Central Asia Cross Country 2022

Screen Shot from the CAFA Cross Country Championship Video

The host school, the Bishkek International School made a really nice video of the Central Asia Federation of Athletics, Arts and Activities (CAFA) Cross Country Running Championship last weekend. I captured this screenshot from the video which features both Oliver and Ocean. The four teams (U15 and U19) won 12 individual medals and 7 team medals. Below is the screen shot of Ocean’s medal ceremony.

I would like to thank BIS for hosting the event and providing such a good experience for our students! Below is the entire video which can be found on YouTube.

A Visit to the Chorsu Bazaar

The famous Chorsu Dome

Last Sunday Nadia and I went shopping in the Tashkent landmark, the Chorsu Bazaar. She needed some clothing material for a skirt her seamstress is making for her. I went along to help with the weekly grocery shopping. The Chorsu Bazaar is one of the largest markets in the city and the most famous. It is the heart of the old side of Tashkent. When the Russians captured Tashkent in 1865, they built a new section on the south side of the main canal and the north side was the old Tashkent. Chorsu is like the center of the old city. Next to the bazaar is the Kukeldash madrasa which dates back to around 1570. The next time I go I’ll check it out.

Nadia buys vegetables

Uzbek Travel has an informative historical piece on the Chorsu Bazaar. “Chorsu” means “4 waters” or confluence and it refers to the time when the city was divided into 4 dahas. Chorus was the meeting place of the leaders of the dahas. It is an appropriate name as people still gather here today to buy and sell an overwhelmingly vast array of goods, ranging from fruits and vegetables to carpets, kitchen appliances, clothes, etc.

The market is vast and easy to get lost with many buildings and outdoor areas. It is part of the fun and one of the best places in the city for people-watching. There are always interesting characters and photo opportunities abound. We found the prices cheaper than in our neighborhood Mirabad Bazaar. The iconic blue dome was built in 1980 during the Soviet era and is an homage to the great domes of the Silk Road trading markets.

Chorus Bazaar

Uzbekistan has delicious table grapes. On sale, last weekend were two popular varieties, the Kish-Mish Kora (Black Kishmish) and the Rizamat. It is funny that a country with such outstanding table grapes does not produce excellent wines. There are many varieties and they are some of the juiciest and most tasty grapes I have ever tried. The dry climate and strong sun produces tasty fruits and vegatables.

It was a delightful afternoon of soaking up the sights and sounds of the Chorsu Bazaar. I think Nadia and I will try to make a point of going more often. It makes the mundane task of weekly grocery shopping “exotic”. This is one of the benefits of living internationally is experiences like purchasing goods in a market that dates back centuries. It also struck me the differences between the Russian and Uzbek sides of the city. One feels like Eastern Europe and the other feels like Asia. If you want to get the pulse of Tashkent, this is the place.

Family Journal: October 1-2, 2022

One of my favorite aspects of Uzbek culture is the choyxona or Tea House. These are restaurants that serve more than just tea but are designed in the traditional Central Asian manner. It is tradition for men to gather to talk and eat without interference from family or other concerns in trestle beds under trees and usually near a river or lake. Today’s modern choyxona are more like restaurants but they maintain private rooms with small tables and pillows for men to dine together. Some of the local guys at school organize occasional choyxona dinners and invite foreign employees to join them. We have a lot of laughs and eat a lot of food! On Friday, we went to Choyhona 25 in the north part of Tashkent. On the menu was lamb neck which I never had. It is a slow-cooked meal that is quite hardy. Of course, it is accompanied by vodka, and the evening’s choice was Anor (pomegranate in Uzbek) Vodka, which was 10 times distilled. A higher number of distillations means a higher quality of vodka. This is what Anthony Bourdain calls in this region, East meeting West. The Russian tradition of vodka with the Central Asian Tea House.

