Friday, December 30, 2005

Life in Seongnam

I'm still up near Seoul, having just completed my three day training for the school I'll be teaching at. Overall, it was a good training - there is a very structured set of activities, so I won't be having to do a lot of class planning. On the down side, it's a lot to learn and remember. Next week also starts the busy vacation period, so I'm being thrown right into the fire. The Korean school children (at least the middle class on up, who can afford it) go to public school during the day, and then to private hagwons after school until late at night. During vacation periods (7 weeks in the winter and ?? weeks in the summer), they go to the hagwons all day long. The 7 week winter "break" starts next week.

The area I'm in currently is probably one of the most densely populated areas I've ever seen. I'm in the midst of a business district - 6 to 10 story tall buildings that are packed with restaurants, offices, schools, and whatnots. Every floor of every building is filled with businesses. Looking out my window I see signs for about 10 restaurants in the building across the street. This area stretches about 3 or 4 blocks on all sides of where I'm at. Outside of this area, there are the residential blocks. Consisting entirely of high rise apartments, almost all 10 to 15 floors each. These apartment buildings are clustered in like-minded groups, and stretch as far as the eye can see.

The apartment I'm staying in is right across the street from the school branch. It's a nice studio apartment with an upper 1/2 floor for storage or, I suppose, sleeping if you remembered not to stand up. It even has a washing machine built into the kitchen area. The only problems are - the heat comes up from the floor, and doesn't really warm the room. They just got the apartment (I'm the inaugeral visitor) so there are no curtains on the windows (annoying when there are 20 shop lights blaring outside my window, not to mention the restaurant that is directly across from my window), and no pots, pans, or cutlery. At least there's a mat to sleep on and some blankets. Interesting facets are the video monitor of the front door - not the front door of the building, but the front door of the apartment. Also, the public address announcements that come in - being in Korean, we weren't quite sure what they said, but our trainer picked up "slowly", so we assumed they were warning us about the slippery streets outside. This announcement came on three or four times today.

So that's the new news from Korea. I've got a ticket to Daegu for Monday morning. On the bullet train. Until then, I get to do a little exploring. And hopefully meet up with a couple of my Peace Corps friends who are in the Seoul area teaching as well. I'll try to get some pictures added before I head south.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Busan un-bound

The latest highlights:

1. took the train (8 hours) from Minneapolis to Chicago
2. managed about 2 hours of sleep in Chicago (thanks to the train being over 10 hours late - at least I didn't have to wait at the station for it)
3. flew from Chicago to Incheon, South Korea (14.5 hours). Might I add that Korea Air has great inflight entertainment - individual seat screens with several games, on demand movies, and customizable music. Slept about 2 hours that "night" (we were chased by the sun all the way over and had light the entire time)
4. took a cab (2 hours) to my training sight, just south of Seoul.
5. was informed that the position in Busan was filled, and could I instead go to Daegu. A little disappointed with that, but it's not too bad. Daegu is the third biggest city in SK, with around 2.5 million people. Plenty of expats (or so I read), and close to a lot of national parks and cultural sites. Just not on the coast. Oh well.
6. Got a good 10 hours of sleep.

So on Friday or Saturday I head to Daegu. Then, at some indetermined point in the near future, I head over to Japan for a day or two to get my visa (I just came over on a 30 day tourist visa and need a work visa to teach).

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Something fun to look at.

Your basic Asian toilet.

A Japanese toilet - with seat warmer, adjustable spray & bidet functions.

The toilet at the Ambassador's house in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Heated floor.

Toilet on a plane that was once used as Air Force One.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Busan Bound

After a month of sitting around doing nothing, I decided to merge my two blogs (livejournal and travelblog) into one site. The result is what you see here. I hope you enjoy, and feel free to ask me any questions or offer any suggestions.

For those keeping track of my travels, my next journey is off to Busan, South Korea. There, I'll be teaching English for a year or so. I'm leaving on Monday, December 26, with no return date in sight.

Check back in the near future, and hopefully I'll have had some blogworthy experiences.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Some Pictures of Buenos Aires

I am returning to the US. Some parting shots...

A Theater

Some Government Building

Another building

A lazy Sunday afternoon street scene

The Mosoleums at Ricoletta Cemetary

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Life in the Good Air

Well, I've been remise in posting updates for the last few weeks. I have several excuses. They are as follows:

1. I've been having too much fun. Buenos Aires is a blast. One of my favorite, if not my favorite city in the world. In part because I'm getting to spend so much time here. Also in part because I've got a fun group of classmates to hang out with. But on top of all that, BsAs is spectacular. They call it the "Paris of South America" and I'd have to agree. The streets are all lined with big old colonials. There are beautiful little plazas and parks all over the city. The streets are busy with excitement - and often more busy at three in the morning then at seven. Cafes, restaurants, and stores line all the sidewalks - which are often dangerously narrow. There are a lot of cobblestoned streets, and most are narrow, one way routes. The major difference is that the streets here are pretty gridded, and so it's tough to get lost. Also, the prices here are considerably cheaper. One could certainyl live well on $500 a month. $1000 a month and you could really have a good time.

