Tuesday, 2 December 2014

International любовь

Last weekend was a highly international experience, due to two occurrences: a ‘UN day’ at school and a joint birthday party. “What is a UN Day?” I hear you cry in desperation for information. Fear not, I shall tell you all about that, and I can also tell you what a birthday party is if you are not sure. Just ask me afterwards.

This is my 'birthday party' face.

There are children from a huge range of nationalities attending the school at which I work. This means that once a year, parents are invited to the school to take over a classroom, decorate it in the style of their country and generally share everything about their nationality. This year, the countries represented were Azerbaijan, Armenia, China, India, the UK, Poland, Russia, Pakistan, Palestine, Turkey, the USA and, of course, Uzbekistan. So I donned an Uzbek dress, kindly donated by a wonderful colleague and went into school on a Saturday, a popular choice of day to hold a work event.

Sorry, Rhiannon, you're in my blog. As is the traditional paper cup.

The grumbling about having to go to work on a Saturday soon stopped when I visited the busiest room: the canteen. There were tables and tables full of the most wonderful food I have ever eaten (a claim I seem to be repeating many times). There were pies, cakes, curries and horse. The only less-than-desirable offering was a forlorn-looking tray of fish and chips, representing our country’s national ‘delicacy’. Although, in fairness, ‘soggy’ and ‘disappointing’ create a rather accurate image of our country.

Kate and Wills dressed in wedding clothes, hailing a black cab while standing behind a big red bus: another entirely accurate image of our country.

The day ended with a raucous assembly. A huge number of people were squeezed into the school theatre for a dance show. The dances were incredible. We saw an incredibly bendy lady with a ribbon and a ball, some Polish and Russian dancers in milkmaid-like outfits, some Indian girls who seemed to dance for a good half hour (although time may have stretched due to an achey bum) and a large number of girls from Azerbaijan dressed in the most outrageous shade of green. Their dance was very popular and seemed to include a lot of screaming, which unnerved me slightly until I realised that it was part of the performance. I have been researching online to find out what this dance was called, if anyone has any idea, please let me know. All I have found out so far is that Azerbaijan has a lot of different dances.

All the dance-watching and eating really took it out of me, so I spent the afternoon asleep. As it turned out, so did most of the people I work with. When I talked about it to them in the evening, I really felt I’d been part of a major sleeping event. It just so happened that three of our friends had birthdays last week, so we all got together and went to the obvious choice of eatery in Tashkent: a Chinese restaurant.

The food was the best I’d had since lunchtime. I had a bowl of seaweed and beef and some beef… stuff. The atmosphere in restaurants in Uzbekistan is often quite different to how they are in the UK. They are often in huge rooms with long tables and an obligatory dance floor. Many times when we go out to eat, I feel as though I am at a wedding. Sometimes, they even have performances. Last week’s was the classic angel and devil in lingerie having a dance-off.

Can't remember who won, but it was intense.

Once we had finished the food and taken enough pictures of certain people losing their last dregs of dignity through the medium of dance, we broadened our international horizons even more by going to a German bar. When we got there, we suddenly realised that it was the same bar we had first eaten at on arrival in Tashkent. It was probably also where food stopped agreeing with me at the start of the year. In all honesty, though, it was fine, and the power only went out twice.

Oh, the romance of the smartphone torch.

This weekend has been a little less international and a little more sleep-filled, but hopefully I will have something totally interesting to tell you about next week. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Got any T-Sod? More shopping occurences.

Here is another post about shopping! Because some people like shopping, and a few people even like reading about it. This time, however, I will discuss the pertinent issue of clothes shopping because, in Uzbekistan, it is simply wonderful.

Hardcore fans may remember this from a few weeks ago:

So disappointed that people in Tashkent aren't just wearing these all of the time.

But it turns out that there is more than meets the eye to shopping for clothes. This weekend, I was a little saddened after receiving an ASOS order. It’s quite exciting that a website that I know of delivers to Uzbekistan, but the perks of being able to shop conveniently (albeit with a 10-20 day wait on delivery by which time the weather/your waistline has changed) has its downsides. I bought a coat which I fell in love with more and more every time I thought about it and how I couldn’t wait for it to be delivered. On the day it arrived, I was almost crying with excitement. It was like Christmas, but just for me. So, I suppose, more like my birthday. But it was not to be. Not wanting to wait to get home, I tried it on at work while cleaner looked at me and tried to say  positive things while watching my face gradually crumple as I realised not only that the sleeves were a couple of inches too short, but I was now £80 out of pocket on something totally hideous.

