Happy Thanksgiving 2022!

We were finally able to host a big Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday after a couple of years of COVID concerns. In my role as the director of the school, I like to invite non-Americans in our community to experience the quintessential American holiday. We are fortunate to have affordable domestic support and a large house to be able to accommodate a lot of people. This year I think we finished with 34 guests and people from Australia, Mexico, Israel, India, Ireland, England, and the USA. Nadia prepared my favorite stuffing/dressing and Bolivian corn salad. As you can see from the photos, we ate and drank is 100% satiation. Due to the large American population at the school, TIS gives the community a half-day off on Thursday, but we don’t get Black Friday off.

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner was different because the World Cup is taking place in November. Of course, we had South Korea – Uruguay game and it added to the festivities. The kids loved our dartboard and table tennis which kept them occupied between courses. Mercifully due to time differences, the Detroit Lions, my favorite professional American football team, game kicked-0ff after midnight. The National Football League traditionally schedules the Lions to play on Thanksgiving and they usually lose and it puts a damper on the festivities in my house. They actually played well on Thursday against one of the best teams in the league this year, the Buffalo Bills, losing on a last-second field goal. Despite being 4-7 this season, I am really entertained by the team. They were featured on HBO Hard Knocks during the preseason which brought the team publicity and they have one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL. They have some young, exciting players and with the Los Angeles Ram’s first-round draft pick this June, they will be able to get two more good players if they draft well. They need better players on defense.

I have much to be thankful for and the holiday reminds us to reflect on what is good in our lives. As I get older, I appreciate more relationships and how fleeting special occasions are in life. I am lucky to have a loving family and be able to interact with so many smart, interesting and good people in the expatriate school community and Uzbek friends.

Oliver’s Soccer Team Wins the City Championship

City Champions – Tashkent International Schools High School Boys Soccer

Oliver’s team won their second tournament of the season last weekend. They defeated the British International School of Tashkent in a well-played final to take home the city championship. Oliver was hurt in the last of the round-robin games by getting kicked in the foot. It is still tender a week later that stopped him from running in the cross-country championship. Ollie played well in the tourney as both a striker and defenseman. I was proud of his effort and pleased that he had the team sport experience.

Below are the highlights from his best game of the tourney against the Westminster International School It is a private school in the city and along with Diplomat International School and the British School of Tashkent, they form a league of teams that we play.

Ocean Runs in the Cross Country Meet

Ocean and Oliver finished their cross-country running season today with the final meet of the season. The video above is Ocean running in the Under Age 15 4-kilometer Race. She finished in 4th place, just out of the medals behind three girls from the Mirabad Soccer Club. I didn’t get much video due to the pouring rain and I was helping with the timing. She has not been running as much earlier in the season. She peaked for the CAFA Championship in Bishkek. Ocean ran a 19:30 and gave a good effort. She was in third place for much of the and couldn’t hold on on the final long loop around the gardens.

Oliver couldn’t run today as his foot is still injured from last weekend’s soccer tournament. He was kicked in the foot and it is still a bit tender. We may have to take him to a doctor this week for an x-ray.

We have had a lot of rain this month which is a little unusual. Most precipitation occurs December through April but I would guess we’ve had much more than the 2 centimeters average. We’ve had several days of full-day rain.

An Intense Bunch of Competitors

I ran in the 3-kilometer coaches/parents run. I didn’t feel great but pushed through to finish in 10th place. I love running and was just happy to be out there and we had a lot of fun. The students get a big kick of cheering us on and watching us suffer. 🙂 Long distance running has brought me so much pleasure over the years and I am glad that I am still able to share my passion with my children and wife. I have been so busy at work over the past month or so and it is disappointing how fast older people can get out of shape. I need to make more time for physical fitness and hopefully this run will spur me on! Nadia was a great support person as always!

One bummer was losing my best pair of glasses. They fell out of my pocket while I was running around filming and timing… I hope someone turns them in.

