Archive for August, 2006

We’re Legal

Ms. Nadia and I had a visit from Mrs. Lynn from Thurs to early morning on Sunday when she left us again. She flew back to Moscow for another 12 day chunk; we just get our family rhythm started again and she is snatched from our grasp. Sophie is really hopeful that she will not have to do this grind much longer. We counted up yesterday; she had done 12 flight segments since leaving Denver on May 10; most on the early morning Air Astana flights between Almaty and Moscow; and they don’t even have a frequent flyer program.

 

We had a number of “milestone” things that occurred during Sophie’s visit. We drove to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Friday and got our new permanent visas. We are legal until early Sept. 07; this literally went to the last day, driving in on 8/25 the last legal day on Nadia and my tourist visas. We think Deloitte paid a large bribe for this kind of visa processing as most of the stories I had heard from co-workers, placed you waiting in beautiful Bishkek for 3-4 days for your new Kazak visa. We got pushed through in 90 minutes.

 

Next the living accommodation which was still up in the air was finalized; no moving. This went down to the last day when the flat’s owner was to give our money back. This tangled web involved Deloitte not having an official address for Sophie to secure her tax I.D. number (like a social security number, which is needed for her to legally move money out of Kazakhstan to our accts. in the States). This part of the saga needs telling in more detail when we are in person.

 

These two items illustrate how things kind of work here; they love cliff hanger here and things can be strung out to the last possible second. Life here is a series of cliff hangers that stress one out to the max.

 

Finally we went out and bought our new sofa bed and slept like logs. We all slept together in the new bed – before Sophie flew back to Moscow on Sunday morning. This was symbolic in a way being able to add things that make it “home”, stop living out of suitcases, etc. Now we need to buy a kitchen table and a wardrobe and the old place will have the basics. Nadia already had a bed and there is quite a bit of storage except for shirts, suits, skits, dresses, etc. that need to be hung up thus our need for the wardrobe. You can’t imagine how these little things can really give you more of a sense of permanency after living out of a suitcase for a month.

 

A couple of photos from our journey including the frontier scene as we crossed back into Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan – border control is the green building – the press of humanity in this little building was pretty awful – it was kind of like a Skinner Box experiment with this mass of bodies going through this immigration grinder AND note the picture of the world’s more remote "Duty Free" shop who woulda thunk it that Kyrgyzstan would have duty free? And a couple pics of the happy Lynn’s celebrating our new visas. Lunch out at the YUSA restaurant that our driver recommended – it was great regional food and just a nice quiet sidewalk atmosphere in Bishkek.

 

More soon.

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Random Thoughts on Life in The Land of Kaz

 

Driving Habits – Can one have a genetic predisposition to driving a car as your ancestors rode their steppe ponies? Driving is a blood sport here for the Kazaks. Pedestrians get run down a lot and you have to be extra careful crossing the streets. You can imagine seeing a Kazak fellow on his pony say 500 or 600 years ago, wearing a fur jacket and fur hat charging down a hill side, wielding his curved sword. The male driver here in Almaty wields a horn in lieu of a mighty blade, using the noise of the horn to slash aimlessly at the cars piled up in front of him. Women who are amongst the most emancipated in this part of the world love the horn as well. We live on Al Farabi one of the main streets between Furmanova and Dostyk streets; the distance being about a ¾ mile straightaway.  Imagine a Formula One race, like the Long Beach Grand Prix which has an awesome track layout where the race cars could easily clock close to 100+ mph in the short straight away; we live on that straight away. During the day our street is a parking lot, at night it IS the Almaty Grand Prix. Cars just fly down the road in both directions; wrecks at night in front of our 6th floor balcony, around 3 or 4 am are not uncommon – they can be grizzly. Historical tradition is upheld; one pony rider bites the dust and other one (maybe) moves on to the next battle, bloodied and hopefully with a new car/truck to put into the battle. Car insurance works very well here.

