Because Nobody in Bishkek has Money (?)

Or, “How we bought our third car for 65% of the price we paid for our first, and how we almost bought a VIP Mercedes”

We’re now on our third car in Bishkek.  [For the basic process of buying a car, and why we switched from our first to our second, see my 2015 blog “Buying a Car in Bishkek”.] Our last car was Bishkek’s (Kyrgyzstan’s…) only Audi S4.  My husband loved it and put his spare time and pocket money into fixing it up until there wasn’t a rim left to shine.  After two years it became a bit like my mother’s gardens: at every property where we resided while I was growing up, my mother would garden and garden until there was no more yard save paths through the flower beds, and I alwasy joked with her that we were moving to a new house not because she couldn’t decide if she wanted to live in town or country, but because she had literally run out of new places to garden (and new house projects to plan and commence).  Similarily, we might have sold our old car because it was getting a bit old and because my husband wanted a safer and more comfortable (read: we can actually fit the baby’s carseat in without a struggle) car, or because he had fixed everything in the car and had run out of spare parts to order or parts of the engine to fine-tune.  I mean, it was a 12 year old car, and came back from the shop with a certified maintenance rating of 99%.

So, what do we buy?  If you’ve perused my previous post (written when we bought the aforementioned car), you’ll know that it’s not easy to find a decent car in Bishkek.  Since writing that post, however, the car market has rather changed – prices have plummeted and the market has a glut of automobiles.  If you drive by any of the car bazaars, big or small, you can see row upon row of Lexuses and other SUVs.  It’s not like 2013, when my husband purchased his first car in Bishkek – a 2002 Audi A6 – and it was literally the only [relatively] newer Audi in the entire car bazaar. Cars abound in Kyrgyzstan.  And, as noted in the post heading, it seems nobody has cash. A buyer’s (and swapper’s) market it is.

We put or car on cars.kg, where it sat and sat as the odd offers rolled in.  Swap my car for your car, swap my car for your car plus I’ll give you $2000, swap your car for my piece of land ready to build a house.  Plenty of people wanted out car – but it seemed none of them had the cash to buy it.

This is a theme that’s come up againand again in Kyrgyzstan: with salaries so low, where does money come from?  Everywhere we see new[ish] cars, new apartment buildings, new boutique shops selling overpriced things from the West, a run of copy-cat IKEAs, restaurants and cafes full every evening.  But when it comes down to cash to buy a car, few people seem to have it (unless they take a loan from the bank).  But let’s leave that question aside for the moment, as I’m sure a social economist could write an entire dissertation on the subject.

So, we didn’t initially have much success in selling our car, despite getting a number of offers. This brings me to the rather odd central story of his piece…

The Turkish manager of a concrete company who knows my husband through work connections and heard through the grapevine that we were looking for a new car called us up and told us that he had a 2008 Mercedes S350 in prime condition that the company wanted to sell for $15,000. Now, mind you, this wasn’t his personal car – nor really the company’s.  They had received it from a construction company, as payment for concrete delivered for a project.  For apparently, just as people don’t have cash, neither do companies, at least in the construction industry.  They trade cars as currency.  So someone – it must have been a VIP someone, for the car had not a scratch and bore the license plate number S5000 – gave the construction company this car for full or partial payment for construction, and the construction company gave it in payment of oncrete to the concrete company, and the concrete company would have otherwise given it to the cement company.  It was a nice car – S-line Mercedes are top-tier cars.  The thing even had built-in seat massage.  But 1) my husband hates Mercedes, 2) the construction or cement (honestly, can’t remember which) company valued our car at $5,000, which is far lower than it was worth and 3) have you seen the roads in Bishkek?

[What’s even more absurd (a Turkey sidenote) is that this year of this car goes for 190,000 TL in Turkey (at the time that was over $60,000), an here it’s going for the same price E’s brother paid for his boring family Peugeot.]

So the back-massage-giving Mercedes we did not buy.  But in the process one of my husband’s co-workers (read: someone with a dependable non-local salary) decided he wanted to buy our car, so we did the paperwork and bankwork and signed it off to him before spending a week in taxis. Maybe we didn’t really need a car?  After all, we now live a 5 minute walk away from my husband’s office and Bishkek does have (what seemed like) a bounty of taxis.  But it turns out those taxis don’t always come on time, if at all (that’s you, namba taxi…).  So after several times waiting over an hour for a cab, and thinking about how we spend our weekends, we decided that, yes, it really was worth it to have a car.

Within a week of selling our car, our husband found another Audi (is there a theme here?) – a 2004 A6 in near-perfect condition that had just been imported from Lithuania.  And why was someone selling a car in such good condition?  Because they had lent money to someone else who had then not paid them back.  However, the second person had bought and was importing a car, and when this was discovered, the car was seized upon arrival in Kyrgyzstan and given to the man to whom he owed his debts.  Because, again, it seems like nobody has money in Bishkek.  Or they do, but they…don’t?

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