2. Too busy working / studying. Class is long and draining, but fortunately almost over. In the mornings we have practice teaching sessions - I teach an hour a day every other day, and observe the rest of the time. Preparing lesson plans is quite time consuming - it´s certainly given me a lot more respect for teachers (at least the ones who actually prepare lessons and don't just teach out of the book). In the afternoons we have classes where we learn the teaching techniques and other fun stuff. The last week has been spent learning grammar, which I thoroughly enjoyed (not). Of course, I'm now cursed to examine all my speech in fine detail - what tense is that? is that proper English? what's the difference between "despite", "although", and "even though"? And how do I explain it to someone? These are the things that now plague me. I also just finished a paper on "on, in, and at," trying to explain what the differences are. Try it and see how fun it is.

3. Nothing exciting going on. Except the everyday excitement of BsAs. For example, yesterday there was a massive anti-B#sh demonstration here that went down the street outside my window for over an hour. They blocked traffic on one of the widest streets in the world (14 lanes outside my window, with 6 lanes of side streets directly alongside) for the entire time, so I got a much more rousing after-class serrenade of car and truck horns then usual. Other then that my class keeps me busy during the week. On weekends our class often goes out to a club. Last weekend a friend from college was in town, and we took in a tango show, and several steak dinners. Also on the weekends, I like to wander around town checking out the sites - although I don't really get out as much as I'd like since I'm usually recovering from class and Friday night fun.

So anyways, that's my update from BsAs. Just 10 more days until I return to the US (unless I change my mind between now and then). My first stop is scheduled for Minneapolis right now, but I plan on trying to change that to Chicago - I have a connecting flight through there anyways.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No mas violencia

That's the sign they paraded around the stadium before the Super Clasico - River Plate versus Boca Juniors. Rated as one of the greatest derbies in the world, the fans have a history of getting out of control. Which would explain the battalion of riot police, firemen, and leaf blowers.

I first heard about the big game last week while in Uruguay. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, the hostel had tickets (via the tourist bureau) for $AR180 (about $US60), which was a little pricey. After some consideration, I decided to head to the stadium and try my luck buying a ticket off the street. I took the the Subte (subway), and it was easy to follow the crowd making their way to the stadium. Getting closer, I could begin to hear the roar of the crowd (and this was still an hour a way from kickoff). As the stadium came into view, the streets became a maze, as the police were blocking off most of the routes. Eventually, I found my way into the shadow of the stadium and eye the scalper´s row. The first guy I make contact with has a ticket for $AR50. Weary about a fake ticket (they forge currency like crazy here), I was a little hesitent at first, but soon decided to buy it - bargaining and shopping around - or the failure to do so - has always been one of my downfalls (anyone interested in a Mao watch?). Not even sure where my seat was, I headed into the den.

Entering the stadium, I was faced with nearly full stands - and this is still almost one hour before the game. On the field are the youth teams playing. The stands are filled with River red - banners and signs lining the railings, and red bedecked fans all over. In the left endzone (okay, I'm not sure what it's called in football parlance - goalzones??) are most fervent River fans, with huge banners, flags, and the ceaseless songs and chants. To the right, in the upper deck endzone, covered in blue, are the Boca fans, literally caged in. They are surrounded by a 15 foot high fence, topped by barbed wire and ringer by police. On either side they've kept the seats completely empty, like a lion's cage at the zoo. These are the cheap seats, kind of like the bleacher's, where the most ardent fans (and most ardent hooligans) sit.

As the game approached kick off, the fans started getting louder and louder. When they began announcing the teams, streams of toilet paper and an onslaught of confetti came raining down out of the sky (bring on the army of leaf blowers). River unfurled a gigantic banner across the upper deck - it most have been about 100 by 150 feet. A few firecrackers popped off, but I didn't see any fires or very many flares. The fans got louder and louder, with all the River fans around me chanting at the Boca fans. The Boca fans - more renowned for their violence, where definitely the more fervent, nearly holding their own vocally while being out numbered probably 10 to 1. The game itself (almost a side show to the activities in the stands) was back and forth, with not very many good shots on goal the first half.

At half time, they had a demonstration of blind soccer. Which, would tend to require some peace and quiet. Which they got, from everyone but the Boca fans. They kept up with the pep band, the singing, and chanting all throughout. I don't think the upper crust River fans appreciated that, and I don't think the working class Boca fans cared. If there was going to be violence today, this could be the tipping point. But we escapted unscathed.

The second half saw a little more pressing from both sides, but neither squad was able to push the ball into the net. The last 5-10 minutes saw River getting quite lazy, and they were probably lucky to escape with the point against the division leading Boca team. At the end of the game, All the River fans had to stay in stands until the Boca fans cleared out of the stadium and got a head start out of the neighborhood (I'm not sure if this was for the protection of the Boca fans or the River fans). This took about 20 minutes as the Boca fans kept up their cheers and songs and had to be goaded out of the stadium by the police.

I think I'm beginning to become to addicted to football games. I've now seen a club game in Uzbekistan, a Uruguay-Argentina World Cup qualifying game in Montevideo, and River-Boca. I'm almost ready to start planning trips around football games - so when's the next Celtic-Rangers game anyways?

Saturday, October 8, 2005

The Sierras

I figure it's time for another update. Although it's been a pretty sedate week or so. I arrived in Cordoba and headed straight up to La Cumbre. Supposedly it´s one of the best places to paraglide (they hosted the World Paragliding Championships several years ago). Unfortunately, the winds were not in my favor and I was unable to jump off of any more mountains. In lieu of that, I went on a brief horse back ride. Not having been on a horse in over 20 years, brief was good enough. Two hours of horse back riding = two days of pain. The town of La Cumbre itself was nice, although it definitely seems like more of an Argentinian tourist destination then a spot on the backpacker's trail. There are about 45 hotels in town - with a population of about 7500 - but no hostels. I did find a very nice B&B type place that was pretty cheap though. Being the off season for Argentinians to travel, it seemed rather empty. But I did find some of the nicest steak I've ever had - 2" thick sirloins at a restaurant there that were simply amazing.

