Posts tagged Kok Tobe

Sunrise over Kok Tobe

PB020093This photo was taken from my flat on the east side balcony of a slow burning, pinkish sunrise. This was before the big snow that we had that is still hanging on even a week later.  Feeling low yesterday after having my two classes of students over on Saturdayafternooon and evening. Have to make up my classes ahead of time due to Kurbanait holiday next Friday, November 27th. 

Had three American visitors come to my first class today. They listened to three powerpoint presentations by my Kazakh students, who I’m proud to say, did a good job.  The ppts continue to get better and better.  Of course there were the usual snafus with some of the ppts not showing up because they are pptx, another version.  As usual, we were kicked out of our classroom right at 11:45 a.m. when we were initially scheduled to be there up to 11:50 with our academic class by a foundations level class. No allowances for getting our class to pick up their papers and put their coats on, we continued outside in the hallway.  The registrar better not do this kind of scheduling trick next semester where teachers are back to back supposedly having one class end at 11:50 and another start at 11:50.  Obviously whoever set this schedule up are NOT teachers!!!

Anyway, I was glad for the visitors’ comments and questions, there will be more coming to see these students’ presentations in the next week. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the long, long semester is almost done!

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Teacher-Centered Teachers in the Information Age (Part II)

PA180594I’m glad I have very good friends in Almaty and that I love fall weather.  No new information to anyone who knows me in this Information Age.  This photo was taken out of my east balcony which shows the naked birch tree, the imposing Kok Tobe tower behind it.  Of course, fall semester is half way through and soon we will start to see the white snow on the hills with the pine trees in the foreground.  I love the peace and quiet I have in my flat up the mountain from where we used to live. 

Yes, my university colleagues and other friends in Almaty are a good thing because I am also surrounded by Soviet trained teacher-centered teachers who cannot see beyond their own training from years ago.  What I can surmise is that they were told to only teach out of a certain pre-approved Moscow published textbook or else.  And I do mean “or else!”

I’ve written this before and the younger teachers joke about it now but in the old Soviet days “initiative was punitive.”  That was understood by all who went outside the box and did their own innovative lessons besides what was set down in stone.  I had a laugh with Yulia who said that it a joke that all teachers were to lock-step together to the canteen, order the same food and lockstep out again.  Uniformity and conformity was the name of the game.

So it seems to still exist in our “western” style university.  When I sat in on a team meeting of our writing teachers, I witnessed the same thing only I was being pounded on by one of the more Soviet minded teachers.  Apparently the syllabus, that was pre-approved but changed on us yet again, was set in stone and that I was drawing outside the lines.  I had gotten the okay from our Director to use my own syllabus keeping in mind the set percentages for in-class writing, quizzes, mid-term, final project, etc.  But that wasn’t good enough for this particular individual.  According to her, we have inconsistency in the final product if teachers do their own thing and teach their own way.  Aren’t we here to teach writing and all our students are their own individuals and will have a final product with their own stamp or style? (within the limits of APA formatting, of course)

Wow, then at the end this meeting, the same “teacher-centered” teacher asked for the latest syllabus so she could be tracking with the team leader but earlier in front of everyone she had said I was wrong in how I was going about my lessons.  ?!? This is the first semester that I have felt free enough to have given my students the Kolbs learning styles inventory, the temperament sorter, the multiple intelligence test for fear of what others in the group would say.  I’ll be giving a talk about my results on November 19th to my teaching colleagues.  I’ve been asked by one of the deputy directors to give a talk on the differences between teacher centered teaching and student-centered teaching.  Also, I’ve been asked to give a refresher course about Citation Builder and Thesis Statement Builder as a kind of professional development seminar. 

My point that I want to make to my teacher-centered colleagues is that I am here for the students. (certainly I am NOT here for the money while this is the best job for any teacher in Kazakhstan to be teaching at our university) For me, the students become my focus, it goes back to what I wrote yesterday, we as teachers can’t possibly know everything. 

However, what I detect from the insecure Soviet trained teachers who say I’m teaching the wrong way is that they realize they don’t know everything that they should about the computer while their students DO know more than them.  We are living in the Information Age and the Soviet-trained teachers can’t hold on to their out-moded pedagogy much longer.  Even though this is Kazakhstan, we are teaching at a western-styled university that expects writing in English to be a normal part of learning and assessing. 

I could go on and on about examples of teacher-centered vs. learner centered.  For now, I just like gazing out at the beautiful autumn colors.

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Photos of New Environs in Almaty

P9020518Thought that I should show some photos of our new living quarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  The furniture is typical Soviet style, our flat is on the fourth floor without an elevator.  We have a view of the pine tree tops and once the leaves fall will have a very clear view of the eastern horizon close to Kok Tobe.