Ocean and Dad Run the Samarkand Marathon

I had such a joyful day at the Samarkand Marathon last weekend. My daughter Ocean, her friend, and I ran the 10-kilometer race and it was special for me to be able to coach the girls to complete the run. At age 55, I am grateful I can still run long distances considering I started on my high school cross-country running team at her age back in 1981. The girls overcame discomfort and some pain to complete the run in about an hour.

Obi and Dad Wait for the Girls to Finish Riding Scooters

This is the biggest public race in Uzbekistan. Race organizers have made it to be an international-standard massive road race. There were people from 40 different countries running with 1,080 runners in the 2km and 1,210 runners in the 10km. They also organized a music concert and other events over the weekend.

Registan At Night

Samarkand is a beautiful city with ancient mosques and madrassas preserved from the 14th century. The city was the capital of Amir Temur (Tamerlane in the west) empire. He was one of the great warrior-conquerers that came after Ghengis Khan. He probably killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined. 900 years later though, he is considered a hero here in Uzbekistan. Anyway, he had an eye for design and captured artisans and architects and lots of slaves, helping Temur build an impressive city in the middle of the desert.

Foreigners are rare in Samarkand than in Tashkent and people were fascinated with our dog Obi. We only saw one other dog during the weekend. The people were very friendly and we had a nice stay at the Bibikhanum Hotel, next to the mosque of the same name. I recommend The Platan Restaurant for lunch and dinner. Gourmet salads and lamb from the grill as well as other choices, are all high quality.

Bibikhanum Mosque

We drove from Tashkent because all of the trains were full. It was not a pleasant 4hour+ drive with below-average roads, lots of traffic, and the ubiquitous tailgating of drivers in a hurry. Take the train or fly if you are going there.

Ocean poses with the “Timur – King of Samarkand”

The weather was absolutely perfect with sunny skies and a comfortable temperature. Samarkand feels more like a desert than Tashkent. The forecast predicted rain, but blue skies were all around. The course was hilly but went by many of the ancient archeological sites and the start and finish were close to the famous Registan.

Impressions of Dubai

Panoramic View from Pier 7 of Dubai Marina

I am catching up on the blog this week. For our Fall Break after spending a day in Almaty, Kazakhstan, we flew Air Astana to Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. We spent 4 nights and 5 days in the UAE and really enjoyed the desert sunshine and the remarkable transformation of a pearl diving village on the Persian Gulf to an ever-expanding metropolis.

Ocean and Dad

Dubai is a fascinating place and one of the world’s global cities. It reminded me of Singapore or Hong Kong. Author Justin Marozzi sums up the city well in his excellent book, “Islamic Empires: 15 Cities that Define a Civilization” when he quotes a professor from a university in Dubai, “Find me a Syrian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Tunisian, Algerian, Moroccan, Sudanese or an Egyptian who doesn’t want to live in Dubai,…They all do.” 

Oliver on The Walk in JBR Beach Development

I have mixed emotions about the city. I love the openness and tolerance demonstrated by the Emiratis. It is a model for the Islamic world. The city welcomes foreigners, and over 200 nationalities reside in the city. It has lifted the standard of living for many. Cities in the Middle East can learn lessons from Dubai Inc. The downside of Dubai is how large it has become. We fought traffic to drive across the city to the Dubai Mall and the scale can be overwhelming. The sheer scale of capitalism – hotels, apartments, restaurants, stores, etc. is dehumanizing. I was much more relaxed when we left the city for the Hajar Mountains in the Dubai exclave of Hatta. 

South Asian Construction Workers

Another negative aspect is the vast infrastructure of Dubai is built by low-wage expatriates from Asia (India / Pakistan/ Nepal/ Bangladesh/ Philippines) working in tough conditions. The Emiratis only make up about 25% of the population of the country. Yes, these immigrants are there because it is better than where they are from and I would think remittances help their families back home, but watching the workers on these huge construction sites, showed they have a tough job in the hot. desert sun. Most of our interactions with “locals” were Indians and Nepalese.

