Family Journal: October 17, 2021

We are on Fall Break this week and I took the weekend finish some school projects and catchup with email. We had a really nice final week of school before the vacation. Oliver scored his first goal on Tuesday against Westminster International School in Tashkent as you can see in the video above. He always gives a full effort and listens to the coaches and is earning more playing time. Oliver also grew this autumn and has thinned out, losing his baby fat. Being on the soccer team helps and their team is now 2-1 on the season.

Oliver listens to the coach’s instructions at halftime

We drag Ocean to cross country running training as often as possible. She prefers to stay home and play video games and do art instead of sports. She is such a gifted athlete, I hope she catches the enthusiasm to do more sports. I also guilt her into spending time with me and walk with Obi.

Ankhor Canal

The autumn colors are coming out in the city. Like Europe, they are mostly yellow and orange. I miss the reds of North America and Japan. The days have been lovely with warm afternoons, bright sunshine and blue skies. It lifts one mood to be outdoors on days like these.

I had a couple of Uzbek moments in the past couple of weeks. The first was meeting Ukrainian rap star, Geegun. Nadia and I stayed at the Hilton a couple of weeks ago for a Sunday get-away and I got into the elevator. Geegun was inside with his entourage. All of them kind of looked like him, with beards, shaved heads and dressed like professional entertainers. As the elevator was going up, I heard a loud fart from one of his party. A few seconds later I heard another fart. As the elevators were opening, I turned to them and said, “thank god for the COVID mask I am wearing”. The guys burst out laughing and slapped my back and said America is the best.

Yesterday Ocean and I were relaxing in the living room when we heard the front door bell ring. Three guys showed up with a sheet that had a list of names from the neighborhood and their water bills. I asked where their uniforms were and if they were really from the water company and the guy went into his car and got his water company jacket. After some more discussion, I eventually paid the bill via PayMe, a digital payment system that one can use on their phone. Utilities have a long way to go here as they do not check the water meter but somehow come up with amounts. I imagine they are losing a lot of money and the actual water usage in Tashkent is much higher than we they charge. In a desert country, this will eventually have to change. It is just there is a lack of rule-of-law Uzbekistan in many ways and things such paying taxes and utilities have no transparent process. I think they will eventually get there but it will take time.

Menu and seating name plates from the German Embassy

Finally, Nadia and I had a special evening at the German Ambassador’s Residence last week. He invited a small group of people who helped with his transition to Tashkent. Ambassador Klinner and his lovely wife Lyubow were gracious hosts. The residence was fabulous, a historic mansion in the north part of the city. Lyubow has excellent taste and the home is spectacular. I felt like we were dining at the White House. The seven-course dinner was quite the experience.

A Delightful Evening Celebrating Czech Statehood

I took Ocean to a reception at the Radisson Blu Hotel for Czech Statehood Day (September 28). The date also marks the feast day of the legendary Bohemian king, Wenceslas. It was hosted by the Czech Embassy here in Tashkent and I receive a lot of invitations to go to these events. The Kralovec family is descended from Bohemian ancestors and my great-grandfather immigrated to America in 1888. It was nice to learn some Czech history, meet some people and most importantly, spend time with my lovely daughter.

After the reception, we took Obi for a walk in a nearby park near the Tashkent Tower. September evenings are perfect in Tashkent. The park straddles the canal and has a beautiful dome structure to commemorate the victims from World War II. Ocean is so funny and a sweet girl and it was nice to spend the evening with her.

Happy Birthday Ocean

Family Celebration

Ocean turned 14 years old last weekend. She invited friends for a sleepover on Saturday and we had a little ceremony on Sunday evening. I was the family Uber driver, shuttling kids around the city. I don’t mind this as it is an opportunity to talk with them and spend time with them. With teenagers, parents need to take what they can get.

Oliver Plays First Game of the Season

It was a special Saturday for me because for the first time in a long time, I was able to watch one of my children compete in an interscholastic sports event. Due to COVID, we did not have interscholastic sports last year. This year with all of the employees with vaccinations and many of our parents, we are going ahead and offering games within Tashkent. We are still not competing internationally, but it is really nice to have other schools come to play against our students. TIS students also played for the first time on our artificial grass field. Everyone was excited for sports to be back!

Oliver played in the second game of the day as he did not make the varsity A squad. In Central Asia due to the size of schools, we only play 7 aside soccer instead of the full 11. The Varsity A won the first game 4-1 and Oliver’s team lost 1-2. Oliver plays center back on defense. He is still learning the game, especially at the higher level of high school.

Family Journal: September 18, 2021

Breakfast at Breadly

September is a month of beautiful weather in Tashkent with warm, sunny days and cool, star-filled nights. Every Saturday morning I lead a training run of the cross country teams. After the run, we usually go to breakfast at Breadly, a nice cafe and bakery with three stores in the city. I loved talking with my wife and daughter who ran with us. She will be one of the top runners on the middle school girls’ team this year.