Moving on from La Cumbre, I headed back to Cordoba, the main stop in the Sierras. It's the second biggest city in Argentina, with a large college population. I spent most of my time there relaxing and taking in some of the sights - a few museums, and a very lovely pedestrian center in the middle of town.

One of my side trips from Cordoba was to Villa General Belgrano, where they have an annual Oktoberfest. It was a rousing time, even though it rained a little - the first I've seen since Iguazu almost a month ago. Kinda expensive as well, with liters of beer running 12 Pesos ($4US, to compar a liter bottle in the grocery store runs about 2 Pesos) but it was good artesenal, i.e. microbrew, beer.

After Oktoberfest I returned to Cordoba for a few days and then began my adventure to my present locale. Which would be Santa Fe. I kinda got stuck here, as my original destination was Rosario. But from Cordoba to Rosario all the buses ran late in the evening, so I looked into other options. One was Santa Fe, which is just a couple hours from Rosario. I finally found a company with a bus at 1pm - this was at about 12:30 - so I booked that. As soon as I got the ticket though, she told me it was leaving at 2:30. So I had to wait an extra hour and a half, which gave me time to grab some lunch. When I got to Santa Fe, at about 8 pm, my choices were to try and get a bus to Rosario, a bus to Montevideo, Uruguay, or stay the night. I decided to look for a Montevideo bus, but none were running that day. Or the next day. Meanwhile they're telling me which day the bus runs, but I can't figure it out, not because I can't understand the day (it's close enough to the French to figure out) but because I don't know what the present day is. I have a basic idea, but I'm not that sure. Anyways, I manage to go back to the bus station yesterday and buy a ticket for manana, tomorrow (which would be today) to Montevideo. In the meantime, I stayed at this pretty beat hotel across from the bus station - foam mattress and pillows, window facing the bus station, peeling wallpaper, the works. In the meantime, I´m trying to pass the next 11 hours before I go to catch the bus.

Anyways, that's been my less then overly exciting week. One more week of travel before I return to Buenos Aires. As I stated, I'm headed to Montevideo, Uruguay. From there I'll hit Colonia before crossing the river back to BsAs. I've got my apartment lined up, right smack in the middle of downtown BsAs, and classes start in just over a week. As an added bonus, I´ll be meeting up with a friend from college, and another friend of a friend who lives there.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mendoza Flyin'

Well, last we left off I was on my way to Mendoza, heart of the Argentinian wine industry. My first activity there was what they call parapenting. In English, paragliding or parasailing. Basically, we drove up to the top of a mountain and jumped off (with a parachute). The ride up was actually the scariest part, as our little 4x4 wound its way up a narrow dirt road to the top. Some of the hairpin turns could not be made without backing up, leaving the rear of the vehicle perched on the edge of a death defying dropoff. At the top, there was a large gathering of school children - and I have no idea how they got there. There were people trekking up and down the mountain, but I cannot imagine getting all those little kids to hike that far. And the road would be impossible to negotiate with a bus. Nevertheless, there they were to watch us fly. After some brief instructions (run that way) I was strapped into to a chair, which was then attached to my operator´s seat (it was a tandem flight, of course). Next thing I know, whoosh, we were flying down the valley, back up, and overhead the takeoff site. It was a pretty amazing experience. You just float there and fly over the landscape below. You can feel the wind rushing past you and the occasional pull when making turns. But otherwise it is just like sitting in a chair hundreds of feet up in the air. After 15-20 minutes, we started heading towards the landing site. Coming down, he did a few acrobatics - I am sure it was nothing spectacular, but you could defiinitely feel the g-forces as he spun back and forth.

Next, I headed to Los Penitentes. This is a ski area a few hours west of Mendoza, just before the Chiliean border. I spent three days there skiing (which was probably one day too many - the boots ended up hobbling me for a couple days, and I´m still shedding my ski sun burn). It´s near the end of the season, so the snow wasn´t great. But they had three decent runs which they kept groomed. I also ran into some people I had met before - a South African couple that I first met in Salta, and saw again at the hostel in Mendoza, and a couple of guys from Australia. So I was able to hang out with some English speakers for one night - otherwise everyone at my hostel was Argentian and spoke mainly Spanish.

Back to Mendoza I went - and this may have been the best part of the trip. The road hugs a narrow shelf between the mountains and a canyon carved out by the river. The Andes are spectacular (I iterate, or possibly reiterate). The Argentina side is quite dry, so there´s rarely any vegetation. Thus the mountains are striped bare, with their inner being exposed to the world. All the different minerals and layers of silt offer an insiders view of the earth. It almost seems that every mountain is a completely different entity then the one next to, there´s that much variety in their appearances.

Arriving in Mendoza, I returned to my hostel and spent a couple days recooperating. Currently, I am in La Cumbre, which is near Cordoba, in northish-central Argentina. The Sierras loom just outside of town, and there are a variety of outdoor pursuits to explore (wait for the next update to see what I did). After a couple days here, it´s back to Cordoba (I just passed through the bus station this morning). And a definite must see - Oktoberfest in Villa General Belgrano.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Salta the Earth

After a few brief stops in Posadas, Corrientes (very brief), and Resistiance (all fine little cities, but not much to do besides sitting out on the plaza watching people go by), I arrived in Salta. Resistiance has a large number of sculptures scattered around town, but not a many that I found to be interesting. At most, it´s a rest stop between Puerto Iguazu and Salta (which is otherwise a 27 hour bus ride).

