Central Asian Experience

Finally, it has arrived. Today is my last lecture day at the American University at Central Asia. I can finally enjoy a long, relaxing bath without worrying about my lectures for the next day. I can finally move on to other concerns, perhaps google where “Tumar” is, so I can shop for souvenirs, eat the world’s sweetest walnuts, and buy a felt teapot warmer.

It has been a tiring but wonderful week in Kyrgyzstan. The faculty and staff of the Economics and Business Division of the American University at Central Asia have been quite amazing with their hospitality. They took me around Bishkek, booked me an apartment at the city center, hosted many of my meals, booked me a tour to Ala Archa National Park, and provided a sim card and a university card so I can navigate easier. I now have in my possession a bottle of white and red Georgian wines, all because they took me to a Georgian restaurant for dinner.


The gang at the Ala Archa National Park


The river is slowly starting to freeze over

I like Bishkek. I feel at home with the culture. I like that people are ethnically international (although they probably only speak Russian). While the cab drivers may not be capable of speaking what to me is understandable English, they were never hostile and I never felt I was being cheated. Waiters and waitresses were respectful. My students are really eager to learn; and despite the class running from 6:30 pm to 9:10 pm, they engage and I see them fight the urge to feel the tiredness of the day. It is very difficult to not like the place. I have absolutely enjoyed my visit here, and I would definitely, definitely want to come back in the future. In my books, the world’s happiest people are the Kyrgyz. They are just extremely pleasant to be with.

October 21, 2016 | Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Here now in Bishkek

I’m finally here. After almost a 4-hour flight from Copenhagen to Istanbul, a 2-hour layover at Istanbul, and almost a 5-hour flight from Istanbul to Bishkek. To say that I am tired is an understatement. As usual, I was not able to sleep during the entire flight. Even after a hot bath and an hour-long nap, I still feel wasted. I start teaching tomorrow, and boy am I worried I’ll start snoring in class. I guess the jetlag does not help either. Bishkek is 4 hours ahead of Copenhagen. That means that if I can’t sleep early and well tonight, there will be hell to pay tomorrow.

I’m pleasantly surprised by how well everything has gone so far. It was very easy to find my gate Istanbul Atatürk Airport. I only had my backpack as a carry-on, so I did have to go through the trouble of justifying why my carry-on should be carried on instead of checked in for free (I don’t understand why someone would refuse a free check-in of their carry-on though, unless you have breakables or electronics inside). I was approached by a woman who spoke no English about her carry-on. I thought she needed help talking to the airline staff about having her carry-on checked in, so I offered to help her talk to the guy. When she called her friend to help with the translation, it turned out she wanted me to carry her carry-on bag aboard the plane because she had too many carry-ons that she did not want to check in. Super weird. But I politely turned her down and told her that I do not carry bags that are not my own. She went on to ask help from someone else.

Both flights, from Copenhagen and from Istanbul, were uneventful. There was no turbulence. Perhaps, the most happening event that occurred for both my flights was the inability of the flight stewards/stewardesses to completely hand-out passenger drinks and meals before the earlier-row passengers finished their meals and started getting up to go to the toilet. Having seated at row 20C and 5D with Turkish Airlines, I greatly recommend seating near the last row if you need frequent toilet access. The acrobatics required to get pass the trolleys just to get to the toilet was crazy.

But in fairness to Turkish airlines, the food was not bad (and the alcoholic beverages were free!). I had the meatballs to Istanbul and the chicken to Bishkek. The meatballs may not look that appetizing, but it was actually pretty good. In fact, it tasted so much better than the chicken.

Greg and Jaya, colleagues from the university I’m connected here in Bishkek met me at the airport and together, we took a cab to where my “home” for 6 days is going to be. The flat they rented out for me is huuuuge!!! And I have my own living room, my own kitchen, and my own bathroom complete with a Japanese a$$-rinsing toilet and an amazingly big bath tub. They also made me breakfast for me, homemade (and too much for one person!). ❤

After freshening up and resting, I agreed to attend a rap concert with  Greg and Jaya. One of Greg’s friends, Ksenia (who will be interviewing me later for an early morning show), was scheduled to perform. Unfortunately, the 5:30 pm rap concert only began 2 hours later, after all the BMX bicycling competition concluded. We decided to walk around the city instead. According to Jaya, I had about seen most of the city during our walk: the president’s palace, the parliament, the state history museum, the philharmonic hall, the Panfilov park, and many more. The day ended with  dinner at this Jordanian restaurant named Pur:Pur. Food was amazing and wine was pretty good.

October 16, 2016 | Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

To Helsingor or Not To Helsingor

Two days ago, Andrew and I decided to do an overnight trip to Helsingor. I’ve always wanted to go, but could never find the time. I’ve also been traveling so much the last few weeks by myself. I just wanted to travel with Andrew for fun before another crazy amount of solo-traveling for work.

