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Experiences with the families of Kazakhstan’s four ethnic groups

Sep. 25, 2018 – Team SeekRoad departed Shanghai on Jun. 2 and rode 3,089 kilometers to arrive in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on Sep. 17, where it announced the team’s August and September accomplishments.

Event at Smartpoint, a co-working space in Almaty

Team SeekRoad, along with the blockchain firm Robin8, hosted the Tech Seminar, “Let’s talk about Silk Road & Blockchain,” on Aug. 27 at Smartpoint, a co-working space in Almaty, Kazakhstan. A total of 17 people, including the founders of Choco Family and Let’s Share Trip, both tenants of Smartpoint, attended the event.

Event at Fabrika, a co-working space located in Baku

The Sep. 21 event at Fabrika, a co-working space located in Baku, Azerbaijan, played host to 14 people, including three cyclist-globetrotters from Australia and Canada. Chaewon Yoo and Jianan Li shared their stories on how the SeekRoad cycling project from Shanghai to London came about, how they managed to find sponsors, and on the obstacles and blessings they have encountered during their journey from Shanghai to Baku, and introduced their main sponsor, Robin8.

SeekRoad is a 10-month-long project started by Chaewon Yoo (a Korean national, born 1990), who was an English language reporter for the Chinese tech media, TechNode, and Jianan Li (a Chinese national, born 1991), an ex-AliExpress seller. The project aims to cycle through cities on the Silk Road from Shanghai to London, host 14 tech-related gatherings, and interview local entrepreneurs. The cycling endeavor started in Shanghai, China, on Jun. 2, 2018 and will last for a total of 10 months until March 2019. The 13 countries on the Silk Road through which cyclists will travel are China, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom. The journey will then end in South Korea.

Kazakhstan Families Providing Aid from Shanghai to Baku

The SeekRoad team traveled 3,089 kilometers on their bicycles from Shanghai to Baku over a span of 31 days, at an average speed of 17.9 kilometers per hour. It traveled an average of 71.8 kilometers per day and up to 125 kilometers in a single day. Kazakhstan was particularly mountainous, forcing the team to ascend a total of 10,527 meters – up to 1,190 meters in one day and an average of 263 meters per day. Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnic nation, and each ethnic group continues to sustain its culture. Chaewon shared her experiences with the families of Kazakhstan’s four ethnic groups and their wonderful qualities.

One, the Uighur Family

Soon after, the children approached. Knowing that I couldn’t possibly concentrate on my writing with these kids around, I placed my straw mat in a 90-degree angle against the side of the tree where I would be unseen by people. Against my wishes, I was immediately surrounded by a group of children, of which a little girl spoke to me in English. She came armed with a pair of luminous and innocent eyes, and I could not help but speak back. She seemed as though she was a chosen child. This little girl, dressed in a traditional blouse, was such a child whom a local would want to depict her as a fairytale heroine. In that moment, talking with her became more important than writing.

Seeing a Korean for the first time, she wanted only to take a photo with me. Soon after, Jianan came and we both were showered with camera flashes. The children then waved and parted. About five minutes later, the girl came back. She had something to say. I turned on Google Translate for her.

Come with us! We would like to invite you to our home.

I was puzzled at what she wrote.

Me: We cannot go because we have bicycles.

Then a boy next to her said – in his poorly constructed English – that we could put one bicycle on his mother’s car and the other on his father’s. Jianan first led his bike to the car. The five children surrounded me, all crying out the word, “please~.” I wonder how many could turn away from such innocent, cute pairs of eyes.

10 people in the car

Mama, me, Yutus, Mariam

 

We are currently staying with the Uighur family. Typically, when someone invites us, the inviter is the main host and the rest are assistants. For example, like how Mr. Zhang invites us and his wife prepares food for us, or how the Xing couple invites us and their children keep their distance by merely greeting us. But…at Mariam’s house, it feels like the entire family – all eight members – invited us. Everyone is the main host, treats us well, talks to us, and take from us what they seek from us. On the first day, Mariam was the main host and carried on conversations with us, but yesterday, Yutus hung out with us all day. They didn’t only provide for us, but also took from us. Families that only provide – with food or housing – always made as uncomfortable in one way or another, and we always became a burden once we became accustomed to such hospitality. As opposed to such cases, everyone in this family took something from us. For instance, Yutus, as well as the other girls, was busy posting our photos on Instagram, and the parents engaged us in very serious nightly conversations using Google Translate.

