Day on the Slopes

Owen and I at the Top of Amirsoy

I always say that any day I am outdoors more than indoors, it is a good day. We really enjoyed a day at the new Amirsoy Resort. We didn’t have school yesterday and it was not a national holiday so it was the perfect day to go skiing. With no waiting times for the chair life and gondola, we had the slopes almost to ourselves.

Owen is getting better as a snowboarder. He switched to snowboarding on a school trip last year in Japan and continues to develop his skills. I was a bit out of sorts yesterday, being a little slow thinking and lethargic, but as the day progressed, I felt more comfortable. After lunch, a heavy snow softened the hard edges and it was pure pleasure to swoosh lightly through the deep powder. It was snowing and blowing so heavily at the top of the mountain that the resort closed the highest slopes in the afternoon.

Refreshing Mountain Views

It would be nice for the school to develop ways to integrate winter sports into our physical education curriculum. With lift tickets/rental under $35 per person and the resort only a 90-minute drive, it is possible. I hope to come back a couple more times this winter.

Kralovec Family Basketball

It was a grand day last Saturday with Owen, Oliver and Ocean all playing in basketball games. Owen is a junior and a starter on the Tashkent International School varsity boys high school team. Grade 8 Oliver is on the junior varsity team and Grade 6 Ocean is on the middle school girls team. The joy of watching our children participate in interscholastic team sports was tinged with a bit of sadness. I wish my parents were alive to see them play. My mom and dad were avid supporters of youth sports and loved nothing better than to watch their children play sports. They would have been beaming with love and pride to see their grandchildren on the basketball floor.

An historic moment – Ocean’s first basketball game!

Ocean was the hero of the day! She has played a lot growing up with two brothers and it showed on the court. At another game this week, she made the winning basket (see YouTube video above).

I love watching Oliver play. He plays with reckless abandon and loves to be physical. His happy-go-lucky attitude in life shows on the court and he truly enjoys the competition and camaraderie of being on a team. He has a big frame and uses it to his advantage.

A proud dad!

Owen has a passion for sport and is an outstanding ball handler and rebounder. It is strange to have a left-handed son but I get so much pleasure from being around the team as an assistant coach and interacting with Owen and his teammates. I try to teach them the fundamentals of basketball and give them insights into how to win more games.

Interscholastic sports at international schools have not become intense like US public and private schools. It is a bit old-fashioned with practices 3 times per week and 10-15 games per season. I just want for my children to get the experience of playing on a team, learning the sport, deal with winning and losing and be active.

They have culminating Central Asia and Tashkent tournaments coming up next month and I will be blogging more and include highlights of Owen’s games.

Tashkent Journal: Mosaics, Lenin and a Japanese Pond

I love this colorful Soviet mosaic on Taras Shevchenko Street in Tashkent. The mosaic is on the wall of School #110, which also bears the name of the Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko. The large mosaic panel was made by artist V. Kutkin and was dedicated on June 1, 1970. Many Ukrainians settled this part of the Tashkent and the mosaic and park was part of the rebuild after the 1966 earthquake. A statue of Shevchenko in front of the mosaic was dedicated in 2002 and the then Ukrainian president attended the ceremony.

You can see Shevchenko in the left center of the panel, playing a kobzar, a traditional Ukrainian guitar. I am not sure what is taking place on the left side. I see a muscled worker with a newly forged sword and some fellow workers saluting his work. To the left looks like some people suffering, but I am not sure what is the cause of their suffering. As one moves past Shevchenko, spear-carrying soldiers appear to be marching by a muscled women holding both arms up. On the far right, Uzbekistan is celebrated by its rivers, cotton production and golden sunshine

Who was Taras Shevchenko? He was a artist and author who lived in the 1800s. He is regarded as the “father” of the Ukrainian literature and the modern Ukrainian language and had strong views of Ukrainian independence and often ridiculed the Russian royal house.

The art of the Soviet Union is fascinating and I hope city officials preserve them. In the late Soviet times, all building projects had 5% of the budget dedicated to “artistic elements”. It is part of the history of the city and as we get further away from the Uzbek SSR times, there will be pressure to modernize and demolish Soviet art and architecture. I feel it is one of the charms of the former Soviet sphere for foreigners. I understand not all people would agree, but I also think that all periods of history of a country should be preserved in part. This is a good website that gives a more in depth history of Soviet mosaic panels.

This is another 1970s Soviet building. It was completed in 1970 to celebrated the centennial of Lenin and was a museum dedicated to him. For 20 years, middle and high schools in the city led mandatory field trips to the museum. After independence, it was changed to a museum of Uzbekistan.

In 2001, the Japanese Embassy and the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations built a park near the Tashkent Tower. There were quite a few water fowl in the large pond.

Professional Hockey in Tashkent

Owen, Sebey and Oliver make the big screen

I was pleasantly surprised attending the Humo Tashkent hockey game last night. The boys and I watched the game between Humo and Metallurg Novokuznetsk. The home team, Humo, won an exciting game 7 goals to 5! The two teams are part of the Supreme Hockey League (VHL). The VHL is the second highest level of professional hockey in Russia. There are 34 teams in the league, with teams joining from Kazakhstan, China and Uzbekistan this year.

The boys pose with the Humo Cheerleaders!

Novokuznetsk is a small city north of Kazakshstan in central Siberia. They are currently in 10th place and Humo is in 16th place. (now 15th place after the victory) “Humo” is a mythical bird from Persian mythology and part of the Uzbekistan emblem. Humo Arena seats 12,500 and is the largest stadium in the league. It is new and modern with a great sound system, comfortable seats, cheerleaders, etc. It was a very entertaining evening. We had great seats for $7.

