Family Journal: December 30, 2022

Ocean, Uncle Andy, Oliver, Owen, Aunt Chantal, Nadia & Obi – Charvak Reservoir

We spent the day in the mountains of the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. The views are always breathtaking and the fresh air and mountain peaks always recharge my soul. As you can see above, it was cold and the overlook of the Charvak Reservoir was chilly. We had lunch at one of the restaurants at Amirsoy Resort. Owen, Oliver and I did some skiing and snowboarding in the afternoon. It has not snowed in awhile so it was quite icy and tough to turn, especially on the upper courses. I took Oliver’s pass and skis and practiced my turning on the lower courses of Oscar. It was great to get out into the fresh air.

Chantal, Andy, Nadia and Ocean enjoy lunch

We had a lot of fun in the evening. I made “Rock and Roll” grilled cheese sandwiches and we hung out with the kids. Teenagers are up to date with music so they helped me with my playlist. I added the Arctic Monkeys and Beabadoobee to my Winter 2022-2023 Spotify Playlist. Andy takes after my dad and can fix anything so he caulked one of the showers to stop it from leaking. The other interesting occurance was the sandwich maker and toaster both burned out yesterday. We replaced them at Texnomart today.

Oliver

Today, New Years Eve, I escorted my brother and my sister-in-law to the airport. I was sad to see them go and I appreciated them coming to visit us. It was delightful to have them here for Christmas and I wish they could have stayed longer. We live close to the airport and it was not very crowded in the check-in line.

Family Journal: December 28, 2022

The best aspect of breaks is time! I have time to connect with my family and think about things other than school. I can exercise more, take care of family finances, spend more time with the kids and my wife, etc. As a school leader, I do need to check in with work-related issues daily, but I have more time for relaxation and family and less time devoted to leading the school. Next week I’ll shift a bit more to school, but for this week I’ve been focusing on recharging my soul.

On our way back from Samarkand, my brother Andy described the landscape perfectly, “post-apocalypse Wisconsin”. We are from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which is mostly woods and when we drove south to Green Bay or Madison the forests gave way to farmland. The condition of the roads here are rougher than in Wisconsin and the farmhouses are much humbler, hence, the post-apocalypse Wisconsin. Most of the drive goes through agricultural fields but there is a hilly section about 3 hours outside of Tashkent. Andy and I stopped and went for a hike on a section of this journey that was hilly. We could see the white-capped peaks of the Zaamin range in the distance and the foothills reached the main highway between Samarkand and Tashkent. The endless barren rolling hills and gray skies were beautiful and it made for a nice respite from the road. I really wanted to continue walking. It looked like a scene from the Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and I was waiting for an army to ride up over the next ridge. The hills went on for a long time. I will return with my gravel bike in the spring, but it is a 3-hour drive from Tashkent.

Bill and Andy

We have been showing Andy and Chantal the best of Tashkent. This included an obligatory trip to Black Star Burger, the Russian fast-food chain owned by rapper “Timati”. He is a Tartar not African and adopted many of the hip-hop music, dress, and video styles for success in the Russian music market. As you can see in the video below, “Road to the Airport” from 2017, he promotes luxury, flashes spending, treats women badly, and copies US hip-hop/pop music.

The burgers are actually pretty good and the novelty is patrons receive black latex gloves to eat their burgers. The burgers have an excess of oil so they are needed.

Andy at Black Star Burger

We also introduced them to Kanishka, the Uzbek leather and clothing store. We discovered another store in the basement of an old Soviet era apartment block. The designers do such a good job of making combining the Soviet esthetic with Western pop culture. They also do this with their stores as you can see in the photo below.

Kanishka Retail Store

Tashkent Metro System

It is nice to have visitors because it turns us into local tourists. We wanted to show my brother Andy and his wife Chantal the famous Tashkent Metro subway system. I am embarrassed that I have not seen any of the stations.

Mosaic leading to Pahtakor Station

The subway system and stations were very important to the Soviet government. Stalin wanted beautiful underground train stations to celebrate Soviet values and transport workers cheaply and efficiently. The Moscow system was the first and is an architectural and artistic gem. He decided that any city over 1 million people would have a similar system and Tashkent, fortunately, was one of the cities. It was completed in 1977 and every station has a theme that combined Soviet values and Uzbek culture.

We visited 3 stations today and I will certainly visit more to photograph them. The first station was Kosmonavtlar (above), a celebration of the Soviet space program. The attention to detail in the design and materials, the lighting, and the lack of graffiti and advertising made it visually stunning. The trains were full today, Thursday, around 12:00 noon. The Pakhtakor (Grower) station near the soccer stadium has a cotton industry theme as you can see below in the mosaic.

