December 2, 2009 3 Comments
By Rob Packer
I stand in awe of bazaars in Bishkek. When I told my colleagues I sometimes go to Osh Bazaar at the weekend, their reaction was best described at horrified: they think of it as one of those “dangerous places” where bad things happen (mainly theft) and really not a place foreigners like me should be venturing. Which is odd, because I think of Osh Bazaar as one of the most chilled markets I’ve been to in a long time: I used to be a lot more wary in the markets of Mong Kok, Hong Kong where there was also the nightmare scenario of being doused with acid, as well as the usual missing-wallet market antics and coming back very much empty-handed after once again finding nothing to buy, or even worse, with bags of stuff you’ll want to throw out within a couple of hours.
By comparison, Osh Bazaar actually has some things you might want to buy. On my most recent trip, I went for the souvenir section, which is full of the felt slippers, felt carpets, felt hats, little felt yurts and felt camels that everyone will be getting for Christmas. Weirdly, the souvenir section blends seamlessly with the army surplus section if you need any Red Army boots, coats or hats, and round the back of that are a few stalls of old sewing machines. Other parts of the market include the Uzbek fruit section, spices and row upon row dried fruit. The salad section also has kimchi-inspired products (see Sunday’s post). You can get pretty much everything you’ll need for day-to-day life in Bishkek, especially if what you need for day-to-day life is a Kyrgyz hat.
Dordoi Bazaar, Osh’s bigger, scarier cousin, is another matter and can only be called chilled in terms of temperature. It really has to be seen to be believed: it’s the largest markets in the CIS, and one of the largest in the world; from what I can tell it’s second or third largest in Asia after Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and (maybe) Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. The place is huge and entirely made up of a labyrinth of shipping containers; it’s easily the largest collection of shipping containers I’ve ever seen this far from the sea. The bazaar sprang up after the fall of the USSR as other markets in Uzbekistan went out of style as it became harder to visit and do business in Tashkent. There’s something incredibly unplanned about the whole place with power lines bisecting it at some points and trees growing through some of the containers – I have no idea how that happened. But this isn’t a tourist or produce market. The name of the game here is wholesale, so its customers include stallholders from all over Central Asia, including Osh Bazaar. You could spend hours navigating this container city with its vague claims of “organization”, i.e. vague grid system; first-timers are probably most likely to give up after sifting through haystacks of low-quality merchandise for the proverbial needle. Going with a colleague meant that many days of sorting were condensed into a few hours with his help. But I fear the day I have to go there on my own.