Family Journal: November 29, 2020

Ocean and Nadia with their new Sorel boots

It was a quiet and cold Sunday for me. We had a nice breakfast with Ocean, Ollie and Ocean’s friend Asla staying over last night. We spent the morning looking at another house to possibly move to. We decided despite the house being twice the size of our current home, we are very comfortable with one of the few Western-style home in Tashkent. In the afternoon, I took Ocean over to her friend’s house and went for a run with Obi. I must be getting old because after about a mile, my calf started to tighten, so much so that I ended up walking for most of the loop. While walking with Obi I noticed the German Lutheran Church. It is nice to know that different religions are tolerated in Uzbekistan. Uzbek culture is very accepting and laid-back and it shows with their support of Lutheran, Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches in the city. There is also a small Jewish center that city officials and private citizens protected from destruction by one of the many housing and retail developers.

German Lutheran Church

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, or the German Church , is the only Lutheran church in the city of Tashkent. On the street Sadyka Azimova, for more than a hundred years in the dense green shade of centuries-old trees stands the modest Gothic building of the German Church.The church was built in 1899 by the Tashkent Lutheran community, according to the project of the famous Tashkent architect and artist of the XIX century A.L. Benoit, with money from I. Krause. In Soviet times, the building was used as a warehouse. And at the end of the 70s of the XX century, the building was transferred to the leadership of the Tashkent Conservatory and after the restoration began to be used as a room for the opera studio of the conservatory.At the same time, an organ was installed in the building and organ music concerts were regularly held there. In the 90s of the XX century, the building was transferred to the newly created Lutheran community of the city. The church was built of brown-yellow brick with a layout in the spirit of the Baltic church architecture: the style of this building belonged to neo-Gothic architecture.The interior of the church is more modest than in the Catholic church. Also in Lutheran temples there are such traditional attributes as: crucifix, sacred fire (lamp) and candles.The main parishioners of the church are Tashkent Germans. During the revolution, there were quite a lot of them in Tashkent. Most of the visiting Germans were in the royal service – they were officers. Today, the church, which still works today, is visited by their descendants, as well as visiting foreigners. The service in the Lutheran church is based on the traditions of the Catholic Mass, but is more simplified.

There are many nice parks to walk my dog Obi in Tashkent

I also noticed a Wendy’s franchise under construction. It is amazing the pace of development in Tashkent. All over the city huge housing developments, shopping centers, restaurants, etc. It will be a much different city years 5-10 years from now.

Family Journal: November 28, 2020

Fresh Snow in Tashkent City

We decided to hold our annual Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, Saturday, because we were so busy at school this week. It was another outstanding meal prepared by Nadia with help from Delia and Shannon. We had a much smaller affair this year due to COVID. We invited one family that is in our social bubble and Owen’s friends from his grade 12 bubble. I ate too much, but we had a lot of laughs and good times. These moments mean a lot to me and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends.

Vultures Devour the Thanksgiving Feast

I was expecting lots of snow overnight on Friday, but the temperatures were above freezing so it was mostly rain. I went for a 5-mile run around the Tashkent City complex and it was slushy and cold. Most of the day was spent preparing for Thanksgiving, with me running errands to pick up beverages and my usual shuffling our teenagers to their various engagements.

I also picked up a bottle of the “Anti Virus” vodka produced here in Uzbekistan. I see that it was a trend on Tik Tok with an American company stating it killed the coronavirus. The president of Belarus also claimed that vodka and saunas kill coronavirus. I will most likely not drink it, but it is quite the conversation piece to have in our kitchen.

Family Journal: November 22, 2020

We had two bouts of snow this week that took everyone’s mind off the pandemic for a short time. Snow brings out the child in me and I was excited to get out in the fresh winter air. Today I took my dog Obi for a long walk along the main canal in the city. He loves playing in the snow as much as I do! It probably snowed about 6 inches on Tuesday and again a couple more inches this morning. It has been below zero all this past week but this week will see the snow melting as we will experience highs of 8 C on Thanksgiving and to the weekend. Kids in the neighborhood have been pushing each other with sleds and the snow reminds me of my childhood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I love the change of seasons.

