Winter Holidays in Tashkent Journal

Ocean asked me to go with her to Ice City, a new winter sports amusement center in Tashkent. We made Oliver go with us and we had a lot of laughs. I especially liked the speed skating ring. They even had an indoor bunny hill for skiers. I just love spending time with my family during the holidays.

A cold evening at the Tashkent International Airport

Last night and again this afternoon, we went to the airport to pick up Nadia’s father and her sister and nephew. The Tashkent International Airport is unusual in that people must wait outside the arrivals terminal and cannot enter the building. With temperatures hovering around zero, we were uncomfortable. I really enjoyed it however, just spending time with my family, joking around and waiting with anticipation for our relatives to exit the terminal.

Still cold during the day

I had a headache today and took it easy most of the day. Yesterday however, I did get out for a ride along the canals. It was quite refreshing and I hope to ride more often during the break.

Ankhor Canal

Tashkent Family Journal: Christmas Break Begins

The city is putting up Christmas trees in many parks in the city, including Odo Park.

I will be getting back to my regular blogging during the Christmas break. This weekend Nadia and I had a Hyatt Day, working out in the gym, taking a water aerobics class, hitting the sauna, culminating with a nice dinner in the rooftop Italian restaurant. I went for a walk while she was getting her nails done and noticed all of the Christmas decorations going up in the city. These were some massive artificial trees being lit up in Odo Park, near the hotel. This is new for Uzbekistan because the first president did not allow for Christmas decorations. I am looking forward to walking around the city at night this week to see all of the lights.

Nadia purchased several suzanis which are Central Asian embroidered, decorative textiles. The word suzan is Persian for “needle”. The Persians ruled most of Central Asia for a long time before the Turks and Mongolian tribes ousted them. They make beautiful tapestries or table covers. A lot of time and effort goes into making them. Nadia will be giving them as Christmas gifts.

Nadia and Brittany

We played tennis on Sunday morning at the indoor courts of the Olympic Tennis School. It is a great way to exercise during cold and wet weather we’ve been experiencing so far this break in Tashkent. I will try to play more tennis at NBU Yoshlik Center this week.

Owen works on this shooting

I’ve been working on recruiting as well this week and trying to balance family time with work. Owen and I went to the school gym to work out. I am trying to get the family out and about more and off their devices. We’ll see how that goes.

Uzbek Weddings

Lots of flowers, gold and of course, the wedding video and photo crew.

I was not enthused to attend a wedding on a Tuesday evening. My driver invited me and Nadia to one of the groundskeeper’s wedding last month. Weddings are big here in Uzbekistan! They are quite extravagant and the government even had to make a law limiting the size and cost of the parties. Families save up for years to spend lavishly on food, entertainment, decorations, etc. It is a big industry in Tashkent, with wedding halls located all over the city. I think there is cultural pressure to hold large weddings to show off one’s ability to do so. However, I haven’t been here long enough to definitely say this is true.

Little did I know what I was getting into. Nadia of course declined, so I went with my driver. Upon arrival, we were guided to a table with the rest of the TIS employees who were in attendance. The wedding couple invites family, friends, acquaintances, employers, friends of friends, etc. There were at least 250 – 300 people in attendance. Quickly, I was eating the national dish of plov and drinking tea, in between shots of vodka. Later in the evening, our table was invited into the center of the dance floor where a MC asked me to make a short speech. I wished the couple happiness on their marriage and praised the groom for his dedication to the school.

I was asked to dance with the groom in the center of the circle. Later, one of the aunts was giving 5,000 So’m bills to people to stuff in the groom’s coat pockets while dancing. I think this was for good luck. Uzbeks have a hybrid culture of Islam and influence from the Soviets. Women and men mostly danced separately, but there is often lots of alcohol consumed at weddings.

Uzbek music is growing on me. I like the rhythm and exotic, Turkish sound mixed with a danceable beat. It reminds me of Balkan pop music. The Uzbeks love a party and I actually ended up having a good time.

Happy Thanksgiving

(I am catching up on my blogging this week.)

We hosted 22 people for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday and it was such a delightful evening. Our school gave scheduled only a half-day of classes so we (I mean, Nadia and Deliya) could start cooking the turkey. We had an extremely large Butterball turkey delivered from Ramstein Air Base in Germany (thanks US Embassy commissary!) Nadia had a masterful performance and after 20 years of cooking turkeys, she has become a top chef and the turkey is always moist and delicious!

Ocean is getting into the Thanksgiving spirit!