Oliver Taking His SAT

One of the advantages of being an educator is seeing more of your children at school. On Saturday I was checking the Multi-Purpose Room for sound at the start of the SAT exam. I snapped a photo of Oliver while walking through the space. He was in deep concentration and didn’t even notice me. The school is a College Board Testing Center and we were hosting a Terry Fox Run and I was concerned about noise from the run interfering with the test. It was quiet in the room and we were able to have both events run simultaneously. Nadia and I ran 5 kilometers in the Terry Fox Run, a Canadian charity event to raise funds for cancer research. Both of our families have been touched by cancer so it felt good that the school raised $800.

Nadia and I finish the TIS Terry Fox Run

It was Ocean’s birthday on September 26 and so after I got back from Finland, we took her out to Roni Pizza with her best friend Eleanor. It was funny that when the waiter learned it was Ocean’s birthday (he checked her ID) that he brought over 3 alcoholic drink shots for Ocean, Eleanor and Oliver to consume. Never mind they are 15, 15, and 17 years old respectively. These are the moments that remind me we live in a foreign country. Ocean is such a lovely young woman and we are so proud of how she is maturing and growing.

Ocean’s Birthday Dinner

Family Journal: October 8, 2022

Ocean Running in the Cross Country U15 Finals

Ocean and Oliver left on Wednesday to run in the Central Asia Cross Country Championship 2022 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Ocean finished second in the Under-15 Girls competition and her coed relay team won the relay. Oliver, unfortunately, had an injured foot and was not able to run. I hope it will be healed in time for his soccer tournament next month. He went along with the team to support his teammates and with the possibility that he could run. I am so proud of Oliver and Ocean that they are cross-country runners. It is a good lifelong habit to have!

Nadia and I were not able to go because the school hosted our United Nations Day on Saturday. It is a huge event for the school and it went really well. I am amazed at the incredible number of different cultures we have at our school. There were over 40 nations represented in the parade on campus and the booths were amazing. I am fortunate to be working in such a rich, diverse community.

It was also special to watch international and Uzbek music legend Sevara Nazarkhan perform. We had many community groups perform and it made the atmosphere even more delightful.

Family Journal: September 10-11, 2022

Tashkent Humo vs. Astana Nomad

Nadia and I attended our first professional ice hockey game in Tashkent together. The Humo Hockey Club resumed play for the first time since the pandemic canceled the end of the 2019-2020 season. They play at the Humo Arena and it is an NHL-like experience with cheerleaders, music during breaks, Zamboni-machine, fan cam, etc. It is an excellent night out!

Humo is playing in the Kazakhstan Hockey League this year. In 2019-2020, they played in the VHL, the Superior Hockey League of Russia. The VHL is just below the top league in Russia. I guess with the war in Ukraine and the international sanctions against Russia, perhaps they chose to restart their club at a lower level. 

Humo played host to the Astana Nomads. It was an exciting game going into the third period with the Nomads leading 3-2. Humo put on a lot of pressure to find the equalizer but the Nomad goalie was stellar. Nomads scored an open net goal in the waining moments to give them the 4-2 win. It was the first homestead of the season and we hope to go to another game when they return next month. I’ll be posting updates of the league and we’ll see how the Humo do. 

We were looking to buy season tickets but they do not have that option. Single-game seats range from $5-$10 and a luxury box is about $50/person. I might rent out a luxury box for the Christmas Eve or Christmas game when my brother and his wife are visiting us. It would be a nice gift to give him! He is an avid Detroit Redwings fan. 

Nadia, Ocean, Oliver, Nicole, Tracey

We invited Oliver’s new girlfriend and her mother over for dinner on Friday night. She is a nice girl and a good influence on Oliver. 

Mosque Construction in our neighborhood

The mosque in the neighborhood behind the school is almost finished. I remember them starting it maybe a year ago and it is much larger and in the Uzbek style of mosque, white with blue tiles. 

Family Journal: Uzbek Independence Day Holiday (September 1-4, 2022)

I am catching up on posting journal entries on my blog from September.

