Ossé Optical Shop
Address: Toktogula 86 (corner of Toktogula and Sovietskaya)
Today I have become four-eyed. I bought eyeglasses in Bishkek. It was on my list of things to do before heading home to Washington in 48 hours, along with buying a kazan (a cast-iron pot) to make plov, and kalpaks (Kyrgyz felt hats.) I needed glasses because I had broken my frames a couple of months ago, and decided a 20+-hour flight home was as good a reason as any to replace them now. There’s no worse feeling than dry and irritated eyes on a long flight. Besides, I had heard from an American expat that an eyeglass shop, Ossé, on Toktogul and Sovietskaya always had good sales, and was anyways considerably cheaper than eyewear stores in the States. So today, after my final Russian class at the London School, I trotted over to Ossé. Let’s get me some glasses!
Ossé is a shiny and chic shop on one of Bishkek’s main drag that sells high-quality eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, and designer eyeglass frames, including brands like Cavalier, Hawk, Ferre, Pravda, Escada, Chopard, Givenchy, and Dunhill. I actually used to always pass it on my way to the London School and thought of it as another one of those expensive-looking establishments that no one goes into. (There are a lot of those kinds of stores in this city, where you have to wonder: “Who can afford to shop here?“). But when I went in today, I found myself in a bustling atmosphere, with local families taking advantage of the summer sales, with discounts up to 70 percent. Almost immediately, a devushka (girl; this is a term used generally in Russian for female wait staff and sales people) came up to me.
Ya xochu chasi.
Ax. Da, ochki.
Oh, man, we were off to a bad start. I had said I wanted a watch, when I really wanted glasses. (Chasi and ochki sound similar – don’t they?!) The devushka waved her hand around the store, and asked me how much I was willing to spend. I pondered for a minute, and decided $100 for frames seemed reasonable. She immediately took out some frames for me. Just like that. The process seemed so simple. Back home in Washington, the Hour Eyes I’ve been going to for years would make me sign a bunch of papers on a clipboard, entering my medical history, then make me wait for at least 20 minutes before getting served by some sassy girl who just got off her cell phone. Here, I just breezed in and was served immediately. Of course, it helps that eyeglass-selling in most of the post-USSR countries are regarded as commercial transactions rather than medical. It makes things much simpler.
I quickly found Ossé-brand frames I liked, for a little under my asking price, thanks to a summer sale. The devushka then asked me what my prescription was. I told her that it was -6.25, but that it might have changed since my last appointment. She said, Well, do you want to get your eyes checked? It’s only 150 som ($3.26). Well, shoot, I wasn’t planning on it, but for that price, which was cheaper than my lunch that day, I said sure. In Washington, an eye exam for glasses would have cost $50. She told me to pay at the register and then enter the optometrist’s office down the corridor.
The optometrist was a kind-looking Kyrygz woman, dressed in her all-whites, standing in her all-white office flooded with sunlight, when I came in. She smiled and told me to sit down behind a machine. This is the kind of service I like — no formalities, no small talk, no long waits, no scary dark rooms. I sat down behind the machine and looked at a green flower that blurred in and out. She asked in Russian, Have you worn glasses before? I said, Yes, of course! She said, But your eyes are great! I said, Well, I’m wearing contacts now. She laughed. Oh! Well, take them off. No wonder.
At that point, I did begin to wonder. Maybe a little formality and professionalism is a good thing. She led me to an exposed plastic “plate” of sorts that had three little craters in them. She squeezed some saline solution in one of the baby craters, and told me to place my two contacts in it. For a split second, I hesitated. Usually, I’m used to being given a new sterilized contact case to place my contacts in — you know, one crater per contact. How clean was this exposed crater anyways? There was probably dust all over it. But I did as I was told. There’s something about being overseas — it changes your tolerance for hygiene. (All of a sudden, flies that touch your food, utensils that fall on the ground, rodents that run across your path, and less-than-pristine toilets just become less traumatizing.) Anyways, into the crater went my contacts. Then I went back to the machine and stared at the green flower. The optometrist confirmed, Ah, there we go. Yeah, your eyes are bad.
She then gave me special glasses and then had me look at an eye chart of Russian alphabet letters to test for visual acuity. She inserted new prescriptions to compare and contrast. She only put in two different prescriptions, and only asked once, Which is better? This….or that? Back home, this process of compare-and-contrast would take at least 10 to 15 minutes, after which I’d say, Ahhh, I don’t know, I don’t know, they all look the same now. Here it took all of three minutes, at most. Then when I told her which ones were better, she told me to walk around the room and asked how I felt, and if I had a headache. It was a small room, so I took two steps, and then had to turn around to face her. I don’t know… I said hesitatingly. She said, Well, I don’t know either….
Hmm. Okay. I waddled around again.
Sure, okay. They’re fine.
She nodded her head and wrote down my prescription, while looking at me amusingly and asking me where I was from, and then said kindly, Goodbye! And good luck!
I took the piece of paper back to the devushka on the main floor, unsure about how I felt about what just happened in that room. But for a little over three bucks, you get what you pay for, right? She quickly totaled the cost, which came out to about $136 (for the frames, lenses, eye exam, and tax), and told me to come back in four hours to pick it up — but not before I told her I’d only pay half the cost now, and that my glasses definitely, unequivocally had to be ready today, because I was leaving the country soon. She agreed to my terms. I may have gotten used to more lax hygiene in Kyrgyzstan, but my guard has definitely been hardened when it comes to being ripped off.
Fortunately, all was a success. At precisely 5pm, I returned, picked up my glasses, and paid the remaining amount. I felt immensely satisfied with myself and with Ossé’s service. It’s a great feeling getting errands done. And how far I have come from getting errands done when I first arrived in Bishkek seven months ago, when something as simple as buying an electrical transformer for my appliances was reason enough to descend into stressful tears because I had no idea where I needed to go, what I needed to say, and what I needed to pay. Now, I was getting eye examinations and buying prescription glasses — in Russian! (even despite the initial blip of saying I needed a watch).
As I stepped out of Ossé, I took out my to-do list and triumphantly crossed off “buy glasses.” I was almost glad I was getting on a plane, just to try them out.
Because despite my “success,” I realize now that buying glasses was perhaps unnecessary for the flight home. Once I look out that airplane window and see Kyrgyzstan get smaller and smaller in the distance, my eyes, with or without contacts, will not be dry