P9020522Unfortunately, we don’t have a view of the mountains as we did in our last apartment but just the same, we can see some of them if one strains around on one of our balconies.  You will also see the new table I bought since I talked to my landlady last week, we reached a satisfactory agreement.  I ordered it from the furniture store and then had it delivered on Constitution Day, this past Monday.  It has revolutionized things at our small two room flat.  In fact, we still have that “new table smell” lingering in our living/dining room area!  I need to buy some nails so I can hammer them into the all too solid, concrete walls for the Carl Larsson pictures I want to hang. 

Landlady Larissa brought back the microwave and some other things she had taken from the former renters, which they had intended for us to use.  She also brought two other tables which has magnificently changed things in the kitchen for us.  Small steps toward humble progress.



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Great Affluence in Almaty – Behind the Scenes

Sunday was quite an eventful day with the birthday celebration for Almaty, there were many high points to all the different musical numbers.  Our university was represented in one of the acts by singing a very beautiful Kazakh folk song. (Five of us were brave enough to venture into this unknown field of singing on stage to a live audience) Monday I had people come up to me and say they saw me on t.v.   I got an e-mail from a professor who saw the program and asked if I was about to sign a contract with Broadway.  Apparently, according to him I cut up a mean figure dancing the waltz with a fellow professor from our university. 

When I sing the song to my Kazakh work colleagues or students they all know this love song.  See earlier post to find out the English translation for it, it means something to me because I actually met my true love here in Almaty.  Here are the words that we sang, “Leaves rustling of Kok Tobe, will heat my missing heart”  [I think they really meant “will warm my longing heart.”]  “I reminisce every day spent with you my Almaty.  My heart is pressing [?] to you.” [I think that applies to dancing the waltz really closely] “My song is full of delight, Here I met my true, real friends, beautiful, my Almaty.” 

So, I will always remember this song and attach it to fond memories of Almaty from 15 years ago when I met my husband here while I was training Peace Corps volunteers.  I know how much this city has progressed and also see that Sunday they were showing off their affluence with the many different talents exhibited, not least of which was ours.  See the photo below where I’m kicking up a storm in the red.  My biggest fear was tripping on the stairs from the top scaffold to the main stage or falling on the plastic flooring on the stage.  Didn’t happen.

What DID happen as a low point for me was when I was walking in the downpour of rain.  I was a block away from my flat, I fell in a big puddle and wrenched my right ankle this time.  Not as bad as the sprain on my left foot while at aerobics this past January but just the same, I was completely soaked through when I finally reached the top fifth floor to be greeted by my husband who had already gotten the hot bath prepared for me.  Thanks dear.  My backpack was soaked through.  I had walked through much water that had no where to go and since I was wearing a poncho and had my umbrella I went out to one of the worst downpours I’ve seen in Almaty.  Of course, half hour later it stopped.  I believe that it had held off so as not to ruin the b.d. party for Almaty.  For that I am thankful.  I’m not so sure I will ever venture out in rain again on impassable sidewalks and road crossings.  Cars were having difficulty sloshing through the streets.

The following is from a “singing friend” of mine who sent me the following photo.  Believe me, when I fell down in the puddle in the rain, I didn’t feel elegant at all!  “We arrived in perfect time to see you disporting yourself elegantly on stage.”  Thanks Mary!

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Almaty’s Birthday Celebration this Sunday

Whatever possessed me to answer a plea to join an ad hoc choir to sing a Kazakh folk song in English this Sunday is beyond me. Though it has cost me some time away from grading my students’ papers, I’m actually glad I did go to the rehearsal last Sunday.  We each individually took turns by singing in a little sound booth in a studio rigged up with the latest in soundboards and sound equipment.  With a window to view the guy who knows what each gadget and gizmo means, I was signalled to sing into the mike while I listened to the real Kazakh singer in my earphones. 

Once done with singing the second verse, I zoomed out to join my next engagement atop Kok Tobe, the very place I had been singing about.  This upcoming Sunday, we will be singing at the Old Square with three different groups up on the stage, promenading down the steps and swaying and waltzing around as we sing.  The following song is in 3/4 time and is very beautiful in its original Kazakh version.  The English translation cost $50, or so I’m told, I think they should have tweaked a few more words before we were taped.  We are to memorize our words to go along with our voices that were recorded last Sunday.  I’ll show photos of the extravaganza on Monday’s post.

