Monday, June 20, 2011

Baraholka!

I wanted to visit Baraholka because (1) Lonely Planet gave it great reviews, (2) I wanted to venture outside of Almaty, and (3) I wanted to see a Central Asian market. I initially had a naïve and romantic conception of a traditional Central Asian market, where artisan vendors from different nationalities sell high-valued crafts. I could not have been more wrong. Baraholka was a labyrinth of cheap, Chinese crap. Lots and lots of it. Every consumer good, from electronics, to hardware, clothing, wedding dresses, shoes, specialty Muslim shops for Burqas – you name it and you can find it at Baraholka.

Despite the commercial sea of stuff, the energy of an Inner Eurasian market was definitely palpable. People ran through the market, pushing and shoving. Old woman lugged coolers and food carts down the aisle yelling "manti"…."polenti"… "shashlykh." It was a do or die environment – the wild, wild east. I even got run over by a cart at one point….just my ankle….the guy turned around and gave me the biggest Juno-style stink eye I have ever seen in my life. The market was so hot and noisy. At one point, Zarina and I stepped outside for a minute for a breathe of fresh air. I have visited the Pearl Market in Beijing and have attended a descent amount of street fairs, but nothing like Barakholka. It was another world... and one I am glad to have experienced.

While I could not differentiate between one market from the next, when we entered a new market, Zarina mentioned to me "this is the cheapest market….this is the most expensive market, the vendors here pay the highest rent….this is the Kyrgyz market, you can tell the difference in their goods." She explained to me that the Kyrgyz came across the border for the day and sold their goods in Baraholka, returning to their country in the evening. Later as we were walking home, Zarina pointed to a bus and said "that is a bus from Urumqi bringing Uighurs into Baraholka for the day…they come and shop…there are also a lot of sailors from Urumqi for some reason." I found her comments incredibly intriguing. Economically, Almaty is so connected to Kyrgyzstan and China. It is not uncommon for workers to cross national borders on a daily basis….look at the EU…many residents of Haute-Savoie, France work in Geneva….Mexicans work in America. Baraholka is a great example of the inter-connectivity between the Central Asian peoples today. Retaining liberal worker migration policies between Central Asian states (and China) is essential for economic growth, but at the same time, bears significant security complications (see Tajikistan).

It was also interesting to observe Zarina's consciousness about ethnic identities. I asked her if all of the different ethnic groups get along. "Of course, she said, "in Kazakhstan they do….we have over 130 different nationalities."

"Why in Kazakhstan and not in other countries?"

After taking a minute to think, Zarina said, "well, because of the President. We also all speak Russian, so you do not hear the different languages. Occasionally, on the bus you will hear someone from an aul [a rural Kazakh village] speaking a different dialect and pointing out people's ethnicities as Koreans, Russians, Dungeons, etc….but since we all speak Russian, we all communicate well. We are a multiethnic country."
In Washington, I previously heard Kazakh Ambassador Idrissov laud the country's multi-ethnicity. It was great to hear it from a Zarina that Kazakhstan really is a peaceful and multi-ethnic state.

The shops were filled with "Channels" and "Gabbanna's." Design houses work hard to produce high-quality goods, and I am always devastated when I see such a massive quantity of Chinese-produced crap that bears the label "Channel." Intellectual property violations are not okay – at all. Fake goods hurt too many people and diminish the creative manpower and quality work required to produce designer goods. The persistence of markets that carry knock-off goods, such as Baraholka, is a testament to the failure of Chinese and Central Asian regimes to crack down on intellectual property protections (especially notable since China is a member of the WTO and Kazakhstan is in negotiations to become a WTO member). From a development perspective, on the one hand, I can understand the desire for Kazakhs and Chinese to want more clothes at affordable prices. Any government crackdown on intellectual property would surely cause prices to increase to such a prohibitive rate that the economy would plunder. It is already difficult for people to make a living. Given that Almaty is such a centrally located hub for regional trade, increasing intellectual property protects would have a negative impact. At the same time, in order to increase investor confidence and improve the business climate for non-petroleum based goods, such IP protections are necessary.

Zarina wanted a new, super-colorful summer dress to wear to work. We have completely opposite styles as I (naturally) discouraged all things that were not black, white or grey. After Zarina selected a floor-length dress that probably includes every color of the rainbow, we went to select a new pair of ballet flats. In the shop, the 20-year old Kazakh salesmen hit on me. It was so incredibly awkward. He said, "you are so beautiful," and attempted to talk to me, and then asked for my number. I said I didn't have a Kazakh phone number. When we were negotiating the price of the shoes, I said that I would give him my Facebook name if he reduces the prince by 1,000 T. He exclaimed, "Shto Facebook?"  Most Kazakhs I've met know Facebook, so this was extremely surprising. A good laugh was shared by all.

After a day of navigating the winding and bewildering markets of Baraholka, we walked to Zarina's home where we enjoyed a Dungan feast with her family (see previous post)!

Thanks everyone for reading! Please continue to follow The Sholk Road Adventures J.



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