That brings me to Salta. A much more interesting town, in a number of ways. First, it is located in northwest Argentina, on the edge of the Andes. It´s also the closest big city to Bolivia. So that makes it a big stopping point for backpackers (and other travelers, but I try to avoid them) on the way to and fro. Whereas the other cities have no hostels to stay at, Salta has numerous. So my accomodation cost is more then halved. Plus, the hostel where I am staying (Terra Oculta) has a decent kitchen, tvs with cable, and a bar.

Its been a busy week here, with lots of sight seeing and activities. On Monday afternoon, a group from the hostel took an excursion to the local futbol (that´s soccer to people in the US) pitch (more of a basketball court sized, carpeted park) for some game. There were about 20 people who showed up to play, with 6 on 6 games going for a couple of hours. Almost everyone else was European, with a few Argentinians mixed in. They were all impressively good. I pretty much covered my ineptitude by playing goal.

On Tuesday, I took a tour down to Cafayate. Somehow, I got stuck on the seniors tour. Wow, was that exciting. Almost as much fun (or frustrating, depending on your mindset at the time) as going to see the Great Wall with a Chinese tour group (during which time, I saw people get insanely excited over Jade, dried food, traditional Chinese medicine, a Wild West Town, and what other tourist traps Í´ve erased from my mind). But the secenary was magnificant. The 190km (each way) route passes through an amazing canyon with the jagged Andes on either side. Colored stratas of silt deposits zig and zag at odd angles, looking like they just emerged from the earth. Sand stone monuments carved away by wind and water look like they´re ready to crumble down upon you. It was a great tour, although I would have preferred to go with some people from the hostel who rented cars for a two-day trip down there. Unfortunately, I didn´t find out about it until I was already paid up and waiting for my van Tuesday morning. Oddly enough, I ran into them at a road side look out point / handicraft stall on the way back from Cafayate in the afternoon.

I spent Wednesday recovering from the 12 hour tour, and taking in the sites around town. We also had a barbecue at the hostel that night. On Thursday, I had another tour, this time to the north and Humahuaca. Again, alot of gourgeous scenary, and a more anglophile group - an Australian couple and an Argentinian-American. The best was saved for last though, as we wound our way over the mountains returning to Salta. Unlike most of the other areas around here, it received enough percipitation to support a sub-tropical forest. The trees (not sure what kind) were covered with mosses, vines, and orchids. From across the valley, they looked like a musty old carpet, the vines drapping and sagging from tree to tree. Quite remarkable.

Friday night was another adventure. This time white water rafting. After a couple hour bus ride (I´ve spent more time on buses here then in my entire life) we arrived at the rafting center at around 9:30. Following a brief training session, we headed out to the launch and floated down the river for a couple of hours, transversing some Class III rapids. The clouds covered up the full moon, but there was still plenty of light to see. We were surrounded by mountains, which could be seen in silhoutte. This was followed by a barbecue (they love barbecues here), and of course, another two hour bus ride home.

So that leaves me ready to escape Salta and move on. I have a bus this afternoon going to Mendoza - 16 hours. I´hope to spend a week or so there with more rafting, maybe some trekking, wine tasting, and of course barbecue. There are some ski slopes around there as well, but they may closed. Hopefully I can get a day of skiing in though.

Pictures from around Salta

View of Salta from the nearby mountain

Vineyards to the south of Salta

Cemetary in the mountains

Mountains near Cafayette

Stratified mountain in Humahuaca

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Water Whirl

Water never waits. It changes shape and flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about - the tiny hole through the roof or the bottom of a box. There´s no doubt it´s the most versatile of the five elements. It can wash away earth; it can put out fire; it can wear a piece of metal down and sweep it away. Even wood, which is its natural complement, can´t survive without being nurtured by water.

-- Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

After one week, I´ve taken a real liking to this place. Traveling in Argentina combines the best of several worlds. One, it´s relatively cheap. Not as cheap as say, Southeast Asia, but still quite manageable. And the people are not in the throes of poverty, as in SE Asia. Since the currency crisis several years ago, I´m sure they´re less well off then they used to be, but they still maintain a high standard of living. There are certainly a lot more amenities and services here then you´d find in many places. The population is also heavily European in nature. I´ve yet to be harassed by any vendors, beggars, or taxi drivers. Most people speak Spanish to me, or they´ll ask me if I speak English. Not to mention the fine weather we´ve been having - a little on the chilly side at times, but it is the end of winter. Can´t complain too much about that.


My first stop outside of BsAs (Buenos Aires) was Puerto Iguazu. This involved a 16 hour bus ride, which was actually quite comfortable. Double decker bus, three seats across the width of the coach. Reclining. Akin to business class seats on a plane. I arrived on Friday afternoon, and just relaxed in town the rest of the day. On Saturday morning, I set out for Iguazu Falls, located on the Argentina - Brazil border. It´s quite the site, with falls stretching out over a couple kilometers. From the Argentina side, it´s not possible to see all of the falls at one time. Just sections of them. But you can get quite close to them - there are several paths with walkways that extend out to the edge of the falls - both on the lower portions and upper portions. At several points you stand directly over roaring cascades of water rushing headlong into the abyss. At other points, you´re awash in the spray of the thunderous conclusion. There was also a hike into the jungle to see a hidden waterfall. At any other time, this hidden waterfall would have been impressive, but after seeing the rest of them it was rather insipid. Still, the hike through the forest was pleasent. Seeing the density of the rainforest is amazing, as well as the wide variety of vegetations - everything from the occasional orange tree, to bamboo, palm trees, and varacious vines swallowing everything in reach. And after being given a pamphlet about what to do in case of a ¨big cat¨encounter, the rustlings and noises from within kept me attentive.

