Archive for May, 2010

New Octogenarian in our Midst

My Dad is now 80 years old, that means a new octogenarian in our midst.  What a party was put on in his honor with the main entertainment at the end of the musical program, being his quartet singing four, very funny numbers. Before that was featured solo violin piece, tap dancing, Hardangar fiddle number about lutefisk, sisters trio and of course the happy birthday song was sung.  A decorated birthday cake and other food for all the guests made it official as well.  His three older sisters were in attendance, two from Phoenix, Arizona and another from Los Angeles, California area.  More relatives from San Diego and Los Angeles, North Dakota and other parts of Minnesota also showed up to wish the birthday boy a happy day.  Aunt Alta had one funny story at the very end when Dad gave his thank yous to all those who attended this auspicious occasion. His 90 year old sister said that my Dad was always a ham even as a young boy he would sing at the landing of the stairs, then when finished he would run down the stairs and be the audience and clap for his own rendition.  Yes, that’s my Dad all right, loves to sing and I think that has been the secret that has kept him young looking.  May he enjoy many more years of entertainment!!!

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Lions and Tigers and Buddy Bears, Oh My!!!

Hope my faithful readers are enjoying my photos of the Buddy Bears. Sorry no lions or tigers featured in this post. You have to know that it takes a LONG time to download each photo on this blog which would be a zip back in the U.S.  You can’t watch YouTube clips in one piece, it comes in chunks.  That is the frustrating part about living in Kazakhstan.  You might take water, heat and transportation for granted back in the U.S. but on top of that, you have no idea how you may take your phone or Internet connection for granted too.  I don’t have much to write except I want to wish my Dad a wonderful 80th birthday celebration on this day of May 30th.  He was born in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression, the youngest son with three adoring, older sisters and an older half brother. My three aunts will be flying to Minnesota from California and Arizona to help my Dad celebrate.  It will be a GREAT family event since my Dad’s oldest sister, Eleanor who is over 96 years old, Ethel is about 93 or 94 and Alta is 90 will all be there, the Lord willing.  I come from a stable line of Scandinavian longevity as my grandma on my Mom’s side lived to be 96 years old.  Happy Birthday Dad, may you have many more years to enjoy your grandchildren!!!

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Buddy Bear is “Bear”back

What is with this Buddy Bear exhibit? What does this have to do with Kazakhstan?  Well, I believe it has a LOT to do with this culturally rich country.  As many bears that are out on display, 125 close to the Baiterek tower, that’s how many different nationalities co-exist in this lightly populated country of 16 million people. This land is the size of 3 or 4 state of Texas and has an eastern border with China, a country that has over 1 billion Chinese.  There used to be many more Germans and Russians in Kazakhstan and there are also Uighurs, Tatars, Korean, Turks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Turkmen, Uzbek, etc.  Where China has many more people and a great variety of different Chinese, Kazakhstan has fewer people but many nationalities.  With different cultures, you will have diverse languages and religions.

I believe Kazakhstan prides itself in being able to handle the steady mix of people groups.  I know when I lived in Almaty for two years I was surrounded by different nationalities and enjoyed it. But then again, I’m an ESL/EFL teacher, my job is to teach English to those people who want to learn it.  I’ve studied or tried to learn eight different languages and am a master of none.  The Kazakh people by law have a mandate to know three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English.  Will that work, can they do it?  As I’ve written before, it is a do or die proposition because another alternative could be Chinese.  If I were Kazakh or Kazakhstani, I would try to learn all three languages simultaneously too.  I’ve studied Chinese, I’ve written its calligraphy, I know just how difficult it is to speak in the four tones.  What is so very interesting to me is that among all the nationalities represented in Kazakhstan, China has a very low profile.  Enjoy my photos of more Buddy Bears, especially Vietnam’s quote: “Who doesn’t love, doesn’t live.”

