Thursday, 30 September 2010

Mixing messages as an art form

Anyone who's ever read one of the weekly women's gossip magazines would at some point have marvelled at the double standards on regular display.  As an example, on the front page might be a picture of a rail thin minor celeb, all gauntness and concentration camp-chic with a suitably critical 'shock horror' banner headline.  Yet, if you flick over a few pages you'll find photos of other girls who, heaven forbid, might have a shape vaguely reminiscent of an emaciated woman, and there'll be editorial remarks about how overweight that person is 'porky' seems to be the favourite comment.  Mixed messages.  Meanwhile back in the Sandpit, the business of sending mixed messages has become almost an art form. This week's example is the headline on Arabian Business reporting that Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai has proclaimed "We are back...".  He continues, “All the projects that were there are going ahead,” although some may be delayed for six months to a year.  Which doesn't seem to correlate with what's directly below, another headline stating that a bond prospectus posted on the London Stock Exchange website on Monday stated that Dubai has cancelled almost half of the real estate projects planned in the emirate due to weak demand following the global financial crisis. 
And all the while, back in the real world, the construction industry in Dubai is moribund, jobs are still being lost and so many people I talk to are 'just hanging on'.  Reality doesn't seem to fit with the mixed messages.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Friday, 24 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 8 Tashkent-Dubai

Leaving Tashkent
Up at 4:30am and driven through the quiet pre-dawn streets of Tashkent. At the airport the entrance road was blocked by concrete barriers so we walked up the entrance. We had to show our tickets to get into the terminal building and once inside we had to put all our bags through an x-ray. The check in was painless once we'd found the right desk then we started running the gauntlet to exit Uzbekistan. First another x-ray then into the queue to explain where our money had gone, the correct answer was rewarded with a stamp in the passport then along a corridor and into another queue to wait for another stamp. I was standing behind some guys who must have been on the vodka most of the night as they were utterly tanked. One apologised to me for pushing in and the vodka fumes when he spoke nearly overwhelmed everyone within a 5 yard radius. Next another x-ray where everyone had to take off their shoes first and once that was negotiated we were directed to gate B3. There's a B1 and a B2 but no B3, so we just had to lurk around listening intently to all the announcements to hear if the word 'Dubai' was mentioned. After about 45 minutes we heard the magic word 'Dubai' and made a best guess where Gate B3 might be. It turned out the plane to Kiev was leaving from the same gate at the same time as the flight to Dubai so there was quite some confusion as passengers for both flights gathered at the door, which was one person wide, questioning each other. Eventually the passengers sorted themselves out and we boarded the A310 for Dubai. It seemed odd that after all the security checks and x-rays, while I was sitting on the plane on the runway I watched as two locals, one on a pushbike and the other on foot, used the runway as a road and stopped on one of the taxiways to have a chat. 

Take off was about 30 minutes late but we made up time and arrived back in Dubai almost on time.

Hayr Uzbekistan!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 7 Bukhara-Tashkent

The Ark, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
The morning started with a visit to the shrine of Sufi saint Baha al-Din al-Naqshbandi then on to Chor Bakr a necropolis developed around the graves of Khodja Abu Bakr and Imam Abu Bakr Ahmed. After lunch of bread, Uzbek salami and two-tone cheese we walked through a maze of small alleyways and lane to see the Hoha Zaynaddin mosque and its surprisingly large pool, then over to see the Ark which is monstrous and imposing from the outside but unfortunately thanks to the bombing by the Red Army in 1920 is mostly in ruins inside. Restoration is underway and the Coronation Hall will be magnificent once work is complete, that's as long as they can control the vendors who have set up business in there. In front of the Ark is a huge public square called the Registan which was a popular site for executions including those of two British Army officers in June 1842.
We had dinner at the hotel and then it was time to head out to the airport for our Uzbekistan Airways flight to Tashkent. Thank goodness UA has stopped using the old ex-Aeroflot Yaks and Antonovs and the flight, which lasted less than an hour, was in the comfort of an Avro RJ85. After landing we walked across the tarmac in the dark to the luggage shed. Despite the luggage being carried from the plane to the luggage area in a truck that I last saw in an episode of 'The Beverly Hillbillies' the system worked really well. Three guys then haul the bags off the back of the truck and threw them through a window of the luggage shed. There is a luggage ramp that runs from the window to the floor but its only a couple of feet long so if you don't grab your bag in mid air or shortly afterwards it just ends up in a big pile at the foot of the ramp. Despite all this and a crowd of army guys who each had a fold-up bed in the luggage pile, we got our bags in record time and within 10 minutes we were on the bus and heading back to the hotel for the night.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 6 Bukhara

