Archive for November, 2006

The Solar Powered Cloths Line Part 2

To Terri Goldsberry’s delight, I had told her in July of my adopting the solar powered cloths dryer i.e. the good old fashioned cloths line to do laundry here in Kazakhstan. Drying cloths this summer in Almaty was fabulous. You hung out a load in the morning and when you get home in the afternoon it was wonderful; sun fresh cloths to hold close to your chest and just SMELL – it smelled like the SUN and AIR  just like when I was a kid (note: two days on the line and the cloths smelled like the exhaust fumes from the hordes of automobiles below our balcony.) Here’s how it works in winter.

 

You still do the same drill; wash cloths in the bath tub by hand, using Tide (the old Tide – with phosphates – I love phosphates they clean cloths so nicely, sorry Terri, but it’s a compromise drying dirty cloths or clean cloths; when you wash by hand, phosphates are groovy) and you need the “magic” Russian soap bar – lard and lye; I call it Little-House-on-the-Prairie soap. Soak for about 15 minutes and wa-la! Sparkling cloths ready for the solar powered dryer. Next, hang them out on the line either the night before or first thing in the morning before you go to work. The sun is just warm enough right now to get the big part of the water out of the cloths during the day. This time of year when you get home in the evening, its dark and its cold and the cloths are frozen on the cloths line. Not to worry. Simply disengage these cardboard-like fashions from the solar powered dryer, and drape them over the steam radiators in the living room and bedroom. Usually within an hour the cloths have finished drying and they have imparted much needed moisture to the air in the apartment. Terri, you need to send me the Gold Star Environmental Award for my conscientious use of heat energy. (The phosphates are a different story).

 

Talked with Sophie today. She got herself a great pair of winter boots out in Mezhdurechensk, Russia – Eastern Siberia. Boots for ladies are a real fashion thing here in Kazakhstan and in Russia. It is THE winter fashion statement in fact. Boots are sexy and you have some real fashion statements amongst the female population. Sophie left for her project management assignment with “fall” boots and needed something warmer. I kind of understand why they looked weirdly at Nadia in the summer when she was wearing her Kroc’s……….not high fashion enough even for a kid.

 

Sophie’s project management assignment seems to be going great and she just loves the little city she has landed in. Mezhdurechensk (you will be tested on the spelling of this city at the end of this missive) has proved to be a great respite from Almaty and its cranky drivers and traffic. Mezhdurechensk is far enough away from the mines and smelters that the air quality is quite good. Its slow pace is refreshing and of course it’s being back in Russia – like being back in the “hood” communing with the “Brudahs and Sistas” if you know what I mean………..back to Mother Russia for my dear Sonya. For you ill informed remember: Kazakhstan is NOT Russia and they are two very different cultures.

 

Bits and Pieces:

 

Dealing with the realities of the Russian rough edges. We had to get the visa process started for Nadia and me this week so we can go up to Yekaterinburg, Russia for the New Year’s holiday. With the capitol of Kazakhstan being moved to Astana the Russian embassy moved north to the frozen steppe as did the US and all the other embassies. The “down graded” Russian consulate is the quintessential gulag. Lots of cement and concertina wire around the outer perimeter. The not-so-friendly security guy who meets you looks like Vlad Putin’s twin – black leather coat and really reveling in being able to “control the gate” – tight thin lips reveal an almost perverse joy in seeing 25 people freezing outside the gate of the Consulate – many were poorly dressed. Controlling the gate on Friday afternoon saw a mix of folks for this near-sadistic brother of Vlad. Sophie had warned me about this a long time ago; that the government officials have always gotten a near perverse pleasure of seeing the minions squirm when needing official sanctions – like visas or their work books fixed. When you got inside the Consulate it had lots of space; all of these frozen folk could have been admitted to the warmth of the Consulate offices but instead are forced to suffer -10 to -15C temps. They were let in two or three at a time. The temperatures dropped very quickly on Friday and it was really unforgivable that people were left outside the gate. Nadia and I were lucky. A young Kazak woman, who processes visa apps on a regular basis, took a liking to Nadia and first put us in the guard shack which was heated – she said the guards were her "borthers". Next she “shamed” Vlad Jr. to let all people with small children into the indoor waiting area. A young Brit fellow named Peter who was on a “travel adventure” needed a transit visa. He was merely trying to get to Ukraine via Moscow and Vlad Jr. didn’t seem to want to help him. Peter was the last to be admitted; I think his attire – a Chinese Red Army field jacket he was wearing didn’t register right to the Russian security guy. This jacket was lined with Yak fur and Peter looked like he was the warmest one in the queue. Peter looked weird but was totally sane, bought Nadia and me tea and coffee at the café next to the Consulate and we had a delightful conversation while we waited; Nadia taught him a few Russian and Kazak phrases to boot.