Thanksgiving is an uniquely American holiday and we are lucky to be able to share it with friends from all over the world. It was funny that our Israeli friends reflected on their first Thanksgiving that it was the opposite of Yon Kippur, a day of fasting and saying sorry, while Thanksgiving is a day to eat until you are uncomfortably full and be thankful for all the good things in your life.


Latest Reading – "State of the Heart: History, Science and the Future of Cardiac Disease"

Photo courtesy of Aga Khan University

Both my father and grandfather died of heart disease. My grandfather had rheumatic fever as a child which weakened his valves. He died in his 40s, peacefully while taking a nap after lunch. My father told me he had an argument at work, a factory where he was the foreman. He came home for lunch and my father thinks that the stress from work, may have been what pushed his heart over the brink. My father, Charles Kralovec, survived his first heart attack. He had bypass surgery and a surgical stent placed in one of his arteries. He lived for another 10 years and passed away from a heart attack while serving as a lector at a funeral at St. Cecilia’s Church in my hometown of Caspian, Michigan at the age of 78. Even though I am not biologically related to them (I am adopted) I’ve always been aware of heart disease.

I really enjoyed reading Dr. Haider Warraich’s State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science and Future of Cardiac Disease. Dr. Warraich is a Harvard Medical School cardiologist and Pakistani immigrant to the USA. He uses his patients to introduce all aspects of heart disease. It is amazing the medical advances that have prolonged the lives of millions of people. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the USA and worldwide. Heart disease is almost double the rate of cancer as a cause of death worldwide and slightly higher than the rate of cancer in the USA.

Heart disease has been on my mind lately because my doctor and I decided for me to start taking statins after my yearly physical this summer. I always score “borderline” risk when it comes to total cholesterol with a 14-year average score of 225. Warraich made me feel much better about this choice as he is very enthusiastic about the wonders of this class of lipid-lowering medications. It is the most commonly prescribed medication in America with soon, 1/3 of all Americans older than 40 will be taking a statin. Atorvastatin, Lipitor is the bestselling drug of all time. I liked that a Japanese doctor, Akira Endo, was one of the key researchers to discover statins. Warraich ranks Endo’s discovery with Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

“…the most important means to improve and prolong life we have ever developed as a species”

I hope my daily 10mg tablet will lower my LDL cholesterol, which commonly leads to atherosclerotic plaques lining blood vessels. I was glad to see that Warriach’s research showed raising HDL likely doesn’t change risk for heart disease. My average score of 38 for HDL is just below the at-risk range (>40). I will continue to watch my weight, exercise and not smoke to see if my HDL can stay above 40. Some other aspects from the book I would like to remember are as follows:

  • Heart disease is just as common in women as men. Estrogen does offer protection to women, so they experience more heart disease post-menopause.
  • High blood pressure is the real threat for heart attacks, more so than cholesterol as a risk factor.
  • Work stress is linked to higher rates of heart disease.
  • The coronary arteries, the vessels that feed oxygenated blood to the heart are the most common vessels for heart attacks.
  • Cardiology is the most competitive field among internal medicine specialties.
  • Often medical research is just as flawed as educational research. I think it is for the same reason. It is difficult to treat humans like lab rats and conduct unbiased experiments.
  • Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack. Doctors also can do an EKG or check for troponin levels in the blood.
  • “Patients older than 65 with heart failure in the USA admitted to the hospital live for only an average of 2 years.”

The book helped me realize the amazing structure and role of the heart. It is amazing that the heart can generate electricity. The pacemaker section in the lining of the heart is controlled by a small electrical charge that is transported cell-to-cell. It is such a small amount that it would take 70 hours of heart operation to collect enough energy to charge an iPhone. The heart is also one of the few organs that you can see working. Most organs do their business on the microscopic level.

The future of treating heart disease will be very interesting. Warraich predicts we will eventually have a 100% artificial heart that distributes blood through the body. Doctors are advancing in this area, with Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) a battery-powered implant that pumps a damaged heart.

I suggest listening to the interview Dr. Warraich did with NPR’s Terry Gross to learn more about the book.

Final Thoughts on Turkmenistan

View to my hotel during my run

Ashgabat was such an interesting and distinct place. The topography and climate reminded me of Nevada and Utah. It felt much drier than Tashkent and the hills and ravines at sunset and sunrise were quite beautiful. It was just so odd to look over at the futuristic buildings on this landscape. The city is close to the Iranian border, which could be seen in the distant mountains

Lobby of the Yyldyz Hotel

The city was built to impress visitors. As you can see from the hotel lobby above, no expense is spared in these huge public monuments and facilities. For example, below the hotel on the road leading down the hill towards the city, was an 18-hole, Jack Nicholson-designed golf course. We never saw anyone play during our three days at the hotel. However, the grounds were immaculately maintained.

