Tian Shan Beauty – Kralovec Family Hike

Owen, Oliver and Dad

On Tuesday we hired guides to take us for a hike in the mountains overlooking the Amirsoy Resort. The trek started with us taking the gondola from the ski resort up to the top. From there, we walked across the peaks along the ridge heading south east. The views of the valley on the other side of the ridge are spectacular and awe-inspiring. The boys enjoyed climbing on the rocky outcrops. We were at a slower pace with Nadia and Obi and probably walked a couple of kilometers on the heights. The plan was to complete a loop back to the bottom of the resort. 

Nadia & Ocean walk along the top ridge of Amirsoy Resort

The guide probably chose the wrong ridge to go down back towards the resort. It was quite rocky and steep and Nadia had difficulty making it through. She is afraid of heights and concerned about her back being injured and she struggled through this section of the hike. Owen was a champion, carrying our dog Obi through the tight parts. Obi fought through the many thistles and thorny bushes of this dry climate. We did eventually make it to a dry creek bed after a couple hours of scrambling and sliding down loose rocks and tight passages between bigger rocks. 

Obi’s first hike in the mountains

The creek emptied into a flat open area. Looking back what we came down from gave all of us immense satisfaction that we made it down, safe and sound. It gave us a new appreciation for the beauty and danger of the Tian Shan mountains. The walk back in the setting sun was uneventful, but gorgeous. The colors of the red granite, white marble, green junipers and pines and yellow autumn colors, painted a soothing mountain landscape. I feel re-charged after a day of walking in the mountains. 

Oliver leads the family through tight passages on the rocks.

We were tired and famished from a full day of walking. The Olive Garden restaurant in the resort was the perfect remedy. I had a fresh Greek Salad and a pasta with Arabiata sauce that hit the spot. Thanks to Viola and Andrey for the photos featured in this post.

Almost Home

Latest Reading: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

When I moved to Japan, I did not realize how close northern Japan was to Russia. The Far East of Russia and Siberia are a source of interest for me. It makes sense now, that Russia and Japan did get into a war before WWII and even today, a small chain of northern islands off the big island of Hokkaido are disputed between the two countries. When I heard on NPR that Julia Phillips wrote a novel set in the far northern Russian peninsula of Kamchatka, I wanted to read this book. I also had a friend in Japan that was from there and so my interest was piqued.

It is obvious Phillips spent a lot of time there and the isolated, cold and wild setting has a profound impact on this novel and the people living there. While reading, I kept thinking about how the Russian side compares to Alaska. It would be a really good travel book to compare and contrast the two from a point of view from a naturalist and tourist. I’ve never been to Alaska or Russia’s far east and both places are on my bucket list. It must be beautiful and wild, but I would guess that the Russians do a worse job than Americans at protecting wilderness and the environment.

The book is unusual in that it starts as a kidnapping/murder mystery of sorts, with the abduction of two children. However, she then introduces new characters all the way through the book and how the disappearance of the girls influences their lives, often in a subtle way. The book does not follow the investigation step-by-step, but instead dives into different characters and their families on different parts of peninsula. Many of the stories are of native peoples which I never really thought of when you think of Russia. I won’t give away the ending, but I was engaged until the end of the book. Kamchatka would be a very tough place to live. It is a long way from other population centers with access only by air or sea. The weather would be depressing as well as a poor economy. Many of the people’s lives in the book reminded me of rural America. The struggle to make ends meet and to find meaningful work in a depopulating area, far from the financial centers of cities. The Russian mentality is also very different from American culture. I would like to read some more about the history of Kamchatka during the Soviet times. It was referenced in the book that the peninsula was off-limits to outsiders and some of the older people there have nostalgia for that time.

I highly recommend Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips and thank her for the vivid stories of people and the land from such an exotic place. As always with me, the stories helped me drift back to sleep while fighting insomnia.

First Day of School

It is a tradition in my family, as with many families, to take a photo on the first day of school. This year the “start” has been the latest ever. Our school started in August online and this week was the first time students were attending classes since March. They went 88 school days of Virtual Learning from the end of spring break in mid-March of last school year to October 5 this year. It was special as well because this is the last “first-day-of-school” for Owen who is a senior this year. The grade 12 students are going every day.

Ocean is in grade 7 and they attended classes Monday through Wednesday. Oliver is in grade 9 and he started classes on Thursday. What a strange year!

It has been very busy at school for me with the reopening and dealing with the pandemic so I have not been posting much. I am trying to stop and make time for family this year as much as possible. We had a special moment a couple of weeks ago when we went to school to pick up the “Ramstein” order. The US embassy gives access for Americans working at the school to the commissary. The embassy makes a big order from the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. We made Oliver pack the boxes into our SUV and with the sun setting and Obi running around, it was such a nice moment. I hope to blog more this week.

