December 2006, MORE!

December 2006, MORE!
Hello All,
Happy New Year! We are finally on our way to China. We got a ride to Pavlodar this time instead of taking the awful bus, so it only took 2Ĺ hours to get here. Then we take the 27 hour train tomorrow to Almaty, then hop on the 5 hour plane to Beijing, and we will have arrived! We plan on taking a tram to our hotel and a hot air balloon sometime during our stay just so we can fit in as many forms of transport as possible. Maybe not.

With Kazakhstan Independence Day two weeks ago, the holiday season has been in full swing here. In the Russian tradition, "mwee zhelayoo vam shastya, oospeyhov, e sami glavna zdrovia. C novum godum!" ó we wish you happiness, success, and most importantly health. Happy New Year!

And now from Jack
Greetings and welcome to the newest addition of our exciting bulletin. First of all, happy Kazakhstan Independence Day (Dec. 16th). Actually weíre not sure exactly what the 16th commemorates specifically, as we celebrated different aspects of the holiday about 197 times over the week preceding.

Happy Holidays and New Year. 2006 has come and gone, and it has been the fastest, if least conventional, year of my life. We have been in five countries this year (Italy, France, The Netherlands, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) soon to be six, as we will arrive in China on the 31st. Whatís weird is that one of those countries wasnít the United States. So I guess our goal for next year should be to get to seven countries.

During this year we have eaten not only all the major appendages of a sheep, but most of the organs as well. I think the only things we didnít eat were the eyes. We may not have eaten the heart, but it was hard to tellóeverything that comes out of a sheep is gray. We have sung songs as a duet in front on a hundred people in Kazakh twice at weddings and once at Kazakh New Year. We have ridden every major form of transportation, including airplanes, trains, cars, busses, horses, and camels. Life was both weird and ordinary It was ordinary because we got up and went to work every day like everybody else. It was weird because our daily routines included things like coal and Russian. Last week we went on a picnic in ankle-deep snow in the mountains.

The weather here so far this winter has been nothing short of balmyóit went down to -5 F for a week or so, but mostly it has been mid 20ís F. But we know weíre playing on borrowed time so weíre making the most of it. Iíve been swimming in the lake mornings and Amy is working on her tan.

Hereís a joke about not having plumbing:
Jack: Iím going to have some tea. Do you want any? Amy: No thanks. Iím tired of the outdoors.

Now we are bound for China, land of the Peopleís Great Fuzzy Panda, whom we hope to visit at the Peopleís Zoo. Fortunately, due to the liberalization of the Chinese economy we no longer have to stay at the Peopleís Hotel. To accomplish this we have about two thousand separate documents in hand including bus tickets, train tickets, those neat old fashioned hand-written airline tickets, Chinese visas, Kazakhstan exit cards, dollars, tenge, and soon (we hope) lots of the peopleís currency.

Traveling in Kazakhstan takes some effort. Our house is a solid 40 minute walk away from the bus station in Bayanaul, which means we arenít taking a lot of extra changes of clothes. I no longer bother with clean clothes. (Besides, itís just easier to wash them in the hotel where thereís running water anyway-and yes, before you ask, we do sit up nights hand washing clothes in the bathtub.) Then thereís the between 4 and 5 hour bus ride to Pavlodar, sometimes standing if there are no seats, which is why itís not really worth bothering with clean clothes. From Pavlodar to Almaty the train is 26 hours and leaves Pavlodar at 7:10 AM. Thatís a problem because it means you have to stay overnight in Pavlodar the day before. The 38 hour train is actually more convenient because it leaves at night, travels through that night and the next, giving you two ďfreeĒ nights accommodation and gets to Almaty about six AM. What all that means, though, is that itís really hard to get to Almaty in less than two days.

Things that donít happen in America that are cool: I got to sled on a frozen lake pulled by a car.

Things that donít happen in America that arenít cool: A dog dragged a horseís leg into our yard.

We read a lot of books here. Amy has read 83 books in the last 18 months, and Iíve read 59. That means Amy averages reading about 65,000 pages of printed matter every day. Not all of the works have been that serious or academic. Weíve both read the entire Harry Potter series, which isnít exactly Shakespeare, and A Step by Step Book about Hamsters was not especially difficult, although it was surprisingly informative. King Lear, on the other hand, is in fact Shakespeare, and Amy has already read Anna Karenina and is currently reading War and Peace, which is well, really long.

Thatís about it for now.

Jack & Amy