Plenty of Flags Were Flying over the long weekend

Uzbekistan celebrated 31 years of independence on September 1 and we had a 4-day weekend to mark the occasion. We stayed in Tashkent for the break and I did a lot of exercise. I wanted to go see the fireworks on Thursday evening but there was too much traffic. My friend Mukhtor shared this video of the LED drone light show that took place downtown. Congratulations to Uzbekistan as it finds its identity after so many years as part of the Russian empire. 

Morning Cycle

On Saturday I rode with the “Geriatric Cycling Club” on a 73-kilometer loop from the Grand Mir Hotel to the outskirts of the city. We rode to the village of Chirchik and came back around to Tashkent via the new airport road. It is almost cotton harvest season in Uzbekistan and the cotton fields were white with cotton fibers. I went into the field and picked some cotton. Cotton is a big industry here in Uzbekistan and now that they are certified child-labor free, they can sell cotton and textiles to a wider market. Unfortunately, when the Soviets decided that Uzbekistan would be the cotton-producing region for the USSR, they did not take into account the dry climate. A lot of environmental damage from inefficient and overuse of water reserves in this desert climate. 

Cotton Ready to be Picked

One of our favorite stores in Tashkent is the leather and clothing store, Kanishka. Every time I go there I usually purchase something. This time I picked up a leather-covered journal I am using for my study of Russian. I like the fact that their clothes and accessories are Uzbek designed. They are also high quality and make perfect gifts for foreign family and friends. Malika Baratova describes the store perfectly, “Kanishka is one of Tashkent’s popular pioneering clothing brands. Since 2001, these locally-sourced and made accessories and garments have been catering to the self-expressions needs of fashionable youth, creatives, and those who want to support local production. Dedicated to natural and local materials such as cotton fabrics, leather, and pelts (typically sheep), their entire production cycle from raw material to finished item is completely in-house. The company employs more than 100 people in the production process, and no two items are identical. The cuts are updated once in a while, but the materials and prints change constantly – meaning you can often see the same item with two or three different looks!…One of the features that made Kanishka successful is the marriage of Uzbek and Central Asian ethnic motifs with utilitarian product forms. They also dip into rock’n’roll, popular culture, aesthetic movements like steampunk, art, and history. The nostalgia evoked by these designs is favored by both local Tashkenters and foreign guests. I always enjoy the tongue-in-cheek t-shirts sold by this brand, and the soft, light cotton is a big bonus for the local weather.Kanishka has two large stores, inspired by Socialist Modernist architecture.”

Bukhara Doors As Art Piece in Kanishka

I took some photos of men heading to Friday prayer service at the Minor Mosque. Nadia and I took Obi for a walk/run along the canal. It was close to the 13:00 prayer time and so we encountered the crowds of men coming and going into the mosque. I didn’t realize that women are not allowed to attend the mosque prayer sessions. There are always police directing traffic and controlling parking during these times. There are lots of mosques under construction in the city and from what I notice, it is necessary. The crowds of the faithful spill over to outside the mosque. 

On Sunday, we had our last game of tennis with the outgoing US Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Daniel Rosenblum. For the past three years, we’ve played many times at the Olympic Tennis School. A group of us regularly plays on weekend mornings and it is such a delightful way to start a Saturday or Sunday. All of us are pretty much at the same level (intermediate) so the games are competitive whether we play singles or doubles. Lots of laughs and exercise on the grounds of the Olympic Tennis School. Ambassador Rosenblum is a great guy and down-to-earth and our group will miss him. He will be taking up the ambassadorship in neighboring Kazakhstan later this autumn. 

Bill, Nadia, Steve, Ambassador Rosenblum

Impressions of Helsinki

Gulf of Finland – Särkinienem Puisto

I recently travelled ot Helsinki, Finland to attend the Central and Eastern European Schools Association directors meetings. It was my second time in the city, the last being 13 years ago. I have also been to Copenhagen, Denmark and Helsingborg, Sweden. Scandanavia is one of my favorite places to visit.

