This is not yet but will be a list or accounts of the many strange and different things I have seen and done around this wide world. It will take some time, I guess about 5 years to get it all or what I can remember here but I am the only one listening anyway. If you are one of the rare viewers of this page and are in the least curious, I will post a date here and change it every time I update the writings contained below. July 22,2003 Ken
I was sent to Turkmenistan the year after their independence from the Soviet Russia. Birdair had acquired the job of placing a fabric cover for the President of Turkmenistan to stand underneath during the Independence Day Parade. I asked my project manager where Turkmenistan was and the reply was that we better get out a map. Prior to going I figured I should find out as much as possible before going so I went to the library. To my surprise the place was nearly invisible to the rest of the world. I found one book which I have since bought and read it from cover to cover twice. Rare for me.
My 3 weeks there were very interesting. Upon arrival I was asked to sign a piece of paper. There were no translators and they just plain would not allow me to pass customs unless I "signed zee papers"(my best chong). I would later upon departure find out that I had signed a paper saying that I brought nothing into Turkmenistan therefore I would not be expected to take anything out. I had a very nice camera over my arm but no one bothered listing it for me on the form I had to sign. The camera may have got me the hats but we will get to that later. After clearing customs I waited quite a while before the subcontracting company came to collect me. My contact took me to the motel. The worst I have seen and $120 a night. They took my passport and said they would hold it but that did not make me feel good. The accountant that took my money pulled me aside the 2nd day and said she had a house she would rent me for the same amount of money. This lady had to be rich for the area as it was obvious she did this to all who came across her desk. As it turned out it was her daughters house and many don't touch rules applied, still better than the motel/jail. She let me use the phone (which I could not do at the hotel) but used a stopwatch to time the call duration and charged me accordingly (ATT*4) I spent some time at the main house but stayed mostly to myself just because of an uneasiness I got when her daughter was around. Her daughter was married with one child and the husband was always there for food but would then leave. Only the grandmother worked and I got the hint that they all wanted me to borrow more than just the house from the wife. I'm sure a fee would have been applied but may have been less than the phone calls. Likewise, I had to discourage the Serb/Russian interpreter (Svetlanna) from the same but more direct "I always wanted to have sex with an American" advances. Some of you reading may be disappointed in my decision but I'm sure mom and my ex would be proud.
All the subcontractors (I mean the whole company) was shipped there from Yugoslavia. They had Engineers, Architects, translators, labor force of 60 or so and cooks and house keeping staff. They had all just come from building an underground floating concrete bunker(bomb proof) for Saddam Hussein just prior to his invasion of Kuwait. In fact they had to leave because of it all. They built the entire building that the fabric I was working on attached to. In addition to the 60 from this company were local Turks(Russian) that provided the grunt labor for what would amount to the spare change I leave on the dresser when emptying my pockets. My instructions were explained to my English/Serb speaking friend and then he would explain to his Serb/Russian speaking office girl who would then explain to the labor force in Russian. Many a times I would say move it left and wait for 10 minutes of ramblings so it did not take long for the American/Russian connection of common work sense to take over. We got rid of the translations and used much more efficient means. They gave me a crew of 4, 3 teenagers and one foreman that was mother country type and 62 years old. He always wanted to do it his way, much like the Koreans, but always came around when "his way" just didn't work. One very important day just after spreading the fabric out they could not understand why I wanted to drive so hard to get it all attached to the framework. I gave in to their idea of leaving it to finish the next day and we left the site. I snuck back after dark and finished all the clamping myself under moonlight and then slept on the fabric until morning when they all showed up very surprised that it was all done. We spent 3 rain days in the formans' drivers' car, all 5 of us drinking Vodka(20 cents a bottle)and eating slices of apple. Them more than me as I'm not too much of a drinker ( see Taiwan story) The third day my foreman insisted that my interpreters join. The foreman had been told that all Americans were evil and he was very happy to find that I was just another human being going around in the same mixed up world that he was. They were all very interested in what growing up and coming from a society where I basically did what I want, when I want was like. There was one of the young ones in the group that was convinced that America was bad and that we were spoiled beyond the point of being able to understand the rest of the world and the oppressed people in it. I agreed to their surprise, but when they finally squeezed out of me how much I was paid in that society, they all, including the one stubborn one, agreed that being spoiled was not a bad way to go about life. My wages were in a week more than some made for the year. I was the first American that 99% of the people I came in contact with had ever seen, let alone sat down and relaxed with. I told this man how my grandfather would have been shocked at the fact that I was on the other side of the world in a former communist area having a drink without a worry in the world, but also explained that he would have been pleased that it was with another Ironworker. He laughed and we toasted to Cowboy.