Nadia at the Pahtakor Station

The final station we visited was “Alisher Navoi”, the 15th-century poet, thinker, and statesman. The stations look more like cathedrals than train stations.

Our Visit to Samarkand

Me Standing in front of the Bibi Hanum Mosque

Samarkand is one of those exotic names like Babylon, Rome, Carthage, Athens, etc. that ring throughout history. It is one of the three famous Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan and the closest to Tashkent. I am always amazed at visiting places that have such an ancient history. It was captured by Persian King, Cyrus the Great in 550 BC, and Alexander the Great conquered the city in 329 BC. It reached its zenith over 600 years under the reign of Tamerlane, or Timur as he is known here in Uzbekistan from 1360 – 1405. Tamerlane should be more well known in the West as he was the last of the Tartar/Mongolian warriors that basically conquered a land territory ranging from Europe to China. I liked how the Syrian historian Ahmed ibn Arabshah described Timur after he destroyed Damascus, “This Bastard to Lay Waste Azerbaijan and Irak” and he referred to him as “satan” “demon”, “viper”, “despot” and “wicked fool”. Arabshah was right in many ways, Timur and his armies probably killed and enslaved more people than Hitler and Stalin combined. But this happened such a long time ago that today, he is revered as a great leader here in Uzbekistan. The Western name, Tamerlane, comes from “Timur The Lame” which alludes to his arm and leg being crippled during battle.

Inside a Madrassa on the Registan

Samarkand was the capital of his empire and he turned it into the greatest Islamic city of its time. He enslaved artisans, architects, artists, gardeners, etc. to make the city full of huge mosques, madrassas, palaces, lavish gardens, etc. Visiting the city in 2022, 617 years after his death, some of this grandeur still exists, but it would have been awesome to travel back in time and see it then.

We toured the final project he completed before his death, the Bibi Hanum Mosque. The mosque was restored at various times in the past 600 years as it fell into disrepair shortly after Timur died. Besides the size, it is the artistic touch, the Timurid architectural style, that used turquoise (the color of the Turks) shapes and patterns that make it unique and breathtaking. I learned about Kufic script, an ancient Arabic font that you can see in the many buildings in Samarkand. We stayed at the Bibi Hanum Hotel and the first photo below of the dome is taken from our room.

We had a relaxing visit showing my brother and sister-in-law around this beautiful, desert city. Of course we needed to see the famous Registan (sandy place in Persian). This is a central plaza with madrassas (Islamic schools) on three sides that were built after Timur’s death by succeeding Khans. Andy is a coin collector and bought some cool coins from the 1800s and 1700s Russian empire at one of the shops in the Registan. We ate at our favorite restaurant in the city, Platan and had an early night due to their jet lag. We bought some of the famous Samarkand bread at the market.

Andy and Chantal on the Registan

I highly recommend reading historian Justin Marozzi’s chapter on the city in his book, “Islamic Empires: 15 Cities That Define a Civilization” is an excellent read to understand Timur and his place in history. The chapter on Doha and Dubai really helped me get a better understanding of those cities and I hope to visit other cities featured in his book someday.

A Hockey Christmas Eve

I wanted to do something special for Christmas Eve and to celebrate the visit of my brother. He is a hockey fan and so we rented a Sky Suite at Humo Arena for yesterday’s game. The Humo Tashkent Hockey Club hosted Yetis Pavlador in a Pro Hokei Ligasi (Kazakhstan’s top professional league) game. Humo won easily 6-2 and improved their record to 22-9 for the season. They are currently in third place but have played 2 and 4 fewer games that the teams ahead of them in the standings. They should pass Nomad Astana, the second-place team. Karaganda leads the league with 61 points compared to Humo’s 45 points.

Pavlador is an industrial city located in the northeast of Kazakhstan, near the Russian border on the banks of the Irtysh River. The club won the Pro Hokei Ligasi for three consecutive years from 2013-2015. Pavlador looked outmatched and they changed goalies on the fourth goal by Humo. Things settled down for them with the substitute and they eventually scored 2 goals, making it a 5-2 game late in the third period. Humo scored a sixth goal on an open net to finish the scoring.

It was fun to have the box but I wouldn’t do it again. It is much cheaper to just attend the game and nothing comes with the suite. They should have a meal and drinks included and lower the price a bit. There were only four boxes with people in them. They really need a Western marketing person to come in and turn these into a money-making proposition for the club. They could rent them out to businesses that would use them as perks for their employees like they do in the USA. It was a memorable way to spend Christmas Eve. After the game, we went out to for dinner at Sushi Time restaurant.