Finland has a special significance for me because my adopted mother was a 100% Finnish-American. Her maiden name was Heikkila which means coming from the household of “Heikki” or “Henry” the patron saint of Finland. Her mother’s maiden name was Laitinen, a common surname from eastern and central Finland. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan where her grandfather immigrated has many people of Finnish ancestry. I think the Finns came to the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes region of America because of the similar climate and topography. If it was today, I wonder if they would choose a warmer climate like Florida or Arizona. 🙂

My first impression of the city is how active and outdoors-oriented are the Finns. It puts American cities to shame. There were bike lanes all throughout the city and people were walking everywhere. There are lots of parks and well-developed public spaces. It reminded me of an advanced, better-funded, city version of Marquette. I rented a bike from Stadi Bicycle after our meetings on Friday and had time to complete the entire Helsinki Inner City Water Front loop. The ride is a beautiful mix of scenery with historic buildings, coastline, parks, apartment blocks and forests. Most American cities by contrast are designed for cars with no sidewalks or bike trails.

Clarion Hotel in Jätkäsaari

The city also excels in the “third places”. This is a concept of places for people to spend time that are not home or work. People in America spend too much time at home or work because the third places (public parks, libraries, etc.) are not developed. Taxes are extremely high in Finland but you can see your taxes at work. There were many well-maintained parks with soccer fields, beaches, and playgrounds. We toured the award winning designed Oodi (Ode in English, as is Ode to Joy) Central Library. It is an amazing 3-story building in the shape of a ship. It is modern library with recording studios, 3-D printing labs, sewing machines and poster-making machines, besides book. The central swirling staircase is an architectural gem with words suggested by the public. I chose the word höpöttäjille for our guide to translate because it had a lot of dots over the vowels. It means “people who babble”. The Finnish language, like its relative the Hungarian, is a complicated language with lots of long words. I love libraries and the amount of planning that went into this one is impressive. It was quite busy on a Saturday morning.

The Finns spoke to me in Finnish first, I guess assuming I was Finnish. Everyone spoke fluent English so no problems getting around. I noticed the women wore too much makeup, which was unexpected. I thought living in a country with not much sun, that they would have smooth skin and not need makeup. Scandanavians excel at architecture and design. We toured the International School of Helsinki and I saw the elements of light, nature, and space that makes places feel calm.

I would definitely like to live in Finland and would like to travel to the far north of the country. Lapland is on my bucket list. I love nordic skiing and I think this would get me through the long, dark winters. It would also remind me of my childhood growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Suburban Helsinki

Latest Reading: Philip Kerr’s “Prussian Blue”

I enjoy reading historical fiction and detective novels, and Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue hits both genres. Philip Kerr was a British author who died in 2018 from bladder cancer. He wrote 14 historical thrillers in the detective Bernie Gunther series. Prussian Blue was longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize, a British Literary Award for historical fiction in 2018. The novel soothed my racing mind in the evenings and allowed me to focus on the plot and characters, putting me to sleep.

The Berghof, circa 1936

The book is set in Hitler’s Bavarian Alps retreat, Berghof. It is 1939, months before Germany invades Poland and a murder occurs on the veranda of the Berghof. Bernie Gunther is a Berlin detective that is sent there to solve the crime before Hitler’s 50th birthday party, which is scheduled to take place at the Berghof in a couple of weeks. There are a lot of villainous, greedy Nazis leaders doing unsavory things in and around the retreat. Gunther is an outsider, but a respected detective. Kerr either did a lot of research and/or lived in Germany because as a reader, I felt I was following the story from German eyes. Kerr has attention to detail and one of the highlights for me was learning the mistrust Hitler and his party had for Germans from Berlin. Hitler’s henchman and his base of operations were mostly in Bavaria. It would have been fascinating if the place was kept as a museum, but in some ways, it is good that it was destroyed. I love this photo of American troops celebrating in the ruins of the Berghof. So many lost lives, both German and American were planned in Berghof.

The 7th Infantry Regiment attached to the 3rd Infantry Division drink Hitler’s wine on the patio of the Berghof, below the Eagle’s Nest. 
Public Domain

The book jumps between the murder investigation in 1939, the height of the National Socialist Party’s power in Germany, and 1956 when Bernie Gunther is being harassed by the East German Secret Police, the Stasi. The stories in both times have much action, murder, chase scenes, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Prussian Blue.

