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Brad Brenneman: Kyrgyzstan is land of triumphant individual

Brad Brenneman came to Kyrgyzstan from New Zealand. But his acquaintance with the Central Asian region started with the capital of Uzbekistan — Tashkent. And he came to Bishkek for the first time in 1996. In the early 2000’s, he completely settled here with his family and started own business.

Brad Brenneman confessed — he especially liked very friendly people in Bishkek, it seems that you know everybody.

This is a wonderful and pleasant surprise — to live in a place where one can meet friends everywhere you go.

Brad Brenneman

-What surprises you in the capital of Kyrgyzstan?

-My first time in Bishkek was while visiting with friends when I lived in Tashkent. It was 1996 and at that point not much had really changed from the Soviet times so it was possible to see the city more or less as it was during the 1980s and early 1990s. This was very interesting for someone who grew up in New Zealand.

What surprised me then and still surprises me today is that the main language of the capital city of the Kyrgyz Republic is Russian. For me this is great since I learned Russian starting in 1994 and use Russian as my main business and communication language.

Brad Brenneman

However, when visiting from Tashkent it was very surprising for me. Using Russian makes a lot of sense since it is the main trade and business language of our region. Just like English in India crosses all the ethnic and religious groups there, Russian allows us to do so much in our Central Asian region. I will say though that we are making a serious effort to have all our menus and other parts of our business in the Kyrgyz language. We try to do more and more in the Kyrgyz language.

I learned Russian, then started learning Uzbek, now want to learn Kyrgyz, but generally I end up with a mess in my head with so many languages!

Brad Brenneman

I am still surprised at how socially small Bishkek is. Even though it is a large city, the same size as my native Auckland, New Zealand, we continuously run into friends in restaurants, cafes, parks and airplanes. In fact, we travel 3–4 times a year to Istanbul or through Istanbul and on every single flight we unexpectedly meet friends on the same flight. This is a wonderful and pleasant surprise — to live in a place where one can meet friends everywhere you go.

People often ask — «Why not Almaty, or Moscow — you can make a lot more money there." But I answer that Bishkek for us is a lifestyle choice — smaller, cleaner, friendly, lots of nature and lots of friends.»

Brad Brenneman

Yes, maybe less business opportunities, but a good place to raise a family and build a business.

— Is there anything in Bishkek that reminds you of your hometown?

-To be completely honest — very little on the surface. Auckland is an isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. There is water everywhere. There are small volcanoes everywhere. It is a modern «western» city with large buildings, yachts, shopping malls and a long history of being part of the British Empire and then independent.

However, scratch a little deeper and one finds there is much in common with the people. Like the Kyrgyz Republic, New Zealand was a colony which is now independent. The main language is the language of the colonizing power (England), yet there is a distinct separate culture. Just like Kyrgyz, New Zealanders are fiercely independent! But probably more important there is a feeling in New Zealand, much like Kyrgyzstan, that we are surrounded by larger, more powerful countries.

There is a deep national pride in New Zealand for national teams, for national companies, for individuals of any race who carry the flag of the country in victories in sport and art.

Just like in Bishkek — the success of one resident or citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic is hailed as a success for all! This natural and intense patriotism and belief in the future is something I see as common between our cities and countries.

Brad Brenneman

-What do you miss, what is missing in Bishkek and in Kyrgyzstan?

— I personally miss the ocean. I grew up always close to the Pacific Ocean. Issyk-Kul is really beautiful and like a sea, but the sea is not the ocean. We also miss open spaces in the middle of the city — parks with large fields to fun and play sports in. While Bishkek has many parks and lots of trees, they are not parks to just run free in.

If one has been to Paris, London or other cities in Europe and America, there are always a huge amount of parks and space for people to be active in. We do miss this. However, just outside the city there are incredible mountains to be active in!

-What is your favorite place in Bishkek?

— Our house and yard. We work hard to have a nice yard with grass, trees, a topchan, cats and a dog. We enjoy our grapes in September, cherries in early June, apricots and of course walnuts in the fall. Because we are so busy with work and charity we usually simply cook at home and spend time with our family whenever we can.

-What do you like in the national cuisine? And what are you afraid to even try?

-Generally, I have tried and eat pretty much all national foods. My favorite in Bishkek is boso lagman. My favorite that my wife makes is plov — specifically because she is originally from Tashkent. I very much enjoy trying plov and lagman around the region because every town and village has their own style and recipe. What I am afraid to try? I have tried everything I think, but I don’t much like large amounts of fat.

-What fascinated and disappointed you in close acquaintance with the local population?

I absolutely love the adventurous spirit of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic. At the same time, it has been hard to build a solid business team because the «Nomdadic Spirit» means people tend to not stay at one place of work long enough.

Brad Brenneman

I find that in New Zealand we are much more team oriented, much less focused on the individual and more on the collective. Ironically, in a former Soviet country, the collective is not that important — Kyrgyzstan is the land of the triumphant individual who proudly waves his country’s flag!

-What would you change in Bishkek?

— In a few words? Fix the roads. We need order but Bishkek, like much of the former Soviet Union has non-uniform road rules that only locals know.

Recently I sold my car and decided to take taxis because I became just too tired with dealing with the road police. As a foreigner I am «always drunk.»

Brad Brenneman

This is a sad reflection of the past. Let’s go forward into the future together and accomplish amazing things! This is why we live here — we want to be here, we like living here…so lets build the Kyrgyz Republic of the future!