Archive for October, 2006

The Dynamic Duos – of Yekaterinburg and Almaty


Duo Number One:


Sophie left on Friday for Yekaterinburg. It’s her father Valerya’s 60th birthday and she is going to spend 9 days out of Kazakhstan, back in the bosom of Mother Russia. We three will go up to Yekat via the two day train from Almaty for Orthodox Christmas and New Years at the turn of the year. But for now it was good for Sophie to be able to go and attend this birthday. Sophie is a daddy’s girl – very analytical and direct, probing, always thinking – just like her papa. It’s good that these two great thinkers can get together to wax philosophically and just to be Russian. Kazakhstan is NOT Russia. It is a distinctly Asian-Russian polyglot that has evolved in some ways to be very European or very American and it is NOT Russia. It is the Silk Road with these Tartar, Mongol, Chinese, Russian, American, British influences. Sophie needs the reconnection back to Russia to maintain her roots and that Russian soul. Russians brood and think about gloomy and heavy things sometimes and she and her dad can cogitate on many of these kinds of things for hours.


Sophie is from the school that says life is hard and then you die. I have always taken the Jack Nickelson line from “As Good As It Gets” that life is “all picnics and noodle salad” – you just have to find those picnics and keep smiling and looking for the best. We are opposites and have nevertheless been drawn to each other – moving into our second decade of matrimony.  I know Sophie will treasure the company of her family back in Russia, especially her Papa.


Duo Number Two:


My 4 year old jewel, Ms. Nadia and I are a duo again. This is Sophie’s first lengthy absence in quite awhile out of Almaty. Today was the usual Saturday shopping mixed with our going to Church. Nadia had taken one of her dolls to church to “show God”; I know our Lord and Savior was duly impressed to meet Doll Katiya. Nadia was in the mood to learn about my family after we finished dinner tonight – Uncle Mikie’s Kazak Borscht – not bad if I do say so myself. As luck would have it, I had packed some photos of me at age 5 and my mom and dad circa 1940’s along with our wedding album and Nadia’s birth album. I showed the photos and we had a pretty lengthy discussion on where Grandma Annie and Grandpa Tom were (my parents both deceased) and how could I have EVER been as small as I was in my toothless kindergarten photo? The Almaty duo was locked in a discussion on life and death; not easy to explain to a 4 year old. I assured Nadia that we would all get to see all of our relatives again in the future when we go to Heaven.


Nadia has this wondrous circular  logic that on the one hand dislikes for anyone to grow old and particularly die. She’s not sure about that part of the human contract yet. We of course saw many beautiful brides in the park today as we walked to church. Our weather is holding nicely – no snow yet with temps 65-70 in the day time, so the wedding marches in Pon Pieleef Park continue at a brisk pace. She equates brides to princesses and the grooms to princes. In her world she knows she has to grow older and grow up  to be a princess and to find her prince. Cinderella and Repunzel are her favorite stories right now and the coloring books with girls in beautiful gowns are everywhere in our flat. So everyone must live forever, but everyone has to grow up and be a princess or prince.


For me this is a great time to be with my child. She asks hard questions that demand good answers; kind of makes me think and puts me back in touch with my own mortality. My father-in-law, Valerya bought a clock for his 60th birthday. This clock is all about time and generations and passing the mantle. The clock is really for his grandchildren including Nadia, their remembering grandfather and his legacy of time and tying the generations together. For the Duo in Almaty, it’s all about Nadia wanting to keep my toothless kindergarten photo. My legacy is sealed.


Headlines you won’t see in the States

Headlines you won’t see in the States…


TGIF. I had a presentation to a major Kazak bank today at the Board level……..grueling. All western educated folk, totally focused on what they need to do to take their bank to the next level in an investment scheme involving property management, that we in the States take totally for granted, but has not been legally adopted yet due out soon…… you can tell I am being obtuse about this as there is confidentiality that I need to respect. It looks good; we could end up with property managing a million or so square meters.


