I'm in Kazakhstan now. Not in most people's top 10 destinations. I will explain everything in more detail over the coming weeks, but for now all you need to know is that I have a new job which has taken me to the relative backwater that is Central Asia.
Aside from a man in a mankini, I don’t know much about Kazakhstan, and I’m going to assume that you house a similar opinion. So in addition to my usual pattern of writing about my experiences, I am going to use this blog to embellish your knowledge about this country and the region. One way of doing this is to introduce a ‘fun fact’ during each blog. Here is your first:
Fun fact: Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country.
I will also try to learn some Russian, which is commonly spoken throughout Kazakhstan. I said that about Korea, but failed. Miserably. So in order to aid my learning I am going to include one Russian word each time I write, and will aim to link it to my blogging theme. The first is babushka Ъаъушка, pronounced BAH-boosh-kah, which I had heard of but didn’t know what it meant – grandmother. Think ajuma in Korean and you’re just about there.
Right then, to the first 24 hours. These are normally carnage, and this was no different. After a few visa issues – such as getting the visa on the Friday and flying on Saturday, collecting my passport at Heathrow – a small group of strangers jetted into the unknown via the German city of Frankfurt. Not many places fly directly to Kazakhstan. Not yet, anyway.
It’s difficult for me to describe how I felt at this point. I seemed to be in the calmest of moods – one of the girls described me as ‘horizontal’ for being so laidback about our journey and our future. Having a similar experience when I went to Korea has clearly helped me, but for a while on this day I felt a strange mixture of apathy, excitement and the inability to stop talking.
Kazakhstan is currently 5 hours ahead of the UK (6 in winter), and 3 hours behind Korea. We landed late at night, at which point the excitement began to stir from deep within. A lengthy visa check, a baggage collection and then we’re through to meet the VIPs from our school, and through to Astana, the capital city and my new home. The airport itself? Quite small, but just like any other. Well, from the inside at least. The exterior is dominated by a large blue dome.
We were all piled on a bus and were driven to our respective apartments. Again, I’ll show ‘n’ tell that aspect of my life in future blogs, but I will state that I’m very, very happy. The drive was particularly fascinating. Everywhere we looked, and every turn we took, showcased a unique building or spectacular architecture. Oh, and an advert for our school on a giant billboard.
After a short sleep due to jetlag and excitement, I awoke the next day and was taken to one of these unique buildings. It is called the Khan Shatyr. As you can see, it is a giant tent. The amazing aspect of this place is not visible, though will become more noticeable in the winter. This is because the temperature inside is constantly maintained at 25’C, irrespective of conditions outside of the tent. It houses shops as diverse as Kaz Press and Debenhams, a monorail, a bungee ride and a beach. I will talk about the beach when we use it – unfortunately we weren’t allowed a sneak peak for free.
Whilst we were gazing at this strangest of designs – a man was later seen at the top of the tent and seemed poised to abseil down – I had my mind on other things. My key had inexplicably become stuck in my lock on the outside of my door, and refused to budge. Knowing that you needed to use a fob to enter at the ground level, I was confident enough to leave it to be fixed at a later juncture in the day. For a while I seemed destined to spend my second night sleeping in someone else’s apartment, but the landlady’s assistant managed to free the key. I didn’t see him do this, and have no idea how.
So, first impressions. The city seems quite quiet, though it was a Sunday. I have only encountered one local unconnected with the school, and she didn’t seem overly friendly. She is my nextdoor neighbour, quite an old lady, and slammed the door in my face when I asked her to help me with the key problem. Twice. People don’t like you taking photos of baked beans in a supermarket. The temperature is pleasant, and my colleagues all seem friendly and fascinating. Vodka is cheaper than a tub of Pringles. Taxis are everywhere but cannot be seen – they just look like normal cars driving down the street.
In sum, my first 24 hours were mad. Mad, in the best possible way. Maybe Sacha should have visited before ripping on this place – it seems like he couldn’t have got it more wrong.
Love you all