31 January 2011


We've avoided flying on Aeroflot for years after hearing all the horror stories about it. It's always been possible to find flights that are nearly as cheap and more convenient.  And when we were planning on going to Tashkent, that was true.  But when Kyrgyzstan came together at the last minute, Aeroflot really was the only decent option.  We lucked out and found flights that would avoid my biggest concern, which was an 11-hour layover in the Moscow airport.  We ended up with a 3-hour layover there.  That's nothing in comparison.

Anyway, Aeroflot turned out to be a good experience.  The long flight from Los Angeles to Moscow was on a large airplane with individual consoles for everyone.  The food was good (plenty of fish, thank you) and the flight attendants were nice.  The flight to Bishkek was good too.  The plane was smaller and not as fun, but that was entirely okay since the last thing you want is to fly into Bishkek on a huge airplane.  Been there, done that.

The Moscow airport wasn't my favorite, even though it's certainly nice.  It felt more like we were in a mall that happened to have flights going in and out, though.  I'm glad we just had a few hours there.  Eleven might have defeated us.

I'd be happy to fly on Aeroflot again.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary LifeCan I just say how much I enjoyed this book?  It was such a pleasant surprise.  Highly recommended.

Moon over Manifest

Moon Over ManifestI liked this year’s Newbury winner and I think my 10-year-old will like it too.  A nice mix of mystery, interesting characters, and history.

How to Cook a Dragon

How to Cook a Dragon: Living, Loving, and Eating in ChinaThere was enough that was good in this book to keep me going till the end, although I tired quickly of hearing about the author’s relationship with her boyfriend/husband.  It makes sense that she wrote so much about him, since her relationship with him was why she was in China at all.  Maybe I wanted something a little less honest.  Or a little less whole.  The parts about cooking in China were fun.  Even if the whole going-to-cooking-school-in-China thing is getting old. 

Going with the Grain

Going with the Grain: A Wandering Bread Lover Takes a Bite Out of LifeThis book was pretty loosely organized around the idea of finding bread in interesting places.  It felt mostly like the author wanted to write some sort of travel book and decided bread was a thread that tied a lot of things together, then ran off to interview some bread people and made it into a book.  It was fun to read, although nothing very memorable.  If you like bread and travel, you’d like this book.

The Wet Nurse's Tale

The Wet Nurse's TaleJulie recommended this a few months ago and I liked it too.  It’s not very long but it’s packed with lots of historical detail and memorable characters.  The ending was a bit pat and abrupt, but certainly not enough to ruin the book.

29 January 2011

New Blogger and Resurrected Blog

My husband is going to be blogging here with me about Kyrgyzstan.  I'm not sure yet how I'll like sharing a blog, but we'll give it a shot.

He'll be posting as Daoud and right now he's a PhD candidate learning Uzbek and researching alternative dispute resolution in Central Asia.  He's as crazy about Central Asia as I am and quit a good job as an attorney to get a PhD.  Lucky for me.

We're also hoping to get the Kyrgyzstan student blog going again.  I'll be sure to link here when that starts, and neweurasia will be supporting it too.

Rumors of Mormons

We visited Bishkek today, finally.  It was so good to see some old friends and talk to them again.  Phone calls and emails aren't the same.  It's been nearly 5 years since we saw some of them. 

It's not so uncommon for Mormons to pass around rumors that various famous people are/were/will be Mormons.  I can't even remember who all I've been told is a Mormon, like Steve Martin, but some people get a little excited about that sort of thing.  But I was still surprised when one of our friends asked if Rosa Otunbaeva, the president of Kyrgyzstan, was a Mormon.  The rumor mill got a little out of hand on that one, I think.

No photos, since someone who shall not be named forgot to put the SD card back in the camera.  Bishkek felt a lot the same, although cleaner in parts.  And it felt incredibly busy after sleepy little Tokmok. 

28 January 2011

Tokmok Houses

We walked south today and took some photos of some houses and gates. Here are a few we liked.

So In Love with Our House

So the picture probably is centered weird, but since we have to pay per megabyte right now, I'm not going to mess with fixing it.  Not that it's even close to a megabyte in size.  I'll hopefully post more photos later, but for now, there won't be so many.

Anyway, we love our house.  It's a very typical home in Kyrgyzstan, with the main part of the house separate from the kitchen and there's a huge garden and a wall around the whole thing.  So when someone comes to the door, you stick your head out the window without shutters to see who it is. 

The inside has been redone and there is a huge bathroom with water, a water heater, a washing machine (!), and a flushing toilet and a shower.  So nice.  There are three bedrooms and the rooms are all large with 10-foot ceilings (inconvenient in the winter, when I can raise my hands in the air and feel a difference in the temperature of the air- I can only imagine how warm it is up there at the ceiling).  We have a gas furnace instead of a coal one, which is much cleaner, but expensive.  It's a good thing we're already used to cold houses, because I don't think it could keep the house above 65 degrees.  Maybe if it were left on all night but that seems impossibly extravagant.

