31 December 2009

An early lesson in personal finance

New Year's seems to be a much bigger deal than Christmas here in Armenia, and many people give New Year's gifts to one another. In December, little stands pop up everywhere to sell holiday lights, ornaments, and good luck trinkets for New Year: figurines, mini snow-globes, calendars, stuffed animals, candle holders, and so on. The vast majority of this merchandise is representative of the next sign in the Chinese zodiac, and it is especially common for the animal - this year, it's the tiger - to be shown with money, in the hopes that the item will bring its bearer good fortune in the new year. For example, here's a calendar I bought a couple weeks ago, not only because we needed a 2010 calendar, but also because I found the image rather amusing:

Last January, someone gave us a piggy bank - actually, it's a cow bank, since it was for the year of the bull - and every time we had a 10-dram coin (the Armenian equivalent of the penny), we gave it to Nathan to put in the bank. He enjoyed collecting and counting the coins, and when we discovered a few weeks ago that the bank was nearly full, we had to figure out what to do with the money. A couple days after Christmas, Nathan told me he wanted a police car...he had realized that even though he had so many toy cars, that was one he didn't have. We told him he would have to buy it with his own money, since he had received enough gifts already. So he and Jarred counted all the coins in his bank...the total was 2,900 dram (US$7.67)! We put the coins into a zip-lock bag, labeled it, and last night, Nathan proudly brought it to Mankan Toy Store at 24 Mashtots Avenue.

Amongst the crowd of holiday shoppers, little Nathan picked out his police car. A young, English-speaking store employee was nearby, and when she saw me pull the zip-lock bag out of my purse, she realized right away what was going on. "This is his money?" she asked, smiling broadly. She scooped up Nathan, took the money, and pushed her way through the crowd to the check-out counter. She explained the situation excitedly to the cashiers, and everyone seemed thoroughly charmed, not a bit annoyed at the prospect of having to count all those coins. They trusted the amount I wrote on the bag, so while one clerk happily counted Nathan's change, another gave him a little shopping bag, though he didn't want to use it, of course.

By the time we got home, it was very clear to us how proud Nathan was that he had bought the police car himself. We asked him questions to make sure he understood fully how the police car had come into his possession, and he replied without a doubt that he had purchased it with his own money. He played with it all evening, and even took it to bed! It just goes to show that even a 2 year-old can learn about the value of saving.

At home with his new toy, a wiser Nathan puts his change back into the bank, off to a good start in 2010!

Although I do not yet comprehend why Armenians so unquestioningly use the signs of Chinese zodiac, but do not follow the lunar calendar (anyone care to enlighten me?), I can certainly appreciate their association of the astrological signs with the idea of wealth. Wishing all our friends and readers a prosperous New Year -- happy saving!

19 December 2009

Malkhas Jazz Club

Yesterday was Jarred's 28th birthday, and to celebrate, we went out to his favorite jazz club in town, Malkhas (Nathan stayed home with our nanny). Jarred has been there several times with friends, but this was my first visit. How was it, you ask? The desserts and drinks were pretty good, and though we came home reeking of cigars, the place wasn't actually that smoky. But what about the music? I don't have many words to describe it... I guess my rating falls somewhere between extraordinary and transcendent.

Here's a sample:

All the musicians were unbelievably talented. The first band played a mix of jazz and Dixieland standards, folk-rock and pop covers, and original/improv 12-bar blues in four fabulous sets; I especially liked their rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely?" Yet even their original compositions were peppered with homages to Gershwin, the Beatles, and one-hit-wonders The Champs ("Tequila!"). I don't know which I enjoyed more: the fast-paced numbers or the slow, soulful harmonica solos. Regrettably, my camera battery died before I could record this first band's final performance of the evening, which showcased the harmonicist's impressive technique during a lively call-and-response with the pianist.

We stayed at the club long enough to enjoy the first set of the second band, whose vocalist sang a passionate "Besame Mucho," followed by "Take Five," in which he performed the melody -- and the supporting parts during the instrumentalists' solos -- entirely in scat! This second group played much more sophisticated, modern jazz arrangements than the first band. Toward the end of their set, club owner and namesake Levon Malkhasian cut in to show off his own utterly astounding jazz piano skills (a common occurrence, according to Jarred). What makes someone a virtuoso? If that man doesn't qualify, then I don't know who does! Again, I regret not coming to the club prepared with a fully-charged camera battery.

If you're ever in Yerevan, don't pass up the opportunity meet some of Armenia's most outstanding musicians at Malkhas. And if you do go, give us a call so we can come with you! For us, last night's show was a wonderful experience well worth repeating.

By the way, if you want to watch more of what I did manage to record, visit our YouTube page or simply do a search for Malkhas Jazz Club videos.

17 December 2009

Sharan Craft Center

I've been hearing about a local craft shop that is popular with foreigners since we arrived in Yerevan over a year ago. Then recently, I overheard the school director's wife talking about a folk art and craft studio right in our neighborhood. It turns out both places are one and the same: Sharan Craft Center.

I admired their high-quality merchandise at the International Charity Bazaar at the Marriott downtown back in October, but didn't visit the craft center itself until about a week ago...all this time, it's been a mere 5-minute walk from our apartment!

Sharan is a wonderful place employing talented local artisans who produce beautiful items for home and family: knit sweaters, caps, scarves, and mittens; holiday ornaments and Christmas stockings; hand-embroidered potholders, wooden kitchen utensils; casual bracelets and hair accessories for women and girls; and adorable dolls and other little toys.

I don't think they have their own web site, but I did find TradeExpressions.com, which has some information about the studio, plus a few items available for purchase -- though I'd say they are WAY overpriced compared to what I paid in-store.

I also found this interesting article from the Armenian Reporter.

12 December 2009

precious moments

Last night, Jarred and I were cooking dinner. Lately, Nathan enjoys participating in kitchen activities, even if it's just doing the dishes, so as usual, he had pushed a chair up to the counter. First he helped me wash the rice, then he proceeded to taste everything he could get his hands on...chopped tofu, green onions, and bok choy.

After a while, I noticed he was no longer in the kitchen. I turned around to look for him, and saw him sitting at the computer, completely entranced. We were streaming WUCF, our favorite Orlando radio station, on Windows Media Player, and he was staring at the visualizer. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied, "Nathan is watching this movie...I've never seen that!" As the 'randomization' changed, he grew more and more amazed. I'm so glad I had the camera handy!