Family Journal: Lunar New Year Ski Trip (Jan 23-24, 2023)

Dad and Ocean at the Top

We headed up to our favorite place in Uzbekistan, the Amirsoy Ski Resort to get away for a couple of days. It was the ideal time due to our school having the Lunar New Year off, and the rest of Uzbekistan was working. We stayed in the chalets at the resort and spent Monday and Tuesday skiing (Bill, Oliver, Ocean) and Nadia and Obi hung out at the chalets. It was the perfect break from the city and school and I feel refreshed and ready to go until the Navruz Break in March.

Oliver and Davron after the Russian Banya

I love spending time with the kids outdoors and Nadia enjoys the atmosphere in and around the chalets. There were blue skies and plenty of snow and fresh temperatures. There was hardly anyone on the slopes so it was great skiing with no wait times for the chairlift or gondola. Oliver has surpassed me and spent much of the time with his much faster friends. Ocean is still skiing at my speed and so we did spend the second day together.

A highlight was going to the Red Rock Hammam and Spa. I feel like a new man after the heat of a Russian sauna and ice bath. Oliver was a bit tentative, but he ended up having a relaxing time and is now a fan. It was the perfect end to a cold, hard day of skiing. Thanks to my friend Phillip for inviting us and to the spa master, Davron, for his treatments and patience. I highly recommend doing the spa!

Nadia cooked some delicious meals and the Uzbek “kasha” (porridge) in the mornings set us up for good days of skiing.

Oliver Looking Cool

Family Journal: January 20, 2023

Oliver studying DP Economics

The story of January has been the historic cold temperatures I blogged about last week. The extreme cold temperatures have lessened and Tashkent is slowly coming back to normal winter conditions. It actually got above freezing for a couple of hours in the late afternoon one of the days this week, but temperatures continue to be between -10 to -13 in the evenings and -2 to -3 in the daytime. Next week, temperatures will continue to have lows of -11 to -9 with highs of 0C to 1C. Next Saturday, cloud cover will come to Tashkent and temperatures will move to 4C. I think I am getting old, I am really interested in the weather! We all become our parents! I remember that was the first thing my Dad every morning, look outside the windows in the front and back of the house to check the thermometer posted on the garage and on our front porch. The weather report was mandatory listening on WIKB radio station in Iron River, Michigan. I wonder what he would do today with the weather app on a mobile phone. 🙂 I miss him!

Gutters are frozen solid, causing water to fall from roofs

The snow and ice are staying put until we get some sustained above-freezing temperatures. The gutters at our home are frozen solid and water is dripping down from the roof in the afternoons and freezing. I took the photo above on our back patio. You can also see the sunrise from the front of our house. Sunrise this week is at 7:42 AM so we are getting slowly closer to being able for me to wake up in sunlight. The darkness of winter can be a bit depressing. Tashkent is mostly sunny and with the trees and roads covered with snow and ice, it is better than the usual browns of a Mediterranean climate winter.

Sunrise View from the front bedrooms

The low gas pressure and intermittent electricity levels around the city have brought our family and the school community closer together. Earlier this week we needed to go to the school gym to take “warmish” showers and Oliver and Ocean have been with Nadia and me downstairs in one of the few warmer rooms in the house. We actually got to see Oliver study with his girlfriend. I call it the “studious girlfriend effect” when teenage boys are dating, the girlfriend is usually more mature and focused on academics and the boy follows suit. If she was not over at the house the other night, Oliver would have been in the basement playing FIFA Soccer or the Elden Ring video games.

I love the change of seasons and taking advantage of what each season has to offer. We have a Lunar New Year holiday 4-day weekend and are heading up to the mountains. I watched Peacock’s coverage of the FIS Mens’ Downhill Race from Austria.

FIS Downhill World Championship Coverage on Peacock

Latest Reading: “Victim Without A Face” by Stefan Ahnhem

I enjoy reading crime/thriller novels. Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, I often count the victims or go through the plot or case in a crime novel to calm my mind and drift off to sleep. The new school librarian recommended Swedish crime writer, Stefan Ahnhem and I read the first book of his Fabian Risk series. He is compared to the more famous Scandanavian author, Jo Nesbo.

The basic plot is a serial killer is murdering an entire graduating class of a secondary school in Helsingborg, Sweden about 20 years after they have left school. He is a Hanibal Lector-type villain, arranging intricate methods to slowly kill them. The deaths of the classmate relate to their characteristics from school, for example, one victim had her tongue ripped out because she was known to have a sharp tongue in school. The plot is obviously unrealistic, but it was a page-turner with lots of action. I also liked the detective Fabian Risk. He is one of the stereotypical detectives in fiction, battling family trouble while being a maverick with his investigation methods, always skirting traditional protocols.

Our family spent a week in Helsingborg, Sweden visiting friends 10 years ago (how time flies!) so I could picture the places in the novel. I love the outdoor scenery of Scandanavia as it reminds me of my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It differs in the infrastructure however, with a socialist-democratic government putting more money into public areas (parks, roads, etc.) than in the USA.

My son Oliver on the Kullaberg Peninsula (Helsingborg Sweden – 2013)

The book is not life-changing but it is a good airplane or easy read to unwind. I might check out a later book in the series to follow the development of the detective, Fabian Risk.

Owen, Ocean and Oliver with Oscar & Emma – 2013

Family Journal: January 15, 2023 “Siberia”

The city infrastructure of Tashkent is struggling with this extremely cold weather. Due to the low temperatures, people are using lots of gas and electricity to heat their homes and apartments. The stress on the infrastructure is causing city officials and companies to ration natural gas and electricity use. On my walks and drives around the city, I noticed about half of the city street lights were functioning. Many of the stoplights were also not working. Luckily, there is not much traffic in the city, partly because of the icy road conditions and lack of sales of natural gas to filling stations. Many cars in Uzbekistan use natural gas instead of gasoline because it is cheaper.

In our house, we have about 80% electricity. One of the three input lines is out and that has caused 2 of our air conditioning/heating units to stop working. We also have low gas pressure but we can still cook and take warm showers.

Uzhydromet, the National Weather Service of Uzbekistan, published some historical weather data. A temperature of -19.9 C was officially recorded yesterday, January 13 in the morning. This is the coldest temperature recorded in the past 50 years, topping the 2007-2008 winter low of -17.4 C. The coldest-ever temperature recorded in Tashkent was -29.5 C in 1930 but I would question the accuracy of that measurement from so long ago.

Lots of Traffic Accidents on the Icy Roads in Tashkent

Regarding snow cover, the maximum amount of snow Tashkent received is 54 cm in that terrible winter of 1969. So far this year, Tashkent received 26 cm. For comparison, Marquette, Michigan, home of Northern Michigan University averages 400 cm per winter.

The cold air mass is slowly moving east and is being pushed out by another, slightly warmer air mass coming from the Caspian Sea region. Temperatures will still be below zero C, but not the bitter cold we are experiencing. I think tomorrow is the last day of the severe cold! This cold air mass came from the northwest of far northern Russia and settled into Central Asia. My colleagues in Kyrgystan and Azerbaijan are also experiencing cold temperatures at their schools.

My Morning View at Gate Duty – January 12, 2023

I was hoping to make the news in the photo below of the waiting area for arrivals INSIDE the terminal at the airport. I went to the airport on Saturday morning to collect a teacher and take him to his hotel. Airports in Central Asia make people wait outside the terminal, but because it was so cold, airport officials cordoned off a small section of the terminal to allow people to wait in the warmth of the building. When I was there early Saturday, it was not as crowded as below, but it may be an area to catch a cold and/or flu.

It was also a sad day today as we said goodbye to Owen. He boarded a flight to Istanbul this afternoon and is heading back to university. We will next see him in May, hopefully, when he is done with the semester.

Checking-in Tashkent International Airport

Family Journal: January 10, 2023 “Snowstorm!”

