It was a big day because Owen got his Learner’s Permit to drive. Growing up overseas, Third Culture Kids often are not able to get a license and often to not need to. We have a driver and taxis cost $1 – $2 anywhere in the city. Owen studied the information provided by the Penn Department of Transport Driver and Vehicles Services website. He took a lot of online quizzes and when we were driving around, we asked a lot of questions to him about signs, rules, et. It paid off because he hit the 15 correct answer mark on the 16th question. You have to get 15 right out of 18 questions to pass. He enrolled in a driver’s school to help him with the driving test and hone his skills and safety knowledge. Taking the Japanese driving test helped me become a better driver, and the safety reminders will be useful. It is one of the most dangerous activities adolescent males do .
It was a quiet day. I am still moving slowly so we did some grocery shopping and took the kids to Barnes & Noble to by books. As all parents, we are fighting against phones and video and finding ways to encourage them to read. Nadia and my Uncle Jack are excellent chefs and we had a delicious meal of rigatoni with Jack’s homemade tomato sauce and meatballs. He also provided Italian sausages from Stravino’s, a deli in Whitehall, PA. I ate to the point of being uncomfortable.
I finished off the night with a 2-mile walk around Freeland, PA. Both of my biological parents are from here so I have a lot of DNA in the area. Freeland is a small town of 3,531 people and developed because of the coal mines of Poconos Mountains. Since the 1960s, the town has diminished because of the demise of the coal industry. Walking through the town you can see the impact with dilapidated homes, closed businesses, etc. Most people of means built homes in the forests around the town and down in “the valley” towards Hazelton. It was a cool, clear night and the fresh air felt good. It is quiet here and a nice change in climate from Tashkent. As you can see in the photo, Oliver really didn’t want to walk with me, however, Nadia does not want me to walk alone in case I run into trouble.
After learning I don’t need surgery this summer, I am very relieved and starting to enjoy my holiday. I am moving a bit better each day and love spending time with my family and relaxing. The USA’s efforts in vaccines makes me proud to be an American. Oliver and Ocean received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine today. By the end of the summer, the entire Kralovec family will be vaccinated!
It was nice to see my mom again after two years away from the USA. She made a delicious egg salad sandwich and we had a good talk. Her voice is soothing to me and it is always nice to connect with her in person. Owen and I in the afternoon went for a round a disc golf at the Hickory Run Disc Golf Course located in a state park near Freeland. It rained most of the day with temperatures in the 50s F, which was a delightful change from Tashkent. The Poconos Mountains, one of the many ranges that make up the Appalachians, go right through Freeland and Hickory Run State Park preserves a small section of the typical Applachian forests. This part of Pennsylvania is mountainous and forested which reminds me of my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Walking with Owen through the quiet and wet woods was so relaxing.
Last Tuesday, June 15 I was hit by a car while cycling at 6:10 AM. I was on my way to meet up with friends when about a block away from our meeting point, a taxi struck me from behind. I fell off my bike and hit the road pretty hard. While sitting on the road, I was thankful I was alive and well. I managed to call a Yandex taxi (the Russian Uber) to take me home. The driver stopped to see if I was alright. I locked my bike to a fence and hopped in the cab. I realized I was injured when I got home, I couldn’t get out of the seat with the driver’s help. Nadia and Ocean took me over the school’s clinic and eventually, I was checked into the Nano Medical Clinic. An x-ray showed that I had no broken bones. They kept me overnight for observation while doing blood tests, urinalysis and ultrasounds. Thankfully, there was no internal damage but as you can see above, I did tear my acromioclavicular ligament which holds together the collar bone and shoulder blade. Besides my shoulder, I had bad bruising of my hip and back. Advil was helpful in making me feel better and as I write this a week later, I am moving almost normally.
