Friday, 7 November 2008

Highs and lows

It has been an emotional week for this housewife! Starting on Monday with tears outside the state department store Tsum while buying a dress for the Women's Club Ball which was a bit of a surprise. This was not because I am too fat to be able to find anything to fit (which makes a pleasant change), but through sheer frustration at the lack of help and flexibility sometimes displayed here, which when compared to service and sales oriented-Asia can sometimes be trying. 

I had struck gold by finding a dress which was quite OK, and which fitted, in the first shop that I went to. But then, not trusting my instincts which told me to just buy it and be thankful that the whole business would take under 20 minutes, I went traipsing round Tsum to check out other alternatives. What a depressing place Tsum is: a collection of mish-mash-style boutiques offering over-priced goods in a horrible environment of stuffy little changing rooms, with sly-looking sales assistants ready to relieve you of large chunks of cash for your trouble.  The third floor offers an enormous selection of absolute crap - tourist souvenirs, real wolf-skin rugs (with heads still attached), skin shields, miniature yurts in every size, slippers and Russian dolls. I have no idea who buys this stuff. 

Anyway, eventually I went back to the first boutique to get my dress. Handed over my credit card which she would not take. Cash only or no sale. So I asked her if she could run it through the machine of a friend in the building (in Thailand and Korea they would never lose a sale through a technicality like this - you would be taken up some stairs, around the corner and a solution would be found immediately). NO. Cash only. I sighed in frustration. My husband was in Scotland with our one and only cash card and I was 5000 tenge short of the price in my purse. 

I resented paying the price for the dress anyway, shopping in an environment that actively made me feel worse than before I left the house, and the thought of drawing cash on my credit card which would make it even more costly really wrankled, so I left the shop and went downstairs onto the street to consider my options. 

Sitting on a cold bench, outside the run-down department store, with various central asian beggars constantly asking for money and a cloudy sky, I sobbed with irritation. What is the point of living in a place like this to try and earn some decent money, if you end up spending it all on ridiculously over-priced items simply because there is no decent competition in Almaty, I thought. 

But then I pulled myself together, stopped the sniveling (could not give the woman in the shop the satisfaction of seeing that I was not quite myself) and decided that rather than get huffy about drawing cash on the credit card and not buy the dress, therefore leaving myself a week to get stressed about finding something to wear to the wretched ball and probably ending up spending more somewhere else, that I should just be practically-minded, get the job done and move on. This is what I did, and in fact the dress is absolutely fine and wasn't even too expensive. Must be the hormones! 

So this was the start of the week, but lately things have been going much better. There have been several small triumphs in the organisation of the older kids schedules at school, a saxophone teacher has been identified for Beatriz, Sasha is getting the swimming lessons we wanted her to have, and Beatriz has got a slot in the tennis programme. I even managed to get bargain tennis raquets at Rubbish Ramstore (the supermarket which apparently switches its fridges off at night!!!), because the assistants were too lazy to check the real price and so charged me for one badminton set instead of two junior tennis raquets and a packet of balls - what a win. 

I think the emotional roller coaster is a combination of being unsettled, a little hormonal and the inevitable consequences of the big mental adjustment we have to make when we move from one place to another. Tonight is the social event of 2008 for Almaty expats: the "Latino nights"-themed ball at the Intercontinental. Lots of girls are massively excited about their dresses, nails and hair should be a nice evening and we will enjoy ourselves. Then tomorrow we will drive up the hill to Big Almaty Lake and stay in the Observatory overnight which should be beautiful, peaceful and amazing. 

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