Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ceiling Gazing (pt. 2)

Here, as a brief follow up to a previous post, are two more details of intricate ceiling work, both in the city of Bukhara. No 3D glasses required.

All Things Timur

In its search for a modern identity, the Uzbek government and the peope themselves have looked to Amir Temur, known in the west as Tamerlane, and have put him at the center of Uzbekistan's post-Soviet iconography. Like Mao in China, and Genghis Khan in Mongolia, the image of Timur has appears on all the banknotes. The capital of Tashkent sports a Timur museum, near the statue of Timur on horseback at the center of the central park. Here, at the outskirts of Samarkand, Timur's hometown, is a Timur billboard, rather attractive if I must say so myself.

For the Love of Vendors

Being the kind of place that it is, it seems that a great many Bukharans make a living through vending.

These are the customers of the vendors.

These rotund clay figurines seem to be a popular ware of the vendors.

All sorts of finely-crafted cutting objects are up for sale.

Some Glimpses of Bukhara

The ancient city of Bukhara is in Uzbekistan's top three sites for history inspired tourist invasions (along with Samarkand and Khiva). Its popularity with European tour groups seems to have warped the locals to the point where a two-tiered payment system, with different prices for guests and locals, has reached an incredibly advanced state.

An outside view of one of the old markets, before the afternoon heat came on.

Spectacular fascades (this one of a medressa) become routine sitings in Bukhara.

Restoration efforts continue.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Fans of Timurid art and/or psychadelia may enjoy these fine examples from Samarkand:

Uzbek Friends

I made some Uzbek friends at a cafe last night. The gentleman on the left is a local musician; the others work in the cafe.

The Ancient City of Samarkand - It's All Just a Big Fascade

A more serious, cultured posting here (though perhaps Club Arni is also a cultured, serious place). The first two pictures are of the intricate, towering fascades of some of the monuments of Samarkand. These have been restored, keep in mind, since days of Amir Timur (Tamerlane).

This does not quite qualify as a fascade.
Another picture unrelated to the theme.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tashkent Oddities - Two in One

Near the place I was staying I saw ... THIS. The current governer of California ('The Governator') would perhaps be a bit surprised to learn that there is an obscure nightclub in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, named after him. No, I did not check out Club Arni. Maybe next time.

Not every merry-go-round has a set of saddled roosters to ride. Or maybe they do - i'm not too familiar on the subject. At any rate, it was quite intriguing to see how all the Uzbek children shunned the roosters without exception, in favor of the horses/ponies. I suspect that any child who rode a rooster would be severely ostracized by his/her peers.

Assorted Glimpses of Tashkent

Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

One of the city symbols is this set of three silver birds flying above a globe.

A landmark.
Sirk = Circus. One of the stranger structures of Tashkent. It bears a slight resemblance to the circus building in Ulaanbaatar.

A skygazer's view of the entrance to the Islamic University.
From the metro entrance/exit of the Chorsu Bazaar can be glimpsed this unusual structure, which looks like it could be a truncated version of the Tower of Babel.

A Clockwork Orange

Sorry to those who follow this blog for the long gap since the last post - I have been encountering various challenges, such as procuring a Kyrgyz visa. It has been a challenge finding a decent Uzbek internet cafe, as well.

The following pictures are from my first night in Tashkent. To my great delight and astonishment, when i turned on the TV, A Clockwork Orange was showing ... overdubbed in Uzbek! These are shots of the last part of the movie, after Alex's 'reformation.'

Perhaps there is some sort of metaphor connecting all this with my travel experiences. I'm not sure.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shymkent Beer - The Best Reason to Visit Kazkahstan?

The southern city of Shymkent, Kazakhstan, produces a very fine lager by the eponymous name of Shymkent Beer. Though it hasn't yet, this beer stand a excellent chance of winning an award in an international beer contest. That cafes and restaurants around the city and surrounding towns offer this beer on tap is a good reason to visit the region, if you happen to be traveling or working in Kazakhstan. (Some pubs in Almaty also offer draft Shymkent Beer, incidentally. I'm not sure about Astana though).

While wandering about lost in the adjoining city of Sayram I stumbled upon the brewery of Shymkent Beer (in Russian: Shimkentskoye). This is the label to look out for.

An unguarded beer truck.

