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The Friends of Tuva Newsletter
Celebrating Richard Feynman's spirit of adventure

Published by Friends of Tuva, Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117 USA
Fifteenth Issue: Fall 1996
Edited by Ralph Leighton

Hotline and fax: (213) 221-TUVA (-8882)
(If fax doesn't turn on automatically, press 33)
E-mail on the Internet:
Tuva Trader OnLine

Stamp Drive Status Report

As you may recall, almost all of the fourteenth issue of the Friends of Tuva newsletter (written on May 11, Richard Feynmans 78th birthday) was devoted to launching a drive to put Feynman on a postage stamp --- not so much to honor the man, but to honor his spirit (as Friends of Tuva tries to do). As of November 10, when this article was written, 150 letters of support were received, most of them in response to the newsletter. A big thank you to all who wrote in; it takes time and effort to write a letter, and your support is appreciated!

A report on CNN Science and Technology Week that aired on October 5 & 6 also generated some support, as well as numerous Internet postings. When I have a video of the CNN report in hand, I will approach California's two senators for their support. I have also sent copies of Feynman's most popular books to Chelsea Clinton and the four children of Al & Tipper Gore, with a cover letter to the President and Vice President.

While I am working the political connections as best I can, I urge you to sign the enclosed petition and get your friends and relatives to sign it, too. While 150 letters may not be enough to impress the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, a petition signed by thousands may help put us over the top. Already, 21 fans at Bismarck State College of North Dakota have signed. Now we need to see results at the same per capita rate from the other 49 states!

In the next issue I may excerpt a sentence or two from several letters to give you a flavor of what people have been writing. But for now, I'd like to share with you my favorite letter so far. Contrary to my advice that the letter should be on an impressive letterhead (with the Committee in mind), this letter has no letterhead at all, as was the case with many, showing that Feynman was a man of the people.

May 26, 1996
Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee

I am writing in support of a Richard Feynman commemorative postage stamp. As a result of reading his biography written by his friend Ralph Leighton Tuva or Bust!, I was encouraged to pursue a degree in engineering at the age of 37. His attitude towards exploration and problem solving was infectious and provided me with the courage to try. I graduated last year at 41 and today I am a staff engineer with a geotechnical firm in New Jersey.

His life and work should be celebrated and remembered so that future generations can be touched by his enthusiasm for physics and mathematics. A commemorative stamp to a young, unsuspecting collector may begin this process by prompting the question, Who was Richard Feynman?


Barbara Ito, New City, NY

Tuvans at the Olympics!
by John Karon

Why should you be a Friend of Tuva? Because, in the spirit of Richard Feynman, if you do crazy things, some wonderful and unexpected things will happen. Mine happened to be in Atlanta during the Olympics. My adventure started with a message on my answering machine on Saturday, a week after the start of the Olympics. This is Ralph Leighton of Friends of Tuva. We have a bit of an emergency: Kongar-ool Ondar, a throat-singer, along with his 5-year old son, and their translator Roko are coming to Atlanta tomorrow and need a place to stay. They want to see the two Tuvan Olympians, a wrestler and an archer. Can you help out?

What's so exciting about hosting Tuvans for almost a week? Kongar-ool showed us his Tuvan photos, gave a concert for us and some friends, and got me involved in the Olympic wrestling. His son Baiyr is charming. Roko, a filmmaker from San Francisco, told us about his world travels. And we got to host some of the friendliest people we've ever met.

Kongar-ool's concert was a real treat. He sang Tuvan songs in a variety of styles, some with Baiyr, both in full costume. Kongar-ool's smile in person is even more radiant than on the Genghis Blues video. There can be few others who have had Tuvan throat-singing echoing through their house!

If you want to see an excited 5-year-old Tuvan boy, give him the opportunity to drive a red battery-powered miniature jeep! It took some convincing to get Baiyr to go next door and play with our neighbors' son, even for a ride in the jeep. Of course, after his first ride he wanted to drive. He did, like an expert, with a big grin. He had a wonderful time playing with his new friend, who never understood that Baiyr knew no English. When Bayir was in tears at having to leave for the airport the next Saturday afternoon, his new friend said, He could live with us!

