Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving Thanks

In the spirit of the holiday, I thought I'd let y'all know of a few of the things I'm thankful for this time around:


For being so different, so fun to visit and sometimes so arbitrary. Like the line between Europe and Asia, which apparently goes through Atyrau. Nothing says Eurocentrism like drawing a line across a huge landmass and calling it two landmasses.

азиа is on the other side of the river

intercontinental travel was never so easy!

That Borat was wrong

Turns out, Kazakhstan is actually quite an open and westernized country, especially as you compare it to the rest of Central Asia. My Atyrau host, Ash, happened to be both Jewish and openly gay, two things that movie did not lead me to expect in this part of the world.

He fed me like a Jewish mother. It was fantastic.


For reminding me that a straight line is always the shortest distance between two points

The Kazakh Steppe

For reminding me that this isn't always true. Especially in Kazakhstan. After I left Atyrau, I decided to hitch my way to Aktobe. By looking at google maps (below), I saw that clearly I should head northeast, through Oktyabrsk and up to Aktobe. The shortest distance.

Uralsk? Who would want to go there?

After my first two drivers both told me that they'd drive me, but I really should have taken the route through Uralsk, I started to worry. The third ride then left me where this video was taken:

Apparently my decision to take this route was akin to saying, "hey, let's cross the mountains, but who wants to take I-90? Let's take the fire roads!" Then, deciding to do it by hitching on logging trucks. What Google calls an 8-hr journey turned into a 40-hr trek.

Consistent pavement

For making my voyages slightly more comfortable and expedient, when possible.
Obviously this is what that yellow "highway" line on the Google maps should represent, right?
The same highway

Not just any pavement, but consistent pavement, is amazing. When you have old pavement that was laid down by the soviets and forgotten for decades, you get the worst roads I've ever seen in my life. The bits of pavement that do exist make the the potholes even huge, even to the point where they're big enough to drive a car entirely into and back out. For those of you who read my early post about the Mongolian bus ride, imagine the same thing, but with fewer people, slightly more legroom, even more bouncing, and the wonderful people known as...

Central Asian Truckers

For almost always being willing to give me a ride. Except for the ones who don't, but I didn't want their ride anyway.

A friendly face

Chevron and Big Oil

For employing, directly or indirectly, everyone in Western Kazakhstan. Without these companies (Chevron in particular) I would never have had Wifi and free steak and wine tasting in Atyrau, Nobody would have ever driven on that road, and most of these cities wouldn't really exist. That being said, I still despise these companies for many, many reasons.

A step up from streetside samsas. Courtesy of  oil money.

Russian Pop and Kazakh folk music (and American pop c. 1994)

For keeping long rides in trucks interesting. There's nothing like hearing белый розы (byelie roza - youtube it) for the 12th time that day, or perhaps some arhythmic dombra strumming along with the wavering voice of a Kazakh bard. Even stranger is hearing most of the songs from the 1994 mix I made in college (a collection of hits from that year ranging from "skat man" to "max don't have sex with your ex" and other less savory titles) multiple times on the mp3 players that every Central Asian vehicle comes equipped with. 

Here's a sample from the other day. Fortunately this trucker was more into modern dance hits from Latin America...

Long periods for reflection

For allowing me to process this adventure along the way. Hitchhiking provides many of these opportunities.

This was taken about 2 1/2 hours and 5km from where the first video was taken... still no cars

Central Asian Hospitality

For coming through when I need it. After being deposited for a second time at dusk in the middle of nowhere, I walked another 1hr+ to what looked like a town. I arrived after dark, it was already well below freezing, and I was pretty sure there was no hotel in town. I approached the nearest house with lights on and people nearby, scared the daylights out of a few Kazakh girls, who ran inside to grab the nearest man, Jaksibar, who ultimately let me sleep on his floor.

Photo op with the new guy!

That I'm not actually a spy

Because every other Kazakh has asked me if I am. Including that host, who finally invited me in after asking me if I was afraid that someone might try to kill me ("I might try to kill you!") and then Russian-Googled my name in Cyrillic (шон конноли) along with the Russian words for "traveler" "from America" "American" "hitchhiking" and others. It turns out I'm not very popular in the Russian-speaking world, as nothing came up. He seemed satisfied after I showed him my facebook profile, although he later joked with me via an online translator, asking if I was "Shawn the traveler... or spy?" "Just a joke." Then, "в каждой шутке есть доля правды" - "Many a true word is spoken in jest"

The boy was more interested in satellite photos of his own house and Seattle.  Who's the real spy, I ask?

