Posts tagged Olympics

Welcome to the GREAT new year of 2015!!!

I was too busy traveling yesterday to give out my new year’s greetings, so today will have to do.  On Facebook I have put up the obligatory photos from our two week trip to AZ to see the kids and grandkids.  Now it is back to the stark reality of living in the cold of Minnesota.  We are bracing ourselves for a bit of “weather” which is coming in later today, making travel near impossible if too much snow comes with it.  My task is to dismantle the Carnegie building of our latest traveling display exhibit called “Electrifying Minnesota.”  How about a new display titled “Heating Minnesota?”  We got back to the house and our temps outside were negative 4 and then 9 and then 10 and then back up to 7 and 8.  Inside, of course, we cranked up the heat to 68 and it started to warm up from the 54 that we had set the furnace at.

However, being in Arizona didn’t mean it was warm all the time. In fact, Prescott was cool and meant wearing jackets outside and Tucson was cool and meant wearing socks inside our RV trailer unit.  We felt blessed to be able to rent this unit for a week and have the pool and bubbling spa at 105 degrees just a half block away from our place.  There was a fitness center and also a library.  My friend Suzi helped us find out about this place because she and her husband have been staying at this RV park for many years.  They come from Oregon. What a great tourist way to bring in money for this area of Tucson.  There are MANY “snowbirds” from all over the US who come down to AZ in the winter, even those from Canada.  They stay for a few months and then go back to their homes when it becomes warmer.  My husband and I only can afford two weeks and then it is back to our reality or work in order to pay the bills.

I think Kazakhstan should try to have an industry like this. A good tourism industry is needed for those who are stuck in Astana or north of there to have places that people can go to for a few weeks or a month to get away from the brutality of the winter up north.  Almaty and along the border of Kyrgyzstan certainly have beautiful places for a vacation and it IS warmer, even in the winter.  I bet if Kazakhstan had enough people skilled or trained to facilitate that, then it could be a booming industy to bring in more international visitors as well.

Is it true that the winter Olympics might be in Kazakhstan and NOT Norway? I just heard that from a friend of ours who helped introduce my husband and me about 21 years ago.  He said that after Russia spent so much money on their winter Olympics, who wants to try to top that?  It might end up in Kazakhstan because they may want to host it for P.R. purposes. Then afterwards they could use those Olympic buildings for other purposes to make money.  I know that the Norwegians have a LONG memory about Medeo when there was some kind of international competition (not Olympics) that was held during the Soviet Union.  Seemingly the record times were changed and the Norwegians did not get their expected medals or awards. Perhaps the Soviet athletes won but on suspicious grounds.  I recall that some of the same things happened in Russia last year where top athletes spun out because the tracks were too treacherous or the snow quality not right.

Well, I’m not sure how I got into that but I have to steady my course here on the home front and get all the Christmas mail that has accumulated. AND to see how I can get the work done at the Carnegie before a big winter storm rages through these parts.  What a great culture shock for us, to have to be thinking about whether we will make it back home from town when we just flew three hours from AZ to MN and experienced about 60 degree temperature drop.

Happy New Years wherever you are, warm or cold!  Make 2015 a GREAT one!

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Writing articles while I have time and “Unbroken”

Yesterday I wrote two articles for our local newspaper, today I have two more in rough draft form.  I am determined to get at least seven done out of the eight that I have planned.  Some of these articles are writing themselves and as if there is an outside force propelling me on.  That is a good feeling. I also did an interview of two educational administrators eleven years ago and I am using the text of what I videotaped to put together two articles about two very different people who worked alongside each other for a time.  They were very charming in their own way, one was the consummate extrovert, the other a studious but friendly gentleman. I met the latter’s son this past summer and he reminded me of the extrovert, so different from his father was he.

