The city continues to make an impression, even though I don’t see all that much of it. My daily routine involve only a few square blocks plus the drive to the baby house. Here are some of the most salient things I’ve noticed:
- There is an incredible amount of construction going on. On “my” street – which is a fairly major one – almost every building is being refaced. On the drive to the Baby House, there are cranes atop buildings stretching out in every direction. I have never seen so many cranes in my life. I didn’t know a city could have this many cranes. In front of some of the buildings that are going up there are billboards with pictures of shiny gleaming towers. There are trucks loaded with construction materials trundling down every major thoroughfare and when it hasn’t rained in a while there is swirling dust in the air. This is not REconstruction (in the sense of Berlin, for example) but is as if a new expensive city is being constructed on top of or to replace an older somewhat shabby one. But who is paying for this? I understand that Kazakhstan is resource-rich and in particular has a lot of oil. Are companies investing in this city because of the prospective profits to be made? Is this why there are so many company names on top of buildings?
- The new rich Astana that is being constructed involves a lot of primary colours: yellow, blue, and red. Bright Lego-colours.
- There are a lot of domes. I’m sure some of the domes are associated with mosques as Kazak people are moslem and at least 50% of the people here are Kazak. But there are a lot of domes that are not associated with mosques as well. For instance, the picture above is of a building right across the street from me which I’m told is a museum. I will visit it one day when I have some time (honestly, I don’t know where it’s going). Arrival at the airport involved a blue dome. And if you look at the third picture below you will see highrises topped with blue domes. And then a crane.
Today, feeling some pressure to report on a tourist attraction, I joined another couple on their trip to the Aquarium. Elaborate arrangements were made to secure a driver and translator for the trip. The couple, their translator, and their driver picked me up at the Ram Store and then we drove a few blocks and arrived at our destination. Needless to say we were quite surprised at how short the trip had been though no one was as surprised as Fred (one half of the couple) who discovered upon leaving the car that his pants were wet and stained a rather unpleasant brown at the back. (We opted to walk home.)
Our translator tried to pay the entrance fee at the local rate ($1) and asked us not to speak too loudly but we were found out and had to pay the tourist rate of $2 to get in. Once inside we found a sort of themed amusement area (like something in the lobby of a Silver City movie theatre). We walked around a bit and looked at the displays, organized loosely around countries: the U.S., China, and Las Vegas being the most prominent. We then found out there was another entrance to the actual aquarium part. This time we remained silent and our translator got us in at the local rate of $8. Once inside we found fish. In tanks. Lots of fish. Our translator did an admirable job of telling us little anecdotes about the fish, but since she’s a 22-year-old university student who is majoring in English, not fish, her anecdotes tended towards relating information like which fish she found scary and which she found cute. A sign said this is the largest Aquarium that is not located near an ocean. A big feature of the Aquarium is that you can walk through tunnels that run through the tanks so you can see the fish swimming above you. Here’s a picture of the outside of the Aquarium. Please note that its roof is Lego-red and sort of looks like a flattened dome.