My immune system

For keeping me alive, and relatively healthy, regardless of how many times I challenge it. I'm sure the horse's head in the supermarket is clean, but what about the chicken that guy fed me in his car...?

so, can I just have a kilo of face?

Long underwear

Because the Kazakh steppe is crazy cold in the winter. Especially when the wind starts to blow.

That's ice, not water

Kazakh Trains

Because sometimes you look at the map and you think, "Screw the journey, I just want to get there..." Plus, a 20-hr train ride across the steppe provides lots of time for that reflection stuff...

Surprisingly comfortable, too


Trees and snow

For giving me a break from the sweltering deserts of august, but also for reminding me of happy places I've considered home over the years.

Aktobe. Could be MN, or NY... probably not Seattle, sorry.

Friends and family

For being there and keeping me grounded. This whole trip would not be possible without all of you, the support you give me now and the contributions you have made to making me who I am over the years. I am who I am because of the people I've met along the way, and I'm thankful for each of you. Thanksgiving is a hard time to be alone, so I also appreciate the connections I've been able to maintain with you while I've been gone. Thanks :)

The bottlecap that I found in the steppe. At first I thought it was an Outward Bound pin

A sense of adventure

Because travel, and life, would be super boring without it.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

From "Sea" to Shining Sea

I began this trip by crossing the largest ocean in the world, then commenced to cross the largest continent and the most landlocked places. In the past week, I've finally reached salt water again in the form of two Central Asian seas. One healthy, one not so much

Aral - no water...

Caspian - Big water! And my new "go Russia" hat.

The Aral Sea (Nukus and Moynaq, Uzbekistan)

I left Khiva knowing that I had a week of Uzbek visa to fill and only two semi-practical destinations: the town of Nukus and its Savitsky art museum, and the old fishing town of Moynaq and the depressing catastrophe that is the Aral Sea. Since I had time to kill, I opted to stick with hitch-hiking.

The Savitsky museum
Nukus was a short trip. The hitching turned out to be a bit troublesome, but I made it nonetheless, just in time for a run-through of the art museum before closing time. The museum was pretty impressive, and quite colorful. Apparently this guy Savitsky ran around during the 50s and 60s collecting art from all over the Soviet Union. Partly because he was in the middle of nowhere, and partly because Stalin was out of the picture, he was allowed to do this despite Soviet restrictions on art and culture. The result is a vast collection of art on all sorts of themes. Many of the exhibitions here were on Central Asian life, the Aral Sea before and after, as well as a handful of landscapes and still life. A nice taste of a true collection of art and culture that wasn't created simply for tourists to buy (as I saw in most of the places of my last post).

Big city Moynaq. The main road.

After an exceptionally long and slow day of hike-hitching (emphasis on the hiking... I walked at least 15km trying to find a decent place to pick up a ride, or just out of boredom), I finally made it to the tiny fishing village of Moynaq. It's a bit tough to describe exactly what Moynaq is like. It definitely still has the feel of a fishing village somehow, yet the water is nowhere in sight. Imagine suddenly transplanting a small Duluth, MN or Aberdeen, WA from their resource-rich locations to, say, west Texas. That's about what it's like. The entire economy of Moynaq and the region relied on the sea and the fishing industry, providing much of the Soviet Union's fish supply. Today, however, it looks quite different.

The view out to "Sea" This bluff was the shoreline 50 years ago
For an idea of what's happening to the Aral Sea, go to google maps, find the sea, and toggle between the "map" and "satellite" views. The map shows the 1970s-ish shoreline (slightly smaller than original, but close to full size) and the satellite shows a view from a few years ago. The real sea is actually smaller than what the satellite shows there...

Something's not quite right...


Local playthings

The first Christian cemetery I've seen so far
The town still holds onto its heritage. There are boats all over the place, some rusted out and picked over for scrap on the sea bed, some on pedestals in parks, sand some only in paintings in the small, quiet museum. The cannery that once employed thousands of people is still there, as is much of the machinery and even some of the cans. Today the facility is home only to pigeons in the rafters and cattle grazing in the salty sand in the courtyards.

The cannery

Some parts of the cannery survived better than others

Much of the cannery material was left behind

Even the cans were left behind...

