Reaching Bukhara, and Our Western Limit

The Westest We GoWe’re in Bukhara, a faded (now-restored) outpost of the once-vast Persian civilization, and site of one of the last independent Turkic emirates in Central Asia. This is where we stop, take a good look facing west, and turn around.

And to be honest, we’re a little happy to be headed back to the Far East, back towards China. We’ve just found that it’s not always that interesting to travel in places where we don’t speak the local language. Sure, we can see the sights (which in this case is a lot of astounding architecture), get our picture taken, and have some fun ordering blindly off menus. But not being able to talk to anyone outside the service industry means all we really get to do is lay our eyes on those famous sights (yup, looks like the pictures online–better take our own, though) and maybe eat a few new weird things. Sure, there can be some valuable experiences in all that, perhaps some new insights gained along the way. There surely were some for us. But overall, not being able to talk to people in their own language means being mostly shut out–and thus unable to really visit the place we’re visiting. Truth be told, we miss all the repetitive conversations, nonesensical questions, and high-volumed back-and-forths that we get to have in China.

So is there anything to learn from this experience? I think so. The most obvious point is the benefit of learning–really learning–a foreign language. As the cliche goes, doing so unlocks new worlds. But the less obvious point, and perhaps the one worth emphasizing, is that you can likely gain a lot more insight travelling closer to home, where you can really see what’s going on, than you can from a fancy trip round the world.

So back toward China, our home for now, we go. On a positive note, we were fortunate to find some great local guides along the way on this section of our trip, so not all was a linguistic blur. And the beautiful remains of Persian, Timurid, and Bukhara Khanate architecture sure are a sight for our temple-ed out eyes. And you know, for two weeks, it was a little nice to be out of the craziness that is China.

But until I learn some darn Russian, or Turkish, or Farsi, that’s back where we’ll be headed.



Filed under Foreign-er Travel, Journey to the West

3 responses to “Reaching Bukhara, and Our Western Limit

  1. turkischland

    Reblogged this on turkischland.

  2. HI guys – my husband David has been following you and sent your link my way. We’re Americans in our early 40s, sans kids, currently on our second RTW journey, this time hopefully for 18 months. We’re 8 months in and leaving tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of 3:45am for a needed break in Europe. We’ve just finished 68 days in South India and are worn out. I’ve enjoyed reading some of your stuff (mostly Bailey’s for now – sorry, Nick) and really loved what you wrote here about language and getting to know people. We prefer SE Asia/China for our travels, as India can be a bit maddening, but at least many people here speak some English, which has enabled us to have so many rich conversations and interesting experiences getting to know locals, more so than we can in the SE/Far East realms where we’ve spent the bulk of our time previously. This post also struck as chord, as we’d debated the Stans but put them on hold due to difficulty in getting visas and questionable safety. If you have any insights I’m all ears. Keep up the great posts, and maybe we’ll meet in person later this year – we’re headed to China this summer if we can get the visas. Cheers!

    • Molly,
      Thanks for dropping by. I, too, only enjoy the posts that Bayley writes. And if you think my posts are unpleasant to read, well, think about how unpleasant it is for me to write–and afterwards, to be the one who wrote–them. But I do it anyway, because the grandparents demand their updates, because I like to show off to people on the facebook when we’ve been somewhere cool, and because writing bad blog posts in English sure beats writing bad school papers in Chinese.
      Anyway, I’m glad this post struck a chord for you. The main point is my rather dim-witted realization that I really don’t get much out of travelling to places where I don’t speak the language(s) (the ones spoken outside the service industry or not exclusively by the most educated). That said, if you speak neither Russian NOR Chinese, then my humble recommendation is to DEFINITELY allocate more time to Central Asia than China. More young people speak English there, at least in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and it’ll be much easier to teach yourself a bunch of Russian words beforehand than to master even a couple in Chinese. Also, Kyrgyzstan is quite possibly the most beautiful country on earth, and many people there are desparate for more tourism.
      And if you do make plans for China, be sure to include Hangzhou.
      All the best,

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