The doctor in Tashkent suggested that I get surgery to repair the ligaments. I waited until I went to the USA to get a second opinion. Fortunately, my orthopedic doctor here is a former professional cyclist and the current medical director of the Trexlertown Velodrome. He has had the same injury as mine and has seen hundreds of these through the years as it is a common cycling injury when people go over the handlebars and come down on their shoulder. Dr. Stansbury said my tear was a category 2 out of 6 after looking at the MRI and therefore, did not recommend surgery. He recommends not to intervene and let it heal on its own for 4-6 weeks. Studies show better long term results by letting it heal on its own instead of surgery. I will go back towards the end of my holiday to check in. I was so relieved to know that I didn’t need surgery!
It is now one week since the accident and I am finally getting to move normally as besides my shoulder, I also came down hard on my hip and back and it is bruised. The right side of my back is still stiff but last night I slept on my side for a while, something I couldn’t do earlier.
Little did I think when my family came to Uzbekistan in July of 2019 that it would be almost two years later that would be finally leaving. We were not able to travel last summer because the pandemic closed the border and we were afraid that we were not able to get back. I am optimistic that this summer we’ll be able to return next month without difficulty. Nadia usually flies business class because of her lower back issues and because of my shoulder injury, we are both flying business class this time. We are on the Uzbek Airlines direct flight from Tashkent to JFK airport in New York. I do not fly business often, but when I do, I am amazed at the different passenger experience. Business class passengers use a different terminal that economy class passengers at the airport. This includes check-in, customs and boarding. We had chicken somas (an Uzbek empanada) and coffee in the restaurant.
It is nice to have a “right-hand man” and Ahat helped with baggage and drove us to the airport. We are with mixed emotions this morning, happy to be returning to the USA after two years, but leaving our puppy, Obi behind and the fact the school purchased a one-way ticket for Owen as he graduated and will not be returning with us. He is taking a gap semester and will live with my uncle in Pennsylvania. He plans to get a job and driver’s license and experience life outside of the expatriate bubble and a get true Americana experience.
The flight was uneventful. The direct flight to the USA is convenient. The seats were huge and we were able to sleep. The flight in economy class was 85% full. My critique of Uzbek Airways is the food was subpar and the cost difference between economy and business was too much. The attendants were thoughtful and polite. There was only 1 English movie to choose, but I didn’t care because I am not a big movie person. We had an over 1 hour wait in the JFK passport control line. Customs officials were only in 4 of the many lanes. I was surprised no one checked our PCR test results in New York, or in Tashkent for that matter. No one also asked if we were vaccinated. We voluntarily filled out a contact tracing form for the state of New York and handed it to a table outside of the baggage area. It was very easy to enter the USA and I am proud of our country for producing so many vaccines. Our children have an appointment on Tuesday to receive their first Pfizer dose!
We had to change plans because of my shoulder surgery so took a private transport from JFK to Freeland, Pennsyvlania where we are staying with my uncle. AJ, our New York Sikh driver made good time and we were delivered in about 2 hours. Freeland is directly west of New York City in the Poconos Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. I was shocked at the amount of garbage on the sides of the road as we made our way through Queens and the Bronx. Congress really needs to pass an infrastructure bill. After living in Japan, America’s roads and airports are not up to world-class standards. We were excited to see the great sports stadiums of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, Citi Field (New York Mets) and Yankee Stadium.
As I finish this blog post, I am on my uncle’s deck listening to the morning birds and it is a misty, cool morning. I learned that I prefer dry climates to wet ones. Tashkent is classified as a Mediterranean climate and that is my preferred one. However, the humid cool of the Poconos is a welcome change
Summer is my favorite time of the year. I love the early morning sun, the hot temperatures, watermelon, swimming, easy bike rids, etc. One of the many pleasures I delight in is walking Obi in the evenings around Tashkent. Uzbeks are nocturnal and there is great people watching going through the parks with our dog. Dogs are a bit foreign to Uzbeks and Islamic culture but we are seeing more and more of them around the city. Many people at first are afraid of him, but then often they ask for photos or to pet him.
