Thursday, August 30, 2007

#92: Grad Schools

I have made up my mind: I will apply to Public Administration/Policy programs (with emphasis on public management and finance, development and economic policy) at the following universities:
Kennedy School of Government (Harvard)
School of Public Policy (University of Maryland)
School of International and Public Affairs (Columbia)
Maxwell School (Syracuse) - a joint MPA/MA IR with SAIS
Lee Kwan Yew Schoool of Public Policy (Singapore)
London School of Economics

MPA/MPP programs offer broad, but practical, knowledge in economics, management, development, political science, and international relations. MBA is too competitive (and expensive), and there is less scholarship money for international students, while MPA/MPP give the opportunity to take additional courses on finance, management, and other business-related courses.

If you have other suggestions for good programs, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

#91: Kafka On The Shore

... is the book that I started reading as I rested in Issykul two days ago. The lake was unusually empty for this time of the swimming season, or maybe that's because I was there on Monday and Tuesday. People making living by renting apartments and running cafes not far from Cholponata and Bosteri complained that this year they were not able to make as much money as last year. Prices in Cholponata are like those in Almaty: eating out in Issykul is twice as expensive as in Bishkek.

A friend of mine sent this great picture. The red sign on the roof carcass says "Bakiev's Headquarters #153" and the other one on the fence says "Zoo: Works Daily." The picture might have been taken during the presidential elections in 2005. It sheds light to the inner workings of Bakiev's team. At least, now we know where he finds his advisers.
Pictures from Issykul will follow soon.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

#90: First Anniversary

Today a year ago I decided to start this blog. During the year, I posted 94 reports on topics ranging from personal interests to Kyrgyzstan to world politics - a lot happened in all these areas.

I hope you keep reading me and look forward to reading your comments and suggestions.


Friday, August 24, 2007

#89: Lazy

I've become extremely lazy. I've been in this state of being for quite some time now. Not doing much lately. Procrastinating on everything. Have to pull myself together. Get motivated.

Read The Economist's take on understanding Putin's Russia. Kyrgyzstan tends to worship Russia (especially Tsar Putin) and subsequently imitate his policies and behavior.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

#88: Kyrgyz Art

This picture belongs to a talented photographer, Dinara, whose artistic works are very impressive. Last year she produced a calendar with models wearing Kyrgyz hats and jewelry. This year she is experimenting even more.

#87: Scramble For The Arctic

Another piece of untamed territory at the mercy of great powers.
The Economist this week wrote that "the boom in energy and commodity prices has changed the economics of difficult searches for oil, gas and minerals. The steady shrinkage of polar ice-caps, as a result of global warming, is making previously inaccessible deposits much easier to get at—and helping to open some formerly icebound shipping lanes."

Hillarious: "Still more eye-catching—even if some of the footage shown on Moscow television really came from the film “Titanic”—was a Kremlin-backed voyage, which led to the planting, by a minisub, of a titanium Russian tricolour on the seabed." Read the rest of the article.

More humor off the topic: Reverent Humor

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

#86: Kazakhstan

My week-long journey to Kazakhstan was full of mixed impressions. It started with the traffic jams in Almaty, where four lines of cars crammed on two-lane roads; we stood for two hours on a hot day with an old Kamaz near us puffing out smoke right into our van. (If you decide to fly to Astana, do so from Taraz. Don't go near Almaty!) Because of the traffic jams, we missed our lunch and barely made to the flight. To my surprise, Air Astana had a full course meal on a 1.5-hour-flight to Astana, which saved me from starvation.

Astana is... well, is a BRAND NEW city. Bishkek's construction "boom" is nothing compared to that of Astana. Bayterek (tower with a ball on top in the picture above) presents a view over a futuristic city - though tawdry in many places - in the middle of the Kazakh steppes. I can imagine a Kazakh standing on top of Bayterek and being proud of seeing surreal buildings springing up on a barren land. Billions of petrodollars is being poured into it. And it is only half ready.

Prices in Astana are a bit steep for a Kyrgyz guy like me. Everything is expensive. But some things never change. Our hotel, Abay, an old Soviet hotel Intourist, still had Soviet smell in the halls and bathrooms, a system of turning keys to an administrator, whose only job is to manage keys on the floor, and a horrible cafeteria with pale scrampled eggs and kompot for breakfast. And they charged $80 per night. However, if you had $350 you could stay at other better hotels.

Water, rather the smell of sulfur in the water as in Teplie Klyuchi, is the only thing that I remember from Karaganda. While trying to brush my teeth with the water at the hotel, I realized how much I miss Bishkek.

On the election, I have nothing else to add to what has already been written.
P.S. Photo courtesy of Kondor Tour. I did not have my camera.

Friday, August 17, 2007

#85: Kazakh or Mongol?

