Tashkent Journal: July 25, 2020

The Tashkent TV Tower and Museum of Victims of Repressions

I am finding solace in my morning bike rides. A couple of days ago are rode along the Anhor Canal to the park hosting the Museum of Victims of Repressions. There were a few people swimming in the canal, they would hop in and let the current take them down for a while before they got out. The scene looked cool with the TV tower in the background. I am so tempted to swim in the canal!

People are lining up outside of private clinics around the city to get Covid-19 tests. There is a spike in cases here in Tashkent. This particular clinic, Shox International Clinic, does not do Covid-19 testing, but a friend told me patients are lining up for lung scans. I am not sure if this is true. They did not look sick.

It is so strange to be living in this global pandemic. Above is the scene at the airport. All of the passengers arriving from Germany were shuttled off to hotels to be tested and do their quarantine. No one was allowed to leave the airport on their own to their homes. The tourist police and officials in hazard suits were ushering people onto about 10 large buses. They did allow people waiting in the airport garden talk to passengers before they boarded the bus.

A couple of nights ago we had a strong winds. A tree along the street in front of our school fell and thankfully where were no cars coming by at the time. I reminds me to check all of the trees near the entrance to see if they are safe and not rotting inside and are dangerous.

Although Tashkent is a big city (approximately 3 million people), it is still a country town in many ways. You can easily escape the city into agricultural fields. This road is just a few kilometers outside of the city limits east of the city. This road runs along the backside of the old Taskent-Vostochny airfield, which currently serves military, cargo, and experimental aviation. There are plans to renovate, expand and turn it into a second international airport. I see they are constructing the main terminal and have expanded the highway that runs in front of it. I see this area behind the airport becoming more developed in the future.

There are many mosques scattered throughout the city. I found this one this morning on the ride back from the Chichiq River. It is the Hudaybiyyah mosque, named after a treaty that united the cities of Mecca and Medina during Muhammad’s time. It serves the “Birlashgan” mahalla and is a bit different architectural style than other mosques I see. It kind of looks Turkish.

Family Journal: Independence Palace and Tennis – July 17, 2020

I stopped at the Istiqlol Palace yesterday on my bike ride. “Istiqlol” means independence in Uzbek and the building was renamed in 2008 through an initiative by the Uzbek government to change Soviet names of buildings, streets and metro stations throughout the country. It is a glorious example of Soviet architecture and is part of a large urban park structure in Tashkent.

The backside is part of Navoi National Park, a large garden/park area

Evgeny Rozanov one of the important architects of the Soviet Union, designed the building that was completed in 1981. It was originally called the Palace of Friendship of Peoples and is was a combination theatre and convention center. The massive (130,000 sq.ft -12,000 sq.m) complex has a 4,000-seat theatre which is still used today. It was the main concert and event venue during the Uzbek SSR time. Rozanov was modeled the facade on the desert fortresses of Khorezm. Concerts and events are still held at the palace but I have not been to one yet. I would love to go inside someday. In front is a large plaza with a massive Uzbek flag where many people come for photos. Behind the palace, trails lead to the Navoi National Park, an urban garden/park near the center of Tashkent.

Navoi National Park or Milly Bog (Garden Park)

The other form of exercise I’ve been doing is playing tennis at the Olympic Tennis Club. We usually play at the NBU Stadium courts but they are closed during the quarantine. Thankfully Olympic has remained opened. Tennis is a good sport to physically distance because it is outside and non-contact. We have a trainer to refine our games and Igor has helped our backhands tremendously. I’m trying to develop a slice backhand that can actually win points for me. For now, my backhand is a placeholder that just gets the ball over, or if I am lucky and hit is wrong, careens off my racquet at a funny angle, throwing my opponent’s balance off. My oldest son Owen had many lessons as an elementary student growing up in Serbia. I am trying to get my middle son, Oliver, to refine his game so he will be a good partner after Owen leaves for college next year.

Ollie, Owen and Igor

Family Journal: Summer in Tashkent – July 13, 2020

The restriction on cars in the city has made my morning bike ride more enjoyable than ever. Before 7:00 AM, I practically have the streets to myself. I usually get out around 6:00 AM after tidying up the kitchen and living room. My routes are usually a loop and are about 40 kilometers (25 miles) and it takes about 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, with stops. The best way to get to know a city is on foot or bicycle and I am certainly doing that this summer, especially with the lockdown preventing us from getting out into the countryside.