The next day, I managed to negotiate multiple bus connections to reach the Brazilian side of the falls. No visa is needed for this day trip, and I even managed to get two more stamps in my passport (which is already over half full after just a year and a half). From here, you get a much wider prospective of the falls. There is only one path to take, but it leads along the bluff over the river where you can take in the full breadth of the falls.

The town of Puerto Iguazu itself (about 15 km south west) is a pleasent little village. Definitely lots of tourists, with everything from hostels to 4-star hotels. El Centro is filled with handicraft shops, restaurants, and internet cafes. It´s certainly a much different feel then BsAs.

A section of Izuazu Falls

A section of Iguazu Falls

Getting up close and personal with the falls

Iguazu from Brazil

San Ignacio

So the next day after that, I hopped on a bus from Puerto Iguazu to San Ignacio. San Ignacio is the home of one of the better preserved Jesuit missions from the 17th century. It was interesting, although not overly impressive. Especially compared to say, Angkor Wat. Although that´s probably an unfair comparison. Still, I probably wouldn´t suggest it as an overnight trip. It´s a quick jaunt from Posadas, which is much more lively. And the Casa de Horacio Quiroga (Argentian poet, writer) isn´t worth the trouble. Trust me.


And finally, I have now traveled to Posadas. There´s not a whole lot of things to do in town, but it is a nice and relaxing stop over. I´m staying near the main plaza, and the streets are filled with pedestrians. Lots of small shops, bars, and cafes. Walking around last night, I realized how late I need to go out to hit the dining crowd - after 9pm is when they seem to start filling the restaurants.

That´s all for now. Chao.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Buenos Aires

(For those who missed out the the preceeding four months, I just hung out in the US waiting for a new Peace Corps assignment. When that fell through, I decided to take a TEFL certification class in Buenos Aires, Argentina, do some traveling about Argentina, and then get a job teaching English in South Korea)

Hola. This will be a quick update, as I am pretty much just passing though Buenos Aires. I arrived yesterday morning, and will be taking a bus this evening up to Puerto Iguazu - 16 hours, but they are nice buses (reclining seats, movies, meal service, and WC). My quick take on Buenos Aires is favorable - very European in flavor. Lots of old colonial style buildings, along very narrow (often cobblestoned) streets. Plenty of cafes, and bars, most of which have fabulous wood work and a wide array of antiquities scattered around. There is a strong Italian influence as well - with pizza and pasta places abounding. They even say ciao (spelled chao down here).

I will be back here for a month to take my TEFL certification class, so I am not getting too deep into things. Just walking aound to get my legs broken in and a grasp of the language (I still have the habit of spouting out things in Russian). But for now, I will be spending 6 weeks touring around Argentina. First, as I said, will be Puerto Iguazu. After that I will be working my around before coming back to Buenos Aires in mid-October.

And yes, it is winter here. Not too cold, but a little chilly. Highs in the 50s.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Which means Close of Service. That's right, I'm leaving. As are the other 50some people in my group. Our CD (Country Director) asked the government to give us long term visas, or else. And the "or else" is upon us. We're all scheduled to convene in Tashkent by Friday morning, and we will begin departing in the days soon after (by the end of the month, when all our visas run out). There's still a hope of staying, but given the usual speed of the Ubek government, I'd say it is a slim hope.

What does that mean? Well, the CD said that we'd have the option of going back to the US, or maybe transferring to another country. I'm almost sure to do the former, and spend some time thinking about what I'll be doing. We'll get some more info this weekend, and there are some programs leaving in the fall that I might be interested in. But for now, I have no plans.

So if anyone wants to see me, let me know. I'll be heading to Minneapolis first. After that, I have no home to speak of, so whoever can spot me a couch or spare bed will be priveleged to my presence.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Farghana Troubles

Not much to report from my part of Uzbekistan. The uprisings in "the Valley" (Farghana Valley) are fairly distant from here, and unlikely to manifest itself in this area. If things progress into Tashkent (unlikely, IMHO) I'm sure they'll start whisking us away. FWIW, I'm not that far from a couple of (unofficial) borders.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I have another month on my visa, and I've made it to site!!

But little is going on here in Gulistan. My Russian held me for a couple days, and now there's nothing left to discuss. Although my family does keep asking me if I'm married. As one of a few, maybe 10, Americans in town, people tend to remember me. Which is nice, but I have a hard time remembering everyone that I've met. And it's nearly impossible to remember all the Uzbek names that get thrown at me.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


No more news - that is, no new visa (at least for me). 37 people have received their visas and have gone to site. 4 people have dropped out. The rest of us sit here in Tashkent and wait...

Tonight several of us went to see a football (soccer) game. Tickets were 600 cym for the cheap seats (benches) and 800 cym for the good seats. We shelled out the 20 cents extra for the premier seats. Attendance was somewhere between 400 and 600, depending on whether or not you count the militsia. The fans chewed away on their pumpkin seeds, with one old Uzbek guy in front of us really whopping it up for Pakhtor (the 3-0 winners).