I am in Temirtau, Kazakhstan, on an election monitoring mission. Temirtau, Nursultan Nazarbaev's hometown, 30 km north of Karaganda, is a dilapidated mining town of 150 000 people. Half of its working-age population is employed by Mittal Steel, world's biggest steel company. As you approach the town, you can see black, white, orange, brown, and green smoke coming out a dozen of chimneys of Temirtau's steel plants and melting in the air above the Kazakh steppes.

Today we roamed around to locate polling stations in smoke-filled town, where we will observe the voting process tomorrow. As we were looking for one in Aktau, Temirtau's satellite, we stopped and asked an ethnic Russian lady where schools #32 was. She the pointed in the direction of the school and said: "The Mongol-language school is right around the corner down the road." An ethnic Kazakh woman was passing by and with frustration corrected her: "Not Mongol, Kazakh!" to which the first lady responded: "What is the difference!" I guess foreigners would confuse Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Mongols, but you would not expect Russians born and living in Central Asia make such a slip up! Sad! Very sad! And it applies both to Russians and Kyrgyz. See my older post.

Monday, August 13, 2007

#84: Prohibition

All alcohol (from beer to vodka) was banned from stores and public places in downtown Bishkek. Yesterday I went into Narodniy store on Manas/Chu to check if they had any alcohol, all the fridges and shelves were empty. Our government is going hard-core as it prepare to host the SCO summit.

Thanks God, I will be out of Bishkek during the summit. Will be traveling to Astana for the Parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan to observe how Nur Otan, Nazarbaev's party, easily wins in the race. I am hoping that I will be deployed in eastern or western Kazakhstan, where I have never been.

Update: Just had lunch at an Italian restaurant on Chui street. They were told not to sell alcohol for the whole week. All the cafes and restaurants, stores and kiosk, pubs and discos along the Chui and Manas streets were ordered not to serve alcohol. Absurdistan!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

#83: On Afghanistan

Last night I went to sleep at around 5 am reading The Kite Runner, which I had for since last August, but never had the determination to start reading. I went to bed at around 11pm, but for some reason, despite my exhaustion, I could not fall asleep, so I took the book from shelve and started reading. Today, sleepy and tired at work, I realized that Afghanistan is of the main topics in the list of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I've been reading lately. It all started with the The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia about a year ago.

No country in the world has experienced such a violent history with extreme changes as Afghanistan. Its people have suffered from British, Russian, and now U.S. interferences causing its government change from monarchy to communist rule to fanatic Taleban to the current tribal warlord rule.

These books below are fascinating sociologically and historically. The Soviet rule in 5 Central Asian republics cut off ties with Afghanistan and erased many cultural similarities between us. Some customs and believes, for example the hole concept of dignity, are still shared by many rural Kyrgyz (or other Central Asian people) and Afghans. Over the last 100 years we have drifted away: ex-Soviet Central Central towards Russia, while Afghanistan towards Pakistan, Iran, India. Once it was one cultural, religious, historical, political region.

1. Karl Meyer. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia
2. Peter Hopkirk. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
3. Asne Seierstad. The Bookseller of Kabul,
4. Khaled Hosseini. The Kite Runner
Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

#82: SCO Summit

The Kyrgyz government is obsessed with the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. It will be hosted Kyrgyzstan in mid-August. AKIpress posted a number of pictures on new and refurbished old buildings that are being prepared to welcome presidents of China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan, the last two being only observers.

The Mayor of Bishkek, as the main implementer, has done "incredible" things: whitewashing trees and facades of buildings on the road from the Manas Airport to Bishkek and the main streets in Bishkek. As with buildings' being painted only on frontal sides, so are the trees, as you can see from the morrire's picture below. If only these changes were regular and less superficial, we would be living in another country.

#81: Korean Missionaries

The news of Koren hostages, mostly missionaries, in Afghanistan in the headlines of the international press brought my attention to the role of Korean missionaries in Kyrgyzstan. If they are willing to go to war-torn Afghanistan, they seem to be die hard followers of Christ. According to The Economist, "Korea is second only to America when it comes to spreading the gospel." American missionary groups are complimented by Korean missionaries in the spreading "god's words" in Kyrgyzstan. However, Kyrgyzstan is a favorite place not only for Christian missionaries, but also for Muslim missionaries (dawah) due to liberal legislature on registering missionary organizations.

Monday, August 06, 2007

#80: No Vacation This Summer

As summer is coming to an end, vacation seems such a distant dream. Unexpected sale of the bungalow changed my plans, including those of other people. My grandma will will be disappointed; she really liked it. However, my procrastination at work is the real cause of my missing out this year on summer vacation. I've been extremely lazy lately and putting off work, accumulating everything for August. I have to bring myself together at my new job as the 6-month probation is due in September. Taking Mondays and/or Fridays off might be only option for rest. At least, I will have fun in the mountains coming winter.