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True History

travel kazakhstan \ 2013-07-24

I have once again had the wonderful privilege of visiting Almaty, Kazakhstan for the fourth time. This time around, I have learned that if I am a certain combination of crazy, wealthy, and presidential, I can actually change that number arbitrarily and everyone will agree. Kazakhs have a great ability to change other's perception of history. For example, their radio stations. If you've listened to their oldies station you would be convinced that not only did they invent electronica, they used it exclusively to remix Abba songs.

If I change your mind, I'm the first in line. Baby I'm not free, independence for me.

But this is not actually too surprising, because the Kazakh people have actually created history as we know it. You don't believe me? Below I have translated the abridged version of The History of the Kazakh People According to the Crazy Guy on the Train Who Was Pretty Sure I Was From Virginia or Nevada 1

The Kazakh people are a great and glorious people. They have spread the fruits of their labor and their intellectual prowess around the world, even before scholars generally agree on any people known as "Kazakhs" actually existed. But that is no matter, because I have proof that literally every single thing you can think of in history was actually done by Kazakhs. For example, you might think that North American was populated by a variety of indigenous tribes and then subsequently "discovered" by Europeans. Wrong. Actually all Native Americans are Kazakh. Kazakh tribesmen discovered North American while chasing wooly mammoths across Greenland. Proof: the name Michael. Sounds like the Kazakh name Mikah Bi. Further proof: Apache warriors. No one can fight as well on horseback as the Kazakhs, thus they must be Kazakh.

You might be thinking, fair reader, that this is simply a crazy, toothless man on a train trying to sell me last week's newspaper and you might be right. Or he might be right. But perhaps the more important question is, "why were you on a Soviet-era train, hurtling across the steppe?" My friends and I decided to visit Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Since Kazakhs have a rich tradition of literature - one of my friend's grandpa is so good at literature that someone gave him a sword (the pen is mightier than the sword, unless someone actually has a sword) - you might think that the name Astana might be meaningful in Kazakh and you would be right, as long as the meaning you looking for was "capital." Yup, Astana means capital. Would almost make you think that President Nursultan Nazarbayev decided he wanted his own city and thus created a city in the middle of the steppe. Good thing there was technically a small village and prison there before building (with apologies to wives three through nine at the Akmolinskii Camp for Wives of Traitors of the Motherland), otherwise it would probably be considered a foolish and expensive decision by almost literally everyone in the country. But I'm not here to express my clearly biased towards Almaty, the greatest city in Kazakhstan, opinions. I'm here to describe Astana to all of those who have never been there. I'll explain it to you in metaphor-story, because it's a lot more fun than saying "it's nice."

So, you're hangin' out with your bud, Almaty. She's cool, she likes to stay up late, eat some doner kebab, play some video games, climb some mountains. Y'know, cool things. One day, she says "hey, we've been friends for 1.5 months, spread out over 3 years, I think it's about time for you to meet my younger sister." Sure, you're down for meeting family members. "She's... a little cold sometimes... well, all the time. On average she's about 40 degrees (4 degrees Celsius)." You eventually meet up with her, but Almaty has to take a break to go take a marketing exam and drive a dirt bike or something else cool, and leaves you alone. She's a pretty little girl, very made up, everything is in line, if a little flat... featured. You two get to talking, until you realize that outside of "Hi, my name's Astana, we have a giant pyramid and a mall with a beach," that she doesn't have a whole lot else going for her. Her father walks by and sees the two of you not saying anything. "We're hoping she becomes interesting in...20...30...maybe 40 years. Yeah, 40 years she'll be interesting. Come back and talk to her then." Luckily, Almaty returns and decides it's time to go sing karaoke until 8 in the morning.

Ok, that kind of sounds like I didn't like Astana. That would be wrong. It's just I'm incredibly biased towards Almaty because it rocks. Until next time, KZ.