Greetings from Kyrgyzstan (Part III)

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A common sight in Bishkek.

Sometimes it’s still strange to find myself in Kyrgyzstan. After all, like any good Sporcler I earned my ‘Bishkek or Bust’ badge back in the day and while I knew where Kyrgyzstan was, I never thought I would live here.

As far as my study abroad time goes, I can only describe it as ‘adventurous’. Bishkek is not for the faint of heart; it’s a city that is still developing, so things don’t always run smoothly. For example, due to a plumbing mishap, I had cold water in my shower and hot water in my toilet for a couple of weeks. Uncomfortable? A bit. Livable? Quite. A good sense of humor helps too.

Ride the Marshrutkas, They Said

Traffic is crazy. Most people get around on the local vans called Marshrutkas, which are relatively cheap. Though they only have 8-10 seats, these vans usually hold around 20-25 people, so you get nice and chummy with the locals. I’ve been amazed at some of the encounters I’ve had in Marshrutkas; I’ve gotten to experience up close and personal more than a few armpits, ridden down the street with my butt pressed up against the windshield and on more than one occasion I’ve have had people fall right into my lap. Picture the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, and you’ll get a good idea of the of the driving style of Marshrutka drivers.

How Did the American Cross the Road?

Nothing builds courage faster than learning how to cross the street in Bishkek. If you wait for the traffic to stop, you’ll spend the entire day standing on side of the road. It was a moment of growth for me when I finally walked into oncoming traffic for the first time. However, I actually have a stronger faith in Kyrgyz drivers than I do of those in Seattle. Here drivers are always prepared for traffic laws to be disobeyed and plan accordingly. Two lanes? Psh! We can fit six cars side by side! Red light? Nah, bro – I got places to be! You cut me off? I hope you like the sound of my horn for the next two minutes. Another interesting fact: Cars come with steering wheels on both sides. This is a never-ending source of amusement to me. Almost as much as the scented and colored toilet paper sold in the supermarkets here (to make up for the fact that I can’t flush it). Green apple is my current ‘favorite’.

Kyrgyz Hospitality

Kyrgyz aren’t really very big into people whipping out camera’s all the time, so it would have been really rude of me to take a photo of my dining experience. But this photo is from Wikipedia:

Kyrgyz aren’t really very big into people whipping out camera’s all the time, so it would have been really rude of me to take a photo of my dining experience. But this photo is from Wikipedia:

Recently I was invited to dinner at a local Kyrgyz/Kazakh family. After my time here, I believe ardently that Central Asians (in my experience) are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. Your every need will be met as the guest. Just, don’t be picky or stingy with tea. There is no such thing as one cup of tea. This particular evening I got to enjoy the traditional Central Asian meal called Beshbarmak, which translates into “Five Fingers”. Just like its name implies, no utensils necessary cause you eat it with your hands! Our host asked who the oldest of us students were (hint: it was me) – but being a woman I could not sit at the head of the table (the place of honor). Just as well, cause I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to being served a fully cooked sheep’s head. However, this is a delicacy here and is only served to people of high importance, so we were quite honored.

As is customary, my friend was asked to cut off a piece of the head and eat it. He then cut up the rest and we all put some on our plates and ate it with noodles. I can now check off “Eaten sheep’s ear” off of my bucket list (Note: This was not originally on the list). Also, to follow a particular Kazakh tradition, we washed it all down with Camel’s milk, which is the BOMB. I liked it so much I had three cups! And of course, being good hosts – they served us vodka and cognac shots along with an amazing apple custard pie.

Greetings from Kyrgyzstan (Part II)

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Month two in Kyrgyzstan is drawing to a close, just in time for winter to really begin. I am all prepared for the snow (which has already begun to fall) thanks to a large, puffy “Russian” coat that I successfully haggled for and purchased recently from ‘Dordoi’ – the largest market in Central Asia.

