Archive for November, 2010

Billboards of Traditional Kazakhs and Christmas Trees

Today’s blog will feature some photos I’ve taken in the last month.  I don’t seem to get my camera in my purse when the HUGE tree outside of our campus is all lit up.  Sunday when I was there at work, it wasn’t all BLUE with white decorations shining brightly, last night it was all lit up.  Of course, I didn’t have my camera then. (sigh)  It took the workers about a week to put the finishing touches of bows, balls and lights up on this 45-50 foot tree while using three cherry pickers.  I just wish I had the photo showing the blue lights.  Well, the other three photos are billboards in my neighborhood that I’ve been meaning to take for some time.  One is a Kazakh dancer, another a dombra player and the third is a man who trains birds to hunt small game. All very Kazakh.  Next time I’ll show the beautifully lit Christmas tree at our university which is referred to by the locals as a “New Years” tree. Of course, they don’t celebrate Christmas here in this Muslim land.

You have to know, the Astana city streets are all “dressed to the nines,” as they say.  Lights everywhere, decorated trees everywhere, especially in the new part of the city where we live.  This area of strange architectural wonders is now known as the RED ZONE, but I call it the colorful zone! Yes we have some very important heads of state representing 55 countries who are here in Astana for a two day summit conference.  The likes of Hillary, Sarkozy, Merkel and many others will no doubt see the tree in front of our university along with all the other lights and buildings.  Astana is spectacular yet what was blowing from the west was a very cold wind chill.  I almost felt sorry for the police who are standing along all the routes about 100 feet apart making sure that nothing happens that would diminish the glory of Astana’s preparation for the summit.  All of us residents will be glad when everything is back to “normal” as we know it.

Please note my little Christmas tree that Ken and I set up a week or so ago.  I love this little tree made in Poland but with Chinese twinkling lights and ornaments added with each passing year. 

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Two Anecdotes for Thought about Education

The following are things I’m learning about a country, Uzbekistan, I will probably never see.  I have American friends who used to live in Tashkent and other Americans who have visited to Bukhara and Sumarkand, but me…not to be.  Recently I came across some interesting names so I need to educate myself about who Amir Temur and Babur were.  What do the Kazakh people know about these characters?  I wonder, because we as Americans know nothing about these Central Asian warriors and leaders.

First, who is Amir Temur?  Doing a Wikipedia search (not to be confused with wikileaks) I came across this info:

Timur (from the Perso-Arabic form تیمور Tīmūr, ultimately from Chagatai (Middle TurkicTemüriron“; 8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), normally known as Tamerlane (from Tīmūr-e Lang) in English, was a fourteenth-century conqueror of WesternSouth and Central Asia, founder of the Timurid Empire and Timurid dynasty (1370–1405) in Central Asia, and great great grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived until 1857 as the Mughal Empire in India.

Born into the Turco-Mongol[6][7]Barlas tribe who ruled in Central Asia,[8][9] Timur was in his lifetime a controversial figure, and remains so today. He sought to restore the Mongol Empire,[10][11] yet his heaviest blow was against the Islamized Tatar Golden Horde. He was more at home in an urban environment than on the steppe. He styled himself a ghazi yet some Muslim states, e.g. the Ottoman Empire, were severely affected by his wars. A great patron of the arts, his campaigns also caused vast destruction. Timur told the qadis of Aleppo, during the sack of that newly conquered city, “I am not a man of blood; and God is my witness that in all my wars I have never been the aggressor, and that my enemies have always been the authors of their own calamity.”

Next, here’s more from Wikipedia about the character Babur, not a very nice person in my estimation, supposedly he was a poet but I think a bloodthirsty one:

Babur was born on February 23 [O.S. February 14] 1483[12] in the town of Andijan, in the Fergana Valley which is in modern Uzbekistan. He was the eldest son of ʿOmar Sheykh Mirzā,[13] ruler of the Fergana Valley, and his wife Qutluq Negār Khānum, daughter of Yonus Khān, the ruler ofMoghulistan.