One of these women is perfectly proportioned. The other is on the right.

So after having a minor breakdown about this massive dramatic event in my life, another of my wonderful colleagues offered to take me shopping. We went to the Samarqand shopping centre, which did confuse me a little bit when it was first suggested, as I expected to get on a train for a few hours to go and see some lovely domes and mausoleums while shopping. But no – Samarqand shopping centre was in Tashkent and perhaps the most 'western' thing I have seen since being here; it even had a BHS. There was a huge supermarket in which we were allowed to try every kind of cheese before buying, and a huge selection of sweets. Here are a few pictures of my favourite things that I saw:

There were a lot more, but I didn't want to scare the shop assistant by taking a photo of her.

Ever wanted to drink Aloe Vera? Now you can!

If I'm expecting it to be better than I expect it to be, will it actually be better than expected?

The next day, after a small cry in the pub with another friend about our mutual lack of mascara, we were invited out to another shopping centre. I never realised a city could have so many. Not only did we discover mascara and face powder at about the same price we’d pay in the UK, but we bought some pyjamas from a shop called T-Sod. The people in the shop were lovely and did not question why we kept repeating the name of the shop to ourselves and giggling. This was a bit of a contrast from another shop in which we got told off for laughing at and talking loudly about a £130 grey jumper adorned with hideous pink, turquoise and mustard yellow squares.

So life is becoming a little more familiar and comfortable for us in Uzbekistan. Although it could seem a shame that they have modern shopping centres with escalators and shiny floors, there is still a lot of room for quirkiness. As you can see…

Is that our country's motto?

Just in case you didn't believe me.

Stay tuned next week: I should be going pole-dancing.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Eat my goal! - More football and shopping.

These past few weeks, I have not forgotten about my blog, but I have been a little too boring to write about anything! So here’s a really exciting blog about day-to-day life in Tashkent. Contain yourselves.

I am writing this from my sickbed, as I have caught a cold. All of the local staff have been assuring me that it is because I stood outside for a couple of hours two nights ago to watch our school’s male staff play football against another school’s male staff. I have been disputing this, as I was wearing a lot of socks, two pairs of trousers, two jumpers and a coat. Also, underwear.


But snot is no fun to talk about, so let’s talk about football. We arrived safely at the pitch, after worrying slightly about the fact that the taxi driver was taking us in a completely unexpected direction. Funnily enough, it turned out that local people actually know their city better than people who have lived there for two months, so we arrived just in time to drink a few cups of tea and finish off our imaginative banner before the match. Unfortunately, the referee had not had red and yellow cards provided so the supporters were asked to search their bags for red and yellow card-like objects. The first option was a red tampon and a yellow tampon, but luckily someone located a red discount card and a yellow-ish post-it note before any boys were made to cry over holding or seeing a tampon in a wrapper.
You try coming up with a hilarious poster, then.

The match was fine for the first twenty minutes or so, but then the worst thing possible happened: the other team scored four goals in ten minutes. Thankfully, everyone woke up a bit and we ended up drawing 4-4 – something which our school was elated about, and which definitely made ending up in the same pub as the other school’s staff afterwards a lot less awkward.

Honestly, one of the reasons I think I have become poorly is to do with the fact that I am eating takeaways in the manner of a first-year student who has not realised that their student loan is for the whole year. One excuse is the fact that shopping is a little faffy. I think it’s lovely that, out here, there are no Tesco Extras dominating the suburbs, but trying to plan a meal that relies on a certain ingredient can be a bit risky, as shops seem to stock different things depending on what day it is. Also, where is the basil?!

There is the other option of going to a bazaar, such as Chorsu, but on the whole they are pretty big and involve a lot of shouting. I feel the need to know exactly what I want, so that I can just go to the tomato section, the root vegetable section, the herb section etc. without lurking around a stall browsing for too long and getting told to pay £10 for some special Samarkand tea while being proposed to for having ‘different eyes’. Don’t get me wrong, I love the liveliness and character of it all, but sometimes I just want to buy some peppers without having to explain to each stall owner why I look different and why I don’t speak Uzbek. I am trying to remedy that situation, though.