Work required that we have a crane large enough to erect this awning from out in the plaza. I told them the distance and weight I had to lift and asked them to supply a crane. My friend put me and my foreman in a car and he said "lets just drive around town and find one". I assumed we were going to some kind of crane company or rental outfit but soon realized we were going from jobsite to job site. I finally saw what would work and pointed it out. We promptly went into the site and there was quite a bit of talk that I did not understand. We left and my friend told me that there were no cranes available but that because it was for the president, they would shut one entire jobsite down so that we could use this crane and have it brought over. Sure hoped I picked the right one! It all went well and somewhere I have pictures that I will get on this site.
Getting around was strange. You just go to the street and stand there, no thumb allowed. There are no taxis but anyone and almost everyone will just stop and put you in their car. You travel in a straight line or in the same direction this car is going until they make a turn not to your liking, then you just get out and walk or get a car going the way you want to go. Small money is exchanged for help with gas as it was very very expensive and hard to get. The book I got before leaving spoke of a mystery underground lake and I asked for 2 weeks if anyone had heard of it. I finally found a driver that knew and he offered to take us there if I could pay the gas. 4 of us left early on Saturday and the first stop was a line of 50 cars all trying to get gas. My driver gave a kid some money and a plastic can and the kid came back 30 minutes later with it full. There had to be cars in that line for 5 or 6 hours. We set out with no directions and only faith that this driver knew where he was going. 2 hours and in the middle of nowhere I am with my Serb friend, a guy I met from Dubai, and the driver. There is this pile of rocks and a large hole with stone stairs leading down into the earth. I have forgotten the number of steps but it was an underground cave with only dim light bulbs to see by. At the bottom is this stream fed lake that you are allowed to swim in. What an amazing day! There were no lights over the lake so you just made your way around the rocks which were quite smooth. I ventured a little ways into the darkness until the rest of my party got quite concerned that I would wash up in some tunnel in Iran. From the lake you could look back and see everything else but it really gave you a "removed from the rest of the world" feeling. I have grown to like that feeling for reasons I can't explain.
The day ended by driving to the border of Iran which was an experience itself seeing the high fences with barb wire and all the different checkpoint stations which we could drive along parallel to. Beautiful rolling hills for miles and miles until we passed along some concrete arch bunkers filled with airplanes. I was told that it was Turkmenistan's' allotment of Soviet aircraft from the split the year prior. I doubt that it was the only location but it being so visible from the road surprised me.
My great luck in realizing that the book I had read had some truth to it inspired me to pursue another item mentioned in it. I wanted an authentic Turkmenistan hat. They are made of sheep skin and some are long haired and other were short and curly. Everyone over 40 wore them even though it was not cold at the time. I asked numerous people and they all said that there was a place but didn't want to take me there. I later found out that they are not sold as souvenirs and are also banned from being able to remove from the country. Good thing I didn't know because it gave me a project to pursue and that is what I enjoy most about myself (pursuit or acquisition of something deemed different or elusive). The crane operator ended up knowing someone that knew someone and that got me into a car with 2 guys I never meet and couldn't speak with. Scary, you bet, but still an adventure. We drove for 15 minutes or so and traversed around some very bad looking back alleys and a few dead-ends. Turns out the driver knew the area but not the exact location. We arrived at a small garage and the driver pointed to the door. No escort, no introduction, no translator, not even sure who or what would be on the other side of the door. I knocked and to my delight, a mild manner looking gentleman answered wearing the exact hat I wanted to buy. He had dozens of them piled up in his little shop which dried, cut, and shaped the hats from the sheepskin. I chose one not knowing the cost and pulled out my money. I forget the cost but it was so cheap that I turned back to get a couple more. The owner really didn't want money for the other two but I forced it on him. He seemed as if he just made as much as he intended to make all month that 1 day. I have enjoyed doing this in many parts of the world when it still seems like 1/10th of what I would expect to pay. I took the hats to my house and tossed them into my suitcase. This small story edition to be continued upon my departure.
I have my Grandmother Noard to thank for my addiction to Coke and Pepsi and I had never been too far away from either product to realize that I really wanted a Coke! There was none to be found and thus another mission to pursue was born. Getting a Coke seems trivial but turned out to be the toughest of my tasks in this country. I went to all the markets and all the stores but no luck. We were in a group driving somewhere one day when I spotted a coke sign out the car window. I have been in other peoples transportation on numerous occasions when spotting something I wanted to learn or see more about and never find my way back so I just made them stop the car and I walked back to the location and found it was a restaurant or casino supply wholesaler. They were not too agreeable to selling me a coke but changed their mind when I picked up and carried to the counter as many cases as I could carry. It was actually more than I could drink in the rest of my time there but made very nice gifts at subsequent lunches.