It was a good thing that the concert was Wednesday night, for Kongar-ool's friend Chechen-ool Mongush began competing in the 52 kg (114 lb.) class in freestyle wrestling on Thursday morning. If you ever want to see an excited Tuvan, take Kongar-ool to see a close friend wrestle in an international championship! Wrestling tickets were very hard to get, and we had to pay big premiums to get ours, but Kongar-ool wouldn't have missed this for anything. We got great seats for the opening matches opposite the center of mat A (there were three mats, with three matches at all times), well-prepared with the Tuvan flags provided by graphics staff at work. Kongar-ool confessed he was so excited that he hardly slept the previous night.

Chechen-ool's first match was on mat A. He raced out to an 8-0 lead in the first 40 seconds of the 5 minute match, with much cheering from his small fan section! He won 11-4, and Kongar-ool was ecstatic, and so was I, as we gave each other high fives.

Chechen-ool had the bad luck to draw the Bulgarian Jourdonov, the seven-time world champion, as his next opponent in the very last match of the morning on a mat at the other end of the hall. There had been about 75 matches, many spectators had left, and most of the remaining ones were tired. There was complete silence in the hall, except for Kongar-ool, who could be heard yelling throughout the hall. People turned around to see who it was (and surely wondered, what language is that!). [Indeed, Ondars solitary voice screaming out encouragement to Mongush in Tuvan was heard all the way back in Kyzyl on Russian TV!- RL] Alas, despite scoring the first point, Chechen-ool lost 4-2.

Olympic wrestling is double elimination. Chechen-ool won both afternoon matches, with Kongar-ool and Bayir cheering them on. They arrived home that night very happy, as Chechen-ool still had a chance to win a medal the next day.

The three of us went to the wrestling competition the next morning. Chechen-ool won both of his matches, the second 3-1 against an Iranian who was supported by a large cheering section (Iran is another nation where wrestling is the national sport). That left only the Friday afternoon session, when Chechen-ool wrestled for the bronze medal. Kongar-ool and Bayir arrived home very late; I was sure they were celebrating with Chechen-ool. Alas, he lost, 3-2. Jourdonov, to whom Chechen-ool lost in the second round, won the gold.

Our adventures continued even as Kongar-ool and Bayir boarded their plane for San Francisco: Russian passports are printed in Cyrillic, and the names are written longhand in ink. I couldn't print the words the curbside baggage checker needed to match Kongar-ools name with the passport, but we eventually got the baggage checked. Then as we waited at the gate, the CNN airport TV news showed a film clip of wrestling. I pointed it out to Kongar-ool, then explained it was about Dave Schultz, the fine U.S. wrestler murdered at the DuPont estate earlier this year. I told Kongar-ool I thought it might have been in March. Kongar-ool told me, No, January [he gave me the exact date], Jourdonov's birthday. Wrestling is indeed the national sport of Tuva!

Kongar-ool had other adventures here. Ralph Leighton somehow arranged for him to carry the Olympic torch on a leg through a small town in Georgia! [Your Tuva Trader money at work! RL] The torch bearers wore their own shoes, so Kongar-ool wore his Tuvan boots, the horsehide flat-soled calf-high boots with the turned up toes! The torch went back to Tuva, where Kongar-ool relit it in a ceremony honoring Tuva's two Olympians. [Video of Ondar doing the dance of the eagle in the Olympic torch relay was later broadcast on Tuvan TV (shot by Friends of Tuva videographer and translator, film maker Roko Belic).]

A columnist for an Atlanta paper noticed Kongar-ool's unusual footwear in the Olympic areano, not the boots, but long gray wool socks and sandals that Kongar-ool wore in the heat and humidity of an Atlanta summer. Kongar-ool was delighted to see his name in the newspaper, even if he couldnt read the article. But, once Roko left, we found that Kongar-ool knew more English than we thought --- enough to describe the pictures of Kyzyl and Tuva he brought along. So if you ever have a chance to host Tuvans, don't hesitate! Y'all's experience will be different from ours, but it will be memorable, and you won't regret it!