On the whole, it is a bit of a whine about a place that I am really fond of, and these things I’m sure I will learn to love. So I’ll even it up with the things that I enjoy. I love the fact that there are 24-hour chemists on every street. You can just go in and tell them about your ailments and they will give you something to sort your life out. However, one of my friends did go into one for some advice about a sore throat and got told to just live off cabbage for a few days. I’m not sure she took that advice completely, but she did get better eventually. The other thing is, I say these chemists are on every street but that is a huge understatement. I can think of four that are within five minutes’ walk of my house, and there might even be more undiscovered ones. How exciting!

Another great thing is getting around the city. The metro stations are quite pretty and usually not too busy. It’s not the most extensive metro in the world, but it is comfortable and usually possible to get a seat. It costs about 25p a go and you get a little blue token to put into the barrier which squishes your legs if you don’t wait for the light to come on before going through it. I think it also counts how many people use it a day, which is quite sweet. For fancier people, there’s also standing in the road until someone in a car picks you up and drives you somewhere while chatting to you about your “strange accent!” It’s always ridiculously cheap compared to British taxi prices, but we always end up arguing over that last 1000 sum (or 25p). I love travelling like this because they often put on music and I get to hear all of the Russian and Uzbek classics on the way home through the traffic and I feel all international.

The best thing about Tashkent has to be the people. I have probably said this before, but they are brilliant. People always want to help out, even if they are not totally sure about the advice they are giving. For example, in my first week, I went on a huge lip balm-related adventure. In any other country, everyone would shrug and say “sorry, we don’t have it.” In Uzbekistan, when they don’t have something, they list all possible shops and draw big blobs on my tourist map. With a little help, it only took me four days to find it, and I made lots of new friends who helped in my mission.
A nice-ish picture because this entry only has 3 of them and one was of a broken roof.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Teachers' Day and The Great Fishing Ordeal of 2014

Anyone who reads this blog and doesn’t know me (and hasn’t read the ‘about’ page, shame on you) might be led to believe that I am spending a year running around Central Asia taking pictures of everything. While this is part of it, the main reason that I am here is to work as a teaching assistant. Being a TA is pretty exhausting, but fortunately Uzbekistan has a special day for teaching staff on October 1st.

On this day, Teachers’ Day, children bring in presents and flowers for their teachers. There is no feeling more wonderful than receiving presents. It’s a fact. And these ones were pretty spectacular: enough chocolate to mean I didn’t have to cook tea, a set of cocktail glasses, some flowers, body lotion which came with a spoon to apply it and a towel that was so soft it felt as though I was drying my face on a cat. Tragically, I think I received fewer presents for my actual birthday!

Although now I have 20 new 6 to 7-year-old friends.

Teachers’ Day was followed by a fabulous meal on the Friday, accompanied by belly dancers, some of whom inexplicably but brilliantly had candelabras on their heads. It was like being inside the fantasy of a teenage boy, which was evident from the number of male jaws that had to be picked up off the floor afterwards. Of course, the night ended the way nights seem to always end for us in Tashkent: with atrocious dancing and karaoke.

Half of the room had to wait a few minutes before standing up.

On Sunday, it was time to relax a little bit. So, obviously, we went fishing. I don’t know what I was expecting; I had never been fishing before. This meant that everyone on the bus to where we were going saw fit to tell me lies: “Yes, Sarah, you have to kill your own fish by punching it.” “Isn’t that just in the Inbetweeners?” “Yeah, but that’s what you’re supposed to do.” I refuse to have my innocent trusting nature shattered.

I had no idea that fishing had any kind of skill involved. I thought that you put the rod in the water and waited. Turns out there’s a lot of casting, reeling and generally not tangling yourself up in fishing wire involved. It took me a good half hour (and a lot of help from a man with little patience) to work out how not to unravel the entire thing and get the hook to fly more than a metre away from me. Despite trying to tempt the fish with corn, bread and shashlik, which are well known for being a fish’s favourite foods, I did not manage to catch anything. Two of our group did, but the rest of us only succeeded in catching dead leaves, the curtains on the little marquees and, in my case, my own head.

It took us all of fifteen minutes to realise that floaty material plus fishing hooks on long rods equals what a bad idea.