Afterwards we had some great Turkish food, then went to the most amazing grocery store I've ever seen here (for Uzbekistan). Almost, almost US-like in scale and realm. We also walked along the street that sells every appliance known to civilized man, but unseen in these parts. I was seriously tempted by the washing machines (I've done my laundry once here, and it's not fun - i.e. it's by hand).

For tomorrow, I'm thinking of going to the opera or maybe the ballet (tickets start at 1000 cym). Or maybe just hang out in the PC office some more and watch a movie. I'm scheduled to leave for site on Monday afternoon (visa willing).

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Waiting to leave

New news:

I passed my language exam

I was officially sworn in as a volunteer.

I have a visa... until May 1.

We're suppose to be getting extended visas soon, but they keep saying that and nothing happens. So, we're all just hanging out waiting for the word to leave for site. Except for the staff, they're hard at work - on a staff retreat.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Tulip Trouble

Thanks to our neighbors, we may be running into more visa complication. When the situation in Krygystan broke out, our on going visa negotations were halted. PC also had to devote resources to obtaining visas for the Kyrgy PCVs (some of whom are here now, but will be going back tomorrow). So... in the immediate, we may not be able to progress to site as originally scheduled (April 5th or 6th). In the longer term, the Uz government is going to be a lot more resistent to giving us long term visas. What with us being such a bad influence and all. It's probably also going to make the crackdown on NGOs gear back up.

So that's the update on how we're being effected.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Happy Navrus!!!

Let me be the first, and probably only person to wish you all a Happy Navrus!! What is Navrus, you ask? Only “by far the biggest Central Asian Holiday” (LP). I believe it's the Muslim New Year, also know as the Spring Solstice. Not just that, but itÂ’s another day off for our language weary souls. Although a lot of Uzbeks like "volunteer" to help clean up the neighborhoods. Things like paint the trees, sweep the streets, and burn the ever increasingly foul piles of garbage. They are also busy making sumalac. And just what is sumalac, you ask? In a nut shell, liquid bread. You take wheat seeds, germinate them for a few days, then brown them, add flour, oil, sugar, water and other stuff. Simmer for 12-24 hours, and you end up with a thick brown paste that tastes like, um, boiled wheat stalks. Supposedly very good for you. But then they say the same thing about vodka, so who really knows.

My site for the next two years will be in Gulistan, working with the Women's Business Association. There will be about 10 PCVs in town (a smallish city of about 70,000) who get together on regular occasions. Marshutkas and taxis only cost 100 cym in town. It's also just an hour or so into Tashkent (and of course, another hour to get just about anywhere else in town), which make it a doable day trip. Although Tashkent doesn'’t have much in the way of historical interest, there is an expat community and numerous events to meet others. There are also non-Uzbek cafes and real, almost US-like grocery stores. Not that my budget affords a lot of processed, packaged, and imported foods, but it'll be a nice treat once or twice a month.

In terms of language, my NGO does speak Russian, although they tend to work more in Uzbek. The city is also about 50-50 Russian-Uzbek (with Russian being the more useful business language). So I'll be starting Uzbek (which is supposed to be much easier then Russian) soon, as well as continuing with my Russian. One of my teachers lives in Gulliston, so I'll probably be taking tutoring lessons from her. I believe the going rate is about $1 per hour, and the PC will pay for like 12 hours a month.

Lastly, my NGO is one of the most established NGOs in Uzbekistan. And although itÂ’s a women'’s business NGO, that doesnÂ’t appear to be a major problem. There are other men working at women'’s NGOs as well - in large part because women/youth oriented NGOs have lower registration fees and are thus a lot more prevalent. I was told that itÂ’s very conservative, but that shouldn'’t effect me too much. And by conservative, I mean very traditional Uzbek. The women donÂ’t wear burkhas or veils, but they do wear full length, very colorful dresses, keep their hair up, and usually wear a scarf tied around it. Very few muslims here do the prayers, even on Friday. They also have no religious qualms about selling or drinking vodka. Women tend to marry by 20, start having children soon after, and by 30 have a mouth full of gold teeth (due to losing there teeth from severe anemia during pregnancy and getting fake gold teeth to replace them). At least I wasnÂ’t the Jewish guy who was assigned to teach at the Islamic Institute.

So just two weeks left before we take our final language proficiency exam and then (if we get at least high novice) swear in. We then move to our sites for two years of fun. I'll be living with another host family for at least 3 months before I can move out. Most people get their own place, and an apartment will set me back a whopping $30 a month. But I'll be making more money after I leave training to cover that cost.

Of the 64 who were in Philadelphia for staging, we still have all 64 sticking with it. Pretty impressive, and weÂ’ve been getting weekly kudos from the administration.

Chirchik's canal (from the same location as below)

The ubiquitous shashliek guy

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Springtime for Karimov

We’re in a couple weeks lull here, with not much news to report. On Friday, we learn our site placement (where I’ll be for the next two years - I refuse to give my preference, given the last group’s propensity to end up exactly where they said they didn’t want to go) and then head out on PCV visits for 4 or 5 days (visa willing - don’t ask).

The weather has taken a decidedly springlike turn, with blue skies, and a breezy wind coming in from over the mountains. I’m definitely ready to get the bike going, but I’ll probably wait until I get to site in April. And in closing - some important things which I have learned, and will be glad to show you when I return (you provide the beer, wine, and walnuts, of course):

How to open a bottle of beer without a bottle opener
How to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew
How to open walnuts without a nut cracker

I’ve yet to learn why they don’t have bottle openers, corkscrews, or nut crackers.

