Thursday, August 17, 2006

DVDs and Technology

I received a free copy of 'The Long Tail' by Chris Anderson (of Wired). The deal is that whoever receives a copy, has to read it and review it on their website. Well, Ill get to the review when Im finished with it, but coming across the first few pages talking about dvds, got me thinking. While in Armenia, on Abovian St., one of the main streets downtown, I found a huge cd/dvd music store. The outside wall, made entirely of glass, exposed all that was inside. No effort in hiding the fact they were a cd store was attempted. When you enter, on the left, the walls are lined with cds. The right side, with dvds. I wanted Syriana, so I went straight to my right, never looking at the cds. However, thats beside the point(but also, I assume are the same illegal copies as the dvds). When you look through the dvds, all of them, in Russian, have perfect quality covers and the dvds themselves are labeled with printed pictures of the movie(the same as is seen on a legal copy). They seemed to be exactly the real deal. But when watching them, you notice they are bootlegs, but not because the quality is bad, but because of the subtitles from Warner Bros. stating that that dvd was property of them for award consideration.

But now, after looking at an old Slate article on how illegal dvd/cd stores in China, protect themselves by fronting as a resturants, it just goes to show, how really hard it is to prevent illegal traffiking of dvds. Now for two dollars, I bought a perfect dvd that would have forced me to pay 10-15 dollars here in the States for a real one, let alone in Armenia, given the fact that real dvds are no where to be found in Armenia.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

US

22lbs less, three shades darker, and 50 bucks left in my pocket, back in the US....

Thursday, August 10, 2006

East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet...

Monday, August 07, 2006

More BTC info

PINR has a new breif on the opening and affects of the BTC pipeline.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Interview

Today, while waiting for a lady form Pan-Armenian Network to come and interview us, one of the ladies in the office had a diabetic attack. Now, the sound was just horrible but what was even more so was the fact that when we called the emergency hotline - 9/11 - we had to explain where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was. Its as if you were in Washington DC and said a lady fell and needed help. We are at the State Department main entrance, and the first responder asks - where is the State Department.

After waiting for what seemed to be eternity, a massive lady - the size of Rocky’s opponent in Rocky 4 - walked in, with her white lab coat on and a needle in her one hand. It was to surreal. Then poof, she was gone after, I guess, administering the shot.

Well, at least the interview went well and it should be online - so Ill post that later when it comes online. The interviewer sat and asked questions for about 15 minutes but she wasn't writing anything down. Then in the last minute, jots down our names and University name, and says thank you and heads out. I have a feeling this should be a rather interesting interview.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tbilisi

I got back yesterday from a three day trip to Tbilisi. Leaving on Saturday morning, with a Marshuka, it took us a grand total of about 7hrs to reach the capital city. The ride over to Tbilisi was cramped and hot. No A/C and with a total of 12 people in a mini-van sized vehicle, its only bound to become a living hell. The ride also included various stops made by the driver for him to be able to say “Hi” to everyone he knew on the way. Cops stopped us, but with a handshake between the driver and the officer, no ticket and we went on our merry way. During the ride over, two passengers, both from the Czech Republic were backpacking throughout the region. They spoke English well, and we had a few conversations. The best, which started with the question “Why was the US Embassy in Yerevan, the biggest thing in Yerevan I explained the land explanation I was given by the Ambassador, but which didn’t convince him. The Czech responded by saying “Well, you Americans, always up to something!” (When you compare the size of the two embassies in Yerevan and Tbilisi, the one in Yerevan is a few times larger, even though the one in Tbilisi is the regional embassy. Further, if you looked at the amount of security that the one in Tbilisi had, you’d naturally think that there was no perceived threat in Georgia against the US Embassy, but that there was some immense threat within Yerevan, as their security was close to overboard.)

In Tbilisi, we had no map, forgot to exchange Dollars/Drams for any Laris (The Georgian currency is called the Lari about 1.75 Lari for a 1 US Dollar) and at least for me, a heavy backpack. After strolling around for a bit, the friend I was with – who is fluent in Russian – was able to ask a cop sitting in his car for directions. He happily told us to get in, and he drove us closer to town.

Finally, after exchanging some cash, we grabbed another Marshuka into town and found our way.

Tbilisi is huge. Well, at least in comparison to Yerevan. It is more developed in the sense that you could find more products as you would find in the US than you could in Yerevan. On the streets, people actually stop for you, where in Yerevan if you were to do the same, you had a 99% chance of being hit, yelled at, or forced to run. Locals are more than happy to help in anyway possible. The most striking difference is the amount of Gypsies begging for money. They are also relentless to walk with you and beg and beg. Unlike in Yerevan, where you a have a few old women, the occasionally old man, begging for money, they don’t chase you, they just wish you a slow death, really!