I’ve had enough of the Dubai Mall…

The Maktoum Dynasty founded Dubai and Sheikh Rashid of the Maktoum Dynasty is the real force behind Dubai Inc. The emirate has had a smart strategy of making it easy to set up businesses in Dubai. They outcompeted other regional cities to dominate the Gulf Region. They did it by taking risks as well to build the infrastructure way ahead of the demand. This included taking out huge loans for dredging Dubai Creek, building two massive ports, an airport, an airline, etc. Time and again, Sheikh Rashid took bold risks that paid off. The growth is phenomenal and it is now a transportation hub for this part of the world. 

Dubai Marina Running Trail

It is amazing to think that he took a place with high humidity, extremely hot sun, and a barren desert full of sand and turned it into a place that 15.8 million tourists visited in 2018. When we were thinking of where to travel for the Fall Break, Dubai was one of the easiest choices. There is no visa required, lots of flights and places to stay, and it was the most hassle-free vacation choice to make. 

We paid the requisite visit to the largest shopping mall in the region, the Dubai Mall. It is an absolutely massive palace to consumerism. After a long night of clothes shopping, we watched the famous Dubai Fountain Show, along with hundreds of others. The show itself was uninspiring, but looking at all of the tourists and the buildings, including the world’s highest building, the Burj Khalif, was interesting. We rented an Air B&B apartment near the JBR Beach. The views were cool from the 21st floor although the apartment was cheaply made, but comfortable. Hotels are very expensive in Dubai so the apartment was a reasonable $200 per night for a family of four.

Pier 7 Restaurant

Each morning we walked to the beach and went swimming. I miss the ocean sometimes, living in a double landlocked country. The water was a perfect temperature and it was delightful to spend time with the kids and Nadia. The cityscape background reminded me of Miami or Chicago (summertime!). We met a Russian woman who works in Dubai. There were a lot of Russian tourists and it was funny to keep hearing Russian on our holiday.

JBR Beach

On our last night in the city, we drove over to the Dubai Marina Mall. The marina is another of the massive development projects and I appreciated the 7kilometer+ running trail. They built a mosque between the towering apartment buildings and the juxtaposition looked different. We ate at Pier 7, a building attached to the Dubai Marina Mall with 7 floors of restaurants, each with different cuisine. We chose Lebanese on floor 4. The lighted backdrop was spectacular and the food good, so a nice way to end our time in the city.

Latest Reading: “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn

I finished reading A.J. Finn’s 2018 novel, “The Woman in the Window” on the flight to Dubai. The book jacket describes it as a “smart, sophisticated novel of psychological that recalls the best of Hitchcock.” I was not that swept away by the book, but I did enjoy the story and it helped me fall asleep at night. I like to read thrillers or murder mysteries and think about the plot to calm my racing mind in the evenings. 

I think the back story of the author is almost more interesting than the actual novel. Daniel Mallory uses the pen name, A.J. Finn and he is kind of a con man and liar. Mallory claimed he had a doctorate from Oxford, that he had cancer and his brother committed suicide. All of these are fabrications. I also read that he may have lifted the plot from a similar novel from 2016. He was fascinated with The Talented Mr. Ripley that is about a similar con man and he kind of lives his life like the main character in the novel.

The Woman in the Window centers around a mentally unstable woman suffering from agoraphobia. This is the fear of the outdoors and these poor people are confined to their homes and go into intense panic attacks when they leave. I knew one woman suffering from this when I lived in Belgrade many years ago. She could only go as far as the end of her street in her neighborhood. The main character in the novel is also an alcoholic and mixed with her psychiatric drugs, makes her an unreliable narrator. 

She often spies on the neighbors and sees a crime committed through the window of a house across the park. I won’t give away any of the plot twists and turns or the ending. The book was recently made into a movie on Netflix. It was Mallory’s debut novel and it made it to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. 

The book made an interesting reference to Cotard’s Delusion a mental disorder in which “the affected person holds the delusional belief that they are dead, do not exist, are putrefying, or have lost their blood or internal organs.” I never heard of this disorder and could go down a rabbit hole on the internet reading about it…

Impressions of Almaty, Kazakhstan

Oliver, Dad and Ocean in Panfilov Park – Almaty

I was annoyed that we couldn’t find a direct flight to Dubai when we were making travel plans for our Fall Break. We have not been traveling much during the pandemic and with family visiting us over the Winter Break, we wanted to get out of Uzbekistan. We managed to get flights to Dubai on Air Astana, however, with a night in Almaty at each end of our trip. It ended up being really nice actually because we have not visited Kazakhstan. We had a pleasant autumn afternoon here today in the cultural and economic capital the country. 

