Posts tagged Minneapolis

My Fall of 1994 Reflections in Bishkek

I wrote this letter on October 12, 1994 to my loved ones back in the U.S.  I was writing from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and had my head full of wedding plans back in the Minneapolis area but also when I returned to Bishkek, I wanted to do the wedding all over again.  I forgot how provoked I was with Tatyana, my Kazakhstani friend, who didn’t believe I was willing to fly her and a Kyrgyz girl on my own expense. Back at that time it cost about $3,000 to fly both of them to Moscow, then New York and then Chicago where they took a bus from there to Minneapolis.  Once Ken and I went on our honeymoon, they stayed on for another week or so traveling back together to New York and then home to Central Asia.  As late as October, things were NOT moving on Tatyana’s end of things. Not due to her busy-ness but due to her doubt.

“…I want my Kazakhstani friend, Tatyana, who lives in Almaty, to be one of my bridesmaids.  She simply can’t believe that I would fly her to the States to be a part of our wedding.  It means getting a letter of invitation, a visa, her passport in order, plus the plane fare arranged.  I told her in June to make the necessary preparations by writing friends of hers in the States so she could stay with them after the wedding. I hasn’t happened because of her unbelief and the time for buying airfare tickets is NOW! Because she thinks something could go wrong with her Kazakhstan government not granting an exit visa, she doesn’t want to get her hopes up.  Inertia was winning!!!

People from the Soviet past are steeped in their old way of thinking.  They have been programmed to think negatively. Thinking it will not work…it will not happen.  This fall semester with 60 first year students while there were 40 new students last year, I still have hope for Kyrgyzstan!   I can say that because of reading my students’ journals and homework assignments.  I can look into their hearts and respond to each one with encouragement.  One of my students, named Marat, is proselytizing his Muslim faith to me. (;-)

The downside of being the only American English teacher after all the other ones left from the first year is that I have a very heavy teaching load.  It is like giving an essay test to 60 students and returning their results to them each week.  Each student’s assignment takes about 10-15 minutes to grade.  The decision was made by me to give up my Fulbright grant at the end of January instead of the end of May of 1995.  After returning from my Minneapolis wedding, I will get married again in Bishkek for the benefit of my expat, Kyrgyz and Russian friends.  I’m mostly doing the wedding again for my students.  I will move to Almaty where Ken’s job is and we are expecting great things together!!!

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Chinese Students’ Responses to American “Fine Arts”

Our 38 Chinese university students took a “field trip” to the Twin Cities last weekend and the following impressions are what they experienced:

Momo: During the two day-trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul, I feel I gained greatly since I saw some of fines arts of America through my personal experience and found a number of differences between America and China in the area of fine arts. First, I would like to talk something about the concert in the park. This concert was free to everyone audience. People could enjoy themselves completely since they were unrestrained. If they would like, they could dance with partners in the front of the auditorium. Children were permitted to run back and forth off the stage. In all, everyone would feel free and relaxed.

However, in China, people have to buy the tickets if they want to see the music shows in most cases. Besides that, audiences are asked to obey some rules. Most concerts prohibit people to do activities near the stage in order to avoid disturbing the performers. Under this circumstance, American artists prefer to create a casual environment to help their audiences enjoy themselves which may be the obvious difference between Chinese and American artists.

Then I would like to mention something about the gallery we visited accidentally. After dinner, on the way back to hotel, we went by a gallery and one of the paintings surprised me that it was finished by pitch on the paper rather than other common pigments and the pitch was piled up to make the painting look like something more solid. I think it is a fantastic work since seldom Chinese will choose pitch as the pigments to draw a picture. American artists are more creative!

Finally, I want to talk something about theater. American plays are quite different from Chinese ones, especially Beijing Opera. In every American play, there are a lot of props on the stage, like furniture, stairs of the building and so on. Actors and actresses use these props to performance better. However, on the contrary, in Beijing Operas, there is only a few of props and performer use their gestures or physical actions to express something like going up the stairs or feeling sad.


Knight: On Saturday I visited the Minnesota Institute of Arts. When I stepped into the museum, I definitely felt a deep cultural atmosphere. I followed our Chinese docent who has lived and worked in Minnesota for more than 20 years. There was a huge number of fine arts from different cultures and various times. First I looked around the Asian fine arts, I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. I had never seen so many fine arts put together in a single museum which are totally from different areas.