The kitchen is in a smaller building behind the house.  It has a nice fridge, but no running water, and a touchy gas stove.  The oven works, but since the only thermometer on it just is numbered from 1-7, I really have no idea yet how to set it.  I did make cookies a few days ago that turned out okay with lots of checking.  There is some sort of electric heat under the floor in the kitchen and that makes it pleasant out there.  And I get to cook in qazans.

The walls are all very thick, at least a foot, so that helps keep things warmer, and cooler in the summer.  There are lots of windows and the rooms are all bright and sunny, which I love, especially after Seattle.  I loved Seattle, but I can't complain about some sun in the winter.  I'll be complaining in the summer though, I promise.  There are also lots and lots of plants all over the house.

The yard has all sorts of interesting things I've read about, and others that I don't know what they are.  Love it.

We're in a great location where we can walk to everything we need in town, and we're very close to the bazaar where we can get on a bus to Bishkek.  But mostly, I love this house.  I've always been so curious about what's behind all those walls, and I've been in a few houses, but to get to live in one is amazing. 

27 January 2011

Food Prices

I know food prices have gone up everywhere in the last few years, but since it was a slow rise and we moved around the US in that time, I didn't really notice it much till we came back to Kyrgyzstan.  Five years ago a dollar would buy 8 loaves of naan, but now it buys less than five.  Gas costs more, milk costs more, vegetables cost more.  And in just the last few months the som has weakened against the dollar.  That's messing with my brain, since 100 som is supposed to be $2.50, not just over $2.00. 

We also have a gas furnace in our house instead of a coal one, which is fine with me.  Except that I was shocked when we were told it would probably cost us $100 to heat the house in February.  That's easily a month's salary for many people in Kyrgyzstan.  No wonder coal is more popular.

26 January 2011

Signs of Kyrgyzstan

I should have thought of it before we got off the airplane, since this came up all the time 5 years ago, but I was still surprised that the first thing anyone said to me when we got off the airplane in Kyrgyzstan was to worry that my family was going to freeze to death.  I think at least one child was in shorts, another was likely in sandals, and no one had a coat on.  We had a crowd of people around us who seemed certain we would all freeze to death between the airport and our taxi.

Then when oldest son burned his foot a few days later and a nurse came over to look at it, there was far more concern that the family was running around the house with, at most, one layer on, instead of the necessary two or three.  I figured I wouldn't point out that oldest son would have been in shorts if he hadn't just been outside, and I very obediently put socks on while the nurse was in the house.

Some friends of ours dropped off a bunch of socks later that afternoon. Good thing they're not checking to see if we're wearing them. Because, honestly, a 60-degree house in a sunny and dry place feels warmer than a 64-degree house in dark, damp Seattle.

So much more to write.  I live in the coolest house.

13 January 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The embarrassingly slow reading continues with my finally finishing this book. I thought it was good, even if I'm not going to rave about it like some people do. The best part of the book were the many interesting questions raised, and it told its story well. It would be a good choice for a book group.

There were a few other things I came away with. While I didn't really relate to the reaction of the family concerning the cells, I thought that reaction was entirely reasonable. What is unfortunate is that we have created a society where it was reasonable for them to react that way. African Americans and other minorities have been treated terribly by the medical establishment and it would be hard to believe HeLa wasn't part of that.

I didn't necessarily think the family, because their mother's cells were used so extensively for research, had a greater right to health insurance than anyone else. Instead, I think they and everyone else in this country has an equal right to health insurance because we're all in this together. All our bits and pieces can be used to further medicine. It's not right for one of the Lacks children to owe $125,000 in medical bills after a bypass surgery, but it's not more wrong for him than for anyone else. Instead of making the argument that they need health insurance, I thought a clearer argument could have been made in favor of medical care being guaranteed to everyone.

But this book wasn't really about everyone else, nor was it supposed to be. It's about the Lacks family and you can't come away without feeling frustration and admiration when you finish.

07 January 2011

650 Books Scanned

The last batch of scanned books is getting processed.  I think we went from at least 20 boxes of books to just a few books here and there.  Or from over 1,000 books to less than 100.  I just counted the scanned books and it was 650!  I hadn't thought I'd done that many.

This was such a huge project, and it was sad to cut up all those books.  But so worth it.  And ebooks are so convenient.

05 January 2011

Goodnight, Mister Lenin

I went into this book with high hopes, thinking it might be something like Red Odyssey. The author is Italian, but lived in Asia for many years.  He happened to be in the Russian SSR in August of 1991 and decided to travel around the breaking-up Soviet Union. He spends the most time in Central Asia, then goes on to the Caucasus, and finally up to Moscow.