Snowstorm Vignettes

It was quite exciting yesterday due to the arrival of the much-hyped snowstorm and extreme cold temperatures. The rain started Monday evening and it turned to snow in the early morning hours. It continued to snow all day long, finally stopping around 5:00 PM on Tuesday. I measured in my front yard 16.5 centimeters, which is almost 7 inches of snow. That is a lot for Tashkent and the city does not have the plows and quantities of salt or sand to clear most of the roads. We had school and the students had a great time playing in the snow. The one negative was the possibility of large branches falling because of the heavy, wet snow. We safety-taped off areas under the trees to avoid any possible accidents. Two large branches fell during the day with no one being injured. This is the most snow I’ve experienced in my 3 and 1/2 years of living here.

This morning it was -17C which is a bit warmer than the predictions of -21. The weather app on my iPhone is showing lows below -20 all week through Sunday. A concern for officials is the natural gas shortages. I hope our neighborhood and part of the city can maintain electricity service through the many cold days. We canceled school today due to icy roads and we are evaluating how the city is clearing roads and what the traffic patterns are like. Many high school students wanted the snow day, my kids included.

School Park

Whenever we get snow, it reminds me of my childhood and growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I love the white snow and ice-covered roads, the thick snow in the trees and the quiet blanket the snow gives to everything. I loved walking my dog last night and watching people pulling sleighs. Snow brings out the kid in everyone!

Family Journal: January 7, 2023

Dad and Owen at the Olympic Tennis School

The Winter Break is coming to a close. Thursday was a beautiful, sunny day in the 50s that felt almost like a spring day! There is an extreme cold front expected to arrive next Tuesday so it was like a gift from the weather gods and a fleeting reprieve from the winter. We took advantage of the warm weather and played tennis at the Olympic Tennis School. As my readers know, we love tennis and it was pure bliss to be on the courts again with my wife and son. Owen defeated me 6-4 and then he and Nadia hit the ball around a bit. We later went for a late lunch at Breadly Cafe and I got my bike tire rim repaired. I noticed the school is renovating the indoor courts and I later learned that they are hosting a Davis Cup tie between Uzbekistan and the USA on February 3-4. I need to get tickets for one of the two days. The singles matches and first doubles will be on Friday, February 3, and then the reverse singles on Saturday, February 4.

Walking Obi along the canal in my neighborhood

Friday it rained the entire day and I spent most of it planning for the upcoming cold front that will be arriving on Tuesday. The Uzbek government is extending the Winter Break for local schools to limit the spread of colds and flu. There are also natural gas shortages here and I also think that this may have played a role in the decision. We had a warm Saturday so I went for a bike ride. I stopped by the Ilkhom Theatre, the famous avant-garde theatre that continued to put on plays during USSR times and was a beacon of free expression throughout the Karimov years. It was mostly destroyed in a fire and they are asking for donations to rebuild the theatre.

Family Journal: January 4, 2023 – Mountains!

I guess I should be happy just to be able to still play basketball! I played Tuesday afternoon with the current and former TIS Owls players and survived the games without injury. I still have my shooting touch, court vision, etc., but I’ve lost what little speed and quickness I used to have. One also becomes clumsy in their 50s. I went for a rebound and saw the ball coming down, but couldn’t close my arms fast enough to grab it and the ball hit me in the glasses. Earlier in my life, I would have been able to make the catch and rebound.

Amirsoy Views

It was a wonderful day on Wednesday. I drove Oliver, Owen, and 4 of their friends to the Amirsoy Resort for a day of snowboarding and skiing. 3 hours of conversation in the car with my sons and their friends were so delightful. It always gives me hope for the future of our society to speak with young people. These young men are pursuing their studies and will be starting their careers in a couple of years. I was impressed with their ambition and eloquent description of their lives.

Owen, Tanish, Ahan, Aryan, Oliver, Jeet

There was a snowstorm in the mountains on Tuesday and resort employees were dealing with the excess snow. This is the New Year holiday time here and so there were many sightseers coming to the mountain to take the gondola to the top. There are more tourists than actual skiers. Owen reported that the top runs were not well groomed so I am glad I decided not to ski yesterday.

I rented snowshoes instead ($6 per day) and went for a hike on the west side of their property. The snow in some places was 2-3 feet deep which made it difficult to move in the woods. I finally made it to the snowmobile trails and walked to the camping areas in a secluded canyon. The cold air and fresh snow were invigorating. I love the simple things in life as I get older. Spending the day in the snow and fresh mountain air is fantastic. I was thinking of the early American pioneers (thanks, Yellowstone) and how they feared the onset of winter as they traveled from Texas to Oregon. Fighting my way through the deep snow, I understood why they feared it so much. Without asphalt roads and plows, deep snow can be deadly. It also made me sympathize with those poor folks who died in the recent Buffalo snowstorm.