So here we are. Elsinore. Also called Helsingor; mostly known for its Kronborg Castle, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet is set. We arrived yesterday from an hour long train ride from Copenhagen, just in time for a surprisingly delicious Chinese lunch at Asia House Restaurant (click here to virtually visit the restaurant). We both had Peking Soup (which seems to be served in most Asian cuisine places in Helsingor), which came as part of the lunch menu. Andrew ordered roast duck with mushrooms. I ordered beef with vegetables. Both orders were served with rice and the servings were enough for one moderately hungry person. Both orders and the soup were quite delicious. In fact, this may be the most authentic-tasting Chinese food I’ve had in Europe since I moved; enough for me to consider taking another one-hour train ride one day just to eat Chinese food.

After lunch, visited the Kronborg Castle. The castle closes at 4pm. It was already 2pm when we got there, so we had to quickly deposit our carry-on bag into one of the castle’s free lockers and move as fast as we can so as to make our entrance well worth it. Luckily, we finished viewing all opened rooms in the castle and even spent a bit of time browsing the gift shop. Embarrassingly, we may have been the last to leave the castle premises. They had to re-open the big doors to let us out, and we had to profusely apologize for putting more work on them.

A recycled fish exhibit just right outside the Kronborg Castle


A recycled fish exhibit right outside Kronborg Castle

My most and least favorite part of the Kronborg castle where the castle’s casemates. The casemates are gloomy, cold and dark underground passages under the castle. Some of the passages were open to the public. This is by far the longest and most complicated underground passage I’ve ever been to. But I don’t really have much to compare. My only other underground passage experience was in the old city in Accra, Israel. When I visited Accra, most of the passages were blocked, so the entire experience only took 5 minutes. But this one – in Kronborg – took a loooong time. Other than the arrows on the wall, I did not have a guide to lead me. It was eerie. And I had to freakin’ use my cellphone flashlight to help me see the way. I also had to mind my step. Not only was the ground uneven, some had cobblestones, some  were cemented, and some just had sand.

The Kronborg Castle tower offers magnificent views of the city, the Øresund Strait and Sweden at a distance. There are 145 round tower steps, which surprisingly were not as narrow as many round tower steps I’ve taken. I usually hate steps, but this one was not really much of a chore. Other than occasional dizzy spells (because I felt like I was going round in circles both going up and going down the tower), I didn’t really feel a need to stop and catch my breath. In comparison, I would say the Møns Klint staircase is far worse than this.

After 4pm, Andrew and I left the Kronborg castle, walked along the banks and caught a bus to our hotel which was 30 minutes away from the city center. It was the only hotel available at a fairly reasonable price at such a short notice. The hotel has its own restaurant and serves free breakfast.

Unfortunately, if you want to have your lunch and dinner at the hotel as well, you will need to order in advance. The nearest restaurant is 15 minutes west of the hotel (by feet). It’s called the Hamlet Asia Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat fusion Asian cuisine (I know, Asian cuisine in Denmark) for 139 DKK. Soup, main course, and desserts are all in. Drinks are 45 DKK on average.

Tomorrow, we check out of our hotel and travel back to the city center to explore some more. We are also thinking of taking the 7 EUR ferry to Helsingborg, Sweden. Perhaps go shopping at the H&M store there. We’ll see. But we look forward to more adventures. 🙂

October 08, 2016 | Helsingor, Denmark

Oslo is Love

I’m currently in Oslo for a Nordic experimental conference. It’s my third time, second city in Norway. And without me even noticing it, Norway is quickly becoming my favorite Scandinavian country. Everything is just so beautiful. I like how the Norwegians have incorporated cities in nature, I am fascinated by Norwegian architecture and how they utilize space, and I like the fact that diversity is tangible in its capital city.

Today, after the last parallel session, I took a walk around the city center. I sat down and watched ducks paddle on a pond near the royal palace. I was even lucky enough to witness a change in palace guards. It was thoroughly enjoyable, what with their synchronized marching and funky hats. It was also quite funny how tourists would rush to have their pictures taken with the marching guards in the background. Maybe if I was with Andrew, I’d dare to have my photo taken with the same marching guards background as well. :p


The Royal Palace

I walked along the shoreline, saw a presentation detailing the various architectural buildings in Norway, went in a small grocery store and found that it had a greater product variety that many bigger grocery stores in Copenhagen, and dropped by an Asian food festival. One day, when the cost of spending so much on food and accommodations in Norway is no longer so painful, I would like to come back and play tourist. I think I will like that very much. I think Andrew will too.


October 02, 2016 | Oslo, Norway