Oliver & Nadia

I can see why Kazakhstan is the “older brother” of Uzbekistan (like Argentina is to Uruguay) and something Uzbekistan is striving for. I was really curious how the lifestyle of Uzbekistan compared to that of Kazakhstan. Almaty felt like an older, more established Tashkent. The roads and sidewalks are nicer with solid bike lanes on many of the streets. The parks are well-maintained and everything seems a bit more orderly. Tashkent now feels more of a frontier city after seeing Almaty. In my opinion, Uzbeks are the “country cousins” of the Kazakhs, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Tashkent is rapidly developing and with all the new construction, the buildings are much more modern, larger, and more varied. I didn’t see many impressive buildings in Almaty and the place felt more Russian or Eastern European than Tashkent. Tashkent is flashier than Almaty. In my little time here in Almaty, I didn’t see any women wearing headscarves and didn’t see any mosques. Tashkent is much more religious, specifically, Islamic than Almaty.  

View from the Hotel

The Kazakhs also look different than the Uzbeks. They have Mongolian facial features and the Uzbeks look more Turkish. Kazakhs were a nomadic people and that is similar to the Mongols. Uzbeks were always the city-dwelling, farmers and they have more of a Persian and Turkic influence. I bought a biography of Ghengis Khan as I want to learn more about the Mongols and the Turkic Golden Hordes of Central Asia.

Hotel Kazakhstan

We are stayed at the Hotel Kazakhstan, the equivalent of the Hotel Uzbekistan. It was the premier hotel during the 1970s and 1980s during the Soviet era. It is better maintained than the Hotel Uzbekistan and we had a nice stay. I would recommend it to visitors looking for that type of experience. We had a fantastic dinner on the 26th floor “BarFly” Restaurant. Gourmet food and drinks! This is in stark contrast to the 17th floor restaurant in the Hotel Uzbekistan. 

The main goal for my family was visiting franchises that have not come to Tashkent yet. Our first stop was Mc Donald’s, followed by Starbucks, and ending with a mall trip to H&M and Stradivarius. We hit all of these places and were surprised at the European city-like feel of Almaty. It is prime autumn color time and with so many trees, it didn’t feel like we were in the desert of Uzbekistan. 

My highlight was seeing Zenkov Cathedral, a colorful Russian Orthodox that is made of wood and does not have any nails. It was constructed in 1907 and was recently restored. The cathedral is in a large park with mature trees. It was a prime autumn day and with the yellow leaves and setting sun, it was a peaceful atmosphere. 

We were fortunate to get good weather yesterday. We awoke to rain and it was a gloomy taxi ride out to the airport. We’ll be back in Almaty this upcoming Saturday. I was impressed with the city and want to come back and explore the country more. 

Family Journal: Hotel Uzbekistan October 16, 2022

Nadia, Oliver and Ocean Pose on the front steps of the Hotel Uzbekistan

My favorite building in Tashkent is the iconic Hotel Uzbekistan. Completed in 1974, it is an iconic Soviet-era grand building framing what used to be Lenin Square. Modern buildings are rectangular and mostly steel and glass. The hotel has a curved shape like an open book and an intricate concrete lattice. It would never be built today. It is a long way away from its heyday when it was THE hotel to stay in. People tell me that it was one of the most bugged buildings in the world.

View from the 17th floor of the Hotel Uzbekistan

If I was a billionaire, I would purchase and restore what is left of these hotels in the former Soviet Union and the capitals of the former Iron Curtain. They would need to be modern, comfortable, and with all of the amenities of a Hilton, Intercontinental, or Hiatt to convince people to stay there. I think the nostalgia of a bygone era mixed with luxury would be successful. I would really play up the Socialist characteristics of the building. Not a Disney-like experience, but tastefully done.