Ismail Samony mausoleum,
Bukhara, Uzbekistan
We started the day's sightseeing in Bukhara with a visit to the Ismail Samony mausoleum, a surprisingly simply brick cube shaped building which is the oldest in Bukhara. Once the surprise at the building's squat cube shape passes, the visual attraction is the texture of the brick work which is a basket weave pattern with other geometrical shapes formed out of handmade bricks.  It has special resonance for one member of our group whose great (x 3) grandfather embraced Islam on a visit to this building in the 1820s. We moved on to Chasma Ayoub a mosque erected on the site where according the legend, the prophet Job hit the ground with his sick and caused a spring to flow. Next stop, Bolo Houz Mosque which features an iwan (porch), the brightly coloured ceiling of which is held up by 12 metre high wooden pillars. During Soviet times the mosque was used as a workers' club but now if has returned its original function as a place of religion.

Through the back streets to see Chor Minor, a madrassa gatehouse built in the early 1800s. Its 4 minarets (they aren't strictly minarets, just towers) make it unusual.  The towers have been restored and topped with turquoise tiles.  On two of the towers the year of restoration is clearly defined in red tiles.

From Chor Minor we headed back to Lyabi-Hauz where we watched groups of people having the photos taken with the large statue of a man on a donkey. This mythical figure is 'Hoji Nasruddin'.who in different guises appears in humorous stories and cautionary tales all over the Muslim world. We indulged in a spot of Uzbeki ice-cream then headed to Kukaldosh Madrassa which was at one time the largest in Central Asia and has interesting brickwork inside though the interior is now just a souvenir shop like the next building we visited the Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha. It was impossible to appreciate the dome as the shopkeepers have their wares all over the floor and you can't get near it.

Next stop, and one I'd been looking forward to, was the Iskander Puppet Workshop where the puppet master explained the method for making the paper mache puppets and the roles of the 17 people who contribute to the making of each puppet. Unfortunately we won't be able to fit in a visit to the nightly puppet performance, that'll have to wait for next time.  However, I bought my own Hoji Nasruddin puppet who'll be coming home with me.

We then visited the master knife maker in the bazaar and thanks to Colin I now own a personalised super-sharp titanium kitchen knife that has a lion engraved on one side of the blade and my name engraved on the other. Colin has treated himself to twin hunting knives engraved with his name.

In the evening we went back to Nadir Divanbegi Madrassa to watch the cultural dance performance, which was extremely slick and professional with the music supplied by a wonderful group of local musicians.  All the dancers are skilled former ballerinas, the costumes are glorious.  The manager of the place is possibly the grumpiest person in Uzbekistan but never mind, the show was great.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 5 Samarkand-Bukhara

So here we are on the Sharq train from Samarkand to Bukhara (written Buxoro in Uzbek) passing through what seems to be endless fields of cotton. Uzbekistan is one of the world's major suppliers of cotton but since the breakup of the USSR it has suffered from having an economy based on a single crop.

Earlier in the morning we'd walked around the local area and witnessed an interesting sight at the local bank where a crowd of people were trying to get in while the security guards were pushing them back and only allowing one person in at a time. As the voices were being raised and the jostling on both sides started the scene seemed set for what is euphemistically called in the Western press “an incident” so we left them to it.

While the men wear Western style trousers and skirts the women wear brightly patterned tunics which reach almost to ankle level with matching trousers underneath, then comes the strange part, most wear wildly colourful socks, the sort imported from China, and plastic slip-on sandals.

The Bukhara train station is about 10ks out of town and first impression was a surprise at how many beggars there were, many of them children. As we drove into town we passed long lines of cars waiting for petrol and we were told that over the past 3 months there have been problems with petrol supply in most of the regional areas. One petrol station had high metal gates which were opened to allow individual cars into the bowsers, and we watched as a couple of men pushed their car up to the pumps, it having run out of petrol during what must have been a very long wait in the queue.

