29 February 2012

My Real Post Report about Bishkek

I noticed the other day that a new RPR had been posted for Bishkek, after more than 5 years.  I thought it was pretty good, but I still thought I'd do my own here. 

How long have you lived there?  18 months this time, 11 months in 2005/06, both times in education

Is this your first expat experience?  No.

How long is the flight?  We flew from the western US both times.  Turkish Air took us from Frankfurt to Istanbul to Bishkek the first time, and we went on Aeroflot from LAX to Moscow to Bishkek this time.  It's at least 20 hours of flying time from the west coast if you have to fly over the Atlantic.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country? I'm not sure there is anything in particular that's amazing about Bishkek, although I really like it here.  I especially like the food and the people, but you can find good food and good people everywhere.  I suppose it's a pretty cheap place to live.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country? Learning about Central Asian culture and religion.

What is the air quality like?  I know some people think it's really bad, and it can be in Bishkek on the streets, but overall it's not bad at all especially in comparison to many major Asian cities.  Even in the towns in the winter, it's not too bad even though there's some coal smoke.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?  It's always reminded me a lot of the intermountain western US.  Hot, dry summers and cold snowy winters with spring and summer lasting a couple of months each.

What kind of insect problems are there, if any?  Flies, mosquitoes, and ants are the only annoyances.

Are there any special security concerns?  We've never had a problem or concern beyond your usual precautions living in a city.

Housing types, locations, commute time?  This is more an embassy type question, but there is a huge range of housing here from apartments to huge houses with yards.  It's easy to find a good apartment in the city if you want that, or a house by the embassy, or whatever.

International schools:  The two major international schools are QSI Bishkek and Hope Academy.  If we weren't homeschooling and could afford it, I'd definitely choose QSIB over Hope for academics.  Both are willing to work with homeschoolers who want to do some electives there.  The people at both schools are very nice.  There are several other international schools here that are good too, but I don't think very many western expats use them.

Preschool/daycare available:  There are lots of options from kindergartens to nannies and everything else.  200 som/hour for many services is fairly typical.

What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?  Not much, although we know people who've been hired recently to help with this at the international schools.  We also have friends whose kids have SN and they choose to homeschool because the international schools can't help much.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?  I'm not really up on what too many expats think, but in general I think most people are reasonably happy here.

From what you have heard, is it a good city for gay or lesbian expats?  Not particularly, although I suspect it might be better here than in many Muslim-majority countries.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?  There is currently a move toward Kyrgyz nationalism, which is unfortunate since about a third of the population isn't ethnically Kyrgyz.  Bishkek still has a large Russian population, and it's a very diverse city.  Expats rarely have any kind of trouble in Bishkek, except for African-Americans, but even they mostly just deal with pointing and laughing from kids.  Certainly there are gender issues here, but they aren't as obvious as in many places (except for the ever-publicized bride kidnapping).

What difficulties would someone with physical disabilities have living in this city?  This country doesn't accommodate physical disabilities very well.  While we have known physically-disabled people who live here comfortably, it's not always easy.

Interesting/fun things to do in the area:  There are many outdoor options, especially if you have a car.  We especially enjoy doing CBT stays.  Lots of hiking, climbing, and horseback riding.

Are gyms or workout facilities available?  Yes, quite a few, although most aren't in downtown Bishkek.

Are sports programs available for kids? There are a reasonable number of options through the schools and the gyms in the area.  Our kids have been happy with what we've been able to work out.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?  There are no Western chains here, not even KFC.  But there are many, many great restaurants in town with international and local cuisine.  There's also a lot of good street food.  Just find a stand where lots of people are buying.  Eating is cheap here, except in a few Western-style places that don't have great food anyway.

What is the availability (and the relative cost) of groceries and household supplies?  You can't get very many familiar-to-a-USian brands here, so if you want the right kind of salad dressing, you're not going to be happy here.  But there are a wide range of groceries available and I've rarely felt limited here.  Everything is cheap if you stick with local products and I don't think that's a problem.

What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc? Well, none, if you want things labeled neatly.  But the produce is all local (well, in the winter some of it isn't, but you can tell what isn't) and often you're buying from the person who grew the produce themselves, so you can ask them about it.  Gluten-free and allergy-free food is definitely not here, and it's not too easy to be vegetarian here, although we successfully eat very little meat.  Tofu is easy to find at least.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?  There are plenty of ATMs around and we've never had a problem.  Hardly anyone takes credit cards here, or at least the kinds of stores I frequent don't.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?  We ride the marshrutkas all the time if it's too far to walk.  They're cheap and safe, although crowded and minor pickpocketing might go on, although it's never happened to me.  There are plenty of taxis; you can call one, or get one on the street.  We always just get one on the street when we need one.

How do you get and send your letters and package mail?  That's tricky since we're on our own.  We have all our mail sent to the university we're associated with because we've found that to be the most reliable system.  We didn't have trouble last time with our post office box, but it didn't work out very well this time.  I don't send mail and packages because it's a hassle and unreliable.

Items you would ship to this post if you could do it again?  Well, I've never had the fun of shipping anything overseas, but if I could, I'd ship some ingredients that I can't find here like coconut milk, fish sauce, and tamarind.  I think that's about it though.

Availability and cost of domestic help: I think this is easy to find and not expensive, although I don't know.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living? The more Russian you know in Bishkek, the happier you'll be.  Very few people speak English, and even fewer speak it well.  You'd at least need enough Russian to do some shopping, and it's worth getting comfortable with the alphabet.  But I've also known expats who don't learn any Russian at all and do fine.

English-language religious services available? Denominations?  This is a little dicey right now.  Several of the churches are being extremely careful right now, although it's probably not necessary.  There is an international church and a Catholic church, both in English, I believe, and plenty of in-home meetings.

Is high-speed internet access available? Cost?  It costs about $50/month for a reasonably high-speed connection.  It's not blazing fast, but we've been satisfied with it.

What unique local items can you spend it on?  Shyrdaks and other textiles

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?  Of course :)


  1. AnonymousMay 23, 2012

    How is the Internet re speed? Can you use Skype with Video? Streaming?

    I am looking at a post in Bishkek and would appreciate some information


  2. Yes, it's not a problem to Skype with video. We can nearly always stream (not-top-quality) videos too.

    The speed can vary a little throughout the day, but in general I have been very pleasantly surprised by the internet quality here.