I often listen to podcasts while riding. It is only through one earphone so I can still hear traffic and ride safely. Cycling gives me time to think and I usually get some insight into something so I will try to note some of the best podcasts if I have time. Today I listened to Terry Gross interviewing of actor Mathew Rys about his role in HBO’s Perry Mason remake. He is Welsh and said an interesting comment about doing American accents. When he was playing opposite Tom Hanks in the Mr. Rodgers movie, he was less nervous because he was thinking about the American accent he had to do and the sound of it. I also get this, not with doing an American accent, but as someone who grew up with a stutter, I did not have the stutter when I spoke Spanish or sang. It is the same concept of being out of one’s normal self. Today when I have to make big speeches, I take solace in the microphone and the amplification of my voice. It soothes me and puts me out of myself and allows the fluency to come through. Stuttering is a fascinating neurological disorder and sheds some light on how are brain functions. I also got a phrase for British and Aussie speakers to try to say in an American accent, “a world of murderers”. The American “r” is tough enough, but three of them in that short phrase must be difficult to master. It also makes me want to watch the series, The Americans, that Rys starred in. 75 episodes is quite a commitment, however.

Hazrat Ali Mosque with “nan” Salesperson in the foreground

I always see interesting sites on my ride. Above is a photo of the Hazrat Ali Mosque, one of many mosques in the city. Ali was the cousin of Muhammed and the fourth caliph (over 1,300 years ago) and is an important figure in both Shia and Sunni Islam.

Milliy (National) Stadium

The neighborhood around the National Stadium is surprisingly nice, with many large trees, good roads and some modern buildings. The 34,000-seat stadium is home to one of the top Uzbek professional teams, Bunyodkor and many of the national team games. The sails surrounding the stadium are an inexpensive manner of giving it a distinctive touch.

The international airport remains eerily quiet, with the manicured park areas growing a bit long in the tooth. It reminded me of those post apocalypse movies and the remains of a once technologically advanced society becoming a distant memory. This is the longest I’ve not traveled internationally in a long time. It is good for the environment, but I miss experiencing new cultures and environments.

Nadia made Santa Cruz-style, Bolivian cheese empanadas yesterday. The deep-fried dough, filled with mostly air and a bit of white cheese and onion, sprinkled with powered sugar are divine! The Crucenos enjoy them as a late afternoon snack with tea.

My daughter devours the Santa Cruz Delicacies

Family Journal: Mahallas and Scenes of Tashkent

There are 480 official mahallas in Tashkent according to this Google Map.

Mahallas are neighborhood associations that handle much of the local government functions here in Uzbekistan. The word mahalla is Arabic in origin and comes from the verb “halla” to un-tie as in a camel or horse pack and set up camp. Many Middle Eastern countries use mahallas as official governmental bodies and the Ottoman Turks spread the concept to the Balkans and Central Asia. The Soviets used the mahallas to monitor and control Uzbeks. Since independence, the Uzbek government has nationalized these institutions.

I live in the Mirabad district of the city. I like the suburb because it is close to TIS so we have a 5-10 minute walk to school. It is not the richest district, as most of the embassies and more expensive housing is in the Mirzo Ulugbek district and in the city center. For now, Tashkent is small enough to get around quite easily and everything is within roughly 20-minute drive. The metropolitan area is around 3 million people and growing. It is approximately the size of Minneapolis/St. Paul or Sacramento or Tampa/St. Petersburg.

The name of our mahalla is Yangi Zamon or New Era. I don’t know the origin of the name but I’ll ask around. We live next to a community center that occasionally holds meetings and events but it is pretty dilapidated. We do not do much with the neighborhood, but during the quarantine, we did get help from neighborhood leaders and the police. We have a basketball court outside our house that we allow kids from the neighborhood to play on, so we are well-liked in the mahalla. There are 480 mahallas in total on the most accurate map I could find. Some of the mahallas have entrance signs, but our mahalla does not.

I had a nice week balancing work and spending time with my family. I am not having much of a summer vacation this year due to Covid-19.

Ocean poses over one of the many canals in Tashkent

I took Oliver and Ocean for a walk on the Ankhor Canal. The Russians built the 23.5 kilometer long irrigation canal that today, provides a pleasant exercise path. Once our new puppy gets his vaccinations, we hope to take it for many walks there.

I love the Soviet art/cultural part of the socialist apartment blocks that are ubiquitous in the city. This one is celebrating the Russian space program combined with Uzbek traditional mosiac art. The Kosmonaut is encircled by the constellations of the Zodiac.

To wrap up this post, I took a photograph of the Ministry of Health. They have been quite busy and do a pretty good job of controlling the pandemic. The government listens to health officials and with strict enforcement, people are wearing masks, businesses are putting in plastic protectors, checking temperatures, etc.