Family Journal: December 23, 2022

It is nice to be on our Winter Break because it gives me time to do things I usually don’t have much time for. Thursday we were caught in traffic due to the departure of the Kazakh president. Police cleared the route from his accommodations to the airport which effectively cut off half of the downtown. We are grocery shopping and we were unfortunately on the wrong side of Nukus Street. We decided to wait out the delay in Bon cafe instead of sitting in the car. They make great coffee, hot chocolate, desserts, and sandwiches. The decor makes you feel like you are in a sophisticated city. I enjoy taking time out to connect with Nadia in a cafe and we are doing this more now that our children are older teenagers. I developed a taste for jasmine tea and there is nothing better to warm me up on a cold day.

We stopped at the Chorsu Bazaar, the largest market in the city. It is always a photographer’s delight to see all of the interesting characters and products for sale. I wanted to buy a rooster but decided not to. A dog is enough to care for…

It was also nice to hold a couple of open gymnasiums for the basketball team. It gives me a chance to develop individual players and my oldest son Owen helped out. It was great to “coach” him again!

Family Journal: December 21, 2022

I always wonder why the Winter Solstice is not more acknowledged and celebrated in our society. I think it is a big deal because starting today, December 22, the daylight hours get a little longer. There still are 2-3 months of cold weather ahead, but just knowing that the sunrise will a be a little bit earlier and the sunrise a little later, gives me hope that eventually, the long, warm days of summer and outdoor living will come. I see why ancient people celebrated this day and I wonder how long it took them to figure this out.

I always try to spend the day outdoors and at least watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was overcast. I went jogging in the Navoi National Park and about 2 kilometers into my run, my right calf felt very tight. I had to limp back to my car. I did go for a long bike ride in the late afternoon, but I took Advil, and applied Deep Blue ointment and heat to the calf. It loosened up and this morning it still feels tight but I am not limping as much as I was yesterday. I think 1-2 more days and I’ll be able to run again. I am not sure what is causing it. I read that it may be my running form or just tightness from being old. I did an extensive yoga workout on Tuesday and will again today. Let’s see how it goes and just note that getting older is not pleasant…

My ride was disrupted by the arrival of the Kazakhstan president’s official visit with the Uzbek president. The main roads from the airport to the parliament were closed and I needed to find alternative routes. Uzbekistan is experiencing a natural gas shortage and I assume there will be some agreements to purchase more gas from Kazakhstan. Kazakh flags were posted around the city and welcome messages were on digital billboards all throughout Tashkent.

As you can see in the gallery above, development continues in the city at breakneck speed. Large apartment, office and retail developments are being constructed all over Tashkent.

President of Kazakhstan Welcome Sign (in front of another housing development)

Family Journal: December 20, 2022

Avatar 2 Compass Cinema

I have been spending as much time as possible with my family this week and balancing this with work. Yesterday afternoon we rented the VIP Room of the Compass Cinema for a showing of Avatar 2. This is James Cameron’s science fiction sequel to the 2009 release of Avatar. I can’t believe it was 13 years ago that the first one was released. We were told that you couldn’t watch movies in English when we first arrived to Tashkent, but you can call the Compass Cinema, located in the TC Compass mall here in Tashkent, and ask for the movie they are playing not to be dubbed if it is available. They only had the 2-D, Russian sub-title version instead of the 3-D version, but it was still great for the kids. The VIP room seats 26 people and each ticket costs 60,000 UZS ($5.30). All one needs to do is rent the room and then find enough friends interested in joining to cover most of your costs. We easily found 21 people to join in less than 24 hours. I was not in the mood for the movie and took a long nap in the comfortable chairs and then answered emails during the second half of the movie. It was a bit long at 3 hours and 15 minutes. I love doing nice things for my children and I enjoyed the experience by seeing them enjoy the film. Nadia and I thought it was a bit slow.

I held an open gym yesterday for my JV basketball team and 10 players showed up. Owen and his fellow alumnus Nico came and played with the boys. It was great to watch him play again and I was the referee and coached a bit from the side. I discovered to simulate a 7-game series of NBA teams instead of just playing games to a certain score. It resets the game often and the LA Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors 4-3 so the kids played intensely for almost 2 hours. I had to leave a bit early for a meeting with the construction team and work concerns.

