Archive for December 20, 2008

“Black Ice” AND Rules for Walking in Almaty!!!

Last winter I had someone write in my blog comments who took issue with what I wrote about “black ice.”  He said it didn’t exist and I say it does.  I guess he might say there is no such thing as a “white lie?” Anyway, I tried to walk on the “looks are deceiving but I think it is black ice” this morning to get down hill to my university.  It is no fun to try and navigate on this stuff so I prefer to take the bus to minimize my chances of landing on the sidewalk.  I felt inspired to write down the rules for walking in Almaty since I do so much walking going to and fro in my little area of this former capital.  These are the rules that I try to abide by, maybe some of my readers have others they might like to add.



1)       Always walk with one eye to the ground and one eye looking ahead lest you stumble on uneven pavement or a crack in the sidewalk. Remember also, you are either going uphill or down. Nowhere are you on the level, nowhere!

2)       Beware of open man hole covers but NEVER step on closed manhole covers as they could pivot half way and open up and swallow you into Almaty’s sewer system.

3)       Painted white lanes against black asphalt on the roads (called Zebras) are meant only as pretty patterns to drivers.  Walkers supposedly can legitimately cross here on highly trafficked street but walkers learn to scurry across and NOT walk because it tries the patience of those drivers who actually oblige and “stop” for you. They do a passive aggressive slow roll without stopping to show their tolerance of your presence.

4)       When you are about to cross on a Zebra crossing be sure to wait for others on the other side of the busy street to cross from the other side as there is force in numbers and the cars are more likely to stop for you and them. Not as likely to stop for just ONE pedestrian.  You also have ready witnesses if you are run down by an errant driver.

5)       When cars DO actually stop for you on the Zebra painted lines, mouth the words “Thank You” to them if you are an American wearing a backpack, they would expect English.  Or if you are more native in appearance with a fur coat and accompanying hat, then you should mouth the word “spa-see-ba” and give them a kindly look. The two put together may seem oxymoronic but a smile goes a long way for all drivers who are supposedly stuck in traffic and feel put upon to stop for one mere pedestrian.

6)       If cars inch up close to you within a foot of your body, you are entitled to give the drivers of cars a leering, dark look.  (right, as if you can intimidate them.)

7)       If cars come six inches from your body, under NO circumstances are you to use your swinging backpack, hand in a fist, rock or other sharp object to intimidate them.

8.    If a car actually does knick you as you are crossing legitimately on a zebra striped line, then if you use anything in retaliation, you do so at your own risk.  Drivers have been known to stop their car, get out and throttle the walker who bruised their car.

9)       Best in all above circumstances to gently curse the driver under your breath with the word “jerk” or “idiot.”  That helps to release the pent up tension of your dare devil crossing transaction.  Just let it go at that.  This is life in the big city, not a cake walk in the country.

10)    However, if a car actually stops for you as you cross a zebra but the car behind him does not stop, you have supposedly created a rear-end collision.  Best thing to do as a walker is to KEEP WALKING otherwise you will have both drivers mad at you.  Let them settle the dispute by summoning the police to sort out who is at fault.  Obviously the one who did not stop.

11)    Police now are stationed during peak traffic times at zebra crossings, always follow their cue when to cross.  Thank them as you do and get their perfunctory “pazhalsta” response.  Makes your day to be polite to someone who commonly takes bribes from those pesky, intimidating drivers who want to be in command of the road.

12)    When you come to bus stops as a walker, stay clear of the person who is waiting for the bus and where the bus will presumably stop.  Always veer to the back of the person who will bullet for the open door of a nearly stopped bus.

13)    When you are trying to pass a slower walker in front of you on the sidewalk, weigh the odds as to which direction they will lean towards and take the opposite tack.  Sometimes it does seem that slower walkers tend to go both right and left simultaneously.  At that point, you just have to resolutely take matters into your own hands and gently nudge them and say “excuse me,” preferably in Russian, and then walk even faster past them so they know you mean business.  Once cleared of them, the sidewalk is yours to navigate once again and follow all the above precautions.

14)    However, once the snow has fallen and if not swept up, your “ice legs” need to be in command of the slippery slopes that last the entire winter.  Expect to fall at least once or twice in a winter and if you don’t fall, you have good cleets or boots that have kept you upright.  Brag about your Sorels until all your foreign friends order new, “ice worthy” boots from the U.S. or Canada.  I recommend Canadian for warmth and comfort.  Pay no attention to the locals who wear the highheeled, spiked leather boots worn by stylish women. They happen to be passengers in the big, black Hummer vehicles that try to run you down at the zebras.

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