 

Our visas are in-process and due out from the Russian gulag on Dec. 8.

 

And that’s the way it is, Sunday, November 26, 2006. This is Mike Lynn reporting from Almaty. Goodnight……don’t know what made me think of Walter Cronkite tonight but I couldn’t resist………..)

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The Kingdom of Kaz Rolls On

The Kingdom of Kaz

 

The Kingdom of Kaz rolls on! Car, buildings – Kazakhstan is somewhat of a magical place if you believe in free market capitalism. We see an evolving society that out to 2011 or 2015 will be a booming place. But what of looming shadows?

 

What will be interesting to watch is the effect of the U.S. elections on our region [I’ve been here long enough that I call it “our region”]? How will the Iranian and Iraqi situations evolve? Are these thugocracies going to threaten the growth of Kazakhstan and the region? Time will tell…..

 

Our President Nursultan Neserbyev has skillfully guided Kazakhstan to a point of prominence with China, the U.S. the EU and even Russia. He is a real tightrope walker and has managed to make everyone happy. The Chinese have their new pipeline, the EU grovels for more natural gas and will probably get it, the US oil companies are getting there share and Putin up in Russia keeps an eye on the whole thing, perhaps a little jealous. Kazakhstan is just doing a fantastic job of managing its economy and its new-found wealth while the Russian government continues to be wary of private market driven capitalism – they prefer the state control variety and the slow pace of Russian economic progress is retarded because of it.

 

This week brought a solid 1-2-3 for Kazakhstan in the financial journals: First the report that year-over-year growth in the property market will be a modest 25% – anyone want to buy a condo here and go skiing in our beautiful mountains every winter? Second the nations leading bank KosKommertsBank – KKB was over-subscribed with their IPO on the London exchange. KKB is one of my customers. Their CEO is an affable Georgetown- Harvard groomed Kazak named Magzhan Auezon. He comes from a very famous family of the arts in Kazakhstan. He is thoughtful and genuinely a likeable guy. He understands how great his country can be and drives his company in investing in the future, leveraging the huge oil revenues that are benefiting everywhere in this country. Third, the news of continuing “reverse investment into Russia”. Two Kazak banks are moving into Russian commercial banking sector very aggressively. One bank that specializes in funding major construction and industrial projects in the $25-$150 million range and the second institution moving to fill the big gap of the under funded middle and lower-middle class. This is so called seed funding for entrepreneurial endeavors.

 

Bits-And-Pieces:

 

The Vodka Girl with really big boobs. Marketing is so predictable. It’s sex that sells everything. I don’t like Vodka but marvel at the Vodka girl at the up-scale gastronome in the City Center. The alcohol department at this market (which nostalgically portrays the old Soviet gastronomes of yester-year) is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. The wine and spirits section takes up a wall stretching one city block in length. They NEVER had a food and beverage selection like this during Brezhnev’s or Gorby’s times in power, but I digress. Vodka girl is but one of the cuties the store hires to entice you to buy from their department. They have pieva (beer) girls, vino girls, after-dinner drink girls, cigar girls…………all are there to look at and know absolutely nothing about what they are selling; they are the magnet. None is more awe-inspiring, and none will make your jaw drop quite like the Vodka girl. She appears to be about 18 or 19, otherwise nicely proportioned but packing a mountainous E-cup to restrain her voluminous breasts. Her department always has the most traffic. Attn. Ron: She is looking for an American to rescue her from the Gastronome.