Latest Reading: Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive An American Wildfire

As some of you who read my blog or know me personally have heard my concerns about climate change. This is a slow-motion disaster occurring over several generations. It frustrates me that the evidence is quite clear that humanity will be living in a diminished world in the near future, and we are doing nothing to prevent it. It was through this lens that I read journalist Lizzie Johnson’s “Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire.” Drought is more frequent, especially in the American West and I wanted to get a better understanding of the most destructive wildfire in US history that took place in November of 2018. The fire completely destroyed several towns in Butte County, 150 miles northeast of San Francisco. Over 80 people died in the fire and it was the most expensive home and building damage in history.

A downed electrical wire was the cause of the fire. It made me angry that the Pacific Gas and Electric Company was so negligent and incompetent in the maintenance of the grid. PG&E services over 5 million homes in northern California and takes in immense profits. They should have paid their investors and administration less and put more into safety. The greed and carelessness are gross.

PG&E’s incompetence and avarice were not the only cause of the fire. Another cause that really irks me is the tendency for people to move out of towns and build homes on some forested acreage. The concept is called “Wildland-Urban Interface,” where people want to move out of town for privacy and quiet. They build homes on 1-10 acre forested plots. This creates a fire risk and also breaks up wilderness areas. I wish people would stay in town instead of many choosing privacy. In my opinion, people are better off being close to neighbors and having more community interaction instead of being in their homes or on their decks in isolation. Well-being comes from interaction with others, and the solitude of nature can be found daily in many of these areas through hiking, kayaking, camping, etc., instead of many people having their little piece of wilderness. I hope municipalities of the future see this trend and put a stop to it through thoughtful zoning laws. The other causes are, of course, drought and mismanagement of forests and fire. Controlled burning should be implemented to mimic natural conditions to reduce fuel for big fires.

Johnson does incredible reporting! She lived with families from Paradise for 2 years and collected all of their stories. The book reads like an action movie, and the reader feels like they are trying to evacuate or escape the fire. It also highlights the uncertainty and misinformation that occurs in emergencies. For example, the police were stopping all traffic coming entering the highway leading out of Paradise, backing up traffic all the way into the fire zone due to not knowing where the fire danger actually was. I would like to read more about the Australian government’s strategy of advising people to stay put instead of evacuating wildfires in the Wildland-Urban Interface. Many people who stayed in the fire zone survived through finding shelter away from trees. For example, a big parking lot surrounding a WalMart. Wildfire passes quite quickly and sometimes it is better to stay in place, rather than get trapped in cars on narrow, tree-lined streets.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Black Rocks – Lake Superior

The Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan is the northern and more elevated landmass of the two major landmasses that make up the state of Michigan. The UP is larger than Switzerland and larger than 9 US states. I love the Upper Peninsula because it is a land of forests, water, snow, and few people. There is 2,700 km of Great Lakes shoreline (Great Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron), 43,000 inland lakes, and 19,000 km of streams and rivers. 84% of the peninsula is boreal forest with 8.8 million acres of wilderness. Much of the peninsula is located in the “snow belt” due to westerly winds picking up moisture from Lake Superior and dumping 2-3 meters of snow annually. With only just over 300,000 residents, it is quiet and remote from urban centers. The closest cities by driving distance are Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit, all over 6 hour-drives, depending on where you start in the UP.

