Sunday, August 9, 2015

Going to Kansas City

Today's my last day in Almaty and by extension Kazakhstan (obviously).  Technically, my flight takes off around 4 AM tomorrow morning, but I won't see another sunrise in Almaty.  Though, to be honest, I didn't see too many of those anyway--our window faces west and the sun comes up at a stupidly early hour.  But that's besides the point.  This weekend has been a lot of fun--Friday night I had a chance to go to  the Arasan Public Baths in Almaty.

Arsan is  A soviet era public baths/health spa.  It was fantastic.  I'm not sure I ever felt so clean and refreshed--especially after Friday had been another balmy day and I'd been sweating like a pig.  The change from broiling hot in the banya to icey cold in the pool...was just amazing.  Just lovely.

Afterwards, Alibek (my host and one of Marah's students--thanks again Marah!) took us to...a rather interesting club--at first they wouldn't let me in because I was wearing my sneakers--I'd put away all my other shoes away.  Eventually they let me in, but it's kind of a typical club, other than not letting me in.  

The next day, Alibek invited me to his nephew's birthday party, which was a very interesting experience.  We went to a small village near Almaty known as "Kalinina"  so called because there's a statue of Kalinin (think Kaliningrad) in the middle of the village.  I had a chance to try Shurbat (camel's milk--not that great, but tons better than Kumis).  These people welcomed me to their family celebration with open arms and smiles and I had a great time.  

I'm going to miss this very much.  Fortunately, Alibek says he has plans to visit the US and do a road trip, so I hope to be able to return the hospitality.  As well to Marah and her family if they come!  As excited as I am to see you guys again (and of course the pups), but the more I think of going back to Lawrence, the less exciting it gets.  I guess I'll have to deal with it, but...egh, Lawrence again.

Still, looks like I'm heading back to Kansas City!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

To the Kosmos!

It's been a little while, but things are going all right.  It's almost time to head back to the U.S.  It's a bittersweet point for me.  As of tomorrow I have a week left in Almaty.  As per usual, Kazakhstan is an amazingly well kept secret.  The best times I've had here, like always are with the friends I've made and how they've taken me into their homes and hearts.  I'm not really at liberty to go into it, but there's been some personality conflicts and things that have put me under a lot of stress and really made the time here a lot less pleasant than it usually was.

I'm not saying I've had a bad time here--far from it, but sadly this trip has probably been the least enjoyable one.  But I'm not here to talk about that, I'm here to talk about the good and to thank some of the people who have made this trip not just bearable, but enjoyable.

First person I want to thank is my good friend Marah.  I first met Marah waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in my old Semey days--back in '11.  She was a student at SSPI and she wasn't one of our teaching assistants, but she often came along to our campouts and helped us out.  Earlier in July she got in touch with me--surprising me with the news that she's now living in Almaty, with her own English language school.  She gave me the opportunity to help out with a few of her classes--which is always neat.  People here who are studying English are usually very dedicated to their study, motivated, and extremely friendly.

Marah's opportunity helped me to reconnect with people in Kazakhstan, which in a country of abundant natural resources are truly the best resource they have, in my opinion.  At the lowest points in my trip here, Marah reconnected me with people and made sure that I was having a good time in Kazakhstan.

The silver-haired gentleman is Bob (or Vladimir Satylaganov), a great guy and one of Marah's students.  Bob's a musician--teaches at a private school in Almaty, but when he's not teaching he's out and about or performing with his band at places like Hard Rock Cafe Almaty.

Marah's also been kind enough to bring me out to events or up to the mountains.  This past Thursday, Marah brought me along as her guest to the opening of an exhibition at Dostyk Plaza called "Kosmos," about planet earth.  I'm kidding, obviously it was about space, exploration, and the stars.  The opening was pretty well catered with Cosmos themed desserts--the parfay in particular was good, but too rich and since they only had mineral water (with gas) I couldn't finish it, since gassy water can never quench my thirst.  

It was a great night.  Really hammered home the vastness of space.  A little bit intimidating really, but it was fun.

Certainly not least of all, a good friend of mine came to visit from Saint Petersburg.  Dennis Krutko, one of my former students from EKSU, and I have been in contact through facebook since I left Ust-Kamenogorsk.  He's a great guy and we share a lot of common interests--sci fi, history, political discussions.  Seeing him again is great.  He's only here until Thursday, so we've made some plans to hang out again--last night we met at Yard House and had a few beers.  Dad--wait until you see the gifts he brought for you and me.  You are going to love them I think!

Anyway, just a short update, but thanks to these guys (and many others in Almaty) I'm having a great time here.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Eating Out

So I sit here, apparently poised to enjoy my most expensive meal to date, here.  I'm at a place called        "The Yard House Pub" (no relation to the one in the US, I don't think, but it's quite nice).
It  kind of appears to be a typical sort of "pub"y place, wwwith a very dark interior a lot of wood and some barrels sticking out the wall.

