I was pleasantly surprised attending the Humo Tashkent hockey game last night. The boys and I watched the game between Humo and Metallurg Novokuznetsk. The home team, Humo, won an exciting game 7 goals to 5! The two teams are part of the Supreme Hockey League (VHL). The VHL is the second highest level of professional hockey in Russia. There are 34 teams in the league, with teams joining from Kazakhstan, China and Uzbekistan this year.
Novokuznetsk is a small city north of Kazakshstan in central Siberia. They are currently in 10th place and Humo is in 16th place. (now 15th place after the victory) “Humo” is a mythical bird from Persian mythology and part of the Uzbekistan emblem. Humo Arena seats 12,500 and is the largest stadium in the league. It is new and modern with a great sound system, comfortable seats, cheerleaders, etc. It was a very entertaining evening. We had great seats for $7.
It is definitely a good night out and I am sure we’ll be going to a few more games this season.
I was not enthused to attend a wedding on a Tuesday evening. My driver invited me and Nadia to one of the groundskeeper’s wedding last month. Weddings are big here in Uzbekistan! They are quite extravagant and the government even had to make a law limiting the size and cost of the parties. Families save up for years to spend lavishly on food, entertainment, decorations, etc. It is a big industry in Tashkent, with wedding halls located all over the city. I think there is cultural pressure to hold large weddings to show off one’s ability to do so. However, I haven’t been here long enough to definitely say this is true.
Little did I know what I was getting into. Nadia of course declined, so I went with my driver. Upon arrival, we were guided to a table with the rest of the TIS employees who were in attendance. The wedding couple invites family, friends, acquaintances, employers, friends of friends, etc. There were at least 250 – 300 people in attendance. Quickly, I was eating the national dish of plov and drinking tea, in between shots of vodka. Later in the evening, our table was invited into the center of the dance floor where a MC asked me to make a short speech. I wished the couple happiness on their marriage and praised the groom for his dedication to the school.
I was asked to dance with the groom in the center of the circle. Later, one of the aunts was giving 5,000 So’m bills to people to stuff in the groom’s coat pockets while dancing. I think this was for good luck. Uzbeks have a hybrid culture of Islam and influence from the Soviets. Women and men mostly danced separately, but there is often lots of alcohol consumed at weddings.
Uzbek music is growing on me. I like the rhythm and exotic, Turkish sound mixed with a danceable beat. It reminds me of Balkan pop music. The Uzbeks love a party and I actually ended up having a good time.
Weddings (nikokh-tui in Uzbek) are extravagant affairs in Uzbekistan, with lavish parties and events for two days. They are so expensive that last year the government urged people to limit their spending on weddings. Weddings begin with a morning breakfast plov (pilaf) hosted by the bride’s father.
My driver Ahat invited me to a friend’s morning plov on Friday. This was my second time attending one of these events. It is such an unusual way to start one’s day and I can’t think of an equivalent in America or Europe. I was grateful for the invitation and the opportunity to experience this classic Uzbek experience. This breakfast is only attended by men and the guest list includes relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors and in my case, friends of friends. Attendees were on the older side, which makes sense with a 7:00 AM start traditionally after morning prayers.
Older Uzbek gentlemen often wear the traditional square hat. I noticed three basic types, black with white spiral embroidery, black and blue. They are most often worn on special occasions, but I do see them on a daily basis around the city. I think it is a cool look and Nadia bought the blue style for me at the Chorsu Bazaar yesterday.
There are many reception halls that cater these events around the city. I estimated about 250 men were in attendance on Friday. Upon arrival, the table is covered with fruits, cucumber/tomatoes, pistachios, the ubiquitous Uzbek bread, sweets, etc. It is easy to get full before the main dish arrives, while drinking tea and snacking. An imam gives a sermon, or speech. Ahat said his 10-minute talk was about marriage. After the speech, relatives of the married couple form lines and pass plates of plov to each of the tables. A dish is shared between two people and spoons are used. Guests passed around the cucumbers and tomatoes to add some healthy veggies to the plov. This plov included horse sausage, which I’ve had a couple of times. It is good, but a bit too salty for my taste. The plov was delicious and Ahat and I finished our plate.
Almost immediately after the food is eaten, there is a quick prayer and everyone heads out. Eating and running is acceptable here! I skipped lunch on Friday and had an extra cup of coffee to prevent me from going back to sleep on a full stomach. Thanks to Ahat for the invitation and his friend’s family for showing me hospitality and welcoming me, a stranger, to participate in their big day
There is a growing cycling community in Uzbekistan as the country is opening up to international influences. Last April the Asian Road Cycling Championships were held here and last March, a cycle marathon to the Kazakhstan border took place.
My friend Matthew took us out on a 40 kilometer social loop around the city yesterday morning. We stopped at the bike shop the expats go to for repairs and service. It was funny to see Chinese city bike-share cycles among the selection of bikes for sale. I read where last spring there was an overproduction of bike share programs in Chinese cities. Two of them ended up in Tashkent.
Despite some reckless driving and underdeveloped asphalt road system, the cycling is quite good here. The wide avenues from the Soviet years and vast public spaces make cycling in the city center quite pleasant. There are also many routes outside the city that I am anxious to explore.
This weekend we started looking for a tennis center for our family. We are avid tennis players. On Saturday we found two hardcourts at Eco Park. The city government built an “ecological” sports complex and park in 2017 on the grounds of the former Tashkent Zoo. It is really nice with a 1.4 meter running/cycling paved loop, badminton, table tennis, beach volleyball, exercise/yoga areas and best of all, two hardcourt tennis courts. There are also kiosk and cafes/restaurants in the complex. It is across the highway from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The courts are beautiful! It was a bit tricky to play however, as we had to call from the kassa (main office) to a manager? named Marina. The courts cost 50,000 soum or around $6 to use. It was 96 degrees so no one else was using the courts. It felt great to get back on the courts after a few weeks here!
We came back the next day and Marina said we couldn’t play because the courts were “being cleaned”. We did not see anyone there. Entering “tennis courts” in Google Maps, we found a sports complex called Burevestnik, so we thought we would give it a try. We could see several clay courts upon arrival in a nice sports complex, but were denied entry by a man dressed in pixellated-camoflauge gear. One of the tennis pros or player from the club came out and explained that the complex was owned by the National Security Service, the FBI of Uzbekistan and not open to foreigners. Oddly, the Burevestnik is the name of a Russian nuclear cruise missile. The gentleman kindly suggested we go to NBU Stadium, also known as the Yoshlik Sports Complex.
These courts were a bit more expensive, 60,000 soum ($7). Once again, we called an English-speaking manager who was very friendly and offered equipment and a coach. We asked for the indoor courts. I was expecting a hot bubble, but instead we came to a glorious indoor tennis stadium. A bit dated, but so nice on another scorching summer day. The club had 5-6 clay courts, one named the Raphael Nadal Court and several hard courts as well. We played a mini-tournament and ended the session with an epic doubles match. The club seemed promising and we’ll follow up with phone calls this week to inquire about memberships.
I would like to let all of our family and friends know that we will be leaving Japan in July 2019 for Uzbekistan. I will be taking over as director of the Tashkent International School. We are sad to be leaving Osaka but excited for our next adventure. Many of you may have never heard of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Nadia and I traveled there last month and found it similar to Sofia, Bulgaria, a mix between Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It is an excellent IB World School and the city is safe and seems to be a pleasant and fascinating place to live. Below are some articles about the country and a photo gallery from our visit.