyrgyz thumbs up there:

Ghengis Khan even liked it so much that not only did he rename it Gobilik (good city)  he had the good grace not to rampage through it raping and pillaging and then raise it to the ground, so it must have been quite something. 
A lot of people complain that the Baruna Tower is not very impresssive because it's just not big enough which is a concept I rather like, as if the ancients who built the tower having built it high enough for every man in the city and its environs to hear the sonourously droning call to prayer, might have thought to add a few more storeys on for the benefit of tourists a millennia later.  Admittedly the Soviet fix up left it smaller than it was but only by 20 metres so I think the point still stands.
By the site there is also a collection of amazing ancient holy point/burial ground markers called Balbals; which date from the 6th to the 10th Century AD.  They reminded me of the description of the Pukkelmen in Lord of the Rings, with their time-weathered faces staring intensely out at you.


All in all twas a fine visit and a pleasent bit of genuine culture to mix in with the craziness of my time here so far.  I also visited the Ballet for the first time two days back (got interviewed for Kyrgyz tele while I was there which was surreal to say the least) so my existence has not been a complete cultural void.
I'm going to try and avoid getting overly bogged down on the tedia of English Teaching Existence, but I feel one moment in my teaching so far is worth mentioning.  We were working on emotions and character traits and someone was saying 'be nasty to someone because of their ...' so I introduced the word 'flaws'.  Cue rapid dictionary moving onto the next point....more silence....slight giggling in the waffling on some intrepid soul asks the question everyone has apparently wanted to ask for the last five minutes

                         <<Brian, does 'flaw' mean 'ladies' red days'>>

errr...hhhhhhmn, nope.  That would be a period.  I am truly intrigued to find where he got his dictionary from. 
And so we come to poker night the first.  I've been putting off going to the poker night for a few weeks but thought <<what the hell I get paid tomorrow, in for a penny in for a pound>>

It's my opinion that you should never gamble more than you'd normally spend on a night, the time you spend gambling not ammounting to more than the beer you would have drank instead.   It is good I feel that way because I was roundly thrashed and knocked out first but as this left me with losses ammounting to about 4 pound 10p I was not overly troubled.
The final was that age old Revolutionary War Grudge Match between the UK and the States, their was only ever gonna be one winner.

U.S.A  A.O.K
UK - yeah not too bad

 Surprisingly it turned out to be the UK



And, to finish off on a light-hearted note (as opposed to the hard hitting journalism of the rest of my work).   I was having a wee wander around the quiet suburban neighbourhood about a block away from the London School, and I discovered this singular piece of architectural frippery:

one of those rather pleasing curveballs life occasionally lobs at you without warning.

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