A list of random things about life in the U.S. that struck me as a bit odd after 10ish months living in Bishkek.
– I’m much more self-conscious of pulling out my camera in public. At times it felt too touristy, and other times too familiar. This shot of Philadelphia is one of the only photos I took after ten days in the U.S.
– I can barely sit down at a restaurant or cafe before someone hands me a free glass of water. Not the case in Kyrgyzstan.
– Concerning plastic bags, the attitude is completely opposite. In DC, it is no longer the norm to simply receive a plastic bag at grocery stores; you have to pay extra for them. In Bishkek, you get strange looks if you try to reuse a plastic bag (like a friend who carries sturdier bags from Beta Stores with him when buying cheaper groceries at Narodni).
– Everybody has a cause in DC. “Help me raise money to buy art supplies to keep kids from smoking crack.” “Do you have a minute for gay rights?” “Hey, you look like an eco-friendly girl.” If someone is standing on a street corner asking for money in Bishkek, chances are they want to buy booze, while the activists seem to be a bit more… well, active.
– People actually are friendlier in the states, something I did not pick up on when I lived there before, but I talked to a lot of friendly strangers during my few days back.
– There are too many choices for everything! Baking supplies, brand names, vegan muffins, film, food, clothes. You don’t just go to the Thai restaurant, you have to pick one. Should we go to the Americanized-Thai restaurant, the dingier-but-more-authentic place, some sort of Thai fusion cuisine, or how about the generic Asian food restaurant that happens to have Pad Thai on the menu? Then what neighborhood? What’s the price range? What does Yelp say about it? Too many decisions to make, just get me a Thai iced tea!
– It seems family and friends don’t actually know where I am or what I’m doing (not that there’s a problem with that, I have many blog drafts trying to figure out the same things for myself). If I had a ruble every time a friend, family member, or random person trying to strike up a conversation asked me about life in Russia, I’d have many many rubles. On a slightly similar note, people will more often than not say “Kyrgy” instead of “Kyrgyz” (example, “What’s Kyrgy food like?”)
– My immediate family bombarded me with old film cameras and psychedelic camera straps, though the only one I was allowed to bring back to Bishkek with me was the (gasp!) Nikon FG. Looks like I’m crossing over to the dark side, at least when it comes to film. (And speaking of film, I managed to stock up on 120 for my Lubitel.)
One similar trait I found was how Bishkek and DC are both such transient cities. People are always coming and going, moving in, moving away, making plans to come back or starting their next chapter somewhere else. Being obsessed with food and mostly unsatisfied with Kyrgyz cuisine, I put a lot of effort into visiting all of my most beloved restaurants and food spots while I was back in the states. Of course it was great to replenish my need for those foods, but I realized that it wasn’t the food itself that made me want it so bad, but it was the company of the people I used to enjoy these foods with that I was craving.
But we’re all moving on, myself included. Ethiopian food wouldn’t be as special if I could eat it every day, would it? Okay, maybe it would, but having the chance to experience the U.S. for the first time in almost a year made me appreciate every little moment and detail that much more, from free tap water to Ethiopian food, to all of my friends and family.
Although, it’s good to be back in Bishkek.