Kalon Mosque, Bukhara
Once we dropped our bags at the Caravan Hotel we headed out again to explore the old town area and to my surprise we found that our hotel is a couple of hundred metres from the Kalon Mosque, which is big enough to hold 10,000 people. Built in the 16th century its a glorious building filled with mosaics, intricate brickwork and vaulted spaces. As we left the mosque a martial art display was starting in the central square outside. We walked towards Lyabi-Hauz the centre of the old part of Bukhara, first passing a row of girls selling ceramic tea sets and men selling assorted Red Army hats, assorted army accessories and even a tank commander's helmet alongside fur hats made from fox pelts complete with the paws and eyes, We then walked through the old bazaar then out to Lyabi-Hauz which is a large stepped pool surrounded by tall trees, including a couple of mulberry trees dating from the 1400s, which provide leafy shelter to the many chaikhanas (tea houses) on the pool's edge. We stopped for coffee, possibly the worst I've ever had anywhere, then moved on quickly to have dinner at another place further along the pool's edge. After dinner we headed back to the hotel

Monday, 20 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 4 Samarkand

Hijar Hizar mosque
Today was a full day seeing the sights around Samarkand starting with the Hijar Hizar mosque on a hill top with a view over to blue dome of Bibi Khanym mosque. The mosque was originally built in the 8th century but was burnt to the ground by Gengis Khan. It wasn't rebuilt until the 1850s. The painted ceiling of the aiwan (porch) is colourful and the red and cream minarets make for great photos.

We then drove out of the city a short distance to the Afrosiab archaeological site so see the ruins of early Samarkand. The small museum is worth a visit for a timeline of the work done on the site, but the ruins are very disappointing. They are indeed 'ruined' and while there seemed to outlines of houses and possibly roads, without any information being given or even names on signs, for untrained eyes its impossible to know what you're looking at.

Next stop was the tomb of Daniel. Legend has it that Tamerlane brought the body of Daniel (the one in the lions' den) back from Susa in Iran and interred it in Samarkand. The tomb is 18m long as, legend also has it, Daniel's body continues to grow at half an inch a year. The length of the tomb is covered in green velvet cloth embroidered with Koranic verses and it looks exactly like the long tomb in Salalah, Oman which is supposedly that of either the Virgin Mary's father, or one of the original pre-Islam inhabitants who were at least 20 feet tall – depends on who you ask. From Daniel's tomb we went back to the Registan and visited the Uzbekistan League of Artists' gallery then to a local chaihana (tea house), then back to the bazaar to chase down more bargains.

The evening was spent at a local restaurant where a birthday party was in full swing in the next room. Every type of music was played loudly, Uzbek, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and some local Tajik songs that had the crowd cheering. Babies were thrown into the air, some seemed to also come down again. Shisha is smoked here though not as frequently as in Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile as Party Central raged next door, we were working our way through 4 courses including giant plates of shashlik (kebabs) chosen from a menu that included such dishes as “Hen in a Fur Coat”, “Mother in Law Language” (a type of salad apparently), another salad that the menu proclaimed included “carbonate”, there was “Herring on Peasant”(poor girl) and, dare I say it, “Luxurious Balls” for dessert. I bet Samia a whole 1000 sum to ask the waiter if he had luxurious balls, but, once she'd stopped laughing, she demurred.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan: Day 3 Samarkand

Shakhi Zinda, Samarkand
We started the day with a trip to the bazaar. Vegetables of every type were displayed for sale; fruit, herbs, carrots (both orange and yellow), eggs, and dried fruit. I went to take a photo of one of the yellow carrots and the shopowner indicated that I would have to buy the carrot for 1000 cym before I could photograph it. It was a nice carrot, but not *that* nice so I moved on to the next stallholder who was happy to let me photograph one of her carrots for free. There were huge watermelons, saffron at bargain basement prices, pumpkins so big that they'd win hands down at any Kumeu Show and pomegranets galore. The dried fruit section revealed a new wonder in the form of dried apricots stuffed with walnuts, yummo. In another aisle there were hats for men and women including “Cossack” style fur hats (not a lot of call for these in Dubai) and hats made from sheep pelts. I wished I was still dancing as there were crowns for sale in every shape and colour. I bought some music cds ($1 each) including one by an Uzbeki singer named Samir who was on one of the dvds played on the train from Tashkent.