The town isn't totally empty, though. There are lots of kids running around and a few working schools and colleges (colleges in Uzbekistan are basically like specialized high schools). There are lots of drunks, and there are still a lot of older people who seem mostly to lament the lost past. My hotel keeper (I was the only tourist in town at the time, so I spent my first night trying to chat with her) is in her 70s and knew the town when the sea was still there. Most of her children work in Almaty, Kazakhstan or other Uzbek towns now, since there's no work in Moynaq. When I asked her if she liked it here, thinking she must have a reasaon to stay, she laughed, "No! It's a bad place! Bad land, bad weather, bad." Speaking of the weather, apparently a side effect of losing the sea is that there are now terrible sand-salt-dust storms that whip up from time to time, causing excessively high rates of respiratory disorders in the area, among other health problems.

Contextually depressing mural

The first Christian cemetery I've seen so far. A sign of the huge Russian population here during fishing times

"World peace"

But there is a bit of hope for local industry, in a way. Oil companies have started to move in to exploit the reserves beneath what used to be the sea. When I inquired about tagging along with another jeep to the sea (chartering one turned out to be an over $500 trip to camp in single-digit temps with inadequate gear), all the tour guides were only taking oil workers these days. Turns out most tourists like to come in the summertime. Weird.

Me, Baatar and Nik in their abode
I did meet a few "fishermen", however! They weren't all Uzbek, in fact most of them were Chinese, and they weren't quite looking for fish... These guys spend the summer going back and forth to the sea collecting brine shrimp eggs from the super saline water, which they then bring back to Moynaq for packaging and sending off to China for... something. They turned out to be awesome guys, and one (Nik, on the right), spoke a bit of English. I almost got a ride with them to the sea, as they were leaving the next morning, but they didn't know if they would be gone for a day or two (no problem) or maybe two weeks to a month (bigger problem). Since I only had 5 days left on my visa, I opted to stay behind. Oh well, there's always the Kazakh side!

The Caspian Sea (Aktau, Kazakhstan)

After leaving that depressing sight, I started my trek out of the country and to Kazakhstan. As it turns out, there's not much in Western Uzbekistan. Just hours and hours of this:

Steppe/desert riding...

With a few of these thrown in:


Again, hitching was hard, and it was cold and windy. Despite the deserty-look of this terrain, the weather was frigid. Even getting a ride wasn't always a guarantee of warmth. One van I rode in had a broken heater AND a broken windshield. The three of us crammed up front shivered our way across the steppe. But at least we were moving. So often my rides ended up looking more like this:

It's amazing how much hitchhiking looks like this sometimes

I finally made it to the border (where they didn't even mention anything about the registration slips I had so diligently collected...) and across, I still barely managed to find a ride from the complete middle of nowhere to the nearest town, Beynau. At that point, I'd had enough of all of the above, and opted for some of the below:

I've been workin' on the railroad...

I figured the next several hundred km of steppe probably looked a lot like the last several hundred, and a night train would also get me out of paying for an expensive Kazakh hotel for the night, win-win! Turns out when you ask the cashier for the "very cheapest" ticket on an overnight train, you probably shouldn't hope for a decent night's sleep...

Nevertheless, I made it to Aktau and the Caspian Sea, my first glimpse of water big enough to reach the horizon!


I didn't realize how much I'd missed big bodies of water until I finally got to the beach. I had plans to go out and explore the desert and some supposedly cool historical sights near here, but instead I've spent the past two days mostly sitting near the water and reading. 

While doing this my first morning, actually, I had an old Russian man power-walking in a neon track suit stop and look at me. At that point, I was still bundled up in my winer travel clothes, scruffy as ever and a week unbathed  (Khiva was the last place with running water), and I was munching on sausage and stale bread next to my behemoth backpack. I smiled at the man, and after a mooment he asked in Russian, "You're hitch-hiking?" I was shocked. I'd spent months generally having people assume that I was lost, stupid, destitute, or all of the above when I tried to explain what hitch-hiking was. Here was someone who not only knew what it was, but pigeonholed me for one immediately!
"Oooohhh, Molodyes!" (Good for you!)
He asked a few of the basic "where are you from" "where are you going" "how long" "alone? really?" questions, then realizing my Russian was limited, just sat there beaming at me, shaking his head fondly. I'm guessing he either spent part of his life doing the same, or always wanted to. He shook my hand and started to walk off, but only got about 10m before he turned on his heels, powerwalked back and gave me 1000 tenge (about $6.50). Despite my protests, he insisted that I take it, then waved and powerwalked off into the distance. Maybe I wouldn't stick to trains from here on out, after all...