If you loved corn mazes as a child, or have always wanted to be in ‘The Labyrinth’, I strongly recommend you make your way here. I’m fairly certain some people never find their way out of the sea of stalls and vendors. Want dishwashers? Check. Want fresh fruit and veggies? Check. Want a cart of cow’s feet? Oh buddy, you better believe they got it (I know this for a fact as I was almost ran over by said cart).

Outside of the cart incident things are going well, and this post is going to focus on what I’m doing, and where I’ve been since I’ve arrived.

A Tour of the East

DSC02302Throughout the week I continue to study Russian language (each grammatical construct mastered is an accomplishment), and learn about Central Asian history and politics. On the weekends I explore. Thus far my wanderings have taken me east to the base of the mountains that border China, just along side the region known as Issyk Kul. After the Caspian Sea, Issyk Kul is the 2nd largest saline lake in the world and it never freezes, essentially making it Kyrgyzstan’s version of Hawaii. While there we learned how to build the nomadic structures called yurts (hello future resume skill), rode horses and hiked up the mountains in search of elusive waterfalls. I also really enjoyed hearing all the folk tales on how Lake Issyk Kul originated.

My favorite is the story that says two young men fell passionately in love with a Kyrgyz woman, and asked her who she loved more. Unable to decide, she cried so hard she formed the lake from her tears and disappeared into it. The men, not having received an answer, turned into the north and south winds and battle to this day for her love.

It’s All About Manas

IMG_0527In the complete opposite direction, I also visited the region of Talas in the west. This trip entailed one of the most breathtaking, winding and treacherous mountain passes I have ever had the pleasure to drive through. Talas is most famous for being the reputed birthplace of Manas, the Kyrgyz hero.

The Epic of Manas has been sung and told for over a thousand years. If there is one word I can use to describe the culture of Kyrgyzstan is would be “Manas”. While there, we were taken in by a very friendly and hospitible Kyrgyz family and then spent the next day wondering the Manas burial complex, listening to the epic story told in pieces (it takes days to hear it all, but here is a cool excerpt from a famous Kyrgyz film), and getting stuck behind seemingly endless herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.

Kymis to Meet You!

kymisIn Talas I decided to kick it Kyrgyz style and live it up with a large bowl of Kymis. What is Kymis? I’m glad you asked. Kymis the national drink of Kyrgyzstan and at this point the most interesting thing I have ever drank. Kymiz is mare’s milk that has been put into the stomach of a sheep (much like Haggis) and then left to ferment for a few days.

Traditionally, it was left to hang in a pouch outside of the yurt. It was considered polite for all passer-bys to take the stick called a “Bishkek” and hit the bag, stirring up the contents of the milk to keep it rich and smooth. After fermenting for a few days, it is served at room temperature. Words cannot accurately describe Kymis, all I can say that is tastes like very salty and sour yogurt. It reputedly has great health benefits and is slightly alcoholic.

Greetings from Kyrgyzstan

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Привет из Бишкеке! (Greetings from Bishkek!)

My name is Rachel, and I am a content moderator at Sporcle. For the next three and half months I’ll be finishing my degree in Russian Studies by studying advanced Russian (and basic Kyrgyz) in the wonderful city of Bishkek. Since I know how much Sporcle loves Kyrgyzstan, I’ll be sharing my experiences in a series of blog posts.

First Impressions of Kyrgyzstan

Within hours of arriving, I was struck by how the people here are kind and caring. While smiling on the street and small talk is still not common (a holdover from Soviet times), Kyrygz are incredibly helpful when you have a question or need directions (a common experience– since many streets have multiple names.)

Kyrgyzstan is a relationship-centered culture, and the door to my host family’s house is constantly open to an endless stream of family members, neighbors and friends. I have given up trying to mentally keep tabs on who is who, and just assume everyone is family somehow – since even I’m introduced as the ‘American daughter’ of my Kyrgyz host ‘mother’.

Cookies, Intellectual Discourse and the World Nomad Games

Hospitality is an art here, and the Kyrgyz are experts. There is a never-ending supply of tea, cookies and other yummy food that make me feel at home (or, if not at home exactly, at least very well fed). Conversation is very important, and Kyrgyz are generally very interested in the world at large and love to discuss and debate current events.

Just recently, Kyrygz hosted the World Nomad Games, which featured such sports as falconry and Kok Boru (a sport similar to polo, but involving a goat). Football is also popular (note: soccer) and many bars are dedicated to clubs here. The faces of Pele, Ronaldo and Messi adorn many, many posters along the streets. The cinema is also big, and the largest budgeted Kyrgyz movie of all-time is currently playing in theaters.

A Bit o’ Kyrgyzstan History

As you probably know, Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia. Once part of the Silk Road, Kyrgyzstan has a history that is both unique and complex. Living in the former lands of the Huns, Turks and Mongols, Kyrgyz were traditionally nomadic peoples. They came under Soviet rule during the 20th century, and became fully independent in 1991. Since then, Kyrgyzstan has become the most democratic of all Central Asian countries, running four successful elections. Today it has strong political ties to Turkey and Russia, as well as a strong economic relationship with China.

People of Kyrgyzstan

The population of Kyrgyzstan is composed of primarily ethnic Kyrgyz, with a sizable community of Russians, Uzbeks, Dungans, Germans and other minority groups. Kyrgyz and Russian are the national languages, and it is not uncommon for a Kyrygz to be trilingual (to include either English, Turkish, Chinese or another ethnic language). Not only do they speak multiple languages, often these languages are from completely different language families. They make it look so easy.

The vast majority of the country is Muslim, which many communities adopted sometime between the 11th and 16th centuries. While Islam is dominant here, remnants of older pagan traditions still remain, such as ancestor worship. There is also a small community of Orthodox Christians here.

Up Next

Stay tuned to the next update, which features my encounter with Kymiz, a local delicacy that consists of horse milk that’s been fermented in a sheep’s stomach. Truly unique.

Top Tweets (7/29/14)

toptweetsv65oai7fxn47qv9nectxWhen you see something you really like, sometimes retweeting and favoriting isn’t enough – that’s why @Sporcle has this weekly blog post. Congrats to the tweeters who made the cut this week!

Remember, you can always reach us on Facebook or Twitter with any questions or comments you have.

 

Sporcle Top 5: Playground Features You’re Too Old For

Sometimes at Sporcle HQ we get the chance to talk a little nonsense, and lo and behold, a Sporcle Top 5 is born. Keep checking back on the Sporcle Blog to see what we think of next.

Many things suck about growing up: you don’t get as many Christmas presents, the toys today are way cooler than when you were a kid, and you can’t eat loads of candy without getting sick.  But one of the worst things is that you can’t enjoy the playground anymore like you used to. We’ve collected the 5 most pressing reasons below.

1) Slides

The last time you tried to go down the slide it took a full five minutes. It was like a can of cranberry jelly slinking into a pile of wood chips.

2) Monkey Bars

While the novelty of being able to stand perfectly straight and still touch the monkey bars was awesome at first, most of the challenge now is not spraining your shoulder while reaching above your head.

3)  Merry-Go-Rounds

If you wanted to get the spins and feel nauseous, you could have just stayed at the local bar.

4) Plastic Playgrounds

Plastic crap everywhere.  Gone are the days of wooden splinters and metal burns. Congratulations: you’re old.

5) Swings

Just because you have a hairy back, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever get a push. Wait, yes it does.

If you have other playground features you can no longer enjoy because you’re too old, be sure to add them in the comments!

 

Sporcle Top 5: Reasons To Be Glad Samuel L. Jackson Is Not Your Dad

After our 100th viewing of the cinematic classic “Snakes on a Plane” a few days ago, we came to a startling revelation: It would really suck if legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson was your dad. While we certainly think  he is one seriously cool dude, we decided to come up with what we think would be the biggest downsides to having such a bad-ass dad.