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Buddy Bears are Back (on my Blog)

You thought you had seen the last of the Buddy bears but that is NOT to be, they won’t be going anywhere outside of Astana until the end of July.  If you want to know more about our ceramic bear visitors, go to this website:   http://www.ubb-astana.com to find out more.  I think that the Swedish bear is funny, there must be a good reason the artist put him in a night shirt.  There’s also a song on his left foot that I need to ask my sister or mom if they know what it is.  Incredible the diversity that is shown in all these colorful bears.  The British bear has me a bit flummoxed as well.  The flag I understand but the headdress and goggles, I don’t comprehend.  Someone care to explain this to me?

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Astana Buildings, Kazakh style and IWC talk about Grandparents

My latest theme is to capture the buildings that exist or others I see going up around me everywhere in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Some have functional or comical names attached to them to help identify according to their shapes.  See what you think of these buildings while some are under construction, 24/7!!!

Yesterday’s talk to the International Women’s group in Astana went very well.  I re-used the powerpoints that my former students Aida, Aray and Laura had done at the Almaty Intl. Women’s club on March 11, 2009.  The women listened carefully the whole 30 minutes I talked and asked some very good questions.  The comments I received when I mingled with them were instructive as well.  One woman was from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and she said that there was a monument in the center of Tashkent where people were trained in from different parts of the USSR and once they deboarded were shot.  Thousands of people from all over the Soviet Union died at this place, kind of like Kyiv Ukraine’s Babi Yar.  I’ll have to look up more information about that.

Another Kazakh woman confided that her grandfather and his brothers had been killed because they were considered kulaks.  This was an emotional presentation for her to watch, it was close to home for her. Her older relatives were just normal, garden-variety Kazakhs who had sheep and cattle.  Also, she said that a Russian woman with a cow and other material possessions wandered into their Kazakh community.  So the woman I was talking to yesterday has a bit of Russian in her because the Russian woman became the wife to one of her great grandfathers, someone else got her cow.

One other international woman, I’m not sure which country she is from, who has the same name as me had asked a good question about cheating and plagiarism in schools but commented later that she has a daughter going to a Kazakh international school in Astana.  She was dumbfounded when her daughter’s report card came back with the Kazakh teacher’s comment, “Your daughter is honest.” This could only mean that her daughter as a foreigner didn’t go along with the rest of her Kazakh classmates, maybe a remark “Your daughter doesn’t cheat” would have been more accurate.

I told the group yesterday that THAT is the reason I dig back into the stories about my students’ grandparents, it helps me to understand the present realities in a classroom full of Kazakh and Kazakhstani students where I have taught the last two years.  Somehow the theme from the grandparents’ era is not as sad as it could be because the information I get has been filtered through, the tears are dried as the next generation looks forward to the future.  I can remain bouyant and hopeful because these young people have come from a strong line of survivors through the most awful of stories.

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Astana Statues, Kazakh-style

When you visit Astana, Kazakhstan, not only will you observe unnatural curves in the architecture, but you will find statues in the most interesting places.  Yes, of course there are many on the main square from the President’s Palace all the way going west to the Tipped Tent (I don’t know its real name, it is still under construction). But you don’t expect to see a statue on the walking bridge by AsiaPark shopping center or popping up next to one’s place of residence.  The statues I’m featuring today are no doubt by the same sculptor except the last one.  Each statue shows a playfulness or captures the old way of life in Kazakhstan yet in a modern artform.  I’ve often thought that the structures that exist in this new city is a kind of Kazakh sense of humor about creating shapes just so visitors will cock their heads in wonder.  Gaze on these statues and think what the artist wanted to convey, one is hunting, another is thinking, while yet another is playing the dombra.

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Astana city plan and “Charge of the Light Brigade”

As promised I wrote earlier that I would show photos of the 1:600 scale plan of the city of Astana, Kazakhstan.  I would use the adjective “ambitious” to go with this vision of the Kazakh government that was created by a Korean company in 2008.  Some of these buildings should be in place by 2030, some already exist and are easily recognizable to anyone who spends any length of time in Astana.  For me, it was good to see that the right bank is the old part of the city that was built up by the Soviets and the left bank is where all the governmental, new buildings and tourist attractions are.  I think if you take a map and go to Independence Hall to see for yourself, you will make sense of this city far quicker.  I wish we had done that over three months ago when we first arrived in Astana.  See if you can find the Baiterek, the Pyramid and the New University Astana in these pictures.