Illegal Man by L. Arslanova

This article was translated from the Moscow magazine Boomerang, Ns 3, 4, & 5 (July-September 1992), by Taro Kuular and Greg Neverov. The article was given by the Moscow State University Science Fiction & Fantasy Club. [Words and comments by Ralph Leighton are in brackets.]

This story is so improbable that its hero has been named by the Sci Fi & Fantasy Club of Moscow State University as an honorary member. The club decided this Illegal Man must be a courageous and adventuresome person, indeed!

The Flight

Ayan is a Kyzyl-city teenager of sixteen years. To realize his dream should have costed so dearly that it seemed impossible even to think of it. Nevertheless, once Ayan Motchak-Khaaevich Oorzhak had taken 400 roubles [about $5 then] from home (of which 200 was his own money, earned by him) and stuffed them in his nylon jacket, he set off... for Japan!

Kyzyl airport

Buy a ticket to Moscow, the only expenditure Ayan's budget would allow. As the plane climbed, Ayan's imagination saw sacred Mount Fuji, the superexpress bullet trains Shin-kan-sen, graceful geishas, martial Samurai, and ancient imperial palaces. Ayan had read every book about The Land of the Rising Sun in Kyzyl's library. He knew that Japan had changed since the books were written, but he would have to see Japan for himself to believe it.

In Moscow Ayan was directed from the domestic airport Domodedovo to the international airport Sheremetievo-2, an hour's bus ride across Russia's capital.

Departing Moscow

Ayan wrote in his diary:

Almost all Tokyo flights depart from Moscow in the evening. Only way to get onto airfield: pass through frontier guard control at fence.

There is a hole in the fence several hundred meters from take-off and landing strip! I pass through the hole and find myself in an almost deserted field. But a frontier guard appears. It is necessary to lie. I said: There are no rooms in the hotels, so Im spending the night at the airport. I came onto the airfield to admire its beauty. The soldier took me into the militia office. I promised to go home, and I was freed.

Now the Tokyo plane has arrived. I decide to use this chance. I wait a little at the familiar hole, and slip through it again. There are plenty of cops around the Japanese aircraft. But now a Soviet plane has stopped several tens of meters in front of me. It will fly to an unknown place. When all passengers and crew have left the plane I sneak inside, through the opened luggage hatch. I have decided that it is necessary to depart somewhere because it will be easier to get to Japan from some place abroad. I hear the voices of a returning crew, so I penetrate deeper, towards the tail, into a narrow place between the cabin and the fuselage.

A communication wire is curled around me. Nevertheless, I arrange a cozy place for myself. The passengers board the plane, [the doors close]. The engines began to roar. The inevitable fact has occured: I am flying abroad!

After takeoff Ayan scrambled out from his refuge in the back of the plane into the cabin, and took the only free seat in the plane --- in first class! He talked to the Russian stewardesses in English, and passed himself off successfully as a high-grade passenger. He did not know where he was going --- he was afraid to ask!

The plane made a refueling stop in Delhi. [Instead of following the other passengers into the transit lounge,] Ayan went for a walk in Indian territory: he hid himself between some large iron boxes on the tarmac of Delhi airport. [When he saw the passengers returning to the aircraft,] Ayan joined them and departed to...

Some Strokes to the Portrait of Illegal Man

Ayan's parents are quite usual people. Ayan's mum is a teacher of physical cultures in Kyzyl; his dad was the secretary of the Communist Party on one of the building organizations in Kyzyl. "I am very lucky because I have good parents", says Ayan; "They understood always told us that we (their four children) may have independent action, and that we should act according to our conscience."

Actually, Ayan characterizes himself as a very cautious person. As a chess player, he tries to anticipate some moves ahead. Before going on such a distant trip, Ayan was famliliar with the criminal code of Russia and the Soviet Union, in particular the article that said going abroad and entering the USSR without an established passport or sanction by the Authorities is punishable by deprivation of freedom for one to three years. But Ayan was not frightened by this. He had a purpose, and nothing could to stop him. Faith and hope conquers fear.