1) Having a pet snake would be a no-go.

 

 

 

 

 

2) You would probably be forced to watch all of the Star Wars Prequels.

 

 

 

 

 

3) You might get shot for saying “What?” one too many times.

 

 

 

 

 

4) Your teachers just haven’t been the same since the PTA meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

5) Let’s put it this way, your little sister’s first word isn’t going to be “dada”.

 

 

 

 

 

If you have other reasons to be glad Samuel L. Jackson is not your dad, be sure to add them in the comment section!

Friday the 13th on Sporcle

If you’re reading this blog post and you’ve been on edge today, you might be one of the many people with paraskevidekatriaphobia, or rather, an unnatural fear or phobia of Friday the 13th.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Friday the 13th is a day that captivates many imaginations and locks into our superstitious fears, no matter who you are or where you are in the world. While its origins remain unclear, and a quick Google search will pull up millions of theories, one thing is sure: more people are superstitious towards this day than any other. It might have something to do with the unfortunate combination of the unlucky number 13 and the unlucky day of Friday (just a hunch),or the fact that we tend to pay more attention to misfortune on this day more than any other. Spilled coffee on Tuesday the 10th is just inconvenient, but spilled coffee on Friday the 13th carries the inevitable foreshadowing of doom and misfortune.

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When You Wish Upon a Star (Make sure it’s not being eaten.)

This article has made Sheldon very nervous.

No matter what you were doing March 28th, your day couldn’t have been as bad as a star in a distant galaxy that was recently eaten (EATEN!?) by a black hole.  I mean think about it this way, you’re just some awesome star, radiantly shining in the galaxy, minding your own business, and then you aren’t.

On that day Nasa’s Swift satellite captured footage of a gamma-ray blast (dubbed Sw 1644+57), that was brighter and has lasted longer than any other similar flashes ever seen by scientists. How bright? Oh, about the equal to a hundred billion of our own suns. I don’t think anyone makes sunglasses that can match that yet.  They believe the burst of light occurred the moment when the black hole began to wrap its tendrils around the star, about the size of our sun, slowly sucking it in another galaxy 3.8 billion light years away. While the star is slowly being ripped apart, energy is continuously being released. The show is still going on two and a half months later because, apparently, this black hole likes to play with its food.

The actual paper was published in Science , although if you’re like me and don’t understand astronomical terms very well – National Geographic has a good article summarizing it.

Scientists claim that events like this only occur every now and then, so we’re pretty much safe from this kind of phenomenon (Though 2012 is coming up…). If you’re like us, this whole article has probably left you intrigued (and a little hungry), so check out some related Sporcle quizzes below:

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Summer Movie Madness

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Sorry Ryan, that magic ring won't help you unlock a Sporcle Safe Cracker

While you’re sitting inside, recovering from that 2nd degree sunburn because you *yet* again forgot to put on sunblock, you have a few options about how to spend your summer. You could stay at home and play Sporcle all day OR you catch some of the big hits coming out this summer and then go back to playing Sporcle. Not sure what is coming out? You’re the type of person that watches all their television programs on Netflix , immune from previews, aren’t you? I know how you feel.  When I realized the other day that a new X-Men movie had sneaked into theaters right under my very nose, I knew I had to take action. I mean, I can’t play Sporcle all summer. At some point I need to get out and, you know, do stuff…like go see a movie. Here is a not-nearly-complete list of some of the biggest, most anticipated movies of the summer, compiled by yours truly:

X-Men: First Class kicked off the summer movie madness on June 3rd. Again, how did I not know about this movie until the very last minute? I must live under a rock. The latest installment in the saga stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Kevin Bacon and is directed by Matthew Vaughn. Pre-Wolverine and Storm, it tells the story of the origin of the X-men. Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Fassbender) are the best of buds until they are forced to use their powers to save the earth, and in the process have a falling out about how to do that.

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