 

Borat. The movie uses Kazakhstan as the butt of its jokes and as I’m able to determine has a lot of bathroom and ethnic humor (the movie has been banned here). Sasha Cohen (the star, writer, creator of Borat) has managed to piss everyone off in Kazakhstan. I think the reaction is a little overblown; I’m imagining this to be like an ethnic Wayne’s World, the official line in Kazakhstan is that Cohen should be held for crimes against humanity. The Romanians are upset too with Borat’s references to Gypsies. Anyway, go see the movie and report back. I would like to ask Cohen some day why he picked on Kazakhstan when there was much better story lines (real ones) in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan that would have given him much richer material for a film of this kind. Turkmanbashi – is a leader not unlike Joe Stalin or Kim Ill Brain from North Korea. Mr. “T” as we call him inspires filial obedience from his robotic throngs.

 

Sophie is on the road again beginning 11/20 for a five week gig managing a program in Mezhdurechensk, Russia. If you find Siberia then find Novosibirsk and then look southeast to Novokuznyts and then even farther east to Mezhdurechensk you have arrived. It’s about 25 below out there in this mining/smelting paradise but members of her team who have already arrived, indicate a great ski resort near by and plenty of nature (you can Google Earth this remote part of Siberia if you choose). This will be Sophie’s first team leader role since coming here in May.

 

More later.

No Snow

It’s still shorts and tee shirts weather here. Some of my alarmist liberal colleagues call it a sure sign of global warming and it’s all Bush’s fault along with Dick Cheney and the gang at Halliburton. The world is full of comedians and people who are just plain wrong but they are certainly entitled to be wrong. Also the Kazak’s are trying to force the issue – to get snow on the ground NOW! They all have their children bundled up in warm jackets. It’s November 6th by God and there has to be snow…The little kids are sweating up a storm and its 65 degrees outside. I actually had a woman at Zeloni (Green) Bazaar come up to me today and scold me for not having Nadia dressed warm enough. I smiled and thanked her for her misplaced meddling.

Sophie’s back from Yekaterinburg tomorrow. She is loaded down with stuff from her family (good coffee beans for me, yum!) and a new fur hat. Sophie has always turned her head when I put on my old beaver skin hat I bought in Yekaterinburg 11 years ago. The traditional Russian hat is kind of a square, boxy thing that makes guys look like Fred Munster. My hat has some shape and panache as the Brits say; not unlike the old “commie-comrade” caps from the 1920’s but mine is made of politically incorrect fur. You will find many pictures of V.I. Lenin with this kind of cap – not that I’m trying to emulate this commie dirt bag that so unceremoniously died of syphilis, but the hat I always thought looked pretty cool. It is rounded and has a bill in the front. I remember when I wore it in Yekaterinburg I shocked people who looked closely as I had a “Sparky Pin” stuck on the from above the bill of the hat. Sophie had given me this pin. It was a relic from her days in the Young Pioneers (pre-commie training not unlike the Cub Scouts and Brownies but with a whole lot more political indoctrination). I called it the Sparky Pin as it had a picture of Lenin when he was a lad of 6. He was a cross dresser then, wearing a dress-like costume and with long curls; very normal cloths actually as he came from a very wealthy family and this was the uniform of the day when posing for photos. This was of course, before his baldness and syphilis set in. Sophie remembered that all the 6 year olds that memorized the right songs and generally survived summer camp got a red plastic pin with a photo of young Sparky Lenin in the center………cool! My sarcastic nick name comes from Lenin’s famous line that it only takes a spark to ignite a revolution………but I digress – I still love the hat.

