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.
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.
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.
One of the nice things about our school is it is adjacent to an international medical clinic. It feels like our personal medical facility. They have international doctors there and it gives Nadia the peace of mind that she we are being looked after. Dr. Jan Reimers-Flattun, the former director of the clinic and former embassy doctor, is in residence at the clinic this fall. She has been so helpful in getting our immunization schedules documented and up to date for the children. She also is very caring with my family and we will miss her when she leaves next month. On Monday, we got our flu vaccines and Owen got his final MMR booster shot.
We are enjoying our Autumn Break in Tashkent. I am mixing work with family this week. Yesterday afternoon Nadia and I played tennis. It was such a gorgeous day and with many courts available for $5 / hour, playing tennis here is so easy and accessible. Owen and I are taking a lesson this afternoon.
We dropped off Ocean yesterday at Ice City, an amusement arena. One can speed skate, ski, bobsled, etc. in an indoor, chilled venue. She had a sleepover last night. Oliver injured himself walking home from the supermarket, cutting his leg. He seemed to have almost a full range of motion last night.
Nadia found this cool Russian language Pepsi bottle at a bakery. It is nice to have time to reconnect with family!
This past Sunday, Owen, Oliver and I went hiking in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. This was my second visit to the park and we were led by the famous guide Boris. The Chatkal Range, part of the western Tian Shan Mountains, covers “the finger” in far Eastern Uzbekistan. It is only about a 90-minute drive from Tashkent.
We climbed a steep ridge running parallel to the Beldersoy Ski Resort to begin the hike. The ski piste and hotel was below as we scrambled over rocky outcrops. Boris is known for not using trails, instead going for more difficult routes and he didn’t disappoint. We made it to the top (2,000 meters / 6,500 feet) of Beldersoy and had gorgeous views of the Beldersoy River valley and several peaks. After a rest, we walked through the Urttakumbel Pass down to the Marble River. We had lunch along the river and surveyed a 30-meter waterfall in the narrow canyon.
Walking back up a side trail we saw hundreds of fossilized cockle shells. It is awesome to think about geological time scales. Those shells were once living mollusks living on the bottom of a sea and today they are found on a mountain in the middle of a double-landlocked desert nation of Uzbekistan. I collected a bunch of nice specimens to display in my office.
We finished the hike by going over to a “solar glade” an open pasture on the way back to our car. The glade reminded me of a desert Sound of Music mountain meadow. It would also have been a great place for a medieval battle scene. Oliver is reading Game of Thrones and is re-watching some of the later episodes. It would be a perfect spot for filming.
Of course the best part of any hike for me is spending time with my family. Being able to talk and explore with my sons gives me so much pleasure. They are two really good guys and we enjoyed each other’s company, despite the early start on a Sunday morning.
The one aspect of hiking in the park that bothers me is the ubiquitous livestock grazing. We didn’t see any horses, cows, sheep or goats on this walk, but we did see plenty of evidence (feces) of ruminants. I wonder what the mountains would look like without the pressure of grazing? I know people have to make a living, but it makes me want to forgo meat all together when I see the impact of livestock on the environment.
I am looking forward to seeing the mountains change as the seasons change. My two hikes so far were during the driest part of the year.
It was our first full week of classes. One of my highlights was the morning cross country running practice with Ocean. She is now a middle schooler, and is out for her first sport, cross country running. The team has practices in the morning before school. She wants to qualify for the CEESA event in Kiev, Ukraine. I hope she continues running!
We said goodbye to my Uncle Jack. He was a godsend for helping us settle into our new home. Our house looks absolutely fabulous thanks to his efforts in organizing the kitchen, hanging paintings, prepping the gardens, etc, etc, etc. It has been so nice to have a father figure in my life again and he has given our family some stability. He really cares about our family and we are so happy to have him in our life. Thank you Uncle Jack, we love you!
I am enjoying working with the principals at the school. Jan and Angelika are so helpful, easy to get along with , work hard and know their educational practices. I think we are making a good team and I look forward to more good times ahead. We attended a US Embassy reception on Wednesday evening.
I finally got to see a couple of the subway stations in the city. The metro was modeled after Moscow’s underground. We only sampled two of the stations, but the marble, lighting and archways were impressive. The system is old, but well kempt.
We set up our basketball hoop in the street in front of our house. It has been very popular with the neighborhood children. Owen and Oliver got into a game of two-on-two last night.
Finally, I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood this morning. I love the bright sunshine and the Soviet era apartment buildings and narrow streets near our house.
I was happy to get back to work today after an exhausting Sunday. The moving company came to our house to pack our belongings to send to Tashkent. It was a bit stressful, deciding what we are shipping, what we need for the summer and what we will be getting rid of. We have done this exercise before, but it is never easy, especially with 5 people in our household. We lived in Japan for 5 years, so we have accumulated possessions, not as much as most Americans, but we still managed 140 boxes. This included a basketball court, 6 bicycles, book shelves, etc.
The container will go via sea to the port of Vladivostok, Russia. From there it is a long train ride to Tashkent. Kent, the owner of Fukuoka Soko Movers, advised this as the best and safest route to Uzbekistan. It should take 2 to 2 and 1/2 months. It left our house on June 9. I will update this post on the arrival date.
I like things about an empty house. I am valuing each individual item more because of scarcity. When you have one pot and one frying pan and one glass, you notice them more rather than our usual state of overabundance. We still have three weeks in the mostly empty home before we leave Japan.
Nadia and I enjoyed the prom probably more than my son Owen. The Osaka International School annual holds prom in the first week in June at a hotel. Owen is in grade 10 and this is his second prom. Together with some other parents, we rented a limousine for Owen’s friends. The parents took a lot of pictures. Our children are growing up and high school prom is one of those events that mark the passing of time for parents, as our children are children are entering their teenage years (we have two teens and one that thinks she is a teenager). It is so rewarding to see the succession of events as they proceed through school and eventually leave us :(.
Prom is an old American tradition, beginning in the 1800s on the university level in the north east. Graduating classes held a “promenade” or formal dance to help the students polish their social skills. I taught the boys how to put on a tie and it is funny to see them squirm in their formal wear. The tradition of prom eventually passed down to high schools and after World War II, many proms moved from being held in the school gymnasium to nice hotels.
In some ways Japan is a great place for teenagers. The conservative nature of the Japanese limits teenagers use of alcohol and drugs and other risky behaviors. It is quite innocent here compared to other countries.
As a leader in the school, I always try to attend prom as a chaperone and with my children now attending, it is extra special. We tried to stay out of way and help out. Nadia and I had a nice dinner afterwards and Owen went out with his friends after the prom. The prom started at 5:00 PM and ended at 8:00 PM, so we all got home at a decent hour.
I was quite emotional yesterday on my 52nd birthday. I think as you get older, you appreciate all the good things in your life. It was a full day with our school hosting our annual School Festival. It started with Ocean performing in her last elementary school concert. Her class sang the Chainsmokers’ “All We Know” which became my theme song of the day. She is so beautiful and turning into a woman way too quickly. As I always say, she is the best of the Kralovecs.
Watching my gorgeous wife Nadia making my favorite meal, pizza rolls in the afternoon was touching. My mother used to make pizza rolls, which was a neighborhood recipe my grandmother picked up from her Italian immigrant neighbors. Nadia described it aptly as the concept of a cinnamon roll, except substitute the bread dough for pasta dough interspersed with ground pork and baked with a strong red sauce. A hearty meal that I eat many less in one sitting than I did when I was growing up. She also baked me an apple pie, something my mom did as well, instead of a traditional birthday cake.
