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!!!

Leave a comment »

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!!!

Leave a comment »

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.”

Leave a comment »

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: 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?

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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!

Leave a comment »