 

Status – Who Is and Who Aint: It’s still all about cars. I have never seen so many Mercedes G500 off road trucks, EVER! – even in Boca Raton which has a lot of these nifty $165,000 MB SUV’s (this is the vehicle that became famous as the basic chassis for the Pope’s glassed in chariot). In fact I’ve never seen so many Mercedes in any one town ever. The V-12 powered S600’s are like Toyota Tercels here, a dime a dozen. There are some really cool Toyota and Lexus trucks that are not sold in the States which are real chariots. Not so many American vehicles. Subaru, Volkswagen and Toyota are the more popular car for us more down to earth folk with B’mers, Lexus and Infiniti at the next rung up the ladder. There is one guy  I’ve seen with a Black Mazaratti – beautiful car.

 

Money – All you have to remember are the words of my co-worker Nick. “Money is running down the gutters here”. A country that truly embraces oil as cash generator as Kazakhstan has, is blessed with an abundance of money and it is translating to expansion in every sector imaginable. What fun to see this former Soviet backwater thrive and prosper. There are growing pains but money is here for the taking. There is a whole generation of young people in the work force who have no recollection of the bad old Soviet system. They are well educated and willing to work their butts off. We have a whole office full of these young folk.

 

Beautiful girls – If you are single guy this is a real paradise. The native Kazak women can only be described as exotic; true Asian beauties. All my single buddies are invited over next summer for girl watching and a little meet-and-greet (they dress really provocatively as well). I saw the smallest, tightest pair of jean hot pants to ever be worn by a 6’2’ Russian girl in dark hose and stiletto heals just today! Amazing.

 

More later as the thoughts hit.

Wake Up and Smell the Roses – Really!

 

As you can see by the new gallery, roses are the theme. Ms. Nadia and I are enjoying this (apparently long standing tradition of the City of Almaty to feature multiple rose gardens in their many parks.

 

Nadia and I got up early this Sunday morning and headed to what we have named “Fearless Leader Park” – a reprise of my childhood growing up and totally enjoying the Boris and Natasha segments on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Anyway, this huge park is adjacent to what looks like a defense ministry facility. The grounds are immaculate and they feature six Rose gardens. Nadia and I never pick roses but we check each garden carefully to see which is the most fragrant with the smell of the Roses. We walk around the perimeter of the rose beds and pull a rose to our nose to smell – wonderful! They are incredibly fragrant in the morning before the gardens have to compete with the exhaust from cars. Rose bushes, properly maintained are a task, a real chore. They were always something I avoided putting in my yards. It is a testament to the amount of money these Kazak cities have  with their abundant oil revenue, where they can set aside horticultural staff to keep the thousands and thousands of bushes properly maintained. Nadia and I appreciate it very much. Thank you Fearless Leader!

 

We made two trips out today on rose patrol. The first also featured bike riding lessons for Ms. Nadia. I bought her first bicycle yesterday and she was thrilled. She had shared an old bike with her cousin Leve during the early part of the summer at the dacha outside of Yekaterinburg. She has the pedaling down, only learning how to use the hand brakes remain.

 

The trip out to buy the bike on Saturday also took us to Pon Pieleef Park. This is the largest park in the city taking up about 20 square blocks. Saturdays in July and August are always booked up with weddings. One of the traditions from the Soviet period to take your wedding party around to all the war monuments in the city and get your picture taken next to a tank or a general on a horse or some grave marker of someone famous from a past war – now this is a real downer for romance in our culture but gives the couples here a connection to the Motherland – but again since they are not part of the Russian/Soviet Motherland it really is dumb to continue to this! All the while the trunks of the limos are overflowing with iced down vodka – the best vodka for this day! There must have been 50 brides and grooms and their multitudinous wedding parties and 50 limos and at least 10 cars to follow each limo. As we transited Pon Pieleef Park on our way to the bike shop, every time Nadia saw a bride in her beautiful white gown she screamed out ‘CINDERELLA!”

 

Before buying the new two-wheeler, I took my girl to lunch at a quaint sidewalk café. She of course ordered a pizza (she has not forgotten how to be uniquely American even though her English remains a bid rusty) while I had some very well prepared Russian cuisine including Soliankya (pickle soup – now this is pickle soup like you have never had it before; it’s my favorite Russian soup and a small plate of “meats jellied”, a pickled onion salad all topped off with a Turkish coffee for desert. The Turkish coffee is really better than espresso in this part of the world. I still have not mustered up the guts to try some of the horse meat. Horses have traditionally play a great role in the Kazak history and culture both as an animal that transported its light cavalry into battle and also served as a source of meat protein for the Kazak diet. Maybe next week.

