Part V: Visiting My Friend Stan and Tashkent

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.

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