Archive for May, 2010

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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Events in Astana (Part II)

Love the color of this Kazakh artist’s renderings I photographed the other day at the Pyramid.  I don’t know the artist’s name, I wish I had asked and written it down. It looks like a yurt sitting atop a camel who is heavily laden with all its owner’s earthly goods. However, I understand that a famous Kazakh artist Leyla Mahat had her art exhibition displayed on the 6th floor of the Pyramid last night.  She is the one who painted the Buddy Bear that I featured last week on my blog.  Eventually I will get back to the Buddy Bear photos I took, so many of them to choose from but for now I want to show off the three dimensional artwork I saw that uses iron and paint, also chicken wire!  I’m not sure who would buy this to put in their home, it is about one meter wide and two meters tall and no doubt very heavy. Kind of like the burden the camel is carrying. 

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Events in Astana, Korean Cultural Center and Pyramid

Who says there isn’t anything to do in Astana? Only in Kazakhstan would you find so many cultures celebrated as I have enjoyed the last week or so.  I’m taking a pause from the Buddy Bears to blog about the amazing art work that can be viewed at the Korean Cultural Center in the old part of the city of Astana.  Last Wednesday morning I went with about 50 women from the international women’s club to enjoy the hospitality of the Koreans in their new center.  They had very expensive artwork to gaze at on their walls painted by their own Korean artists.  We watched a video about South Korea in their auditorium and then ate the delicious Korean food our gracious hosts provided afterwards.

Yesterday morning I went with a smaller group of ladies to tour from bottom to top the Pyramid that is in the new part of the city. Though the Pyramid’s origins are from Egypt, once inside it definitely had the trademark of Kazakhstan apparent everywhere in their Kazakh symbolism, with a mix of 125 different cultures that co-exist in this multi-ethnic country. Nothing Egyptian about it except the outside structure. The elevator that brought us to the 8th floor went on a slant instead of straight up. Eerie sensation.

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Kazakh Economy: Bull or “Buddy Bear” Market?

I’m “Buddy Bear” back! Subscribers to my blog, did you miss me?  Well, I missed you too while I had my MacBook in the shop getting extra memory installed.  I went through 48 hours of withdrawal from my laptop but tried to get by on my old trusty Dell and my iPod Touch. That didn’t work so well because our Internet went out at home and was intermittent at work.  You may think this is a lot of “bull” but no, it is just another day where I will show off the Buddy Bear.  The one I am featuring first is from the Netherlands, I should have asked a Dutch person I know what they think the artist meant with the “X” eye and belly button?  Also I’m featuring a Buddy Bear from Afghanistan, which portrays a mother comforting a child who is crying with a backdrop of beautiful mountains.  I have many more photos I took of the Buddy Bears.  I suppose I could blog a whole month doing the Buddy Bears but I’ll have to stop at some point.  Enjoy them while you can, they look better in bear-person of course.  But go see them and then take a ride up the Baiterek to get a view of the city of Astana!

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Visualize “Whirled Peas” Continues in Astana

Happy May 17th to Norway, this is their proud day of remembering their independence as a country.  I celebrated with my Norwegian relatives Stavanger in May of 1983 when I had just returned from my two year Peace Corps stint in the Philippines.  Difficult to go from third world experience to Norway’s first world. We were treated to so many nice meals and too much food (lefse – like bilini and gjetost – goat cheese) by our Norwegian hosts.  My dear grandma Dagny had so many Norwegian relatives she had kept up with from her childhood days, we had a rigorous schedule to keep to.  However, one day in this blurring whirlwind of activities, I just had to take a break from it all.  My head was in a spin about how one country had so much (Norway) while the Philippines had so little.

Yesterday I discussed with some friends the difference between cold cultures and warm cultures.  Norway by necessity has to produce and store food (think lutefisk – cod in lye) being in the northern climes while in the Philippines, closer to the equator, the Filipinos can pull off bananas and coconuts from trees year round.  Thus, efficiency and function is more important in cold cultures whereas in warm cultures, relations are the most important.  I’m living in a warm culture in Kazakhstan where relationship is most important even though winter in Astana can be bitterly cold. Go figure!!!

Some people may not have gotten the connection between Buddy Bears and their promotion of world peace with my title on yesterday’s blog of “whirled peas.”  At risk of being redundant but since I’m not feeling too creative today, I’ll continue to visualize world peace with more photos of the Buddy Bears.  I actually took more photos today, such an amazing display of color.

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