We are making our final plans to see family members while our days are waning in sunny Arizona.  We saw “Unbroken” last night and it was in a BIG theater with lots of people in attendance.  People clapped at the end out of a sense of relief.  We had all witnessed some frightful things about what the cruelties of war does to people.  Hate was personified in the Japanese prison guard called “The Bird.”  He seemed to enjoy his torture of the hero in the story who after he was freed at the war’s end went back to Japan to try and find all those who were part of the prison system he was under.  He met with all of them and gave them forgiveness but the person known as the Bird would not meet with Louie Z.  He did not want to be broken down by his forgiveness, who knows whatever happened to him.  Louie Z. died in his 90s but not before he returned to run with the Olympic flame in Japan which was a high point for him.

What a story of perseverance and eventual faith.  Louie went back to his Italian family in the U.S. after two years in the Japanese prison system. He eventually got married but he still suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome after what he had been through.  He was into drugs and alcohol until he went to a Billy Graham crusade.  The American pilot named Phil who had been in the life raft with him for over 45 days on the Pacific Ocean also survived the prisons in Japan.  He was a Christian and perhaps had some earlier impact on Louie.  His family were religious but he would have none of that until he heard the message about Jesus.  I’m glad that the movie portrayed that part of his story of what he went through but they only captured a part of it. My husband read the book and he claimed that it was much more about his return to civilian life and how he coped and changed for the good.  The life leading up to his days on the ocean and then two years of capture is just a small part of the whole, real life story.

I suppose Hollywood can only document so much in two hours of what was in the true story that Laura Hildebrand had written about Louie Zamparini (sp). I am glad that it was aired because watching about 20 minutes of previews showed that there are soooooo many other movies that are not worthwhile to even see. In fact, some are downright evil and dangerous to young minds.  Do people actually like going to these movies? Are there any good morals or inspiration to them?  With the movie “Unbroken,” there was the inspiration to survive and then to forgive those who had persecuted.

It will be interesting to see the other reviews on this movie.  This was only day two of it being out in the public.  I hope there is a sequel that will show the rest of Louie’s life.  He died just recently at the age of 90 or so.  What a victor and he would give all the glory to Christ.

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Politely “Unfriended” because of Russian Politics

I have a “former” Russian friend or really she was more like an acquaintance from Kazakhstan who I knew several years ago in Almaty. Last week she informed me that her grandparents were from Belarussia, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland. They had undergone much heartache with the purges under Stalin. In no uncertain terms she told me that the Russians suffered under Stalin as well. I knew that.

She was responding to one of my posts on Facebook about the Ukrainian Holodomor. I guess she was warning me a week ago that I was offending her because she thought I was blaming the Russians for what is currently going on in Crimea. I told her I was very careful to NOT say that the Russians are attacking Ukraine but rather Putin is. He, in turn, expects people to follow his orders so those in the army, who happen to be Russian, are invading Crimea and eventually Ukraine. (I have an adopted Russian nephew whom I love dearly and I realize all Russians are living under some tragic circumstances, not of their own doing!)

I am careful to not blame the Russians because I realize they have been brainwashed about what really happened on Maidan. I was not there at Maidan, but I believe video clips and eye witness accounts from my friends who were there on the ground are reliable. Russia Today (RT) is not credible. That is why one American journalist, Elizabeth Wahl, had to quit. She had to step down because she admitted there was a lot of hatred being vented toward Americans. It continues to foment, unabated.

For Putin, it is all about hatred of the U.S. and other western nations. That is what he is broadcasting to his own people, believing there are Russians trapped in the former Soviet countries. He still has the Soviet Union mentality when it was a “super power.” I believe his own country is about to implode, economically and emotionally. His own people are not happy with the way things are going. Indeed, some are satisfied with Putin. In fact, they are very proud of the Russians’ records at the latest winter Olympics. However, talk to the people who lived next to all that construction in Sochi. I’m wondering if those construction workers who helped build all the opulent buildings for the Olympics were actually paid. I believe they were slaves who HAD to do this for Putin’s own ego.

In my devotional yesterday I came across several verses that applied to Putin from Psalms 33:16-19:
“No king is saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety, neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. On those who hope in His mercy to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.”

Yes, the Ukrainians have the famine of 1932-33 deeply ingrained in their very being. Those who survived told their families about it. They do NOT trust anything coming out of Moscow because of what happened last time. So, due to Russian politics, I have been unfriended on Facebook. I will be praying for this individual who is feeling hurt because she is probably misunderstood and feeling ostracized by other westerns where she is living in Turkey. (I’d hate to be living in Turkey next year, because of what the young Turks did to the Armenians in 1915, but that is another tragedy.)