On the home front in Almaty: We live in a Soviet era building; probably one of the last of the stamped out concrete ghetto buildings slapped up in Almaty. To reprise the wonderful words of humorist and political smart guy, P.J. O’Rourke:

Commies love concrete, but they don’t know how to make it. Concrete is a mixture of cement, gravel and straw? No? Gravel, water and wood pulp? Water, potatoes and lard? The concrete runway at Warsaw’s Miedzynarodowy airport is coming to pieces. From bumpy landing until bumpy take-off, you spend your time in Poland looking at bad concrete. Everything is made of it—streets, buildings, floors, walls, ceilings, roofs, window frames, lamp posts, statues, benches, plus some of the food, I think. The concrete that hasn’t cracked or flaked has crumbled completely. Generations of age and decay seem to be taking place before your eyes.

You can say the same about our building which we are estimating was erected in the mid-90’s. There are 35 flats in our building and there is one 3’ X 3’ elevator. It creaks and groans; Nadia and I want to install a “bless the elevator” shrine on the inside railing. We will install an area to light candles in hopes God hears us and grants us one more uneventful ride on this relic of Soviet crudeness. One of the bits of useless trivia I learned when I was about 14 years old was that elevators had the lowest fatality rate of any mode of people mover/transporter mechanisms – one fatality per 4 billion passenger miles. That’s excellent odds on survival. You have no idea how good an idea installing a shrine in our elevator really is.

The elevator is a mess. The flooring is ripped, people have tried burning the numbers off the buttons on the elevator control panel, common “F*** You” graffiti is not so prevalent, but political sloganeering is.                                                                                      

And there is the “7-6 ride”. The elevator sometimes misses our floor – the sixth floor. We figured out that the sensor when the elevator is going up does not “sense” the sixth floor; it goes all the way to 9. The trick is to push the button for floor 7 and then push for floor 6 once the elevator has landed on 7, you will make it to 6. The elevator only senses the 6th floor going down. Do you get the idea we need elevator maintenance?

We usually walk up and down six flights of stairs to avoid this death trap. My cardio conditioning has been augmented with this little necessity to avoid an elevator disaster. Our only real use of the elevator is if we are carrying large shopping bags from the grocery store.

My other cardio work out: My child serves as my alternate and most frequent cardio work out. Nadia is still small at about 30 pounds but she is the perfect “cargo” to carry and push up the old heart rate. Plus the child is lazy and now expects me to carry her on my shoulders wherever we go. We have this wonderful little work out routine most evenings. I pick Nadia off her bus, we walk a block home, change cloths and off we go for our walk – or my walk/cardio work out and Nadia’s ride high atop Papa’s shoulders. Thank you Nadia.

Since we don’t have a car, we walk most everywhere and if we have large loads we engage one of the many thousands of “independent” taxi operators for a lift home. Being without a car has really been a blessing. No car payments, insurance, etc. And no stress; gridlock is king in the morning and night; I smile all the way to work and often “beat” cars up Al Farabi Street walking toward Dostyk and my work.

Sophie and I are both within a 10 minute walk of our work; there is simply no need for a car. We will have to move from our flush little 9 story “Brezhneveski” flat at the end of March unless our landlady and her husband decide to stay another year in Astana. I hope they do. Our arrangement on transport (excepting for the elevator) and our general location is ideal.

You can only image how our lives have changed here. Most of you would cringe at where we live, but really, everything works and the cement is thick enough that we don’t hear our neighbors – only the traffic from the street can be a an unpleasant distraction. Other residents are cordial. They all know there are Americans in the building and seem OK with that.

Got to run. Pray for snow so the kids don’t dehydrate in their winter coats in this 65 degree weather and prayers for our elevator’s continued safe operation.