April 3, 1993

          The sun is rising over a low range of mountains to the East, revealing a fairly uninteresting cityscape. No high rises, except the Intourist hotel where Iím staying. My 13th floor view is higher than just about anything else in sight.

          Itís only six thirty and I got to bed at four but sleep isnít easy. Maybe itís the fact that the curtains donít cover the windows. That really doesnít matter though, because they are transparent anyway. Maybe itís the bedding. Canít quite figure it out. One thin sheet is wrapped around a mattress not much thicker and then another sheet is folded around a blanket. I tried taking the place of the blanket but couldnít get comfortable. The main problem is that ití s only 8:30 pm in Boston and Iím still on that time. Had a very nice day room in Frankfurt and went to bed just about midnight Boston time yesterday so it will take a while to get turned around.


Kiev (Ukrainian postcard series)

          Lufthansa arrived at one a.m. last night, ten minutes early. It took us over two hours to get out of the airport and more than a half hour to check in here. You donít fill out an immigration card. First you wait, in our case, until an immigration official can be found to issue a visa. Then you get in the immigration line so another chap can stamp the visa and write down every thing he can think of out of your passport. The line isnít long, but it takes each person five or ten minutes. Then you find your bag and produce the baggage stubs, which are carefully checked. Then fill out a customs declaration. Lufthansa passed out declarations with the same information on them, but you have to fill out the ones available here instead, and in duplicate. Quite a pleasant time is had by the customs inspectors as they run your suitcases through an X-ray and discuss your belongings with you. Somebody had a nice lace shawl, or length of fabric, and the officials were measuring it in order to assess the proper duty.

          We were met, fortunately, by two guys from the UNDP office. Nobody speaks English so fan but one of our group speaks Russian. So he is our mouth. I donít know what you do if you arenít met and donít speak Russian. None of the immigration or customs people spoke English. When we finally left the airport, we put luggage in a taxi with one of the UNDP guys and we rode with the other in a UN car. We were immediately stopped by a policeman who alleged he was parked in a taxi rank. Then we bounced slowly into town and went through the lengthy check in procedure. Again, you donít fill out a card, you sit there while the clerk goes through your passport and fills out the card. Then you go to your floor with your room card where the pretty blonde KGB agent (see Gorky Park) hands you your keys. Except that one of our room cards was for a room already taken. More delays, telephone calls, etc, after which we were shown to our cells.

          No toilet paper of course. Fortunately I brought a roll with me, but when I tried to put it on the holder, it came off the wall. The bathtub is a small square job which could hold either you or water but not both. No stopper for the tub, but there is a little hose on the nozzle so you can suds up and rinse off. I should have brought soap. They have it, but it looks like it was made on the farm out of pig fat. There is a fridge in my room! Of course it isnít plugged in. There are two beds, or more properly, cots. I chose one with my head near the window because itís a bit stuffy here, but the window doesnít open. Couldnít get the reading lights to work. There are two over each bed and this morning I found that one of those over the other bed turns on. But there is a real rug on the floor. Kind of tattered, but not your wall to wall carpeting.

          Breakfast is from eight until ten. Not before. Not after. Then we will go see the UNDP Resident Representative, a Pakistani named Khalid Malik. Iím told he speaks neither Russian nor Uzbek so he must be having an interesting time of it.

9am    I went for a half hour walk and found the area quite attractive. Broad, tree-lined streets and lots of parks and open areas. It has charm in a slightly tacky way. Returned to the hotel in time for breakfast: yoghurt, tea, sausage, hardboiled eggs and bread. Not bad, but will need to avoid most of it in future. Then I asked for the check. The bill was 300 rubles, about $4 I think, so I asked to sign for it. No can do. Must pay cash. I didnít have rubles, but the guy didnít want to let me go for change. Finally I got out but of course the exchange window is closed until 9 am. The receptionist finally gave me 500 rubles out of her own pocket, which got me off the hook with the waiter.