Although Babur hailed from the Barlas tribe which was of Mongol origin, his tribe had embraced Turkic[14] and Persian culture,[2][15][16]converted to Islam and resided in Turkestan and Khorasan. His mother tongue was the Chaghatai language (known to Babur as Turkī, “Turkic”) and he was equally at home in Persian, the lingua franca of the Timurid elite.[17]

Hence Babur, though nominally a Mongol (or Moghul in Persian), drew much of his support from the Turkic and Iranian peoples of Central Asia, and his army was diverse in its ethnic makeup, including Persians (Tajiks or Sarts, as they were called by Babur),[10]Pashtuns, and Arabs as well as Barlas and Chaghatayid Turco-Mongols from Central Asia.[18] Babur’s army also included Qizilbāsh fighters, a militant religious order ofShi’aSufis from Safavid Persia who later became one of the most influential groups in the Mughal court.

Babur is said to have been extremely strong and physically fit. He could allegedly carry two men, one on each of his shoulders, and then climb slopes on the run, just for exercise. Legend holds that Babur swam across every major river he encountered, including twice across theGanges River in North India.[19]

His passions could be equally strong. In his first marriage he was “bashful” towards ʿĀʾisha Ṣultān Begum, later losing his affection for her.[20]

He also had a great passion to kill people, cut heads of people and create pillars out of cut head. He claimed to have created several such pillars in his autobiography.[21]

Finally, there is Ulugbek, but that’s enough of looking into Uzbekistan’s history through the eyes of Wikipedia.  There has to be something that upholds virtue and other character traits that can help benefit children in schools that are building up a civil society.  Food for thought, these two anecdotes about Central Asian leaders from the distant past…

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“Laughed” and Left Levity; Spider and Cider Drinks

Last night was particularly fun with 11 people squeezed into our flat for a lot of levity and food and fun!  The right combination of people made it a success. When entering our flat, the aroma of the apple cider on the stove that I had brewed three hours before, greeted everyone. At American Corner we showed “Sleepless in Seattle” though I would have preferred showing “While you were sleeping” since it has more of a Christmas theme to it.  We may show it later in December at American Corner.

For almost ten years, I have played this one Christmas game with my students and even with expats and with my family back home in Minnesota.  Thanks to my friend Jeannie in Ukraine who introduced it to me, it is easily found on the Internet.  The poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas…” which is indelibly set in all American children’s minds for some reason. Americans may not memorize many poems but this one  is a keeper.  Maybe the meter is just right, the two Americans (myself included) knew at least the start of it, our British guests shook their head. They didn’t know “T’was the Night Before Christmas…” What is added for this gift exchange game is the directions of Right or Left in order to pass gifts around a circle.  I warned my group last night to not be fooled when hearing the word “laughed” to think it is “LEFT.”  It still caught a few.

What’s interesting is that when I ask people ahead of time to bring a “gag” gift or something like a “white elephant” gift they haven’t a clue what I mean. But the one other American DID know and she brought a laughing glass.  If you turn on the battery on the bottom of the glass, it has a very contagious laugh.  We laughed and laughed right along with the glass.  One of the Kazakh girls got it when she opened up her gift when the game was finished.  I had wrapped about six extra presents ahead of time that could be used in this “Twas the Night before Christmas” game because I knew my guests would not get it.  Unfortunately, I had “girl” things to give like samples of Lancome cosmetics and lotions.  One of the British guys got one of those gifts but since he had indicated a STRONG interest in the other girl’s gag gift, they swapped presents and all went home happy.

Earlier we had all met at American Corner at the national library to watch the movie and then to discuss it afterwards. We talked about signs and I told my little group that I believed in signs because I gave them an example of what had happened to me on Dec. 30, 1990 in Minneapolis.  But I’ll have to save that story for another time to tell.

Today I showed the last movie of our movie series to about 25 students at our university “You’ve Got Mail.” That was another one that brought laughs at the right places.  Meg Ryan is the same actress in both movies, she does a superb job in “Sleepless in Seattle” as she does in “You’ve Got Mail.”  How do they memorize all those lines for their part and get into character?  That’s why they are paid millions of dollars and known all over the world for the talent they have, to make people laugh.

All good things must come to an end.  One of my guests last night had to leave early from our party and she said she really liked the spider drink I had brewed.  I had corrected her earlier but her mistake persisted. I told her again that what she had been drinking was hot cider (mixture of apple juice, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and other ingredients).  She laughed along with us when I corrected her that she can drink spiders all she wants but what I served up was apple CIDER!