So, why do I also add “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Lord Tennyson which is memorializing events in the Battle of Balaclava in October 25, 1854?  I don’t know, but I like this poem after watching the film “Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock. Blind Side was more than just an American football movie, it had some good literature in it that might relate to Kazakhstan.  Maybe not…

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred;
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,

Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabers bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

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K-19–Soviet Widowmaker Sub and Russian “Collage” Painting

Last night Ken and I watched a movie titled “K-19-Widowmaker” starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, released in 2002. K-19 was based on a true story which portrayed the grim realities of the Cold War in a Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1960s.  Impossible decisions were made by these two captains who were in conflict with each other.  Their decisions one way or the other, in the effort to save the crew, could have triggered the end of civilization as we know it. Ford was THEE Comrade Captain and ultimate bad guy while Neeson had been demoted from working with his own crew of 120 men, thus making him second in command under Ford.  In order to make this film, it cost over 100,000 million dollars. National Geographic had sunk their own money into this “documentary” to show support for something that had been kept secret among the members of the real Soviet navy crew once an investigation took place back in Moscow to find out who needed to be punished. Certainly things went awry, who could have anticipated this with such a proud and noble start at the beginning of their mission. Unfortunately, the filmmakers of this incredible movie only retrieved about two thirds of their investment in return from the box office and sales of the DVD.

Why are people not interested in movies related to the Cold War?  Is it because it is a confusing history or because there are too many versions of it from the U.S. side as well as the Soviet side?  In any case, it shows how loyalty, respect of command and allegiance to one’s country even if it means certain death, are values that run very deeply.  Not one American was portrayed in this movie except a U.S. Navy helicopter who came to the rescue of the K-19.  From start to finish the movie featured actors as Soviet navy men speaking English with Russian accents all the way up to the star actors, Ford and Neeson. But I don’t want to spoil this story for you, you will have to see it for yourself to see how closely this movie might align itself to politics in Kazakhstan right now.  I see some parallels from my vantage point of living in the seat of the government, Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan.

Politics is a terribly murky topic to write about, when Ken and I went to Astana’s Independence Hall, we saw a LARGER than life mural on the third floor.  The artist painted in 19 men congratulating the president of this country who is striding in the center with a medal around his neck.  On the left side is former French president Mitterand, Bush, Blair, the Japanese president (forget his name) and others smiling and clapping.  On the right of the big mural, which is called a “collage” in Russian because it is not an actual event but a historical collection of the main characters is Yeltsin (clapping hands on far right), Putin (is NOT clapping), Lushenko, Bakayiev (deposed president of Kyrgyzstan), Yushenko (former president of Ukraine) and many more leaders from the former republics of the U.S.S.R.  If my readers want to help me out with naming the characters, that would be GREAT help!

[thanks to one of my blog readers, some of the mystery is solved about the other dignitaries in this collage: Junichiro Koizumi (name of the Japanese Prime-Minister); next to Bush is Berluskoni (Italy), Mikheil Saakashvili (Georgia) and Hu Jintao (China);

On the right: Can’t figure out the person behind Yeltsin, but then as you said Putin, behind him is Lukashenko (Belorus), Bakiyev (Kyrgyz Republic), behind him is, to me he looks like Gerhard Shroeder (Germany), Emomoli Rahmonov (Tajikistan), can’t tell for sure, think it’s Ahmet Necdet Sezer (Turkey,)  Lukashenko (Belorus), Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan), Yushenko, Robert Kocharyan (Armenia)]

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Events in Astana (Part IV)

Yesterday was dedicated to our going to Independence Hall across from the Pyramid. I kept telling Ken that there was a city plan of all of Astana in this structure extending south of the Pyramid.  The entrance to the Hall that had been built up in just weeks several years ago, had arrows pointing to the south and not west, the entrance that faces the Pyramid.  Hundreds of workers were all over the grounds getting it ready for the real tourism season to begin.  Once we paid our 400 tenge each for our tour guide, we saw all levels of museum Kazakh artifacts from yesteryear, Kazakh carpets and vibrant paintings. And finally what Ken came to see, the floor plan of the city at a scale of 1:600 done by a Korean firm several years ago.  We did not see the 4-D film that was adjacent to the floor scale model of the city, I believe that shows the building of the Pyramid.  Another time…