Did Debbie Toteev Follow Me to Kazakhstan?

The Kazakh adventure is underway. The cats and I arrived safe and sound at 11:45 pm on Saturday July 29 just like my itinerary said we would. We got the cats into the country even though they were missing THEIR “passport”. Sophie and Nadia were just outside the reception hall at the airport and could see that the thing with cats was not going well. I suggested in my broken Russian that they let my wife in to assist in the discussion on the cat’s documents. Sophie overwhelmed the customs fellow with a lot of the US paperwork and told the guy that the US ideas of a passport for animals was lots of pieces of paper and not a little book; it all seemed to work. We got home and to bed it was about 4 am. The cats feel right at home and were none the worse for wear from the journey.

Our family reunion was limited to a day and a half with Sophie heading back to Moscow on Monday afternoon. Nadia and I are settling into a routine. Her kindergarten is downstairs on the first level from our apartment. I drop her off at 9 am (everything starts late here) and pick her up at 4-5 pm.

And it seems I have a job (still waiting to see my contract) with Scot Holland Company with the task of developing income streams in the property management sphere. It will be fun and a lot of work. Nick one of my new coworkers and an ex-pat American from San Diego has been here for 12 years. He had originally come here working for Raytheon on the nuclear waste decontamination projects back in the early 1990’s. He was a contracts manager working on the equivalent of the Rocky Flats clean up only the Kazakhstan clean up was ten times bigger in scope. He graphically noted that today “money is running in the gutters here”; Almaty looks like a provincial city and is not remarkable in many ways (come to think of it it’s kind of like Denver), but Almaty has been a cross roads city for thousands of years, going back to the trading caravans that plied their wares between China and Europe. What makes it remarkable right now is oil money. Life is good here – fast – but good. You just have to be extra aware of trying to do things in an ethical manner so there is no mistaking motive.

And then there is Debbie. One of my recent trips after dropping Nadia at school was to buy a new steam iron. I first went to the local McGukken’s/Whole Foods where they wanted 8,000 Tenge (about $68.00 US) – for a freek’en steam iron! So, being the thrifty shopper that I am, I head out to “ZE-LO-NIE BAZAAR – literally Green Bazaar – kind of an entrepreneurial Wal-Mart, I mean great prices. Ze-lo-nie Bazaar is housed in a hideous Soviet era exhibition hall out on Gogalah Street. And who do I run into but Debbie Toteev – I mean this woman was a dead ringer twin of Debbie only she had red hair and was attired in a lime green t-shirt and matching lime green Chuck Taylor All Stars high top basket ball shoes. Like I said Almaty is a cross roads city – who knows there may be some of Debbie’s long lost relatives here in the Land of Kaz.

The Bazaar is a huge facility with anything you can image. The food side of the bazaar (my favorite of course) was incredible with the sales area kind of divided along ethnic lines. The Muslin Bros. run the nuts, dates, figs and fresh fruits and veggies departments and the Kazak-Russian merchants run the meat department and dry goods. All beef, lamb and pork (the Islamic merchants in the name of making a living turn a blind eye to the pork department) is fresh slaughtered right out back; and it just looked grand. Some of the nicest meat I’ve seen in years.

Being a pedestrian is a hazardous undertaking. I think back to the overly polite drivers in Boulder who stop and let pedestrians have the right of way – when pigs fly here in the Land of Kaz! The car is king and you better not get in the way. Bicycling seems to be a past time of American corporate types here. I see several guys cycling into work in the early morning before traffic builds; they too are shown no quarter by the car operators. I can imagine each cyclist has a small alter in their house and they light candles and have a vigorous prayer session before heading into work each morning. It’s all a sport to see how close they can get to you and how fast they can go.

A couple photos of Sophie and Nadia are in the new gallery. I will try and get some shots of the Bazaar the next time I go out there……….more later…….Das Ve-Don-Ya!