PAUL BENJAMIN: Writer, Editor, Supermodel

Home Sweet Home (Uzbekistan Edition) – Part Two

First impressions of Uzbekistan? Ready? Go!
I’ve mostly been in the house unpacking since I arrived. The embassy’s been closed or on reduced hours due to Uzbekistan officially celebrating the end of Ramadan and their Independence Day from Monday through Thursday. Apparently the government doesn’t announce official holidays until the last minute, presumably to reduce the possibility of security threats planned around big events.
Lisa’s had to go to the office and a few events while I was focused on our big move from temporary to permanent housing and getting things in order (though she was around plenty to help out). We did take a walk to the grocery store in our temp house neighborhood. On that walk, I determined that the infrastructure of Tashkent is somewhat questionable. I’d heard that the roads the president uses tend to be in good repair but other streets not so much. That was borne out by several open manholes (heh, heh, I said “manholes”) as well as what appeared to be a few random adults and their kids building their own speed bump. On the walk back from the market, the speed bumps on opposite sides of a neighborhood intersection had been marked as ‘drying’ by a few random, relatively flat objects place in the road like ‘caution’ signs for people to drive around. My guess is that the people building them were actually paid to do so by the city, they just didn’t have uniforms and brought their kids along for the fun. I was also interested to see gas pipes running along the tops of fences, then angling out or down in random zig zags, some angles so abrupt that the gas pipes went through holes drilled in concrete walls only to come out through a similar hole elsewhere. Their crazy angles kinda reminded me of Darkseid’s Omega Beam eye blasts, and if there’s a major earthquake here like in the 60s, they’ll probably cause just as much devastation.
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Yesterday, I finally got out of the house for a little excursion around the city with our driver, Victor. Yes, we have a driver. We also hired a maid to come twice a week since domestic help is so affordable here. Our car is still in transit from DC and Lisa needs to get to work, so Victor is a must. He’s a Russian gentlemen who worked for the previous tenants of our temp house. He’s great and speaks a little English (though he insists on using Russian as much as possible to help me practice, which is a good thing). Right now we ride in Victor’s car, of course, but once ours gets here in a few months, he’ll drive us in that one as much as possible given that Uzbek cars tend to lack air-conditioning. Fortunately, the weather here has been in the 80s and low 90s since I arrived, unseasonably cool for this time of year (and better than DC or Austin).
Our drive around the city consisted of a few landmarks, including one new, ultra-modern building that is not yet occupied and seems to have no defined purpose as of yet. We also drove by the center of town whereTimur Square celebrates regional hero Amir Timur, a 14th century conqueror and patron of the arts best known in the West as Tamerlane. It’s a gorgeous park and I look forward to visiting on foot soon.
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As I’ve mentioned previously, our temp house was enormous. I only spent two nights there, but with the four stories and many, many bedrooms as well as a three-room basement and three-room belfry plus a pool, it was way too big for our little household. The new house is much more comparable to our home in Austin, for those who know it. While I’ve been cautioned not to show too many details of the house and its surroundings due to standard security precautions, here’s a glimpse of the front of the main building. It’s pretty good-looking, right?
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Well, it is when you can see the whole thing.
The house features nice rooms with hardwood floors and high ceilings plus it comes with furniture to reduce the amount of goods shipped overseas. Here’s our main living room/dining area (sorry for the glare from the window in the dining room). The entire room is about twice as wide as what you see here, but that was the most panoramic view I could get with my iPad’s camera. My actual camera is in the suitcase I shipped in order to avoid excess baggage fees (which it turns out I wouldn’t have been charged. No, Lufthansa, I’m not still bitter. Not at all.)
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Those high ceilings I mentioned? Not only are they some fifteenish feet overhead, they all feature multi-layered designs. These swooping lines frame the entire ceiling around the chandeliers.
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Here’s another ceiling design. This one reminds me a bit of a mechanical gear, or a the outline of a spaceship.
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And while the chandeliers are a little “grandmotherly,” to my American eye, they are quite artfully crafted. This one in the bedroom is particularly interesting, with budding flower petals for light fixtures and stained glass in the shape of leaves and butterflies.