Before my party ended, I had all 10 guests sign our guestbook and only then I sent them on their merry way.  The one Brit said he would use his laughing glass on the bus going home to see what other passengers and bus driver would think.  I wonder if he tried that. We all need a little levity now and then, especially with the colder temps setting in and the days being shorter and the night darkness longer.  But the lights decked out all over the city of Astana are beautiful, enchanting really.

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“Dead Poet’s Society” and “Everything is in our Hands”

The other day I had my teachers watch the Robin Williams movie “Dead Poet’s Society.” In many ways it is similar to “Emperor’s Club” but in other ways it takes a decided turn by the end of the movie.  DPS is a melancholy movie but it always creates GREAT discussion afterwards. I like to use Moodle as a place for my teachers to discuss amongst themselves what their thoughts are on different topics. I’m giving you a peak into what  two said to each other in reflecting on the plot and what it means to them in present day life in Astana, Kazakhstan.

I told my students after the movie was over and we were exploring different topics it brought up that this was based on a true story.  Well, apparently I was wrong! The only part I had right was the character Robin Williams played, in real life he was Sam Pickering, Jr.  I googled and found the plot is based not on real life events but instead on fiction, yet google seems too silent.  I know that Sam Pickering really exists, he has many books he has written and if you look in Wikipedia, you will see for yourself.  But what happens in the movie and what actually happened in Pickering’s real life, we may never know.  The following is what I found out and it provided a way to give proper attribution to the website where I found “Is DPS Based on a True Story?”

According to the Alumni Department of Montgomery Bell Academy:

“The movie “Dead Poets Society” was written by Thomas Schulman, a 1968
 graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy. The teacher portrayed by Robin
 Williams in the movie was based on one of Mr. Schulman’s teachers while he
 was at MBA, Mr. Sam Pickering. The events in the movie, however, are purely

John Keating. Dead Poets Society: The Death of a Romantic. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from
< >

The following discussion shows what two of my students wrote in reflecting on this movie.  I LOVE the expression “Everything is in our Hands.” We don’t have anything quite like it in English but it must be a direct translation from Russian to mean “It is our responsibility.”

Teacher A: Mr Keating is a real teacher who should teach at school. He gives true opportinities for students to discover themselves and understand who they are. Such teachers are endangered or only a few. Old teachers do not do good for their students and do not let do it “real” teachers. I believe that teachers must be good examples for others and must do their best.

I was so sad when a boy died. Everybody blamed Mr Keating for his death. He just taught that a person should “seize the day” and try to realize one’s own dreams. I hate this situation. Mr Keating wanted to help but other teachers did not love him because he was “strange” while students really loved him. Mr Keating had extraordinary teaching methods which were not the same with the headmaster or other teachers.

Sometimes administration is afraid of genius teachers and tries to get rid of them. But this leads to breakup and braking of educational system.

I hope that something or somebody will survive us and change the system. Because a lot of lives and our future depend on the system of education.

Teacher B: I think those, who are jealous of others are ignorant people(It sounds rude). They are ignorant not because they don’t know what other person knows, but they are ignorant that they do not try to be like this man.

We will survive we will make the changes and add additions for the future of our republic!

Teacher A: Let’s do all our best  Everything is in our hands!

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More Education Quotes (Part II)

What’s there to learn and know about a neighboring country to Kazakhstan?  In Uzbekistan the majority of the population is in the 30 years old and under category at 64%. While the people who are 55 years and older are only 11% and the middle of this sandwich is 25% of the 30-55 year olds.  Uzbekistan is a young society so education would naturally be important to everyone.

An Uzbek proverb could work against an EFL teacher’s desire to successfully teach listening classes : “It is better to see once than hear 1,000 times.” When I googled this, it came up as only “100 times” and it was also considered a Korean saying. Okay, whatever.

Can’t get away from the mighty professor John Dewey when writing about education.  Dewey was prolific and when you write a lot, you are bound to have some good, pithy sayings that are quotable.  Kind of like a photographer becomes known as very good simply because he or she just takes many, many photos.  Here’s what Dewey had written: “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”

That is similar to Dr. John G. Hibben’s who wrote in his 1911 book “A Defense of Prejudice” the following quote: “Education is the ability to meet life’s situations.” Did Hibbens and Dewey know each other?  More education quotes from other sources later.  Food for thought.