Here is what my friend wrote to me: Sorry, I am writing you a personal message – not on your wall, just to let you know that I am unfriending you and blocking on top of it. I don’t really believe you know what God is – this is your personal opinion. Instead of living and being friends you are spreading messages of hate. You and people like you splitting others. All the best.”

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Ukraine May have a Temporary Victory

I have been following the events in Ukraine very closely.  Below is a piece written by someone who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine and is in the know. This is good news, if it is true. Even if it is true for now, things could still go south.

Tonight, as I watch the funeral proceedings at Maidan attended by ten thousand people, I reflect on the day that preceded this burial service. In the end, this day could have gone any direction, but it seems at each crucial point (and there were many crucial points) the protesters (and peace) won the day.

Today sixteen statues of Lenin were toppled around Ukraine.

Today many significant votes were taken to restored a gutted constitution.

Today Yuila Timoshenko, the imprisoned former Prime Minister, was authorized by parliament to be set free.

Today the president agreed to early elections.

Today amnesty was granted for the hundreds of protesters who were arrested.

Today no protesters died.

Today neighborhood militias were formed all over Kyiv to protect from looting and unrest.

Today the guy who authorized shooting live rounds at the protesters was fired.

Today, the first day of many, there were no fires in Kyiv. (sorry CNN, I know you like the night shots of the city on fire, but I prefer it without)

….and best of all….

Today Ukraine won a Gold in women’s biathlon relay! – No matter that Putin revoked his loan deal, we’ll take the money in gold.

Many of my Ukrainian friends are talking of today as a new dawn, the tide has turned, a new era in Ukraine’s history. The contrast is striking – yesterday the darkest day since Soviet times, and today the brightest things have looked in a long time. There are even reports as I write this that the president has left the capital, it seems he, along with all sixty five private jets that left Ukraine last night (65!) have seen the writing on the wall and feel that they need to leave or face prosecution for their ill gotten gain.

But in the end the barricades are getting higher not lower downtown. The crowds are growing, not shrinking, and the highest priority of many of the protesters still stands. That is the immediate resignation of the president. As I write there are twenty thousand mad Ukrainians downtown who don’t seem to want to leave without an impeachment or a voluntary resignation, and so far they have gotten everything they want. On the other side, thus far, the president has been very reticent to give up power, and therein lies the problem. At this point it doesn’t seem like if, but when, and more importantly….how, the president will go.

In politics (as in Church history) its much easier for an opposition group come together against something, but when that thing they opposed is removed, it’s a bit harder for everyone to decide on a way forward. That is our situation in Kyiv now too. May Ukraine prosper under a just and fair government for many, many years to come. However, we understand that this complete justice and fairness don’t seem to work always, and I’m sure there will be disappointments in the long term, and the near, future.

This is where the church comes in. The church now has a big role to fill as the country slowly (hopefully) begins to calm down and clean up. Just as people are most receptive to grace when broken, so goes for the country as well. Ukraine is broken now. We have hundreds dead, we have maybe a thousand wounded, we have a burned out center in place of our downtown, we have daily inflation and we have lots fewer cobblestones than we started with. Ukraine is broken and needs renewal that comes as they seek the mercy and grace provided by Christ. Pray that the church will (continue) to fill this need, and now in a more specific way, through it’s service to the community, through cleaning up the city, through writing and thinking with others about the concept of true justice – something that Ukrainians have been seeking, and through preaching the Word.

I’m greatly encouraged by today, and recognize that it is still in a fragile state. Pray for continued peace – and mercy.

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What else I learn from my adult learner students

The other day was a potpourri of various talents who showed up for English practice that is meant for advanced speakers once a week.  Some of these university employees were more shy to speak up once the talkative ones found their stride.  Represented were those from Center for Energy Research, Economics, Admissions, Legal department, Strategic planning and the Library.  We got on the topic of occupations as a kind of carry-over from the week before when we discussed teachers and builders.