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I think the biggest downside we see so far is the relatively small kitchen. We like to cook a lot and Lisa is an exceptional chef. We have a ton of kitchen equipment on its way here and nowhere near enough storage space for it. However, we’re hoping we’ll be able to get the large, standing freezer (not in the photo) moved into one of our two storage rooms. That would free up some space for the Elfa shelving on its way from Austin (thank you, Container Store!).
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And let’s not forget the bathrooms. There are three full baths in the main house, plus one next to the sauna (yes, the sauna) and one by the laundry room (which is with a few other rooms presumably meant for live-in help which we can’t have due to security regulations). Yes, that’s five bathrooms for two people. When I broke the shower sprayer trying to adjust it on my first day here, I had plenty of back up showers available. BTW, note the dripping water design on the shower curtain. All the shower curtains have some kind of image like that printed on them. My favorite is the one covered with dolphins. I’ll have to post that some day.
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It’s worth noting that the bathrooms are actually very attractive for the most part. In the photo below you can see the accent tiles on the surround with intricate designs worked into them. That seems to be common here. It certainly beats the 1940s/1950s pink tile we’ve had in our last two homes in Austin and L.A. Sadly, the bathrooms lack any kind of cabinet storage. As you can see from the clear plastic bins in the photo, the Container Store has once again come to the rescue! For those who don’t know, I worked at the Container Store early in my time in Austin when I was just getting my writing career up to speed. It was a great place to work, which is why it’s been in Fortune’s “Top 10 Companies To Work For” for the last dozen years. I’ll admit that while the paycheck wasn’t huge, that employee discount on shelving and storage items is a benefit that is still paying dividends now, half a world away.
And finally, the office. From the photo it doesn’t look too small. However, there’s a wall pretty much on either side of that photo. Still, it should be a great space once I get my Elfa shelves with all my graphic novels as well as my glass and steel desk plus my glass display cabinet and action figures. I cannot wait to finally have a desk with a keyboard tray again so that I can write comfortably for long periods of time. And yes, my former comrades from Fizz Factor, that is the key art from our Hulk video game already gracing my workspace here in Tashkent. It will soon be joined by statues of characters I’ve written as well as many original pages of art by my co-creators and folks for whom I served as editor. I can’t wait to have my creative space back after nearly a year!
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And finally, by request, here are the Top 10 tips from my Tashkent-bound friend at Frankfurt airport (whom I mentioned in the previous post):
1. Don’t drink the water. It contains microbes that our Western bellies just can’t stomach.
2. Avoid fried foods in restaurants unless you know their ingredients. The Uzbeks often cook with low-quality cottonseed oil rather than Western vegetable oil. That can really push up your cholesterol and make you fat, fat, fat (a big concern for me, I know).
3. Be prepared to eat lots of meat. They make delicious shashlik here (shish-kabobs) and the national dish, “plov” is rice cooked in sheep fat with extra sheep fat on top.
4. Everyone smokes in public places. Deal with it.
5. If a cop stops you, don’t try to speak Russian or Uzbek. Just say, “Nyet Russkie. Do you speak English?” If they’re trying to shake you down for a bribe, they’ll likely move on to an easier target. The other advantage to hiding any knowledge of local languages is that you may be able to suss out their true intentions when they speak to their partners. If they’re legit, you should be able to figure that out and give them whatever cooperation is necessary. If they’re working an angle, you can eavesdrop on their conversation.
6. Uzbeks are very patient. Don’t be in a hurry and you won’t be frequently frustrated.
7. Carry your diplomatic credentials everywhere. The embassy should issue you some kind of special ID card which literally says something along the lines of “this person has greater rights than the average citizen.”
8. Learn some Russian and Uzbek. Once you get to the outskirts of Tashkent, nearly everyone speaks Uzbek and your Russian is as useless as English.
9. Pace yourself when being hosted as a guest. The Uzbeks are very kind, generous people and they will feed you until you pop. Have a little of each course and assume that another course is always waiting in the wings. You won’t be disappointed.
10. Have fun. It’s a great city with friendly people and it can be an excellent place to live for a diplomat!

One Response to Home Sweet Home (Uzbekistan Edition) – Part Two

  1. Lisa says:

    I was glad to find your site! I’ll be headed to Tashkent in May 2015 for my first tour (consular). Cheers!

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