Bishkek: Personal Economies

A word advice for those opening restaurants, cafes, stores or any other business relying on paying clientele: don’t open your business at the end of the month (or even in the second half of the month).
This past Wednesday E and I had dinner at Mir Kebaba in Bishkek Park – a popular Turkish restaurant that’s usually packed on nicer days. Instead it was empty when we arrived – as was most of the mall. We got there around six, six-thirty, and patrons slowly trickled in – but it was still less than half-full when we left. And then we realized the date – April 23rd, last week of the month. And unlike the US, where many people still receive bi-weekly pay checks, most employers in Bishkek pay salaries only once a month, on the last working day. Which means that many people – particularly the younger, more tend-oriented unfamilied demographic that makes up the bulk of the mall population – is out of money by the end of the month. Not unlike college students in China – last year I had a friend in Urumqi tell me that while in university he and his friends would get money from their parents at the beginning of the month, blow half of it going out the first weekend, and life off bread for the next three weeks. So every month there’s a cycle – exponentially greater spending (particularly on intangible ‘luxury’ goods/experiences like eating and going out) at the beginning of the month that gradually peters out and transitions into a greater proportion of spending on basic objects, with necessities favored over luxuries.
(The Bishkek economy still makes little sense to me, but perhaps part of that is a difference in values)

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