Family Journal: Winter Break Begins – December 18, 2022

Oliver, Nadia and Owen at the Riveria Mall on Saturday

We are on Winter Break until January 9th and our son Owen came in on Friday to complete our family! We are enjoying having us all together. We are staying in Tashkent for the holidays, with my brother and sister-in-law coming to visit us later this week. It is so nice to have flexible working hours and time to relax and recharge after a very busy first half of the school year.

I had a fantastic Sunday. The weather has warmed, although in the shaded areas there are still patches of ice and snow. Owen and I have been hanging out in the mornings because he is jet-lagged and I am up early as usual. I miss him and it fills me with joy to have him around again. I went for a 34-kilometer bicycle ride in the afternoon. I found a safe route along one of the minor canals from my house to the Parkent highway. There is a good sidewalk along the highway. I rode all the way to the Yangi Uzbekistan Park and looped back to the canal through an agricultural area. It was quite muddy on the sides of the road. It felt good to get back into cycling and I am trying to make a point to get as much exercise as possible during the break.

Later in the afternoon, we celebrated the first day of Hanukkah with our good friends the Furman family. We’ve grown quite close over the past two years and Nati and Daphna are special to us. We lit the first candle and sang in Hebrew. Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of a temple that was lost to the Syrian Greeks over 2,200 years ago. It is amazing that the Jews can trace back their history as distinct people so long ago. Most Americans can trace their ancestry back to Europe only about a couple of hundred years. My ancestry is Polish/Slovak/Ukraine and the Slavs only go back to approximately 600 AD. I also learned that the Jews have many names for God, including “Adonai”. It means master or lord and is one of the most common terms for god in the Old Testament. We spun the dreidel, I lost twice and won once.

Ocean and Eleanor enjoy traditional Hanukkah deep-fried donuts

The highlight of the day was watching the extremely exciting World Cup Final between France and Argentina. The constant flopping of Argentinians annoyed me greatly, but eventually, they won me over with their spectacular play. I favor the golden goal to end the game instead of playing the full extra time. However, the late French goal gave us an extra 15 minutes of excitement when it came to penalty kicks. My favorite part was just celebrating goals with Ocean, Nadia and Oliver. We are not big soccer fans, but avidly follow the World Cup and the Summer and Winter Olympics. It was a special night to have the whole family cheering loudly in our living room. We watched the game with our 1-month Peacock subscription. They had the Telemundo feed in Spanish. I first became a true soccer fan in Colombia and I prefer the Latino announcers. Mbappe is a stud and Messi is a magician! Both teams had a great tournament and we loved having a November World Cup this past month.

“The Thrill of Victory & the Agony of Defeat”

I also was curious about how much gasoline costs here in Uzbekistan compared to the USA. The mid-grade gasoline (92 octane) costs $3.83 per gallon, which is slightly higher than the $3.26 average price in the USA last week. I used dimensional analysis to convert from 9,500 Uzbek So’um per liter to USD per gallon. Thanks to my high school science teacher Jack Sherman for drilling this into us. It cost me 580,545 Uzbek So’um or $51.53 to fill the 61-liter tank of my Chevrolet Captiva.

Latest Reading: “A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road”

I read Christopher Aslan Alexander’s book about his work for an NGO in the city of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Khiva is one of the UNESCO World Heritage-protected cities of the Silk Road. It is the city farthest from Tashkent and it has the largest ancient part of the city (Ichan Kala) that is preserved. I have not been there yet and reading Chris’s account, wants me to see the place. Khiva reached its zenith in the 1600s under the descendants of Ghengis Khan. It was a huge slave market where Persians and Russians were bought and sold. Slave labor built the great walled city.

Chris came and spoke at our school a couple of times and he is a nice guy and a great storyteller. He gave a really good workshop to our Diploma Programme students about what makes a good story. It is nice to have a personal connection to an author. I hope he comes back because now that I read his book, I want to know more from him.

He worked for Operation Mercy, a service organization affiliated with the UN. He developed a carpet factory in a disused madrassa and the book tells the story of the trials and successes in establishing a profitable business. Chris researched ancient texts and paintings to bring back designs of the carpets depicted hundreds of years ago to life. He describes the entire process of how silkworms are raised to collecting plants and powders to make his all natural dyes.

My favorite part of the book was his descriptions of the people he got to know in Khiva. I always wonder while I drive by or visit towns and smaller cities in Uzbekistan about their lives. He gives lots of details of what their lives are like. I forget that poverty really narrows people’s lives and the simple challenge of survival is first and foremost occupation of many of the poor in Uzbekistan. It inspired me to help others more and I will try to support more our service projects that aid the local community. It also gave me an understanding of life under the former president, Islam Karimov.