Posts tagged Beatles

500 Tenge Conversation with my favorite taxi driver

The other day when I added it all up, I spent $10 on taxis.  If you are a local in Astana, it is much easier to talk the taxi driver down in fare. Since I’m a westerner, I’m “fair” game.  The other night one little old guy thought I was Chinese, that’s what he asked the Kazakh person who negotiated the ride for us to get to the old part of town.  I think he needs his vision checked because he also missed the sign for where I live. I have NEVER been accused of being a Chinese person before. Another guy last night thought I was a “Russkie” with my fur coat and Russian scarf. No, I admitted, “I’m American.”  He told my other Kazakh passengers who negotiated the price that if I knew how to speak in Kazakh, I would get my ride free.  Yeah sure.

When on my own, I’ve learned to state the price that is reasonable and start going for the back door to open it.  They usually don’t have time to say no.  If where I want to go is not in their direction, they will say no even before I negotiate my price.  I’ve learned that I can get to the university from my flat in less than 7 minutes if the lights are right and it should only be 400 tenge.  Today I had my favorite taxi driver chase me down from where he was parked, he was yelling my name.  Obviously he wanted ME to take him and not some gypsy cab off the street.  My loquacious taxi driver named Yaheya (that’s probably not how you pronounce his name and certainly not how you spell it) was more than happy to drive me to work.

Perhaps Yaheya, to make my trip out to the university worth the 500 tenge, he tells me the latest he knows in news.  You see, we are way past, “Where are you from?” and “Why are you here in Kazakhstan?” and “Which do you think is better, U.S. or Kazakhstan?”  We are past talking about the weather which is a reliable Minnesota standby for conversation.  Yaheya probably knows he is safe with using Russian cognates with me along with place names and people’s names.  Here’s what I recall was said 12 hours ago in my taxi ride with Yaheya.

I started out by telling Yaheya in my very bad Russian that the president of Kazakhstan had visited our university yesterday.  I listened carefully and had written out my notes in English because we, as foreign faculty, were given headsets so we could follow along with the president’s speech from a simultaneous English translator.  Her English was a little archaic, something of the Old School kind of translation.  I talked to a Kazakh administrator who sat next to me and asked if he understood the English that was spoken later by guest dignitaries. So he admitted, “I am like a dog, I can understand but I can’t speak it.”  Yes, I guess that description fits me when it comes to conversing with Yaheya. I can understand about 50% of what he is saying but I can’t speak it. That’s when saying in Russian “I don’t understand, sorry” comes in real handy.

Next ,we hit on something about the Russian and Turkish embassies off in one direction while the U.S. embassy was behind us. Perhaps the U.S. embassy being the largest, I don’t know.  I’m not sure where we were going with that but then we were rounding the bend by the Chinese embassy.  Yaheya said that it was a big country and then he pointed over to where the Cuban embassy was located.  He claimed it was the smallest embassy in Astana.  Then I think we talked about Khruschev and the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy.  Well, at least I KNOW we were talking about Khruschev’s infamous quote when he had been to New York in the 1960s and he had pounded his shoe on the table, “We will crush you!” I didn’t have to know the Russian words for this outburst. Just having Yaheya start talking about Khruschev in the same sentence and using his nonverbals by pounding on an imaginary table, I knew of Khruschev’s famous quote of hate towards Americans.

Well, at least I know Yaheya likes me. And to make sure this morning I got my money’s worth in a drive (and the stoplight change took about 5 times rather than the usual 2 times), he talked about the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Good thing I was up on the news myself because Yaheya’s “H”s always come out as “G”s making it sound like Pearl Garbor. Then, he reminded me it was the anniversary of John Lennon’s death which I didn’t care about. But this shows that my taxi driver is in the know about pop culture.  Of course everyone in the former Soviet Union followed the Beatles.

Now here comes the sticky part where you have ABSOLUTELY no idea what the guy is saying. By this time we were close to the Bike Helmet structure to the right and other stadiums which are close to the univeristy. I thought we could stretch this conversation out a little longer if he could only come up with some other words I might even have a hint I would recognize.  Nope, nothing doing!  I just had to repeat, “I don’t understand, I don’t know.”  Yaheya is always smiling when he tries to get his point across and we make eye contact frequently through his rear view mirror.  Don’t worry he isn’t speeding, he seems to be in control of his car at all times.

But I’ll not forget his running after me, yelling my name because he knew I was a sure bet and perhaps he is getting return customers back to town from where the university is situated.  In the meantime, I get a kick out of how much I can understand from my favorite taxi driver.  I really think I need to take a Russian course so I can understand more of what’s going on. It’s not like I can go to Google translator to find out what all the memos I get in Russian are about.

