April 5th, 2017 Author ian Sections: News

There is an old adage that “there’s no such thing as bad news …” – but although publicists might argue the point strongly, not everyone would agree.

Kyrgyzstan is not often in the news … and, most of the time, we (those of us working in tourism and eager to attract visitors to the country) would be more than happy to see items featuring the country – if only to get the familiarity and name recognition that such articles would bring.

Yesterday, however, we awoke to find a less than welcome story in our news feed …


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April 4th, 2017 Author ian Sections: News
A Foggy morning here in Bishkek

A Foggy morning here in Bishkek

People often ask me what I miss about England … sometimes followed by the suggestion: “Obviously not the weather”.

I come across many misconceptions about Britain and, not surprisingly – given our obsession with the topic, many of them relate to our weather.

Most people I have met here in Bishkek seem to be of the opinion that we rarely ever see the sun … that it rains every day, or we experience inordinate amounts of fog.

To be honest, we don’t help the situation in that we almost encourage these views  – with phrases like Foggy Albion – but when I try to correct the mistake by pointing out, for example, that fog tends to be a seasonal feature encountered mainly in the Autumn … people look at me as if I am crazy and simply nod their heads, implying that they will accommodate this poor deluded foreigner.


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April 3rd, 2017 Author ian Sections: Issyk Kul, Soviet Union
Aerial photograph of Diego Garcia : From Wikipedia

Aerial photograph of Diego Garcia : From Wikipedia

One Christmas, when I was in the sixth form at school – that would be in about 1969 or 1970, the senior pupils decided to go Carol Singing – collecting money for charity.

This time, instead of going ‘door-to-door’ in a particular district, or attempting a ‘pub crawl’, we decided it would be fun to pay a surprise visit to the homes of as many of the senior teaching staff as we could.

I don’t think they had been forewarned … and they all took it quite well … even smiling when they opened the door in answer to our knock after the first verse of the first Christmas hymn … grinning as we sang the second and then contributing generously as one of our number held out the collecting box just before we started the third and last song before jumping into a motley collection of cars in order to race off to the next ‘victim’.

Maybe, after we had gone, they raced to the phone and managed to call ahead and forewarn other potential targets … because, as the evening drew on, people seemed less and less surprised to see when they opened the doors … and when we finally appeared at the Headmaster’s house for our final port of call, we were duly invited inside and treated to mince pies and, (if I remember correctly … it was forty odd years ago), some sort of fruit punch.

The Headmaster’s wife, who also taught at the school, started to tell us about their son who was not going to be able to come home that Christmas.  He was serving in the Air Force, and had been posted abroad … to somewhere called Diego Garcia, and she had no idea where it was … all she knew was that it was a small island in the Indian Ocean but she couldn’t even find it on any map.

Those of us studying Geography were given an additional homework assignment – find out all we could about Diego Garcia so that she could put her mind at rest and know something about where her son had spent his festive season.


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April 2nd, 2017 Author ian Sections: Bishkek
Dom Druzhba

Dom Druzhba

In his Bishkek Handbook, Daniel Prior tells a story about how a nomad shepherd came down from the jailoo to visit Frunze – as Bishkek was known then –  and was so taken with the magnificent sights in the Big City that when he returned home and described all that he had seen, heard and done he mentioned the tall buildings … and in particular which was so tall that, if you bent backwards and looked up, you could not see the top of the building.

We are told that the building which so struck him with awe was the (then) newly constructed Government House – which is now known as Dom Druzhba (Friendship House) – on Prospect Chui to the East of the main Ala Too Square.

This two storey building with its central cupola is distinctive of its period and stylish, but hardly merits such a description unless one was standing immediately next to the wall of the building itself. Although the building might well have been impressive in its day … the city being basically low rise, predominantly single storey dwellings.

However, this was not necessarily the tallest building in the city – by no means was it the only two storey building in the city – Terentiev, the first Mayor of Bishkek, for example, had built a couple of such properties during the Tsarist period … well before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Perhaps the story tells us more about the person telling it, (be they Soviet propagandist, American guidebook author, or British blogger), than it does about the apparently gullible and naive nomadic shepherd who appears in it. More…

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April 1st, 2017 Author ian Sections: Tourism
What are the Top 5 hotel experiences guests talk about on social media?

