Uzbekistan Bowling Shoe Story
Here in the states, I am a mediocre bowler. My score hovers between 120 and 140. I'm not what you would consider champion material though I have bowled on several league teams.
While I was in Tashkent I found a bowling alley -- the Yulduz lanes -- and I went on in and started bowling one day. It was a nice diversion from the dearth of work I had to do. And I'm serious about a dearth of work: this was a USAID project.
The bowling alley was pretty nice, but the shoes were the Piece de Resistance. Bright green with velcro straps and "YULDUZ" emblazoned on the side. As soon as I saw them I knew I had to have them. They were precious to me. I bowled a few games and was getting ready to leave when one of the managers came over to me.
"You are very good!"
"Ha!" I learned during my trip that Uzbeks can't really bowl and they can't really shoot pool. But at least they fail with gusto. "I guess ... I try."
"Would you like to bowl in tournament?"
And so I was entered into the quarterly Yulduz bowling tournament.
(As an aside, I got something like 6th in the tourney. Everyone who did better was non-Uzbek. My prize was a bright red bowling pin and a bright pink ball polishing towel. I still display them with pride.)
Anyway, before the manager walked off I asked him about the shoes.
"How much do the shoes cost?"
"What? You want to buy shoes?"
"Yes! How much do you want for them?"
"Many prices. Come see shoes in shop."
"No! The house shoes. These I just bowled in."
"Oh, no, I cannot sell. We have other shoes!"
He showed me the other shoes -- plain regular bowling shoes. Boring. BORING! I wanted the green shoes.
I don't usually have much call for pride, having thrown it away years ago. I pleaded with him, "Please, sell me these shoes! Please!"
His demeanor changed slightly and he led me to a room in the side of the bowling alley. Inside were the actual owners of the place -- a group of mean-looking Koreans smoking bad Russian cigarettes. We had interrupted a discussion and the only thing they wanted to do now was glare at the manager and me. They obliged. The manager began speak to them in Russian.
"This man is American and wants to buy a pair of our shoes."
Did I mention I'm conversational in Russian? Better at hearing than speaking, though.
The Koreans laughed him off. "No! Sell him shoes from the shop."
"He ... he wants to buy these shoes!"
They looked at me with a look that is hard to convey but you know when you see it. I call it the "What the fuck, foreigner?" stare. You may have given it, you may have received it. It's the one when suddenly you realize there's a great cultural rift between you and someone else, and their culture appears to be absolutely retarded.
"No. He cannot buy those shoes!"
I couldn't hold myself back any longer and I piped in, in bad Russian.
"Please! These shoes is not like America shoes! I must to buy!"
They shook their heads. Desperate, I reached into my wallet and pulled out all the American cash I had on me -- a whopping $30 (Uzbekistan: population 20 million, government: totalitarian dictatorship, average monthly income: $40 US). Their jaws dropped and it wasn't even a second before one hollered at the manager: "Go! Get a box! Sell him the shoes! Go! Go!"
Then to me, with a huge smile and in English: "But we take your money!"
I handed them the cash and the manager and I walked back into the bowling alley. As the door shut behind us, the unmistakable sound of raucous laughter erupted from the room we had left.
As I see it, though, it was a win-win situation all around. I got the absolute coolest bowling shoes made on the planet, and everyone else got irrefutable proof that Americans are fucking insane.
this is in or around Tashkent