Afterwards Ken and I went home to prepare for our Kazakh dinner guest, a friend of Ken’s from almost 20 years ago.  Always good to spend time with Misha (not his real name) because he is someone who knows 15 languages.  Even though he is Kazakh his first language was Russian and he had to learn Kazakh on his own.  Of course, his English is very good too, as is his German, Ukrainian and all the other languages he has mastered.  More on that conversation with Misha in a later post.

Finally, to get some exercise after our big meal, I went back to the Buddy Bears exhibit to take more pictures of people taking pictures and then walked towards the President’s Palace.  The sunlight was waning in the west and I was stopped by one policeman for my documents.  I smiled and said that I lived in Astana but I was being like a tourist because it was so beautiful outside.  This was all done in my very bad Russian, he smiled back.  I think I charmed him.  Noone around, perhaps even the president wasn’t in his residence so I think the officer must have been bored and just curious who I was.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you photos I took of the layout of the city, very ambitious plans! (The Independence Hall is closed only on Monday and from 1:00 to 2:00 for lunch all the other days, but opens at 10:00 a.m.and closes at 6:00 p.m.) Well worth the tour to understand this old and new city of Astana, the right and left side better.  I believe it should be mandatory for anyone who is planning on living here for any length of time.  Deboard the plane and go directly to Independence Hall…do not pass GO!

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Events in Astana (Part III)

I don’t know what the winged horses or the star on the top of the monument mean as you take the roundabout close to the airport, south of Astana.  Oh well, lots of things I don’t know or understand in this new city.  Next Wednesday, May 26th I’ll give a talk to the Astana International ladies group which meets monthly at the Radisson hotel.  About a year ago I had three of my former university students share with the Almaty international women’s club about their Kazakh grandparents.  I blogged about it and have photos to show of these special young women. Since I live in Astana now I only have their powerpoints to show, but I know it would be much more meaningful if the actual girls could tell about their grandparents themselves. They have emotional stories to tell, such as Aray’s great, great grandfather was the well-known Abay, Laura’s grandfather survived Siberia for 15 years and Aida’s grandmother survived 10 years at the labor camp for USSR women, ALHIR which is only about 10 miles outside of Astana.  So, it will be fun to share the information I have gained from my former Kazakh students with other expat ladies who may not have heard any of these stories before.

Today I want to go to the national museum (looks like a bullet) that is next to the National library, if it’s open.  I also want Ken and I to adventure over to the Independence Hall that has all the blueprints for the rest of the city of Astana spreading south towards the airport. I saw from the vantage point from the top of the Pyramid how there are still small homes and dachas that are beyond the Music Conservatory and Independence Hall.  That will eventually be developed into high rise apartments and probably more office buildings.  But for now I just want to imagine what it will look like close to the new university of Astana, looking at the blueprints and miniature model of the city will help.

Yes, if you want to do something in Astana while the weather is warm, you have to initiate it.  I would love to go to Boravoy which I’ve heard is a beautiful, hilly place with a lake. Many people from flat Astana like to go to Boravoy the 3 hours by car away for retreats.  In Almaty, you didn’t have to go too far to get away from the city, but Astana is fairly isolated and far from anything scenic.

Look at the photo I took on the top tier of the Pyramid, it looks like an eerie simulation of real life but it is of real people who were part of our ladies group tour. However, the larger than life doves are painted into the glass.  Seeing these doves reminded me of an artwork with an overhanging cage or net and trapped 15 doves at the ALZHIR museum. That was meant to depict the 15 republics of the USSR where many of the wives of the Enemies of the People were punished. All the symbolism, all the parallels are hard to keep track of in this new city of Astana that yearns to be significant to the rest of the country as its new capitol.

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