30 June 2006

Odds and Ends

I don't think we'll have internet access for at least the next week, so here are a few interesting links for your reading pleasure.

Saudi Aramco World

Utah Geological Survey

And I never thought I would try to wash the dishes and be shocked by the water, but I was today. Unplugging the washing machine solved the problem.

29 June 2006

New Geysers

Some new geysers popped up a couple of weeks ago near Mammoth Lakes, California. This has always been a volcanic area, but usually there aren't geysers. The activity is dying down, but here's a video of one of them.

KFC in China

I was amused by this article talking about American fast food chains around the world. And I thought the tips at the end of the article were right on. Fast food in foreign countries really can be relaxing.

But there is no American fast food in Central Asia. I'm betting we found one of the closest KFCs when we were in Xi'an, China. The boys ate there twice in 3 days, and then we ate at McDonald's once or twice in Beijing, although I never set foot in any of the places. Their main attraction was a clean toilet for the boys, but you can't walk past chicken nuggets when you haven't seen them for 6 months.

There is a fast food place here called MacBurger; I've only heard scary stories about it. I'm betting though that some American fast food in Almaty would do all right.

We didn't eat much fast food in the Middle East either. I never went to Tel Aviv where most of it was, and they had weird kosher rules in Jerusalem (honestly, most Jews don't eat kosher, so what was the point of that?). There was a lot available in Cairo, but I love Egyptian street food and Pizza Hut just didn't seem to be worth the money. Fast food is expensive. And falafel, hummus, ful, and koshari are delicious.

But if they had more Wendy's overseas, well, that would be worth it. We did find a place that sold Baskin Robins ice cream (three flavors) for $2.50 a scoop on Kiev. If we weren't going to be back in the US in a few days, I may have caved on that one.

28 June 2006

And the University's Year's End

My husband is now officially finished with all of his teaching assignments for the year, and it certainly was an interesting year. He'd been warned that cheating and corruption are rampant in the universities here, and that was no exaggeration.

When a paper was due in the middle of the semester, one student came in a few minutes before the paper was due to choose his topic. He showed up 10 minutes later with a 40-page paper on his just-chosen topic. (Actually, I'm impressed that he found a printer that was capable of printing 40 pages in 10 minutes.)

Other students, since my husband required citations, cheerfully cited various paper and report banks from which they had copied their entire papers.

He didn't even bother with a final exam at one university the second semester because of all the cheating that went on during the exam the first semester.

He didn't have much trouble with corruption the first semester, but by the second semester when he knew people better, he had a number of people asking him to help out friends and relatives with their grades. One person who asked was a university administrator whose brother had never even showed up to class, much less done any work.

But there was so much that went well. A number of the students were speaking much better English by the end of the year, and we've had them over to our house a number of times.

He also traveled around the country to do presentations on constitutional reform. Almost without fail students favored a super-presidential system, but after being taught about other systems of government and their strengths and weaknesses, many saw the benefits of separating powers and reducing the influence of the president.

The students have been kind and courteous and pleasant to work with. While it would have been a lot easier to have been at the American University, I'm glad he taught at other universities instead.

27 June 2006

Cool

Central Asia: Silk Road Revival Grows As More Sites Protected

There are lots and lots of unexcavated places in Central Asia, and others that have been partially excavated but not protected very well. (And there are some that had substandard restorations done, but at least there is something to see.) Krasnaya Rechka (Navikat) in Kyrgyzstan is one of those places; some Buddhist artifacts were found there and taken to the Hermitage, but not much has been done since then. Otrar is a site in Kazakhstan that could use a lot more work. And there are other places in the Chuy Valley that are less than an hour from Bishkek and could help Kyrgyzstan's tourism industry since Kyrgyzstan's only tourist reputation is for outdoor activities, not seeing anything ancient.

Obviously Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have nothing to match Merv and Buhkara and Khiva and Samarqand, but there are places here that are being ignored. I hope we'll be able to visit some of these other places (and Merv and Bukhara and Khiva and Samarqand) sometime.

24 June 2006

Things I've Learned in Kyrgyzstan

English is definitely a popular language to learn. I've even had strangers on the phone who'd try to get me to give them English lessons when they'd dialed the wrong number.

Arabic is also useful, even in a country where no one speaks Arabic, or if they do, they speak the more formal standard Arabic that I'm not comfortable with. Even in a nominally Muslim country, knowledge of Arabic is admired. No one cares much that my husband knows Spanish though.

