On a Sunday morning, I visited a massive and messy bazaar. The range of goods available is extensive; from bicycle tires to clothing, toiletries, enormous carpets, food, vintage stuff, hardware parts and furniture.
As I walk about in the bazaar, people were smiling at me with their gold teeth, greeting me “konnichiwa”, leading me to take photos. When I took photos of the women, they would end up laughing, some would ask me to take a photo of them while some would hide from my camera. I watched people greeting one another and shaking hands, it almost feels like a movie that came alive.
I met a few young people who spoke English, and they told me that the locals are very curious about foreigners. They often asked if I am married or have kids, and were surprised by my age and single-hood. They couldn’t understand why a girl in her 30s is not married and traveling around by herself. When they realized that I came to Uzbekistan on my own, they would gesture to me with a “thumbs-up”. In a short span of 2 hours, I received three marriage proposal from younger men.
I love the diversity of a foreign land. People are so fascinating especially those of different cultures. These experiences are so refreshing they make me feel that this world is such a beautiful place, filled with inspiring people. If only the world was bigger and more accommodating towards differences!
I traveled around in local transportation. Everyone in the buses and mini-vans were so friendly. When they realized there is a foreigner in the bus, they would ask “tourist?”, “Korean?”. There is a small Korean community in Uzbekistan who migrated to Central Asia after WWII. Though I rarely met people who could speak English, their warm welcome went beyond language. It was expressed in their entire countenance. Whenever they got off the vehicle, they would wave goodbye to me.
Sometimes, it can get really lonely traveling by myself especially when I don’t know the local language or see any other travelers around whom I can converse with. I’m not sure if it’s because of the visa requirements that kept all the travelers away from Uzbekistan. I didn’t seen anyone in the B&Bs that I stayed in and was always having meals by myself. Thankfully, these warm encounters with the locals helped to ease the sense of aloneness.
I wouldn’t have been able to get around without the help and kindness of the people here. Everything is written in Russian or Uzbek characters, I couldn’t even figure out what was written on my train ticket. Thankfully, God always sent someone who knows English along my path. I had difficulty communicating with the ticketing officer when she issued me a wrong ticket. Just when I needed help, an English speaking lady was standing right beside me. She spoke with such clarity and I asked her if she’s a lawyer. She has a law degree but did not practice law as her husband became an Uzbek diplomat. They lived in Poland, Italy and Spain. When she realized that I’m from Singapore, she said, “Oh, Uzbekistan has great relationship with Singapore!”. Everyone seems to know where Singapore is. They told me that it is a popular country and they wish Uzbekistan can become like Singapore, developed and prosperous. A few of them mentioned Mr Lee Kuan Yew and one of them even read his biography. I was surprised that it is the less developed countries that seemed to know quite a bit about our tiny little country.