The place you’re born, the place you raise your kids and the place you err…decide to die. It may not be the same place.
Noza Bakhromova was born in Samarkand: a a popular tourist attraction and one of the oldest inhabited cities in Uzbekistan.
Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
‘Afghanistan, Pakistan?’ is what people ask Noza when she tells them where she’s from.
“Samarkand is rich with old historic buildings,” she says. “It was on the Silk Road during ancient times. There’s a lot of interesting culture there.”
I don’t doubt it. A trip around Central Asia has been a dream of mine for a long long time. I keep telling people about it. I also keep meeting people from the region. I just haven’t managed to get my butt there.
“Autumn is the best time to visit,” Noza tells me.
I know where I’ll be come autumn next year. I considered going there over my Christmas holidays, but many people have told me that it’s a bad time to visit – unless you like winter sports, which I don’t.
Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand
“Uzbekistan was part of Russia for 70 years,” Noza says. “The country became independent 25 years ago. A lot of Chinese, Koreans and people from all over Russia came to Uzbekistan during World War II.
“It’s a sunny country with lots of fruits and vegetables. We didn’t suffer from famine, even during the war.
“During WWII, we were poor. People had pretty big families: sometimes up to 10 kids. Still, a lot of women and children from other countries – including Russia – came to Uzbekistan. We adopted kids from other nationalities and were very friendly.
“These days, Uzbek people who go to Moscow to work are treated very badly. Paying back like that. It hurts badly.”
I can empathise. The world can be a mean place. But the world is also a big place.
Noza has lived on and off in Japan for some four years now. We met at a yukata event where she played the koto.
“Japan is a good place to raise kids,” she says. “It’s safe and the people are nice. What else do you want when you come with your family?”
The mother of two children, Noza’s elder son goes to a Russian school, and the younger one goes to a Japanese public school.
“Kids pick up good behaviours in Japan,” Noza says. “Honesty. Hard work. Being organised. Having a regime in everything. My kids like living in Japan. You get used to good things very fast. I also picked up a lot of behaviours in Japan. When I go home, I get culture shock as well.”
“Favourite thing about Japan?” I ask.
“The people,” Noza says. “Japanese people are polite and always try to help you. I’ve always been treated well by people here.
“But do I want my kids to work in Japan? Working in Japan is like giving up your life.”
Oh yes. Japan’s long working hours are well-known all over the world. You work, and work, and then you work some more. Even when you’re not working, you’re expected to socialise with your colleagues.
Salarymen in Tokyo
“Hospitality is a big part of Uzbek culture,” Noza says. “In Japan, it’s really rare to meet people that invite you to their house. Hiroko San: my Japanese mum is the only person who invites me to her home.
“I miss my family. Usually families have three kids. You have sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews. Every month there is a birthday.
“The best thing about Uzbekistan is that you can live in a big house. You can sing, play and do what you want. In Japan, you have to be silent and you live in a small apartment. Am I loud? Disturbing anyone?
“In some way, I feel I am taking away my kids’ childhood. They have to be adults from a young age.”
Ah well. We can do our best, but we can’t do it all.
“I love Uzbekistan,” she says, “and want to live there again after raising my kids. I told my friend and she said, ‘Everyone comes back here to die’. When I retire, I want to live in a big house with green stuff.
“At the end of the day, you are a foreigner and a guest here in Japan. That feeling I don’t like.”
I understand that feeling all too well. Japan is not a multicultural country. We foreigners look different. End of story. You can never escape feeling like a gaikokujin.
“What’s the food you miss the most?” I ask.
“Food cooked in the tandoor,” she says.
My mouth waters. It was the Uzbeks who introduced the tandoor to India (in case you’re wondering where tandoori chicken has its origins).
“I also miss lots of types of bread,” Noza says.
I understand completely. Finding bread in Japan that’s not white is an exercise in frustration. I miss brown bread.
I don’t know when Noza will go back to Uzbekistan, but I hope I get the chance to see her beautiful country one day.
As for me, I was born in Singapore, I have no idea where I’ll raise my kids, and haven’t the slightest clue where I want to die.
But in the meantime, I still have life to entertain me. As do you.