How I became a Yooper (phonetic UP-er) was a bit serendiptious. My birth mother before I was born, spent time in the Air Force and was stationed at the Kinross Airforce Base. When she had an out-of-wedlock pregnancy as a young nurse in Pennsylvania, she returned to Sault Ste. Marie, the Chippewa County seat near the base to give birth to me and put me up for adoption in secret from her family and friends. I was adopted by a family from the western side of Upper Peninsula, Iron River, through Catholic Social Services in 1967. I was twelve days old when my adopted parents picked me up from a foster home in Trout Lake, Michigan. As a parent, I know how painful this was for my birth mother, but I understand her predicament. I’ll cover this whole story in my memoirs someday, but for the sake of this blog post, I am glad she had ties to the UP and I grew up in this distinct region of the USA. The four western counties of the UP that border on Wisconsin are in the Central Time Zone while the rest of the peninsula and the state are in the Eastern time zone. The Upper Peninsula became part of Michigan thanks to President Andrew Jackson. He offered the UP to Michigan to stop the war with Ohio and the claims to the Toledo Strip, a piece of land south of Detroit. I think Michigan won the deal by gaining such a big piece of wilderness to add to their state. I’ve been to Toledo and northern Ohio, and it is nothing special.

Ottawa Lake – Iron County

The UP reminds me of Winterfell and the North in HBO television series, Game of Thrones. The long, harsh winters forge an identify on the people and landscapes of the region. The bitter cold keeps most people away, and unlike the western and southern parts of America, the region is actually slightly depopulating. Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world is approximately the size of the state of Maine, and acts like the Wall in the Game of Thrones. I guess that would make the Canadians the “wildlings.” 🙂 As the two maps below demonstrate, there are a lot of trees and not much noise or light pollution in the peninsula.

I still own my childhood home in the village of Caspian, in Iron County with my brother. We also bought a home in Marquette, the largest city in the UP (19,000 people) and my son goes to Northern Michigan University. As many Yoopers, as I get older, home is calling me back. I loved seeing old friends and family. I also have a lot of nostalgia and being back there reminds me of things I’ve lost, my parents and family/friends and my youth. The quiet, cool evenings, dark forests, seemingly endless gravel roads leading to inland lakes, brings me contentment.

Oliver, Ocean and Nadia X-country skiing in the Sylvania Wilderness (2012)

I was disheartened to read much of Nancy Langston’s “Sustaining Lake Superior: An extraordinary lake in a changing world.” Climate change experts predict if current trends continue, by the end of the century (2100), the UP will have a climate equivalent to Arkansas. That would be a shame as the cold-weather plants and animals that make the UP home give it a distinct identity. Lake Superior is the fastest warming lake in the world. Surface temperatures of Lake Superior rose 4.5 F between 1979 and today. For now, it is still very cold most of the year because of its immense size and depth. This allows nutrients to cycle up and down twice a year, keeping from eutrophication. However, with increased air temperatures and decreased winter ice cover, this will change. 

“The climate change scenarios currently projected for Wisconsin at the end of this century utterly boggle the mind. Conservative middle-ground scenarios show Wisconsin becoming the climatological equivalent of Arkansas, while Madison’s climate will morph into a twin of Oklahoma City…Meanwhile, the North Woods may gradually transition into an oak savannah…Forests will change as well, with models predicting that our forests may become similar to those now in Arkansas. Nearly 85% of the Lake Superior basin is currently forested, with a mixture of boreal forests in the north and aspen-birch, and white-red-jack pine trees along the southern shores.”

Climate change will increase stresses on trees and may cause the loss of the boreal forest in the basin. These stressors include drought, wind, insects, fires and insects and increased deer herbivory. 

Another thing I learned from the book is that the first European explorers to the Great Lakes Basin came across abundant beavers. There were perhaps 200 million beavers in the USA and over 10% of the land near the Great Lakes was flooded with beaver dams. This benefited the area, increasing biodiversity and keeping the lake free of sediment and toxins. Langston describes the impact of the logging and mining boom on the region and lake. She lives in the Keweenaw Peninsula and it was largely deforested to fuel the copper smelters and remained bare for a three quarters of a century. Sawmills in Wisconsin during the lumber industry boom processed 60 billion board feet of lumber between 1873 and 1897 alone. A forestry expert at the time estimated that only 13% of the white pine in Wisconsin was still standing. 

Although humans have altered the UP a lot, it is still one of the wildest areas in the USA. It will be interesting to see how the global economy and climate change impact life in the UP and the Great Lakes region as a whole. It will always be home for me.