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Part V: Visiting My Friend Stan and Tashkent

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Dec 12, Thursday:
Still not there yet! So at just past midnight we board the plane for Tashkent, on Uzbekistan Airways. They pack ‘em in like sardines (more on that later) and the average former-USSR citizen has a much more relaxed concept of “personal space.” They’re good at standing in lines, making them as short as possible, and pushing your slow, interfering self when you are in their way. It’s not out of rudeness though, but more of desire to go ahead and get it over with NOW NOW NOW, so they can then WAIT WAIT WAIT. There is a loud argument at the back of the plane over something – do you realize how fast these people jabber when they are not agitated? Thankfully it does not break into an all out scuffle, though that might have been amusing. At 2AMish somewhere over Kerplakistan we are served a meal, which I think was actually the best of all flights. It’s ironic, I tell ya. US-based airlines prefer the concept of the “snack” which may go so far as to be a dry sandwich-on-a-roll thingy, whereas both the Moscow and Tashkent flights were a snack, a drink, shortly thereafter a meal, and a drink, another snack later, and some hot moist towels liberally interspersed throughout. How the hell are you supposed to get any sleep that way?

So after the required flight time eventually we landed, after passing over the outskirts of a city that looks quite poor. It’s a hallmark of countries previously afflicted with communism that they simply do not have any money or resources. They tend to be poorly lit, a bit disheveled, and all drive really small cars. We get to wait in the Passport Control line for I don’t know, 3 maybe 4 days. Maybe it was really only a half hour, but it pales in comparison to the decade we spent waiting for the luggage to show up. Ours must have been in the special “foreigner” compartment because it came out dead last, after 95% of everyone else had already gone through customs and left. I assume we were last, just because I think those 3 people still waiting on their luggage when ours stopped coming out simply never got theirs. By this time Bakhodir (hereafter simply referred to as Baha) the Expediter has showed up. We breeze through customs at this point, load up baggage into the vans (err…the porters did) and depart through lovely downtown Tashkent for the Sheraton. Turns out the Sheraton there is a nicer hotel than Sofitel in Houston was.

Due to the conflicting information from Houston on whether or not we could leave the hotel, of course we did. As some of you may know, your last order trumps previous orders. At some point they softened “don’t” to “don’t go alone.” So we sampled a couple of places on the local economy, where you could eat for about a seventh or eighth of what you’d pay at the Sheraton. Plus, more local chicks wandering around that way! At the hotel, they either worked there, or they …worked there. “Dollar, dollar” takes many forms, and that by any means isn’t meant to disparage the first class of people who worked at the hotel, who were really first class in all ways. Kind, helpful, friendly, typically quite attractive, speak excellent English in addition to Uzbek and Russian. But let’s just say that when fools and their money come to town, other classes of people are more than happy to separate them. So anyways, back to eating on the economy. One of the guys had talked to the concierge about places to eat, and came up with the Golden Chicken, which was not to far down this one street. Except it was actually down another street, explaining why we never ever found it on the first street at all. At some point some of the others tried to ask a local where it was, and he just looked at them like “I don’t understand you, crazy foreigner, leave me alone! No, speaking nonsense slowly and loudly does not help.” Anyways, we eventually figured out that either we were on the wrong street or maybe he’d screwed up and the name was really this Golden River place just up the street a little farther. As we would later find out, it was some of both. The place we wanted was the Golden Wing. Smile So nobody at the Golden River spoke English. In between my poor Russian and a picture menu, we mostly got the idea across.

To switch gears a bit, I realize that some people think everyone either speaks English or can magically understand “us.” The difficulties in getting milk for coffee brought this up. Somebody acted like the waitress had to understand what he meant before I sputtered out the word for milk (food names are so hard to remember!) when it was abundantly clear she could not. This poor girl has these foreigner types come in where only one person can barely speak (hey now, I started to remember stuff quickly though, cut me some slack) the language, and they have to point and nod at things. I thought she did a fine job, and didn’t run away like she should have. I started to be a bit embarrassed by the shades of ugly American that were peeking out. In any case, the food turned out good and we did have a little counting problem somewhere along the line. The bill came to something like 33,000 soum. The soum is the local currency there and quite literally enough means a “sum” of money, and the exchange rate was about 1000 soum to the 1 dollar. We had changed money at the hotel, but nobody had anything bigger than 500 soum notes, which are probably 20% larger than dollars. So imagine if you will having to count out 66 bills to pay for the total check. How embarrassing that was, especially after I thanked her for being so nice, since I knew we were so hard to understand. It was my longest speech yet, too! Embarassed

After that it was nap time – a couple hours would sure do some good. That was the intent, but when I blinked and five had gone past, I didn’t figure another minute would hurt…and five more hours went on by. Remember, we had been moving for 24 hours and moved forward 12 hours on the clock, arriving at the Sheraton 8ish and having a lunch expedition 11ish AM. Went down that late evening and sat in the lobby / lounge with some other folks. Stayed awake most of the rest of the night, but forced in another hour or two of sleep somehow.

Part IV: Across the Pond

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Dec 10, Tuesday:

Come on
Baby don’t you want to go
Back to that same old place
Sweet Home Chicago

So off we go from Houston to Chicago. As we fly north up to the lake and then west towards the airport, I have an eerie sense of familiarity with the place. I have never been to Chicago, but a long time ago as a computer flight simulator geek I flew over it day in and out. With the old Sublogic Flight Simulator – the original, mind you! – your default starting airport was the old one on the west shore of the lake; I think it may have been called Midway? Anyways, it juts out into the lake, and as you go north there is another finger of land pointing east, and just northwest of that are the buildings of downtown. It’s all fairly close together, and in the days when it was just a neat thing to do and not an expression of terroristic hatred, we’d take off and search for the coolest way to hit the buildings.