The conversation went all over the place from talking about Kazakhstan’s sports like boxing, football and hockey to the recent Asian Winter games to Tour de France, to Roza Bagnalova’s son to the profession of policemen to the upcoming presidential election.  Finally an hour was up and we were talking about Olympics and the Goodwill Ambassador Vladimir Smirnoff who represented Kazakhstan.

One of them asserted that the most popular professions in Kazakhstan are lawyers and economists, especially looking at what students are majoring in for their subjects at university.  Others didn’t agree so we quickly moved into sports.  Apparently the most famous footballer is Pele whose name means “useless” or perhaps “crafty.”  We talked a long time about his name and how his name means smart but doesn’t let on that he is, like in Russian (heat-tree.) I can’t tell from my notes because I had to write fast with six people all having an opinion about this athlete.  Supposedly he was quoted as saying that if Russia wins the World Cup, then Brazil will have a hockey team in hell.  Something like that, like I said, my notes after trying to decipher them 24 hours later leave much to guess work.

This I DO know they talked about and was new information for me, that the Klitschko brothers who are so famous in Ukraine for their boxing feats were actually born in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. Their father was a military man and it is said as a kind of joke, I’m not sure if this actually happened.  One of the Klitschko brothers ran into Sasha Cohen in New York City, who made that despicable movie about Kazakhstan (which really wasn’t true to Kazakhstan and was filmed in Romania).  Anyway, since Klitschko is really a Kazakhstani, he had some strong words for Cohen and it put the fear into him.  You don’t want to mess with a boxer if you get him riled. Maybe this was just a joke but the point is, that the film has done little to bring good repute to Kazakhstan.

One thing that was supposed to bring Kazakhstan’s reputation up a notch or two was the Tour de France that was won by a Spaniard Cantador while he was biking for Team Astana last year.  We shall see who will rise from the Kazakh athletes to take over in cycling.  A nice stadium that was built just down the road from the university for the ice skating for the Asian games is really for cycle races.  It looks like a bike helmet from the outside.

We moved on to what all Kazakh people know internally but is little known in the western world about Roza Baglanova who died just last week.  She was a much loved singer and represented Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union.  Apparently one of my adult learner “students” went to school with her son Tarzhen.  When he was born his grandparents went to register him with a good Kazakh name but when the father found out about it, he was furious and had it changed to a good communist name, Tarzhen. I’m unsure of the meaning but it sounds like Tarzan to me.  Apparently Tarzhen didn’t follow in his mother’s footsteps in music but his father’s as a businessman.  He is entrepreneur and his quiet and keeps to himself, a good father of 3-4 children.

Then we got into the subject of names of Kazakh children and what it was like in the past if you wanted to appear politically correct.  I mentioned that during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s many young girls were called “Hong” for Red.  Someone said it was true in the USSR’s past that many had the names related to Lenin or Marx.  One poor lad was named after Albert Gore after he visited Kazakhstan.  With the Asian games now over, some girls are called Aizada (Asia) or boys might be called “Summit” after the OSCE summit last December. Or parents might use the word “Khan” or “Bai” or Abai going back to ancient times.  Some babies are given the name of the day of the week that they were born.  This has deep Kazakh roots to give names that honor an event.  Being BORN is an event here in Kazakhstan!

Somehow our conversation was directed back to occupations and several of these Kazakh people drive cars, so we talked about policemen.  After a Kazakh driver is stopped by a man with a white and black baton, the requisite forms are filled out. Some said they never pay a fine and talk their way out off whatever ticket.  Others who are in a hurry will pay the bribe just to get back on the road again.  You see, if you don’t want to go through all the steps of going to the bank and the police office to get the necessary paperwork down, you can give 1,000 or 2,000 tenge to the officer. However, this is NOT usually done directly, it might be slipped into a book or it might be left in the back seat of the squad car.

If you were to pay directly and officially with all the extra time spent to do it, it would cost about 6,500 tenge.  In the capital city of Astana it is not as bad to pay bribes to police officers as down in the south of Kazakhstan, like in Almaty. Perhaps this doesn’t happen in Astana because the police are more tightly controlled or they have other more important functions to deal with such as security for the president and other VIPs.  Maybe they are better paid than those officers to the south.