Ministry of Health

Karakiya Gorge Hike

The Kralovec and Doel families at the first waterfall.

Nadia, Ocean, Oliver and I went on a guided hike with the famous Boris yesterday through the Karakiya Gorge to visit the scenic waterfalls. We met Boris and some other hikers near the “hump-backed” bridge outside of Gazalkent. We drove into the foothills of the Ugam range to the nearby village Saylyk. The 100-kilometer long Ugam mountain chain forms the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and has peaks up to 4000 meters. We didn’t go to the top peaks, but climbed almost 600 meters in elevation and did a loop of just over 13 kilometers.

The scents of the ubiquitous Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) covered the aroma of livestock manure on our hike.

Outside of the village, the road turns into a trail. The dry foothills reminded me of the canyon country of Los Angeles. We parked the cars, made our final preparations and started walking up the trail into the gorge. The weather was perfect, with blue skies, a cool breeze and the late June flowers of wild sage, hollyhock and tansy brought color and scents to the hike.

We eventually got into the rocky gorge and we ran into several groups of picknickers and university students also enjoying the waterfalls. There are a series of waterfalls and we visited four of them. We had to climb up steep rock walls on a few occasions, but that just increased the adventure for Oliver and Ocean. After lunch, we made it out of the gorge and looped back around on the mountainsides overlooking the narrow canyon. We dropped back down to go swimming at the last waterfall. I took the plunge of a rock ledge into the cold, mountain Karakiya stream. It was very refreshing on a warm, dusty hike. My Eddie Bauer hiking chino pants were perfect; protection from thorny bushes but easy to dry while going through the stream. I highly recommend them!

Oliver at the top of the second waterfall

The views of the Ugam mountains are spectacular and bring me much solace and joy. I would like to go back to climb some of the nearby peaks and during the week, it would be a really nice place to camp. My usual complaint about Uzbekistan wilderness areas is too much grazing of livestock, but in a poor country, that is how people make a living. Thanks to Boris and Vladimir for leading the hike. I would also like to thank my wife and Oliver and Ocean for going on the hike. It was their Father’s Day gift to me. Oliver and Ocean profess not to like hiking, but they always seem to have a good time and they are strong walkers. It was a special day for me!

With my angel on our Father’s Day hike!

Partial Solar Eclipse

My family and I watched the partial solar eclipse yesterday in Tashkent. We watched several videos and talked about what was happening. Ocean and I agreed to meet in Osaka in 2034 for a predicted full solar eclipse. We made a simple pinhole (two pieces of paper) to see the eclipse and I magnified and brightened the images as you can see in the gallery above. I couldn’t tell with my naked eye that we were having an eclipse. We also talked about the summer solstice, so it was a full morning of astronomy for the family.

Cycling the Charvak Reservoir

There are many trails to explore in the Tian Shan Mountains.

Saturday I escaped the city and rode my bicycle around the Charvak Reservoir in the Tian Shan mountains. The reservoir is 46 miles (74 kilometers) from my house in Tashkent. This was my first time riding up there. I rode from my car near the dam to a bride on the far side of the reservoir. The next time I go up, I will ride around the entire lake. It is still green with patches of snow in the higher elevations which made for picturesque views.

The dam is on the far left and the flooded valley of the Chichiq River is to the right.

The road is mostly asphalt with some gravel sections. There was not a lot of traffic early, but picked up a bit later, especially around the resort areas. The photo above shows the view from near my starting point.

Panaromic View

The photo above was taken from a ridge overlooking the village of Burchmulla. I rode from the top of the ridge to the bridge you can see at the far end of the river. I fixed the tire of my gravel bike and can’t wait to get up there again!

Last night Nadia, Ocean and I bought supplies for the puppy we will be getting next week. I’ll be blogging more about our new pet ownership trials and tribulations. I noticed that some cafes and restaurants are starting to open and there were lots of people out and about.

The Case Against Sugar

To calm my mind before bed, I recently read “The Case Against Sugar” by in Gary Taubes.

In the past few years, the dangers of dietary fat have begun to look as though they were overstated, and the risks of sugar underplayed. Among the leading advocates for this reappraisal is Gary Taubes, an investigative journalist who has been reporting on nutrition since the late 1990s. His third book on the topic of diet and health, The Case Against Sugar, is a prosecutor’s brief, much like Yudkin’s own, but fleshed out with four decades’ worth of extra science and a deeper look at both the history of that science and the commercial, economic, and political forces that helped shape it.

