Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ah, four day weekends are nice

Today is Constitution Day in Ukraine. Flags are flying, kids are gathered in groups reciting aloud the preamble and body of the constitution that they hold dear. Well, that's what I suspect they are doing, although it is more likely that they are just doing what they do every day, sitting around drinking beer in the park.

So today is a holiday. And because we all have to work next Friday for the Embassy Independence Day party at the Ambassador's residence, we had our 4th of July day off last Friday.

So a four day weekend. We had planned to hop in the car early Friday morning for a trip to the Sea of Azov with a Ukrainian colleague and his wife, but Jack was a bit sick last Wednesday night, and I had a long (short) week that meant I wasn't thrilled to drive 8 hours with a potentially sick and crabby kid. So we decided to hang around here.

Friday morning we gave the Blue Lake another try. As it was a work day for most people here, the place was empty. We also paid $5 each to go to a controlled-access part of the beach where they actually seem to rake up at least 50% of the cigarette butts, which made it better. Jack took a running header right into the water, but luckily I was standing thigh deep right where he landed and scooped him up right quick. He enjoyed the water, generally, the fall into the water less so.

Sunday we headed north about 130 KM to a place called Chernihiv, home to the blissful Chernigivske brewery. It's not just me that thinks the beer is transformative. Take a look at what the company's website says (about itself):

"Chernigivske" is a world of real feelings, desires and inspiration. This is the world where people raise above the routine cares, where they feel the pleasure of victory and warmness of relationship. "Chernigivske" is a moment of delight; you can allow yourself to get rest and be ready for a daily struggle, getting more confidence in your strength.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Sadly, we didn't get a chance to actually visit Chernigivske world and see the making of this magic elixir ourselves. But we did have our own little tasting at lunch, and, basically any time we drink beer, as it is our beer of choice. Who knew that's where the confidence in my strength came from.*

Instead, we ran around a park...

...gathering ever-larger sticks...

...and finally just faced off to a duel.

We sat under the watchful gaze of Taras Shevchenko, who looks to be disappointed in Jack and Nicole for some reason.

And we walked, stick in hand, on small retaining walls surrounding the city's old ramparts.

*In an attempt to get back to the beer-centric nature of the blog that some of our bigger fans have requested, each post from now on will include at least one significant reference to beer and/or beer-related activities, regardless of whether such a reference is unrelated to the theme of the post or renders the rest of the post meaningless or even offensive.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Weekend

Friday after work we hosted a party for the Consular Section. June 13 was the last day of our very, VERY busy season, and we are now settling down into the merely busy season. The ratcheting down is because we came to the end of the annual Summer Work and Travel season. This is a program that provides 'exchange visitor' visas to college students from around the world who have the requisite English-language skills, so they can spend the summer learning about America by working at a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop McDonalds, Six Flags, the boardwalk at Ocean City, Maryland, or one of the many summer camps that dot our fair land.

It's a popular program in Ukraine, and adds considerably to our visa load for about 4 months leading up to the summer.

And now it's done. So we decided to celebrate.

Katherine had told me that I could sleep in Saturday, so I was really looking forward to that. Then she decided to get her hair cut first thing Saturday morning, so I was up, and sad, earlier than I had planned.

Later that afternoon, we drove about 30KM south of Kyiv to what is (I can only hope ironically) called the Blue Lagoon. A dirty lake that some enterprising Ukrainian dumped sand next to to create a beach-like atmosphere. Who needs the beaches of Thailand when you have the blue lagoon? If I were in charge of marketing for the place, I would tout the fact that AT LEAST 65% of the beach is NOT covered in cigarette butts.

Granted, I may not have gotten the full magic of the place, because 10 minutes after arriving, putting down our blankets and sitting down, the heavens opened up and god cried...hard. I told Jack it was probably because of something he did.

We made it into the car just before the rain really came down, and drove back to the city in a downpour that rivalled anything we saw in rainy-season Laos. Dozens of cars pulled over to the side of the road to wait it out, such was the lack of visibility.

But we didn't. Instead, we missed our exit and had to circle around on unfamiliar roads until we found our way again. Luckily, by this time the rain had let up, allowing us to sort of see what we were doing.

We returned to the city and continued our picnic in our friends' living room while the clouds cleared and the sun re-emerged.

This morning Katherine and Jack went to meet friends for an early brunch, then to the park while I DID sleep in. And it was nice.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Lots of dancing, stacking things then knocking them down, jumping on the couch, reading Ferdinand the Bull 4 or 5 times, and generally running around in diapers and a t-shirt.