I will never criticize or even make a comment about anything a person from another country does that I think is strange. I understand better why, for example, Arabs in the US live around other Arabs, and so on. It gets very old to have what you choose to do questioned all the time and often criticized, even little things like whether you wear socks or not. While we're not exactly typical Americans either (homeschooling certainly gets plenty of comments there, in addition to other things we do), I don't feel like I have to be careful there all the time to avoid mentioning anything that might sound odd.

Walking a mile or two to do the grocery shopping is nothing. In fact, I can't imagine getting in the car to go just a mile or two anymore. Of course, there would be times I would, if I had a newborn and lots of stuff to carry. But you could walk one way. :)

There are lots little things I didn't think much about before, like screens in the windows, clean water that comes out of the tap, and washing machines that are designed to run more than twice a week.

Hearing your children trill their R's after months of practice is a beautiful sound.

I would much prefer to have an functioning air conditioner all summer than a water heater for the month that the hot water is off.

I need a library. I didn't really learn that, since that was what I was most concerned about leaving behind. I've always been able to find something, but since the two main choices here are cheap fiction and non-fiction about Central Asia, I've read lots about Central Asia. If we are able to come back, I'll be ordering more books and buying more books no matter the price.

22 June 2006

Hot

The air conditioner decided to start acting like an air conditioner yesterday instead of a fan. Yesterday was a good day for it to start working since it was 100 degrees and very sunny. Today wasn't so bad; 90 and cloudy and breezy and even a few drops of rain.

21 June 2006

A Survey

The first things we'll do in the US

Older son: Make a space shuttle

Younger son: Play basketball

Husband: Eat

Me: Library

20 June 2006

And Another Year's End

We're nearly finished with my husband's teaching assignments here. It has been a fascinating year to see the school system here, to interact with the students, and to travel around the country. We'll be going back to the US for a visit this summer, but we hope to come back to Bishkek later this summer.

I wish we could have gone down to the Pamirs this summer, but my husband's back isn't at all up to bouncing around on a bus over rutted mountain passes for days on end. A visit to the US will be a lot more restful.

Our stay here hasn't been perfect, but I'm more than ready to live here longer. I hope we can. I'm not finished yet.

19 June 2006

Year's End

Homeschooling went really well this year. Of course, my younger son still isn't really in school yet so it can't have been all that hard, but it really went even better than I could have hoped for. Both boys learned how to read and write much better, they loved history, math and science were a hit (and we even managed to move past earth science to learning about plants and animals, thanks to National Geographic), and grammar, while not a favorite, went fine too.

It helps to have a younger son who's excited about everything and pushes the older one a bit, especially with reading. Older son is now getting worried that his brother will be reading better than he does if he doesn't keep practicing.

This year was altogether too busy with all the things I was doing both at home and outside the home and I'm ready for a break. But I'm not ready for a break from school- we just have too much fun.

14 June 2006

Life Along the Silk Road

There are lots of books about the Silk Road, and I've read lots of them. But Life Along the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield has to be one of the best I've ever read. Susan Whitfield runs the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library and has access to huge numbers of manuscripts and documents from the Silk Road. She uses these sources to write short biographical sketches of a variety of people who lived along the eastern part of the Silk Road from around 600 AD- 900 AD.

But this isn't a dry history of the silk road. The stories are fascinating and Whitfield does a good job telling about the lives of a few of the people who lived along the Silk Road. She covers a wide variety of people from traders and princesses to artists and officials.

I would have appreciated more direct citations, especially since you can access many manuscripts at the International Dunhuang Project. I imagine she didn't want footnotes cluttering up the but I wanted to know where history ended and embellished storytelling began. Of course, the original manuscript probably had plenty of their own embellishments.

I highly recommend this book even if you only have a passing interest in the Silk Road. Few books give such a complete picture of this time and place.

12 June 2006

Almaty


We went on a quick trip to Almaty this weekend. It was just overnight, so there wasn't a lot of time to do much of anything. But Almaty is quite different from Bishkek, although in some ways it's a lot the same. I could see Bishkek looking a lot like Almaty if the money had come here instead.

We didn't get a lot of pictures, not even at the border. They wouldn't let us take any on the way there, and on the way home my younger son threw up all over himself and me, so I wasn't too worried about pictures. We made an interesting picture ourselves while we were waiting for our passports to get stamped. And there never is water in public bathrooms in this part of the world. The picture here is a replica of the Golden Man.