Firdaus and me. The name Firdaus is derived from the Arabic word فردوس (firdaws) meaning "paradise"

The children continuously sought our attention, called out our names, and chuckled at our smallest gestures. For example, if the hosts from before believed that they were “helping two people on their bicycle journey,” we, Jianan Li and Chaewon Yoo, with the exception of our bicycles, were being utilized, simply as human beings, by members of various ages of this family in various ways.

Learning Russian alphabet from Rabi

 

Rabi calls me sister. I asked this rascal, who keeps playing pranks on me, to be my teacher. Rabi was practicing writing cursive and I asked him to teach me the alphabet. Rabi looked up the alphabet song on YouTube for me, and I now call him “teacher.”

As much as we didn’t know the Kazakh language, they did not know English, and that was not a problem for us at all. The lady of the house and I engaged in numerous conversations using face expressions and hand gestures – successful communications confirmed by firm eye contact and hearty laughter.

 

Two, the Kazakh Family

May I help? I showed her the text. She shook her head and told me to sit at the table. She made a tomato-cucumber salad and placed it on the table; took out four different types of meat, brought from Grandma’s, chopped in bite-sized pieces; and presented a plate of fried fish and salad. She then brought out raisins, candy, and bread from yesterday, and soon, the tabletop was a banquet. She poured boiled milk into a bowl and passed it to me. Freshly squeezed milk from yesterday – boiled! The warm milk was very savory. The meat was cold, but it went well with the salad.

I soaked the bread with milk, and she demonstrated how to dip bread in milk. I did as I was shown. Breakfast was delicious. She added chai to her milk and made milk tea, which I thought was wise. As I drank all my milk, she poured the milk from the pot and chai into a pretty porcelain teapot for me. I drank another bowl of this later.

 

I learned that the man of this house had a mistress through a unconventional chat. When the lady at the supermarket sent me off with this man, these were her words via Google Translate:

“My younger sister is his mistress, so he won’t abuse you. Don’t worry.”

I thought Google Translate failed in an epic way.

 

When I first came to this house, I was introduced to his wife. She had Asian features – small eyes and pale skin, with a healthy physique. He showed me to the living room, in which a dark-skinned woman, around 17-19 years of age, was fixing herself up with heavy makeup. She was dressing herself and seemed to be going on a date. I couldn’t believe they had a daughter so grown.

Aiga and her husband

After later conversations, I learned that the man was 37 years old, and that the wife was 29. I saw that the two sons – a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old – of this family looked exactly like the wife, and it was at that moment when I realized that the young women was the mistress.

On the morning of my departure, the door opened. The mistress came inside the house in a ponytail and a blouse, and she kissed the children of the wife. I thought this was creepy.

All this was merely ordinary to Aiga, and she diligently moved forward.

Aiga, her son, and me

What does it matter that it rains or snows?

She asked.

But things should change.

I answered. She gazed at me with concerned eyes. I felt a greater compassion for her. No, compassion for the women of Kazakhstan, more than for her. But I didn’t look at them with concern.

Three, the Turk Family

I was able to spot the man of a young couple walking toward me, and I showed him a written text asking if he would be willing to provide us housing in exchange for money. He was the sixth person I asked today. He had a slim figure, short hair, a unibrow, and deep eyes.

He signaled us to come in and gestured his two hands to express his refusal for money.

Soon later, Jianan approached.

“They said yes,”

Add paragraph text here.

I told him.

I asked if it was really okay for the both of to stay without any payment, and he confirmed.

We brought in our bicycles inside. As soon as we arrived, they prepared us a hot bath and offered us their sauna room. The wife came and asked for our names. Her name is Nargis – we are currently staying at Nargis’ home. There is a cute 1-year-old in this house. Nargis’ family are Turks and this region is home to only Turks. They are Muslims. Nargis cooked up a dish with potatoes and cabbage, called bosh, and it tasted like a light kimchi-jjigae. Nargis’ husband is Abdul. Adbul farms watermelon, and his father, Kabtan, exports them to Russia. Their watermelon was very hard and sweet.

Nargis is 20 years old and currently pregnant with her second child. She has very kind eyes. She had an appearance, which I thought was of a Samaritan woman that perhaps God has sent me. She had her hair up, her head wrapped in a pinkish hair scarf, and wore a long dress flowing down to her ankles and a long gray cardigan.

She was a very good cook. The bosh and the olive salad she made were both excellent. The pickled peppers were also very good. Abdul’s father – Nargis’ father-in-law – Kabtan was 56 years old, and he looked like a retired captain of a real ship. He had on a cool mustache and beard, and whenever his smile exposed his teeth or his resonant voice, he was an unmistakable captain.

sketching cows

 

Four, the Kazakh-Korean Family

*The Koreans of Kazakhstan: 180,000 Koreans had settled in the Russian Far East to escape famine, poverty, and Japanese colonial oppression between the 1860s and the 1930s. In 1937, they were forcefully deported to Central Asia under Stalin's ethnic cleansing.