MiG memorial
I have gotten out to explore Aktau a bit, though, despite my sea-centered-ness. It's definitely a very Russified place and not so much Central Asian anymore. Sure, most of the people still speak Kazakh first, but there are a lot more white people wandering around, a lot fewer headscarves on women (and more shaved heads, actually), and a lot fewer chaikhanas and shashlik stands. They exist, but they're generally overshadowed by these:

Phonetic translation: Vinni-Pooh! I wonder if Kristof Robinov eats here
and these:

"Hmm, whom should we blatantly imitate: McDonalds or Burger King? Why not both?"

Also, apparently Aktau was only created by the Soviets for Uranium mining and enrichment, along with other heavy industries. All that petered out in the 90s, so now there is a ton of sketchy industrial wasteland surrounding the town. On the plus side, lots of room for street art (and graffiti...):

I hope Mr. Fox accepted the apology

Oh yeah, and today I saw a kid playing with a syringe. So, that's cool.

The sea!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Old stuff, new stuff, old friends, new friends

The past week or so has been a voyage through old and new in Uzbekistan. I've reached a point in my trip where I'm seeing "old" friends whom I met earlier in my trip, while simultaneously meeting new ones. In parallel, I've found that the rich historical landscape of Uzbekistan has a similar mixture of the old and new...

Old friends and New friends

In Bishkek, I stayed with a friend of the brother of a co-worker of my girlfriend, Anna. His name was Rashid (second from right, in the photo). While Rashid was teaching us how to make plov (my first lesson), he introduced me to two guys he'd met working for the UN in Tashkent who were on vacation: Vojta (pronounced voy-tah) from the Czech Republic, and Mario from Switzerland. We hit it off during their short stay in Bishkek and they offered their hospitality in Tashkent, when I arrived. Gotta love friends of friends of brothers of co-workers of girlfriends...
Flashback: Vojta and Mario are the two in the back, seen here at our plov-fest at Rashid's in Bishkek

So, in the name of friendship (and free places to stay), I got back in touch with Vojta as I approached Tashkent. Due to technical difficulties and timing problems, I didn't hear back from him until I was hours away from the city and had already connected with a Couchsurfer. No problem, I just got two hosts!

Vojta introduced me into the expat-world of Tashkent. Anyone who has lived in or spent much time in an international city knows that every international city has this type of worldworld. For many reasons, many expats (foreigners living abroad) tend to find and cling to each other, creating a little community. Kind of like Chinatown... The smaller the number of expats, the tighter the community. Tashkent's was quite tight. Within the first night I had met most of them between Vojta's flat (where I met Gordon and Lola, below), "The Irish Pub" (that's the real name. Prices were closer to European than Uzbek...), and a series of bars after that. Occupations ranged from UN Volunteer to English Teacher to English School Founder to International School Teacher to Head of UNICEF in Uzbekistan to Funemployed Husband of the Head of UNICEF (Gordon). After a couple nights out with these folks, I was left with a few new ideas about the world and a lot less cash in my pocket.

Blurry photo of Gordon (Canadian, left) and Lola (Uzbek, right) in Tashkent

On the other side of things were my Couchsurfing hosts: four Uzbek college students from Bukhara living in a 2-room flat in the old town. Three of the four spoke excellent English and we had many long conversations about Uzbekistan and the US (see the "questions" post for the majority of their questions about America). Through them, I met their friend Justin, another Bukharan who had been teaching English recently in Tashkent and had developed a british accent from rooming with a Londoner while studying in Japan. Justin, it turns out, was on his way to Samarkand and Bukhara that weekend, as well, and offered that we go together. Sounded good to me.
The boys at home. Same as American college students, just plov-ier and with shorter tables.

Rakhmed's English class. I was again the guest of honor

Rakhmed, Alisher and I (pre-shave)

Plus sides of traveling with a local:
1) language: I was able to sit back while Justin did most of the navigating, ordering and haggling. A nice respite when traveling alone.
2) discounts: Justin's connections got us close to 80% off at the hotels
3) local knowledge: Having grown up in Bukhara and spent his childhood giving amateur tours to foreigners, Justin knew the places to go and a lot of the history. How else would I have found myself playing backgammon in a smoky shisha bar with a bunch of Uzbeks?