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Happy Thanksgiving and Education Quotes

I only made it to one of the three places I was invited to tonight for a Thanksgiving meal.  The first place was problematic enough to find in the dark, the second was a dinner scheduled much later and I’d never been to it before, making it even more difficult to find. So I opted to stay put and play fun games with about 12 other people. The third place we go to often, I just found out from the host they had 41 people packed into their spacious flat so they did NOT need even more Americans.  I’m thankful for friends here in Astana, Kazakhstan.

I need to share what I learned in class from my students today.  There is a Kazakh saying but I think it applies to ALL of Asia about child rearing.  Children from ages 0-7 are spoiled and can get away with anything they want, but from 7-14 they are treated like a slave, from 14 to adulthood they are treated with respect as if an adult.  So that may explain some of the behavior of teachers towards their young charges in school settings.

I haven’t checked out by googling the following quotes like I usually do, I’m tired and ready to go to bed. There’s work to be done tomorrow. I’ll have more education quotes to share. I thought these were interesting.

“If you want to achieve something with all your heart, the whole universe will help you to accomplish it.”  “The Alchemist” Paulo Coelho

K. Stanislavskiy “Theatre begins from the cloak room.” I’d like to say that democracy begins from education.

“Education is a companion which no future can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate it and no nepotism can enslave.”

Thomas Carlyle “Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness.”

Walt Disney “If you have a dream, you can do it.”

“We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosopher who says that only the educated are free.” Epictetus

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Blog Tired and Wish Bone Tired

Were you surprised by the link at the end of yesterday’s blog? I think I have created a monster with asking my students to write blogs, that means I, as their diligent teacher, must read what they write.  They only have to read mine but I WANT to read their 10, each day. That is, if they write that often, most do not.  I’m not tired of blogs….ooooohhhh nnoooooo!  When I stop writing every day, then you will know I’m fed up with keeping this daily diary online for others to read.  Today was about as action packed as yesterday, I’m bone tired.

I went to hear a speaker at the international women’s club, she is connected to the United Nations and has special projects throughout the country of Kazakhstan.  It was helpful to hear all the programs that are meant to help the Kazakhs.  Then I got more books for the upcoming book fair and got a ride back to campus with a woman from Georgia. (the country and not the state). Then, I showed her around after she helped me to bring books to store in my office.

On the ride out to campus she told me an amazing thing. Her husband’s grandmother had been at ALZHIR for 8 years.  She was arrested in Georgia and brought up to Kazakhstan to work in this concentration camp that is about 10 miles away from Astana.  What is incredible is that she was in the middle of teaching her class when they came in to arrest her in front of her students and all.  She had four children and the youngest baby died in her absence.  Tamara’s husband was the youngest of the four then and they were brought up by relatives.  Ironic that they have a posting here in Kazakhstan where his grandmother had broken health and yet she did survive and was rehabilitated.  She had come from a wealthy family and her husband had been beaten and murdered for being a so-called “Enemy of the People.”  This was back in 1937 when purges were routine and Stalin seemed to pick on his own country of Georgia a little more rigorously.

Then I taught a one hour lesson to the employees and we talked about different professions. After that I was ready to do “battle” with the security guards anticipating a hold up with my six students from the outside and our guests from the U.S. embassy.  That went without a hitch and my students enjoyed finding out more about the different exchange programs and other English programs throughout Kazakhstan.  Great opportunities.

Finally, someone called about bringing more books to me for the charity bazaar sale.  I’m sure I’ll be getting more but today was the deadline because next week will begin the lock down of transportation of the big summit meeting where Kazakhstan will be hosting 55 different countries.  Oh, what will we do?

I’m hearing different stories that in order to cover for the Dec. 1 and 2 summit meeting when things will be closed down, we will get the days off.  However, I’m told also that we have to make it up this Sat. and Sun.  That means we would not have American corner movie because the Sat. would be a Wed. and I wouldn’t show the last movie on campus on Sunday because that would be the Thursday.

I don’t think it will happen that way because I’m also told that “the show must go on…” that we will be the only university functioning.  The rest of the universities throughout the city of Astana will close and students will go home for a week.  Okay, which is it?  In any case, I need a rest from this very busy but productive semester.  I’m bone tired but looking forward to tomorrow when we will celebrate Thanksgiving day at two different places for me.  I should enjoy turkey at both places but right now I’m wish-bone tired.

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