Despo(t) 2010: Stan!

Also in this series: Death By Exposure and Despo(t) 2010: The Axis of Awesome


Overwhelmed by the Badness


In our quest to avoid the crowded pavilions at Shanghai Expo 2010, we embarked on an intensive one-day project to visit as many maligned countries as possible.  We visited the Axis of Evil and a few non-affiliated-but-still-iffy countries. We also veered heavily into the Central Asian Stans.

I have a huge soft spot for the Stans. When I lived in Turkey, I compared linguistics and discovered that if I were to, say, move to Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan (State of Sweaters/Jumpers in Turkish) or Kyrgyzstan, I could function at a reassuringly basic level using my middling Turkish and pleasantries-heavy Arabic.

I could count to 4 in Uyghur and name trees and earth and horses.  I could easily translate the names of cities and regions. I was comfortable around stout older women in headscarves and old men in suit coats leading horses.

I often watched Az TV and tried to follow the news in Azeri. I liked the elaborate song and dance performances that followed the Azeri news. One night I was treated to a wonderful, unironic performance of the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up by a dozen primary school girls in flouncy dresses and enormous Soviet bows in their hair.

I read once that in Uzbekistan their president had declared himself to be a self-important god head type and required all sorts of statues and garish monuments to be built in his honor and a book of his quotes to be required reading/memorization in schools.

When I gently and indirectly brought up the curious commonality to the Turkish Ataturk cult of personality with my students in Istanbul, they remarked on how ignorant and uneducated and uncivilized Uzbeks were to be putting so much faith in the words of just one man.

They mustn’t have noticed the busts and murals and quotes and portraits of Ataturk at every turn. In the village of Avanos, outside Kayseri in central Anatolia where I lived for 2 years nearly a decade ago, a mountainside was engraved with his silhouette and a few choice quotes.

The irony was lost there.

Anyway, I have a soft spot for the Stans.

We started off in the lusciously blue Uzbek pavilion. Or rather, outside the lusciously blue Uzbek pavilion. It had a surprisingly long queue.  We were stuck in the middle of an enormous Uzbek family. In front was a young woman wearing a visibly home-sewn fraying polyester dress and ankle-pantyhose with her scuffed elastic-strapped maryjanes.  A few brothers were placed in front and behind us, as well as another sister, who was hidden under her parasol. Behind us were the elders, short and squat and dressed in their village best. The older woman was head-scarved and carried the most broken umbrella I’ve ever seen opened. She was probably in her 50s but looked to be in her 70s.

We shuffled along in the brutal midday heat for about half an hour before we finally entered the cool, dark building.


Uzbek fashions


Uzbekistan had mannequins showing traditional dress, strung up with Christmas lights.

They also had a cabinet displaying, incongruously, everyone’s grandmother’s best porcelain nicknacks.


Not exactly the night sky


They had a night sky painted on the ceiling, surrounding a circle of cloudy blue skies. At the back, they had some lovely Islamic doorways installed against the wall. Everyone took turns posing.


The wall of arches


After Uzbekistan, we found Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan side by side next to Bangladesh.  Kyrgyzstan was lovely and dark and cozy inside, simply decorated with a yurt to one side and beautifully lit carved standing stones under a deep blue toned column illustrating battles and camps.


I want this in my bedroom


Kyrgyzstan was wonderful. At the exit, I bought a pair of felt slippers the colours of a watermelon. The woman apologized for not having a fancy country-promoting bag to put them in as she wrapped them up in a clear produce bag. I slipped them into my handbag and reassured her that I thought Kyrgyzstan was my favourite pavilion of all. I meant it. I wanted to curl up and camp in their yurt and wake up next to their carved standing stones.

Tajikistan had a lot of beds. Beds covered in bright carpets and pillows and signs warning people not to climb up and take a nap. The ceiling was thick with fake hanging vines. At the back were tapestries and herbs (still on the plants as well as in bowls) and a 3D city plan of a city labelled in Cyrillic and Chinese.  Looking back toward the front you can see a huge portrait of a man in a suit, presumably a president of sorts. He presides over a display showing all of Tajikistan’s potential energy sources (not actual).


Beds and leaves. That’s about it for the Tajiks.


We tried to go to Kazakhstan but, inexplicably, it had a several hour queue. This may have been our project but we weren’t that keen. We went to Mongolia instead.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.