Book Review: Night Boat to Tangier

I finished reading the Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry last night. I was up and down regarding my enjoyment of the book. In part it was the my busy time at work on not finding chunks of time to read and the other is the format of the book. Barry writes in an unusual style and the story jumps between the present and past. The main characters are two former Irish drug traffickers in the 50s. In the present, they are at a ferry terminal in Spain, waiting for the arrival of the estranged daughter of Maurice who is the real center of the novel. The story goes back through the men’s past. They earned a living through trafficking heroin and marijuana between Morocco, Spain and Ireland. I liked the past scenes best and it gave me insight into this type of lifestyle. I would not want to be a drug trafficker! It is a pretty miserable and risky life that creates a lot of pain for many people. Not only are they selling drugs, but they are also using them quite a bit and it causes so many problems in their lives. Living a lifestyle like this, they have many regrets, but also they reminisce on the thrills of a life of crime where they never got caught. The book is sad in many parts, joyous in others and is a real rollercoaster of vignettes. I didn’t like the present parts, not much happens and too much time spent describing the station and the men drinking in the bar. However, the flashbacks are gripping and it caused me to read through to the end.

Family Journal: September 19, 2020

Nadia is happy shopping at Maison de Gout

It was a relaxing day yesterday, spending time with my family and running errands. The highlight for Nadia was finding a new store with imported delicacies such as olive paste from Spain, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc. The Maison de Gout is located near the Minor Mosque and the Little Ring Road in Tashkent. There is moderately sized shopping mall and outdoor market attached to it. She felt like “she was out of Tashkent for a little while” and the kids appreciated the snacks. There were lots of people, many without masks as many people seemed unconcerned about the spread of Covid. I think after 7 months, people are getting worn down with the isolation procedures. I love watching people and the hustle and bustle of life downtown and in the neighborhoods is always interesting to watch. I think people do not like spending time in their homes because they are usually small and so the idea of the “third space” (not work or home) has more people than in Michigan where I grew up.

Our dog Obi is becoming a bigger part of the family. I love taking him out for walks and he follows me around the house faithfully. I really see the appeal of dogs and that point was hit home with the movie Marley and Me, that Ocean, Nadia and I watched Marley and Me Friday night. The girls were crying when Marley dies at the end of the movie (spoiler alert). Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston star in the movie and their family mirrors our family with 2 boys and a girls and watching Owen’s career develop over time. If you love dogs, you will love the film.

Nadia still dresses our “children” alike!

We installed Sonos speakers last night in our home. Wow! They are almost wireless, portable and sound fantastic. It sounded like a live band was in our living room with the bar speaker under the television and 2 other speakers simultaneously playing music. I had one of those thrilling moments in awe of technology, thinking back to hooking up a speaker system in university and all the hassles to get the wiring right and then worry about blowing them out. We were up and running with Sonos in just a few minutes and they could be controlled by the Sonos App on my phone. 1987 is a long time ago!

Finally, I had a classic Central Asian moment this week. The smoke alarms were triggered at school by contractors cooking plov for their lunch. Construction workers build makeshift fire pits to heat the national dish of Uzbekistan, plov. The smoke from the fire meandered into the technical room of the gymnasium, triggering a full school fire alar.

Weekend Journal: September 13, 2020

Nadia and Obi on the rocky shores of the Charvak Reservoir

On Sunday afternoon Nadia and I drove up to the mountains. I showed her the Amirsoy Ski Resort and we had lunch at the Olive Garden restaurant at the resort. It was such a beautiful day with blue skies and a cool breeze. The Tian Shan Mountains were inspiring as always for me. On the way back to Tashkent, we stopped at the Charvak Reservoir and collected some large, smooth stones for our garden. I went for a refreshing swim and the scenery was gorgeous.

Lunch at the Amirsoy Ski Resort

On Saturday I did a lot of work on the school reopening plans and drove our teenagers around to friends’ homes. Because of physical distancing, we do not allow them to take taxis so I drive them where they want to go. We also went to the Mirobad Market and I enjoy being able to buy pork in an Islamic country. The Russians and Koreans are big port eaters so you can find it at many of the markets.

Covid-19 Journal: Reopening the City

Our first restaurant dining experience since February

I usually wouldn’t do a blog post about a restaurant, but after months of quarantine, the city is opening. We took advantage of it and went to the Italian restaurant, L’Opera. It is adjacent to a large park which the restaurant used to physically distance diners. The area is quite lively with many restaurants, shops. It is close to the Alisher Navoi Opera House and it one of the more pleasant areas in Tashkent, especially on a late summer evening. Nadia, Ocean and her friend Asla dressed formally, I think they enjoyed it so much because during quarantine, we are mostly informally dressed.