We took these photos on the Ankhor Canal near the entrance to the amusement park near the Olympic Museum. Central Asians love L.E.D. lighting and the bridge looks cool around sunset.
During the school year I struggle with sleep sometimes as my mind goes through problems I encounter leading an international school. Reading calms my mind and going over the stories puts me to sleep. This post features two recently released books.
2034 is the story of the next world war between USA and China. James Stavridis is a retired US Navy admiral and many of the war scenes take place at sea with air craft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, etc. He wrote the book with author Elliot Ackerman. Ackerman is a former marine and war hero, CIA employee, political fellow and now author. I think he is a good role model for young men, combining service to the country and academics. I would love my sons to have a similar career.
The book is a page-turner that has lots of action and good story lines. It jumps from following US and Chinese military commanders leadership teams in the Pentagon and Beijing and a war hero fighter pilot. I was a little depressed with Stavridis’ view of the recent developments with the Chinese military. On a podcast interview, he pointed out despite the US military having a big advantage in traditional warfare (tanks, air craft carriers, drones, etc.) China is gaining the advantage with their focus on cyber security. Both China and India can inflict damage on the US by shutting off the communication and utilities at will. He also points out that our divided congress cannot form a coherent and effective long-term foreign policy and military strategy towards China.
Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. He is such an incredible story teller. An early novel of his, Salem’s Lot, was the first book that I really loved when I was in ninth grade and jump started my adult reading. Previously, I read many of the Hardy Boy Detective stories, but Salem’s Lot pushed me into bigger books. I’ve read many King novels through the years, The Stand, Thinner, 11/12/63, etc. All of them engrossing and not able to put down. Later is no exception. The boy featured in the book can talk to dead people who recently passed away. He can see them for a few days after death and then they fade away. His family finds ways to use this power, especially his book editor/publisher mother. The book takes place in New York and has lots of good details. It is a highly entertaining read.
Nadia and I attended Student-led Conferences last week. It was a nice format, each student had 45 minutes to talk to their parents about their learning. The teachers did a nice job of preparing a packet to guide the conversation. I most appreciated that the school carved out this time and forced teenagers to talk to their parents in a quiet environment. Both Ocean and Oliver were so cute!
Summer weather has returned to Tashkent with temperatures in the 40s (C) / 100s (F). The pool has been a godsend! It is so refreshing to dive in after a hot day at work. I am getting up in the mornings before school to bike for 60-90 minutes which is my favorite way to start the day. We also are taking Obi (our dog) out for walks in the early evening. I love summer nights and Tashkent in my opinion, is a pleasant city to walk dogs. There are many parks and walking streets to take out the little guy.
We also got the second dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine on Saturday. That means in we will be fully vaccinated by the time we leave Uzbekistan for our summer holidays! Thanks again to the Tashkent International Clinic
It was a special night on Friday, May 28 for our family. Owen graduated from the Tashkent International School. It was a touching ceremony and an emotional day for Nadia and I. You can see from my speech below, how I felt about the day.
I am honored to open the Tashkent International School Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2021. This is the 23rd TIS graduating class and the 33 seniors graduating today will bring the total number of TIS graduates to 470, joining our illustrious and very successful alumni. Shout out the Class of 2020 who made it today!
The first thing I want to acknowledge is that we are here, in-person, together as a school community. I see this as the one of the first glimpses of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. COVID challenged us all and I think of all of the uncertainty and isolation this once-in-a-century, global pandemic has caused us. There were many days I wondered if this Class of 2021 would make it here today. They showed resilience to get through having ⅓ of the Diploma Programme online. They were one of the few international schools in Eurasia to take the IB exams and they’ve been staying safe, together, on-campus since October!