Registan in Samarkand. Justin was really excited about this pose, he wouldn't take the photo without it

Down sides of traveling with a local:
1) they like to travel in style. Hitchhiking was the furthest from Justin's mind, as were cheap eats. Luckily, he picked up the bill more often than not (pushing me away when I tried to pay
2) discounts: 80% off of a ridiculously priced hotel is still a costly room. At least it came with a sauna.
3) local knowledge: in his overconfidence, he often told us things of questionable validity. This ranged from simply contradicting our guidebook (which could easily be mistaken, as well) to calling horse riding stirrups "handcuffs." and busts of any white man "Lenin"
4) time stress: Justin only had the weekend off from Tashkent, so we had a whirlwind 24-hour tour of Samarkand before jetting off to Bukhara, which he left after another 24 hours.

The bird-shaped scissors came with an explanation of Islamic circumcision traditions...
It was thus a blessing and a curse to be traveling with him, but overall I was quite thankful. Once in Bukhara, I had another old friend along for the ride with Justin ars our tourguide. Robert, the Irish cyclist from my adventures along the Afghan border, happened to be coming through Bukhara at the same time, so we teamed up again for a more urban adventure.

Feeling a bit shy about my new haircut, I decided to try some new styles with Rob

In a whirlwind day Justin brought us from one historic sight to another, stopping briefly for some delicious shashlik, a quick visit to the police station and a ferris wheel ride (see below)!

This is what happens when you try to drive a car without registration in Uzbekistan: The police personally drive it to the impound lot for you. Then, you call your friend the police chief and he lets you have it back.

Mother of all Shashlik in Bukhara. I'm pretty sure there was a whole chicken on this spit.

Old stuff and New Stuff

Both Samarkand and Bukhara, as with much of Uzbekistan, have a rich ancient history. This is the heart of the silk road and a piece of land that has been fought over by many would-be-world-conquerers in its day, including Alexander of Macedonia, Genghis Khan, various Persian and Turkik rulers, and more recently, Stalin. Unfortunately for people who are interested in seeing some of this history, each of these rulers wanted to make it his own. Genghis Khan was the most ruthless, and there is hardly anything from before 1200 that survived his onslaught.

On the rickety soviet ferris wheel in Bukhara. One of the soviet's additions. Rob's fear of heights and rickety things made it way more fun.
Most of the historical sights I've seen in the west are touched up, preserved, or sometimes memorialized. Here, however, they have no qualms with completely renovating and replacing ancient buildings with brand new ones that look basically the same. Thus, you may be looking at an "ancient minaret" that was actually built by the soviets in 1960.

The assimilation of old into new didn't stop with buildings, either. The persian rugs that traveled with caravans to markets in Venice are still being made here today, just with some different patterns:

Mickey Mouse with a scimitar on a camel would have definitely taken over the world
After a few days of reconnecting in Bukhara, seeing some sights, eating some plov and watching some English TV, it was time for Rob to leave again. He's headed down through Turkmenistan to Iran for a few months, and who knows where after that. He has a blog if you're interested ( you can see his version of our time in the Pamir there, too.

Rob ready for departure. Turkemenistan and Iran await!
Once Rob left, I was back on my own. Since this part of Uzbekistan is a little less populated than the Fergan valley, and there's really only one major road, I decided to try hitchhiking again. After trying to explain hitchhiking in Russian to a couple of cars ("like taxi, but no money. friend. give ride. or I walk."), I finally got a ride from a Belarusian trucker on his way from the Afghan border with a load of something related to the American military. He got excited when he found out I was American, but after about an hour of chatting in Russian, I think he started to realize that I only understood about 10% of what he was saying, so things got quiet. Maybe it was because I didn't laugh at his Alaska joke (I think it was a joke...)

Back to hitching. This is the road from Bukhara to Nukus
Whatever the reason, he dropped me off about 20km short of my hoped-for destination, in the dark, at a gas station. Having no idea whether or not there was a hotel that would take tourists in town, and not really wanting to wander around trying to find one, I decided for option two: forget about registration (the worst part of Uzbekistan) and either camp or get invited in for the night. After about 20min of walking down the dark road looking for a campsite, I happened upon a very jovial birthday boy and his party. Before I knew it, I was being fed fresh samsa, offered drinks (apparently "I don't drink" doesn't go over too well with alcoholic muslims. "Yeah, same here! Let's have a shot!") and a place to stay for the night. My goal was to stay relatively sober and convince Azim, the man on the left in the photo, that I really don't speak Uzbek and my Russian really is pretty shitty. He was convinced that I was fluent in both and was faking it.