Kazakhstan really has some steep taxes though. Some friends of ours there get a shipment of 25 magazines once a month that they have to pay $150 in import fees for. I just got a shipment of homeschooling supplies that was worth a lot more than the magazines that wasn't taxed at all in Kyrgyzstan.

There certainly is a lot more of everything available in Almaty, but I rather like Bishkek. I'm glad we live here.

The road from the border to Almaty was amazingly good. I knew it had recently been completed, but we never once had to swerve to miss a pothole, it was paved the entire way, and there were lines painted on the road to mark the lanes. And people followed the lines. Amazing. It took 4 hours each way, including the border.

09 June 2006

Yippee!

The hot water is supposed to be back on at the beginning of next week.

I have to be excited about something since I still don't know if we're moving across town, across the country, or halfway around the world in 3 weeks. And hot water is worth getting excited about.

08 June 2006

Religion in Morocco and Tajikistan

Dora at Exponent II pointed out the graduation of 150 morchidat, or women preachers of Islam, in Morocco. The women aren't allowed to lead prayers though. I've written about similar trends in China, but it is an entirely different thing to see something like this officially sanctioned in a country like Morocco. There are increasing numbers of woman scholars of Islam around the world.

This also demonstrates again the diversity of Islam around the world. Islam is not the same in every country. I've written about this topic a bit here and here (and probably other places too).

And Tajikistan may be postponing the adoption of a new law that would severely restrict religious practice in the country. Hopefully they decide to scrap it altogether, although that doesn't sound too likely.

07 June 2006

Bishkek Apartments

I found a website with apartment listings in Bishkek, including lots of pictures. Pretty amazing.

06 June 2006

Grumble

AKIpress appears to have decided that you have to pay for the current day's news too, instead of being able to access those articles for free. And I wanted to read the article about marshrutka drivers going on strike since that's the way I get around this city if I'm not walking. A little more information about that headline would be nice.

Of course, it wouldn't necessarily affect me. There was a strike at the end of last year that I never noticed.

*Update

This strike is definitely more noticeable. Luckily I didn't need to take a bus today, but there were plenty of people waiting for the trolley buses today. The trouble is the strike started in the middle of the day and stranded a lot of people in Bishkek.

05 June 2006

Balbals


This is a balbal, one of the many stone markers found on old gravesites around Central Asia. We took a picture of this on at the Burana Tower. There really isn't a lot known about them; for example, historians don't know if they represent the person who is buried at the site or possibly someone that person killed. They come in a variety of styles (click on the various links in this post to see quite a few different balbals, except that the one on Wikipedia looks a lot like our picture) and with a variety of details. Most are dated to around the 6th-10th centuries AD. The only thing they all have in common are that they always face east.

And, not surprisingly, there are quite a few legends about balbals. This site talks about some of those.

There are quite a number of balbals in the parks in downtown Bishkek. This one might not exactly be an ancient balbal, but I love it.

04 June 2006

Turkestan Solo

Turkestan Solo by Ella Maillart is most definitely one of the best travel books I've read about Central Asia. Written in the 1930s, it's obviously not current, but Ella has the knack for describing things without her own opinions coming through on every page.

The books starts in Bishkek, then she travels to the Tian Shan on the Chinese border. She talks about the cities and towns we've visited several times, like Tokmok, Balykchy, Choplon-Ata, and Karakol. She goes on to Almaty, then into Uzbekistan to Samarqand, Bukhara, and then up the Amu Darya.

One of the most interesting things about this book was to get a little picture of life in Soviet Central Asia in the 1930s before Stalin wiped out a lot of the political and religious elite a few years later. The 1930s were the beginning of the 5 Year Plan and the effort to start growing a lot of cotton in Central Asia.

02 June 2006

Looks Like the US Will Stay in Kyrgyzstan

Various news sources are reporting that, as expected, Bakiev is not going to insist on the $200 million in rent for Gansi Air Base that he'd been asking for the last month or two. Right now the rumors are that the rent will be around $15 million a year, plus aid and investment money. That's about in line with what we'd heard earlier from people who work at the base.

Personally, I much prefer to see the money coming in earmarked for humanitarian aid and investment. Let's see, shall we start with hydroelectric power and repairing roads around the country?