I grew up in London, one of the largest cities in the world, and in general I would consider myself to be a city boy. For those who like definitions, a city boy is “A male inhabitant of a city, or one who prefers city life”. Over the summers I was at home from university and in the periods of time after that I worked in central London, I thrived in the city, going out after work to international restaurants and independent cinemas, using my lunch breaks to explore local parks, food markets and museums, even in winter.
Things changed however when I moved to South Wales in March 2013. No longer was I living in a city – I was living in a small town of 40,000 people. There was a small Odeon, a couple of nice cafes and parks, and of course the beautiful beach all within walking distance. People here preferred to go up mountains, go on countryside walks and traverse castles on their weekends. There were no craft pubs and very few good international restaurants, and Oscar-winning films rarely made it to the multiplex.
But for the four years that I lived in South Wales, I became accustomed to small town life. It became my home. For the first year and a bit I didn’t even often go into Swansea, the nearest city, as my new friends enjoyed hanging out at the local beach, pub or round each other’s houses. And I liked that. I would welcome guests to South Wales and when they had a car we’d be going to the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, Gower or Brecon Beacons rather than hanging out at Swansea Marina or Cardiff Bay. I look back on my time in South Wales with many treasured memories of walks along Three Cliffs Bay, hikes up Pen y Fan and cozy cafes in small-town Tenby and St David’s.
My first experience of city life again was in Ankara, which you can read about in one of my previous blogs – though it’s a big city, it was navigable, and you could get around a fair amount of the city centre on foot. Bishkek is smaller than Ankara, and now that I’m making it my base for a year, is a good step towards the big city life that I’ve experienced on visits to Almaty. It’s been through making friends at my language school with a couple of guys called Chris and Shohei that I’ve explored a fair amount of Bishkek’s restaurant scene, which I’ll be writing about in a future post. I’ve also got a good understanding of the best coffee shops, which supermarkets sell which products, the best places for buying clothes, good places to work out and parks to relax in on summer afternoons.
Bishkek is still a few years off from becoming as Westernised as Almaty. The malls here are influenced more by Turkey than by the UK and US. The first KFC opened in Bishkek in June, whereas in Almaty they have most of the big fast food, coffee and clothes chains at hand in brand spanking new malls. In Bishkek I mainly get around by 12p marshrutka journeys, whereas in Almaty the city feels more spread out (like a London or Moscow) that my recent experience has been flagging down taxis wherever I go.
How do I feel about becoming a city boy again? There’s a part of me that likes being the one in the know, so that when we receive guests I can take them to some of the best spots to eat local cuisine, drink speciality coffee, buy souvenirs and take in the sunset. On the other hand, I miss the proximity I lived to a supermarket, cinema, coffee shop and gym (all within five minutes walk), which are now more spread out and often involve a marshrutka journey to get to. I also miss being close to a beach – on the plus side, I’m only an hour away from snow-capped mountains, and in my personal opinion, Bishkek has better speciality coffee shops than Almaty, it’s big brother just four hours away.
My sincerest apologies for not writing sooner, but hopefully I’ll get a few more blogs out over this transition from summer to autumn here in Bishkek!