Latest Reading: “The Spy and the Traitor” by Ben Macintyre

Former KGB Central Office – Tashkent, Uzbekistan – January 2, 2023

Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, “proud, shrewd and irascible”. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.

The Guardian Book of the Week Review – September 19, 2018

Historian and author Ben Macintyre tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB (Комитет государственной безопасности – State Security Committee) agent who was giving MI6 Soviet secrets in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the Russian counterpart to the famous British double agent, Kim Philby. I love books about spies, partly because they are set in foreign countries and spies are usually expatriates. I also like the action and political intrigue. This is a non-fiction book about a real-life double agent and it was fascinating to learn the spycraft techniques of the MI6 and KGB during this time. The book describes details of how the agency communicates with spies, including meetings at safehouses, signals such as arriving at a busy bus stop with a Safeway bag on a Tuesday at 1:00 PM, etc. It was tense reading if Oleg was going to get caught as a “mole”.

I wonder how facial technology, the internet, drones, almost ubiquitous cameras, and other technology have changed spying. It was comforting to know that the CIA accurately predicted or knew when and what the Russians were going to do in the lead-up to their invasion of Ukraine.

The part of the book with the most insight for me was the description of the Soviet Union and the KGB. I am fascinated by the experiment of the USSR, probably growing up during the Cold War had something to do with it. I always remember the Olympics were a battle of East vs. West, Communism vs. Democracy. I also remember my middle school social studies teacher, Dave Carli, explaining the importance of the Salt II nuclear arms limitation treaty and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All this made quite an impression on me growing up. Some items I learned about the USSR and the KGB are below.

  • I never heard of the 1932 Sovietization of Kazakhstan. The Soviets expropriated food from farmers to feed Soviet armies and cities. Over 1.5 million people died in the resulting famine.
  • The KGB used the acronym “MICE” to guide them on what people to target to turn them into spies for the USSR. 1) Money 2) Ideology 3) Coercion 4) Ego. There also was the romance of it, the opportunity to live a second, hidden life.
  • “The Soviet Union was in effect an enormous prison, incarcerating more than 280 million people behind heavily guarded borders, with over a million KGB officers and informants acting as their jailers. The population was under constant surveillance, and no segment of the society was more closely watched than the KGB itself: the Seventh Directorate was responsible for internal surveillance, with some 1,500 men deployed in Moscow alone.”
  • “Gordievsky had secretly detested all that his father stood for – the blind obedience to a cruel ideology and the cowardice of the Homo Sovieticus.”

The book also had some great quotes and descriptions of espionage and intelligence gathering.

  • “Espionage attracts more than its share of the damaged, the lonely, and the plain weird. But all spies crave undetected influence, that secret compensation: the ruthless exercise of private power. A degree of intellectual snobbery is common to most, the secret sense of knowing important things unknown to the person standing next to you at the bus stop. In part, spying is an act of the imagination.”
  • “We are politicians. We are soldiers. And, above all, we are actors on a wonderful stage. I cannot think of a better business than the intelligence business.”

And as always, I would like to add these to my writing and speaking vocabulary.

  • avuncular – regarded as characteristic of an uncle, especially in benevolence or tolerance.
  • philistinism – a materialistic attitude accompanied by ignorance of artistic or cultural matters
  • unctuous – excessively ingratiating or insincerely earnest.

I took the photo above yesterday of the former KGB office here in Tashkent. It is now up for sale and developers are eying to turn it into residential apartments or a shopping mall. I toured the former KGB office in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2011.

SPOILER ALERT

Gordievsky did escape but decided to do without his family. He felt his wife was a committed Soviet citizen and would report him to officials and it would have been difficult to escape in a trunk of a car with is two young girls. They were separated for six years and it eventually led to a divorce. In my opinion, I would choose my family over ideology and although his information did help the UK/US and may have sped up the end of the Cold War a bit, the USSR was not sustainable and ended 4 years after Oleg defected. The government lost the revolutionary fervor of the Bolsheviks over the century, which I also am seeing in Cuba and in some part, China today. The leaders of revolutions get old and retire and new people come into power.

