Hello there! So it seems I have survived my first week in Kazakhstan. And more than that, it has been great. I am getting settled in at the office and I have already done the first interview for my research project. Moreover, the weather is finally starting to get better – yesterday I woke up to this view for the first time:
Almaty is a beautiful and lively city – although not very historic – but I have also met many people who want to leave. Their dream is to go to the US, and then preferably Florida or California (nice weather!). One woman even told me that she had entered into some sort of competition to win a green card. Of course there are issues here: salaries are relatively low, air quality is terrible (almost as bad as in Beijing, I have been coughing for days), and traffic is CRAZY during rush hour, for instance.
However, the scenery is amazing and the people are very friendly. For example , I am really anxious using the escalators in the subway (Almaty has one metro line which took 23 years to construct). The escalator at Abay station is 73 meters deep and 92 meters long! Luckily, there is always someone who notices my anxiety and kindly offers to hold my hand on the escalator.
I am also getting used to daily life here, with supermarkets here selling the exact same products and brands as in Amsterdam. The only thing that I haven't figured out is dairy: there are dozens of yoghurt-like products. One time I bought yoghurt to use in a dessert and it turned out to be salty, iew! My appartment (see photo below – it looks better on the inside, which is completely new) is almost finished as well, with my landlady coming over this week to fix some things that fell of the wall...
This weekend I had some time to further explore Almaty. On Saturday, I decided to go to the independence monument on Republic Square. The monument celebrates Kazakhstan's independence – although from what I have read, independence was basically accepted as a fact when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but never really fought for – and the identity of its people. The collumn is topped with a statue of the Golden Man, a folklore Kazakh warrior who apparently rode a snow leopard (the official animal of Almaty which lives in the city's mountains). Next to the monument there were also some statues of traditional Kazakh people.
As you can see from the pictures, the weather was incredibly nice and it was such a great day to be outside! After having seen the monument, I crossed the street (through an underground mall) to get to the old presidential palace, which I believe is now city hall. This photo is one my favourites :-)
Next, I went to the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, close to the palace. It is one of the largest museums in Central Asia, and it has a nice collection of archaeological findings and artefacts from all the different ethnic groups that have inhabited Kazakhstan. Too bad that it's not allowed to take photos inside, apart from the central hall. Also, all information was in Russian (even though they told me it would be in English, when I asked!), I definitely need to go back and take the English tour.
I did spend some time in the souvenir shop, where I met a very friendly but also very nosy lady. Here in Kazakhstan, there is much less "distance" between people than in Europe. People are really curious and ask you about your personal life constantly. I even had a taxi driver that called his English-speaking friends to ask them to translate his questions to me! Generally, I have been able to communicate using my very limited Russian vocubalary and Google Translate. By the way, if you want to get a taxi here, you can just stop almost any car rather than only official taxis. All the locals do it and it's much cheaper. Almost like Uber was invented here!
On Saturday evening, I had dinner with Ulyana, a friend of one of my classmates at the VU, who studied in Amsterdam but is now back in Almaty. It was great to meet her, and we had sushi at a place called "Mango Sushi" which was AMAZING. Lots of veggie options – turns out it is not hard to be a vegetarian in Kazakhstan after all!