What are the Top 5 hotel experiences guests talk about on social media?

Every now and again we see a review in the trade press of what guests look for when selecting a hotel.

Price, of course, is a major criteria, and a potential deal maker or deal breaker … but they also look for other things – for example, location.  According to the estate agent, (realtor), this is a crucial question (… so much so that they have a mantra: “Location, location, location”): City Center, versus Beach side, versus proximity to major sights or facilities (such as conference center) and so on.

These days, apparently, wi-fi for internet access (fast, reliable and free) is a prerequisite … and I see that, last year, the United Nations declared this as, not just a desirable feature for modern living … but as a Basic Human Right (!).


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March 31st, 2017 Author ian Sections: Food and Drink
Tenniel's illustration of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Tenniel’s illustration of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I was talking to the manager of a cafe the other day, who described one of her ‘regular clients’ … a contrary sort of character like someone one Alice might have met during her journeys in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass.

“She’s never satisfied.”, I was told, “It doesn’t matter what we do, she finds something to complain about.  One day the tea is too hot, so she lets it stand to cool down … but insists that ‘next time, don’t use boiling water!‘”

Before I could express surprise, or any other reaction for that matter, the story continued …

“Then, the next day she comes in and orders a pot of tea … only to complain that ‘It’s tepid! Can’t you use hot water?‘”


March 30th, 2017 Author ian Sections: Economy, Food and Drink, Plants
A thoughtful gift

A thoughtful gift

The other day I was given a jar of Peanut Butter … (Arekivcovoye Maslo).

“I know it’s not your loobeemiy Marmite,” (your favourite Marmite), I was told, “but I thought you might like it all the same.”

Apparently, for many people Peanut Butter seems to be a bit like Marmite … in that “either you love it or you hate it“.

In fact, to be honest, I don’t really fit into either camp … I neither ‘love it‘, nor ‘hate it‘.  I suppose it is a case  of, ‘I can take it or leave it‘.

The taste is fine … you can definitely make out the taste of peanuts (or Ground Nuts as they are sometimes known), but I find that the texture is also a little ‘nutty’, powdery or grainy – and there are other, smoother, spreads that I prefer: Marmite of course, different types of meat or fish paste (or pashtet as it is known here), and jams (djem or vareniya, here) and cream cheeses like Philadelphia, (or plaveniy seer).

My mother , on the other hand, loved it … and I have to admit that she guarded the jar very carefully.  (Not that she had to because, as I said, it was never a great favourite for the rest of us.)

As a result, when I received the jar, my mind immediately jumped back to my dyetstva – my childhood – but on examining the jar a little more closely I got another surprise  … It was a local product … made here in Kyrgyzstan.


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March 29th, 2017 Author ian Sections: ianbek

imagesI can’t say that I know that much about either Rihanna or Merle Haggard … apart from the fact that they are both – among other things – singers … and that, even though they represent different genres, they both have songs called “Where have you been?” in their repertoire.

It’s a question that friends and acquaintances have posed to me several times over the last few months … and it’s a good question …

To be honest, there have been several reasons for my absence … (and, maybe, some time in the future I ‘ll go into more detail and explain about some of them) … but, fortunately, it hasn’t been anything serious such as ill health – or any of the other, more worrying, suggestions that I have heard.

Basically, it boils down, simply, to a ‘broken routine’.   


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January 1st, 2017 Author ian Sections: Maths-Stats

Complete the equation

For the last couple of years, I have written New Year postcards based on  an annual number puzzle and thought I would pose it once again this year:


Write down the numbers from 10 down to 0 and the number of the year – leaving gaps between each one:

10     9     8     7     6     5     4     3     2     1     0     xxxx

Now, fill the gaps with one of the arithmetical operations, (+, -, x, ÷), brackets, ( that is ( and ) ), and an equals sign (=) so that you end up with a sum with the first ten numbers on the left hand side of the equation which generate the number of the year.