An illustrious piece of Soviet-era metalwork on one of the factory walls. It features a man and a woman holding a sheaf of wheat, below which stands a glorious tankard of lager.

Upon the Request of Shannon Borntrager:

Months ago, I received a request from an certain Shannon Borntrager, either to post an entry on a mud wrestling event staged with Chinese midgets, or else to write a compare and contrast essay on the drinking habits of Mr Borntrager himself versus the habits of an illustrious drinker of my choosing – any that I might meet during my travels.

I have found a worthy comparator. But I have neither the energy nor the inclination to write a full-fledged compare and contrast essay. Instead I will just mention in passing that the illustrious Mr Borntrager’s drinking habits tend towards drinking 1.56 liter bottles of the horrendously toxic Korean beer Cass Red (known in some circles as formaldehyde lager) on casual, stay-at-home nights, or else either (a.) taking a KTX to Seoul Station, then a subway to Itaewon Station and indulging in various draft beers (namely, Cass) at such stalwart pubs as Polly’s Kettle and Old Town, or else (b.) ducking into Santa Claus Pub in Daejeon for a few of the same.

Mr Shannon Borntrager’s drinking opponent shall remain unnamed. This is because he is a high-ranking Mongolian official. His drinking style differs significantly from Mr. Borntager’s. He is from a former Soviet state (Mongolia), and thus he has been trained to drink no other liquid than vodka.

Here is my account of this to-be-unnamed drinker of Mongolian origin, who compares very favorably with the aforementioned Borntrager:

While waiting in line to pass through the fiery trial of Mongolian immigration, I met a tubby man in a suit and tie, with a wristwatch studded in diamonds. He was gregarious in a cunning and persistent way. I soon discovered that he was a high-ranking official of the Mongolian Olympic Wrestling Association. Once in the boarding lounge he produced a bottle of Chinggis Vodka - the vodka of Genghis Khan. There was nothing to drink the vodka out of, so he was forced to take a long draught from the neck before passing me the bottle.


By the time the level of the Chinggis had sunk below its halfway mark our plane had arrived and offloaded its passengers. At this point it was already thirty minutes past the original boarding time. I clinched inwardly when I heard what sounded like a huge argument break out between the Official and the airport security. But this was only a maneuver to initiate boarding. The doors of the lounge swung open and we were soon comfortably seated on the small  SCAT Airlines vessel.

Both the Official and myself were catching another flight from Ust-Kamenogorsk to the former Kazakh capital of Almaty. In common Mongolian fashion, the wrestling official had been given a parcel in the Ölgii airport to deliver to someone in Ust-Kamenogorsk, and this second party had rewarded him, when we landed, with another bottle of vodka. This he cracked open in the Ust-Kamenogorsk boarding lounge. The lounge’s florescent lighting was encased in square sections of tape ribbon grills, I remember. Somewhere far off beyond the tarmac a train passed. Slowly.


On this last flight, the wrestling official took the precaution of asking permission from the airline staff to drink the vodka. When he pressed the call button on the wall there was no response. He began to push his button repeatedly, then moved on to some other buttons. When this didn’t work, he coerced all his neighbors to push theirs. Finally a lithe, blasé stewardess appeared. Permission was granted. A few shots later the official passed back a plastic airline cup half full with vodka – perhaps the largest vodka shot I had ever seen. For the remainder of the flight I admired the stately carpeting on the floor and managed to read a page of two of Darwin: On the Breeds of the Domestic Pigeon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Almaty Stencil Graffiti - Series #2

The illustrious (late) Hunter S. Thompson has found his way onto a prominent old wall of Almaty.

No idea who this is.



This appears to be a side-profile of Kazakhstan's President-for-Life, Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The Stencil Graffiti of Almaty

While Almaty, Kazakhstan, is an exceedingly clean city of upright post-Soviet citizens, there are some signs of counter-culture, namely, stencil graffiti art on many of the inner city heritage blocks.

This portrait appears to be of the ornery TV doctor House.

Keanu Reeves - the Matrix look.

Looks familiar but I can't place him. Let me know if you can identify the subject this graffiti.

A common face on the city walls and fences. Again, I'm not sure who this is supposed to be.

The Hulk?!?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Almaty Architecture (Part II)

One of the most attractive sights of Almaty - Zenkov Cathedral, built at the turn of the 20th century.

The National Museum

A modern bank building - inspired by Star Wars?

One corner of the Independence Monument