I had a great day on Saturday playing disc golf with my son Owen. He loves the sport and coincidentally, our international school has a 9-basket course on campus. It was really cold, but as I always say, any day that I spend more time outdoors than indoors is a good day.

Book Review: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

I finished Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile” last night while I was battling a migraine. I read his past two books, “In the Garden of Beasts” about the US Ambassador to Germany and his family during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis as a political party and “Dead Wake” covering the sinking of Lusitania, a large passenger ship similar to the Titanic, that was sunk by German U-boats. He mixes journals and historical research into telling a good story.

I loved reading his latest. It struck me that while all these people were living through historical events, they also had regular human problems. Larson discusses the financial difficulty of Winston Churchill and his unusual habits. He also follows Churchill’s children and grandchildren and all of the romantic difficulties young people experience.

It is unbelievable and such a tragedy what the German air force did to London and other cities in England. For nine months, the Nazis firebombed indiscriminately England periodically from September 7, 1940 to May 11, 1941. The English called it the “Blitz” and nearly 29,000 Londoners died, over 28,000 were seriously injured. In the entire country, over 44,000 people died, including sadly, 5,626 children. The scale of these war crimes is incredible to believe looking back. I hope America would not let something like this happen again. What a madman Hitler was and I am shocked that German pilots would listen to him and bomb civilians.

It is well known that Hitler made errors a couple of times with not finishing off England before marching on Russia. He should have kept the troops advancing on Dunkirk (an excellent movie!), but delayed to rest his troops while they escaped. He thought that the German army would quickly dispose of the Russian army, but the size of Russia and winter, aided the Russians in bogging down the Germans. Hitler was content in aerial bombing England for almost a year, trying to get Churchill either out of office or surrendering. It would have been difficult to launch an amphibious assault, but after easily going through Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, France, etc. it seemed to me that England would have been a bit more challenging being an island, but certainly easier than Russia.

I was also surprised on how much Churchill wanted the Americans to join the war effort. He knew England couldn’t defeat Germany on its own.

I took several leadership lessons from this book. Churchill was quite the character and was right in standing up to Germany. There was a lot of opposition, but when faced with a bully like Hitler, it was better than the alternative of surrender and let the Germans run England. Stick to your convictions! He was an inspirational leader for all the English and helped them find courage within themselves. He also heavily relied on advisors and people around him. Finally, he was a symbolic, theatrical leader at a time of crisis. The next time I am in Washington, I would like to visit the Churchill library at George Washington University. Below is some new vocabulary and a great quote.

  • astrakhan collar – wool from a Central Asian sheep; it is black or grey and curly
  • scurrilous speech – using or given to coarse language
  • cloisters in St. Stephen’s Chapel – covered walkway, usually with arches, connected usually with convents or church
  • sangfroid – self-possession or imperturbability especially under strain (Churchill had a lot of it)
  • After his wife once criticized his drinking, Churchill told her, “Always remember, Clemmie, that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”

Bike Ride Around Charvak – November Edition

Panorama of Lake Charvak

Sunday I attempted to ride around Lake Charvak. It was part of a race and I rode 56 of 83 kilometers before being picked up by the trail vehicle. I have not been riding in a long time and did not want to hold up the rest of the group. I really enjoyed the ride. It was decent weather, cool, partly overcast and as always, inspiring views of the Tian Shan Mountains.

The lake is a triangle and I rode the backside of the triangle, a new section for me. I have now rode all sections and have a pretty good idea of each section. It is my goal before leaving Uzbekistan to complete the circumnavigation of the lake. The lake is formed by 168 meter high stone dam and captures three rivers.