From there we walked a short distance to the Bibi Khanym mosque which was built built in the 14th century by Tamerlane. Elephants imported from India were used to haul loads of marble around the site during construction. The interior courtyard was a nice place to sit and watch the shopowners as every hujra or student room around the inner courtyard has been turned into a souvenir shop. From there we walked around the local residential area behind the mosque and we were invited by a local family to go into their house and see the renovations they were doing to their main courtyard and also to see the painted ceiling in their reception area. We continued our walk around the local area in the process meeting several others of the group. As we came round a corner we found a wedding feast in full swing on a broad porch outside the local mosque with the remaining members of our group seated at a table as special guests. A wedding gathering like this is usually for men only but there was no problem with the women of our group attending. The hospitality was wonderful and we caught a glimpse of the bride as she arrived in her finery and went into her home across the street. The call to prayer was heard and most of the men went into the mosque to pray. After prayer we were invited into the mosque to admire the painted ceilings. Interesting that the mullah said I had to perform wudu (ritual washing) before entering the mosque . It would be almost unheard of in the UAE for a non-Muslim to do this, but the style of Islam followed in Uzbekistan appears very relaxed and also, within his own mosque, what the mullah says, goes. So I trailed after my friend Iman to the mosque bathroom, and, once it had been cleared of men, I followed her lead through the ritual. After using the toilet (roughest toilet paper on the planet) the ritual involves an invocation in Arabic “I wish to perform wudu” then washing hands, mouth, face, neck, ears, head, arms and feet each a proscribed number of times (apologies if I have the order wrong). After completing the ritual I was able to put on my hijab and go into the mosque which, in its heyday, must have had a very colourful ceiling.

Earlier in our trip I'd asked Bahador whether Uzbekis were Sunni or Shia and he said he didn't know, “We are all Muslim, that's all.” The relaxed attitude sees vodka flowing freely on all occasions, pork is not unusual on restaurant menus, there are no directional arrows to the qibla on hotel room ceilings, nor are prayer rugs routinely provided in hotel rooms. I've only seen a few women in hijab, even in the country areas. The main head covering for Uzbeki women is a brightly coloured scarf tied behind the neck which indicates that the wearer is married.

The senior ladies gather to celebrate the
wedding.  Note the bride's dowry clothes hung
on the wall.  NB: There is no problem showing
this photo in public as the Uzbeki women in the
family do not 'cover'.
Meanwhile, back at the wedding, the sound of car horns indicated that the groom's procession was approaching and he was escorted by his brothers and friends into the porch area while the musicians played (drum and accordian). The women in our group were invited over to the bride's house to socialise with her female family and to congratulate her. The bride was in one room having her photos taken. She was a very young women wearing an explosion of a wedding dress but she was in complete control bossing the photographer around. It was good manners to stay and watch her for a while before moving into the next room where the senior female family were seated on the floor around the edge of the room with a spread of food in front of them. The room had been cleared of any other furniture to make room for a display of the bride's dowry which included several person-high piles of blankets, floor cushions and rugs and an enormous silver glory box. Hanging on the walls on 3 sides of the room were the dresses the bride had been given as wedding presents, there were easily 20 or 30 including highly decorated evening gowns and a few Western style women's business suits. Meanwhile, the bride's assorted female friends and not-so-close female relatives were enjoying their wedding spread at a table in the main courtyard. After a short visit it was time for us to move on after a wonderful experience.

