After yesterday's moaning morning I cheered myself up with a trip to sensible Dutch friend's house for a restorative cup of tea and a strange but delicious Kazakh cake made with layers of onions and meat.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
After yesterday's moaning morning I cheered myself up with a trip to sensible Dutch friend's house for a restorative cup of tea and a strange but delicious Kazakh cake made with layers of onions and meat.
Friday, 20 February 2009
Friday, 13 February 2009
Thursday, 12 February 2009
Our first ever stint abroad was a move to Sao Paulo in Brazil and five days after we arrived there was a maxi-devaluation of the currency, the Real, which was a crash course in economics (and Portuguese) for me. I remember sitting in our serviced apartment with a dictionary and a copy of the newspaper Folha De Sao Paulo, trying to work out what the paper was saying and also, just in basic terms, what “devaluation” meant, since I had never heard of that (in those days I guess I thought that pound sterling was also invincible, but I was young and naïve then). It was disappointing when it slowly dawned on me that what had been worth X yesterday, was today worth half of X. Even for someone with my patchy grasp of maths, that didn’t sound like a very good thing at all. And I was right, it was a very bad thing indeed. We were fine as long as we stayed inside Brazil but many of our travel plans in S America suffered for three years as all flights were based on petrol prices which were set in dollars and against which the Real had more or less halved. And it took us years to get over the pain of buying rounds in British pubs when we went home, which during the devaluation years, could cost us as much as a months socializing in Sao Paulo.
So it is a slightly older and wiser me which greets the news of a 26% devaluation of the Kazakh Tenge today. Usually these things are good and bad. Any money we bring in from abroad will now go further than it has been. Any money we earn here will of course go less far than we had hoped. Such is life. Just have to weather it.
I might have known that something like this would happen today. The hot water still not working, and as I opened the curtains of the baby’s room I noticed that one of our gates to the road was slightly open. Husband had pressed a button on the controller and not realized that he had half opened it before driving off. Because it had snowed in the night, it hadn’t been able to fully open but it was open enough to let a small and roving pack of wild dogs into the garden. The dogs had a great time, they peeed all over the un-finished igloo (now known as Mowat’s Folly) and finally Baktiyar came back and chased them away – I was not for going out and chasing them in my pyjamas in the snow!
I wonder whether drivers realize the variety they will encounter when working for a family. I also wonder whether their job description includes the line “Must be able to drive away packs of wild dogs as and when required”!
But just as I suppose I feel disappointed to realize that what we thought we would earn while here is unlikely to fully materialize in the current credit crunch crisis and with this devaluation, so Baktiyar (who we recently found out worked as a sniper in the army before he became a driver) probably never thought he would be battling wild canines at 8.30am before driving a spoilt housewife to her Pilates class.
If I ever get this text onto my blog, and google has not shut me down thru inactivity, there will be a period of nearly three months of not only sporadic posting, but increasingly desperate whinges about the Internet here.
Oh my god. Honestly, I don’t think that the government of any country should let people run internet services as they do in this place. You have to basically pay by the Megabite of usage. Like you listen to the radio and get charged according to how many songs you enjoy. Or watch TV and are charged by the programme for the pleasure (although if you subscribe to BBC Entertainment I actually think that they should pay you to watch it since their idea of prime time “entertainment” consists of re-runs of the “Weakest Link” - pathetic). It is not just down to bandwidth speed. You are given a connection speed, which ranges from dial up speed to 2048 bpm. But then you have to pay more based on your usage. The fastest connection with unlimited usage from one of the suppliers we were quoted from is more than US$4000 per month!!!!!
People are regularly telling us that they spend more than $800 a month on the internet.
This is daylight ROBBERY.
It makes me so mad. I think I am suffering culture shock. I had a rage attack last weekend when I went to the Mega Centre which is Almaty’s shopping mall, pretending to be like a real shopping centre with some particularly irritating quirks.
I had to go there to get the kids new school shoes (and to pay at least 25% more than we would pay for the same shoes at home, and with the choice of one shoe each since the shops carry no stock and they never have what you want, you have to just pretty much take what you can get). After getting them (“why are you moaning?”, I hear my local friends ask, “You got shoes, right? In one place? You didn’t have to go to four or five different places and eventually buy them in Louis Vuitton? Hey, chill out”) we had to go to the supermarket, Ramstore, also one of the world’s most annoying supermarkets since their stock is so variable and unreliable (in the Cyrillic script it looks like “PamCToP” so if you are ever faced with the choice between, say, PamCToP and a luxury Waitrose, you will know which one to choose (clue: NOT PamCToP!)). One time we went and they didn’t have ANY chicken for sale. This time, they were only missing small things like maple syrup and baby milk for 12 months plus, so as usual I had to spend the same money to buy the wrong type of baby milk for Connie, but never mind. You can never be organized and plan to go to Ramstore once in a week with a list and expect to get everything you want because they will NEVER have it.
Going from the shoe shop to the Ramstore involves descending one floor of the mall, but with a pushchair. There are three escalators but only one lift which is located at the opposite end of the mall from the shop we were in. And since, for seven years, I have moved my kids up and down escalators all over the world in their pushchair without incident, I opted to go down the escalator with Connie in her pushchair rather than walk the extra 5 minutes along the mall to the lift.