Anyways, we change planes for London. It’s a nice spacious and largely empty Boeing 777. Those are nice birds, all the amenities, lots of room. I’ve flown one of those at the United simulators in Denver and let me tell you, while the pilots have all kinds of buttons and switches to deal with, the computers make it really easy to fly. (While in the simulator, we got to practice another time-honored Flight Simulator tradition; high speed passes under the Golden Gate Bridge!) It’s a long flight but I managed to sleep some at least. At one point I look over and the guy next to me has seemingly disappeared until I realize he is passed out cold face first into his seat, with his knees and feet on the floor under the seat in front of him. Whatever works, I guess. Smile

Dec 11, Wednesday:
As the sun rises over Old Blighty (above the clouds that is) we do racetracks over the English countryside until they finally decide to let us land. We have to grab our luggage and get over to the Aeroflot counter for the flight to Moscow. It’s only about a two mile journey, but then again it’s entirely possible we just missed it twice, too. (doubt it) So it seems there is some confusion regarding our visas. The problem isn’t Moscow however, but Tashkent. The Russians are fine with us, but if they bring us along and we can’t head on to Uzbekistan, then it costs Aeroflot $5K per passenger. Eventually after much calling back and forth the situation is resolved, and onto the plane we go.

And it is chock full o’ Russkies. Not that you wouldn’t imagine that, flying into Moscow and all. Actually, the interesting thing was that so many were not Russians but a lot of Americans and various different Oriental types. It’s funny to hear the safety instructions and other airplane whatnot in Russian, then in accented English, but they all spoke it well. At one point the stewardess started to spit out the meal choices at me, got this look on her face “I should know better, he doesn’t understand what the hell I am saying, switch to English!” Actually, I could understand her, but only at about 1/3 as fast as she was saying it. See, one aspect of a few other foreign languages is that you should speak as quickly as you possibly can, presumably because you don’t really like the people you are talking to, I guess. And I don’t mean your standard “Northeast Seaboard vs. slow southern drawl” either, but a truly horrendous pace that must completely exhaust you after a paragraph or two. Anyways, it’s difficult knowing that you could actually communicate with these people, but since their English is so damn good, you are afraid to trot out your sloppy badly remember Russian with all its vocabulary gaps.

So we landed in Moscow, can’t say much about Sheremeyetevo-1 except it’s cold, poorly lit, and I may have thrown an extra syllable in there. Hope not. Additionally, we may have gone to -2 first. At any rate, we got into one of them, wandered around for a bit in the duty free area, and went ass around elbow to get to the other airport, since one is for international flights and the other is for domestic. And let’s just add at this point that you can tell the difference between the two. Almost no English is spoken on the domestic side, and there isn’t any heat at all it seems. No sleeve going to the plane, you hop on an unheated bus and drive up to the base of the aircraft. You may hop on a bus and only go 100 yards as well (did that twice.) Must be a control thing.

2002 12: The Journey to Uzbekistan

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

This covers leaving Denver, processing in Houston, the flights, Tashkent, and getting to Karshi-Khanabad Airbase.

Going back over these while migrating them from the old phpbb forum I noticed a few things that I mis-noticed at the time of writing or now know not to be quite true, having have more exposure to Uzbekistan, but I am leaving them in to more properly document what I saw and what I thought about it.

Leaving Dubai

Sunday, January 16th, 2005

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
They’ve got net access, right in the air-port…

Well, in a nutshell, Ikromjon didn’t do anything terribly helpful. Then they ran out of seats on Sunday afternoon’s leisurely flight. None til Weds…though maybe next Sunday. Eek! Then an array of other crappy choices until a last-second Turkish Airlines flight through Istanbul comes my way. It’s noticeably more expensive. It’s business class only. At least then my 3AM flight to Istanbul, and my 7PM flight to Tashkent should theoretically be more comfy. Can’t do much about the 12 hour layover, nor arriving in Tashkent at a warm winter’s welcoming 2AM. Ok, it will neither be warm nor welcoming, though the rest is true. Guli will be welcoming, and it will be great to see her. I will be bleary eyed, beat up, and probably stink. I am sure she will quite sensibly run away. Therefore it is imperative I sneak up on her.

I had meant to post the notes through Dubai, however due to a LOT of frenzied and near panicked running around today that will not yet take place.

A Musical Odyssey in Time and Space

Friday, December 24th, 2004

I was listening to some music last night and thought of a song I had not listened to in a while. It is “Aisha” by the group Outlandish. They are from Denmark apparently, with members from Honduras, Pakistan, and Morocco.

I first heard this song in December of 2003 in Tashkent. Actually, there is a possibility I first heard it in October, but looking back I can’t be sure. Anyways, it makes a better story if it’s December, so it is officially December. So there! It was on or about mid-December and a friend of mine and I were on the way out on R&R. We had processed in Houston together and arrived a day or two apart. We spent a few days there before flying out. Of course this was before the lockdowns and other ridiculous stuff imposed by the company folks, so you could go out and do whatever you wanted. Out in the clubs we heard this amazing song. We both noticed it, and it was obvious that nearly everyone else really seemed to like it a lot, too. In a nutshell, it sings the praises of a woman living her life. It tugs all the right heartstrings. (more…)

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