The international airport is shaped like a bird. Many of the buildings shape match their function. The national library looks like two books.
A sample of Turkmen TV

One of the negative aspects of Ashgabat that really struck me was the lack of outside influences. Most of the most popular internet sites are blocked. There is absolutely no advertising found in the city. I read where only about 10% of the population accesses the internet. The government actively controls internet access and even my Express VPN did not work there.

Panoramic View from the hotel restaurant balcony

I didn’t spend enough time exploring this fascinating city and country. I’ll never forget country #67 on my life list.

Bill’s take on the 2019 NFL

My updates in bold (December 30, 2019) I enjoy following the NFL and it is something that Owen and I can bond over. More than other professional sports, the regular season matters and the talent is more evenly spread throughout the league. Most of the games are decided by one touchdown or less. I also think coaching in football is more important than other sports as well, so I put emphasis in analyzing teams on the coach. The other important factor for me is the quarterback. I also like the fact I can watch the highlights of a game in 10 minutes. My biggest complaint with the NFL is the use of instant replay to officiate the game and all of the stoppages in a game. I use the NFL to calm my mind and fall asleep at night, I think about the games and teams. Good meditation.

Tier 1 – Championship Contenders (Top 5) – Favorites to make it to the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots – best coach in any sport, automatic #1 or #2 seed annually – they dropped to #3 seed with loss to Dolphins, still a Championship Contender with +195 point differential and #1 DVOA Defense

Baltimore Ravens – love Lamar Jackson, wish Lions picked him, good coach, hard-hitting team – must be favorites going into the playoffs #1 offense, #4 defense, biggest point differential

Green Bay Packers – Rodgers with strong running game, good change with coach, home field advantage – they won a lot of close games due to good fortune, stats are a Tier 2 team, but get a home playoff bye and with Rodgers, a threat to win it all

Minnesota Vikings – talented roster, decent coach – similar to Packers with lesser QB and better overall roster

New Orleans Saints – coach and QB smart and experienced, better defense this year – finished strong

Tier 2 – Good Solid Teams (9 teams) – Can win a playoff game or two, would be a surprise team to make it to the Super Bowl, but not out of the reach with some luck.

San Francisco 49ers – great coach, roster improved through draft, Garapalo overrated – I would move them to Tier 1, #4 DVOA overall

Kansas City Chiefs – Mahomes and playcalling brilliant, defense needs more; defense improved late in season, move to Tier 1, #3 DVOA

Buffalo Bills – solid defense, lots of players, I think a good coach

Houston Texans – DeShaun Watson great QB, mediocre coach

Indianapolis Colts – really good coach, good roster,

Dallas Cowboys – lots of talent, defense their weakness

Philadelphia Eagles – injuries drop them to Tier 2 – nice finish to the year!

Seattle Seahawks – very lucky in close games this year, Wilson great QB, great at home –

Los Angeles Rams – good roster, average QB, good coach

Tier 3 – Average to Slightly Below Average (not bad) 13 teams that can have their moments

Cleveland Browns – lots of speed, undisciplined, poorly coached – drop to Tier 4

Pittsburgh Steelers – tough defense, solid, bad QB

Tennessee Titans – frustratingly inconsistent, nice uniforms – improved a bit with Tanneyhill as QB, would put into Tier 4

Jacksonville Jaguars – I don’t like Jacksonville having a NFL franchise, hard-hitting team – drop to Tier 4

Los Angeles Chargers – carried my fantasy football team last year, give games away in 4th quarter; regretting choice to move to LA

Denver Broncos – really good defense, need a QB

Chicago Bears – see Denver

Detroit Lions – my favorite team, can score points, not sure well-coached, bad front 7 on defense – although lost 9 straight, still Tier 3

Carolina Panthers – solid all-around team but nothing spectacular

Atlanta Falcons – recent resurgence brought to Tier 3

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – exciting offense players (ballers), Bruce Arena needs time to straighten out

Arizona Cardinals – surprisingly solid team this year, Murray a good QB

Oakland Raiders – Gruden a good coach, will win games they are supposed to win

Tier 4 – Bad Teams (5 teams with no chance, fighting for draft rankings)

New York Jets – could be decent, poor GM/owner

Miami Dolphins – have some fight, loved them as a kid, need QB and more talent

Cincinnati Bengals – years of first-round playoff exit era over, heading further down

Washington Redskins – bad owner, no talent, no direction

New York Giants – love Sequon Barkley, will move up next year, Jones not bad