It’s about as nice to be home as it was to be on vacation for multiple weeks. I ended up being spot-on in suspecting I would be stuck in Istanbul for at least 12 hours: I was in fact stuck there for exactly 12 extra hours after I was denied boarding for showing up at the gate <20m before my next flight’s departure. In typical Turkish Airlines fashion, they allowed people to board behind me, but had resold my seat by the time I got there after their previous delayed flight. It was quite annoying; thankfully there is now a YOTEL airside at IST and I crashed there for a few hours.
I also somehow screwed up the start date of the 10-day trip with Gate 1, so we spent the second free full day we had in the Fergana Valley, which was not on the original itinerary and was probably one of my highlights. Fergana is home to the original capital of Central Asia before the region was chopped up by numerous conquerors. Once we picked up our small group, we continued onto Urgench, Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and returned to Tashkent. On the final full day (I decided to stay an extra day), we flew out to Nukus in Karakalpakstan to see the Savitsky Art Museum and the Muynak ship cemetery on the Aral Sea. I was highly skeptical about going on this Gate 1 group tour, but our group was very small and the people were not bad, although they were much older than I was. I am mostly thrilled I got into Fergana and managed to see the second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art, all the way out in bumfuck nowhere, autonomous province UZB. I had extremely good fortune: I booked this trek into Fergana 12 hours before we departed (it was a 14+ hour day) and that same operator arranged the trip out to Nukus. Uzbekistan is developed for tourism, but not so much so that it’s easy to get to places like these (there are no tourists in Fergana, and it has at times been hot-spot for conservative and militant Islamists and extremists); Nukus is so remote and so bleak that we had to take a flight.
This was an excellent trip, especially for a person with a passion for history, textiles, and architecture. It was also an awesome value for money: the core itinerary included almost everything (minus flights) for $1600pp. I think I would have been less impressed had I not given myself time to maneuver to the other places I wanted to see, so I’m glad I threw in a few extra days to make my own plans. I also wanted to see if this was a viable way to explore Mongolia, and the guides are quite flexible – you can dip out anytime and do your own thing. When I got back and got the company’s latest e-mail, I noticed they’ve already launched a new trip into Kyrgyzstan, so I’m considering doing that in the fall next year as well.
I had obviously read a fair amount about the country, and Central Asia as a whole: I secured some contacts for my eventual return to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan (Turkmenistan scares me and is on my wait list with Belarus). I somehow managed to load up my luggage with tapestries, silk clothing, fur, leather, ceramics and saffron without having to part with any of the clothes I brought along. The food was excellent — more salads and vegetables than I expected, and more beef than lamb — and despite not feeling particularly rested, I can’t believe how much I was able to see in 2 weeks. I managed to make it home safely without incident or delay, miraculously making it through customs, bag re-check and terminal transfer in Chicago in under an hour, which is definitely a new record.
This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had extreme jetlag, and it took me 4-5 days of being back before I got a decent night’s worth of sleep… apparently 11 time zones is my limit. This will probably be my only international trip for ’23 outside of the cruise I’m taking with my parents in the winter, and that’s OK with me.
I had actually expected to be home for most of the month of May, but that won’t be the case: I learned 12 hours after I got back here that while I was away, another manager in my group had turned in her notice, and now instead of going to Atlanta to observe business reviews, I will be there to resume dual coverage and cover that team. My boss is not a fast hirer-er, and my last dual coverage lasted 6 months, so I don’t expect this to be a quick thing. That said, this team is in a much better place than the previous one, and they will require less attention as the level of proficiency is not so lopsided. Even so, I am not exactly thrilled about this, nor the monthly trips I’ll be taking to Atlanta as the summer approaches, but there is no alternative to this: we have two brand new managers, and my Chicago peer is already on dual coverage. The manager who is departing has been here for 11 years, and I cannot fathom how she has managed to stay in this leadership role for the years she has — this job is a constant three-ring circus, especially in my group.
In any case, I depart on Saturday to ATL for a few days with Juan before materializing in the office; he is also relocating and this is his last month in Atlanta, so that is inconvenient given I’ll be there regularly. I’ve already picked both gyms back up, as well as my reading routine, am wrapping up my next UX course project (2 more courses to go). Despite having to go back to Atlanta in a few weeks, I committed to 3 lifting days a week for May, and my trainer set me up with some videos as well for when I’m away for longer periods. I am really stoked to head back to AK at the end of May, and grab some beach time with my mom.
I’ve been working through performance reviews all week and while reminding one of my people to enforce healthy boundaries and find separation between work and life, I realized I should probably do a bit better too, as managing 20 people is a clusterfuck and can easily take over my entire life. I had been thinking about buying an actual personal computer for years and finally picked up a Surface 9 so I can leave my work stuff at home when I’m on PTO. Seems like a small thing, but it’s not; I have not had a personal computer since I lived in NY, and I’m pretty happy to have done this to create some more separation in my life, although I admit I probably won’t be having much of a personal life for the foreseeable future. That said, I’m skeptical about that being a reality anyway with everything else I have going on.
I also had a lengthy consultation yesterday with a tattoo studio in New Jersey; I had committed to my sister years ago to get an animal tattoo that was similar to hers. Sarah got an enormous and quite beautiful elephant on her arm years ago, and I finally warmed up to the idea enough to reach out to them and schedule a consultation. I chose a bezoar goat. However, in thinking about the design and where it will go, I decided to schedule a 1/2 sleeve, which will be a Caucasus mountain motif, with the mountain goat, a Persian leopard, some jagged mountains, and a wild Georgian snow rose or two. I figure I may as well weave in my obsession with Russian literature, Caucasian folklore, dramatic mountain ranges, travel and florals (all in black & grey) if I am making such an ambitious effort. My appointment will be two full days in November 5 days apart, which conveniently gives me time to drive up to NY and see all my favorite people. I have not gotten any ink in many years, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get anything else for the remainder of my life, but fuck it. Why not. Already bought my (mileage) airfare and am looking forward to having a reason to head back and get so much accomplished.
I didn’t read at all on my trip – we were moving around too much. I did manage to finish Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain this week. This book stirred up a lot of shit in the media, and especially after reading it I’m perplexed as to why people are so angry about it outside of the media trying to preserve a squeaky clean, infallible image of an obviously fallible person.
I don’t often find myself caring much when celebrities pass away. I can think of a few in my life who I had any reaction to: Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Gorbachev (different kind of celebrity, obviously); Bourdain cut pretty deep, not only because he took his own life, but because he contributed so much to the modern world, especially around truly experiencing other places through food and conversation. Life has changed so much since he began, and we now live in a world where people travel to places and order food just to post on IG: Bourdain, Michael Pollan and others have pushed a different agenda. I remember reading An Omnivore’s Dilemma years ago and loving Pollan’s emphasis on preparing food together, on sitting down to eat together, and the ancient origins of sharing food out of love and closeness. In a world where people eat fast food in their cars and order ready-made dinners in the mail, we’ve lost a lot of that, and with it, a lot of human connection. Bourdain’s curiosity about culture and his habit of reading and researching the places he was going to be able to understand the people and the food and how everything came to be was another rare trait. For a guy who smoked packs of cigarettes a day, drank a ton and had an on again, off again drug problem, he was extremely thorough and intellectually curious. I really admired him, and I think the world lost something irreplaceable when he died.
April isn’t over yet, but this is plenty for a post before another hectic month at home.