Sunday, January 21, 2007

New Squared

I got sick this week and had to leave work early. Some say it was the "24-hour flu." I say it was rancid ham and mayonnaise left in the sun. But hey, I'm no doctor. We began our Russian classes this week, and it was painfully obvious that Christina's a linguistic genius and I am a grunting dolt. Rather than using language to express myself, I've taken to pounding on the desk and pointing at things with a stick to get my point across.
Christina has started doing some English tutoring/teaching, both privately and at KIMEP. This'll help bring in the prodigious supply of Kinder chocolate that the Shiffler home demands on a weekly basis. Oh Bueno, Oh Country.
Yesterday we had our first appointment with our cleaning lady, Mira. She speaks about as much English as we do Russian, so conversation was a bit strained. She's very very friendly, and kept trying to talk to us even though we were doing the Dumb Expat Smile (tmBrookStinaInternational) and hardly understood anything she said. I tried banging on things and pointing with a stick, but I guess people here are too sophisticated to understand the American way of communication.
On to the pictures, which is really why you came here in the first place.

These are both pictures of the New Square, which is only about a block (albeit a giant Almaty block) from our apartment.

We are holding a contest here at BrookstinaInternational for the best caption for this last photo. The kind people at SmilingHill have agreed to provide a "mystery prize" for the winner. Good luck, and post away!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

We are the champions

This posting comes at a time of winter, and as such I will try to send some of the freezing cold Almaty air in your general direction (locals think the cold is good for the body).
First of all yeeeeee haaah! This here's a picture of us at the "Amerikanskii Bar i Gril"-hats off to those of you who can translate that into English from the "Russian." We had lunch there with Albert yesterday and kinda felt like we were back in the wild west...except this version of the American west had two portion sizes to choose from on their menu: standard portion and

American Portion.
We were, frankly, too embarrassed to choose the American Portion and opted for the Kazakh-sized meal, which turned out to be enough anyway. I had a chocolate milkshake (6 horsemeat platters out of 10), a hamburger (7 horsemeat platters out of 10) and freedom fries (4 horsemeat platters out of 10). They skimped on the fries. Maybe I should have had American-sized fries. C had grilled salmon, potatoes and zucchini, and a European-style Fanta. Yum. Note the wild decor behind us:

Today we went to Panfilov Park and took some pictures of the Zenkov Cathedral and a memorial commemorating the two World Wars. It was a beautiful sunny day, though still pretty cold. The cathedral was reputedly build without using any nails (dubious, but possible I suppose). The war memorial is one of the most intimidating bits of soviet art that I've seen. Voila la Cathedral:

And the memorial, which has soldiers bursting out of a map that is either the former soviet union or Kazakhstan, we aren't sure:

We also took two videos in the park: one taken by me of Christina, one taken by Christina of me. Click here for the video of Christina. Click here for the video of Brooke.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

New Year's Eve and the Alatau

So New Year's in KZ is a big deal. Christmas isn't really celebrated because about half of the population is Muslim and the other half are Russian orthodox, who celebrate christmas in the second week of January. New Years is the opportunity for everyone to party non-denominationally. Plenty of vodka and fireworks: a dangerous mix.
We spent New Years with Albert, a Canadian expat who works with Brooke at KIMEP. We planned to go out to dinner, but after 5 unsuccessful attempts to find open restaurants, we had nearly given up. Luckily, Albert happened upon a restaurant nearby that was staying open through the festivities. The food was great, and the service was MUCH nicer than the usual "service with a dirty look" that we get around here. They even brought us plastic masks, champagne, and a big firecracker! At about quarter to twelve, we walked up to the New Square, where the city was lighting an official fireworks display, and hundreds of locals were lighting their own competing, more dangerous varieties. We were lighting our own firecracker at midnight when some clowns next to us lit an INSANELY LOUD firework and all three of us thought we were in Beirut in 1980 and jumped for cover. Luckily, 15 minutes later, we could hear without using one of them 18th-century ear trumpets.
All in all, it was a good night. People lit fireworks throughout that night and through the next day. We've still been hearing a smattering of cracks and booms in the evenings.
On Tuesday we met up with Albert and some of his friends and ventured into the mountains to visit an ice-skating rink called Medeu. We took a city bus up, and it was cheap (50 cents) but the bus was completely packed full of people. One guy leaned over Brooke's lap pretty much for the entire ride, and Brooke had to resist the urge to punch him in the leg. Something about his gold teeth and scowl prevented Brooke from doing so. The window next to us was broken and held together with clear packing tape, so we didn't get a great view on the way up. Once we were there, though, the mountains and forest were so beautiful. In this picture, the big building that you see is the skating rink:

When we got there, though, the rink was closed for a few hours. We decided to hike a bit further up the mountain to go to a restaurant where we could wait for the rink to be open. Here we are on the walk up:

The restaurant had a bunch of seperate yurts. A yurt is a traditional Kazakh dwelling used by the nomadic people that don't live in Almaty. Here's a picture of us in front of one:

Unfortunately, they only had one of the yurts open for business when we got there, and it was already full of people enjoying tasty Kazakh food. We snuck a peek at the eaters, and they were sitting on pillows at low tables. Inside, the whole yurt is carpeted, floor to ceiling, with exotic-looking traditional rugs. I don't know about the ones we saw, but a real yurt can be taken apart and rolled up like a tent.
So anyway, we were disappointed that we didn't get to eat in the yurt, but I'm sure we'll have an opportunity to go back again. After leaving the yurt, we decided not to go ice skating because it was too cold for anything outdoors to be very fun. We caught a van back down to the city, which was more expensive (about $1.50 per person) but a more pleasant experience than the bus!