New best friends at a birthday party in Tok'tul
The next day I managed to make it out of Tok'tul and south down to Khiva, another historic Uzbek city. This was the head of the Khivan khanate back in the day (Bukhara, Samarkand and Kokand also were khanates in that time, I'm pretty sure). Khiva, though, has a remarkably well-kept old city, complete with walls, minarets, a citadel (called an "ark") and tons of mosques, medrassas and mausoleums. 

old town Khiva at sunset. The big minaret on the left is younger than  the US Capitol building by several decades.
I had heard of Khiva before arriving and had imagined this ancient city. I wasn't quite disappointed upon arrival, but what was surprising is that "ancient" looks a lot older than it really is. Although parts of the city walls and the watchtower you can see on the right in the photo above date back to the 10th and 12th centuries, most of the rest of the city was built in the 1800s or later, and nearly all of it has been renovated in the last 100 years. Again, an odd mix of old and new that seems to characterize this part of the world.

Old and older: another rickety soviet ferris wheel (out of commission) beyond the Khivan walls

Khiva is also known as a "museum city". There is a new part of town, but the old town is where they send all of the tourists. Although there are still about 3000 people who live within the walls, the entire place is clearly geared towards tourism and little else. Every building is a hotel or museum, with a few cafes scattered here and there and plenty of souvenier stands lining the main roads. Surprisingly, the majority of the tourists seemed to be Uzbek, and about half of those were wedding parties. I must have seen at least 12 brides yesterday.
Old wall, new art. Just outside the old town
In one back room of one of the museums, I found a little exhibit on the history of public education. The building was a Russian school built in the early 1900s, so it was a fitting location. Unfortunately, the only things in English were captions to photographs or paintings, so I didn't get much information, but it seems like this was one of the first schools that wasn't a medrassa in the area. One of the photos was of a girl's class and one of a class of teachers, nearly all women. This was a refreshing relief after visiting dozens of old medrassas around Central Asia which catered only to men. Also refreshing was this:

Uzbek kids doing SCIENCE! c. 1914

One of the benefits of being in tourist central was nightly Uzbek movies shown on the wall of the Ark. During my first day, at least 5 people told me about the movie and that I should come back that night. I showed up right on time and there was a huge padlock on the door and nobody to be found. A few minutes later, some other tourists came by, but ultimately we all went home disappointed. The next day I came by 5 minutes early to find the padlock still firmly in place. While peering through the door, however, a young local guy came running, unlocked the door and set up the equipment. Clearly there isn't a lot of demand.

The movie was interesting from a cultural perspective,  but unfortunately it was Uzbek dubbed in Russian with English subtitles. This in itself wouldn't have been so bad, but the Russian dubbing was about 3 seconds late and the English subtitles started out about 5 seconds early. I was able to follow along for a bit, matching the remembered subtitles to the delayed images and trying to piece together some of the Russian, but by the end of the movie the subtitles were a full minute or two early and comprehension became impossible. Oh well, nice try, Khiva.

free Uzbek movie night in the citadel! Attendance: 4

Next step

I'm off west to try to see what's left of the Aral Sea before crossing my last Central Asian border into Kazakhstan! It will be nice to not have to worry about daily registration anymore, but it's only getting more expensive until I get to Africa...

And just for you food lovers out there, here are a couple photos of Khivan cuisine:

I do not highly recommend this dish. The meat and potatoes aren't bad, but that stuff around the edges is cold noodles with what tastes like a mix of mayo and sour cream. Clearly, a Khivan delicacy.

This, on the other hand, is a delicious, delicious Khivan meat pie. Also, it's half the price of the noodle mess.

US Election

Some of you have been asking about the reaction here to the US Election. The answer, for the most part, is "nothing." Most people here don't really seem to care, or know, about the election. The few people I've met who do know about it seem mildly pleased that Obama won (Neither I nor they have brought up gay marriage or legalized pot yet), mostly because he's a known quantity. Only one person before the election was surprised that I supported Obama, saying, "but aren't you bored of him? Don't you want someone new?" Surprising words coming from someone who has had the same president for over 20 years...