In Shanghai World EXPO, almost all of the countries in the world participated in the great ceremony and technology as well as fine arts are displayed in a modern way. In contrast, this museum kept the genuine which gave me a sense of reality feeling the charm of art. During this trip, a house that decorated with old fashion materials tracing back to QING dynasty even MING dynasty left me a deep impression. From stories I heard from the museum guide, the roof is originally from China, so were the chairs, desks and calligraphy. It was really unbelievable, what a big project it is!

One thing that was still different from China are the masterpieces created by famous artists like Van Gogh which can be looked at in a close range! In a Chinese museum, it is more strict with works of art, people can only enjoy these fine arts in a long distance through thick windows. However, large Chinese population cause many serious problems.


Candy: On Saturday, we enjoyed all the morning in the fine arts museum. The museum is different from that in China. It not only displays the arts of America, but also we could find other nation’s arts. The arts of Chinese culture gave me a deep impression. Like the dark red wooden furniture, blue and white porcelain and wallpaper of Qing Dynasty. The sculpture with marble was also very amazing. They looked like the real persons standing in front of me. The museum has the pictures of Vincent Van Gogh, “Paradise” of Paul Gauguin painting and Monet’s theme of “haystacks.”

On Sunday, we visited the science museum of Minneapolis. It is really interesting and fantastic. We did lots of experiments by ourselves and touched the equipments. I have known some knowledge about physics, chemistry and biology. I like the dinosaur models very much. They are huge and amazing. In the afternoon, we went to the Guthrie theater to see the “Sunshine boys.” That was my first time to see the theater. I sat a short distance from the actors on stage. It was a nice story about two funny, stubborn old men. This afternoon we had a theater class with Siobhan. Although I only had one line, it was my first time to act on the stage. It was really interesting.


Jeff: On the morning of Saturday, we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It was wonderful. We saw some wonderful paintings, even by the Van Gogh. You know our Chinese students are not used to appreciating European arts, so it was so new for me, I loved it so much. The museum is so huge that contains a lot of works of arts. From Europe to native America, from Africa to Asian. I even saw some work from China! Like the stone engraved titled “Lantengxu”, which is a poem by a famous calligrapher. But what amazed me was the whole house from China, it was saved so well that it let me think I was in Qing dynasty! I loved the museum so much. If I had time, I would go there again, calm down and see these excellent work of arts.


Lily: The houses in China prefer to be higher and shining, while in the Twin Cities, there are also many tall buildings, but that high compare to China. They are about 15 to 20 flours high but with colorful painting on the outside and romantic domed roofs on the top. I think the most attractive one was the side of the store building painted with collection of tunes, charming black and white notes gathering together to play the graceful music to the city.

On Saturday afternoon, we went to the Art Museum in Minneapolis. It has so many exciting works of arts in that museum from different countries; porcelains from China, oil paintings from European artists; sculptures from Italy and huge different works from the whole world. There are also a lot kinds of works that I can’t see from China museum even it is from China, such as some porcelain with sexual theme. These are forbidden in China.

Also, we saw a play in Jungle Theater called “Noises off”, it is a ridiculous British comedy which tells a story about an unknown troupe rehearsal for their show. But everyone in the show is all on their own thought on how to play the show. Though my English is not good enough to understand the conversation between the actors, it made everyone laugh. I think Chinese won’t do this kind of show, because one women always in her underwear and do something Chinese may called “Fengsao” which means coquettish. Chinese show may be more positive and educational.

(to be continued)


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What ELSE Hillary Clinton said in Astana

I remember when I lived in Minneapolis close to Interstate Highway I-94 and 35W in the early 1990s, we had an important dignitary ride by in his black limo. We knew this was a VIP because all the freeways had been closed off that particular Sunday afternoon, we had been warned of this interruption. It was eerie to see what was a usually very busy freeway, was completely silent. But we weren’t as a neighborhood, we all excitedly stood by the fence to watch the black motorcade roll past with great anticipation. I don’t know what we expected to see, certainly with about 4-5 limos, you are NOT going to see the person of interest through dark paned glass.  It was like a parade of one float and when it was over we could say that we saw one of the CARS of the  leader of the former Soviet Union go past us. Yes, it was Gorbachev rolling through Minnesota on that cool day. I won’t ever forget that historic moment but I’m sure Gorbachev won’t remember simply because he had been driven through so many towns and in so many countries all his public life.

