Kazakhstan – the Last Stan of All

“Sincerely yours, this is Stan” — Stan, Eminem

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8/27 Bishkek -> Kazakh border -> Alga

With visa in hand, I was finally headed to the last Stan of the trip–Kazakhstan. What a relief to be done with visas! I had two large pizzas and fried chicken to celebrate before heading off. After the Pamirs, the most important thing I learned was how to take better care of myself, which meant: enjoying the luxuries that are available when in the city. Luxuries like fried chicken and pizza!P1020955P1020956To the Kazakh border and Almaty. The border crossing was smooth, but there was still one piece of bureacratic business left to do– registration with the migration police. I read from other blogs that normally you can’t get the registration at the border, but there were several cases of “cute Japanese girls” getting it there. I hoped I could pass as a cute Japanese girl. Unfortunately, that was not the case. There were too many people trying to cross the border at the same time, and the border officials were far too busy. I would need to register in Almaty.
P1020957not much between Bishkek and Almaty

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8/28 Aga -> Targap

P1020959Last Stan Kazakhstan! Eminem’s “Stan” playing in my head

Over the next few days, I discovered that Chinese is a useful language to know in Kazakhstan and makes for some interesting experiences. The first example came this day:

At noon, I stopped for lunch at a local chaikhana (restaurant/ tea house). The lady manager started chatting with me and when she found out I was Chinese, she excitedly pointed to the guy next to her (one of her regular customers), expressing that he was Chinese too. The guy started speaking to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I thought for a moment, trying to process whether it was Kazakh or Russian or a mix of both, when I realized, he was speaking Chinese! It was very hard to understand him–his accent was very heavy and his words had no tones (which makes a huge difference for a tonal language like Chinese). His grammar was also not like a normal person would speak. “Hua bu dong? Language don’t understand?” he asked. He left before I could find out more about him but from our brief interaction, I concluded he was probably Uighur.
P1020967
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8/29 Targap -> Almaty (largest city and ex-capital of Kazakhstan)

In the morning, I stopped to buy yogurt and bread at a small shop. An elder from the village was also there and when he saw me, he started speaking in Chinese. What a surprise! Kazakhstan was the first place this happened–where people would just start speaking to me in Chinese. When I responded to the elder though, he didn’t seem to understand much of what I said. Anyways, he was very polite and helped me get what I needed from the store. His Chinese also seemed better than the guy from the day before. I supposed that he must have learned some basic Chinese from Chinese workers living nearby.

I was in a bit of a hurry to get to Almaty so that I could get registered. The next day (Friday) was a holiday (Constitution Day), and then it would be the weekend, so probably the government offices would be closed. By law, you must register within 5 days of entering the country so waiting until Monday would be too late. My little legs pedaled as fast as they could, but even so, I didn’t make it into the city center until 6pm. By the time I weaved through the maze of city traffic and found the migration police office, it was already closed. My heart sank. I walked up to the two lady police officers standing outside the door, hoping they would take pity on me. Instead, they grumpily said they were closed for the day and told me to come back Sunday.

With a sigh, I left to find the nearest shop to buy a SIM card–I had arranged to stay with a Couchsurfing host in Almaty and I needed to call her. The nearest shop was just a small stand with barely enough standing room for 2 people. The woman behind the counter helped me out, and while we were setting up the phone, she gave me a big bottle of ice tea. Then corn. Then two pieces of fried dough stuffed with potatoes. Then a sandwich. Then a piece of kinder chocolate. “Ustala, da? Tired, right?” It was nearly dark at this point and it was halfway across town to the couchsurfer’s place, so I ate to get my energy level back up.

But the more I lingered at the shop, the more Mom worried about me, and she urged me to come back home with her to wash my clothes and take a shower. When I tried to explain that my friend was waiting for me, she insisted that it was not good for me to go in the dark (which was true). She said she would take care of me that night and I could go see my friend tomorrow. I couldn’t refuse her. To make sure I understood her orders, she even called her Chinese-speaking friend and had him translate everything. Funny how you can never say “no” to your Mom, even when it’s a Mom you just met in a foreign country halfway around the world and you don’t even speak the same language.

And so, I went home with Mom.

24 Thoughts on “Kazakhstan – the Last Stan of All

  1. Borat Country! :)

  2. I have just finished rednaig An Unexpected Light for the second time, and read Jason Elliott’s book on Iran over Xmas. He is indeed a great writer. I am currently working on a research project among Afghan refugees living in the Netherlands, who have revisited Afghanistan in the last couple of years. Two themes keep cropping up in the interviews, the first is the extent of the corruption everywhere, and the second is their shock at how much the people in Kabul have changed. They comment on the lack of friendliness and respect, the avarice of the shopkeepers and taxi drivers. They are all saddened by the changes the ongoing conflict has wrought in the Afghan population. As one elderly gentleman put it: They can rebuild the whole city, but they can never fix the people. Reading Jason’s book for the second time, I often thought how well he described the dignity of the Afhan people, and sadly, how much everything must have changed since he wrote the book.

  3. That’s an intelligent answer to a difficult question xxx

  4. It’s a pleasure to find such rationality in an answer. Welcome to the debate.

  5. I’ve been looking for a post like this forever (and a day)

  6. I thought I’d have to read a book for a discovery like this!

  7. Great article but it didn’t have everything-I didn’t find the kitchen sink!

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