Half king, Full kings, and the banya
Three days ago I was walking through the concrete canyons of New York City. To be honest, I barely even looked up. It was a perfect early fall day, and New Yorkers were out enjoying it. What I noticed was the endless diversity of styles as I rolled my suitcase north after a delicious and relaxing brunch in the sun-baked garden of Half King. Soon I would start my journey to a region of kings; or, at least men who are thought of and treated as kings by many. Passing through the chaos that is Penn Station (though likely a bit more on the last official weekend of summer), I felt like I was driving the wrong way on a one way street. Reaching the automated ticket machines of the Long Island Railroad, I attracted the attention of a man who appeared a bit rough around the edges. He asked me if I was going to the airport, but I stayed focused on getting my ticket on the chance that it was some kind of scam, which is not unheard of on trains and subways in new york. But he persisted and soon was telling me how I could save money by buying the same ticket in a different way. Still a bit skeptical, but I had a hunch this was an entrepreneur at work and not a scam, so I punched in the details he suggested, and sure enough I saved two dollars with a little local knowledge. Being an entrepreneur, and this being New York, he suggested that I give him a cut of my savings, adding that he was homeless. Whether he was homeless or not I do not know, but he had found an opportunity. I passed him a buck, and both the richer he wished me well on my journey.
Three days later I am seven thousand miles to the southeast, deep in the heart of central asia. Outside our staff is gathering for work, and the air is still cool. The day started off well with a steaming bath inside our office’s “banya”, heated by an old but effective wood-fired stove. As the guard lit the kindling for the fire, he asked me in Tajik if I wanted the water hot or “normal”. Tajiks use the Russian word “normalna” for the English words ok, fine, “just right”, etc (implying you are only ok if you are “normal”). I find it a bit amusing – they love this word. Outside on the small street in front of our southern office, no vehicles have passed by but a horse drawing a cart of loaded with firewood just clattered by. That’s a hundred plus years in the past from the New York City of 2010, but inside a modern Russian air conditioner will allow us to work through the day, and our link to the internet, our umbilical cord, will ensure we never run out of work or distractions from it.