Well, the same thing happened here in Astana, Kazakhstan these past couple of days. Except no one was supposed to be out watching because this was actually like a parade of many motorcades with police cars flashing lights in front. Each delegation of the 55 plus countries were driven through the streets in Astana to discuss peace, security and human rights issues. Seems ironic that so much extra police were on hand to make sure that these talks would go without a hitch, meaning NO TERRORISTS allowed! I think it worked!

I’m most interested in what Hillary said especially after her very rigorous meetings with so many people yesterday. She ended up at the U.S. embassy in the evening and shook hands and talked with an American friend of mine. Of course, my friend said that Hillary looked tired but she has a job to do of diplomacy and showing the U.S. best face to this summit conference. I saw this quote about what ambassadors are supposed to do. I believe Hillary as Secretary of State has a different job description.

A 16th century English diplomat Henry Wotton said, ” An ambassador is a man of virtue sent to lie abroad for his country.”

The following is what Hillary said in answer to a journalist’s question.  I found it intriguing.  I got this from the same blog website I got other Hillary info from yesterday:

“And one more question to State Secretary Clinton. It is known that some amendments to the act on cyber space have been adopted in the United States that would entitle the U.S. President to regulate the exchange of information in the Internet. I would like to know more about this concerning the amendments to the act on cyber space. Thank you.”

SECRETARY CLINTON: And I would add…With regard to cyber security and cyber space, the United States is, like many nations, addressing the opportunities and the challenges and the threats that are posed in cyber space. We want the Internet to be a vehicle for the free exchange of information, yet we are well aware of the dangers that can be posed to the misuse of the Internet to all kinds of institutions and networks. And so this is not only a matter of concern for the United States; we think this deserves attention at the highest international levels, and that is beginning to occur.

The following thing that Hillary said is what REALLY surprised me.  That the Afghan students will come to Kazakhstan to study?  I will believe it when I see it!!! (yeah like THAT’s going to happen!)

“Last night, I met with many of the participants who took part in the independent conference of non-governmental organizations that ran parallel with the summit. I was impressed by their effort and energy on crucial challenges, including protecting fundamental freedoms. They know what we all know, that a thriving civil society is a vital building block of democracy, and that disparate, diverse voices must be heard and supported.

In the discussion that I had with both the president and the foreign minister, I thanked Kazakhstan for your support of the international mission in Afghanistan, and for all you are doing to help the Afghan people, particularly the very kind invitation for 1,000 students to continue their education here, in Kazakhstan. This will enable these young people to contribute to Afghanistan’s development. I also thanked Kazakhstan for the recently concluded air transit agreement that will help ensure the delivery of critical resources to Afghanistan, and I welcomed Kazakhstan as the newest member of the International Security Assistance Force, which now includes 49 countries.”

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Bleak Realities in “Hurramabad”



Our Internet is down at home, our heat is turned off, and my bike was stolen.  This is MY reality in Almaty, well, the first two are true.  Thankfully, the third concerning   my Cannondale bike being stolen was in my early morning dream this morning. How happy I was to wake up and realize that I’m getting more sleep to be able to dream despite a colder apartment and “loss” of a bike.  All central heating will be turned off throughout the city this week, spring has finally arrived!!!


Quick summary of my dream before I write some quotes from the book “Hurramabad” that is dealing with Tajikistan realities, published in 2001 by Glas New Russian Writing. [Hurramabad actually means the name of a mythical city of joy and happiness where there is always an abundance of fresh water and shade.]


My Dream:  Supposedly I had just attended a play somewhere in Minneapolis, in an old neighborhood I was familiar with and had biked to it.  [Perhaps I am thinking about a play because of the upcoming KELT production titled “David and Lisa”] After the play, for whatever reason I was taking my bike apart to fit into my car for better traveling. [dreams are like that, why do I have my car there if I biked?] Anyway, I went into the washroom for 30 seconds and passed a swarthy looking man in the hall who was just exiting.  My bike was supposed to be in the entryway upon my return but it was gone!!!  I ran out into the street and shouted “Come back with my bike!” “Someone stole my bike!”  That is when I woke up realizing that this book by Andrei Volos titled “Hurramabad” has had a bad effect on me. It’s dismal clarity about life in Tajikistan is like the American version of Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” but much worse!!!


