BATUMI, a hedonistic casino playground?
Bryan Adrian writes:
I lived in Tbilisi for 10 years and now have lived the last two years in Batumi. I do not find much at all revealing or perceptive in this travel blog article referenced here http://unraveltravel.org/georgia/ that i can relate to, sorry, despite I too am also a member of Facebook group GEORGIAN WANDERERS, as is the author of the blog under consideration.
Casinos have been in a process of decline here due to
the trade off that has been almost three years in the making here, e.g. fewer
and fewer Turkish businessmen coming to Batumi for prostitutes and gambling and
more and more Russian and multi-ethnic Muslims coming from many points of the
Islamic kingdom. The Ministry of Tourism here has been misleading and has not
been objective nor accurate nor transparent in their
two most recent statistical reports. Russian tourism has driven the Batumi
economy for the last two tourist seasons, and Muslims a very close second. The
numbers of Ukrainian tourists has fallen due to the poor western Ukraine
economy since the Kiev Coup, but the number of Ukrainian mafia types in real
estate has risen somewhat here, in a parallel development. Don't come here if
you want to teach English, there is not enough will here among the people to
study it. Mostly 10-14 year old girls here are learning basic
English by applying themselves in the public schools, but they are shy to use
it in the streets much with a foreign English speaker.
In Tbilisi a good English teacher can ask for either 16GEL or 25GEL per hour, depending on their clients and level of skills and expertise and name recognition they have in their craft, but here 6GEL is what they want to pay, to a new or veteran teacher. Not many Batumi boys like to put their heads into their English lesson books, they are not like the girls, and the adults are quite happy with Russian here as their lingua franca. There are almost no tourists from Europe or USA ever here. A few from Israel. Most of the Russian tourists are young families, parents in their early 30s with two young kids and they are very polite and considerate. So they have no interest in casinos. Ditto for all the diverse types of Muslims who come here, no interest in casinos either. The diversity of Muslim tourists here is phenomenal, from colorful hijabs showing all the face without a niqab, to beige colored semi full length kaftan Muslim robe attire, to the all black fully to the ground burka. I have sat on the Batumi Boulevard for hours daily, for two years, observing all this and learned more about the diversity of Muslim culture here than i had ever known previously, and seen with my own eyes how many of the Muslim women are the intellectual superior of their husband, which makes him proud and not angry (excepting Saudis) with her smartness (something not so prevalent in Georgian interaction between the sexes. Most Georgian men I know are intimidated by a very super smart woman and they don’t’ pursue them often as wives—although the newest generation is changing somewhat in this).
AirBnb and other such services are empowering Batumi families to rent any free space in their homes to summer and winter tourists, and it is catching up with big luxury hotel occupancy volume rates and changing the economics and former pulse of the town, slowly but surely. Adjarans are different in many subtle ways from Kartli people and not at all like the Tbilisi new arrivals from the villages syndrome there. The work ethic and building & construction skills are much MUCH stronger here than in Tbilisi, i guess picked up from the Turks here over the many centuries of co-habitation. Also, often someone Adjaran in Batumi will reply in a friendly way if you ask them "how are you today" despite you are a stranger to them. Not true in Kartli/Tbilisi. There is a deep treasure trove of musical talent here in Batumi that is somewhat undiscovered, in classical music and opera. I prefer the Batumi art museum to any in Tbilisi, but that is my own personal taste. I don't find Tbilisi European in many ways at all, in fact it is in many ways anti-European and central Asian, very near eastern in essence. Batumi's architecture in the old town is quite European, and the Batumi legends of contact with visitors and sailors and travelers reaches way back to sailors and traders coming from the Black Sea on ships and caravans, all the way back to Jason and Medea, making it a more ‘familiar feeling’ here to foreigners, than does insular Tbilisi.