But I didn't make it that far.  I realized about halfway through the book that I'm slogging through it.  The author writes a lot in Central Asia about interviews he's had with local politicians (boring).  He also spends a lot of time with Russians in Central Asia because they're more likely to be his translators (since Russians were better educated in general).  So his interactions with Kyrgyz and Kazakhs are limited to politicians, but he actually talks to regular Russians which seems to have given him a skewed view of the cultures.

It was when I read this paragraph that I decided to quit.  The cultural repression mentioned refers to the author's hearing so often about Moscow's repression of local Turkic culture in Central Asia.
I wish someone would explain better if this cultural repression was really a deliberate policy on Moscow's part, or if it was just that the encounter between two cultures, one old and more evolved (the Russians) and one weaker and more recent (that of the minorities) led to the domination of one by the other.
He and I clearly aren't on the same page if he thinks Turkic culture is weaker, newer, and less evolved than Russian culture.

I do think he brings up some very worthwhile discussion about the role of individual Russians in Central Asia and their place after the breakup of the Soviet Union. But he seems to see their role only from a colonizer's point of view, not from that of the colonized. I'd have appreciated a little more nuance.

Too bad, really.  But at least Red Odyssey is out there, doing a significantly better job at what this book tries to do.

03 January 2011

I Really Don't Want to Deal with a Portable Toilet for a Year

The great appliance and amenities decisions have to be made soon. When you're moving to a new apartment in the US, the biggest question might be whether there is a dishwasher and a washer and dryer in the apartment.  Or if there's a swimming pool in the complex or a game room.  When we moved to Kyrgyzstan before, we wondered if we'd have a microwave, but we knew we'd have a fridge, a stove, and even a washing machine and hot water.

This time around we'll be in a different town and there are different questions. We know there's one place we can rent that is furnished and has "all amenities."  For lots of money.  Everything else we've heard of is cheap, but doesn't have much besides walls and a roof.  So we get to decide what we can work around.  There are differences of opinion among various family members about which of these are acceptable.

Outdoor pit toilet?
Cold water? (I think running water can be assumed)
Coal stove?
Spotty electricity?
Washing clothes in the tub?
Line drying?
No A/C?
No fridge? (I think a cooking stove of some sort can be assumed)

I'm game for most of these, except I want warm water in the house, and I'd really rather not deal with coal.  Some contraption to help with laundry would be nice. Other family members have vetoed the pit toilet, but I've vetoed the idea that I will have anything to do with any sort of portable toilet. 

Should be an interesting week or two while we decide what to go with.  And then even more interesting when we get there and are living with our decisions.

02 January 2011

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free IngredientsThe quick artisan bread thing has been going around for awhile now and I finally gave it a try, since I'm not going to have any machine that will knead dough for me for a while.  I was hoping for a decent no-knead bread.  I tried the original book and was disappointed.  The bread was blah and boring and very white.  Blah, I tell you.

But then I saw the authors had recently published a "healthy" version of their method, so I gave them one more chance.  I'm happier with this book, although I still can't really recommend it except in certain circumstances.

First, it's simply a lot easier for me to just make my basic whole wheat bread and knead it (at least with a machine).  I like the flavor and texture of my bread much better than the five-minute loaf.  And my recipe is better suited to cooking 3-6 loaves at a time, which is a lot more efficient for me, rather than one loaf at a time.

About the flavor again- I really wasn't impressed.  I did not like all the yeast that was in the original book, so I used their suggestions to cut it down.  It worked all right, but they seemed to have just tried using less yeast instead of testing it and their directions weren't very specific.  It took some of my own adjustments to get a decent loaf out of the oven.

But there is one thing that I do very much like this technique for, and that's flatbreads.  I usually make unyeasted flatbread because I can make start it an hour before we want to eat, but I can't do that with a typical yeasted recipe. Freezing dough isn't a great option either, because it takes a long time to thaw evenly. But this technique allows you to have decent yeasted dough on hand to make pizza and flatbread.  Of course you can keep a regular flatbread dough in the fridge for several days to cook later, but this is better designed to do that.  And it's easy too, since there's no kneading.

So I plan to keep the whole wheat with olive oil recipe on hand (that's the only one I like) and I'll be able to make flatbread easily.  Maybe even in a tandur.

01 January 2011

Best Books of 2010

I really should have read more than 100 books this year, but I've been a serious slacker the last few months and ended up with 97.  Some people speed up when they're stressed.  I slow down.  Anyway, there were some excellent books this year.  They're in two bunches- the first group is the very best and the second has very, very good ones.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Understanding the Book of Mormon
Red Odyssey
Guests of the Sheik (reread)
Stones into Schools
Crossing to Safety
Cry, the Beloved Country

Half the Sky
Mormon Country
Left to Tell
Nothing to Envy
Olive Kitteridge
When Everything Changed 
Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament