The Tashkent International School Cross Country Team finished the season yesterday at the Tashkent Botanical Gardens. We invited two local public schools and two international schools to compete. It was our first in-person meet in 24 months due to the pandemic. I really enjoyed coaching the team this year as I needed to get back into distance running. So for me personally, it forced me to run three times per week. It was also satisfying to see the growth of the students as they pushed themselves. Oliver and Ocean came to the competitions and some of the practices and I hope to get both of them to run more next year. Ocean placed second in the middle school girls’ race and Oliver finished in the middle of the pack of the high school boys.
It was a nice Sunday as I tried to spend as much time with the family as possible. Oliver, Ocean and I visited the recently opened Depo Mall in the south western part of Tashkent. It is the largest mall yet in the city and from the outside, looked like America which pleased Oliver. Most of the stores have not opened yet and many looked like they were looking for occupants. We splurged in the evening and ordered a Sushi Time meal. Nadia’s back is bothering her again and we were trying to cheer her up.
We talked with Owen this morning. He is visiting my Uncle Jack in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving and will go to NYC to visit friends. We are looking forward to Thanksgiving this week! I put together this video of the race featuring highlights of Oliver and Ocean.
The weeks are flying by as we are heading towards December and Winter Break. Nadia caught a bad cold/flu this week and combined with hurting her back, she was in rough shape. Our dog Obi also had some stomach trouble which warranted a trip to the vet. Dr. Ksenija’s office is always busy as she is an excellent doctor. Obi received some medicine and an IV to replace fluids. Ocean was so patient with the little guy…
The bonus of the snowfall on Wednesday is that it cleared the air from the dust storm earlier in the month. I snapped the photo below from our balcony and it was good to see clear skies again. Mornings have been between -5 and -8 C but it warms up during the day. It is -3 as I write this at 7:00 AM.
I always get excited at the first snowfall of the year! It started snowing during our cross country running practice before school and continued to about noon. We finished with 4 inches (12cm) of snow for the day. It was wet, heavy snow and combined with many leaves still being on trees in mid-November, branches all over the city, including our campus fell. The students loved playing in the snow, especially those from tropical countries or expatriates coming from the tropics. I made an announcement warning people to be careful under the trees on our campus.
Snow makes the city look better and it is sticking around with cool temperatures all week. Climate change is affecting Tashkent’s weather with less snow and rain and hotter temperatures throughout the year. I don’t like these long-term trends and for now, it is OK, but I worry about what the city’s climate will be 10-20 years in the future. With increasing air pollution, excessive water use (irrigation, faulty canal system) and deforestation, trends are for a lower quality of life unless officials take steps to rectify the situation.
Oliver finished his soccer season this past weekend. Our school hosted the tournament with the top four teams from the city league playing. Ollie’s team lost the semifinals 1-2 to put them in Sunday’s consolation (third-place) game. They defeated Westminster International School 2-0. I put together a video of Ollie’s play above. He ended up enjoying the experience and improved through the year. He even scored a goal and played both defense and striker. His strengths are his effort, coachability and physical presence. He needs to work on his foot skills and understanding the game more.
The weather is turning cooler and snow is expected this week. After last week’s dust storm and this week’s cold front, it feels like winter is almost here. The last of the autumn colors are showing. Yesterday we had a cross country running training at the Tashkent Botanical Gardens and it was quite beautiful with the setting sun. We are getting close to the winter solstice with sunrise at 7:12 AM today and sunset at 5:02 PM. I forgot how nice the gardens are and I wish Tashkent had more areas with trees and wilderness.
Earlier this autumn I visited the Carlsberg Uzbekistan Brewery. Carlsberg is one of the largest beer companies in the world. They were founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1847 and have become a multinational corporation. They own some beers I am familiar with including Lav of Serbia and the Russian Baltika and the international Tuborg. They came to Uzbekistan over 10 years ago and produce Sarbast here in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek government uses this strategy to develop industries. They make a deal with an international company that brings the expertise and equipment and uses the relationship to develop local capacity. You can see this with General Motors Chevrolet and other companies.