Ed's family invited us to a decent Korean dinner

The last question I gave to Edward Kan’s parents in Almaty was about Korean identity.

 

I was born in Korea, but I live abroad because I’ve experienced many bad qualities of Korea. But Ed is the opposite. He was born in a different country, yet he learns the Korean language, and follows Korean traditions. Why is he proud that he is Korean? What is the Korean identity?

 

The lady spoke in Russian for some time. It is very unfortunate that Ed was able to interpret only parts of what she said. Since the time when they were thrown out of Russia to central Asia and Kazakhstan in 1937, Ed’s grandparents lived a very difficult life. They had no home or assets – they started from the bottom and worked their way up. They worked very hard. Ed’s parents felt that Ed should know the struggles of his grandparents and told their stories often

Nikola in his sunglasses, Jianan and me, Akmal, the seemingly perfectionistic professional Andrew, and the playful Alex

Alex, in Taraz, is a person Jianan found through Couchsurfing. As it turned out, Alex was a Kazakh-Korean! His father speaks Korean, but he can’t utter a word of it. Alex is 45 years old, married to a Russian wife, and has three children. Alex started a supermarket, called Metronome, and opened a cafe (restaurant), named Caravan.

Alex is already a famous person in Taraz, so his customers or people simply walking down the street 100 meters away from him would come and want to greet him – giving him pecks on the cheeks, even – or initiate conversations with him. By merely strolling through the streets with him, I was able to know that he has a wide circle of friends.

I think Alex likes us a lot. He treats us very well without expecting anything in return. He picks us up from the hostel every day, dines with us, shows us around Taraz, or lets us hang out in his office, during which he takes loads of photos of us. He’s the one who’s looked into our train tickets to Aktau, and gone to the Apple store when Jianan’s cell phone broke. He’s the best.

We got to the train station at 9:09, but the train didn’t arrive until 10:20. We waited on the platform until then. While Jianan looked at his cell phone, I stood by the four people. They all spoke in Russian, but because they came along solely for us, I wanted to be among them. Nikola in his sunglasses, Akmal, the playful Alex, and the seemingly perfectionistic professional Andrew.

The train finally came, and I hugged them goodbye one by one. Ahh, I’ve really grown to like them very much, and I was so grateful. I fixed my gaze upon them until they were no longer in sight.

Hugs were the only thing I was able to offer them. I did nothing but receive from them, and I think they were content with that.

SeekRoad’s sponsors

The project’s exclusive main sponsor is Shanghai-headquartered blockchain company Robin8 (robin8.net), a global leader in profile-centric advertising that utilizes AI and big data to profile, rank and match consumers to brands. Their silver sponsors include Primer (primer.kr), a Korean venture capital firm for early stage startups; Startup Alliance (startupall.kr), a Korean organization that enriches the Korean startup ecosystem and helps Korean startups go global; MyRealTrip (www.myrealtrip.com), a Korean travel startup providing personalized guided tours; EnterMedia (eng.enter-tech.com), a Korean company behind wireless home karaoke microphone Magicsing; and SparkLabs Global Ventures (sparklabsglobal.com), a global seed-stage fund with over 70 investments across 6 continents.

Product sponsors include Oyama (oyama.com), a Taiwanese bicycle company which has a wide range of touring bikes, mountain bikes, and folding bikes for the global market; KOLON sport (kolonsport.com), a Korean outdoor sportswear company; TRICKCOO (trickcoo.com.cn), a Chinese winter outdoor clothing designer brand; Silicon Power Computer & Communications (silicon-power.com), a Taiwan-based manufacturer of flash memory products and Cadence Translate, (cadencetranslate.com), a translation firm providing world-class interpreters for high-end meetings. Angel investors include Sunwoo Kim, founder and CEO of Chinada (chinatan.co.kr), the biggest Chinese language learning company based in Korea; Jason Xu, managing partner at Modern Capital; and Eliot Shin, CEO of NEOPLY China (neoply.com). WeWork (wework.com) is SeekRoad’s collaborative partner, providing shared workspaces and an international startup community network for the team.

People can follow SeekRoad by visiting their official website (seekroad.co) or searching “SeekRoad” on Instagram (@evayooare), Facebook (fb.com/seekroad18), Twitter (twitter.com/road_seek), WeChat (WeChat account: seekroad18) and Weibo (weibo.com/seekroad), Douyin(抖音 account:1127926335), Kuaishou, (快手 account: qixing2018) and their YouTube channel SeekRoad.

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