This beer tray is called "a yard of beer" which lets you try 6 types of their draught beer for 1500 Tg, which is a little under $10 (185 being the current rate to a dollar I believe).  I chose (from right to left) a Guiness, a German beer called "Hacker Pschorr", Paulaner (Weissbier), a Belgian beer Romy, a Czech beer--Praga dark Lager, and an English ale called "Abbot".  

For reference I'm using the A-F scale familiar with American educational systems.  A is Excellent, B is Above Average, C is Average, D is Below Average, and F is Budweiser--I mean fails.  So if something gets a C or low B, it's still a good beer, but nothing to crow about.

I'm  starting with the Hacker Pschorr as it appears to be the lightest and it is fantastic.  Honestly it looks like a light beer, like Bud light or something like that--so clear and yellow, but oh my goodness.  I don't think I've ever tasted a light beer quite like this.  It just has so much flavor in a little light colored beer.   It's quite light (obviously), not very hoppy at all, but a hint of a fruity taste.  Definitely an A+.

Next I think I'll go with the Romy as it is the next lightest in color.  I'm writing this faster than I'm drinking my beer however and the food has come before I finished the Hacker.  I want to savor it--it's so good.  

I ordered an Irish Stew (about 2500 Tg, so $13.50).  It isn't  a whole lot of soup disappointing, but it tastes really good. It isn't really that much of an Irish stewy flavor though--there's some stuff I've never seen in an Irish stew in the US--tomatos, red and green peppers.  But the taste is great--if I didn't know it was an Irish stew, I d think it was just a really good beef stew.  The beef in particular is very tender and flavorful (but so far I've only found two pieces of beef).  Really enjoying it-- A-: just because it isn't what I was expecting and I kind of was hoping for more for 2500 tg.

Now I'll start with the Romy. It also is pretty light, but a little bit less flavorful than the Hacker, but far superior to a comparable looking U.S. light beer.  A solid B.  It would probably be higher if I hadn't had that Hacker first. 

Following the Romy I'm going with the Paulaner, since it's  a weissbier, before I get into the ales.  Self disclosure--I'm not a huge wheat beer fan, so i"ll try to be as fair to this as possible, but of course because this is personal taste that's just an occupational hazard.  In the light here, it's got more of an pale yellowish color and kind of a cloudy consistancy.  Surprisingly it doesn't have that much of a "wheat" flavor--I kind of assumed Weissbier was wheat bear because of the color, but I could be mistaken.  Unfortunately I haven't asked for the Wifi password yet, so I can't be sure.  It's not bad, very mild flavor with a hint of the "wheaty" kind of taste at the end.  C- If I had to have a wheat beer I'd take a Boulevarrd Wheat or Blue Moon, honestly.  

Next is the Abbot Ale.  This beer I'm kind of excited about--in the light and with the stained color of the wood table it looks like amber.  But at first, I'm not really impressed. The flavor is mild and nothing fantastic.  But as I swallow I get a hint of an aftertaste that kind of intrigues me.  I take another sip and it's the same--first taste is just "eh, a beer" but then there's this aftertaste of ale that I really enjoy.  I'll rank this one as a B-.  I really like the aftertaste, but it's so mild you almost don't notice it.  I could definitely see this beer growing on me and pushing up the score after I have a few.

The penultimate beer is the Praga Dark Lager.  Not sure what to expect--I chose the dark lager over the Pils because I had so many other light colored beers I wanted to have a nice color palate.  Praga is very strange.  It's dark brown, almost black in the shadows, but when there's light it's just a dark amber brown.  It's kind of sweet, really not what I'm expecting.  The sweetness is a little off-putting for me, so I'm unfortunately going to have to give it a D.   Just kind of underwhelming and odd.  I'm actually a little torn if I should give it lower or not--I mean I'm not really wanting to even finish it, but at least it has flavor (even if it is bad) which I think kind of gives it a leg over Bud or PBR.  

And lastly, Guinness Draught.  Not much to really say--it's so ubiquitous what can I add to it?  It's black, but I guess because I've taken so long to drink the other beers the head is almost gone, but there's still a tiny bit left.  Flavorwise?  It's Guinness.  if you like Stouts, you'll like Guinness.  If you don't like Stouts, you won't.  I've become a bit more of a fan of Porters lately, so I find stouts a little more bland, but It's Guinness.  Definitely a B+.