It is fascinating to see how Uzbek culture will develop after so many years in the Russian sphere of influence. The Russians have been in Central Asia since the mid-1800s and Uzbekistan has been independent for only 30 years. I am keeping my eye on the slow rise of Islam. The first president of Uzbekistan followed the Soviet model and suppressed expression of religion. The new president is allowing more freedoms, including in the religious sphere. I saw the other day that girls can legally wear headscarves to school. I live in the more Russian side of the city so don’t see many covered women in my neighborhood. However, when I walk my dog near the Samarquand Darvoza, I see many more as you can see in the photos above. I would estimate maybe a 1/4 or 1/3 of women cover their hair. The contrast between secular styles of dress and religious dress is stark, as you can see with the two women waiting for a taxi in the third photo. There are also many mosques being built or renovated around the city. I wonder what it will be like here over the next 20-30 years?

I finish this post with the pop-up stores that appear all over the city. The guy below just parks his Damas under a tree, sets out his groceries and starts to try to make sales, almost like a kids lemonade stand in the USA. I would love to know the economics of these vendors that do not have official stalls in the neighborhood markets and do not have buildings to sell their goods.

Family Journal: September 17, 2021

Oliver defends this week in varsity soccer practice

My heart was filled with joy watching my son Oliver play soccer this week at practice. Our school is re-starting the interscholastic sports program. We shut things down in March of 2020 right after the basketball season and all last year had limited sports offerings. I forgot how moving it is for a parent to watch their child play a team sport. Oliver made the varsity team as a 10th grader! His strengths are he is a tough, physical defender, good stamina and strong legs. He is still learning football tactics and I look forward to this season to see how he develops as a player. I’ll be blogging a lot about the team this autumn!

One of the daily traffic accidents I come upon in my travels in the city.

I am fascinated by driving culture in Tashkent, or I should say the lack of driving culture in Tashkent. In the USSR and under the first Uzbek president Karimov, few Uzbeks owned cars and there really is a lack of understanding of the dangers of driving. Men are so proud of their ability to own a Chevrolet Spark or Matiz and they act like they are in the Fast and Furious series, racing recklessly around the city. Many cars move as unsafe speeds and their lane changes are haphazard. Intersections especially are dangerous, with cars speeding through yellow/red lights and multiple lanes of cars attempting to make left turns. There is a lot of education and enforcement of traffic laws that needs to happen before Tashkent can be a safe place to drive. One executive of a foreign auto company here in Uzbekistan told me that their employees are not allowed to drive and must have drivers because the high risk of accidents. It is the most dangerous thing about living in Uzbekistan. I am amazed at the number of collisions and accidents I encounter while driving through the city. Literally, every day, I see the aftermath of a collision.

My wife Nadia and I are celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary this weekend. We had a delightful evening by the pool last night with Ocean, Asli and Obi. The weather is cooling down and our plov fire pit is a cozy accompaniment to our nights. We had a nice night together and I am so lucky I met Nadia and she said yes.

Latest Reading: Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Patrick Radden Keefe is an engaging storyteller and I really enjoyed his deep dive into the Sackler family. They are infamous as the owners of Purdue Pharma, the company that made Oxycotin, the addictive opiate that ravaged many American families. Keefe starts with the original three brothers in the 1940s and follows three generations of the family up to the present. I was angered at the greed of the family and their behavior reminded me of the HBO series Succession.

The real genius of the family was Arthur Sackler who ran an advertising agency and started the pharmaceutical advertising industry. His key innovation was to market drugs at physicians. His legacy is the American pharmacuetical industry that generates billions of dollars for “Big Pharma”. He bought Purdue Pharma, a small drug company in Connecticut for his two brothers. The brothers were also big into museums and the arts, and donated millions of dollars to universities and art galleries around the world. Keefe told the fascinating story of the three brothers lives, which included multiple marriages, a world-wide empire of businesses and even their own private warehouse and gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Arthur made the bulk of his fortune through Valium and later generations through Oxycontin. Both drugs caused a lot of tragedy and addiction. The family mostly insulated themselves from the reports of the wave of addiction and death caused by Oxycotin the past 20-30 years. It was sickening to know the billions of dollars the family made off of Oxycontin. The law did finally catch up with them, but not before the family used their vast wealth to buy off the Federal Drug Administration and federal judges to avoid jail. They also took out much of the fortune from Purdue Pharma before it went bankrupt. The penalties the company paid to victims was tiny compared to how much wealth individual families members took away from the company. They should be ashamed at what they did and I don’t understand their greed. No one needs billions of dollars to live a happy and productive life. They are a disgusting family. I am also upset at the FDA that they would approve such a strong opiate. They were bought off and cajoled by the Sackler law team and should be ashamed of themselves as well. For many individuals in positions of power, the lure of immense wealth outweighed their ethics.

The family is shamed and many had to leave America. Many of the institutions they donated to are taking their name off their buildings. However, they should have had to give up the vast fortunes derived from oxycontin and in my opinion, many of them should have served jail time. I guess the lesson is if you have enough money and influence, you can get away with starting an epidemic. I would compare the Sacklers to the cartel families like Pablo Escobar, The Cali Cartel and many of the Mexican drug families. To know that your fortune comes from valium and oxycontin, two drugs that are highly addictive, and be able to live with yourself is reprehensible. I may be easy for me to judge them because I never faced the opportunity of generational wealth to look past the harmful consequences on society.