Jack did stuff too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

And a quieter moment...

...with our polyglot son

Since I'm posting music videos

Jack went to his first music class last week. It appears to me to be somewhat controlled chaos, as anything involving about 10 toddlers seems to be.

He seemed to like it though, and made sure to stay in the middle for all to see.

And Lenny

Can't leave him out, although the production values and sound quality of a camera phone is somewhat less than the multiple cameras, etc. of the McCartney videos.

From the camera angle, it seems whoever recorded this was standing right next to us.

Final song of the show:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A bit of McCartney in Kyiv

The wonders of YouTube

All My Loving:

Back in the USSR:

Live and Let Die:

Monday, June 16, 2008

My subversion is complete

In August 1990 I was a fresh-faced freshman at St. Olaf College, a bastion of Scandinavia right in the middle of Minnesota, little Scandinavia in its own right. It was a safehaven of sorts, scores of blonde, blue-eyed Minnesotans, safe from the corrupting influences of alcohol, condoms, and other undesirable things. And thank god for that.

I arrived with the sounds of AC/DC, Metallica and other similar music ringing in my ears, just as a small-town Minnesota boy should. Just down the hall from my room in Hoyme Hall was another young lad of scandinavian descent. Let's call him Jeremy P. (not his real name...okay, his real name). He looked just like the rest of us.

But he had a secret.

He was an agitator.

An agent of influence, if you will.

From his room came strange sounds. Sounds I hadn't really heard before in my small town. Wadena kids didn't cotton to such things.

My will was strong.

But Jeremy P. was well-trained. Over the days and weeks he wore me down. He was very good at his job. A subtle invitation to listen to his Charlie Parker disc. Perhaps I'd like to hear something from A Tribe Called Quest.

NO! I said. I want to listen to my new Motley Crue album, and the guy down the hall has the new Warrant CD. Let's listen to that.

Later, Jeremy said. But first, listen to this. It's a guy named Lenny Kravitz.

18 years later, I have finally and completely succumbed to Jeremy P's strange ways.

Lenny Kravitz in concert at the Sports Palace in Kyiv.

You've done your job well, Jeremy P.


By the way, amazing show. We were stuck in line to get in when he started, so we missed Always on the Run, but that was it. We were again in the Fan Zone, about 30 yards from the stage, until Lenny came down into the crowd through a little runway down the middle. When everyone turned to see what he was doing, we snaked our way up to about 8 people from the stage.


So, Paul McCartney vs. Lenny Kravitz

Historical note - + McCartney

Gargantuan outdoor stage - + McCartney

Pyrotechnics - + McCartney

Energy - + Kravitz

Music - + Kravitz

Backing band - + Kravitz

Weather - + Kravitz

Encore - + Kravitz (granted, we left during the McCartney encore to spell our babysitter, but still, Love Revolution and Are You Gonna Go My Way blew away anything McCartney did while we were there or was ever going to do.)

So Lenny wins 5-3. Katherine might quibble with my accounting of our two concerts this weekend, but that would entail her actually writing a post on this blog (besides the recent 'Jack has croup' post) which she isn't likely to do.

Of note, Lenny's grandfather came from Ukraine. So he's part Ukrainian.

I think our next concert will be Druga Rika, a very popular Ukrainian band whose lead singer happens to be the husband of one of my Ukrainian colleagues in the consular section.

For now, though, my ears are ringing, and my feet hurt from 5.5 hours of tennis yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tournament. Second place, thank you very much. I was defeated in the finals by a guy I beat in my first match of the day. We played round robin in 3 groups with the top 2 in each group advancing. As such, the number 2 guy in my group who I'd already beaten, turned around and beat me for first place.

But I still got a trophy...which is nice.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sir Paul

Great concert.

Mother nature played a part as well. When we were about to leave for dinner with friends, the heavens opened and it dumped rain for about 20 minutes. Then it let up and we made it to the restaurant.

After a delicious pizza and beer time was had by all, we headed out and, sadly, into the rain. We peeled off to meet up with our better, more connected friend who had our tickets to the controlled access area in front of the stage. We met at 8:15, in the rain, and made our way to Fan Zone 3, just behind Fan Zone 1 and next to Fan Zone 4. Concert to begin at 9:00.

We hunkered down with our raincoat hoods up and under two umbrellas to wait in the downpour. At this point the umbrellas were pretty much useless as we were already completely soaked.

At 9:10, the countdown clock began. 20:00, 19:59, 19:58, 19:57, 19...well, you get the idea.