Delhi - Kuala Lumpur

Ayan wrote in his diary:

We arrive in Malaysia. Passengers are directed to transit flights or through customs control. I decide to do nothing, and begin to study this building of the airport. Before I know it, dusk falls. The hall has become empty. The employees of the airport approach me and persistently demand something from me. I realize now they are asking for my ticket, as this is the transit hall. I return to the flight check-in area, but the employees are not there yet.

As I happen to approach the exit doors, they automatically open! So I go into the street; the air is hot. I want to eat very much. Here I see an automatic money changing machine. I watch others use it. Then I put in a 5 Ruble bank-note of the USSR in the slot of the device. The machine accepts it! But then, some minutes later, my 5 Ruble note comes back out. The machine isn't fooled.

I explain my desperate situation to one of waiters in the airport restaurant. As a souvenir I give him a Chervonez (a 10 Ruble note). In exchange he gives me some little rolls with meat and a bottle of Coca-Cola. After lunch I go to the waiting hall. I lie down on the bench and fall asleep.

When I wake up, it is afternoon already! I decide to go to the city. The distance between airport and Kuala Lumpur is only about 20 km, but the bright sun of the south does not allow me to walk far in my winter clothes! I become so hot I turn back. Now I deliberate: what to do next? Shall I remain here, return to Moscow, depart to Japan, or go somewhere else?

I look intently at the Departures in hopes of seeing the name of the Japanese capital. The geography of departures from Malaysia is poor (as against Moscow airports). But I see this inscription on the list:

JL: NRT: 722: 20.45

I begin to decipher: JL could mean the flight is by the Japanese airline JAL; 722 might be the flight number. NRT could stand for the international airport in Tokyo, Narita, and 20.45 must be the time of departure.

[Night has fallen again.] The moment has come. The landing of JAL flight 722 has been announced. One after another the registered passengers go to the Control point; then they disappear into the transit hall. Soon the crew of the plane arrives. It is not too late, and the airport is bustling with intense activity. There is no opportunity to return into the transit room by the way I came in.

I remember that one door of the transit hall opens to the airfield. A high fence separates me from the tarmac. I find a long board not far off, put it into a corner of the fence, and climb up. It will be terribly dangerous to jump downwards from such a tall height! At this moment an automobile appears from behind a turn of the road, blinds me by the light of its headlights, and stops. Police patrol? I am frightened and jump down at once onto dry gravel.

At this point I see an image from my mind on the fence. It represents two persons: one has fallen, and other has shot him with a rifle. I run 100 meters, carrying under my arm my bulky winter dress. [No one has seen me.] I cautiously climb up to the level of the transit hall on a metal ladder. When the Japanese airliner has come very close to the building the planting was begun [?-RL], I realize that to pass through ticket control will not be possible for me. I lower myself downwards on a lift to the air station. There was the planting. [?-RL] I am directed to service a metal ladder that leads up through a trap door [into the gangway], so I climb up it and walk towards the cabin of the aircraft.

Right at the entrance to the plane I take out an old lottery ticket of the VSAAAFN [Voluntary Society for Assisting Army, Air Force and Navy] from my pocket. In a strange coincidence the lottery ticket is strikingly like a worker ID card of the airport! All 10 stewardesses bow low for me! They hospitably smile and speak a phrase of Japanese. I pass into the interior of the plane by their gesture of invitation!

[The cabin doors close and the plane takes off. Ayan is headed for Japan!]

What can explain this phenomenal flight? Talent? Abilities? Really good luck in everything? An imperfect security system is one answer. You see, Ayan was allowed to pass through by employees of three international airports. Whats the matter? Another answer is that Ayan does not have a problem with closed doors. For example, he quietly passed by militia posts in the main building of Moscow State University, in hotels, and in ministries. When others are complaining about being denied access, Ayan casually passes by the checkpoints.

From Ayan's diary again:

I heave a sigh of relief, and I sit in an open seat. It is time for dinner. But I notice that the stewardesses have begun to write something in their notebooks. They imperceptiblly begin examining the seating of the passengers. Not it is obvious that they are excited. It has become clear: they are trying to find a stowaway --- a terrorist!