And one final addendum - my all time favorite PC memo excerpt (sorry for the grizzly subject matter, but it is quite humerous):

Volunteer Death: [Our definition in the memorandum covers investigative concerns. The Office of Safety and Security’s definition will differ for data gathering purposes.]

Friday, February 25, 2005


I’ve been remiss in updating my log - in large part as I was studying for a language exam. That done with, this will hopefully keep you entertained for at least a week or so.

The weather has been staying chilly beyond the traditional 40 days of winter. Which isn’t too cold - at least it’s not as cold nor windy as Chicago usually is in mid-February. But given the seemingly near absence of indoor heating, it’s hard to ever get warmed up adequately. There are other things about living in Uzbekistan that need getting used to. This has created a new list of rules:

1. If I can remember the last time I took a shower - I don’t need one. Once a week or so seems about the going rate here.
2. If I didn’t wear it yesterday - it’s clean. If I wore it yesterday, and it’s too cold to change, it’s clean. Once it turns half way warm, laundry will be high on my to do list. Until then, it’s grin and bear it.
3. If I don’t see any food particles on the utensils or plates - they’re clean. A quick rinse under cold water seems to be the preferred method of sanitization.
4. If there’s a toilet available, use it. A luxury that should not be overlooked. And make sure you carry toilet paper (that’s a hint for anyone who wants to send me stuff) as the stuff they use here (when they don’t use newspaper) is akin to crepe paper.

Oddly enough, I’ve been suffering with a killer cold for the last couple of days.


Here’s a little background on the money situation here. There are about 1000 cym (which is the cyrillic, but actually comes out on a regular keyboard, so I’m leaving it like that. It’s pronounced like the sume in assume) to the US dollar. Minimum wage here is around 6500 cym. A month. Doctors make around 30000 cym a month - which explains why most are actually working as taxi or marshutka drivers, which are generally the highest paying legitimate jobs. On the good side, I’ve heard that MRIs and CAT Scans run about 25000 cym here. My next job will be to establish an overseas medical outsourcing company. One further item of interest about the cym is that the largest bill available is the 1000 cym note. Which are difficult to obtain. So my last batch of money - two weeks of spending money (39200 cym) and my Shakhrisabz allowance (40000 cym)- was given to me in 500s, 200s, and 100s, and was about an inch and a half thick. I’m actually doing quite well staying within my Peace Corps budget - going over last period only because I bought a Uzbek coat at the bazaar in Tashkent.

About $140 in som

Marshutkas (I don't know if that's the correct spelling, but it's close enough)

The transportation here is quite a thrill. In most of Uz the main transport around and between towns is the marshutka. These are vans that would probably not be allowed to be on the streets of America, much less to carry passengers. They vary in size, but usually hold 10 people uncomfortably, with 12-13 being the normal rush hour load. Their windshields are usually cracked, the brakes are squishy, the steering is squirrely, and the tires are slickery. Forget speedometers or seatbelts - except for the one tied to the side door so the driver can pull it closed. The only thing in them that seems to be working is a little digital timer that keeps track of how long they take to run their route. And apparently the faster they run the route, the more money they make. Fortunately, traffic isn’t too bad, and the roads are wide enough, such that the passes on curves and hills and in the face of oncoming vehicles are merely frightening instead of outright dangerous.

My “favorite” marshrootka rides have been with the weather has been less then ideal. For a while we were in a freeze / thaw cycle which left a thin sheet of ice on the streets in the morning. The ride to my NGO class involves a couple of hills, one of which we just couldn’t make it up one morning. As we were turning around, a car coming down the hill tried to break and began sliding towards us. Fortunately, our driver was adept enough to accelerate and move us out of it’s way. Unfortunately, he was accelerating us towards the bank of our local canal (guard rails? ha!). But alas, he was able to stop before plunging us into the drink. Needlessly, we had all risen out of our seats, ready to bail out and abandon ship. Good for me, in that Uzbekistan is heavily patrimonial, and I would have had first dibs. There have also been several days when the fog has been so thick it was nearly impossible to even see across the road. Not dissuaded by this, the marshutka drivers continue to ply the highways like they’re qualifying for the F1 Series. It’s days like that when I’d just as soon be crammed in between the seats facing backwards. All of this for the bargain price of 200 cym.


As I mentioned previously, a group of us went to Shakhrisabz last weekend for our independent field trip. Other groups went off to Bukhara, Samarkand, and Navoi. So 16 of us rode the train from Tashkent to Samarkand (four hours) and then charted a van and taxi to take us to Shakhrisabz (3 hours). As it had snowed over night, prices were a bit higher then we expected - 5000 cym apiece for the ride. We arrived in Shakhrisabz Saturday afternoon and proceeded to check in to our hotel. The sign out front had three stars under the name. I joked that three stars in Uzbekistan must stand for running water, toilet, and heat. Checking in, we didn’t have the proper registration to get the “local” rate so we had to do a little negotiating. Fortunately for us, it’s the off season (and you probably didn’t realize there was an in season for traveling to Uzbekistan) and one of the woman with us had studied in Russia and did an excellent job in securing rooms for us at 8000 cym a night a person. The tourist rack rate is $25 for a single, $40 for a double. That said and done, we soon discovered that three stars in Uzbekistan only means running water and toilet. Further more, it seemed as though the entire town of Shakhrisabz had a heat outage that weekend. But we’re Peace Corps volunteers, we can handle it. And it helps to get 14 people together in one room for drinks (vodka is about 1200 cym a half liter, which is less then Coke) and cards, as we did Saturday night.

