August 23: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
8:30. Breakfast is served in the hotel basement even though they have a sunny courtyard that is seldom used. The wifi signal is strong but the actual connection to the Internet is excruciatingly slow. The manager says that he has called a friend who works at the ISP and learned that the government has ordered the bandwidth to be reduced for the next few weeks. We’ve heard repeatedly that the entire country is on high alert for possible terrorist attacks as they prepare to celebrate the 24th anniversary of independence on September 1.
11:30. I’m so over the tourist district of Bukhara and every other city for that matter. The architecture is interesting but with every old building housing a souvenir shop and every souvenir shop selling identical items, this place gets very tired, very fast. I this afternoon I will venture further north in search of a more authentic experience.
14:00 I stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe. There isn’t a tourist in sight. The place reminds me of the area south of Highway 401 near Dufferin Street in Toronto. It’s not pretty but it’s definitely “real.” The restaurant has two items on the menu and the waiter informs me that one of them isn’t available today. It doesn’t take long to decide on two pieces of chicken, tomato sauce, bread and a frosty Sarbast beer. The beer is pretty good but the bread might be the best I’ve ever had! The crust is thin and very crispy like a baguette while the dough is moist like sourdough and yet buttery like a croissant, and of course it’s served fresh out of the oven.
2:30 As I’m paying the bill I notice what appears to be a father and his son hauling something out of the basement of the adjacent building. It’s an LG front-loading washer in it’s original crate. They proceed to uncrate and inspect the machine on the sidewalk. A while later the shop owner emerges and they appear to negotiate a price. The older man retrieves a shoebox from his van and hands it over to the shop owner. It looks like the shopkeeper is counting bundles of money. He complains that the amount is short so the old man digs into the pocket of his baggy pants and produces a wad of cash about three inches thick. When the shopkeeper turns to take the box of cash into his store, another argument erupts. After a few minutes the shopkeeper goes back into the store, retrieves an empty shoebox and exchanges it for the one full of cash. I couldn’t understand a word that was spoken but I can imagine the old man said something like, “I’ll give you $900 for the washer but you’re not taking my wallet.” In Uzbekistan it actually takes a large shoebox full of cash to buy a new washer.