Sunday, June 3, 2007

Notes on Astana

Where is the time going? What am I doing with it? At the risk of sounding very boring, I’m doing mostly what I do at home. Grocery shopping, laundry, meeting friends (i.e. other families) for dinner or a walk, buying things for Baby (though baby clothes and toys are v. expensive here). I’ve brought work with me but am not doing as much of it as I should be (sorry, Diane, will try harder). I am at the computer a lot looking at pictures of Baby and writing. Despite the ordinariness of the days, they are whizzing by and I have yet to be bored. I haven’t even started watching the DVDs I brought with me (no Six Feet Under yet, Jane).

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.

1 comment:

BT said...

I LOVE seeing the pictures and hearing of your experiences. It brings it all so to life. You should have absolutely no worries about sounding boring.

The domes are very interesting. A lot of them do not look all that mosque-like to me -- although I know extremely little about mosques and their architecture. But I'm wondering whether the domes could echo something from traditional construction -- were people's homes domed back when they were all built by hand by each family?? Or would that just be going back to the islamic/mosque influence?!

All the construction really is something. It seems to surpass even Kiev's at the time we were there. On the subject of cranes: They were all over Kiev too, and one of my favorite things to do with Peter and Bohdan was to sit in the kitchen window of our flat and watch the cranes atop neighboring buildings. It never got boring!

I am amazed that you haven't had to dip into your DVDs yet! That is really saying a lot.

Are the families you're hanging out with on roughly the same adoption schedule as you? Have any new people arrived yet, or are you still the newbie in your baby house group?

Am I correct that you only have about one more week to go in the bonding period?

Halifax was good (lovely!), and Laura's, Susan's and my paper was well received. We were worried that we could be shot down because we ended up sort of levelling a criticism at methodology. We thought maybe there was a big gap in our understanding and someone at our session would spot it and that would un-do everything we said/wrote. But that didn't happen -- quite the opposite, really. So it was a bit of a relief. Susan wasn't there, so I will be able to relay this good news to her at work tomorrow.

Here in Winnipeg, we are having a gorgeous outdoors day. Our family is just home from a big bike ride. Peter got a flat tire riding on the "mountain" over by Assiniboine Park, so M had to ride home fast and get the car to use to carry Peter and his bike to the shop. To Peter's relief, the shop will be done working on the bike this afternoon, so he can get it back in time to ride it to school tomorrow morning. Tonight we will have our first grilled dinner of the season -- yippee, no rain!!