 This week is half term! Hopefully this means a trip away to Bukhara, but it is now Sunday and we have no plan, so it may be a week of trying to recover in Tashkent. In which case I will try to do something interesting in order to have a little more blog fodder. 

I got my hair cut. Here's me looking all Instagram and unsure about it.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Totally bazaar

Before we begin, I have breaking news. I have finally tried plov! On Tuesday evening we were treated to a meal at an amazing Tashkent restaurant. We sat outside in a little courtyard covered like market tents, with beautiful carpets all over the walls and wicker baskets everywhere. It was not only the best food I’ve had in Tashkent but probably the best food I’ve had anywhere.

This weekend, we went to a bazaar called Chorsu, which is, apparently, the largest bazaar in Tashkent. So far we’ve seen a few bazaars but this one was something else; if Tashkent doesn’t hold the next World Hide and Seek Championship, I will be disappointed. Also if I find out that there is no World Hide and Seek Championship. Sorry to anyone who found my blog by Googling World Hide and Seek Championship.

We found where everyone goes!

It was mid-afternoon by the time we got to the bazaar, so peak bread-selling time had already passed, but there were still piles and piles of it in the stalls. There was a long corridor dedicated to nothing but bread, mostly this flatbread with a pretty pattern in the middle called Obi Non.
I made a joke on Facebook about Obi Non Kenobi but no one liked it.

After exploring the main buildings with their vast amounts of bread, fruit, vegetables and meat, we had a wander around outside. Many of the older women here wear long patterned dresses with matching headscarves, and we managed to solve the mystery of where they had found them. There were some really glorious examples of Uzbek national dress, including some with extra sparkles.

I know what I'm wearing to work tomorrow.

Looking at everything on sale made us really peckish, so we decided to nip to a fast food restaurant. The fast food here is pretty similar to everywhere else with a couple of exceptions, one of those being the inclusion of lavash on the menu. Lavash is a sort of kebab rolled up in a wrap and then toasted. But it’s so much more than that. When you see them being made, you start to doubt yourself and think about un-ordering what you’ve got; they start by squirting mayonnaise in thick lines, then cover it with cucumbers and tomatoes. The next step, however, is what absolutely makes it. They sprinkle crisps inside, then add some scraps of kebab meat and some spicy sauce. To top it off, sometimes they’ll stick in a bit more mayonnaise. To be honest, I have heard that ‘proper’ lavash is completely different, but the crisp-themed stuff from fast food places is just magical. Apart from the orangey grease that inevitably seeps out of the bottom.

It is part of a balanced diet; it has cucumber and tomatoes in it.

Next up was a visit to the old part of town. We got rather excited because we saw an old building with beautiful windows professing to be a ‘gallery’. However, on closer inspection, it was actually a surreal and empty shopping centre in which everything was closed. The rest of the town was less of an anti-climax; the sun was coming down as we walked across the square, so it made some lovely photos. There were gorgeous domes in the obligatory turquoise and narrow streets that made us feel as though we’d gone back in time. That’s probably why it’s referred to as the ‘old town’.

Inexpicable umbrella frame attached to a rock hanging from a phone wire. There were several of these.

This week I intend to be a lot more responsible with my time and try to find a definite day to write my blog each week. Work has been quite busy, so finding time during the week is a little tricky! Perhaps next Sunday, I will write something else – apologies for being so sporadic.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Traditional post-ballet clubbing

I apologise most profoundly for the lack of blog update on Tuesday! Unfortunately, I had had a rather tough day at work and decided that going to the pub, then organising a Spanish lesson and learning to play poker with pasta in one night would leave me time for blog-writing. Evidently, it didn’t. The bad news is that I have not done anything particularly photo-worthy in the past week, so most of this entry will be text-based. Feel free to close this now.

A picture of a theatre to keep you sweet.

On Friday, we went to the ballet! One of our colleagues emailed around to see who wanted to spend about £4 for an almost front-row seat at a performance of Swan Lake. Of course, we all paid up, dressed up and went. Everyone was wetting themselves with excitement to get to the weekend.

First of all we went to a restaurant not far from the theatre. We had kebab meat with a tomato sauce and lumps of sticky bread and a side of sour cream; again it probably has a proper name but it has slipped my mind. It was utterly fabulous, especially when accompanied with chips and ketchup. No meal can be made worse with chips and ketchup, let’s face it. As there were thirteen or so of us, the restaurant found us a special secret room with its own table and we all felt like film stars.