Nadia and I enjoyed an evening out on the town.

Saturday I was the teenagers’ chauffeur, driving my three children to various social engagements. We do not want them using taxis yet. I counted 12 trips. My favorite was taking Oliver to the morning cross-country run with his friends along the canal. There were the usual senior citizens taking their morning swim and it was a bit busier than usual because sections of the canal were closed for university exams. Due to Covid, they are held outside, and this particular one was around the outside of Pakhtakor Stadium.

Oliver back from his run.

Owen and I played tennis on Tuesday and Friday this week. We had a doubles match on Uzbek Independence Day and had our usual practice session with Coach Igor on Friday. I’ve been working on my backhand and slice serve, while Owen is working on the mental aspects of the game. He has a fundamentally sound game from years of lessons in Serbia while he was in elementary school.

On Sunday afternoon I escaped city and thinking about school and cycled through the foothills outside of Parkent. The dusty hills reminded me of our hikes in the Los Angeles area. I kept thinking of the impact of livestock grazing on this environment. I wonder what it would look like with cows and sheep eating grasses on the hillsides.

On my way to Parkent, I noticed my first cotton field in Uzbekistan. September is harvest month here in Uzbekistan. The Soviets really built cotton agriculture here through collective farming and at one point, it was 70% of Soviet production. Uzbekistan is the 8th largest producer in the world and it accounts for 17% of its exports. The cotton industry requires a lot of irrigation and this in part has caused the Aral Sea to dry up.

Kralovec Family Journal: August 21, 2020

I loved watching my wife Nadia and my son Owen during our Home Partnership Visit with one of Owen’s teachers. We started online this week due to the pandemic and the school arranged Zoom visits with families to make everyone feel part of a community. I was at school in my office and Nadia and Owen were home. Owen is a senior this year and this is sadly, his last year at home with us before he leaves next year for university. Both Nadia and I are savoring every moment with him this year!

Oliver and Obi

My other son Oliver and I drove up to the former Soviet mining town of Yangiobad. The uranium mine is long gone and today it is a run-down, summer vacation town located in a narrow valley in the Chatkal Mountain Reserve. We saw European Bee-eaters which was a highlight for me. There is a youth camp / hostel that is popular with school groups and the area is full of hiking opportunities. It was quite beautiful and worth the 2-hour drive. I want to explore more of it. The old workers’ apartments are quite dilapidated, the asphalt full of potholes and many signs of poverty, but the place has an interesting story. The town used to be off-limits to the general public and reserved only for engineers and employees of the mine. There were several industrial looking buildings that warrant some more exploration. It was nice to spend the afternoon alone with Oliver and we took our dog, Obi. He always enjoys getting out into nature.

A statue of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky in front of the municipal building in Yangiobad.

As you can see in the photo above, Tchaikovsky’s fingers have fallen off his statue, an apt metaphor of a town that has seen better days. On the drive to the town, we noticed a large coal-burning electrical plant.

Coal-burning Electrical Plant

To end this post, my daughter Ocean and I went for a longer than expected walk with Obi last night along the Anhor Canal in the city. On the way back, we were redirected by national guardsmen about 300 meters from our car. They shut off the area for some reason and we had to work our way around the Pakhator Stadium and through some parks to get back to the parking lot. It was OK because it meant we spent more time together and Obi got more exercise. It was also a mini-adventure for Ocean as she was a bit apprehensive about walking at night through the dark park.

Ocean and Obi

Kralovec Family Journal: August 19, 2020

Ocean and Nadia pose poolside after dinner

I have not been able to post much this month because school is starting, so I am catching up. I would like to blog more this year. Time is going by so quickly and I like to pause and reflect on my life and savor the time with my family and friends. I love summer and as I get older I am appreciating the simpler things in life. Tonight it is a swim in my pool, a cold bowl of watermelon and feeling the cool night breeze of Tashkent while working on the table next to my son who is researching the bombing of Nagasaki. Pure heaven!

Abdulahad and I admire the latest carpets from his workshop in Samarkand

My friend Abdulahad produces beautiful, hand -weaved, natural-dye carpets in his factory/workshop in Samarkand. We visited the factory last New Years. He lives in Tashkent and we went over to his house to see his latest carpets. They are so beautiful and knowing that a large carpet took 3-6 months to make really makes it special to have in our home. Nadia purchased several the past year and we love having them brighten our home. I hope we have a big enough house when we leave Tashkent to display them. Homes are big here and perfect for carpets.