April 4, 1993

          Another walk to start the day, then another meeting with Malik and a couple hours drafting our intro to a government group on Tuesday. The deputy PM for foreign economic affairs will chair a meeting of heads of agencies we will want to work with. We hope the group will meet again at the end of our mission to consider our draft recommendations. The problem is that Malik has far nobler ambitions for a UN technical assistance program than he has budget to support. His hope is to convince few bilateral donors to put their contributions through UNDP. If they donít, he stands to lose face because of the big talk.

          I was wrong about the price of breakfast. It was 40 cents. Dinner is about a dollar here. The exchange rate is crazy. The UN arranged for us to pay our hotel bill rubles rather than dollars. The ruble rate works out to be $20 per day. The dollar rate is $110 per day. Both are high for what we are getting, but one is a lot higher than the other. A bottle of water costs 10 rubles in the dining room, but one dollar at the bar in the lobby, a differential of over 70 times. We get our water in the dining room.

          Xavierís computer blew out today. He doesnít have a battery to charge so he has to use it plugged into the wall. It said something like ďPhzzĒ and died. I use mine on battery only and then plug it in to recharge the battery. Hope that will save it. If not, you wonít read this. Xavier is French and retired from the World Bank after 25 years. Headed the Africa program at one time. The other team member is Arik, a Polish trainer. He says the Poles say that if bedbugs were fireflies, Moscow would be Las Vegas. Havenít notice thee bedbugs here but the roaches are everywhere.

April 5, 1993

          0700 Another walk in a different direction. The city continues to impress. Very low density. The buildings arenít pretty, mostly Stalinesque, but the streets are very broad and lined with trees, and there are many parks with rose gardens. A few daffodils and cherry trees are in bloom. Most of the trees havenít begun to leaf out, but I found one row of willows bright green with new growth.

          Last night we went en masse to an Armenian restaurant. Arik, Xavier, Malik, Diana (a Syrian young woman working on inducing Uzbek nationals with skills to return from abroad), a Japanese and a Turk with his English wife, from HNHCR, who are here helping set up a corridor from Afghanistan through southern Uzbekistan for the return to Tajikistan of 60,000 Tajiks who fled there during the Tajik civil war. It is far from certain that the conflict is over, but the communist government succeeded, with Uzbek and Russian army help, in suppressing the Muslin revolt. Not the end of the story. We paid seven bucks each for our meal, and the UNHCR folks who have been here a while complained of the cost. The restaurant served basterma and lots of other appetizers, then a French style beef dish with French fries (Xavier didnít recognize any of it).

          Tashkent makes one think he is back in the 50s. Few cars, and they are all boxy soviet style jobs from another era. Lots of buses, square diesel Russian vehicles, some with accordion pleats between sections. People neatly dressed but not very stylish. It will change very fast if they succeed in changing the economy around, but they are not in a hurry to do that. The communist government, which changed its name to Social Democrats, is most concerned about stability. They fear the fundamentalist Muslims most. They make concessions to the World Bank, but are still tied to the ruble and mostly concerned with keeping the lid on. These are in a sense the good old days, especially for foreigners. Local salaries are losing value fast and the pace of change will inevitably quicken whether the leadership want it to or not. Probably things will come apart; but there is a chance for quite a rapid rise in living standards if the ancient trading proclivities of the Uzbeks have a chance of expression.

April 6, 1993

          We had our first meeting with the Government today. Malik had arranged, or thought he had, a meeting with a group of senior officials who would serve as our counterparts and sounding boards. The idea is that we would build a program around the priorities expressed by the Government. Recognizing that it is not easy for the Government to identify its priorities in a coherent way, we are planning to work closely with a committee in hopes that priorities will emerge through frequent discussions.