I am so thankful the pandemic taught me to savor life’s moments, and what a moment this is. The setting sun coming through our glorious trees. These young people on the stage, bursting with dreams and possibilities. Proud parents, siblings and TIS staff members, who have given them so much support to help them to complete their high school education. It is wonderful for us to be together as a community again, deepening our relationships and human connections with each other, not through Zoom, but as it should be, face-to-face (although, of course, adhering to our protocols of physical distance, wearing a mask, spraying our hands, checking our temperature, etc. not too close)
I’ve had a long career in international education and have attended or led many graduation ceremonies. However, this graduation ceremony is different from all the others I’ve attended. This time, not only am I an international school leader, but I am also a father of a graduate. As with the parents, guardians, siblings, grandparents, in the audience today, this is a bittersweet event for me. In many ways, I see my son is ready to go. Late adolescents get a bit tired of their parents and the routine of K-12 schooling. He wants to make his own way in the world. I am happy for him. In other ways however, I am breaking up inside that he is leaving our family. Where did the time go? I can still remember very clearly the first time I saw him in the delivery room. The doctor lifted him up to cut the umbilical cord and my first thought was wow, he is this big, fat, red round ball with a full head of blond hair. As you can see on the stage today, he has grown quite a bit and is no longer a big, red, fat ball, although he is still blond. I think many of the parents have some of the same thoughts, wondering how we so quickly got to this milestone and can we slow down the steady tick of time.
Graduation speakers are supposed to give you sage advice or give some high-minded quote in graduation speeches. I am only going to say to you, on behalf of the many of the parents in the audience
#1) When you are at university next year, remember that money is a finite resource. You do not have an unlimited bank account. Maybe parents can track your spending. Say goodbye to your daily Express 24 or that sandwich and coffee from Paul’s. And, taxis in other countries cost a bit more than Yandex. It adds up and give your parents a break.
#2 Call your parents! Call them often! And not just when you have a problem with #1 and need more money. Thank them often for everything they do for you.
Class of 2021, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know many of you inside and outside of school. As parents, my wife and I appreciate that you treated our son who really just arrived here, with kindness and helping him through the DP journey. You have survived the great pandemic of 2020-2021 and after starting out your adult life in the midst of COVID, you can meet any challenge that awaits you. You got this! I can’t wait to see how you can clean up the mess (climate change, income inequality, media misinformation, etc.) that my generation and generations before me have left you. Young people like yourself give me hope for the future!
It is hard not to have a good weekend with the weather being so gorgeous in Tashkent. Today’s big event was Ocean’s hair coloring appointment. She wanted to dye her hair a different color and so Nadia and her decided on purple. As you can see, she is so beautiful, she looks great with any color. She is growing up and wanted to express herself. Her and Nadia had a nice afternoon together. I was the support team with meal prep and driving them to and from the appointment.
Owen and I really enjoyed the TIS student-teacher softball game on Friday evening. Thanks to Sione and the PE department for organizing the game. It was the last time I got to watch Owen play sport as K-12 student. He hit a home run and played first base and his team beat my team, 11-8. He played a lot of baseball in Japan and unfortunately here in Tashkent due to COVID, we couldn’t play much. There is not a high school team, but there is an intramural club that plays in the spring. I’ll be helping coaching next spring for sure.
Sometimes I feel like an Uber Driver (Yandex here in Russian-influenced Tashkent). Saturday I took Owen to play tennis and Oliver and Ocean to sleepovers. The kids have an active social life here and are starting to get over leaving Japan. Owen and I got in a tennis practice with coach Igor at the Olympic Tennis Club on Saturday morning. Igor taught us where to position ourselves in anticipation of opponent’s shots. It really was an epiphany for me and it will improve my game. We are planning to buy new racquets this week.
One of the crazy things about Tashkent is I often see people driving around with furniture, equipment, supplies, etc. strapped to the top of their cars. Pickup trucks are rare here so the Uzbeks make due. You would be amazed at how much stuff they can secure to the top of an old Lada car. I end this post with some some sunset photos from my walk with Obi. I love spring and summer evenings and often take the dog out for walks around the city close to sunset.