We enjoyed the meal so much that we ended up being about twenty minutes late for the ballet. The good part was that we timed it exactly to arrive during a particularly loud piece (I can’t remember its name, but it does go “DUN DUN DUN DUN-DIDDLE-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN” so any fans of Tchaikovsky will know what I’m on about, of course). We faffed around for a little while and then snuck onto the back row for the rest of the first half, which was fine and cosy until one man, who had fallen asleep, woke up with a terrified ‘yelp’ and caused a few of us to cry a little bit due to surpressed giggles. Giggles are infectious anyway, but during an emotional ballet scene, they seem to last a lot longer than is really appropriate.

This is just some ballet, this isn't when we got the giggles.

The ballet itself was fairly enjoyable – it wasn’t quite the same as the ballet that we saw in Petrozavodsk two years ago, but it was certainly a hell of a lot better than I could have done.

After the ballet, we did of course go to the pub. We visited that typical Uzbek establishment renowned all over the world: The Irish Pub. No capital city is complete without at least one ‘Irish pub,’ and Tashkent is no exception. We had a couple of beers, chips and some almonds. That should have been it, but when one is surrounded by graduates of the University of Sheffield, someone will always suggest continuing the evening somewhere. Luckily, one of our friends from Tashkent knows the best places to go, and we ended up somewhere pretty interesting (but my camera had run out of battery by this point, so you will have to picture it in your head using the power of reading).

We got out of the taxi/car that some man was driving in front of a building that looked like a lot of closed offices. If there was one thing that we had definitely not wandered into, it was the ‘strip’ of Tashkent. It was silent and there was no one around, although, as anyone who has seen my photos would already know, that is not exactly unusual over here. We went over to a door that was guarded by a couple of men who assured us that there was something to do inside this mysterious building, and indeed there was. A band played all of the songs that you would expect to hear in a mainstream club in the UK but so much more. They went from Pharrell Williams to Rammstein, everyone dancing like they had not been at work all day. We met some Uzbek and Turkish people who were lovely and whose only flaw was that, when they bought me a glass of water, it was fizzy.

The next day was a little difficult, especially as I had not been back to my house in about 21 hours, but a difficult day is a small price to pay for Swan Lake and an entertaining night out.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Our day out to the mausoleum made from papier maché. And more.

It seems as though I have become a proper human being in that weeknights are now ‘bed by half nine’ nights and the weekends are when life happens. Not only that, but the realisation hit me hard that being hungover on a Sunday and having to be up by 6 on a Monday is actually pretty upsetting.

This weekend’s adventure was a trip to Samarkand, a place that some people from Britain might have heard of. It is the third largest city in Uzbekistan and contains a lot of stunning ancient Islamic architecture. The whole place comes across as a lot more ‘Eastern,’ but more on all that later.

In order to be able to spend an ‘excursion-length’ amount of time there, we had to meet at the station at 7am, which some members of the group were happier about than others. Then bags are searched, tickets are stamped and passports are checked. It makes going on a train a lot more of an experience, honest. We had little compartments on the train, where they brought us tea, and there was a restaurant with a wide range of biscuits and… other biscuits.

British trains don't have carpet quite like this.

Upon arrival in Samarkand, we decided (well, most of us decided) to go and get some plov. We went to a seriously fancy place, was told there was no plov for us so left in disgust for a more canteen-like place. The plov was served with the salty milk stuff, or ayran, as I should call it, which apparently will cure any stomach ailments. I just wish I could eat more of it; the taste isn’t too bad but it does give off a ‘farmy’ flavour if you overdo it.

The next stop was the Amir Temur mausoleum. We paid for a guide who told us all about the place, peppered with jokes about how pomegranate juice was the Red Bull of the 14th century. Apparently, before Amir Temur’s battles, a huge stone bowl would be filled with pomegranate juice and the soldiers would all drink from it. After the battle, the soldiers would drink again, and the difference in the levels would show how many soldiers had died.

