Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Of Noraebang 노레방, Spag Bol and Flaming Hot Metal

A variety of Muslim and Chinese sources (dating from the 7th to the 12th Century) describe the Kyrgyz (at that time making their long trek south from the Siberian North, picking up a bit of that their Turkic language and culture along the way) as a race of feirce, nomadic warriors, red-haired, with fair complexions and green-blue eyes.  A long time intermixing with other Central Asian peoples and the not insignificant influence of one Jenghiz Khan and his Mongol cohorts has given the modern Kyrgyz a more typically asiatic appearence, to a European eye superficially like a chinese person, but with a longer face and wider eyes.  
However recent DNA studies show a remarkable genetic legacy of this earlier time, with 63% of modern Kyrgyz men sharing Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) with Tajiks (64%), Ukrainians (54%), Poles (56%) and even Icelanders (25%). Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) is believed to be a marker of the Proto-Indo-European language speakers and goes some way towards explaining the distincly Indo-european red hair and green-blue eyes noted by those ancient Chinese and Muslim fellows.
The modern ethnic mix of Krygyzstan is no less intriguing, although predominantly Kyrgyz, there are not insignificant populations of ethnic Russians, Ukranians, Uzbeks, Uyghurs, Dungans and Kazakhs.  As a result of being part of the USSR, where whole populations were routinely dragged halfway across the world with the merest flick of a bureaucrat's pen, Kyrgyzstan now has some ethnicities from even further afield.
This is visible in the fact that there is a German bierkeller in Bishkek called Steinbrau, brewing a range of German biers and run by ethnic Germans who have lived in Bishkek for several generations.
There is also a not inconsiderable Korean population, principally in Bishkek, and I've taught a number of Korean students.  The Story behind this is that in 1937, the Stalin regime, fearing that the Korean community might form a "fifth column" in support of the Japanese who were then occupying Manchuria and Korea just across the borders, ordered a mass deportation of all 36,442 families from Sakhalin, Vladivostok and the Russian Far East to Central Asia, casually shifting a total of some 171,181 people thousands of miles to help prevent them from allying with a nation that they cordially despised.
Which longwinded ethnographic preamble serves to explain how when Ceci was having a little leaving do a few weeks back (to mark the fact she was leaving her job with the UN and going back to Sardinia for two weeks), I found myself enjoying a dish of  비빔밥 (Bibimbap, a sizzling, spicy Korean dish, with rice, meat and veg mixed together with a raw egg) and engaging in a little light 노레방, or as you might know it, Karoake
Although most of the world knows the act of amateur songbirds hollering along rambunctiously to a backing track, preferably out of time and out of tune, by this portmanteau of the Japanese words kara 空 "empty," and ōkesutora オーケストラ "Orchestra", the Koreans have their own word for it, “noraebang” (노레방) which literally means “song room.”.  This alternative term is maybe something to do with the aforementioned fact that Japan and Korea have what could be described as a hate-hate relationship.  Invading someone's country and raping their culture can give you that attitude, just ask the Irish.
And thus, there we were, tucked away in our own private room, with discrete servers popping in from time to time to see if we require a recharging of our glasses, and a large selection of songs in Korean, Russian and English available for us to merrily murder.

Giving it the beans -
growling, purring and hollering some classic 80s rock

Picking them songs
(note the hated Japanese word sneaking in there in the background)

Max Bishkek belting out a tune in a commanding baritone.

Ala, Ruta and Ceci getting all soulful
 A large part of the joy of the experience comes in the combnination of tinny, midi backing tracks (80s synthesizer distorted guitar sound = priceless) and in the utterly incompatable backing videos.  The pinnacle of this came when Metallica's One, a harrowing thrash-metal account of an incapacitated Vietnam veteran's empty existence and yearning for death, was backed by a natty dance routine performed by some squeeky clean K-pop girls. 