          As it turned out, only two people were present, Hamidov, the Deputy Prime Minister for domestic affairs, and Gafurov, head of the State Committee on Privatization. Hamidov is a very powerful guy who knows what he wants and talks straight. I didnít think Malik handled the situation very well because, although he has mastered the flowery UN style of compliment passing, heís a little light on substance. Hamidov was willing to be serious, but he didnít get a very serious response.

          Anyway, Gafurov was directed to set up another meeting this afternoon at which members of a committee would be present. We had to prepare yet another brief paper explaining who we were and what we were after before the meeting. That makes three documents they have to mull over if they ever get around to reading them. All have been translated into Russian.

          The afternoon meeting was a bit chaotic because Malik didnít bring an interpreter and Gafurov expected that he would. One was quickly found, but she was a bit flustered and overwhelmed by it all. Arik, fortunately, understands Russian, so he kept up with what was said, even though the translation was faulty. Then we went with the Deputy Director of Taxation, one of the members of the Committee, to discuss his ideas. We are to meet with each member individually today and tomorrow, and then in committee again on Thursday.

          Our discussion with the tax man, Abdulkaderov, focused too narrowly on his divisionís agenda, without explanation of the role of the committee. I pointed this out and was consequently asked to lead the meeting tomorrow morning. It was a slow and disorganized start today, but it may get better in time. Not understanding anything in Russian or Uzbek is a drag, and I can only spell out signs very slowly. Once knew the Cyrillic alphabet but Iíve forgotten most of it.

April 9, 1993

          Telephones are something else again. It just rang, a solid uninterrupted ring, with some woman on the other end talking in Russian. I couldnít understand her so she put another Russian woman on with the same result. Sometimes, around ten at night, it is a woman asking in English if I want a girl. The other night it rang twice at midnight. The first time I answered, and no one was on. The second time I didnít answer. There, it just rang again and a distant voice said Hallo but no further communication. Another time it rang at ten when I was fast asleep, and I answered. It didnít sound like anyone was on but listening closely I found it was Chris Kedzie saying he was having trouble with my Email to Shelby. He also received an Email from To about the car, but I couldnít think of a way to respond, or what to say if I did.

          Arik and I went to a restaurant this evening; Xavier took a break from our copany. It is a restaurant we have eaten lunch in twice, including today when we just had soup. In the evening they have a floor show. Group after group of skinny girls dancing. The place was quite full. People would occasionally get up, walk up to the stage, and shower the girls with bills. You can produce a veritable thunderstorm for under a dollar. The chicken served tonight was totally unedible, and about the size of a pigeon. Almost anyone can grow a good chicken these days, but Point Four hasnít reached here yet.

          We called upon the University of World Economy and Diplomacy this morning and the Central Bank this afternoon. The University looks like a good place to base some training. I wrote a short paper this morning summing up where we are. I think weíll have a draft of our report by the end of next week. That will leave a couple of days for translation, a couple of days for them to read it, a day for discussion, and a day for revision.

          Spring is just bursting out here. When we arrived a week ago the trees were bare, but now all are leafing out. It is that magical moment when everything seems to wake up. The forsythia is losing its yellow blossoms, and the jonquils are ending. Rose gardens all over the place, leafing out. Roses will be blooming in a month or so. In the metro, which we use for crossing the street to the park, flower sellers are asking 50 rubles a dozen for roses now, around seven cents.

          Speaking of prices, we asked Tanya, one of our interpreters, how much she paid to buy her apartment. The State Committee on Privatization is very proud of having privatized housing in Tashkent. She said 500 rubles, the price of the paper work. She is among the favored people because she teaches English and that skill is in very short supply. Her apartment is 26 square meters, one bedroom, living room, bath, kitchen and balcony. She said apartments on the lower floors sell for more than those on the upper floors because there is no provision for paying for elevator or roof repair. The lower owners can tell the upper that the roof leaks are their problem. Arik said he paid around $500 for his apartment in Warsaw. Now he could sell it for $35,000. You had to own it for five years before you could sell it.       Here, there is as yet no provision for selling apartments. Tanya is paid 5000 rubles a month, or seven dollars. Doctors, engineers, and teachers all receive that salary. It doesnít go far even though prices are dirt cheap. She earns 450 rubles an hour as interpreter. In two days she more than equals her monthly salary.

