Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cheapest beer ever

I crossed into Kyrgyzstan today--five hours in a minivan from Almaty to Bishkek, including stops on both sides of the border. Almaty was a hard place to leave: so comfortable, relaxed, spacious, leafy, and "luxurious" (if you count cold beer, real coffee, hearty Russian-style food, cool-ish weather, and walkability as "luxuries") after the thrilling, almost overwhelming frenzy of China.

We stopped at a cafe and gas station a couple hours into the bus ride; as I stood debating whether or not to squander the Kazakh money I'm saving for my return on a beer, a tall young guy insisted I sit down and have one on him. We chatted, and I marveled at the hospitality of Kazakhs--only yesterday I'd gotten a lift from a pair of college guys back into Almaty from the eagle farm up the mountain. "How nice to get a free beer," I thought.

But this turned out to be even more than a free beer, b/c the Kazakh border guard was very unhappy with the various stamps I had or hadn't secured, and was in no mood to let me through until who should come to my aid but Anvar, the guy who'd bought me the beer. This story seems to have various morals, all of them upending what we were told as children:
  1. talking to strangers is not only safe but imperative
  2. beer is not only nutritious, but excellent insurance
  3. fastidious paperwork will only get you so far
  4. pleasantries and good humor go a long way (maybe we did learn that as children, but who would have thought how far it goes with border guards?)

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