So that about wraps it up here.  The atmosphere of The Yard House is nice.  They've got a lot of TVs showing some soccer game, all the furnature looks "antique" but is clealry new.  So honestly it just gives a feeling of quality you don't always have here in KZ.  That's also probably why the prices are so much higher than places I normally go--I don't care too much for the frills.  The music playing is pretty good--kind of a classic rock/alternative playlist--I heard some Billy Joel, but that was the only artist I recognized, but there hasn't been a song that actually bothered   me, and quite a few I kind of liked.

Biggest issue rightt now is since I got my food, I haven't seen a waiter so getting the check and seeing about the wifi password is taking longer than it really shoold--I think there's just me and maybe the bartender here  But I'm not sure if he is or not.  

Looks like I finally got it.   Total with tip 4400 Tg, so $23.78.  Quality of food I'd rate the same as in    US, beers were all import so I think that $9 for 6 test glasses seems reasonable.  Only thing is I'd be happier with the Irish stew if it was more like  $10.  It just didn't seem like $13.50 worth of food.  But that's about it.  I like this place.  I may come back here--definitely would if I had friends in Almaty who liked beer and didn't mind a bit higher prices than normal.

On my own--I don't know if I'll come back.  If this was a US restaurant (the prices are) it'd be a no brainer--heck i'm still interested--here is a sausage place for 2500tg of horse sausage, so who knows?  But I mean, I can get a plate of lagman for 650 tenge and .5 l of Pislner at Tashkent for 350 tenge, so this place has definitely hurt itself catering to me in particular because of the prices.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Over the Mountains and Far Away

Apologies for the delay in updates.  I've been a little bit busy getting some things in order and settling down.  Some things have gone well while others haven't gone so well.  In our first week, through some poor decision making I lost a few things, including a key to the dormroom, my old Kazakh cellphone, and my ipod.  Personally I'm not too upset about all that (though I will miss the ipod, but it was four or five years old), but losing the key caused some severe distress among my roommates and a bit of tension between us.  Things have mostly settled down, but there's still some lingering tension.  But I've resolved to move forward and enjoy my time here as best as I can.

School classes are rather a mixed bag--the classwork itself isn't too difficult, but all of the class is conducted in Russian, so there's often a lot of things I don't understand and it's quite difficult to ask a question when you're confused about the basic grammar or lexicon. But like I said, the actual work isn't too bad, but when we're in class I feel like a moron.

We've had some nice excursions in the past couple of weekends.  First we went to the mountains near Almaty--passing over the Medeo where i saw something amazing!  
Oh and there were some mountains or something too.

The weather up at the top of the mountains was so amazingly cool, I hated coming down from there back into the heat of Almaty's summer.

And this Saturday we went to Churin canyon.  Which is basically a "Not Quite so Grand, but Still Pretty Cool" Canyon, about three hours away from Almaty.  It was a little warm, but for most of the day we had an overcast sky so we didn't roast completely.

Things have been going well at the Kazakhstan Press Club, last week we went to an event for the Special Olympics and we took some of the photos that ended up on their instagram.  It was pretty humbling, though I think most of those photos were the ones Garrett took.  (By the way, you can follow Garrett at his website for some nice photos and videos of where we've been.

Politically, we haven't stirred the boat too much here.  Some of the people at the press club seem a lot more sympathetic to the more 'liberal' (as in Western European sense, not American political sense necessarily) and even among some of the random people I've met while having tea with the local Mr. Donerci place there's an acknowledgement that they're not living in a democracy.  But out of respect for our hosts, I don't press the issue unless they seem to be willing to talk about it.

That's not to say everyone here is feeling the love--one of our drivers was a die hard Putanist and we were told not to make any comments about Putin, because he might refuse to work for us (not sure how much of that was a joke from our trip coordinator), and I've lost a friend or two due to philosophical differences about Stalin, World War II (and presumably they weren't too happy about some of my FB posts about the Russian invasion of Ukraine--let's call it what it is).

So I've been a little gun shy of talking about that with people here.  I think a lot of the people who support Nazarbayev are also pretty pro-Putin and  buy the "Ukrainians are all fascists" line--though not all.  The RA who has been helping me out trying to find my lost stuff seems to be a lot more sympathetic to Ukraine and we had a very interesting talk about it.  I didn't however breach the question of whether people here are concerned about what has happened to Ukraine happening here, because she's actually from Turkmenistan (though she's half Russian by ethnicity).    But the general feeling I get, especially from the pro-Putanists, is that "it can't happen here" or that Ukraine was a special case because of the fascists and NATO/EU/ International Banking/Jewish conspiracy (Yes that is a thing still in some circles of Russia.  Anti-semitism is still pretty strong among the hard core nationalist groups in Russia and as of 2007 held half of the world's total Neo-Nazi population.)  So remember that next time RT talks about Right Sector--ask them about the National Bolsheviks

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Alive and (mostly) well

FSo I wrote a blogpost yesterday, but for the blogger app for my ipad shorted out and I  lost all of what I had written (save and everything!) and blogger kicked me out for good measure.  I'd write it on my (dad's) laptop, but for some reason I cannot login to the wifi at all, so for now I'm kind of stuck with the ipad--let's hope there's no more funny business with the apps and the dorm wifi itself holds out (as I write this it isn't working, but I'm hoping by the end of it I can post it tonight.  I am also have some weird issues with my keyboard    where keys stick randomly--so if you see odd spelling errors, this time it's actually not my fault!  I bet Paddy from "A Long Way to Tipperary" had this keyboard to blame rather than his pen!)

