Archive for June 26, 2008

“Close to Eden” in Kazakhstan

“Close to Eden” is a gem of a foreign movie which came out a year or two before 1992, however, that was the year when it was nominated to be Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards.  It should have won, it is hilarious if you love seeing the big, open steppes of Mongolia which borders China.  The plot starts with a Russian man named Sergei stuck in the middle of a nowhere outback. You see, Mongolia is Asia’s version of Montana’s BIG SKY Country!


Three cultures are at odds with each other because of language barriers yet it all comes together in this 109 minute movie to make it a true delight. (In other words, a must-see for those who want to know what life was like outside of any Central Asian city.)

Gombo, the Mongolian shepherd and his family, help Sergei to get his old, blue Russian style truck out of the lake and are hospitable to him until he can get back on the road again. A poignant scene shows up with Sergei remembering his sad past under the Soviet system.  This happens in a bar when he is drunk, a way to cope with his maladies. The funniest part is when Gombo crosses the border to China to buy a TV set at his wife’s request so they can watch it in their yurt.  As I recall, all they see in the picture is the reflection of waving grass while the TV sits outside the yurt.  Gumbo also comes back with something else in an effort to modernize and keep pace with globalization.


I remember when I first saw this film back in 1990 or ’91, it was soon after I had returned from teaching in China for two years.  This movie went by a different foreign name, something like the long lasso or whip that a shepherd uses.  Maybe the producers changed it to “Close to Eden” because it is easier for westerners to remember.  I sat with my brother and sister in a darkened, sparsely attended theater howling with laughter, really no virtual LOL the whole way through.  Several years ago I had to special order the VHS tape and bought it even before I knew I was going back to the steppes region of Kazakhstan.  I always tell my husband when we run out of places to adventure to, that we could always go to Mongolia.


At some point in our teaching careers, we just might go to Mongolia.  Then we would see if we are any closer to Eden.  As it is, this weekend I’m going to Almaty’s version of Eden at Alatau Sanatorium for a Central Asia Teaching of English Conference (CATEC).   I hope to meet some other like-minded educators from all over Central Asia.  It should be a fun time, especially once my presentation is over.  It is titled:  “Orality vs. InfoLiteracy in Central Asia:  What’s a Teacher to Do?” 


All that to warn my dear readers that I might not be posting for a couple of days, “What’s a Blogthor to do?”

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Sheep Shearing and 6,000 Tenge Haircuts

My morning turned out differently than I thought it would.  I went to the health club later than usual and once finished with my workout routine on the equipment, skipped the Turkish sauna and swim. I NEEDED a haircut!  After a 6,000 tenge haircut, I was home by 12 noon.  That translates to $50 which I’ve never paid before, back in the U.S. I usually pay half of that amount counting tip.  The cost damage could have been 11,000 tenge which is over $85 but I only had the six and I was having trouble adjusting to that figure.  I wanted my hair washed and cut 2 inches (about 4 centimeters).  I was committed to doing the blow-drying and curling myself once I got home.


Once I made myself understood to the person behind the counter at the beauty salon, a girl led me to the sink where she expertly washed my hair.  I was asked by the receptionist if I wanted coffee or tea.  I have never been offered that kind of hospitality at a beauty salon before so I promptly said, “Coffee with milk.”  It arrived in a cup with sugar cubes to the side.  I thought to myself, “For 6,000 tenge, I SHOULD get a nice cup of coffee.”  I was plopped into another chair once the shampooing was done and saw a young, muscular man with spiked hair in the mirror behind me.  You could tell this Kazakh guy worked out, his arms and back muscles rippled under his green, Calvin Klein shirt.  The only way he seemed to fit in with all the girls who swarmed in this salon was his greased out, spiky hair.  Little did I know that he was going to me my haircutter and the girl who washed my hair would be like the dental hygienist, assisting him all along the way. 


Yes, the young man had an air of a competent dentist as he washed his hands in the basin first and then began to comb out my tangles and pile my excess hair on top.  Round One – Instead of using clips, his assistant held it in place as he snipped away.  Round Two – he sliced and diced with a different kind of scissors then Round Three he trimmed the front bangs.  I was ready to eject but I suppose any good barber worth his salt likes to see the final results.  His long suffering assistant was surprised that he wanted to blow-dry my hair and style it when I had made it clear I could only afford the wash and cut.  Away he went with a big brush and aggressively but gently he curled my tresses under.


The result felt wonderful and looked great.  Except for that ONE little gray hair that popped up in the back.  Even though he didn’t know English and his assistant did somewhat, he KNEW I wanted it cut out.  He asked for a scissors, she gave him a comb.  He repeated with hand motions that he wanted a scissors.  I suppose at barber schools they are taught to never pull out gray hairs.  That is always my first reaction when I see a stray, gray hair.


I wondered if this Kazakh barber’s skill at cutting hair had something to do with maybe having ancestors from the distant, nomadic past who were experts at cutting sheep’s wool.  Sheep shearing HAD to be done with speed, accuracy and confidence. He had a flair with wrist movements and twirled his combs and scissors like a seasoned Japanese chef flings his knives up in the air.  Finally done, I gave him a big thank you and a tip knowing he had just gifted me with 5,000 extra tenge worth of grooming.  He returned a happy smile and I was out the door feeling ready for the presentation I have to give on Saturday morning about being an American English teacher here in Central Asia. 

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