Above, the collection of concrete
squares sporting "fan vaulting" that provide shade for
the Russian Market in Ashgabad.
--Sunday, 22 November 98-- $1 = 9,800 manat
I had arranged for Serdar to be my interpreter for a trip to the Sunday
Market. Serdar wants to start a rug exporting business and I would anchor
the USA end so he wants me to have experience in understanding carpets
and I want to learn about them too.
Serdar arrived wearing reflective sun glasses that didn't quite cover
the notable black eye he was sporting. He said it was from someone who
tried to push him around and he claims to have got the better of the deal.
I told him he should tell people he had an argument with a door and "if
you think I look bad, you should see the door!"
We walked around Tolkushka looking at the better carpets, asking prices
and discussing quality. At one point a college student standing beside
me said, "Hello," and I introduced myself. He said his name
was Balkan and he was from the region of Turkmenistan called Balkan. It
took a while to get this straightened out. He is a language student at
the university and likes to talk to English speakers. I gave him my phone
number and told him to call me. He heard us talking about wanting to see
a silk carpet and said that he had seen one, a double sided carpet. He
led us to it and I admired it but at $2,000 it was way beyond my budget
although it really was high quality.
That night I got a telephone call from the guy selling the double sided
carpet who told me it was available for only $1,650. Hmm. Serdar says
that he finds Americans naive about these things.
--Monday, 23 November 98-- $1 = 9.500 manat
At Noon, Ed, Roustam and I went next door to the "National Library
Named After Turkmenbashy" (that's a quote from the Director's business
card) to view some rooms that we may want to use for training.
I asked the Director if the Library had Internet access. She said that
had been awarded it by the British Embassy but they had not had time to
install it. Go figure.
We were told that there was a restaurant in the basement that could provide
our participants coffee and lunch so we went to see it. We were shooed
away from the restaurant's padlocked front door even though it is supposed
to be open for lunch. Roustam went around to the back entrance and got
us permission to go inside. Quite a facility. It had curved walls with
some fancy mirrors on it, a bandstand (made of 18 inches of solid concrete)
and a back room entered by a doorway whose door consists of a rotating
two meter wide wheel.
We were introduced to the Director of the restaurant and asked him about
the hours and he said they were open from "10 or 10:30 AM to the
night." And yet the restaurant was closed, as we spoke, at Noon.
We asked about the menu and we were told, "What ever you want."
This must be the dining room for Kafka's Castle.
Went to a 6:30 piano recital at the Music College. All the concerts here
start at 6:00 or 6:30. The playing was very good but the music was mostly
esoteric although this crowd liked it well enough. There was no program
so I am not exactly sure what was played but I did hear Mozart, perhaps
Debussy, and certainly a lot of angst-ridden Scriabin.
Walking home we met Vlad who was walking our way. After we dropped Ed
off Vlad and I walked on. He asked me if I was married and I said "No
wife, no kids, no tuition payments." He laughed.
The Specialness of Shopping Here
At home you know where to go and how much to pay for whatever you want.
For commonplace goods, food, etc., the only issues are convenience and
price. So you price shop -- when you have the energy. Not very interesting.
Here, there is an excitement in food shopping: Will you find what you
need? How much will it cost? Where will you have to go to get it? You
scour the market, looking in every display chest, you ask your friends
about food sightings, you, in short, really SHOP.
Most important of all is the question. "Will they have it?"
I bought 250 grams (a half pound) of Anchor butter when I had more than
three times that amount at home already just because I wasn't sure I could
find it again easily. Back in the States, running out of butter means
an elevator trip to the first floor market.
Nearly always shopping means outdoor shopping. My favorite spot is the
Russian Market where you and the vendors are protected from the sun by
a dozen soaring concrete columns that extend out to giant squares ten
meters on a side. Each square has a geometric pattern of concrete "fingers"
that spread out from the column and interconnect like fan vaulting in
a gothic cathedral. Underneath, sheltered in the shade, vendors sell colorful
piles of fruits, vegetables, meats, and whatever else they have.
I knew I would be going on a hike in the Kopet Dag mountains and I wanted
to be sure to be able to take as many pictures as possible. So I went
to the Russian Market and bought four Sony AA batteries. They were wrapped
in plastic and Sony is a good name. When I was on the hike my existing
batteries died and I put in the Sony ones. They were completely and totally
dead. The LCD display would even show up. Bummer. The following week I
went back looking for Duracell batteries, you know, the kind that have
that gimmicky tester built into each battery. Well I found the Duracells
but the tester indicated they were dead too. The "Best Used Before"
date on the side was 2003.
While I was looking for the batteries I came across some Super Glue and
bought a tube for about $2. There is a chair in my office that has a rung
that pops and this would be the perfect thing to fix it. Ed helped me
fix the chair. I opened the Super Glue very carefully because the directions
warn that the stuff "glues flesh in seconds." Ed held the rung
apart and urged me to be careful. I was. Slowly I pressed the end of the
tube, gradually pressing upwards. Just as I reached the neck of the tube,
enough glue for two tiny drops appeared. For all practical purposes, the
tube was empty. Oh, well.
Click here for two more pictures of the Russian