Typical patch of road around the lake

Family Journal: October 25, 2020

Owen and I pose after a two sets of tennis

We finished Fall Break today. After coming back from Amirsoy Resort on Thursday, I worked at school in the afternoon and on Friday. We managed to play tennis three times over the weekend. On Friday night, Oliver and I had a session with coach Igor. Ollie is rapidly improving his ground strokes and is almost ready to become a good partner. I hope he continues coming to training sessions. Owen and I played a singles match on Saturday and then Nadia and I played our friends, the Doels on Sunday. I absolutely love the game and it is convenient that tennis is popular in Tashkent. Courts are generally easy to reserve and cost around $5 per hour, more if you have a coach.

Obi frolics in the autumn leaves

Autumn is in full force here in Tashkent. Nadia and I had a delightful walk in the park near the opera house. There are plenty of parks to walk dogs in the city. We were trying to get Obi to play in the leaves. He didn’t really like them, but he does love going on walks.

The view of Tashkent City from the 21st floor of the Hilton

We met friends for a birthday brunch at the Hilton. The city is growing rapidly. In the panorama above, you can see Nest One, a 76-floor skyscraper project. The artificial lake and park is surrounded with new apartment complexes.

A Halloween Anniversary

21 City Restaurant – October 31, 2020 – Tashkent, Uzbekistan

My wife Nadia and I celebrated 23 years together last night. Halloween is not really a romantic holiday, but for me it is, remembering back to 1997. I was teaching biology at the Santa Cruz Cooperative School in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Nadia was a first grade teacher assistant. For some reason I can’t remember, there were no classes on the Monday after Halloween. We took advantage of the long weekend to book a holiday to fly to neighboring Brazil. I wanted to visit the world’s largest tropical wetland and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pantanal. We were supposed to go with Nadia’s sister and her boyfriend at the time, but they pulled out at the last minute, so it ended up just being Nadia and me.

The wetlands support a diverse array of life and we saw caimanes, jabiru storks, purple macaws, etc. on our truck tours through the park. We stayed at a nice resort outside of the park. There was a karaoke bar at the hotel and Nadia sang Chris Deburgh’s “Lady in Red”. She has a lovely singing voice and I remember looking across the table at her. From that moment, I knew I was in love with her. 23 years later (and three children) we are still together and I still am in love with her. I was lucky to have met her and that we get along with each other for the long term.

We had a pleasant meal at the 21 City Restaurant in the newly built Hilton. The restaurant overlooks Tashkent City, a huge development near the center of Tashkent. In the center is a park with restaurants, a running track, a pool and of course this being Central Asia, lots of colored LED lights. Around the park are apartment buildings that are almost ready for occupancy and in the corner, Nest One, a 76-floor skyscraper has about 25 floors erected. It is a Pan-Asian restaurant and we both had the pad Thai. We love Thai cuisine! There was live music and it was excellent, a mix of jazz, opera, pop music. The only complaint was the music was a little loud.

I had a quiet halloween because of COVID. On Friday night, the school hosted Scary Night. I dressed as a wolf and had a table distributing candy to groups of students who were together in their learning pods. I used hand sanitizer on my hands between groups. There was a full moon and with the trees and decorations on campus, the campus was beautifully “spooky”. Walking out of school after cleaning my station, I saw kids in their cars, happily counting their candy and parents glowing because of the sense of normalcy in this crazy year of the pandemic.

The pandemic is causing the leadership and teachers at school to adapt our programs, so I spent most of the day working with the leadership team on campus. In the late afternoon I took Obi for a walk around our neighborhood. In the morning, Ocean and Oliver had a virtual cross-country run in the park near Pakhator Stadium. The 3km and 6km event was hosted by the Anglo American School of Moscow. The rest of the day was spent shuttling teenagers around to their friends’ homes. We do not use taxis during the pandemic.

Our lives have changed much since the simpler times of being young teachers without children. We still are enjoying life together

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.