Part VI: A Wander Through Tashkent

Dec 13, Friday:
Good all you can eat breakfast. Thank goodness for expense reports though, because I am here to report to you it was expensive. We hang around the hotel some, and then launch another expedition to the outside, finally getting to the Golden Wing, which is quite crowded. We do a little better here, as my Russian is improving by the minute, but I still have these odd little gaps where I can’t remember a word, and wouldn’t you know it’s usually the most important one of a sentence? A crowd of 4, and then later 2 more, very young and attractive women sit at the table next to us, demonstrating the variety of looks and ethnic types all right there at the same time. Of course, their fashion tastes are even a bit different from the younger American generations, and they smoke like chimneys.

I’m gonna change the subject here a little bit and talk about the women in Tashkent. In a word, they’re beautiful. I’m sure there must be ugly ones, but I think they put them somewhere out of sight, at least until they turn into the little square babushkas of stereotype. That stereotype, by the way, is absolutely steel on target. This area has always been a crossroads of cultures, so you find Russian, Asian, Persian, Turks, and wonderful combinations of those. Exotic features, stunning blonds that seem almost out of place given the general darker hair / features, what a variety of sights to behold! Thank God for LASIK, so that I do not miss anything.

Aside from the women, there isn’t so much to look at. There was a large green domed mosque down the street from the hotel. Down from that is a statue of Timur (also known to the West as Tamerlane) who was big in these parts way back when. He’s got that fire in his eyes, charging forward on his horse. I bet he kicked ass. Just down from there is a boulevard turned into a sort of open air mall crossed with the barkers and food “shops” of a carnival. 6 items in great abundance and variety, not counting the 5 different kinds of food, set out on skewers ready to be cooked at a moment’s notice. It maybe wouldn’t be so bad because it was really cold out, but it’s not something I felt like chancing. Most of the shops don’t have much to sell, and there is a general feeling of sparseness to the shelves. There are quite a few Internet Cafes. Many of the shops have darkly tinted windows and look permanently closed. Some are. Interspersed among these little shoplets are giant apartment buildings, some of which look like they are going to fall apart before your very eyes. It can be hard to tell new construction going up – not that there’s much of that – from old buildings being taken down.

There’s no shortage of folks wanting some money from us. As obvious Westerners we stick out like a sore thumb, and the chant of “dollar, dollar” is often heard, though usually mumbled. The kids are the worst, because they are so persistent and heartrendingly sad-eyed. They’re also pretty damn hard to get rid of. The adults are much better from that perspective as they don’t really seem to care all that much, with little to no tugging at heartstrings action going on. The kids stick to you like glue, especially if someone in your group has taken any pity on them and run up the sucker flag for all to see. They will appear at your side, and meander semi-permanently attached to you wherever you go. That is, until they see the local militia or cops, whereupon they disappear with a surprising suddenness, and reappear with that same surprising suddenness when the “danger” is past. I had one lil’ urchin latch on to me, grabbing me by the arm and not letting go. I removed her hand 30-40 times and it made absolutely no difference. She actually had a hell of a grip, and I suspect she worked out regularly. “Okay, another set of 30-40 arm grabs, ready…exercise!” With an adult, that wouldn’t have even happened, but if so it could be dealt with. What was I gonna do, beat the shit out of this kid? Hey you, smartass in the front row, be quiet, it was a rhetorical question. Anyways, the second you give in to these people, you’ll find an army of clones descending on you wanting the same. Even worse, when the army decides to beat up the one to take whatever you may have given it. So your only hope is to play Mr. Heartless Bastardman and wait for them to get bored and leave. It only works if you are more stubborn than they are. It seems cruel not to help, but often doing so just makes things worse. The world is a shitty place sometimes.

Then you find you’ve been wandering around almost a whole day, and it’s getting dark. Time to leave Gypsy territory, just in case. Public drunkenness is not unknown, and we see two tiny people struggling under the weight of a large, yet happy man. I do not know if the car parked on the sidewalk blocking a shop door is related to him or not. We don’t go through the park with the statue of Timur, just in case it is our ass he would kick. We take a shortcut!

Sorry, but no story there. It was a safe and accurately guessed shortcut. Had you wondering though, didn’t I? AR!

Later back at the hotel, we sit in the other lounge and watch the belly dancer show. That’s right, belly dancing. You have to remember this isn’t southern Russia. To better understand it, consider that if you draw a (not completely straight) line from India to Turkey, Uzbekistan is in the middle. To the lower left is the Persian influence. To the right you have the western reaches of China. And the latecomers to the region, the Russians, are off to the northwest. They are what you refer to as a minority, even though they had ruled this country for the last 150 years or so. Then there was a little jazz type band that played. Not a hotspot, but just sort of a relaxing place to sit and chill. Tomorrow, we’ll catch a flight down to Karshi via puddle jumper.

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