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Canadian Manchu looking for "soft power" of China in Kyrgyzstan

25-year-old student of the Master’s program in International Relations of the University of Toronto John Cao came to Kyrgyzstan six months ago. He is a Manchu. This is indigenous population of Northeast China, living mainly in China and Mongolia. He is conducting a research for his doctoral thesis «China's soft power policy in Central Asia» in Bishkek. The young man is studying Kyrgyz-Chinese economic, social, cultural and political relations.

John chose Kyrgyzstan from all Central Asian countries not without a reason. First, the country has a common border and close ties with China. Secondly, Canada is included in the list of 44 countries with which the Kyrgyz Republic had introduced visa-free regime in 2012. The simplified visa regime, as John noted, is one of the main advantages for the development of the tourism industry of the country.

— This is your first time in Bishkek. Did the capital meet your expectations?

— To be honest, my expectations were more pessimistic. I knew that this was a post-Soviet developing country. I read on the Internet only about the Issyk-Kul Lake. I also knew that the city is located near Almaty. I once traveled to Almaty before. But when I saw Bishkek, I was surprised. It is a cozy city. According to my observations, a good pace has been taken compared to some developing countries.

— Do you already have favorite places in the city?

— Yes, I really like Duboviy (Oak) Park with a number of different sculptures. I am also delighted with some buildings, for example, the Philharmonic Hall and the Opera and Ballet Theater. I can say that you will not see such classical architectural structures like your theater in many developing countries of the world.

— Do you like the local cuisine?

— Of course, because I’m Asian ethnically. I love meat, especially lamb. I eat only shashlyk, kuurdak and beshbarmak for six months already.

— Have you, probably, put on some weight during this time?

-No, I have not noticed it so far.

— What has fascinated or disappointed you in the local population?

-At first glance, people are cold, strict. But when you start talking to them, you immediately notice that it is the opposite: they are friendly, open and even straightforward. This mentality is close to my nature. For example, many people, seeing my hair, laugh loudly, especially guys. I do not pay attention to this, it is not an offense for me, because I understand that this is sincere amazement.

— And what is inconvenient for you in Bishkek?

— Being a sociable person, I can overcome the language barrier. But I can not get used to the most popular local public transport — minibuses. The minibuses were interesting for me only in the first three days. But now, this is a hard test every time. They are crowded; there are always a lot of people. It is especially bad to drive along rough roads. It is inconvenient not only to stand and hold on, but to sit also.

In Canada, and in Almaty, a taxi can be called on the Internet, and a driver will find a client without a telephone call and will take to the place without asking too much. And here you need to call the taxi driver several times.

— What in Bishkek reminds you of Toronto and what do you miss?

-A lot of cafes and bars remind me of my city. And I miss, probably, picnics, gatherings in parks, outdoors.

— Would you return to Bishkek as opportunity offers?

— Yes, I’ll come back. I plan to finish my research in a month. In the future, I want to find a job closely connected with Central Asia. I want to live here and learn more about this region.