And then he was there...


...playing a song we didn't know.

But then he played songs we DID know, and it was even better.

The rain stuck around for about half an hour, then let up. Which was nice, because people in front of me closed their umbrellas.

He mixed it up, playing Beatles and post-Beatles songs. A bit strange was that the crowd generally reacted more to songs that we didn't necessarily think were the ones we came to here. I mean, Band on the Run? It was good, but...

Eleanor Rigby and Good Day, Sunshine were very good. As were a few Beatles songs he didn't originally sing, incluidng Something by George Harrison, and a medley of Lennon songs during the encore

The best, however, was a 4 song arc that started with Back in the USSR. -- He mangled some Ukrainian that I think was something like "I know this is history, but..." then launched into it, and the crowd went completely crazy. They loved it. Very fun. Then Live and Let Die, with pyrotechnics and fireworks and general craziness, followed by rousing renditions of Let it Be and Hey Jude to end the set.

All in all, a fantastic show. We're very glad we weren't chased away by the rain, and very glad that our friend Gundo thought of us when he had two extra tickets to the controlled access area in front of the stage.

Walking home, Katherine summed it up when she said she would never forget standing in the middle of thousands of Ukrainians going wild in Independence Square as Paul McCartney sang Back in the USSR.

Now we've got to get up for the Lenny Kravitz show. Luckily, it's indoors, so weather won't play a role.

But first, I've got to go to bed, just in case my tennis tournament isn't rained out tomorrow.

Kyiv Music Festival

We have a weekend of music lined up.

First, tonight. Everyone's favorite Ukrainian rich guy, Viktor Pinchuk, has given the gift of Paul McCartney to the people of Kyiv. Sir Paul will give a free concert in Independence Square. And because we're such powerful people (well, because we have a friend who is nice to us) we have tickets to what the Ukrainians call the 'Fan Zone', basically what would be floor seats up by the stage, but without the seats. Estimates put the total attendance at about 800K to 1 million people.

Monday, Mr. Ukraine himself, Lenny Kravitz, is coming to town. Lenny's father is of Ukrainian Jewish descent. His mother played the wife of the white dude who were George and Weezie's neighbors on 'The Jeffersons'.

Tomorrow morning I'm playing in a tennis tournament organized by the Foreign Ministry, so I'll have to represent for the Embassy. And, this morning, we said goodbye to our friends Ali and Eric and their two boys, who are moving to Hawaii.

So all in all, a full weekend.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On the bright side, though.

We had a great time with Sarah and Scott, who we said goodbye to about 9 days ago.

Then, this past Saturday, we hosted about 15 kids of various shapes and sizes from the embassy in what is colloquially called a playgroup, but was pretty much just mass chaos. The vast majority of them gathered for about 15 seconds so Katherine could snap this pic, then they continued destroying our apartment.

But in the end, for being such a good kid with all the toy sharing and whatnot, Jack was rewarded with a tasty yoghurt popsicle...and one sock.

um...peanut butter. I've got nothing else.

But at least peanut butter is better than labored breathing.

Barking Seal

Last night at around 11:30 when Phil went in to do his nightly check on Jack he found Jack awake in his crib and having some difficulty breathing. And then he, Jack that is, started to bark like a seal.

Phil and Jack then came into our bedroom to wake me up. Nothing gets a mom out of bed like "Jack is having trouble breathing". I jumped up and we headed downstairs to start the nebulizer (an electric inhaler thing). We then called the med unit and were told to come on in because it sounded like he had croup. I also think the 'difficulty breathing' line got the nurse's attention.

Turns out he does have croup and another possible infection so he's back on antibiotics and steroids for the third time this year. But on the bright side, he did wake up late this morning (7:30) and was jumping up and down smiling when I walked in so I think he's on the mend.

What a night!

While Jack and I are Michigan inAugust we're going to try to see a pediatric specialist so we can find out if Jack has asthma or if he is just reacting to the poor air quality in Ukraine.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Nervig

You owe us $34,921 in unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest for 2006.



Who knew we made so much in capital gains in 2006?
We didn't.
But it is still quite a wake up to open a fat envelope from the IRS saying you do.
We'll work it out, and the total will be something, but much, MUCH, less.
Turns out, I wasn't wrong to lament that we had to organize our taxes during our departure time in Laos. Turns out, in fact, that we organized them poorly. Turns out, finally, that we owe the gov't a bit more. Damn passive income. I rue the day we ever had enough to actually invest.
Or not.
But it still sucks.