First off, Tyler, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your career leading up to your current role in Texas?
It has been almost four years since my first interview with Project Cargo Weekly and my first for PCW Leisure! Part 1 and part 2 of my previous interview provided readers with an overview of my career leading up to my current role in Texas. In terms of my current role, I manage venture investments for a family office within The Bass Companies.
You have travelled to many places, which makes me curious to know, which trip is your most memorable?
The trip that tops the list is my journey to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. During my time living in Beijing (2010 – 2014), I travelled extensively, especially during China’s national holidays.
Back in 2012, as China’s annual Golden Week approached, I sat down with two close friends to discuss our next adventure. Since Golden Week is one of China’s busiest travel periods, the three of us thought it wise to select a destination that is not popular with Chinese tourists. This screening criterion eliminated domestic destinations like Xishuangbanna and Xian as well as international destinations like Japan and Thailand. After making the first cut, we looked at Google Maps to review our options. Despite sharing a border with China, Kazakhstan is not a popular destination for Chinese tourists, and since my friends and I did not know the first thing about Kazakhstan, we decided to take a deeper dive.
The first trip component we evaluated were visas. At the time, the visa process for Kazakhstan was straightforward, and the deal sweetener was that Kazakhstan’s southern neighbour, Kyrgyzstan did not require American citizens to obtain visas. Only a few hours after we sat down to deliberate, our tickets were booked!
Fast forward a month, and my friends and I are in Urumqi, Xinjiang transferring planes for the Almaty International Airport. While on the plane, I asked the woman sitting next to me if she was from Almaty, to which she waved me off. I took this as a sign that she did not speak English. A few minutes later, after saying something in Chinese to my friend DJ (both DJ and I are passionate Mandarin students), I noticed my seatmate crack a smile, and ask me in Chinese: “ni ye hui shuo zhongwen ma” (you also speak Chinese)?
It did not take us – my seatmate and me – long to realize that we shared a passion for learning Mandarin and time living in China. This serendipitous meeting led to a series of introductions to locals who proved instrumental in introducing us to unique aspects of Kazakh culture, food and history.
After spending three days in Almaty, my friends and I set our sights for Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We learned in order to cross the border, we needed to find a taxi with Kyrgyzstan plates, and a local friend helped us achieve our goal. At the bus terminal, our local friend negotiated with a Kyrgyz driver to take us across the border to our hotel in Bishkek. In an apparent setback, after learning we were American, our driver expressed dissatisfaction, however, after a few minutes of visible anguish, he agreed to commence the journey.
A few minutes into the car ride, we realized that we did not share a common language with our driver. This language barrier made it challenging to express our concern when the driver pulled off the highway into a nondescript area. Upon reading our discontent, our driver began using hand gestures to placate us, however, his attempts did not work. After about two minutes off the main road, we realized he was taking us to a mosque for one of the five daily calls to prayer. Upon connecting these dots, my friends and I experienced a major sigh of relief and a bit of embarrassment for our unwarranted concern.
Six hours after we left the bus station in Almaty, we arrived at our hotel in Bishkek. Before saying goodbye to our driver, I gifted him a package of Chinese tieguanyin tea (while travelling in Asia, I made it a habit to travel with tea because it made for a great thank you gift). Upon receiving the tea, our stoic driver revealed a smile and a series of questions about the tea. Fortunately, the person at the hotel front desk was able to facilitate the conversation.
Each moment on the ground in Kyrgyzstan gifted us with new perspectives, new experiences and an understanding of a beautiful part of our world. The following experiences defined our trip: spending two nights with a family in a small village, diving into Lake Issyk Kul, taking part in a town’s centennial celebration, learning about the Epic of Manas and exploring the Dordoi Bazaar.
More than six years after our visit, my friends and I still reminisce about our journey to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The following photos will help bring to life some of our memorable experiences.