When I was in Denver, I met an American woman from Boston who was at my presentation about Kazakhstan who had lived in Tajikistan for about a year before the revolution, I believe 1993 or 1994.  I know the Tajiks have a lot of sad history and currently their country has about as dismal a present, what of its future?  Apparently, Volos, who is a Russian wrote this kind of masculine book telling of his being uprooted from Tajikistan in the fictional stories he presents.  The titles of his vignettes are the following:  1) The Ascent; 2) A Local Man; 3) Sammy 4) A Decent Stone for a Father’s Grave; 5) First on the List; 6) The House by the River; 7) A Foreigner.

(to be continued)

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O Little Hills Skipped Like Lambs

Waking up at 5:00 am to the coolness of the morning, I made a beeline for our north balcony to witness the pink of the pre-dawn sky to the east. After making my coffee, I went to my meditation spot looking out to the mountains from our south windows.  I did my daily reading and sipped my coffee gazing to the foothills and the snow peaked mountains above.

Today I was reminiscing and reflecting on where I was 16 years ago.  I was in the Twin Cities teaching ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) at the University of Minnesota. I was also in self-imposed physical training for the Twin Cities marathon (26 miles) for October 1992 when thousands of runners come from all over the U.S. to run it.  I was in top physical condition usually running in 5, 10 or 15 kilometer races every other weekend.  I ran a few half marathons of 13 miles but that was many, many pounds ago.

Sadly I sustained a stress fracture during a 10 K I was running a day after I had peaked at 20 miles in my training for the THEE marathon in my home state.  The Twin Cities Marathon was meant to be my farewell run around all my favorite lakes in the Twin Cities before I headed to Central Asia to teach on a Fulbright Scholar grant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I was averaging less than 8 minute miles, I repeat myself, I was in top physical form.  I LOVED the freedom of running, especially in the early morning hours when there were no cars or people around, it was peaceful and cool!  Minneapolis is an attractive city in the summer and fall, especially in the fall with the autumn leaves.

When I first arrived in May 1993 to Almaty as a Peace Corps trainer, I took to the hills with the same energy I used while going up and down the hills near the Mississippi River.  For exercise in Almaty and taking a break from Peace Corps training, other trainers and I battled the dusty switchbacks to get to the top of Kok Tobe.  Back then, the cable car was in sad disrepair and everything appeared to be in past tense of Soviet glory days.  Kind of like me today when I will traverse up the back roads to Kok Tobe.  Right now, I feel so past tense concerning physical exertion.  I’ll be with my Minneapolis friend Kim, from 20 years ago who has lived in Kazakhstan since 1995.  I’ll be huffing and puffing, like a cigarette smoker, while she will be skipping along the road like a frisky lamb.  Kim is in superior condition because she is an aerobics instructor; I’m a writing teacher chained to my desk.

I can’t help but reflect on what shepherd boy turned into King David penned in Psalms 114 when the Jewish people were delivered from their captors in Egypt, from verses 4-6: “The mountains skipped like rams, the little hills like lambs.  What ails you, O sea, that you fled? O Jordan, that you turned back? O mountains, that you skipped like rams? O little hills, like lambs?”

What imagery did David have in mind with mountains quaking and moving?  Mountains and hills should remain stationary, it is the rams and lambs duty to flit about from rock to craggy rock. The next verses might explain: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.”  Apparently King David desired his readers to know that God is in control and all powerful.

My thoughts sadly return to the Chinese who have suffered from a recent earthquake and aftershocks where they have positively witnessed the movement of what seemed stable.  Now they have dams that could possibly break and flood their homes, will their suffering ever cease?  King David wants his audience to know, God is in control and He will bring deliverance as He did with the Israelites.

Therefore, my thoughts turn to the Chinese sad plight and not my own of not being able to skip up the path like a lamb to Kok Tobe.  It should be a fun morning being with my long time Minnesota friend Kim and witnessing the changes of our walk from what I remember 15 years ago.

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