Had a ride in my bosses wife’s car; a Mercedes “coffin” one of those very tiny Mercedes that have already been taken off the market in the States because no one wants anything that small. It is so tiny but has nice room for 4. I was in the back seat and was totally comfortable. This is the car that seats 4 and can double for a coffin if you are in a fatal accident. Practical and deadly if you are in a high speed collision.


Headlines you won’t see in the Daily Camera or the Rocky.


Kyrgyz Villagers Seek to Replace Lenin’s Monument With Statue of Local Crime Boss


Ryspek Akmatbayev / Photo from

Created: 11.10.2006 13:25 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 13:25 MSK


Residents of the small town of Balykchi proposed to replace the monument to Vladimir Lenin remaining from the Soviet times with a statue of the local crime boss, the news agency reported on Wednesday.

The man whom the villagers want to honor is Ryspek Akmatbayev — the police considered him the leader of the Issyk-Kuul gang and named him a prime suspect in a triple murder case. Akmatbayev was also suspected of forming a criminal group and illegal possession of firearms.

On May 10 this year Akmatbayev was shot dead by two assassins armed with Kalashnikov rifles as he went out of a mosque in the suburbs of the Kyrgyzstan capital, Bishkek. Police failed to find his killers so far.  


Man Sued for Distributing Ex-Wife’s Private Photos in

Russian Far East

A man from the Russian Far East has been taken to court for distributing his ex-wife’s intimate photos in his village, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday.

The agency quoted prosecutors in Russia’s far-eastern Sakhalin region as saying that the law enforcers had completed an investigation into the case launched under the article envisaging punishment for violation of privacy after a resident of a Sakhalin village posted copies of his ex-wife’s intimate photos on several lampposts across the village and at the entrance to the village retail store.

Prosecutors said that the move was jointly condemned by the man’s fellow-villagers.

And those are a couple of the gems out there tonight. We are staying home this weekend. Sophie gets a hair cut, I clean house, life is good. Weather getting colder but still no snow.

More later from the land of Kaz.

Cheryn Canyon Trip

It’s 11 pm Saturday night after an exhilarating day of hiking in what was billed as the Grand Canyon of Kazakhstan. Cheryn Canyon is a 3 hour bus trip from Almaty and though in my estimation not holding the majesty of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA, it is a majestic geological site.

Rock formations are reminiscent of Castle Rock State Park in Colorado. We have found a local tour company where we can get these really cool trips for 1500 Tenge per person per day – this is about $12.00 per person/day and they are action packed day trips or two day affairs that get you 100-200 kilometers out of Almaty.

Nadia is our networker in the family. While Sophie and I try and unwind from the stresses of the week, Nadia is all over the place making friends with either kindly old grandma-types or younger females who may someday be thinking of having a charming, chatty little girl like Ms. Nadia.

Nadia’s first target of opportunity on this trip was a woman named Tanya from Rostov-on-Don. Her job as a Microsoft trainer has brought her to Almaty for two weeks. She was very solicitous of Nadia. We ended up having our lunch with her next to a rushing river. Later in the day, Nadia found two grannies that were gathering herbs to take home. She is always interested in what others are doing and easily wins people over.

Exclusive good news for Jim Colt……..Kazakhstan has eradicated the prairie dog. Prior to our departing the bus for our canyon hike, the tour guide reminded us of natural calamities we might encounter like scorpions and snakes with no possibility of medical evacuation or care until we got back to Almaty (meaning we would probably die). He then proudly indicated that a number of years ago the fear of the plague got the best of the old Soviet regime and they “decreed” the destruction of Jim Colt’s favorite Boulder Road kill. The Kazakhs sprayed thousands of square miles with a strong unknown agent and killed them all off – no plague with the wonderful side benefit of eliminating holes for horses to trip in; they didn’t have to file an environmental impact statement to do this deed of “Dogocide”. This was a plan that came together and was a win-win for everyone. May the little pests RIP.