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I woke up the next morning with a searing, burning, soar throat and the urge to organise a bit of a gathering.  This came partly from my great enjoyment of playing host, partly because I still don't feel I've got enough use out of my big-ass floor cushions/table cloth/tea set combo, and partly from my continuing quest to get to know the local teachers and get all the ex-pats and locals to get on like one big, sickening, Walton's-esque, happy family.
To this end invitations were liberally spread around and on the saturday afternoon of the party, I found myself in the supermarket, buying the biggest, fat-ass cooking pot they had on offer, and a variety of ingredients including 2 kgs of mince.  The aim of all this to-do was to cook up a monster-sized serving of Spag Bol (or Spaghetti Bolognese if you must), a perculiarly British take on Italian cuisine, basically being a British-style mince stew with nominal pasta and parmesan cheese to give that authentic Italian flavour.  Here's a sample recipe, although the variations are quite considerable.
The fridge packed to bursting with beer, coke and various juices (though, it must be admitted, mostly with beer), and the pot of Spag Bol bubbling away nicely, the first guests began to trickle in; first came Australian Dan, a softly spoken, dryly-witty, geologist; then Logan (American), Alexa (Canadian), Maxton (Scottish), Edward (English), Kurt (another American).  The room was starting to look worryingly anglophone.  Things reached crisis point when two local students arrived, took one look in, hovered at the threshhold looking awkward and left after 5 minutes.  Disaster!  My best-laid plans were in tatters, all had gone awry and the party was going to be the ex-pat scummiest of ex-pat scum parties, with narry a whiff of cultural exchange. 
But my prophesies of doom turn out to be unfounded, a very few moments later, a steady trickle of native teachers begin to arrive to assuage my fears, the prodigal students returned some 20 minutes later bearing gifts, snatches of Russian tongue began to intermingle with the various accentual flavours of English to be heard, then Eve arrived and struck up a conversation in Kyrgyz.  A few hours later, many and varied peeps have arrived, some 20-odd bowls of Spag Bol have been handed out, beverages have been consumed and much mixing and matching of conversational partners has taken place.  I breath a sigh of relief and allow myself to abandon hostly duties, have a tinkle on the ukulele and get down to some solid boozing and chinwagging.

The party in full swing

Slowly the guests meandered off to their beds or to other engagements (Dinara: a mad-as-a-bag-of-badgers, Kazakh party-girl had to potter off to the opening of a GQ/Playboy bar, for example).  In the wee small hours of the morn, the hardcore of peeps that remained decided to take a taxi to the Anti-valentine's metal extravaganza at Metro pub.
We arrive in time to enjoy the dulcet tones of Kyrgyzstan's very own Rammstein cover band.

The Rammstein covers band - tight as a monkey's nuts in a Siberian snowstorm.

Halfway through the set, the securtiy begin to push the crowd back to leave a performing circle vacant for the entry of a pair of Fire-Poiists...


Inset appropriate Arthur Brown/Bloodhound Gang/Coal Chamber/Johnny Cash quote here.

I take a moment to ponder the wonder of watching an art/dance with its origins in the Maori culture of New Zealnd, performed to the sounds of an ethnic Russian band performing covers of a German band playing an originally British music inspired by American music with its origins in the meeting of African and European musical cultures; whilst standing in a principally ex-pat bar in the depths of Central Asia. 
Multicultural ponderings over, I headed into the main bar and met a girl from Valencia and a Belgian girl who'd lived in Paraguay, giving me a chance to dust off my extremely rusty Spanish and give it a spin (to triple mix my metaphors)
On our return to the theatre of war, We are greeted enthusiastically by the drummer of the next band up, who reliably informs us that he is the only drummer in Kyrgyzstan who can really do double bass drumming.  And to be fair to him, he was a little machine of steady, hammering power. 

The only band in Kyrgyzstan with a drummer who can
really do that double-bass drumming - apparently.
Once again, we end our tale in the wee hours of the morning that most respectable people never encounter, stumbling out into the cool morning air, all circle-pitted out, drenched in sweat which is probably not exclusively ours and ready to retire to our beds.
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p.s. I have of late discovered that The Kyrgyz Republic has a very intriguing range of toiletries and general cleansing products which my flatmate Daniel Mahony seems to have a knack of hunting out.  Here are a few examples:

Why bother with dull old mint when
you can have Oak-flavoured mouthwash


Or how about some beer-flavoured shampoo

And what serendipity that the name of this bleach
is also one of the main things it will be used to clean up.