Each of my children wrote me heart-warming cards and I got two Amazon gift cards. Our close friends, the Boocks, came over and the two families had an enjoyable evening. True to form after a big meal, lots of laughter and a few glasses of wine, I fell asleep. The end of a magnificent day for me. You are not supposed to tell anyone what your birthday wish is, but I don’t really believe in this. My wish was that I could stop time and relive yesterday anytime I wanted to. I am grateful for all that I have in my life. Thanks to everyone for remembering me on my special day!
I am catching up on blogging this weekend and will try to post some recent events in the life of our family. It was with a bit of sadness that we attended our last elementary dance last month. Our daughter Ocean is the last of our children to finish elementary school and both Nadia and I can’t believe that we are through this phase in our lives. The grade 4/5 parent-student dance is a much anticipated event for our children. Ocean and her friends were so excited to dress up and attend the event.
School dances are a foreign concept in Japan. It is not in the culture for schools to hold dances like in international and American schools. Some of the local families are still getting used to the concept. You can really see the maturity differences between boys and girls at this event. The girls are much more poised and social, while the boys do not have a clue.
We made the best of it and Nadia and I danced, although I was the only dad to get out onto the floor. Ocean had so much fun dancing with her friends. They are such a friendly group of girls. It is that time of year and we are looking forward to all of the end-of-year school events.
Yesterday our family visited the Maishima Incineration Plant located near the port of Osaka. Japan is the world leader in burning garbage to produce electricity. Land is precious in this crowded island nation, and landfills are not a good option.
The plant deals with garbage in three ways. Most waste is burned at extremely hot temperatures. The heat is converted to electricity through steam and turbines. Most of the electricity goes to power the plant itself, but the excess electricity is sold back to the municipal electrical grid. The leftover ash is used in land reclamation projects or converted to bricks to pave roads and sidewalks. Japan and in many other countries in Asia, artificial islands are quite common near the coasts of cities. In fact, the main international airport, Kansai International Airport (KIX) is an artificial island.
Large items, such as furniture, bicycles, etc. goes through a different process. The recyclable metals, iron and aluminum are converted to pellets and sent to recycling plants. The leftovers are either crushed into small blocks or burned. The 15 cm – 40 cm blocks are used with ash in land reclamation projects.
Incineration plants started in the 1990s and were found to emit toxins into the environment. Today, much of the plants are devoted to cleaning by-products before they are released.
Incineration plants are common in Japan. The Maishima plant is one of six in the Osaka metropolitan area. It handles around 900 tonnes of waste per day. The guide estimated that Osaka disposes approximately 36,000 tonnes per day. With a growing world population living at a higher standard of living than ever before, protecting the planet is an increased concern of mine. I am worried about climate change and the quality of life on earth being lessened by our wasteful lifestyles. I agree it is good to burn garbage instead of just burying it, but it would be better to reduce the amount of waste generated in our lives.
On a small level, I have been tracking the waste generation of our family. We recycle glass, metal and paper through the excellent Minoh city recycling program. I’ve started to compost our vegetable matter at school. This has reduced our waste significantly. However, a big problem is packaging. The amount of plastic used to protect, transport and display products is crazy. As a consumer, it is impossible to escape!
What make the Maishima unique is the architecture of the plant. City officials commissions the Austrian/New Zealand artist and architect, Friednesreich Hundertwasser to improve the facade of the plant. Hundertwasser was a fascinating artist and a man ahead of his time. His mother was Jewish and father German, and he escaped death by hidingbill his maternal origins. He became quite a famous architect and applied artist after World War II. Hundertwasser detested straight lines and the grey monotony of city buildings. He was also one of the first architects to incorporate nature in his buildings and believed that planting trees in cities, helped well-being. We visited his famous apartment block in Vienna years ago. Hundertwasser was married to a Japanese women in the 1960s which may be the connection to Japan.
Compared to most of the boring, industrial design of buildings in Japan, I am happy that they invested in making it beautiful. It was uplifting to walk around the roof top garden and it has become of tourist destination and raised awareness of sustainability. Hundertwasser thought the project brought “technology, ecology and art in harmony” and I have to agree!