Saturday, 21 April 2012

Kazakhstan – The first lantern festival

April 14-17

Hello everyone!

Spring is a time of blossoming flowers, rising temperatures and animals coming out of hibernation. In the case of Kazakhstan, the first has yet to happen, but the population has begun to enjoy the joys of wearing less than six layers of clothing. The Astana Lantern Festival was one of the first examples of this in 2012.

This was the second year that the festival has taken place. It is in the park along the River Ishim, a place that has, for the past five months, has been a desolate, silent snowscape. Now that the river has thawed, and the snow has melted, the park is now packed to the rafters at the weekend. On Sunday night, it played host to a festival of love.

The story goes (from one of the assistants at our school) that Valentine’s Day, our commercial celebration of love, is held at a time of year that is too cold for Kazakhs to appreciate. Having lived through -40’C, I can appreciate that. An alternative for the locals is to wait until mid-April, when it is warm enough to show affection to a loved one. The way they do that here is with lanterns.

We headed into the park in the early evening to stroll through the crowd, before purchasing a small, red piece of paper that is referred to as a lantern. For those of you who are unaware of how these work, you light a candle which is held below the paper.

The heat rises into the lantern, billowing and expanding it until it is ready to release.

We waited patiently until it was time for everybody to let their lantern go. Mine travelled…three metres. At least it didn’t get stuck in the trees, like many other lanterns. Slightly dangerous to release lots of lit candles into the air in close proximity to trees when there hasn’t been any rainfall for months.

Though ours ultimately bumped gently along the floor, many others soared and sailed through the serene sky. The night was illuminated by lights moving over the river and out towards the steppe. It was a stunning and unexpected sight.

This was the first weekend in a long time when we could relax and sit outside. We spent our Saturday evening sat outside the pyramid having a wonderful picnic. Astana has a surprising amount of greenery and nice places if you look hard enough, and we’re looking forward to spending as much time as possible outside and finding out much more about our city.

Love you all


Saturday, 14 April 2012

Kazakhstan - The first 5D cinema experience

 April 3-13

Hello everyone!

As Morgan Freeman (almost) said in Deep Impact: The snow is receding!!

After seven months I decided to return to the Land of my Fathers to enjoy some quality family time and home comforts. It was nice to see everybody, even though not every surprise went as planned. What should have been below, for example, is a video of me surprising my sister. However, due to her reluctance to open the door, the video is so long that it is too big for the blog.

The main event that occurred whilst I was back in the UK was my cousin’s wedding. We travelled towards the mountains (though having seen much higher parts of the world, I hesitate to call them that) to Craig-y-Nos castle. Less of a castle and more of a country estate, but still pretty and a rare opportunity for me to see the green, green grass of home. It was a wonderful weekend full of fun and a lot of food.

The weather at home was stunning. It was an Indian Summer…before summer has started. This was a great contrast to the winter I experienced in Astana. Considering this, it was a rather pleasant surprise to return to a mild Kazakhstan with temperatures in double figures. Positive double figures. It is now warmer than Britain, something which I have taken great pleasure in telling the folks at home.

Winter is still very much visible. Inexplicably, the children still wear winter coats and hats as we saunter past in flip-flops and t-shirts. We have been informed that this is a by-product of the Soviet era, when summer officially stared on May 1 and winter clothes were to be worn until that time. This helps to explain the strange looks we get when we sport a relative lack of clothing. I’m hopeful that the new generation will be able to liberate themselves from that aspect of their past, as well as their coats!

The other reminder of the previous months is the fact that the river is still frozen, though it has begun to thaw. We believe that there is a fine line between bravery and idiocy, but am not entirely sure which side of the line people who are still fishing on the Ishim quite fit into. It is now warm enough to run alongside the river, which I have done a couple of times from school. A combination of security guards around the President’s Palace and a lack of paving under the bridges, however, makes this a difficult task.

The warmer climate, which is now pushing temperatures up towards 20’C, means that we are more willing to venture outside. We went to watch a ‘Beatles Day’, consisting of average-at-best performers crooning classic tunes in Russian accents. We also watched a bizarre 5D movie in the same entertainment complex, which involved us being flung around in a small car and sprayed with water as we moved into different worlds. Trippy.

We went to one of our friend’s birthday party on Saturday, a girl called Gulshat.

Kazakh fun fact: The country stops to celebrate the birthday of its leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, on July 6th. Capital City day is one of many public holidays that Kazakh citizens enjoy.

The main difference between a Kazakh and British party – well, the ones I have been too – is the volume of vodka consumed, and the number of toasts throughout the evening. In reality, they’re pretty similar. Food, alcohol, dancing and smiles were the icing on the cake that has been our very happy return to Kazakhstan.


Love you all