I will sing song about you

I will wait letters from you

Always remember your views

Beautiful my Almaty

Fresh white like bred new snow

Your mountains heights bright

And I will never forget

Happiest moments I had


Leaves rustling of KokTobe

Will heat my missing heard [will warm my longing heart]

I reminisce every day

Spent with you my Almaty

My heart is pressing to you

My song is full of delight

Here I met my true real friends

Beautiful my Almaty


I will drown in your skies

Will fall asleep in your clouds

Your pure fresh mountains air

Gives me the life to live

Springly rain of Almaty

Will slake my thirsty soul

I wish to be part of you

I love you my Almaty

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Almaty’s Kok-Tobe with Kim

Kim in t-shirtIris and Cable carKim and snailsclouds and mtnsKim and El Farabi3-d billboardchildren paintingEast Side of Kok Tobe

What a fun day Kim and I had on the top of Kok-Tobe overlooking Almaty.  The absolute BEST day to go up is Tuesday because the cable car doesn’t open until 4:00 p.m. otherwise they start moving people up and down starting at 11:00 a.m.  We virtually had the “Blue Ceiling” to ourselves. We walked up from the parking lot, taking photos all along the way, such as the vibrant 3-D billboard that warns to keep the environment clean.  We saw children painting with tempera paint on the wall as we continued our climb up.  Then Kim and I sat for hours looking over the valley eating our picnic lunch.  What an idyllic setting to talk over the book “Silent Steppe” that we both read and share stories about the Kazakhstan we know and love.  We ended our time at Kok Tobe with each of us buying a colorful Kazakhstan t-shirt from one of the vendors.

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O Little Hills Skipped Like Lambs

Waking up at 5:00 am to the coolness of the morning, I made a beeline for our north balcony to witness the pink of the pre-dawn sky to the east. After making my coffee, I went to my meditation spot looking out to the mountains from our south windows.  I did my daily reading and sipped my coffee gazing to the foothills and the snow peaked mountains above.

Today I was reminiscing and reflecting on where I was 16 years ago.  I was in the Twin Cities teaching ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) at the University of Minnesota. I was also in self-imposed physical training for the Twin Cities marathon (26 miles) for October 1992 when thousands of runners come from all over the U.S. to run it.  I was in top physical condition usually running in 5, 10 or 15 kilometer races every other weekend.  I ran a few half marathons of 13 miles but that was many, many pounds ago.

Sadly I sustained a stress fracture during a 10 K I was running a day after I had peaked at 20 miles in my training for the THEE marathon in my home state.  The Twin Cities Marathon was meant to be my farewell run around all my favorite lakes in the Twin Cities before I headed to Central Asia to teach on a Fulbright Scholar grant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I was averaging less than 8 minute miles, I repeat myself, I was in top physical form.  I LOVED the freedom of running, especially in the early morning hours when there were no cars or people around, it was peaceful and cool!  Minneapolis is an attractive city in the summer and fall, especially in the fall with the autumn leaves.

When I first arrived in May 1993 to Almaty as a Peace Corps trainer, I took to the hills with the same energy I used while going up and down the hills near the Mississippi River.  For exercise in Almaty and taking a break from Peace Corps training, other trainers and I battled the dusty switchbacks to get to the top of Kok Tobe.  Back then, the cable car was in sad disrepair and everything appeared to be in past tense of Soviet glory days.  Kind of like me today when I will traverse up the back roads to Kok Tobe.  Right now, I feel so past tense concerning physical exertion.  I’ll be with my Minneapolis friend Kim, from 20 years ago who has lived in Kazakhstan since 1995.  I’ll be huffing and puffing, like a cigarette smoker, while she will be skipping along the road like a frisky lamb.  Kim is in superior condition because she is an aerobics instructor; I’m a writing teacher chained to my desk.

I can’t help but reflect on what shepherd boy turned into King David penned in Psalms 114 when the Jewish people were delivered from their captors in Egypt, from verses 4-6: “The mountains skipped like rams, the little hills like lambs.  What ails you, O sea, that you fled? O Jordan, that you turned back? O mountains, that you skipped like rams? O little hills, like lambs?”

What imagery did David have in mind with mountains quaking and moving?  Mountains and hills should remain stationary, it is the rams and lambs duty to flit about from rock to craggy rock. The next verses might explain: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.”  Apparently King David desired his readers to know that God is in control and all powerful.

My thoughts sadly return to the Chinese who have suffered from a recent earthquake and aftershocks where they have positively witnessed the movement of what seemed stable.  Now they have dams that could possibly break and flood their homes, will their suffering ever cease?  King David wants his audience to know, God is in control and He will bring deliverance as He did with the Israelites.

Therefore, my thoughts turn to the Chinese sad plight and not my own of not being able to skip up the path like a lamb to Kok Tobe.  It should be a fun morning being with my long time Minnesota friend Kim and witnessing the changes of our walk from what I remember 15 years ago.

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