I realized that I am the one inevitably calculated by them. I decide to surrender voluntary. I press the call button. I give a slip of paper to the stewardess: it says, in English: I HAVE NO BOMB, PLEASE LET ME GO TO TOKYO.

I am able to calm them. They are less excited, and we quietly fly further. They allow me to stand in kitchen of the plane in the company of the pilot and the stewardesses. They are surprised when it becomes known that I am Russia-jin. After a while I am fed and given drink once again.


In Japan's Narita airport Ayan was met by the employees of the Japanese immigration service: Ayan, you say you wish to see and understand the people of Japan. Now you have seen them...

Yes, I have seen how employees of Japans immigration service work. But they talked only briefly with me. They worked absolutely without any emotion. Nothing can be understood from these faces. But the Japanese translator, a woman, was very admiring of my adventure. [So I guess I can say that some] Japanese are very cheerful people. They are all right. In general I have realized from this trip that people everywhere are identical and good.

Soon, representatives of the Soviet Embassy and Aeroflot arrived. They send Ayan back to Moscow directly on the next plane. Ayan could see the sacred Mount Fuji, but only from a plane window...

Tokyo - Moscow

From Ayans diary:

In Moscow, in the gangway of the plane, a chorus attacked me with cries of There he is! The stowaway has arrived! Come here! [But they let me go, and sent me back to Kyzyl.]

Nevertheless, in three months Ayan disappeared again from home. Certainly, he was going to make off to Japan again. But this time he was known by the employees of the international airport Sheremetievo. They approached him and, as an old friend, offered, Shall we go to have some tea? But after serving tea, they led Ayan to the special militia reception centre on Altuphievskoe Avenue...

Ayan spent a month at the reception centre. Then he was escorted home to Kyzyl yet again. This was the only punishment dispensed to Ayan for seeing Japan from the air. The three-year prison sentence for leaving or entering illegally works only for a man of eighteen years or more and Ayan was a teenager of only sixteen years.

[Reflecting on his experience,] Ayan admits he had a terrible feeling. Despite his good luck on the flights from Moscow to Delhi to Kuala-Lumpur, he was nervous: What will happen now? Will I be lucky again?

Ayan was lucky. Ayan was extremely lucky! He considers good luck as the principal engine of his adventure. All Ayan's actions in those flights were covered by the halo of good luck. Exactly one free place was left in all three planes (Moscow-Delhi, Delhi-Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur-Tokyo). It was as if they waited for him! What if they had not appeared!

Ayan believed that all his plans would proceed successfully. To the point, that year on his horoscope was successful for him and extremely favorable for acceptance of courageous decisions.

Ayan was asked: Do you believe in astrology, in predestination?

No. The circumstances simply were favorable...

Travel to Tuva in 97 & 98

Of course, the idea of going to Tuva is to have an adventure. Thus the best way to enjoy Tuva is to just go and arrange your travel within Tuva on the spot. However, if you want a tour, your best bet is to contact veteran guide Gary Wintz at Internet Tibet, 1341 Ocean Ave # 232, Santa Monica CA 90401. Telephone: (310) 822-7908. Dont be surprised if you dont hear back for a month or two; Gary is often travelling. So make your inquiries early!

Petition for a Feynman Stamp

Here's the electronic copy of the petition that can be filled out and forwarded to Friends of Tuva headquarters, for those without the time to write a letter. Please return to: Ralph Leighton, Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117, USA.


Well, its a long story with unpleasant details I'd rather not go into right now, but a movie has been made (with authorization by me and Carl & Michelle Feynman) about Richard Feynman. True to its name, the movie seems to last an infinity. But unlike its name, the movie's run in the nations theatres was mercifully short. Those curious enough to see the movie for themselves will have to wait for it on video. I'll announce its appearance in the next issue of the newsletter, due out in May. (Dont worry; you didnt miss anything!) In the meantime, here are some reviews... [not included in the online version of the Friends of Tuva newsletter]