We talked of other things of course, such as the football match with Tartastan where the Dutch played in Moscow and the temps were -20 C and they played in the cold and mud with a score of 2-0.  Better than the score during the Asian games where a hockey match was 30-0. That would have been no fun to watch but one of my “students” witnessed that lopsided game.  Others saw the same ice skaters I did and we all talked about the opening ceremony.  I was surprised that one Kazakh woman didn’t even watch the Asian Games Opening ceremony on her t.v. I think she is too busy with her job and raising a family.

That’s it, from Lake Kaz-be-gone.

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Waxing philosophical and not my x-country skis

I have had some very interesting conversations with my PDP students about what they hope will be achieved with first having the OSCE Summit conference in Astana, Kazakhstan last December of 2010 and now in February of 2011 there is the Asian Winter games.  The Opening Ceremony will be talked about for a long time by a lot by people all over Central Asia but especially in Kazakhstan where it was hosted.

It’s not over yet.  I have American friends that seem to be going to a lot of sporting events in Almaty.  If only we could take time off in Astana to see these competitions, but there is MUCH work to be done at our new university.  Apparently, the Kazakh organizers hope to snag the Olympic Winter Games for 2018.  We shall see if that will happen or not.

I was told yesterday by a few people that some foreigners did not arrive for several reasons.  First, some had their flights re-routed because of the bombing incident at the Moscow airport several weeks ago.  Maybe others were afraid of something like that happening here in peaceful Kazakhstan.  Another reason more foreign guests didn’t arrive is because supposedly the tickets were not printed up in time to be sold to foreign guests who were coming in from the outside.  I’m glad I have my ticket for Friday’s women’s ice skating event because that sporting event has been sold out.

Figure skating is a sport I will never tire of watching either live or on t.v. because I know just how hard it is to skate fast on ice and do all the amazing jumps and moves.  I also know from experience just how hard the ice is if you fall.  I will go skating again on the river this Sunday but I miss our skating rinks and arenas back in Minnesota.  When my siblings and I were growing up, we have our Dad to thank for flooding a patch of land at our farm where we would go out to skate in the winter time.  He would re-flood the top of the ice so it was nice and smooth.

Also, I had a great-grandpa from Norway who homesteaded in North Dakota in the late 1880s who was a highly medalled champion in ski jumps but he was also a good skater.  He was like a legend where he came from in Telemark, Norway.  I come from a rich heritage of skiing and skating since my Mom would ski to school from her farmhouse down to the town below.  Ah, those were the good old days.

But these days are good too, for Kazakhstan, they are in the glory with the big show that happened this past Sunday.  Please look at New Challenge’s blog because what she shows in pictures is worth MORE than 1,000 words.  Look at her photos here and here.

Happy Groundhog Day!

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Waxing Philosophical about the Asian Winter Games Opening Ceremony

When my husband and I first moved to Astana a year ago, we were watching the Winter Olympics broadcasting out of Vancouver, Canada on our t.v. in all its richness, color and Russian commentary.  This year we were in our living room with friends, our tv long since banished to a corner in our bedroom and our cable connection cut off.  Who needs tv when you have Internet?  Well after discussing with many people yesterday about the Opening Ceremony, I wish I had our t.v.  back up and working.  I guess I missed something REALLY spectacular by all accounts from my Facebook friends, my students and people who actually attended this grand event.  However, as much as the Asian Games organizers put into the well choreographed production, the logistics of security and transportation left much to be desired.

From what I gathered the president of Kazakhstan was in attendance, the first and foremost VIP plus the new president of Kyrgyzstan along with a sheik from Emirat and of course the President of the Asian Games along with China and Korean representatives from their respective countries.  The arena holds 30,000 people and there were 6,000 participants.  Apparently a famous Russian composer, Igor Krutoy used poems by Fabian and other old stories from Kazakhstan’s history to weave together a fantastic program.  A singer from Korea, a Kazakh opera singer who studied in Italy and many other musicians and dancers were part of the glamorous performance.