Next point of call was Shakhi Zinda which is a necropolis dating back to the 14th and 15th century. The largest tomb in this avenue of the dead is that of Kussam-ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet. His grave is at the end of a series of cool, white walled rooms.. Each mausaleum is of a unique design and the small size of each gives an intimacy lacking in the larger though more imposing buildings we'd seen earlier. Despite having fallen into disfavour during Soviet times and at once stage even being used as an anti-religious museum, Shakhi Zinda is again a place of pilgrimage. Adjacent to the complex is a huge modern cemetry which stretches across acres of hillside. The graves here range from grandiose family vaults, looming black marble constructions featuring pictures of the deceased engraved on huge slabs of marble that look like plasma tvs, through to humble graves marked only with a few small tiles. Some couples have purchased joint plots and when one dies they're buried there and their picture is engraved on one half of the marble slab, the other half is left blank for the surviving spouse which might be a bit disconcerting for some. There are 'picto-graves' of old people, couples, whole families with the faces of several generations portrayed above a single tomb, many gents in Soviet era uniforms with acres of braid and medals, and most poignant, small graves with a picture of a sad eyed child engraved on the headstones.  I can only imagine what caused the death of the gentleman who is pictured, cigarette in hand, on his tombstone.

From the Shakhi Zinda we moved to the observatory built by Ulug Beg, the grandson of Tamerlane. The park around the observatory is wedding central on a Saturday afternoon with 3 bridal parties vying for the best spots either in the gardens or using the mosaic walls of the observatory as a backdrop for photos. Uzbeki brides seem to know exactly how they want their photos to be taken while shiny wedding suits for men seem to be the rage. I was distracted from the Battle of the Brides by the action on the road below where cars were attempting to do “Tokyo Drifts” during the lull in traffic between light changes. One of 'the drifters' was a Toyota Corolla and the other, you may not believe this, was a Daewoo Microbus. Its a remarkable sight to see a microbus attempting to slide without rolling or at least falling over. The driver also attempted a wheel stand which he completely misjudged resulting in a lot of smoke as the microbus first reared into the air then nosedrived into the tarmac to the amusement of the crowd on observatory hill.

The evening was spent having dinner in the garden at the home of our driver whose wife prepared a wonderful spread which was accompanied by several bottles of vodka. Once a vodka bottle is opened it must be finished say the Uzbekis and after 2 bottles there were the expected results including a rendition by one of our group of the only song in the English language dedicated to the cauliflower. Electricity supply cannot be guaranteed, so all the lights that evening were powered by a small generator. 

Saturday, 18 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 2: Tashkent – Samarkand

Just after midnight there was a earthquake which woke several members of our party. Not me though, I didn't feel a thing.

The main task of today was to travel by train from Tashkent to Samarkand. A bus took us to the station where we loaded ourselves into 12 seats in a 2nd class carriage. The train left exactly on time and shortly afterwards the overhead video kicked into life and showed a series of Uzbek pop video clips and a full concert of various singers performing a mix of modern and traditional songs accompanied by dancers in national costume If you're a dancer you may know of Laurel Grey and The Silk Road Company in the US who perform the Central Asian dance styles. The conductor came round taking everyone's orders for tea (pronounced choi here). The most important question in Uzbekistan is “Green or Black”.

Amir Timur mausoleum, Samarkand
In the front of the carriage was a group of young guys who didn't seem to stop eating throughout the entire 3.5 hour trip, all the while sharing bottles of “Coke” out of plastic bags. The contents of these bottles caused them to become louder and more boisterous as time went on. When we arrived at Samarkand we were greeted by many local women selling large circular loaves of unleavened bread called non. We bought a couple and learned that non weighs a ton! We headed to the Orient Star Hotel our base for the next 3 nights in Samarkand. The Orient Star's main claim to fame is that all the hotel room doors open outwards into the narrow hallway. I think the best idea is to knock before you exit your room to give people in the hallway time to get out of the way.

We headed out to have lunch in a local restaurant and I met plov for the first time. If vodka is the national drink of Uzbekistan, then plov is the national dish. It's like a pilau consisting of rice with vegetables, usually carrots, with chunks of meat on top. Its eaten for lunch mainly and restaurants only make enough to sell and once its gone – that's it until tomorrow. It's common practice if someone is looking for a late lunch to phone a several restaurants to find out which one has some plov left over. Uzbeki's claim there are 100 different ways to cook plov and that the best plov is cooked by men outdoors. Our guide Bahador remarked that an Uzbek man would not be considered a good husband unless he can cook an acceptable plov, which is interesting considering how macho Uzbek society seems to be. After lunch we went on to the the mausoleum of Amir Temir, better known in the west as Tamerlane, “The Terror of the World”. Tamerlane lies beneath a glorious dome, his grave marked by a black-green slab of marble, surrounded by the graves of various of his teachers and several of his sons. The tombstones are markers for the actual graves which lie in exactly the same layout in the crypt underneath.

