One month in Kazakhstan: First impressions and observations

Almaty Church

I’ve been in Almaty for for one month and I’d like to share my first impressions, observations and thoughts about Almaty and Kazakhstan.

PEOPLE

Kazakh people are extremely friendly and welcoming, here are a few examples:

  • My landlord took me to the mountains the first day I arrived

Shymbulak

  • The Microsoft office manager and her husband took me sightseeing and then out for a great Georgian dinner.  The dish below is called Shashlyk, which is extremely popular in Central Asia and each country claims it as their own.  It’s different kinds of cooked meat barbequed and served with pita bread and vegetables.

Shashlyk

  • I was pleasantly surprised on my birthday when the team at work gave me a Shapan – traditional Kazakh wardrobe – as a gift.

Kazak Present

We had some fun with this at my party the following the weekend 🙂

Shapan 1

Shapan 3WP_20130505_019

  • The average Kazakh (at least the ones from Almaty) is a perfect blend of Chinese and Russian, with lots of variations in between.  I’ve met local people that I swear could be from Moscow or Beijing.  But on average, they “look” Asian because of the dark skin and epicanthic eye folds (still look Russian as well with high cheek bones and aquiline nose, but to me look more Asian) yet “feel” Russian because of the language, style and culture.

Wedding

LANGUAGE

  • The language barrier is very difficult for ex-pats as not many people speak English.  I have been reduced to pointing at things to communicate.

Welcome Sign

  • Russian is by far the dominate language in the city and a lot of local people are not even fluent in Kazak.  The government is trying to bring back Kazak as the national language, but that can’t be done overnight.

FOOD

  • I never thought there would a come time where I drank horse milk…until I came to Kazakhstan.  Horses are not just for riding here, as they use them for both dairy and protein consumption.  In the local grocery store, the meat section if full of various horse sausages, which are quite salty and delicious.  You can also get horse milk and camel milk.  Below is camel milk and horse sausage.

Camel milk and horse meat

TRANSPORTATION

  • It seems like every car is a pseudo taxi in Almaty.  If you need a ride somewhere, just stick out your hand an 3 to 4 normal looking cars will be lining up.  Each ride is a barter system where you agree on a price with the driver before you get in.  Most cab rides are a whopping $2-3, $5 max 🙂  I usually get some help from locals who speak English before I get in as I’ve heard some cars can be risky.
  • Every time I drive, I carry a copy of my passport with me as you never know when you might get pulled over by the police.  The government is very corrupt here and I’ve heard they like to pick on the Corporate cars.  I was fortunate enough to get a tip from my French friends to carry a copy of my passport instead of the real thing, as they can charge up to 200 Euro just to get your passport back.

LANDSCAPE

  • One of the best things about Almaty is it’s proximity to the mountains.   You can reach the Tian Shan mountains in 15 minutes by car and see them from anywhere in the city.  My office has a window facing directly at them, so it’s a nice distraction on the days when I’m doing long hours at work.

View from my Office

Office View

View from main street in Almaty

Abai

Overall, it’s been a great first month.  I’ve had a lot of fun, met some cool people, learned a thing or two about the culture, and enjoyed my time at work as well.  Looking forward to discovering more in the next month!

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