Nah, this guessing game every morning is fun, it kind of humbles you before you show up for work to be hit with more Russian or Kazakh.

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Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan (Part IV)

Read past posts to know who Ryan is and what impressed him about Kazakshtan:

July 5, 2010

Hey everybody,

I’m hanging out in an internet cafe in a mall listening to country tunes from home to drown out the ear splitting Russian Techno they play here. The fact that it’s Russian I love but man…why the techno? I have so much that I could tell you guys which is why I need to catch up on my journaling because I’m so afraid I’m going to forget some before I write it down. Travelers out there…can I get a witness?! I’ll do my best to give you guys a synopsis of what’s been going on the last few days.

Let’s start with last Thursday. I came to Mega with a friend of Cindy’s and we hung out and I had a local hamburger. We got a chance to talk and practice our English and Russian respectively and play some computer games before we had to go back. It was a lot of fun to just hang out and I found an internet cafe which is always good. Then I went back to work and worked with an English conversation club.

We listened to a Beatles song called Blackbird to help their English. The song was slow and relatively simple. I was just amazed at the symbolism in the song. It’s about a blackbird finally having the chance to fly…pretty cool when you considered that it was written as a response to Civil Rights Movement. I’d never heard it and was really impressed with it. Youtube it! Then we played a game called “What’s that word?” where we wrote down a person place and a thing and had to describe the word to get people to guess it. It was fun!

There was one girl that wrote down “Stevenage” which is a city in England. I had to confirm it with Cindy but it does exist. After that I took the bus to another English conversation I was to be a part of. They were beginners which made me really pay attention to my word choice and speed of talking. I worked with an intermediate group the night before and it was a blast as well. They’re really interested in learning about life in America.

Side note: livestreaming a hometown radio station makes me very happy and less homesick. One of the great things about being so busy that you’re just exhausted is that it leaves very little time for homesickness. I also have made some great friends here that whether they know it or not get me through the hard times. He knows exactly what we need when we need it, yeah? Friday I slept in for a little bit and woke up some time after nine. I read and relaxed for a bit before meeting some friends. It was nice to hang out and talk.

After that I went home and relaxed for a bit before Sergei made shaslik (meat kebobs) that were amazing. Then I went for a really cold swim before calling it a night. The next day I got up and everyone else left so I watched a movie called “The Hairy Father” in Russian. It stars Tim Allen and was a hilarious movie. I went for a swim later in the day before meeting up with some of the people that I taught English to. Again, I had shaslik…can we say a lot of meat! I loved hanging out with them.

Yesterday, I relaxed before going to meet with friends because that was all in Russian. That’s hard to not be able to understand much and have to really work to understand what you do. I waited for my bus after getting done on the internet only to realize that mine had stopped running. So, I grabbed a taxi and had to wait for the driver to get ready to go. Then when we got to my house he had no change so after getting some he gave me a partial refund. I was getting a little annoyed but I’m glad it all worked out.

Today, I had a really good lunch with Cindy and Elizabeth and then we went and bought tickets for the next leg of the journey which will start on Saturday the 17th. Now, I’m chilling (not really it’s pretty hot in here actually) and saying hi to you guys. I can’t wait to really explain

Backing up a bit, I am REALLY glad I got my visa for Kazakshtan. It took thirty hours from their receipt of my paperwork to it being back in the mail. It could have taken 5 days. I got it and I’m here now in Kazakhstan. The flights were interesting because I’ve never spent that much time on planes before. I enjoyed it but I’m certainly glad that’s over. I got to spend some time in Amsterdam. I had lunch and randomly met an Austrailian nurse while eating. I had a quick lunch of french fries and mayonnaise. The Dutch are deep in the Midst of World Cup fever. Orange(their royal color) and Dutch flags are everywhere. Everyone’s talking about soccer…it’s great!

I loved European trains…so nice and fast…furthering my belief that America should invest in such things. I got here about 4.15a and went through passport control. It was really simple and my bags made it here with me so all was well. I must have been asked if I wanted a taxi about 50 times while waiting for my ride. He got there and we set out to find where I was supposed to stay. We found it, finally, and I met one of my contacts, Vicky. She’s house sitting for some Americans so the house I’m staying in is really Western. I love it because I needed a hot shower and a bed and I got them both. It took me about 20 mins to fall asleep but once I did I was out until about 2p. Now, I’m just adjusting and relaxing. So..I’m here…I’m safe and sound…Peace, Ryan

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