This was all fascinating, but it was not until we went into the mausoleum that my brain melted. The main building was under a dome with a selection of graves in the centre. It was so beautiful that it nearly made me cry, and actually did make me do a little tear when the guide informed us that the entirety of the decoration in the building was made from papier maché. It had been restored in 1994; some of the outdoor tiles were put in 600 years before and were still bright blue, yet the ones that were around 20 years old were already losing their colour.

Can you make that from paper soaked in plaster? Can you?

The next place we visited was Registan Square, which was a massive open square surrounded by three buildings called ‘madrasahs.’ The buildings themselves were lovely, little courtyards surrounded by archways. However, they may have become a little more touristy since being built, as these courtyards were full of shops selling plates, bowls and, surprising, pictures of naked fairies.

Our last stop before heading home was a mosque with several tombs and a graveyard. I think it was called Shah-i-Zinda, but I may be wrong. It was super gorgeous, but had many rules to follow. Some were fairly reasonable, such as ‘do not shout’ and ‘be respectful’ but some were interesting translations, for example: ‘prohibited kissing and going around’ and ‘forbidden cooking, having a rest.’ So we made sure that we did not go around while avoiding resting. It was a pretty impressive feat.

The train home was rather lovely; we took pictures of the sunset and played a card game which we named Islambek after the lovely man who taught us to play it. The train guards came to watch and one of them even joined in. He loved us so much that he shook our hands as we got off the train.

Post-Samarkand was obviously pub time, Sunday was a good old rest and then on Monday evening, I went to my first ever football match! How many people can say that their first ever live football match was an international friendly between Uzbekistan and New Zealand? Spoiler: Uzbekistan won 3-1 and there was a hilarious fight. Which Uzbekistan probably also won.

This is how many people can say their first ever live football match was an international friendly between Uzbekistan and New Zealand.

That is all from me. Have a lovely week.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

If your country is doubly landlocked, make your own sea! (well, lake)

Anyone who knows me well, or has at least come across me two or three times, will know that I am very, very open. Sometimes too open. Sometimes, people stop eating after I’ve finished talking because what I have said has made them want to regurgitate. So I will just warn anyone reading this that the next few sentences might contain a little too much information. Let’s just say that Uzbek food has not been friendly to me. I like to eat it, but apparently I don’t like to digest it. So when I was invited last weekend to see Charvak, a manmade lake in the mountains not far from Tashkent, I was a little worried about potential in-car catastrophes.

Here is a camel to take your mind off that.

Luckily, an all-rice diet for two days had set me just about right, so I got into a car with some of my lovely colleagues and we drove for a couple of hours out of the city. Tashkent seems to go on forever; eventually it dwindles into smaller villages where everything is sold by the side of the road and camels chill under the trees. I don’t know if anyone else has ever played on Golden Sun 2 on Gameboy Advance, but when the mountains appeared in front of us, they reminded me of some of the mountains on that. They were yellow, brown and dry and hairy. But utterly stunning.

So mountainous!

We went to a little viewpoint above the lake to take photos in every combination of the four of us possible, and then drove down to a little resort. It turned out that going for a swim in the nearest lake to Tashkent on a sunny Sunday wasn’t exactly an original idea, so the only option was to park the car a little way away from the lake and fight our way down through many cars, getting beeped at by just about everything except pedestrians. It was so busy that we saw three cars cuddled up under a tree, hiding from the sun.

I wasn’t expecting the lake to have a beach, and although it was not much like any beaches I had seen before, it was definitely a beach. It was mostly made up of pebbles, but when we waded into the water, the ground was soft and sticky. It was rather pleasant while mildly worrying. So we jumped in and swam around for a little while, admiring the murkiness from all the other people’s sweat and the oil from jet-skis. It turned out that a man on the beach who was running speedboat rides actually knew two of our group, so he offered to get someone to drive us around the lake. We took pictures of the mountains from every angle, blasting out the europop and Uzbek classics while a little boy showed off his sick moves. Pretty jammy.

"WHAT IF I FALL OUT OF THE BACK OF THE BOAT AND DIE????" - my brain while this photo was being taken.

The evening finished with a gorgeous meal on one of those benches where you have your feet up and the table is really little. I’m sure there’s a much more elegant name for that, but I have yet to learn it. Feel free to share if you want to fight my ignorance. The meal was delicious, but I was encouraged to try a salty milk drink. The two Uzbeks kept telling us “it’s just a runnier version of the salty yoghurt you’re dipping your cucumber in!” which I think is a very fair point. On the other hand, I was only dipping things into it, not watering down the yoghurt and drinking it.

