Second Languages, Bazaar Bargains and the Elusive Divan Pillow

This week I started studying Russian again – while continuing to study Turkish on my own. I had barely used Russian since returning to Bishkek – excuse me, how much is this, where can I find – just basic phrases, and not whole, in-depth conversations. I had started to forget some of the vocabulary and grammar from my courses at Chicago. For the Russian courses there were grammar and memorization-oriented, with little emphasis on listening and speaking – on actually using the language. We had very little linguistic input – one text and one dialogue per chapter, followed by twenty pages of grammar explanations. So I understood the structure of the language well enough to analyze and reproduce it on a text, but I didn’t *know* it enough to recall it in the split second allotted in a conversation to instinctively correctly use a word or conjugate a verb. And not having that deeper understanding of the language, not having internally memorize it, I started to forget it.
The first day back at London School I kept inserting Turkish into my sentences, perhaps because, even though I know less of the language, it’s fresher in my mind (and I have more positive/less equivocal feelings about it). But by the second and the third day- I was fine. The material we are going over is mostly review for me (though in a stereotypically strangely-formatted Russian textbook, the kind that always seems to make everything harder). However, that’s okay – I’ve learned enough grammar, and perhaps 80%enough vocabulary to get by. I just need to cement it.
I first had a chance to test out my newly-returned Russian yesterday at the bazaar.
This was supposed to be a simple trip – we have a new sofa, but it doesn’t have pillows, so E asked me to pick some up. Simple enough – in China we could just head over to Wallmart or IKEA, or even a local market. In Kyrgyzstan we don’t have those things (though we do have a fake IKEA, which is pretty funny). The furniture stores are almost all very upper-end, not only expensive but *tacky-gaudy*, as in Louis XVI meets Serbian new money. Or maybe better put as Mafia Euro Trash trying to impress. Bling. Lace, Gold. Velvet. Frills on everything. And expensive. Because, if it isn’t expensive, how can you buy it to show how much money you have? I also don’t know if they would sell pillows separate from sofas…
So furniture stores were out. And sadly the Turkish markets (Beta and Plus Market) don’t really carry useful non-kitchen non-bedroom household items. So that leaves the bazaars.
But after an hour of wandering Osh and finding nothing but bedroom pillows I asked, and discovered that only Dordoy Bazaar (the Chinese Shipping Container Bazaar) on the far, far northern end of the city, had pillows for couches. Probably. Maybe.
But, in all my wanderings, I did notice that Osh bazaar has huge stocks of cloth, and cotton/polyester stuffing, and seamstresses. As in, it would be possible to tailor-make my pillows. Less easy, but worth a try. So I found a stand with suitable cloth (no cheetah print, no fake velvet covered in Kyrgyz designs, no lace, no ruffles), and asked if it would be possible to make pillows out of it. It would! So I bought a little over a meter, and the fabric stall owner led me over to her favorite seamstress, a Kyrgyz woman of about 40 with a butter sunshine yellow shirt. She was just finishing up the hem on another girl’s dress, so I waited around and, when her eleven-year-old daughter came around she got her to try out her English on me. I would say a sentence, she would pause, translate into Russian, and I would tell her if it was correct, or try to explain it otherwise, all the while with the mother butting in with a smile or a joke. Her own two sons are abroad – one in Turkey, one in New York. Not uncommon in Kyrgyzstan, where wages are low and prices high.
After paying the seamstress $4 for the four pillow cases I returned to another section of the bazaar, where I had earlier seen polyester and linen stuffing. It was now a little past four, and the shops were starting to close up, so the only stand I found open was managed by a guy with a gnarly temper who was convinced I didn’t know how to stuff a pillow. So I caved and, after buying three pounds of pillow stuffing, I paid yet another seamstress $2 to undo some of the stitching, put the stuffing in, and sew it back up. She originally wanted $4, but I pointed out that that was how much I had paid to have the pillow cases made in the first place. In the end – it took two hours, and I paid $16 for four pillows of okay quality. I’m not sure I would repeat this experiment but, as I was walking home, I realized I’d completed it in Russian! Minor success.

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One thought on “Second Languages, Bazaar Bargains and the Elusive Divan Pillow

  1. Pingback: New Bishkek Favorite: Orto Sai Bazaar - Mountains and the Sea

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