I highly recommend this book if you want to more about one of the single biggest causes of the opiate epidemic in the USA.

Camping in the Chimgan Mountains

Ocean and Oliver pose in front of the Greater Chimgan Mountains

We celebrated Independence Day by camping in the beautiful mountains in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. I picked out a ridge overlooking the town of Burchmullo with a spectacular view of the Chimgan Mountains. I discovered the spot while cycling last year and thought to myself it would be the perfect camping spot. It was an otherworldly experience with the spectacular views of the setting sun on the peaks, a night sky full of stars and a cool breeze with no mosquitos. My wife and kids are not into camping but I made them go. We were supposed to camp with friends on the Amirsoy Resort grounds, but it was too much of a hassle to get to the camping spot. Uzbekistan has plenty of beautiful spaces to camp, so we decided to set up camp on the ridge. Everyone was grumbling about the livestock droppings and thorny grasses. However, after setting up the tents and chairs and when the sun started to set, the evening turned magical. We all experienced the majestic beauty around us and it lightened everyone’s mood. The kids ended up having a great time!

Obi had his little play area between the tents

Three times in the evening we heard howling dogs. It scared Ocean and I really liked being in a tent in the wild with “danger” around us. The pack of wild dogs never materialized and we had a decent sleep. In the morning it was actually a bit cold as we packed up and headed back to the city. The best aspect of life in Uzbekistan for me is the outdoor beauty of deserts and mountains and camping is the best way to fully experience it. We’ll definitely camp again, hopefully one of the weekends coming up we’ll give it another try.

I forgot how many constellations there are and it was cool to point them out to the kids. Ocean even saw her first shooting star! We forgot to bring pillows and our gas ran out so no morning coffee, but other than that, it was a perfect day in my opinion. Camping is another way to trap teenagers so they have to talk to you. We had a lot of laughs! I can’t wait to go again.

Walking the Sukok Reserve

Obi leads me home

I took Obi a couple of weeks ago to the Sukok Forest Reserve, which is located in the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains, near the city of Parkent. It is the closest the mountains get to Tashkent and only about an hour’s drive away. The US Forest Service and Uzbek government are working on developing the idea of reserves/parks in Uzbekistan and this is one of the first projects. I went late on a Sunday afternoon and parked my car in a village close by to the entrance. I didn’t realize that the entrance to the reserve had a gate and thought it was a private farm, so walked around the reserve through an adjacent ravine. It was still super beautiful and with the setting sun, it was a refreshing way to end my weekend. I like this development of reserves/parks. I think livestock over graze in the mountains and it will be good to see eliminating this in some areas to see what becomes of it.

View of Chimgan Mountains

On my way back to my car, I took a different way and was looking for a shortcut path to the village creek. I ended up at a rancher’s house and just to show the friendliness of the locals, when I asked them for directions to the path, they sent their daughter, who was probably age 10 with me to show me where it started. They trusted a total stranger and she escorted me about 50-75 meters away from them and she pointed down a narrow, steep path. We were quite a distance from the parents. I thanked her and carefully made my way down the windy path. I guess the lack of serious crime in the culture puts people at ease.

the path home

Family Journal: September 1, 2021

Somsa!

One of my favorite foods of Uzbekistan is the somsa which is a savory, baked pastry. Traditionally the Uzbeks fill them with beef, chicken, pumpkin, spinach or cheese. On the left is a pumpkin somsa and on the right is a different kind of pastry filled with beef. On Tuesday I was waiting at a government office with the International Relations Officer to get a tax document for the school. I caught the aroma coming from the Doppi Cafe located on the premises of the office (good idea) and headed over there for a delicious mid-morning breakfast. The sauce was a spicy tomato sauce and it hit the spot.

Running Trail at Eko Park

Yesterday was Uzbekistan Independence Day and we are on a 5-day vacation. I organized a cross country running team training session at Ecopark. I ran 5 laps at an average pace of 5:59 / kilometer. The last lap was the fastest at 5:43 and the slowest was the penultimate lap at 6:12. I am trying to get to a 5:40 pace for a 10 kilometer run. Tashkent’s California-style weather is ideal in September and we had a nice cup of coffee afterwards at a cafe located in the park. City officials promote environmental awareness, hence the name of the park and thanks to funding by the Mitsubishi corporation, they were able to develop a nice green space in the city.

Nadia and I did a few shopping errands and house cleaning (holiday – no domestic help!) and I did a bit of school work. In the evening, we hosted friends Neta and Dafna for dinner and pool time for the kids. They have four young children, including the new born above. It was nice to have kids again running through the house and Obi was so excited. Babies are so precious and we all enjoyed holding the little guy. Nadia and I are in a different stage of parenthood with our oldest at university and the other two in middle school and high school. I feel we are always trying to find creative ways for them to spend time with us. In the old days, we were the center of their world. It is natural for them to pull away from parents in adolescence and I am OK with it. I do wish however, that it would be easier for us to get them to do stuff with mom and dad!