As it happens, there is usually more than one solution … and it is even easier if one was allowed to use the more advanced functions such as the square root sign (√), and factorial (!) … but it is not allowed is to change the order of the eleven numbers on the left hand side of the equation … of concatenate them (for example, make 109 from 10 and 9, or 98 from 9 and 8 … and so on).

So, for 2013, one solution might be:

 (10  +  9  –  8)  x  ((7  –  6)  +  (5  x  4  x  3))  x  (2  +  1  +  0)  =
11  x  ((7  –  6)  +  (5  x  4  x  3))  x  (2  +  1  +  0)=
11  x  (1  +  (5  x  4  x  3)  x  (2  +  1  +  0)  =
11  x  (1  +  60)  +  (2  +  1  +  0)  =
11  x  61  x  (2  +  1  +  0)  =
11  x  61  x  3  =
671  x  3  =

and for 2014:

(10  +  9)  x  ((8  x  7)  +  (6  –  5  –  4))  x  (3  –  2  +  1  +  0)  =
19  x  ((8  x  7)  +  (6  –  5  –  4))  x  (3  –  2  +  1  +  0)  =
19  x  (56  +  (6  –  5  –  4))  x  (3  –  2  +  1  +  0)  =
19  x  (56  +  (-3))  x  (3  –  2  +  1  +  0)  =
19  x  53  x  (3  –  2  +  1  +  0)  =
19   x   53   x   2   =
1007  x  2  =

and for 2015:

10      9      8      7      6      5      4      3      2      1      0      2015

 Back in 2015, I said that it was relatively easy to solve, and here’s the solution I offered then:

10      9      8      7      6      5      4      3      2      1      0      2015

(10  +  9)  x  ((8  x  7)  +  (6  x  5)  +  (4  x  (3  +  2))  +  1  +  0  =
19  x  ((8  x  7)  +  (6  x  5)  +  (4  x  (3  +  2)) +  1  +  0  =
19  x  (56  +  (6  x  5)  +  (4  x  (3  +  2)) +  1  +  0  =
19  z  (56  +  30 +  4  x  (3  +  2))  +  1  +  0  =
19  x  (56  +  30  +(4  x  5))  +  1  +  0  =
19  x  (56  +  30  +  20)  +  1  +  0 =
19  x  106  +  1  +  0  =
2014  +  1  +  0  =

Last year, 2016, was even easier … but, I am not going to give you that solution right now, because … well, the zero at the end plays a significant role.

So, what about this year, 2017?

10      9      8      7      6      5      4      3      2      1      0      2017

If I thought that, last year, the solution was relatively easy … then this one is ‘a piece of cake’ for anyone who solved it …

For the record:  here is a solution – but there are others, especially if you decide to use square roots and/or factorials:

10      9      8      7      6      5      4      3      2      1      0      2017

(10  –  9)  +  (8  x  7  x  6  x  (5  –  4)  x  3  x  2)  –  1  +  0  =
1  +  (8  x  7  x  6  x  (5  –  4)  x  3  x  2)  –  1  +  0  =
1  +  (8  x  7  x  6  x  1  x  3  x  2)  –  1  +  0  =
    1  +  (56  x  6  x  1  x  3  x  2)  –  1  +  0  =
1  +  (336  x  1  x  3  x  2)  –  1  +  0  =
1  +  (336  x  3  x  2)  –  1  +  0  =
1  +  (1008   x  2)  –  1  +  0  =
1  + 2016  –  1  +  0  = 
2017  +  1  x  0  =
2017  +  0  =



Yes, it is there!  I have written it in white … so you should be able to reveal it if you highlight it … or if you print the page.


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July 27th, 2016 Author ian Sections: Economy

It was on 27th July, 1694, that the Bank of England was granted its Royal Charter.

According to some sources, it’s the oldest National Bank in the world although there is a question about the Sveriges Riksbank, (in Sweden) which was founded in 1668 – which is the also the third oldest bank in the world which is still operating..

The Bank of England actually owes its existence to a Scotsman, a merchant called William Paterson, who put together a company to provide a massive loan of 1.2 million pounds to the King, (William III), who was in dire need of funds at the time in order to pursue a war with France.  The necessary funds were raised in 12 days … now that seems to be pretty impressive.  They charged their sovereign a right royal rate of interest on the loan … 8%.


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