April 12, 1993

          The days have a certain sameness about them, so it is hard to keep a journal. Gradually things get better so in time this could be a decent place to live. For example, I found out how to open the door to my balcony and now get delightful fresh air. My airline sleep mask works fine so I can sleep until six or so. The cockroaches were zapped and almost disappeared for a day or two, but are making a strong comeback. Just squished one in a pocket of my briefcase. The restaurant has been out of coffee for three days and out of rice porridge two. There are other things to fill up on, mostly bread. It turns out one can get a bottle of local champagne for under a dollar. Not much like champagne, but not a bad drink. There is a small bar on the 11th floor where you can get sausage and hard boiled eggs if the dining room is too loud or crowded, as it was last right when a wedding was on.

          Arik and I wandered out to a restaurant we were told about in the hotel. It is called Bahor, meaning spring, and it is a very attractive building. Nobody in it except two women talking at a table. They worked there. We sat down but the menu folder was empty. One of the women finally came over and said all they had was chicken. Arik asked if it was good chicken and she said no, she couldnít recommend it. The doorman downstairs said they had had a wedding party over the weekend and everyone was tired. Come back another time, he said.

          So tonight we three went back and found several people there. We ordered soup and they said the only other thing they had was smoked catfish. We polished off a few tough bites of that and ordered another when she asked, but it turned out there wasnít more. We had bread and a sliced cucumber and a bottle of champagne. The bill was 80 cents each. Itís a state owned restaurant so they buy food only in state run shops, and there isnít any to speak of. They apparently have to charge such ridiculous prices so they canít shop on the free market. The waitress promised us to have caviar and a special soup and cutlets for us on Wednesday night.

          Yesterday we paid the UNDP driver and asked Tanya along and spent the day sightseeing. Not much to see. One old madrassah was attractive. Went through the big bazaar, which was moderately interesting. Took lots of pictures. Ate at the top of the TV tower in a revolving restaurant they are very proud of. Scenery okay but food the same as everywhere. No wonder people drink a lot of vodka. It makes you accept the cuisine.

The art museum was quite good and the museum shop was fine. Very nice Turkmen bracelets for a decent price but the shopkeeper said you would have only a 50-50 chance of getting them out of the country. With the X-ray scanner of luggage, I bet the odds are much less. Same with rugs unfortunately.

          I spent the afternoon writing a short report we will have translated and share with the Deputy Prime Minister. Should be only 3 pages but I went a little over four. We saw the Minister of Higher Education this morning, but he doesnít run the University we plan to work with so there wasnít much in it for either of us.

April 15, 1993

          Ernie Chung, a Korean-American who is working here for a year before entering law school, took us to a Korean restaurant night before last. It is a mile or two away, located in a hotel. A small band plays in each room and the atmosphere is very nice. Best food we have had since arrival. You order Chinese meat or French meat. Get a number of little salads with your main dish. They also keep your vodka glass filled to the brim. Whole scene cost $2 each, which is much higher than our hotel.

          We asked about rooms. They were full, which was not surprising since they charge $1.50 per night (100 rubles). Besides, they cannot rent to foreigners. There are only two hotels that can take foreigners in Tashkent, the Uzbekistan and the Tashkent. One reason is that foreigners pay the hard currency rate while locals pay a small fraction of that amount. The currency inspectors at the airport when you leave check that you have paid in hard currency in one of these hotels.

          Ernie had had quite a day. He was on a bus so crowded that he had his hands in the air holding onto a strap or rail. He knew this was a vulnerable position. A guy up against him warned him to be careful of the bag Ernie was carrying in one hand. As he checked it, he sensed something was happening elsewhere and found that the guy had lifted his wallet. Ernie reached down and grabbed his wallet back, which was okay, but then the two had to continue riding chest to chest for another ten minutes until the bus reached a stop where one got off. Interesting interpersonal dynamics.