It’s Friday and time to hit the news stands. Most of the papers are weeklies and you need to stop by and pick up the papers; that’s really important for us since we don’t have a TV. There is the Kazakhstan Monitor (English) with a lot of rehashed articles from the EU and the States as well as current articles on goings-on in the Land of Kaz. For Sophie doing banking consulting the financial pages are very insightful.

One the favorites is Res Publica. This paper is at times confiscated from newsstands and burned with TV film crews rolling the cameras for the benefit of viewers of the evening news. Res Publica is a cross between the National Inquirer and the Mirror in England; scandal, along with enough facts often neatly twisted to either make you laugh or full of outrage. The National Government of Kaz is usually outraged.

Res Publica is eligible for the torch and official ridicule due to its frequent criticism of members of President Neserbyev’s family. The paper regularly picks on the two daughters who control several TV and newspapers in the country along with other “wealth building” assets. There are 16 clans in Kazakhstan that control most of the economic action. Neserbyev, due to his visibility as head of government is often criticized for his family being too closely aligned with the clans and their economic activity. What can I say; it’s an interlocking directorate. Neserbyev was re-elected by a whopping 90+% plurality which Human Rights Watch roundly criticized. Dick Cheney and George Bush, Sr. like the guy and so do I! But you got to realize that although wealth is not evenly distributed in Kazakhstan, everyone is working and you get to see one of the best (worst) examples of wild capitalism to come down the pike in a very long time. Jay Gould and other robber baron-railroad tycoons of the American 1870-80‘s are smiling down from Heaven and seeing some pretty fast action. All of this will sort itself out in a few generations and the Kazaks will be dull regulated nerds just like Americans. But for now the “art of the deal” is the grist for Res Publica.

Next on my must-read list is “Temptations”. A polished yet incredibly shallow publication. It is the Kazak version of 5280 Magazine (actually it IS 5280 written in Russian). Lots of slick sexy ads beckoning you to partake of this perfume, that new BMW you’ve been wanting to buy on your $400.00 a month salary or a local watering hole/casino trying to take your money away from you and give you bad food at the same time. It has the occasional article on why men sleep facing away from their wives. I actually got some tips from this article as Sophie has roundly criticized me of late for not snuggling her enough.

Huge national wealth being laid on a former Soviet Republic can come with complications and side effects. The old system often gives way to the new in very crude ways. Seems local developers wanted a certain tract of land for re-development that was currently covered with run down Soviet era apartment buildings. The government (again in close alliance with the developers) comes in and “deals” with the 16,000 families affected – our oil-rich government writes out checks to each family ranging from $40,000-$60,000 USD and simultaneously issues 30 day notices to move. The elite American do-gooders like out friends at Human Rights Watch (they love Castro, that loon Hugo Chavez and they used to love Saddam Hussein) are of course outraged. No one locally in Almaty really complained. 60 Grand to a Kazak making $400 a month is a king’s ransom. The only downside is dumping the 16,000 families on a housing market already stretched to the limit. But people double up, the ratty old housing is raised and makes way for new construction and we wait patiently for Trickle Down to start working. And it is.

Greed is in and everyone who has a chance at the gold ring will step on the next guy’s neck to get ahead. There are no rules of the road so to speak (literally and figuratively). And where is that golden middle of having rules, obeying them but yet keeping that spontaneity that is so evident here? It’s what we American nostalgists would call that “Old Pioneer Spirit”; “give it hell”, “damn the torpedoes”, “go ahead make my day”, kind of folks.

But I digress on matters socio-economic. Back to my favorite publications…..and my most favorite IS……….

Bot Tak (pronounced Vot Tak) which means “Like This”. Picture if you will a magazine cover with a barely pubescent girl in a training bra smiling broadly at you though the finger-print smudged glass of the newsstand kiosk. I have Sophie inquire of the newsstand proprietress what Bot Tak is about. She informs us it is a book of crossword puzzles for the serious puzzler – and there are young naked girls on alternating pages! I now know that Kazakhstan will thrive and blossom with this kind of niche marketing exploiting the masses.

