South Guesthouse is an interesting little slice of life in the 8th microdistrict suburb of southern Bishkek. Twenty-eight year old Nordan, or “Nanchan” as he’s affectionately referred to by his Japanese guests, runs this cramped but cozy little apartment guesthouse with his mother. When he met me in downtown Bishkek he makes clear from the start that the place isn’t much but it’s cheap…it’s really cheap.
Right now a dorm bed runs $2 but in peak season starting June it jumps to $2.50. I’ve quickly fallen for the place. It’s in an old rundown Soviet era apartment block about 3km from the city center, but it puts you in a domestic kind of mood instantly. There are little kiosks, produce markets and restaurants nearby and the bus ride into town is pennies. And when’s the next time you’ll be able to say you live just off of Soviet street?
The communal feeling here is definately dominated by the many Japanese guests that frequent the place. Nanchan speaks both English and Japanese. I’m the only westerner staying here with seven Japanese travelers. I’ve written on this blog in the past about Japan’s tendency to steer travelers toward package tours suited to people’s notoriously short vacations. In the past couple of months I’ve weaved in and out of the Japanese backpacker circuit hotspots and have learned there is another breed of traveler that has gone to the opposite extreme: the long haul Ja-backpacker. These are people who’ve cashed out from their lifetime guaranteed jobs, or never bothered to apply; people who show little interest in returning to the monotony of life in Japan and prefer to continue traveling until the money is out.
I’ve met some who have traveled two or three years at a time in the past and are now back on the road to see all the places in between. They are the most adventurous travelers as well, with a willingness to go anywhere. No country seems too dangerous, no visa too impossible.
A deep wedge has been driven between the two types of travelers, a dichotomy that is rooted in people’s decision to either accept Japan’s rigid social and work structures or abandon them possibly never to return. It’s in their retreat from a rigid life that they find solace in the wildness of the world. I am constantly inspired by their stories and spirits and look forward to bumping into many more down the road.