I asked ChatGPT to write a book review and this is what is came up with.

Spy and a Traitor by Ben Mcintyre is a thrilling and well-researched book that tells the true story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB colonel who became a double agent for the British during the height of the Cold War.

The book is a page-turner from start to finish, as Mcintyre weaves together the complex and dangerous world of espionage with the personal story of Gordievsky’s motivations and actions. It’s hard to believe that this story is true, but Mcintyre’s extensive research and access to primary sources makes it all the more compelling.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the portrayal of the inner workings of the KGB and the intense loyalty that was expected from its agents. It’s a testament to Gordievsky’s character that he was able to overcome this loyalty and risk his life to work against the KGB and the Soviet Union.

Overall, Spy and a Traitor is a must-read for fans of espionage and Cold War history. It’s a gripping and informative look at a little-known piece of history that has had significant consequences for the world we live in today.

Family Journal: January 2, 2023

Intercontinental Hotel

I was looking forward to the Winter Break to exercise more but on the first day of the holidays, my right calf tightened after a run in the park. Yesterday, I ran 7 kilometers in the morning and it did tighten again, but not to the extent two weeks ago. I think I’ll be able to run again. I am not sure what is causing this, although I suspect it is my inflexibility as I age. To combat this, I started Travis Eliot’s 30 for 30 Yoga. A friend recommended I try his workout and it has been so helpful for me. It is one of my top health priorities to increase my flexibility. Eliot puts us through a variety of poses and every workout has a different focus. I feel better, younger, and more flexible. Not only does it help with my body, but it also is a great stress reducer. I highly recommend yoga practices to anyone in their 50s.

Ankhor Canal Running Path

My calves tightened even more in the afternoon when I took Obi for a walk. It was a beautiful day and I took some photos of architecture in Tashkent. Since getting a dog, I walk daily and often visit different parts of the city. It is Obi’s highlight of the day and I enjoy it too.

As you can see in the photo above, the Intercontinental Hotel is opening on April 1, 2023. It joins the Hyatt and Hilton as large “luxury” hotel chains in Tashkent. The building is under construction and is located very close to the Hyatt, Wyndham and City Palace hotels a block away from Amir Temur Square.

Apartment Complex on Mustakillik Avenue (Mirzo Ulugbek District)

Merry Christmas

Kralovec Family Photo – Christmas 2022 – Tashkent, Uzbekistan

It was wonderful to have a house full of family and friends on Christmas Day. My brother and my sister-in-law are visiting from Chicago. My brother Andy came through with some nice gifts for the kids on Christmas morning. Nadia ordered us matching pajamas for the annual photo in front of the tree. I cherish the moments when our three children are together. My son Owen is visiting during his break from his university studies. They really have grown up and it is fascinating to see how they interact with each other. I hope they stay close their entire lives. 

Brothers with the Golden One

We invited friends over to celebrate Christmas Dinner with us last night. Nadia made chicken paprikash, her Bolivian Christmas corn and cheese salad, and delicious egg nog. I like listening to Christmas music because it reminds me of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in Caspian with my parents and brothers. We always had plenty of snow and it was a vibrant, small town with St. Cecilia’s Church and the Caspian Community Center as community gathering points. I also remember the Christmas parties the Heikkila family used to host at my grandparents’ house in Caspian. I miss my parents and would love to go back in time and experience Christmas again as a child.

Hanukkah Party

I felt we were creating our own memories for our family. It will be interesting to hear from the kids what they remember about the holidays.  We moved around the world and spent Christmas in other places as well during the Winter Breaks from school.

Bill and Nadia – TIS Christmas Party

In the afternoon I took Obi for a long walk in and around Milly Bog (Navoi National Park). It was a beautiful, sunny day although in the shade it was still bitter cold. Christmas is not celebrated here in Uzbekistan and it was a normal Sunday for Uzbeks. They do celebrate New Year’s and official holidays are December 31 through January 3.