From there we moved on to the Registan Complex, possibly the most famous of Samarkand's treasures, . The Registan is made up of 3 huge madrassah (schools) and like all of the sites we've been to, there's a entrance charge per person (usually about 4,500 sum) plus a charge for each camera (about 1,500 sum). Construction of the first madrassa began in 1417 by Tamerlane's grandson Uleg Beg. Its a large building with a ribbed turquoise dome in a shape reminiscent of a lemon squeezer. The exterior is covered in ceramic tiles in blue, turquoise and green.

The Registan, Samarkand
The second building, constructed in 1619 was the Shir Dor Madrassa which is almost a mirror image of the Uleg Beg madrassa. The Shir Dor is notable for the depiction in mosaic tiles of lions and suns with human faces above its main entry.

The final madrassa is Tillya Kari with magnificent mosaics covering every wall in floral and geometric patterns. Construction of the Tillya Kari started in 1646. One of the hujara (student rooms) contains a small carpet workshop and Cathy and I watched a couple of nimble fingered ladies sitting crosslegged at an upright loam weaving on a silk carpet.

I've been surprised by the popularity of gold tooth fillings here. These went out of favour in NZ in my father's generation but it seems that in Uzbekistan everyone, even young people, have mouthfuls of gold.. The fillings possibly are like jewellery or an investment, the gold can be extracted and sold if times are tough. Some Uzbek smiles are quite literally 'pure gold' and reminiscent of Odd Job, the toothsome villain in one of the James Bond movies.

Friday, 17 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 1 Dubai to Tashkent

The flight from Dubai to Tashkent on Uzbekistan Airways was smooth and uneventful. There's no in-flight entertainment on UA so make sure you take a book. As there was an unexplained delay in leaving Dubai, the plane arrived at Tashkent 45 minutes late. We were bused across the tarmac after waiting as a forgetful and panic stricken bride-to-be retrieved her wedding dress that had been left on the plane. Once inside the terminal we joined the queue at immigration. As I already had my visa to enter Uzbekistan it was just a matter of waiting my turn but unfortunately it wasn't so smooth for our friends from NZ, Cathy and Stan. They'd been unable to get a visa from NZ before leaving the country and because of Eid it was decided not to try to collect it in Dubai. So the travel agent said that they could pick up their visas at Tashkent airport on arrival, the process would take no more than half an hour....but that only works if everything goes to plan. The first delay was when the airport immigration guys realised that as they had no visas in their passport, they had to call the consular guy to come out to physically insert the visas. The visa itself takes up a full page in a passport, and is then validated with a little blue stamp. For some reason, the consular man didn't like the visa he'd put into Stan's passport and tried to remove it after he'd stamped it with the little blue stamp. To solve the problem he then tried to stick the visa back in the passport. He then stamped it on all 4 corners and handed it back to Stan who walked no more than 5 steps to the other side of the aisle and handed his passport to the airport immigration guys. The airport guys immediately refused Stan's visa because the consular guy had put the 4 little blue stamps in the wrong places and they didn't match up. Consular guy had already left the building and had to be contacted on his mobile and asked to come back. Once he returned, he and the immigration guys had a long discussion which ended with backslapping and hand shaking, Stan's visa was ok'd and we were free to time 1.5 hours. We stayed the night at the Markizay Hotel which was a Sheraton before being nationalised. The bed was comfortable, the door locked, wow, everything worked, what more can you ask for? As we were very late, we went across the road to the Dedeman Hotel and had dinner, very expensive but they had a very good live jazz band. I tried Uzbek manti which is a steamed dumpling containing meat and onions, rather like a dim sim. Its quite a surreal experience to be sitting in a bar in far flung Tashkent, watching Ladas hurl themselves through the traffic lights outside while listening to a band playing the jazz standard “Take 5”.

Back at the hotel we changed some money, US$ into Uzbekistan sum. As the exchange rate is 1800 sum=US$1.00 changing $200 into sum equals many thick wads of notes. I understand now why most Uzbek women carry large handbags and the men all seem to carry sports bags - they're not actually bags, they're Uzbek-sized wallets.