The town itself was nice and quiet (it, of course, being the off season) with a few highlights that should take about half of a day to see. The birthplace and hometown of Temur (spelled Timur in all the western literature, but Temur on all the Uzbek statues), it sports the remnants of his palace - two massive towers, a crypt - which has two unidentified bodies in it, and part of a mausoleum with Temur’s son entombed in it. There’s also a picturesque mosque and an impressive bazaar in town as well. All are within about 1 km of each other.

Returning to Tashkent, we were without the luxury of the train, so I was stuck in the back seat of a Nexia taxi with two other people for six hours. I can’t complain too much - I saw other taxis with four people in the back seat. With no snow excuse to gouge us, we only paid 7500 cym a person for this ride.

So that’s my update for now. Please feel free to send me emails with news and anecdotes. I may not be able to reply, but I’ll definitely read it when I get the chance - the internet here can be quite screwy at times, but I'm now able to login from home - and for only 400 cym an hour.

The mosque in Shakrisabz

Tile work on the inside of the dome

The remains of Temur's palace

The local butchers

Friday, February 11, 2005

Update from Chirchik

Just a quick update, as this internet connection is supper slow and buggy. The town I'm in - Chirchik (spelled different way, depending on Uzbek/Russian heritage and latinization) - is a "modern" Soviet city. Imagine housing project like aparment buildings - water pipes running above ground, crumbling staircases, cinder block construction. Similar style housing, and 50's looking Soviet Volgas and a mish mash of buses and vans plying the roads. Tashkent is about the same - just a lot bigger, with larger bazaars, more traffic, and wider streets.

The US Ambassador's place in Tashkent is quite nice. I'm definitely going into the foreign service after this gig is up.

Off to Shakrisabz (sorry if the spelling is wrong, see above) this weekend. Will try to get picture uploaded. It dates back a couple thousand years, with ruins of a palace built by Timur.

Visas are pending for a lot of people - almost everyone has a 30 day stay right now.

The canal in Chirchik

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Choi and Non

Choi is tea, and non is bread. The two things we have at every meal. I repeat - every meal. But it's good, so far. Just got to avoid the non with the fuzzy green spots. Lots of soups, and the occasional rice dish or kabob.

Classes are intense - 3 hours of Russian every day, and 3 hours of technical training in NGO governance and management. At least I like the group of 4 others that I spend all day with.

Tomorrow we head to Tashkent to watch the Super Bowl at the Ambassador's - game starts at 4am. Tuesday we head back to Tashkent to start our NGO practicum. And next weekend we take a little field trip to the west. It'll be good to get out of Chirchil, which is just a little Russian chemical plant town. Not too much of interest here - not that I have time for anything anyways.

Still hoping to get our visas renewed soon. Otherwise, I'm out of here at the end of the month and COS with the shortest PC stint in history.

More later - the sky darkens and air chillens. Gotta catch my marshutka before the streets refreeze - at least I won't have to go up any hills, like this morning (that's a teaser for my next entry).

The marshutka stand

Monday, January 31, 2005

Arrived in Uzbekistan

We finally arrived in Uzbekistan. After a long day and a half of flying, we were thrown right into classes. By 5pm it had been over 48 hours and 7 meals since my last real sleep. I passed out and missed dinner, but got a nice 9 hours of sleep.

Friday was getting some shots and our allowance - 40,400 som. Almost $40. [dramatic pause] That's for the next two weeks. Although today is the first I've spent any money. 200 som for the marshutka into town, and 1000 som for an hour for internet.

Friday, we also met our host families. Mine live in Chirchik, about 45 minutes northwest of Tashkent. I was a tad nervous about what to expect, but fortunately my family is very nice and they even speak English. I live with a mother and father with three teenage sons. One of the sons has a wife and month old baby that also live there. The grandmother lives down the street and is also hosting a volunteer.

Yesterday (Saturday) we went guesting - visiting - to my host brother's in-laws. A massive meal was involved. We ate for almost four hours. By the time we got back home, the electricity was out and we had to use candles and my mag light to get around.

I'm cutting off here, as all the other PCTs are going over to the cafe to eat. We all ended up meeting here by chance to check out email.

But now I know where to go.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Black Thursday

Staging was a day and a half of meetings and meeting lots of people. There are 65 in our group, and I probably met two-thirds of them and remember one-third of their names. Come Monday I'm sure to have forgotten them all. But it's a cool group with people from all over the country (and world), with quite a diverse array of experiences.

Washington D.C. has been bitterly cold - it snowed a couple of inches yesterday and we seemed to have it blowing in our face the entire time. They also don't seem to plow the streets and so there were lots of sliding cars and sliding people (bricks don't make for a very tractable surface). Besides the four (including me) here bound for Uz, there are a number of medevacs here for surgery, doctor appointments, and recuperation. It's good to talk to some actual volunteers who can give us the unromanticized low down.

The Inauguration is today and we (seems the PC is about 90% Dems - I'd say 100%, but I'm sure there's a few who are just afraid to speak out) plan to head over there and join a protest. Although with the massive security out there (the entire Mall is fenced off) it might not be worth it - especially if we can't get within tomato throwing distance.

Our visas are ready for pickup and we're still scheduled to leave on Saturday evening. Until then...