Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kazakhstan Adventure, Part 4: Conclusion

Friday began early in the morning, as Erik's ear troubles had not fully subsided. He awoke around 3 am, and began his day. While annoying, jetlag also gave him alot of time to get work done. Erik brought a copy of his manuscript along on the trip and has been editing it. Yes - all of the chapters are composed and have been subjected to a couple of revisions. He has to finish the conclusion, tend to technical details like the bibliography, and clean the prose. Barring unforeseen complications, he should be able to calmly meet his deadline at the end of August rather than endure all-nighters [the sound you hear is knocking wood].

Friday's only formal event was the final selection of fellows. Erik and Etibar ranked the candidates similarly, agreeing on those who should be rejected and producing almost identical rank-orderings of the candidates. The meeting went smoothly with thorough discussions of each candidate and with consensus decisions on acceptance or rejection.

Erik picked up some lunch on the go, grabbing some pirozhki from a store near the hotel, then walked to the Arbat to do a bit of souvenir shopping. He met Cristin on the Arbat, and they visited the Museum of Musical Instruments. The museum is housed in a lovely wooden building designed by the same architect as the wooden cathedral mentioned in an earlier post. Unlike many post-Soviet museums, the facility was in excellent condition and the objects were displayed well. Most objects also featured explanations in Kazakh and Russian that were reasonably detailed. In addition to displaying traditional flutes, drums, and cymbals, the collection had many stringed instruments. One room even featured a sort of dombra Hall of Fame, with famous musicians' photos alongside their instruments. Erik and Cristin walked about town, stopping to see several monuments and the sound check for a concert of traditional music scheduled for later in the evening. After a dinner of Uyghur lagman (noodles and meat in a savory soup) and some bliny, Erik returned to the hotel. His persistent jetlag, and the failure of his ears to equalize pressure from Thursday's mountain trip, convinced him to turn in a bit early.

His plan to get a good night's sleep was thwarted again by jetlag and ear pressure problems. He awoke at 2:30 am and worked for several hours on his book. As the morning hours advanced, the rain began to pour down. It subsided late in the morning and Erik went for a walk. He met Cristin in the mid-afternoon to go visit the State Historical Museum, the last major site on his list. The museum was well maintained, and had reasonably good signage in Russian and Kazakh. The museum featured ancient Kazakh history, with amazing objects: ornate gold jewelry, bronze weapons, and musical instruments. The second floor contained several displays for the ethnic groups who have lived in Kazakhstan. Erik was particularly pleased by the Turkmen exhibit which featured a traditional rug that was almost identical to the one in the Herron dining room in Lawrence that he acquired in a Moscow market several years ago. On the top floor, contemporary sculptures in wood and iron were displayed in the hallway. As they approached the entry door to the final hall, a young Kazakh man called them over. He had a stack of books in front of him, and proceeded to ask their names. He signed copies of the book, which was a catalog of the sculptures, and gave one to both Erik and Cristin. It turned out that he was the sculptor! Erik and Cristin expressed their admiration for his work and thanked him for the books. The final hall featured President Nazarbayev's exploits, as well as campaign items from his political party. It also had an exhibit dedicated to Kazakh efforts to help remedy the Chornobyl disaster in Ukraine.

Some of the museum's amusing features reminded Erik of absurdities that one often finds in post-Soviet countries. While he did not see Barf laundry detergent - a favorite photo op for Americans in Central Asia (featured to the left in a photo from Erik's Kyrgyzstan visit in 2004) - he witnessed other quirky things. A clothing store featuring Dennis Miller and Michelle Pfeiffer as models, and the Guns & Roses Cafe, were highlights and are featured below.

A new deluge sent streams of water through the streets and down staircases, but it subsided during the museum visit. Erik and Cristin had a quick dinner, and Erik headed back to the hotel to prepare to go home. He awoke for an early plane departure, and made it back with only minor complications and long plane rides. The Kazakhstan visit was a success, as Erik met new colleagues and experienced one more ex-Soviet republic. Nine down, six to go!

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