We walked above the factory floor as you can see in the photos above. I am always impressed with the distinct pieces of machinery that are necessary for assembly line production. There were a few workers monitoring the process, making sure the bottles kept moving. It was loud and we wore headphones. After viewing the factory floor, we had a reception in a conference room followed by dinner in their outdoor beer garden. The food and beer were delicious and we enjoyed a karaoke competition. I highly recommend during the warmer months in Tashkent to make dinner reservations for a fun-filled evening. I was impressed by the professionalism and attention to detail by management.
I particularly like the Sarbast Unfiltered. It is a pilsner-style, lighter beer and the unfiltered aspect gives it a richer taste. I also sampled some others and liked the Baltika Zero shandy. This is a non-alcoholic fruity beer that is also light and has a subtle sweetness. Sarbast translates from Uzbek to “free” in English.
I had a really nice autumn Saturday! As I am getting older, I appreciate the smaller things in life and my highlight was cooking breakfast for my son Oliver. I made my specialty, bacon and eggs. He has a soccer tournament this weekend and GAMEDAY in the Kralovec house is always a special event. My parents used to make us a hearty breakfast on the day we had a game. I continue that tradition. Oliver’s friend Hugo slept over. It was appropriate that the USA versus Mexico World Cup Qualifying match was on ESPN and the USA won 2-0. Oliver’s team lost 1-2 in the semifinals this morning and will be playing in the third-place game tomorrow. Unfortunately, I was interviewing teacher candidates for a job fair during the game and missed it. Ocean and I did watch the girls soccer game. Tomorrow, I’ll post plenty of videos and photos of Oliver’s game. This is the final tourney of the season as there are no international tournaments this year due to COVID. We are fortunate to play interscholastic sports however within the city, which has been awesome!
I went for my first bike ride in Tashkent since I was struck by a car in June. I rode along the canals because I promised Nadia I would not ride in the city streets anymore. Did 14 kilometers up and down the canal which felt great. As you can see, winter is coming and much of the leaves have fallen. It is supposed to snow on Thursday. On my walk Thursday night with Obi, I saw that the Istiquol Palace was lit up and there was a concert or something going on inside. I love the Soviet brutalist architecture and hope city officials preserve these unusual buildings.
We had such a delightful time this weekend participating in the Samarkand Half Marathon races. Unfortunately, Ocean awoke on Sunday with a headache so she couldn’t run. Nadia and I ran the 10-kilometer race together. This was her first time in two years she ran this distance. We finished in just over 1 hour, but the important thing was she did it. There were probably 2,000 runners in the event and the race was well organized. The 10K course was a full loop with several challenging long, gradually sloping hills. The course went by the famous Registan, and other sites including ancient ruins, mausoleums and mosques.
We had quite a few teachers, students and parents from TIS running in the race. I noticed several corporate sponsors sent teams and we will definitely have more of a presence at the event next year. The temperature was actually perfect to run in and it was nice to be out of the dust cloud for a while. The medals were well-designed with the three dots representing Tamerlane’s (Timur) continents that he conquered (Africa, Asia, Europe). Samarkand was the crown jewel in Timur’s empire.
Our hotel was next to one of the mosques Timur commissioned. His Chinese wife, Bibi Khanum, was the project manager of the construction of the mosque while he was away conquering more land. Legend has it she had an affair with the architect and when Timur found out upon his return, executed the guy and decreed women needed to cover to avoid tempting men. We took some selfies with locals as they were excited to see foreigners back in Samarkand. There were large crowds, but with all of the events taking place outdoors, it was much safer from the threat of the coronavirus.
We were all surprised by the dust storm that arrived in Tashkent on Thursday evening. Usually, we get a notice through government authorities via SMS or the news organizations on Telegram. I think because it was such a rare and unusual meteorological event, we only heard about a cold front coming from Kazakhstan. As described in this Eurasia.net article, the cold air mass caused a temperature inversion. The dirt and dust particles picked up by the high winds did not settle back to the ground and instead, stayed in the atmosphere and finally settled over the city of Tashkent.
My air quality monitors were off the charts and the air filters in our home and school were working overtime. As you can see on the surface of our car, everything was covered in dust and the air remained hazy all day Friday and Saturday. We drove south to Samarkand on Saturday morning and it was not until we were 200 kilometers away, that we were out of the dust cloud. This was a rare event, but I do see air pollution being a greater concern in Tashkent and in Central Asia in general. The main causes I think are increased automobile use and construction sites due to the booming economy, the use of coal-fired power plants and climate change causing a drier climate. I see that environmental concerns were first and foremost in President Mirziyoyev’s inauguration speech yesterday, so hopefully actions will be taken to address the problem.