          Ernie brought back my disk and copies of all the e-mail I have received. It is a trip across town to collect e-mail and I donít know where Ernie and Chris live, so I donít make the trip. They call and let me know when something has come but it isnít easy for me to reply.

          Two days ago, within an hour of when I spoke with Pen, Xavier received a call from Kay Ikranagara from Jakarta. I have no idea how she found the number since I havenít let Mursjid know what hotel Iím in or what phone number. I had by then gone out for my walk so Kay left a number to call back but I havenít been able to reach her. She works for Mursjid so sure he is trying to reach me either to say the Washington visit of the Indonesians has been postponed, or to ask me to go hoe by way of Jakarta. The former is the more likely. I will try to fax Mursjid today. I did ask Ernie to send an e-mail to Richard Pagett to ask him to fax Mursjid and offer to relay messages via e-mail, and to give Mursjid my e-mail address in case he has access to a network.

          The paper has grown to six pages. It is now being translated and can be shared next week with the Government. We are still seeing people, but the schedule of meetings should slow down now. Maybe we can get to Samarkand this weekend somehow.

April 18, 1993

          Arik and Tanya and I are off to Samarkand today in a 1984 Volga. Arkadie, the driver, spent yesterday trying to ready his vehicle for the trip. I hope he was successful. Arkadie is a former military man who served in Afghanistan. Crusty type, not very reliable. Everyone says to take plenty of spare tires. My guess is the quality of tires is not very high. Itís only supposed to be a 3.5 hour trip. We leave at seven so naturally I woke up at five.

          Xavier has a potential back problem so he decided not to go. Anyway, he is starting another four-week mission here on social safety nets right after this one and that is likely to take him around the country. Social safety nets is a big issue because the government is reluctant to move fast on economic liberalization because of the instability and hardship it causes, viz. Russia. People are already quite poor and freeing up prices could cause a lot of problems. The World Bank is trying to get them to free all prices and abolish subsidies on everything but bread. Since virtually all wheat is imported, the disincentive to growers from restrained bread prices would not be a factor. They plan to increase wheat production, which would be possible, but wheat is not a very high value crop for irrigated land anyway.

          Still having a problem with the ResRep over the basing of the economist in our proposal. He is determined that the person be in his office. This makes no sense at all if you are trying to enhance the governmentís capacity to analyze economic issues. Malik is just empire building and is under the delusion that government is going to keep asking his opinion about economic decisions they make. They may ask him as a courtesy for his opinion, but if he thinks it will cut any ice, heís crazy. This is his first field assignment. Heís had a career as a headquarters type in UNDP and has come to believe the hype associated with headquarters activities. He canít see that what we are proposing is likely to attract funds from other donors because of the difficulty they are having placing economic policy advisers, and make him look very good indeed.

          We are suggesting that a small unit be established at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, a new institution set up at the order of the President in the old Communist Party training school. The buildings are very good and the Rector is personal adviser to the President, of higher rank than the Deputy Prime Minister we report to. The unit would have as its general mission helping the government gain access to advice and experience on economic issues they have not previously dealt with. Such issues arise from the country becoming independent and from their attempt to become a market economy. They range from taxation, through corporate structures, joint enterprises, establishing a central bank, issuing currency, setting up customs, and analyzing the effect of policy decisions on the market. The unit could send officials abroad to see the way others handle similar issues, import advisers, and establish study groups to do comparative research and policy analyses. The unit will also import short courses and workshops on topics of interest, such as the summer workshops given at HIID on public enterprise management, governmental budgeting, project appraisal, etc. Then the unit would translate course materials and gradually adapt the course content to local conditions. The project would base an economist and a trainer at UWED. We anticipate that within a year AID and the EEC would come in with funds and create an economic policy institute with similar functions to the Korean Development Institute and the Thai Development Research Institute. If Malik sells out this idea for increased staffing strength, he ought to be run out of town.