Different numbers of how many countries who are actually represented at these winter games range from 15 to 27 countries.  Some come from the most unlikely places where they have never seen ice or snow like India, Pakistan and Iran from what I was told by my “informants.”  Whenever anything related to Kazakhstan was announced the crowd chanted “Go Forward Kazakhstan” in either Russian or Kazakh.  Since I wasn’t there I don’t know for sure which language, but I can be certain that it was not in English.  My students told me that there was an Olympic like flame that went through many cities throughout Kazakhstan. Even a Kazakh athlete in a wheelchair had carried the burning torch through Timertau. I guess that is a fairly obscure city in Kazakhstan where one of my PDP students is from.

The Opening Ceremony production, which ironically was produced by this Russian composer, looked back to the history of the Kazakh nomads up to present day. It showed about Oguz from the ancient Turkish tribes and many other famous Kazakh warriors and leaders. The show began at 6:45 and officially ended at 10:30 p.m.  After that was the grand fireworks display witnessed throughout the city of Astana, it beamed brightly into everyone’s living room as well.

Meanwhile those attendees who had seen such a fantastic display of Kazakh patriotism and pride inside the arena had a difficult time getting home in the frosty, cold air and winds of Astana.  If it were me, I would have just walked home since I only live about two miles from where this extravaganza took place.  Apparently the busses were so packed with people leaving (remember there were over 30,000 people in the stadium) now they were all ready to go home to get ready for their work week.  Many people waited over an hour to get on the busses.  Several smart Kazakhs had either left early or went out another entrance.  One of my PDP students remembered that she and her husband had gone to the 10 year birthday of Astana and there had been such chaos getting home that they were convinced to give this event a pass and watch it on t.v.

Functionality and logistics had gone out the window when it came to letting people into the stadium as well.  According to my students security was so tight that they checked through everyone’s bags to make sure no alcohol was allowed in.  If anyone was caught with alcohol on their person or on their breath, they were summarily thrown out of the arena.  Yes, security was tight, so much so that one of the bridges was closed crossing from the old part of the city going into the new part.  That made it difficult for my dinner guests to arrive on time because traffic was all snarled up as a result.  They finally showed an hour late but I thought this did not bode well for the Asian Games organization to have people arriving late to the ceremony.

From other accounts, people were held back from their seats and there was the frightening experience for some of witnessing a near stampede mentality just to get in.  One American woman was elbowed in her face and she is still hurting.  What a miserable way to “enjoy” the ceremony when there is little decorum in the hallways just outside the event.

Last night I was talking, over leftovers at my flat, to one volunteer who got to the stadium early and another VIP friend who was whisked through to their seats, they did not encounter any of these problems.  The former has a badge to get into ALL events.  She is all suited up in red, whereas there are other volunteers in blue and white uniforms.  The expense of the “volunteers” uniforms must have been immense for both cities where there were supposedly 3,000 volunteers in Almaty and 1,500 in Astana.  One Kazakh woman in my noon English class said that the athletes uniforms cost 380,000 tenge (about $2,500) each.  That must be for the hockey players, I can’t imagine that all the Kazakh athletes would have a kit that expensive.

Here is where I get philosophical.  My VIP friend said that she was recognized by security guards because she has a high profile here in Astana, she encountered no pushing or shoving.  That would be true of all the other dignitaries as well.  However, what about my American friends who were part of the near stampede or those other American friends who were wanting to get on every packed bus for one hour before they got on one to take them home?  There are the elites and then there are the common people in this fine country of Kazakhstan.  In every country you have your garden variety types who become hurt or desperate or cold because the logic of something so massive has not been thought through in every detail.

Tomorrow I will pick up on that theme.  But from where I work, you can see that the “presentation” is more important than the actual execution or implementation of the theme.  Not to say that the Opening Ceremony performance inside the arena was not perfectly done, I’m sure it was.  I am just saying that there are so many other details outside of that, that can and should not be ignored.  People of Kazakhstan, outside of Astana and Almaty are hurting, cold and desperate.  Patriotism with all the glitz can only last so long before hopelessness and despair enter…

(to be continued)

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