Wednesday, April 21, 2010

North Korea Always Makes It Sound Cooler

The above picture was taken outside the DPRK embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. When I was walking by, I couldn't help but notice the "press release" entitled "The Flame of Upsurge is Kindled." View the larger image to read all about the march towards greatness that is taking place in DPRK.

All of this got me thinking. How much cooler would it be if Canada's government wrote press releases a la DPRK. Take this Stephen Harper quote, for example:

“In just over 100 days, Canada’s Economic Action Plan is already protecting Canadians, stimulating our economy and creating jobs from coast to coast to coast,” said the Prime Minister. “Ninety per cent of the funding for this fiscal year is now committed. Our Economic Action Plan is helping create or maintain an estimated 220,000 Canadian jobs by the end of 2010."
That's nice and all, but it's not really exciting. What if we DPRK'ized it? I think it would go something like this:

"In just over 100 magnificent days, Canada's decisive Economic Action Offensive is already protecting our glorious nationals, stimulating our powerhouse economy, and creating jobs throughout our thriving and prosperous land as we move toward victory," said the leader Stephen Harper. "This offensive, which is intended to result in the next Great Leap Forward, has already seen an unprecedented funding committment of 90%. Our glorious nationals, who exhibit patriotic devotion unseen anywhere in the world, will witness 220,000 more jobs by the end of the victorious year of 2010."

Much better.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lada Legend: Gettin' Towed

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Lada Legend: A Series of Unfortunate Events

What happens when you ignore your oil light because you think the gauge is being shorted and then continue to drive the car? Read on to find out.

Amy (one of the Lada investors) and I were on our way to Xirdalan Friday morning. Right after going into the tunnel and up a gentle incline, things start to go south. All sorts of noises start coming from the engine—the kind of noises that you can’t drown out by turning the radio up, and pressing the gas pedal produced nothing in the way of acceleration. We were losing speed fast. The best we could do was will our Lada over the rise so that we could coast down the hill to a safe spot on the side of the road. For about ten seconds, images of being stuck in a tunnel flashed through my mind. None of them were pretty.

In a testament to the Lada and its ever-growing legend, it got us over the hill. As we slowed and pulled onto the shoulder, the engine seized, and the poor car was rendered useless. Why did bad things always happen to us when we went to Xirdalan?

But this was only the start of the comedy of errors. After much deliberating, we called a friend of ours to see if he wanted to come out and have some fun towing our car with a rope. He was ready and willing except for one small problem: his Lada Niva wouldn’t start. Battery problems, no less. He then told us he would give us the number to a tow truck. What followed borders on the bizarre. In his words:

After I talked to you but before my phone died, I called my office manager trying to reach her. I didn’t get through so I sent a quick text, “Have a minor emergency and could use some help. Please call me ASAP.” Then my phone died. For whatever reason she couldn’t reach me and jumped to the conclusion that I had been kidnapped. She relayed this to my staff, and when I came running into the office the assumption was that I had “escaped”. I still can’t understand the logic.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Eventually we got the number, called the tow truck, and then sat there for the better part of an hour waiting. All of a sudden the driver called. Here is an excerpt from Amy’s conversation with him:

“Where are you? I can’t see you.”
”We are in a yellow Lada on the side of the road right before the turnoff to the bus station.”
”I just went by there but all I could see was a yellow zhiguli.”
”Ya, that’s us!”
”That isn’t a Lada. Were you with a boy? Does the boy speak?”
”No, the boy doesn’t speak.”

The driver then suggested that we let the car coast down the hill towards him. We weren’t interested in that, so eventually he relented and decided to back up against traffic to where we were.

With our car on the back of the truck and Amy and I in the front seat of the truck, we made our way to the mechanic in Xirdalan. The first question the driver had was why on earth we had bought a car like that? His second question was do you want to buy a Volga from me for three-thousand five-hundred dollars? “You’ll look really cool in it. Everyone will be so surprised to see you drive by.” Great.

The mechanics were happy to see us. Whether it was because it meant more money or because they were actually surprised that the car had lasted this long is anyone’s guess. They told us to call in a couple of hours to get the prognosis from the engine guy.

On the bus back to Baku, Amy got a phone call that no one wants to get from a neighbour. “Hi Amy, there is water leaking into our apartment.” Uh oh. That’s never a good sign. We rushed home as fast as we could to check the damage. As it turned out, while water had been overflowing in the bathroom for the better part of two hours, there was very little damage to the apartments below. Relieved, Amy and I went our separate ways to work. It was only 10:45 AM.

The final prognosis was that the engine was toast and needed to be rebuilt. That is happening as we speak, but at a different place (it involved a night time Lada tow from Xirdalan to Baku). We should be good to go on Wednesday.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

What You Do Around a Mountain Lake...

Ride Horses

Go for a Swim

Separate Milk

Monday, April 05, 2010

Into the Mountains – Part Four

The easiest and most time consuming activity up at the lake has to be the “who has the best kymyz” tour. It involves going from yurt to yurt talking with the proprietors and sampling one, if not two, bowls of their kymyz. Locals might tell you that this is a recipe for superhuman strength. Foreigners would probably attribute ten bowls of kymyz to a long night behind a rock. Alas, if you want to be respected in the yurt collection, there are certain sacrifices you have to make.

In fairness, you learn a lot from these little stopovers in each yurt. For example, most of the people live in Bishkek during the winter, spring, and fall months, but then come up to the lake for the summer. Others simply live in the village we started from, but then come up to the lake to let the cattle graze.

What else can you do up there? Swimming in the icy cold waters of the lake, of course. We decided that before we headed back down the mountain, we should take a dip. On our way down to the lake, we were stopped by a group of shepherds lazing about on the grass. One of them asked where we were going and, upon acknowledgement of our response, brought out a bottle of horrifically cheap Kyrgyz vodka. “100 grams of vodka and you won’t even be able to feel the cold water.” *Shudder*

You can’t help but oblige in these situations, so the glasses were fetched. Out of respect the first shot went to the oldest man in the group. Next shot went to the guests. And there wasn’t a chaser in sight. Oh the agony of the aftertaste of really bad vodka.

Eventually we made it to the lake, waded in a few steps, took the customary pictures, and then got out of there. As to the effect of the vodka, I’m not sure anything can numb your reaction to 5 degree water.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

In and Around the Lake

Loose collection of yurts
Shore of the Lake

Shepherd (liked his vodka)

Our Yurt