Well lunch is a subject that will be addressed in each one of these different country installments I write. Lunch and most meals there were just plain good. Very simple beef broth soup and every now and then we would go out and eat lamb which was very good as well. My landlady would give me a large pan of broth that I could reheat at anytime and I would just cut and add vegetables at each setting. I ate with her and her family twice but declined further closeness with them for reasons mentioned above.
Well as is the case with most work in another country, there were shortcuts taken in the construction process to the direct disregard of my recommendations so I hope the awning is still standing and that the President is not standing there during very strong winds.
My departure from the country as I mentioned slightly earlier was strange as my arrival. It turned out that the hats were on a non-export list, which for some reason was in English but I didn't see the sign until I was already getting my bags checked. This was long before all the airport checks we all go through now so seeing my underwear and shoes together with items I had bought all being tossed around was new to me. They wanted to keep my camera since I had not listed it when arriving but my reluctance to not surrender it came at perfect timing for them to pass over the hats that I had rolled up in a rug I bought in Turkey Grand Bizarre ( see Turkey story). The commotion caused another tourist with a claimed camera to become involved and once it seemed it was determined that these cameras could not have been bought in the country I allowed to pass. I later spoke with the guy and he said he was afraid I had bought illegal rugs or hats and that was why they were giving me a hard time. I said nothing but have the hats and will some day put a picture of them here.
My trip home took me through Germany to see my good friend Joel Van Der Sloot who was working as golf pro outside of Dusseldorf.
I fly through Narita (the airport) a lot, 16 times I believe. I have never set foot outside the airport but still have Japan here on my list of been there's. I have two friends that live there so I am sure a visit will take place. Well finally a trip to Motegi Speedway. That's the Indy of Japan. Fabric job for Tiger. First all male spa experience and a taste of Saki but the best people and good workers.
Italy was yet another adventure provided by Birdair. They were building “Stadio Olympico” for the World Cup soccer games. 1990 I think. This was in Rome and I only remember the weather as being very nice. We rented apartments inside of buildings with about 6 or 8 apartments to a building. Sleeping in other peoples homes with all their personal goods around was strange but homey.
We had a few cars to share between us and I roomed with one of the more adventurous of supervisors. By this I mean that there were three types. Those that stayed close to hotels and their living quarters hardly ever venturing out to try the wide variety of opportunities that one gets when able to “live” in new surroundings as opposed to just on vacation. Then there were those that wanted to do everything fearing that to say you had “been there but not done that”, would be a regret in later years. I was of the third type that would go almost anywhere, try anything as long as it didn’t involve too much alcohol and a guarantee that I would return in one piece. I did refuse to try some of the very touristy items. When in Rome, as I was, do as the Romans do and not what all the tourists do when they go to Rome.
So getting out and about brings me to driving in Italy. OH MY was I think my first reaction. Left turn lanes were about 2 or 3 cars wide in the major intersections and it was just expected that when that light turned yellow, there would be about 6 or 7 cars waiting to turn left prior to the other light turning green. Parking in the city was often done by pointing your car into a very narrow slot and then have everyone pick up the back of the car and slide it into the space. You would often find your car moved when you came back and by what means I’m not sure of. Interstate driving was the best with a very strange but welcome or common sense solution to a 2 lane highway. Texas has its milder version of this. Driving along at near 60mph a car could come up behind you at 70, 80, or 90mph. This car would come past you even if there were cars coming in the other direction. If a car was headed at us both, the car being passed was expected to edge to the right and the on-coming car was expected to do the same which left enough room for the speeding car to pass between on an instantly created 3 lane highway. Yes at 70, 80 or 90mph! So turning left and passing on the highway on a 2 lane road were great. The rest of the traffic situations were just regular big city annoyance
Pizza just wasn’t pizza and you had to beg for an ice cube in anything like soda. I drove to McDonalds quite a few times a week but you will read that about me in every country. The theater had an open roof but showed good movies.There was good shopping especially at the market, which I guess is world famous. I bought a leather coat, which I still wear, and many other items of interest. My wife had a little old lady holding a baby walk up to her to beg for money. She latched onto my wife and held her while begging for a donation. All the local shop keepers started yelling and we noticed that this little old lady had fake arms around the baby and her real hands were going through my wife’s purse. Nothing was taken but it was a strange experience to say the least. This was the first of my 3 pickpocket experiences but the only one in Italy. I’ll try to post some pictures of the job. The stadium was almost as nice looking as the topless beaches in Fergenni, but that’s another story entirely.
Paraglide, Mom, money, walk home, earthquake
Bandera, Joel ,car night ,2 step,Holli
San Diego,Kites,paraglide,LA camera crime,
Dave trip, spring break, VB,flat tire night
Istanbul, casino, bazarr,