Arriving Passengers Boarding Buses for Quarantine Hotels

The longer the pandemic continues, the more this craziness seems normal. Above is a scene from the Tashkent International Airport. Uzbekistan’s borders are still closed and only special charter flights can come in. All arriving passengers from red zones (ex. USA) cannot just enter the city, but need to go to designated quarantine hotels. We had some school personnel arrive and so I went out to the airport to meet them. The police escort the buses to the hotel and they are confined to their rooms. It was 14 days and it has been reduced to 7 days with a negative test result.

We got into the spirit of the pandemic and Nadia, Owen and I were tested at our local clinic. One of the teachers tested positive for Covid-19 and I was with her a significant amount of time, so I was tired of self-isolating from my family. We were all negative and none of us felt symptoms. The index case who I was in contact with tested negative twice after receiving a positive test, so I think it was a false positive. Nadia and Owen describe the experience in the video above.

Alisher Navoi National Park

The savior of my sanity in this pandemic has been my morning bicycle rides about the city. The restrictions on cars has meant blissfully open roads and I have rode thousands of kilometers around Tashkent. I’ve realized I like drier climates! Growing up in Michigan where we get a lot of snow and rain, often it is miserable to go outside. I prefer the desert, sunny climate of places like Tashkent, Perth and Mallorca, Spain where I’ve spent a lot of time in my life. The blue skies and dry conditions allow for more and easier, outdoor time. It is one of the things I love about Tashkent is the weather. I snapped the photo above of a large park in Tashkent while on a morning ride.

Nadia walks Obi Along the Ankhor Canal

We are loving being dog owners! We bought a Shi Tzu puppy a couple of months ago and he has absolutely won over our hearts. The little guy is so quiet but just loves attention and he is getting plenty of it. I think the dog has brought our family closer together and the kids spend more time with us as we care for and play with him.

I end this post with a photo of my first tomatoes! A friend gave me a couple of small plants and this one survived and two tomatoes were produced. I will eat them tomorrow.

Kralovec Family Journal: August 1, 2020

Preparations for Eid al-Adha

This weekend Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice. The holiday commemorates the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to listen to God and sacrifice his son. Abraham is a figure in three of the major religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In the Bible (Genesis, chapter 22), Abraham had his son tied to a pile of wood and was about to stab him when God told him to stop because he proved his loyalty and faith in Him. Instead, God provided a ram that was caught in a thicket for Abraham to sacrifice. Today, Muslims sacrifice a lamb, hence the sheep above on my street. There were two lambs on my street and I saw many around the city. The meat is divided into thirds, 1/3 to family, 1/3 to friends and neighbors, and 1/3 to the poor. Because the date of Eid al-Adha is fixed in the Islamic lunar calendar, the date varies in our solar calendar. Next year it will be earlier, estimated to be around July 20, 2021.

July and August is the season for melons! Uzbekistan is famous for its fruits and vegetables and the watermelon (arbuz in Russian) and other melons (dinja) are especially delicious. I am not sure if it is the soil or sunshine, but the produce here is so good. I see hundreds of makeshift melon stands around the city. The stand above is close to our house and we’ve been happy with the quality of the melons. I’ve heard people say not to eat the melons here because they are watered with dirty water. According to my reading, most crops come into contact with manure or fertilizer. Roots take in water, not bacteria and the cell walls give additional protection. If bacteria did get into the melon, it was cause damage to the fruit and it could not be eaten. The stands are run either by a nearby house, or the farm will hire someone. They often sleep right behind the stand. You can see the bed in the back of the photo above. This week, the cost of a large watermelon is around $1. The cost increases at the beginning and ending of the season.

The reduction of cars on the road on weekends has been a boom to cycling. Yesterday I rode over 70 kilometers (42 miles) southwest of the city. I ended up riding through country roads of cornfields and little villages on the outskirts of the city. It was a pleasant ride and one of my favorite activities.

We are getting a bit stir crazy with this recent spike in Covid-19 cases. The city is basically closed off and with all restaurants, parks, bowling alleys, etc. closed, it feels like we are back to where we were when the pandemic first came to Tashkent in March. One bright spot is Nadia is a gourmet cook and we always have delicious meals and lots of laughs when the family comes together. On Friday, there was an accident in the power system and we didn’t have electricity from 1:30 AM to 4:00 PM. I kind of liked being out of touch and with no internet, we got to spend more time with the kids. In the photos above, Nadia made a version of Owen’s favorite, Panda Express Orange Chicken. She also made a vegetarian lasagna.

I end this blog post with a World War II memorial. It is interesting to see memorials from the other side of a conflict. In Russia is is the Great Patriotic War, and I saw this statue commemorating all who died and fought in the war. Uzbekistan at that time was part of the Soviet Union, although being a long way from the fighting, many Tashkenters were drafted and fought in the war. The statue was in a quiet neighborhood in the southern part of the city.