          Meanwhile, back at the ranch, cockroaches continue t be a problem. I thought I could hide half a candy bar in the old fridge sitting in the corner of the room, but when I opened the door, a roach skittered across the bottom shelf. I keep the half candy bar in a can of peanuts that I emptied some time ago. Another time, although I donít see any need to come back, I would bring a bug bomb, some soap, and detergent. Arik gave the cleaning lady some detergent he brought from Poland and she thought it was the greatest thing; saved some to take home.

            Yesterday I didnít go to a lunch given for our team at a private college set up to train students business courses in English. It has prestigious backers including a former mayor of Tashkent and a former member of the Supreme Soviet, and a couple of former generals from the Ministry of Interior, which probably means KGB. Itís the third time I didnít go to the institution because I was writing. There is no chance that our program could involve the place so I saw little point in going. They expected me, however, so I got the same gifts as those who went: a quilted robe, little square hat, and bottle of Russian cognac. The meal was apparently quite sumptuous, the best Arik and Xavier said they have had since being here. They kept referring to Xavier as an American, which didnít please him (how could a de la Renaudiere be an American?). Many toasts were drunk and so were Arik and Zavier, mildly, when they got back. I, on the other hand, had produced a memo trying to persuade Malik to see the sweet light of reason about the location of the economist.

April 19, 1993

          We left at seven am as planned in Arkadieís Ď84 Volga. He drove sedately, around 45 or 50, which was good for his car. The road was a four-lane highway with no potholes and little traffic, but the surface was uneven and it would have been uncomfortable at speed. Still, taking five hours each way makes it a long trip (180 miles each way).

          On the outskirts of Tashkent we passed a huge fleamarket, jammed with people at 0730. More cars than I think I have seen in two weeks. Answers the question of whether anyone is interested in a market economy.

          An hour out of Tashkent, we stopped at a market town near the Syr Darya, one of the major rivers that bound the country and flow to the Sea of Aral. It used to be navigable, but now so much water is drawn from it for irrigation that it is quite shallow. By the time it reaches the Aral it is a salty trickle. The level of the Aral has dropped 30 meters, and it will dry up in twenty years, most likely. The health impact of sand blowing from the seabed over surrounding countryside is huge. It is one of the environmental disasters of the world. Uzbekistan received over 130 foreign missions looking at the Aral Sea in the past couple of years; but no assistance, so they have now banned more missions.

          The market featured smoked fish from the Syr Darya, and bags of peanuts the farmers grow. They also had Snickers bars and bubble gum. We bought the fish and peanuts. Driving on another half hour or so we stopped for a picnic breakfast. Arkadie had brought a jug of coffee, some tomatoes and cucumbers, and he cut up the fish for us. One was a carp steak the size of a swordfish steak. It tasted a lot like raw fat. The other was about a three-pound flat fish like a flounder. It wasnít as fatty, but was smoked without having been cleaned. Arkadie relished the fish eggs in the stomach cavity, but I settled for the meat closer to the fins. It was not a great breakfast, but he did his best and clearly enjoyed it all.

          There were very few buses or trucks on the road, although most people travel by bus. A railroad hauls the freight, but the carriages are said to be poor for passenger trips. The road was built eight years ago, being the most direct route between Russia and Afghanistan.

          From Syr Darya on for a hundred miles we passed flat, irrigated cotton lands.The investment in irrigation and roads we saw made  think that all these people need is a viable economic system that rewards harder and smarter work. The massive infrastructural investments have been made.