The Atlantic, January/February 2017 “The Sugar Wars”

In my opinion I think he laid out a pretty good case against sugar. We all notice how much larger (fatter) people are today than a generation ago. What has changed? Taubes argues it is not just a question of eating more and exercising less, but also the vastly increased amounts of sugar and corn syrup that are in the modern, Western diet. He gives the history of medicine regarding sugar in our diets, the influence of the sugar industry lobbyists and how popular media and thinking has shaped our society’s view towards sugar.

This book makes a different argument: that sugars like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup are fundamental causes of diabetes and obesity, using the same simple concept of causality that we employ when we say smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer.

Taubes, Gary “The Case Against Sugar”

After reading the book, I have to mostly agree with him. Sugar really has no place in our diet and should only be an occasional treat. I find it hard to escape sugar as it is used in many products, especially processed products like peanut butter, bottled tomato sauces, etc. If you want to lose weight and increase your chances of avoiding heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. it would be in your best interest to eat less sugar. My adopted mother died of diabetes and it is an insidious disease. Unfortunately, diabetes runs in her family, as she was quite active and thin, but it is a family curse and many of her relatives develop it quite early in their lives. In the advanced stages, it cuts circulation to the legs, lessens vision and eventually causes organ damage to the kidneys that leads to death. Below are some other facts I learned.

  • The origin of the word diabetes comes from Greek meaning “siphon”. If left untreated, people have an unquenchable thirst and must constantly be drinking liquids, hence the name.
  • 12-14% of Americans have diabetes and another 30% are predicted to get it at some point in their lives.
  • I didn’t know that much of our sugar comes from sugar beets. I thought it was only sugar cane. Sugar cane originated in Papua New Guinea. French naturalist and banker named Benjamin Delessert discovered a method to refine sugar from beets in 1811.
  • Nutrition is taught without much history.
  • The average American consumes
  • “okay” is the most recognizable word on earth; second is “coca-cola”
  • 12.5 million slaves were transported to the New World to work on sugar plantations
  • Many of the chocolate bars we know today were first created and mass produced from 1886 – 1930. Snickers (1930) / Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (1900) / Toblerone (1908) / 3 Musketeers (1932)
  • Breakfast cereals also contribute to sugar consumption Frosted Flakes (1952) / Cocoa Puffs (1956)
  • Dietary fat is more demonized than dietary sugar and Taubes think it should be the opposite.
  • All of the sugar I consumed as a child from breakfast cereal to Kool-Aid caused a lot of my dental problems today.
  • “We now eat in two weeks the amount of sugar our ancestors of 200 years ago eat in a whole year” U of London John Yudkin (1963)
  • An apple has a teaspoon of sugar compared to almost 10 teaspoons in a Coca-Cola.
  • Sugar from carbohydrates (potatoes, example) is released slower and gentler than eating a mass of concentrated sugar
  • Americans consume between 42 and 75 pounds of sugar per year. (ouch)
  • blood sugar – Glucose circulating in our blood
  • sucrose – composed of equal (50-50) parts glucose and sucrose
  • fructose – found naturally in fruits and honey, the sweetest of all sugars
  • HFCS high-fructose corn syrup most common type is 55% fructose and 45% glucose

Covid-19 Journal #14 June 6, 2020

Donkey Pulling Wagon of Hay (north of Tashkent, June 6, 2020)

My mother used to tell me stories about her family owning a cow in the small town of Caspian, Michigan where I grew up. In the 1940s, many families owned cows. My mother laughed at the memories of negotiating with her siblings who would have to fetch the cow from the “cow pasture”, a big grassy hill overlooking the town. In Tashkent, some families still own livestock and on my long bike rides around the city in the morning, I usually run into several cows, goats and sheep. Today I saw several trucks and buggies with hay as well. Even in a modern city of close to 3 million people, the village is never far away.

Grounds of the Museum of Political Repression

The photo above is of the park of the Museum of Victims of Political Repression in Tashkent. The large complex is on beautiful urban park land along the canal and across the highway from the Tashkent TV Tower. The museum remembers victims of Soviet repression, from the time of Stalin to independence. I should go visit the museum. I appreciate the wide streets, the secularization and architecture the Soviets left, but many Uzbeks probably suffered under the regime.

A classic Soviet-era apartment building

I love getting out in the mornings before traffic starts to explore the city. The sun is rising around 5:00 AM and it is relatively cool at that time of day to cycle. I always find new streets and mahallas. Exploring a city by foot or bicycle is the only way to truly to get to know a place.

One of the many interesting pathways in Tashkent