Bits and Pieces……..blood bank egalitarianism NYET, look out for ME – DA; logical on $400.00 a month. One of the big scandals exploited not only by Res Publica but the more reputable papers was the health department scandal in the southwest part of the country where 55 children were transfused with HIV-tainted blood. For those of you who remember that only happened once in the States back in the 80’s when a little boy in Houston got a unit of blood that had the AIDs virus. He later died. But before he died the FDA and the US Blood Banking system make massive changes in how pre-screening was conducted and made mandatory testing of each unit of blood the norm. To the surprise of many, Neserbyev sacked the Minister of Health.

This medical catastrophe is symptomatic of a healthcare system where, if you are unlucky enough to be a patient in a local hospital, your family and friends will be brining you your food, sheets and blankets – yet another reason why we in the U.S. should NEVER, EVER, EVER have socialized medicine. This tragedy of these 55 innocents has once again brought to light the inadequacies of the old socialist system; it is populated with stressed and underpaid phlebotomists (they make $250.00 a month) and antiquated procedures and equipment; nothing there to propel change. You all know me, I am a regular every 56 days to go and donate blood – but not here. Even as a donor, I don’t feel comfortable with the sanitary protocols in place. Everyone remind Jim Colt, Mary Martling, Deb Durant and Ron Fregosi to go roll up those sleeves in my absence and give a unit every 56 days; tell the Bonfils gang “hi” for me. The rest of you do the same! Roll up those sleeves.

Continued bad manners in cars………….what can I say. Part of this Pioneer Spirit extends to cars. On the way home tonight, I saw a J-Walker laying face down in the street with blood gushing from his head. Cars show very little quarter to pedestrians. To me it is a mark of not quite embracing the concept of a civil society.

Well it’s off to bed. We are heading out to a hike into the Kazak Grand Canyon tomorrow. It’s Charan Canyon.

Men, keep looking for the cross word puzzle books with the silver lining………..

P.S. a BIG P.S………..Sophie and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, yesterday Thursday. We are laying plans for our next ten and where we might end up……I’m hoping for St. Petersburg, Russia; Sophie wants to be back home in Yekaterinburg. It’s growing enough to support consulting in her field………time will tell.

Two Buck Chuck Lives! – in Kazakhstan

First of all I have to let the world know wine is a wonderful thing here in Kazakhstan. Good coffee is still a little elusive. There is a place called Black and Brown Grounds (coffee and tea) but the prices are outrageous! You get a 1 oz shot of Kenyan in a French press for $6.00 even Starbucks would blush at charging that high a price.


Sophie and I have started experimenting with regional red wines and have been very pleased. Here are two wines to put take on your list (especially to confuse your local wine merchants). Let’s review what we’ve tasted…………….


Georgian wine has long had a good reputation for “heart”, showing the wine maker’s skill and heart. We found such a wine. It’s called Stari T’bilisi 2004 Georgian Red. Strong pepper nose not unlike heavy Paso Robles Zins but with a highly developed fruit that lingers on the middle of your tongue.


Next is our “local” wine. It’s called “Zhar-Zhar”. This is a Kazak product. With the looser labeling requirements, all you need to know is that it is good for your heart health and digestion; no goofy warnings that if you are pregnant you should not be within 500 miles of the wine. It has more fruit than the Georgian fare not unlike young, fruity and playful Beaujolais.


The bottom line: Both of these wines are under $5.00 a liter. There are many wines here from Chile, France and Bulgaria to name but a few. The Georgian and local Kazak wines are bright stars in the constellation of labels staring you in the face when you go to the supermarket. Two Buck Chuck is alive and well in Kazakhstan………….


P.S. After 15 years I am drining alcohol again –  no hard liquor but table wines once or twice a week. I have long missed wines and their wonderful flavor with food. I had to come to Kazakhstan to start celebrating live again……..I didn’t realize how much I missed a nice glass of red with my food. I’ve heard of people like myself who shun alcohol for whatever reason for a lengthy time and then come back to once again enjoy the grape. Taste’s great and my heart and digestion are the better for it!