The Hotel Uzbekistan reminds me of the Hotel Jugoslavia in Belgrade, Serbia. I always thought the same thing about that hotel. My fear with the Hotel Uzbekistan is that it will be torn down because of its prime location.

Hotel Jugoslavia on the Zemun Quay – March 2013 Belgrade, Serbia

Last night we took the kids to a new Asian/Japanese restaurant called Tanuki. Five years of living in Osaka, the food capital of Japan spoiled us regarding our food standards and we all judged it well below Osaka-level. We will not be returning as it was not worth the expense. It does have a good atmosphere and I hope they can improve with time.

After dinner, we went to the Hotel Uzbekistan to see the view from the 17th floor. The view is really nice as you can see, but it was a sad bar and restaurant that was about the level of a truck stop between Tashkent and Jizzakh. It definitely needs an upgrade.

Damas Deluxe – Yangi Zamon mahalla

I end this post with a photo of a Damas Deluxe. It is one of my least favorite vehicles common in Tashkent, mostly because of the reckless drivers that own them. It is made by the South Korean Daewoo Company. It is a cheaply made, pragmatic vehicle that is popular as a taxi or cargo transport. I was a passenger in a Damas in a drive up to the Chimgan Mountains and I felt like I was in a glorified go-cart. It struggled to go up the steep inclines. I find it funny that they have a “Deluxe” model of this car. One of the neighbors purchased on in our mahalla.

Central Asia Cross Country 2022

Screen Shot from the CAFA Cross Country Championship Video

The host school, the Bishkek International School made a really nice video of the Central Asia Federation of Athletics, Arts and Activities (CAFA) Cross Country Running Championship last weekend. I captured this screenshot from the video which features both Oliver and Ocean. The four teams (U15 and U19) won 12 individual medals and 7 team medals. Below is the screen shot of Ocean’s medal ceremony.

I would like to thank BIS for hosting the event and providing such a good experience for our students! Below is the entire video which can be found on YouTube.

A Visit to the Chorsu Bazaar

The famous Chorsu Dome

Last Sunday Nadia and I went shopping in the Tashkent landmark, the Chorsu Bazaar. She needed some clothing material for a skirt her seamstress is making for her. I went along to help with the weekly grocery shopping. The Chorsu Bazaar is one of the largest markets in the city and the most famous. It is the heart of the old side of Tashkent. When the Russians captured Tashkent in 1865, they built a new section on the south side of the main canal and the north side was the old Tashkent. Chorsu is like the center of the old city. Next to the bazaar is the Kukeldash madrasa which dates back to around 1570. The next time I go I’ll check it out.

Nadia buys vegetables

Uzbek Travel has an informative historical piece on the Chorsu Bazaar. “Chorsu” means “4 waters” or confluence and it refers to the time when the city was divided into 4 dahas. Chorus was the meeting place of the leaders of the dahas. It is an appropriate name as people still gather here today to buy and sell an overwhelmingly vast array of goods, ranging from fruits and vegetables to carpets, kitchen appliances, clothes, etc.

The market is vast and easy to get lost with many buildings and outdoor areas. It is part of the fun and one of the best places in the city for people-watching. There are always interesting characters and photo opportunities abound. We found the prices cheaper than in our neighborhood Mirabad Bazaar. The iconic blue dome was built in 1980 during the Soviet era and is an homage to the great domes of the Silk Road trading markets.

Chorus Bazaar

Uzbekistan has delicious table grapes. On sale, last weekend were two popular varieties, the Kish-Mish Kora (Black Kishmish) and the Rizamat. It is funny that a country with such outstanding table grapes does not produce excellent wines. There are many varieties and they are some of the juiciest and most tasty grapes I have ever tried. The dry climate and strong sun produces tasty fruits and vegatables.

It was a delightful afternoon of soaking up the sights and sounds of the Chorsu Bazaar. I think Nadia and I will try to make a point of going more often. It makes the mundane task of weekly grocery shopping “exotic”. This is one of the benefits of living internationally is experiences like purchasing goods in a market that dates back centuries. It also struck me the differences between the Russian and Uzbek sides of the city. One feels like Eastern Europe and the other feels like Asia. If you want to get the pulse of Tashkent, this is the place.