The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 15
--Saturday, 17 October 98-- $1 = 7,800 manat
I woke up late -- too late for a shower. But I didn't care; I need time to pull myself together. Turkmenvino is potent stuff.
I bicycled south of the main city to visit the infamous row of hotels. It was about 90 in the shade and on a gradual incline all the way. Peddle, peddle, peddle but I got there by thinking how easy the ride back would be.
They were where I expected to find them: 23 hotels, one vacant lot (which ministry was not doing its job?) and one building I could not believe was intended to be a hotel. One after the other, cheek by jowl, less than 20 rooms in any one of them and all nearly empty. Ed had told me that each of them was intended to be a "guest house" for a ministry. Houses of assignation is more like it.
At a party someone made the statement that if the oil and gas exports had worked out as planned there would be enough money to pay for all these "guest houses." I agreed but argued that they would still be losers since the same accommodations could be had at a more reasonable cost and that cross subsidies were a bad idea. This I had to say to an American. And of course, the oil and gas exports did not work out as planned.
On the pleasant downhill trip back to the city, I investigated the dozens of fountains along Turkmenbashy Street. There they were, pouring, spurting, dripping and spraying water in the air. Some with bronze flamingoes wading, some with dolphins leaping, and some with turtles swimming. All species unknown in this country.
I can't help wondering if the fountains are here to please the President who lives in villas in the mountains just south of the city and who commutes past them daily. And the waste of water in an arid land. Hard to comprehend.
All in all it turned out to be about a 25 mile ride. Nice, very nice.
Miscellaneous Observations: Linguistic Oddities
I have noticed that, consistently, interpretation or translation results in more words than we use in American. In the former USSR, there is a lack of a word for "performance" -- and this in the land of the five year plan. Ed discovered that there is no short phrase for "work papers". On the latter we turned to Roustam who has an accounting degree. He said the they have the reality but refer to them as "papers supporting account # xxxx in the 'Main Book'".
I find it fascinating that the verb for "to eat" in Russian is the same as the verb "to live."
What's in the End of a Name?
I have been besieged with questions from my more perceptive readers demanding to know how so many countries in the same region of the world could be independently named with names ending in "stan." On the face of it, the question is hard to resist: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan. The answer is provided by Evan Katz who writes that "Stan means dry, plains region with some mountains." From what I have seen of the topo maps, he has hit the nail on the head.
Driving in Ashgabad
The street lights here have an interesting cycle: as the green light nears its end it blinks four times, turns a steady yellow (for about three blinks worth), turns red, then turns yellow and red before the return of green. I assume th last is to give drivers a chance to jump the light. Probably justified on efficiency grounds.
Beyond the blinks is the driving. In Ashgabad they turn corners by pulling into the intersection and pause only at the last moment, blocking the parking lane. The theory seems to be that it is OK to turn into a free lane even if the road is very busy and the lane is blocked ten meters ahead.
What a Country!
Natural gas is free, water is free (when it is available), electricity is free and gasoline is 30 cents a gallon. Did i mention that the first 15 minutes of local calling is free? Waste is everywhere.
I saw a singing contest on Turkmen TV and all the winners (about 75% of contestants) got flowers, a rug in a plastic bag, and a TV in a box. Some of the Turkmen were wearing traditional hats and looked like they had really bad wigs. Ashgabad should consider being a sister city to Baltimore.
Many Turkmen have a special handshake. They take your right hand in there and then put their left hand over your right as you shake. It seems to intensify the effect of shaking, the effect of friendliness.
The personal friendliness seems very genuine, beyond what the individual is gaining by working for or associating with you. You find this friendliness in people outside the city who can gain nothing from being nice and who will never see you again. These are nice people.