Here are some lovely pictures.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

St. David's to Tashkent

Being a recent graduate had meant that I had scrounged a free holiday with the parents, but as a result of this I now had to make my way from South Wales to Eastern Uzbekistan. I don’t know how many people have made this journey before me, but I would bet 1000 Uzbek sums that there are not many of us. Perhaps someone will inform me that actually, St. David’s has its very own Central Asian society and they have an annual trip to Samarkand. But I think it’s unlikely.

So I packed up everything neatly, using a special system of rolled knickers to fill in any gaps. Then it was off!

St. David’s to Haverfordwest

While waiting at the bus stop, I was tactfully informed that I was to be living alone in a flat in Tashkent. I started to panic: would I be alone for the entire year? What if I got lonely and cried all the time? What if the fridge fell on me and I died and no one saw? It was with great trepidation that I got on the bus.

Luckily, I met a nice lady with a sense of adventure who had just been on holiday to St. David’s on her own. She told me about how she’d hitchhiked around North Wales and about a time when she went camping on Skye but her tent flooded so she had to stay in a Youth Hostel. Apparently everyone at the campsite had had the same idea, so they all ended up sleeping on the floor. At least I wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor. Hopefully. And if this woman could go on holiday on her own and enjoy herself, maybe I could enjoy living alone.

Haverfordwest to Cardiff

There’s really not a lot to say about Haverfordwest to Cardiff except that Haverfordwest is about the most depressing place I’ve ever been through (sorry, everyone who lives there). All there seemed to be was deserted Baptist and Presbytarian chapels. The train stopped at every building and I was pretty enthralled to get to Cardiff.

Cardiff to London

One of those exciting fast trains with industrial-looking windows!

Heathrow to Tashkent

After a slight glaring contest with some man who hated me because of my massive purple suitcase, I met up with one of the other Sheffield graduates and we went through security and did all the fun airporty stuff.

The flight was seven hours long and included a screening of that ever-popular Keanu Reeves classic, A Walk in the Clouds. I only managed to concentrate on the second half, and was watching with subtitles rather than listening to it, but I got the general gist. Basically, Keanu Reeves is married to a woman he doesn’t fancy and starts fancying a woman whose dad owns a vineyard and hates him. After encountering a few plot holes, everyone realises that actually, grapes are the most important thing in the world and will eventually bring people together.

Tashkent airport to my house

We spent a little while at customs and had a chat with a man there who told us about all the best places to get plov, the Uzbek national dish (and my blog’s namesake). It was rather pleasing to find that we hadn’t completely lost our Russian.

Once over the border and in possession of our possessions, we got into the back of a taxi with a broken windscreen. It was quite exciting being driven around; the roads are, in general, really wide, and everyone drives mostly where they like, from what I can tell. I’ve also been told that it’s Uzbek tradition to beep at anyone who drives past.

We were taken to each of our flats in turn, with mine the last stop. My flat is just for me, and it’s rather groovy. The décor is on the theme of 1960s futuristic: the walls are curvy, orange and blue, and there are a hilarious number of jazzy lights. I have, so far, counted eighteen light switches which each operate a separate light or set of lights. My favourite set is the one that consists of six lights with little orange sparkly balls in front of them. Just in case you weren’t already jealous of them, I will put a few pictures of the other exciting lights at the end of this post.


All that was left to do after trying out all of my new lights was to have a very large sleep. So I did, and it was wonderful.

This is above my bed. Woooow.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Tour de Sheffield

There is just under a month left until my next adventure (or, as is perhaps more accurate, the beginning of my next scheme to evade responsibility and Student Finance England for another year). I knew nothing about Tashkent before accepting this job. Now I know almost nothing, except for the fact that it has a market that sells melons, which is something to be excited about. I am as ignorant as I am scared, although I can say that the prospect of living in Central Asia for a year frightens me a lot less than spending another year in Central Derbyshire. Of course, I am also enjoying the opportunity to be able to use the excuse, “sorry, I’m moving to Uzbekistan,” to get out of obligations.

