Shame on you, Bishkek! (UZ 2/6)

All the cars and vans in Tashkent are white and small. Was this because the country produced its own vehicles and and these are ideal Central Asia specs? Or did the leader of the nation just like white and wanted no car to be bigger than his own?

Both equally possible, I decided as I walked from the Tashkent train station to my nearby hostel. The roads, on the other hand, were much wider than in Bishkek. Even the aryks were larger.

I took a bus back to the center from a stop close to the hostel. A regular bus, in which I got to sit down. Shame on you, Bishkek! Why can every Central Asian capital organize decent public transport except you? Is it so hard to buy a few extra busses?

Everything in the central Tashkent was huge. The roads, the parks, the buildings. Everwhere were lawns and pretty flowers. The air smelled of blossoms and cut grass. Dozens of gardeners were at work. Air pullotion seemed to be far less than in Bishkek. Which arguably isn’t that high a standard.

Yet there were strangely few people around on this pleasant Monday afternoon. The few strollers looked lost in the huge parks. As if to make up for this lack of people, policemen stood on almost every street corner. Some looked like regular police, other were some kind of national guard.

I tried to walk to the independence monument, a huge golden globe, but it was closed to the public and guarded by soldiers with rifles.

The signs in front of newer ministries and other offices were in Uzbek only. Some, like that at the “Ministry of Innovation” were in Uzbek and English. Several billboards, also in Uzbek and English, spoke of investing in the country. In Kyrgyzstan most non-foreign offices have signs in Kyrgyz and Russian, never in English.

Uzbekistan, seems to be the message, is no longer a Soviet republic and Western, or at least foreign, capital is welcome in Uzbekistan. It all reminded me of the uneasy English slogans and commercials I had seen in China eight years before.

Walking around the center I saw a winebar, a shop selling ergonomic chairs, a French boulangerie/patisserie, an Italien gelateria and an Irish pub. But no place selling plov. This modern center prefers hamburgers, pizza and fries.

I didn’t feel like any of that so I bought instant noodles and walked back to my hostel. That felt perfectly safe although it was dark already. It was the sense of security that comes from being an esteemed foreign visitor in a strongman-led country.

Or maybe it was just the street lighting and the even sidewalks. Yes, Bishkek, you heard me right. Why can’t you have those?