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travel kazakhstan \ 2010-07-19

Almaty, Kazakhstan.


Mountains mountains mountains.

And horse sausages (delicious).

Ok, entry over.

Seriously, though, Kazakhstan is an awesome place. Located within spitting distance of the Tian Shan Mountains, the scenery and nature in this place is quite extraordinary. While still hot, maybe 80-90 degrees, it's not nearly as humid as Shanghai. This means that your clothing will actually dry. I like this about a city. I've spent the last few days hiking around the mountains surrounding Almaty and hanging out with Ilyas, Nuraziz, and their friends. There was one night where we were out quite late and decided to just go chill on a mountain and watch the sunrise. When I mean mountain, I really mean mountain, we were 2500m above sea level? We were here.

Besides mountains, I've also been gorging myself on Kazakh food. So good. Horse sausages, lamb kabobs, chicken stuffed bread, stuffed peppers - nom nom nom nom nom. I'm going to come home like 20 pounds heavier. Oh jeez...

But yeah, yesterday aside, in which I came home at 9am after a night of karaoke, I've eating, hiking, hanging, and sleeping. What better way to spend a week of summer?

It's been pretty bang, bang, bang, in terms of going out - but that's mostly hanging with either Ilyas' relatives or friends (or a combination of the two). There's not a whole lot to say in terms of hanging except I have been slowly becoming more and more Kazakh (or so they say. I think I'm just becoming more and more like Ilyas... for better or worse... ). I've also been trying to pick up some Kazakh or Russian. When I first got to Kazakhstan, I was very trusting of Ilyas and very eager to learn some Russian or Kazakh - if he said "this was this way" I believed him. So right before we sit down to the first dinner of my stay, Ilyas comes up to me and says "Dude, you need to say this phrase before you eat - it's a traditional thank you for being a guest, etc. My parents would really appreciate it if you said it." The phrase, for those who know their Russian/Kazakh was "сука рахмет бля" So I sit up - say it - and right as I say it I realize something is horribly wrong. Instead of pleased faces I'm getting a look of horror and laughter. Apparently "сука рахмет бля" means "bitch, thank you, whore."

Oh Ilyas.

Just you wait.

Hm, hm. What else? Apparently the stereotype for Jews in Kazakhstan is that every single one plays violin. I introduce myself, right? People ask "Oh where is your family from?" since I look neither Russian nor Kazakh. So I eventually say my mom's side of the family is Jewish. Immediately, I kid you not, is "OH! So you must be really good at the violin!" Seriously, who let Fiddler on the Roof become so popular over here...

I should also probably dispel any myths people have about "-stans." Or rather, I should say "Kazakhstan is actually quite developed and not a bomb ready to explode with ethnic violence - the other places...well...take 'em or leave 'em." Kazakhstan, while still recovering from their stint as a Soviet country, has developed a lot quicker than other countries in the region. Only 16 or so million people means that the wealth from oil and metals (uranium and chromium) gets focused in the areas with a lot of people. The best comparison is probably Montana/Idaho, that area. For the most part, agriculture and wilderness. However, where the people are located (Almaty and Astana - the capital), is quite developed. I mean, Boise and Helena are real cities (so I've heard, at least) - Almaty and Astana are the same. So don't worry, they have running water, electricity, and sanitation. If anything, the living conditions are a lot more like a "western" home than Shanghai was.

Another interesting facet of Kazakhstan is the demographics. Quick, name 5 of the top minorities in Kazakhstan! Did you say Russian and Kazakh? Good, you've been paying attention. Did you say German or Korean? You cheated, I know you did. Imagine my surprise when Ilyas told me about a guy I was going to meet: He's Korean and studied in Beijing, I think you'll like him. Oh, so why did he move from Korea to here? He didn't move - he was born here. Huh? Koreans in Kazakhstan? They exist at about the same percentage that they do in China. China, however, is a massive economic power and borders Korea. Kazakhstan is a former Soviet country in the middle of central asia. It's interesting how that works.

Overall, it's been pretty awesome here. Tiring, for sure, but quite awesome.