So, the flight here wasn't bad.  I can't really say the journey here was good, however, because for some reason the travel agent put one of us on a different flight from KC and he missed our flight to Amsterdam.  He's had a really rough time--he finally came in, a day later and pretty ticked off.  Thinngs haven't gone his way here either,  his internship place apparently expected him to be more fluent in Russian and to be more familiar with finances and business stuff.  So yesterday he worked it out with our trip superviser that he wasn't going to go back to that internship and they're looking for a new one for him, but he had a mini breakdown over this whole awful experience.  He's not in a happy place right now.

Everyone else is doing OK I think.  They're having a rough time adjusting to some of the idiosyncracies of Kazakhstan though--the beauracracy and some of the "mehy" aspects of our living conditions are getting to them I think.

Work is ironically, probably the best part of our program here for me.  The classes are really tough because they are all in Russian and we're not allowed to speak English at all.  I feel lost about 85% of the time and I think the class will either cure or kill me.  Work is a little tough just because I don't really know what they expect or want exactly since I'm not a journalism major, but the people we've worked with--Juliana and Kakim are very friendly and very helpful.  It does appear that at least one of the other guys working intership has also really gotten a good group of people to work with in his time, so I think that will at least help him enjoy his time here.

I was planning on seeing Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but my feet are pretty blistered from all the walking we do--1.7 miles or so each way to work--wearing  my dress shoes on day one was a big mistake.  I realized why I don't wear them often--they cut badly into my heels and make me bleed.

I am about to start my reading for Dr. Chrenestky's class, but honestly it's so intimidating right now thinking about all the language issues and how I'll get a research paper done here.  I feel so helpless with my Russian and I think most of the guys in the group don't really care for my company, so it kind of feels like this is going to be a long summer.  I'm  really starting to regret starting my MA more and more.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rolling down to Almaty

So this blog is finally getting an update--which can only mean one possible thing: I'm travelling for some reason!  This time, I'm heading back to Kazakhstan to spend two months in Almaty--the largest city in the country.  While there, I'll be at KIMEP the country's oldest (being a relative term) "Western Style" university.  While I'm there, I'll be doing an intensive Russian language course, along with four other students from the University of Kansas.

It's been so long since I've published anything here, so I'll need to explain a few things.  Since I came back from Kazakhstan in October of 2013 (due mainly to the office I was part of shrinking down to just me and the university finally deciding it wasn't worth it keeping me around, so they let me go), I spent a little bit of time trying to figure out what to do back home.  I spent the spring of 2014 working as an (unpaid) intern at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, which was a great deal of fun.  I got to do a little bit of snooping to try and find ties between businesses today and World War I and that led to some pretty interesting discoveries--for example I learned that Boeing's first contract was sea planes for the US Navy.  When I wasn't doing that, I spent my mornings or afternoons taking school groups on tours of the museum.  The job was fantastic--I only wish it had paid something.

I also spent my free time on the weekends working at the Homestead Nursery on 10th Street in Leavenworth.  It was a pretty good paying job for what it was (~$10 an hour), but it was a lot of hard work with plants and it played hell with my allergies.    But after that spring, I was admitted into the Center for Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies at KU.  So that summer I did an intensive Russian course to catch up, and in the fall I started classes there.

I've had a bit rough time with it--motivation has kind of been sapped--I feel like I've got a horrible case of senioritis and I've been really having to force myself to get things done.   Part of the problem is that it's just difficult to figure out what I'm doing and where I'm going with this MA, so it's all very intimidating.  Plus, I don't feel that I've really gotten much direction from the school and I'm not comfortable with what I'm going to do with my thesis and MA program overall.

But that's a worry for a later date.  Now I'm heading to KIMEP with Mike, Asa, Garrett, and Josh.  I'll be there for two months, and I'm both excited and nervous.  Excited about going back--nervous because I'm bringing more of myself (gained weight with my senioritis) and I'm afraid how people will react--they're not always the most tactful.  Additionally, it looks like I'll have a lot of work this summer for my directed readings course, along with the intensive Russian course.

But I'll get through it, I guess.