It is still provincial here however and does not have the variety of Tbilisi, and the people here are not in a hurry to change into any ‘SECOND CITY’ status. When i bring it up to locals, they laugh at me as if i am putting them on, that they are "Georgia's number two city?" Some of them are shocked and flabbergasted I would say such a thing. A few of them chime in "we are not as boring as Kutaisi!" The shipping culture of Batumi, which reaches back in history, and today boasts near a half a dozen maritime academies and a large customs bureaucracy with among the highest port fees for worldwide ships in the world, has no comparison in Tbilisi, whose inhabitants have no idea how much better coffee beans and fresh bananas fresh off the boats are in Batumi than in Tbilisi. Batumi automobile congestion is not in any way in the same league as the nightmare of Tbilisi’s highly flawed traffic quagmire, due to the capital's un-European poor and lazy civil engineering and the fact that so many of the uneducated villager families in Georgia have moved to Tbilisi and once in the city, purchased a used car to add to the old one they drove in on.
Georgians need to break from the arrogant need to place Tbilisi so high in status and all other parts are laughed at as "soplebi" (სოფლები). This condemns Batumi and Kutaisi to have sorely disrespected and underfunded universities and not the urban leaders who should and could try to develop their own resurrection from any former glories in past cycles of their history, to new positions of illumination and levels of local pride. Mingrelians should be admired more for their unique language and formidable contribution to the survival and culture of Georgia, like Jews are in America or Quebecois in Canada. Georgia needs more museums of Mingrelian culture and language like we have for native american indians in USA. Mingrelian as a second language should be offered in the Georgian schools, since their minority in numbers (about 12%) is over half of the 20% percentage of native French speakers in Canada (approximately 410,000 in a nation of about 3.5 million now, due to loss of citizens from brain drain abroad).
Much is lost and damaged due to nearly every villager in Georgia being made to feel shame if they do not live in glorious ‘most incredible’ Tbilisi, rather than moving to Kutaisi or Batumi or Telavi, such as is done in Ireland and Switzerland and even Ecuador, small countries with more than one respected city (and towns), … or seen especially in large nations, such as we see when Americans move to San Francisco or Seattle or Portland or Boston, or Atlanta, and not just all flocking to New York City like homing pigeons or lemmings. This dramatically holds back the creative dynamics of an evolving nation. I am surprised USAID has not done enough to cultivate more urban civic power centers outside of Tbilisi, freeing Tbilisi from being the only magnet center. What is predictable here is to witness much typical Georgian unimaginative investing in bulky condo apartment buildings and skyscrapers in Tbilisi, or casinos, or overpriced giant hotels that nobody really loves nor can afford the highly inflated prices per night. How does it help the interconnected and intermarried families of Georgia, with their deep ancestral memories centuries and centuries old, the far too many foreign cozy wine partnerships in Kakheti, sometimes foreigners even piggy backing on NGO financing themselves, and the more and more oversized rayon by rayon agri-deals involving South Africans and Australians and Israelis and AmCham members in the higher and higher unaffordable mechanized high technology farmlands? The vice of always thinking SUPER BIG in Tbilisi, to be disappointed if not told, "you are the best in the world", should not be farmed out as an attitude to follow in the other many parts of Georgia, during this critical time in Kartuli history. The challenge of transforming from a 3000 year agricultural country – that has historically had little interest in doing patiently developed business and domestic trade slow success -- like the Armenians have done so well for themselves in Tbilisi/Kartli for centuries -- is daunting.
It seems every Irakli and Gio and Levan, is exploding with hormones to be morphing "overnight" into a wealthy JSC “manager” tycoon, admired and worshipped by all, as a birthright, something like an ancient Persian vizier in occupied Georgia. The other syndrome here, is for a foreigner-overseen, technology-driven, capital intensive agribusiness , with virtually no labor unions nor labor rights for the local natives (one of the German labor unions needs to publish a newspaper in Tbilisi in English and push aside the cliché ridden GEORGIA TODAY, a mealy mouthpiece for AmCham).
Thus, maybe the best thing to do in the meantime is to hold off a bit for a while, on sleepless obsessing over how great one is, rather than striving to get what is needed to be done, actually DONE. Boasting and letting others do most of the work needed, by your grossly underpaid employees or from the fatcat foreigners who own the best farmland and nearly all factories and NGOs, while they pocket your natural resources and land and hand you a small share of their booty, all these inadequacies will not be in the near future, a reason for rivers of supra wine, and nearly constant song and dance self-celebrations.
More photos of Batumi here
Wines of Georgia!
New Kidney New Life