          Samarkand is a great place. Ruins magnificent, dating back to Tamerlaine in the 14th Century mainly. There is an 11th century cemetery on a hill where Alexander camped in the 4th century BC. Tanya calls him Alexander Makadoniski! Genghis Khan leveled the city in the 12th century. It had 400,000 people but only 25,000 survived in the mountains. Nothing stood on the site of Samarkand for the next fifty years. Tamerlaine conquered Egypt to the Volga, but Samarkand was his headquarters. He died on campaign in Kazakhstan at age 69. His grandson Ulug Beg was a scholar and built one of the great madrassahs that still stands.

          The modern city is also attractive. Many trees and parks. It seems to have a much more pleasant atmosphere than Tashkent, although people here are nice enough.

          Arkadie had not found a convenient gas station while we were looking at ruins, so he looked for one on the way back. One was there was no way through the center divider for several miles and it was on the other side. Another was closed, a third had diesel fuel but no gas, a fourth was out of everything, and the fifth had a line of three cars waiting at a pump. As we drove up, they all climbed in their oars, waved their hands to say there was no gas and took off. Arkadie went around behind the station anyway, and soon came dashing back, pumped 20 liters, and got in the car and drove off. It seems the station was closed, but he had convinced the guy to open up. It was our last chance because we didnít pass another for many miles and we were running on fumes as it was. Got home exhausted at 9 pm, but it was well worth the weary.

          Khalid caved in today, or rather compromised. He still wants an economist in his office but agrees the paper can go forward to the Deputy PM as is. It was translated and put again on the computer today, the earlier version having been garbled by some glitch in the Russian word processing program. It gets offended by WordPerfect and messes things up.

April 23, 1993

          Last day. As usual, the time went by quickly late in the stay, after seeming to drag endlessly earlier. We have not, and will not see Hamidov, the Deputy PM, but Khalid will see him next week. Arik and I saw Gafurov yesterday, the chairman of the group we were supposedly working with. Xavier is already wound up in his next mission, and in any case he didnít write much of it; in fact none of it. Gafurov was effusive over the report, which has finally been translated into decent Russian. They havenít decided whether the economic policy adviser and the study groups will be based in government or at the university, where they belong, but thatís their business. Malik is as usual pushing in the wrong direction, thinking he will score more points with Hamidov if it is right in government. A trivial reason, appropriate for the man. Anyway, Gafurov said they would back anytime, so at the end of the meeting I said that if invited I would certainly come. He said he was ready to sign the request today, which was a nice way to end the assignment.

          Last night we went to Seoul, the fanciest Korean restaurant in town, which has a really excellent floor show. Seven of us were going, although Ernie made the reservation for five. Ernie was late arriving, so Xavier and two members of his new mission took a taxi and went ahead. They never did find the place and ended up eating at the Korean restaurant Ernie first took us to. Nice place, but nothing like Seoul. Ernie and Arik and I took a taxi, which Ernie had to direct. The place only opened in December. Tanya met us there, her first experience with a place with a floor show. Itís a joint venture with a South Korean restaurateur. Everything is first class. The mains dance troupe of five girls and a guy are okay, but not special. A group of five Korean girls was really cute. Their routine was adorable, but not in the least sexy. Lots of clothes on, coquettish, but not sexy. One couple who danced together was very good, the girl could be in the movies. Then three Uzbek numbers, very similar to Arab dancing. The bill for four was 41,500 rubles, or about $50. Outrageous for here, but really cheap elsewhere. The meal was a whole lot, maybe 20, salad plates with different items including kimche, egg salad, chicken, beef, cheese, noodles, and lots of veggie salads. That was followed by a hot, spicy soup and then a chicken dish and finally ice cream.

          Ernie says the ruble was 200 to the dollar six months ago. It was 750 when we arrived, and over 800 now. Buy stuff! Donít keep rubles!

          The hotel was $100 per night in hard currency. Not bad for a hotel, but very steep for this place. Xavier says his new team members are still suffering from ďhotel shock.Ē After a while you get used to the place and it actually seems like home. You still watch to see whatís moving before you put your hand down, and stuff like that, but it isnít a big problem. Nevertheless, Iím happy to be leaving.   

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