A taxi driver on Sunday pointed out where the city had a concert for President Bush when he visited last year. Another taxi driver mentioned, after being asked what he felt about the visit , that throughout history, Georgians were very apolitical, they were happy that the President of the “World” decided to visit his country but afterwards, it wasn’t really discussed.

Taxi drivers seem to give great answers to many questions in most cities you are in. Not only are they usually drivers that are locals, but they and their families are most affected by the policies that their government carries out, and also those of foreign countries. Further, they are straight forward and frank, as the likelihood of you getting back into their cab is slim. All in all, their answers are great, because they do not fear to criticize your home country – whether it is the US, Armenian, etc… but also explain to you the overall impact as they see it on the middle and lower classes.

The fact that “it was nice” of the President of the US to visit “tiny Georgia” shows that they are happy but not really impressed with these photo-opps that many leaders arrange. Further, they also do understand that there are further implications behind the visit – such as Pres Bush’s intent to visit Georgia as an effort to spite the Kremlin – but rarely get into the finer details of it. The difference between Georgian taxi drivers and those in Armenia is that in Armenia they are more politically oriented and more up-to-date to what their government is doing. How are the drivers in other countries – beats me, but I’d be willing to venture out and say that within this region this is the case. In the Middle East, it’s the same, after speaking to a few who have lived and traveled in the region.

On Monday, we happened to miss the only Marshuka back. The other Marshuka drivers decided against driving back to Yerevan, since there were not enough people to fill it up to make it profitable trip. We ended up getting a ride in a taxi – which cost us twice as much as the Marshuka ( Each way on the Marshuka is 15 dollars – 6500 drams) The taxi cost us 30 US dollars ( 50 Laris) This ride was anything but nice. The driver insisted on driving at least 140km/h and took blind corners without reservations. He also spoke Georgian, Russian, Armenian, and Azeri. This allowed the two men from Georgia, who also took the taxi talk to him in Georgian. Then I was able to speak to him in Armenian, which I later learned amazed him that I knew the language since I grew up in the States (A common question in Armenia – “You are from the US and you speak Armenian? How is that possible?”) and then Russian to my friend. However, where taking the taxi, paying the extra cash and giving up on comfort was at the boarder crossing, where it seems it’s play time for the guards patrolling the boarder. The driver knew all the guards and passport checkers, so they didn’t check the car, and we only had to go through the passport control on both sides. (Made me think, if I ever wanted to smuggle anything between the two countries, how easy it would be - This is also true on the boarder between Latvia and Estonia, where if you took a bus, they guards didn’t give a damn to look what you had in your bags, or what the bus had inside the storage bins)

Overall, one of the greatest weekends I had here. Interesting to see because at least now there is something I could compare Yerevan too, within the region.

Friday, July 21, 2006

US Embassy

Our meeting with Ambassador Evans today went swell. I arrived 8 minutes late to our meeting point in downtown Yerevan, and my group was gone. I then hailed a taxi and asked how much. He said 1000 dram. Awesome, as it was the last 1000 dram I had in my pocket and in all of Armenia – I actually borrowed it from a friend. Well on the way, the taxi driver was complaining how no one in their right mind drives to the Embassy for only 1000 dram. After a good two – three minutes of his nagging I blurted out – “Hey, I asked you and you said 1000 dram, didn’t you” With a look of death he turned over, and just stared at me. Luckily it was at a red light. So, as cranky as I was, I proceeded with, So its right that I asked you? Yes. Ok, very good then! And with that, I pretty much told off a taxi driver for trying to extort more money from me.

The Embassy is huge. However, it’s the land that its located on – 23 acres – that was at one time one of the largest pieces of properties that the US government bought to build an embassy on it. When you come to think about the Embassies in London, Paris, Tokyo, New Delhi, Beijing, and then you realize that it isn’t the biggest embassy. Rather, as Amb. Evans noted, it’s a middle sized embassy, although it isn’t the regional one – that one is located in Tbilisi – as relations between Tbilisi and all the neighboring countries – barring Moscow – have great relations.

Amb. Evans noted about the recent violence in Beirut – as he was in his speech on the role of an Embassy in a foreign country – and how the Embassy there are operating around the clock to quickly extract all Americans and dual citizens that want to leave to leave. Also, Amb. Evans talked about the difficulty for the Minsk Group to finally agree on a resolution to NK issue.