We had a nice day yesterday driving to Samarkand and settling into the hotel for the 10-kilometer race. Samarkand is one of the ancient cities of the Silk Road and a popular tourist attraction in Uzbekistan. The 4-hour drive was uneventful, thankfully, and the 4-lane highway, despite being uneven in sections, made for good driving. We checked into the hotel and registered for the race, taking in the awesome Registan. There were many people in the city for the race, which is probably welcomed by tour operators here who are recovering from closed borders caused by the pandemic. I noticed French and Russian tourists here in pretty good numbers.
We had a nice dinner with TIS friends at the Palatan Hotel. My lamb and grilled vegetables were of gourmet quality. We are staying at a small hotel next to the BibiKhanum Mosque. Although Samarkand escaped the dust storm, it did not escape the cold front with a temperature of -1C as I write this at 7:00 AM. It will get up to 3C by race time…
We are on Fall Break this week and I took the weekend finish some school projects and catchup with email. We had a really nice final week of school before the vacation. Oliver scored his first goal on Tuesday against Westminster International School in Tashkent as you can see in the video above. He always gives a full effort and listens to the coaches and is earning more playing time. Oliver also grew this autumn and has thinned out, losing his baby fat. Being on the soccer team helps and their team is now 2-1 on the season.
We drag Ocean to cross country running training as often as possible. She prefers to stay home and play video games and do art instead of sports. She is such a gifted athlete, I hope she catches the enthusiasm to do more sports. I also guilt her into spending time with me and walk with Obi.
The autumn colors are coming out in the city. Like Europe, they are mostly yellow and orange. I miss the reds of North America and Japan. The days have been lovely with warm afternoons, bright sunshine and blue skies. It lifts one mood to be outdoors on days like these.
I had a couple of Uzbek moments in the past couple of weeks. The first was meeting Ukrainian rap star, Geegun. Nadia and I stayed at the Hilton a couple of weeks ago for a Sunday get-away and I got into the elevator. Geegun was inside with his entourage. All of them kind of looked like him, with beards, shaved heads and dressed like professional entertainers. As the elevator was going up, I heard a loud fart from one of his party. A few seconds later I heard another fart. As the elevators were opening, I turned to them and said, “thank god for the COVID mask I am wearing”. The guys burst out laughing and slapped my back and said America is the best.
Yesterday Ocean and I were relaxing in the living room when we heard the front door bell ring. Three guys showed up with a sheet that had a list of names from the neighborhood and their water bills. I asked where their uniforms were and if they were really from the water company and the guy went into his car and got his water company jacket. After some more discussion, I eventually paid the bill via PayMe, a digital payment system that one can use on their phone. Utilities have a long way to go here as they do not check the water meter but somehow come up with amounts. I imagine they are losing a lot of money and the actual water usage in Tashkent is much higher than we they charge. In a desert country, this will eventually have to change. It is just there is a lack of rule-of-law Uzbekistan in many ways and things such paying taxes and utilities have no transparent process. I think they will eventually get there but it will take time.
Finally, Nadia and I had a special evening at the German Ambassador’s Residence last week. He invited a small group of people who helped with his transition to Tashkent. Ambassador Klinner and his lovely wife Lyubow were gracious hosts. The residence was fabulous, a historic mansion in the north part of the city. Lyubow has excellent taste and the home is spectacular. I felt like we were dining at the White House. The seven-course dinner was quite the experience.
I took Ocean to a reception at the Radisson Blu Hotel for Czech Statehood Day (September 28). The date also marks the feast day of the legendary Bohemian king, Wenceslas. It was hosted by the Czech Embassy here in Tashkent and I receive a lot of invitations to go to these events. The Kralovec family is descended from Bohemian ancestors and my great-grandfather immigrated to America in 1888. It was nice to learn some Czech history, meet some people and most importantly, spend time with my lovely daughter.
After the reception, we took Obi for a walk in a nearby park near the Tashkent Tower. September evenings are perfect in Tashkent. The park straddles the canal and has a beautiful dome structure to commemorate the victims from World War II. Ocean is so funny and a sweet girl and it was nice to spend the evening with her.