I know it's been quite a long time since I have submitted to the Sighs page, but after a recent perusal, I figured it's time for an update.
First of all, yes, I'm still here. Scary as it seems at times since it's over two years now. I would never have thought I'd last this long, and now it looks like I'll be here at least till the end of the year. I've taken over the direct investment (equity instead of debt) side of the organization which is a lot more interesting than small business lending. It'll be a lot of headaches and work, but also good experience and something new to do.
Once I got back from Christmas break, I started to take stock of my two years here. For years I wanted to do "international finance." It sounded so exotic, so important. Well, in a sense I guess I'm doing it. But here it doesn't seem so high-powered or sophisticated. While I saw myself playing a Charlie Sheen role in "Wall Street", I feel more like some strange character from the Far-Side. A couple of examples to illustrate.
I've bored some of you with these stories in the past, especially on the boat trip this summer, so bear with me if I repeat myself. One of my favorite small businesses which I financed was some woman doing holistic medicine. Well, that's what I call it. Others just say she's a crackpot. The more I know about her, the more clearly "others" are correct. She applied for money to finance a machine to do facial treatments with electric pulses, and another machine for hydro-colon therapy. In essence, this is a hot water enema. These new services were to complement her massage and herbal treatments. Silly me, but I couldn't see what her business strategy was. So I asked.
Turns out that you can't treat just one problem separately since everything is connected in the organism. "Organism" being the Russian cognate for the human body. So if you have acne, for example, first you need a massage, then a cup of tea, then have your bowels cleaned out, and only then can you hope to clear up your face. (And all along, I thought it would clear up naturally after puberty.) This was a bit strange for me, but I figured that I'm in the "East" and who am I to say that a clean colon and clear skin aren't related. (Or should that be clear colon and clean skin?) I continued with my questions.
"Who is your target market for colon therapy?" Everyone, it turns out, since she recommends quarterly preventive cleanings. Oh yeah, and heavy-drinking government officials (redundant?) who have a big night, then need a good cleaning to be fresh for an important meeting. And she's serious. Well, I think it's strange and wouldn't consider using her services, but I agree to finance one of her requests. Her choice. She, of course, chooses the butt-bath.
Several months pass and when my new boss arrives, I proudly take him to meet her since she is more or less paying on time (a rarity) and eccentric. She's even more so now. As we're talking about her business, she mentions that she's added yet another new "service." Astrology. This is absolutely necessary in order to determine the proper moment, when all the stars are in alignment, to bend over and get the shower massage of your life. (Being the businessman that I am, my first thought is at least astrology carries high margins given its low cost of goods sold.) I'm also thinking that she's going over the deep-end, and I'm actually quite embarrassed in front of my new boss that she is someone I lent money to. As we leave, my boss turns to me and says, and I quote, "That woman scares me." At this point, she scares me too.
That was awhile ago. One of the good recent ones involves a mitten and glove manufacturer that we own part of. Recently the company made a sale of some gloves in Siberia. Since no one in the CIS has cash, we got paid in animal fat. (Michael Milken I ain't!) I personally would have preferred a string a beads or something I could then trade for Manhattan, but animal fat is what we got. Funny thing is that it actually has value--cash value, which is very rare here. When it's brought back to Bishkek, it is immediately sold for a decent profit to the local sausage making company. The bad news is that the Director of the company that is our partner in this joint venture has taken the fat, sold it, and used (pocketed?) the cash. Yes, he stole my damn fat!! Now, next week I've got to sit down with all these people and figure out whose fat it was, what happened to the cash, and what do I do about a "partner" who is basically stealing from "our" company.
Just to add an interesting note, only this week, I learned that the volunteer who was scheduled to come out here for a month to help this company prepare a marketing plan won't come. Turns out, that he was running behind his two poodles, as he does every morning, fell down and messed up his shoulder. Being an old dude, he's out of commission for months. Certainly won't help our sales. As an aside, I personally would never admit to injury by poodle. Hand grenade, land shark, or hydro-colon cleaning gone awry maybe, but poodle? Never.
There are more tales in the weird world of "international finance" Kyrgyzstan-style, but that's it for now.
Quality of life-wise, Bishkek is really coming along. No, really. In the last 6-9 months there have been a slew of new, good restaurants, and a couple bars. In fact, we even have our own brew-pub!!! It's just like Capital City Brewery--only much different. It is actually quite nice. They of course continue to have their problems running the place. Before Christmas and thru January, it was so damn cold in the place that you had to have a couple sweaters on and your coat. You couldn't stand it much more than an hour or so which forced us, quite against our desire, to curb our drinking. Since the President of Germany visited it, the heat has not been a problem. Now the food and the service is a different story. Well, actually, the same ol'story unfortunately.
Another positive beer event was the appearance of Guinness in cans. Last year it would show up all too rarely but this year it is consistently for sale. In fact, it is the cheapest beer on the market. A strange quirk, but explained by the fact that all the expiration dates are all over a year old, but who's complaining. First step is to get it here, next to get it here more or less fresh.
That's about it for now. I hope everyone is doing OK and that 1998 treats you well. There's always a standing invitation if anyone cares to visit. Aygen has been out here a couple times for work and Joachim is threatening a visit, but we'll see. I know a very reliable tour operator to can put trips down the Karakorum Highway, Bishkek to Islamabad via Kashgar, China. Friends have made the trip and it's supposed to be spectacular. I will probably do it myself this year.