It is not the first time I have lived abroad, and it is not the first time I have kept a blog about living abroad. If you are interested in reading an incomplete and sporadic account of life in Russia (and a bit of Canada), please have a look here. One of my first posts in that blog was about Matlock Bath, the village in which I grew up, so obviously I have decided to do a ‘tour’ of my university city, Sheffield, to show the place I’ll be leaving after four years of studying hard, drinking responsibly and generally retaining all dignity.

It all started in Endcliffe Student Village. My Dad drove up an 18-year-old who was determined to stand out by wearing a summer dress with Converse, but desperate to fit in so covered it up with a 2010 sixth form leavers’ hoody. Sometimes I am surprised that I managed to keep myself alive for an entire year, especially during the war that raged in Froggatt block between flat A5 and flat A6, culminating in voodoo dolls and squirting ketchup onto each other’s front doors.

It's pretty studenty that someone left the washing up on top of the fort rather than actually washing it up.

The ten of us from that flat (with a slight lineup alteration) then moved down the road to The House of Drama, in which everyone always got on and no voices were ever raised. Next door once put on some rather repetitive bumpy music at 5am, so I grabbed a sheet of A4, wrote “Shut the f___ up, you c___s!” I folded it into a paper aeroplane, leaned out of my skylight and lobbed it in through their open window. The music stopped rather suddenly. That story is always better if you remember to censor both swear words when recounting it to your parents’ friends.

Not pictured: the girls' top floor landing where we solved all of life's problems

My latest home in Sheffield was shared with four lovely girls, whom I have to describe as such because I still have them all on Facebook. I jest: they were all super fun and kept me going through a very stressful year. There was only one really poor moment in that house, which occurred when someone invited a sambuca-filled male guest over after a night out. When I arrived home, I went into the bathroom to clean my teeth, but as I turned on the tap, chunks of semi-digested tomato floated up towards me from the plug hole. I screamed and ran away from the bathroom, crying loudly like the adult that I am. My housemate poked her head around her bedroom door, grunting, “have you seen it?” and then related the tale of her disastrous evening in which said young man had expelled his stomach contents onto our stairs, sinks and floors. And somehow avoided the toilet as though he had a severe phobia. Needless to say, he was not invited back.

A nice view from my then bedroom window to take your mind off that anecdote

After describing a few of the less dignified events of my time in Sheffield, I feel I should perhaps mention the actual degree and some of the places where I learned some new facts. Jessop West is the English, History and Languages building and looks like it is made of recently bought Lego. Each floor is for a different language, which is rather cute, until you accidentally go up an extra flight of stairs and have to come back down, cursing the unintentional extra exercise you’ve just given yourself.

Jessop West

There are several libraries, but the main ones are the Information Commons (IC) and Western Bank. The less said about the IC, the better, really, as it is the place on campus where everyone has cried at one point or another. The air tastes of sad coffee and stale students who may have been in there for several days, as it is open 24/7, including Christmas. Western Bank is pretty 60s and special and used to have a Facebook page run by a staff member where they advertised free sandwiches and tea, but it got closed down a few days ago because the guy running it got told off for insulting someone who had been talking in the silent area.

The building that looks like a church is actually a drama studio, as you can tell from the huge sign outside that advertises it as such. I spent a little while in here over the past few years, as I inadvertently became the languages sound technician, a job that involved a lot of waiting, taping wires to people and making sure that the ‘Vive le maître’ and ‘bomb’ sound effects were the right way around. The best part of the job, aside from learning about how everything in a theatre works, has to be the fact that you get to sit in a box at the back of the theatre and complain about everyone else to the person in charge of lighting.

My home for a week or two each year. Top tip: take any radio mics off before going to the loo.

Now for some establishments from which we always departed elegantly after consuming no more than our recommended daily allowance of alcohol. The Nottingham House is a great pub in which one of our Russian colleagues worked, meaning we spent a lot of time there, and usually did rather well at the pub quiz; after spending four years in close proximity with someone, you tend to absorb the same trivia. They do rather nice pies. Another languages haunt is the Red Deer, a wonderful little pub that does a lot of real ales and whose staff are very patient with us. After an open day, or any event in the languages department, someone will invariably suggest a visit. This will sometimes mean a few pints and home to annoy your housemates. Other times, it means several pints and then on a tour of Sheffield’s gay clubs.

I feel that this blog post is rather lengthy, so I shall leave you with some photos of various things from Sheffield.