The Netherlands has been on my mind lately as my son Owen applied to some universities there. In doing some research, I found Russell Shorto’s book, Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City. I recently listened to him on NPR’s Fresh Air, promoting his latest book on the history of his family in his native Pennsylvania and an uncle who was a mobster. Shorto is a narrative historian writer, most famous for his book highlighting the Dutch origins of New York City. With this book as well, he relied on his time working at the John Adams Institute a non-profit promoting American cultural ties with Netherlands. Amsterdam has a long and fascinating history and Shorto kept me turning pages to see what would happen next.
The premise of the book is the 17th century Amsterdam is the birthplace of liberalism. Shorto’s definition of liberalism is the “centrality of the individual” which started the Enlightenment, a move from medieval to modern thinking. He argues the founding of Amsterdam is intertwined with the commitment to individual freedom and rights for everyone and a break from received wisdom from the Church and monarchy. It was not a smooth transition and those same world views are still at battle today, 500 years later. But this was the start of our modern Western society with an “ideology centered on the beliefs about equality and individual freedom.” Still today, Amsterdam is known for its tolerance of different ideas, beliefs, tastes, etc. It shows that our family is considering university study there for our children. The university system welcomes foreigners and with their three-year programs and relatively low costs, it is a viable alternative to an American higher education.
The Netherlands is a fascinating country. It is basically one big river delta with three rivers (Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt) entering the sea creating a wide delta. Since 1000 AD, inhabitants of the region have had to work together to reclaim land through building dykes, canals, pumps as weapons against the water. Shorto believes the necessity to form “complex communal organizations” to reclaim the land explains the development of liberalism. It was always a great trading city as well, and the port from early on saw the Dutch people doing business with a variety of people and cultures.
I didn’t know much about the Netherlands break with Catholicism. It was a long (it became known to history as the Eighty Years’ War) and violent revolution against the Spanish Catholic rule of Charles V and his son Phillip. The George Washington figure for the Dutch is William the Orange (hence the color of the Netherlands soccer team). The chapter also explains the origins of the Calvinist Church. While I was a university student in Michigan, our liberal arts college played sports against Calvin and Hope Colleges, two higher education institutions on the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula where many Dutch Calvinist settlers migrated. Today there are towns named Holland and they are famous for their tulips.
Shorto also gives rich biographies of the many innovative thinkers the city produced throughout history. My favorite was the philosopher Spinoza who opened the minds of people to secular rule, humanism and individual rights. I loved the quote of Einstein Shorto found, “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.” Spinoza was really a man way ahead of his time. “democracy is of all forms of government the most natural and most consonant with individual liberty”.
Amsterdam used to be the richest, most powerful city in the world during the height of the Dutch East Indies Company . Although they exploited countries around the world (Indonesia, South Africa), they did improve the system of global trade and the company started the world’s first stock market and for better or worse, the start of consumerism. When Descartes visiting the city during its golden age he wrote, “Where else on earth could you find, as easily as you do here, all the conveniences of life and all the curiosities you could hope to see? In what other country could you find such complete freedom, or sleep with less anxiety, or find armies at the ready to protect you, or find fewer poisonings or acts of treason or slander?” His followers were deemed radicals and dangerous, just because they were rational, clear-headed and free from superstition and dogma. The Dutch specialized also in the concept of gedogen the “look-the-other-way form of tolerance that guided Amsterdam through the religious upheaval through its history.
I forgot how many great minds the city has produced and nourished. Rembrandt, Spinoza, Erasmus, Van Gogh, etc.
In the second half of the book, he goes into how Amsterdam’s liberalism was exported and is the foundation of who we are today. He touched on some of the same topics in his most famous book, “The Island at the Center of the World“.
The city gets its name from a dam built on the Amstel River (Amstelredamme) in the year 1200.
entrepot – a port that receives goods and ships them out to; an intermediary shipment center [on-tray – poh]
inchoate – not fully formed; recently formed; developing [in-ko-ate]