It is definitely a good night out and I am sure we’ll be going to a few more games this season.

Amirsoy Skiing

Ocean Ready To Go!

I took the kids yesterday to the new ski resort near Tashkent, Amirsoy. An international ski management company from Andorra, Pas Grau International (PGI), is managing the facility. It opened with great fanfare last month. There were many people at the resort due to January 2 being a national holiday here in Uzbekistan. However, most of the crowds were non-skiers, which was really strange. Hundreds of locals bought a ticket for a ride up the gondola to the top of the mountain. It was surreal for skiers, which thankfully had a different line, to get off the gondola and weave their way through sightseers at the top of the run. Skiing is new here and most Uzbeks do not know how to ski. It is also expensive, considering the average monthly salary here is around $300. I hope with the economy improving here, more locals will be able to use the resort.

Owen is getting better on the snowboard

During the day, several English-speaking Uzbeks saw that I was a foreigner and pulled me aside to talk about the resort. I sensed the disbelief and pride in their voices that an international standard ski resort was now operating in the Chimgan Mountains of Uzbekistan. Here is a video introducing Amirsoy (link).

Oliver made it with ease down the slopes

We had a really nice day, despite some confusion in getting our ski passes and equipment rental in the morning. As with most things here, it is inexpensive with an all-day ski pass costing $26 and rental equipment around $15. It is an affordable day out for me and three children. It is not a big resort, with six major routes. From the top, one can ski over 3,500 meters to the bottom which is really enjoyable and tiring. There were a couple of patches dirt lower down the mountain. PGI is building more snow-making machines to cover those areas. However, on the top, the snow was fine, although some of the runs are a bit narrow for beginners. There are three red routes (Europe classification suitable for intermediates) and one blue route. They have the main gondola for 8 people with two stops and a side chair lift for 4 people on a good intermediate run.

My nephew Sebey is enjoying a break

They have chalets for rent and it would be nice to stay for a couple of days. There are not enough slopes to make it worth a full week, but 3 days of skiing would be perfect. It is about a 1 hour and 20-minute drive from our home. We left at 7:45 AM to arrive when it opened at 9:00 AM. Due to the large crowds, they ran out of food at the restaurant near the chair lift. This is part of the growing pains of a new resort.

The Chimgan Mountains are high enough to attract and keep enough snow, even in this time of global warming. With the addition of some snow-making equipment, they could extend the season and make it work. I hope PGI will make it work with Amirsoy.

Tashkent Journal: December 29, 2019

Mosaic on the Pravda Vostok Building

I have not been feeling well recently with a strong chest cold and sinus inflammation. I went for a long walk Sunday afternoon to clear my head. On my explorations of Tashkent, I always discover an interesting facet of the city. On this walk, I noticed this Soviet era mosaic (above) of a newspaper delivery person. In going around to the front of the building, I saw that it was the offices of Pravda Vostok (Truth of the East) the official Russian language newspaper of record of the Uzbek S.S.R. I was surprised that it still functioning as a media outlet. I believe it is still owned by the government.

The Pravda Vostok Building is a classic Soviet architecture

Further on I stopped at the Crying Mother Monument and the eternal flame. The site commemorates the 400,000 Uzbeks who died in World War II. The Germans never reached Tashkent, but many Uzbeks were conscripted into the Soviet army. I need to read more about Uzbekistan’s role in World War II.

The eternal flame commemorating WWII victims

Finally, after my walk in the late afternoon, Nadia, Alejandra and I went for a cup of tea. It was another gray, wet day and the hot jasmine tea made me feel a bit better. Breadly is a really nice coffee place with gourmet-level food and sour dough and multi-grain breads. I highly recommend a visit.

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the Worlds Greatest Nuclear Disaster (Latest Reading)

Over the holiday break I finished Adam Higginbotham’s book on the Chernobyl accident of 1986. Higginbotham is a journalist who writes for prestigious publications such as the Telegraph, New York Times, etc. The book made the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2019 list. His writing is clear and he puts suspense into every chapter and so it was a difficult book to put down. I am now watching HBO’s Chernobyl series to compliment my understanding the accident.

I have been generally pro-nuclear energy, despite this accident, the Fukushima accident in Japan (where I lived for five years) and starting my teaching career in Nevada, where the US federal government was trying to put a nuclear waste storage facility under Yucca Mountain. I am fascinated with nuclear energy and always try to read about or visit nuclear energy plants when the opportunity arises. I like that it is a source of energy that does not contribute to global warming and is so far, the biggest alternative to traditional fossil fuels.

The cause of the accident at Chernobyl was the Soviet government. They did things as cheap as possible and had an unquestioning bureaucratic structure that did not promote a culture of excellence. I felt sorry for the plant workers having to deal with the flimsy and antique equipment and control systems. I am surprised more accidents didn’t happen in the ex-Soviet Union. Doing things on the cheap, especially when it comes to something as large and deadly as a nuclear reactor, is not a good idea.

The book and the HBO series vividly portray the invisible power of radiation. The tragic and horrible consequences of high dosages of radiation on humans and the environment are shocking. It is odd the delay in the effects of radiation and it would be more helpful to avoid it if one could see the deadly rays emitted by radioactive substances.

The delays in evacuation and stopping the exposed core are due to the Soviet system. There seemed to be a lot of fear, resignation and no challenging of authority. I see some of that living here in Uzbekistan, an ex-Soviet republic. It will take a long time for these countries to move past the effects of living under the Soviet system for such a long time. I read recently where with the help of Russia, Uzbekistan will be building a nuclear energy plant in the Navoi region (between Samarkand and Bukhara). I hope they have learned from the mistakes of Chernobyl.