I hadn’t seen the sign not allowing this, and it turns out it is prohibited to descend au stroller (I know now this) but we started to go down it. Then a really irate security guard came running over as we started to descend and grabbed hold of the pushchair and started trying to pull it back up the moving escalator, saying, I presume, something along the lines of “Oi, you’re not allowed to take that on there,”. I was stunned at this outrageously stupid and dangerous thing to do, so I started yelling at him, something along the lines of “F*** off, what on earth do you think you are doing you total moron, get off my pushchair or there is going to be serious accident here,” This interchange was in Russian so the words used were approximations but the sentiments were very clear!
He saw and understood the look in my eyes, a dangerous blend of angry mother bear and woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, because he backed off. But he was so incensed at my breaking of the rule, that he went scuttling back up the escalator and pressed the button to stop it working entirely, leaving us stuck half way down. While he was glaring at me with a mixture of hatred and contempt, I was actually checking to make sure I still had a child in the pushchair and she hadn’t accidentally fallen over the edge of the escalator! But once he had pressed the button I was pretty much completely stumped. What did he think was going to happen now? We were going to base jump over the edge of the escalator with the stroller, just for thrills? Far too exciting. Wearily, I asked the older kids to carry the shopping bags and picked up the pushchair myself and carried it down the escalator. Much safer than just riding down and strolling off… NOT.
Which brings me back to why I was talking about Mega Centre, which was partly because the actions of the security guard were so inept. But then we still had to go to Ramstore. Before we went in we had to check our bags into the lockers they have for this purpose (they assume all their customers are thieves and so practically strip search you before you enter the store), then we had to take the pushchair with us because they don’t have any trolleys with baby seats which is also inconvenient.
We did our shopping, paid up, took our shopping down a travelator (lucky not another escalator to negotiate!) and out to the car which was parked in one of the furthest points from the door to the stores.
Loaded up the car, got the kids in their seats, then decided to take the trolley back to the other trolleys, not particularly out of a sense that I wanted to be community minded and help out, but more that I had had such a rubbish afternoon that I would be buggered if I was going to give the holding company another dollar of my money for making me suffer their shit mall. In most places that force you to put a deposit in a trolley for the privilege of giving them your money in the shops, there are many easily accessible trolley drop off places dotted about the car park so that you don’t have to walk miles to drop off your trolley. But not Mega Centre. They are so focused on getting that extra dollar out of every one who parks their cars there, that they force you to walk all the way back to the door to park your trolley, but which time you think that you are not going to be able to get out of the car park because too much time will have elapsed between paying your parking and leaving through the lever thing. (I do know that this was stupid on my part, and I should have just abandoned the trolley with my dollar in it, and left it for the poor trolley boy to collect and get a small tip for doing so, but I just couldn’t at that point. I was marching around like an idiot “on a point of principle”… yawn at myself for being such a numpty.)
But what really annoys me about the trip to Mega was not so much the blatant lack of service, and total profiteering (it is a shopping mall after all and was only set up to make money for the owners, so I can accept that) but the really depressing thing is that the Mega centre is the only shopping centre in Almaty. And all the middle class Kazakh families go there, go bowling, eat in the restaurants, watch movies and do that “hanging out at the mall” thing, and seem to think they are getting a good experience. When the reality is totally different. They have hardly any choice, the customer service is terrible, most of the shops sell grossly over priced, out of date stock and hold no reserves so you nearly always have to compromise on what you wanted to buy. It is also daylight robbery, not only from your purse, but of your spirit. It saps one’s strength to carry on. And they just accept it. And in fact, probably think it is quite good. I find that depressing.
And so now, after another week or so of suffering the lack of internet connectivity (which may also be down to my lap top, I am not sure) we are now having to consider taking out an internet service which will cost us nearly $500 to install, and nearly $700 per month to use. And this also sticks in my throat. I am not happy to accept this. The internet is not a luxury and should not be priced as a luxury. My husband has a well-paid job and we should not be noticing the cost of the internet as a major expense in our household bills, but it is going to cost us as much as hiring a full time nanny to get it in the house. And what is more… there is ZERO choice of suppliers for us, until KazTelecom upgrade our telephone line.
This is all really annoying to me, especially in a credit crunch, when our income is not guaranteed and we will all likely make less than we hoped this year. And I don’t understand why people here accept this, and why the newspapers are not full of stories of this crookery going on in our midst every single day of the year. It is outrageous.
I don’t want to go giving thousands of dollars away to some opportunistic company, which, as my husband described, are using a “rape” strategy – since presumably, with competition, these outrageous rates are unsustainable. How I long for them to go out of business, but not until I have transferred my account to a cheaper server available once I have the new telephone line!
OK rant over. Maybe next time I write on my blog I will be able to upload it straight away on my new internet line.
Off to bed now, but unfortunately without a shower, since our hot water has stopped working.
It has been nearly two weeks now since we held the Burns Supper at the Intercontinental Hotel in Almaty. What started as a quick suggestion by husband, “I’m going to organize the Burns Supper here. Will you help me?” turned into a marathon effort of organization which stretched us both to the limit, but which was a good evening, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and we raised a good amount of money for charity. It is not that we consider ourselves duty bound or self-appointed Scotlandizers of the world. In fact, I am not sure how husband came to the decision to take on the mantel of organizer of the Burns Supper, but take it on he did with gusto and I helped.
Last year, there was no Supper, since the person who had planned to organize it was busy with his wife having a baby overseas and when he reaslised he wouldn’t be able to do it, he couldn’t find anyone else to take on the task. A shame, but just goes to show that if you don’t do things yourself, sometimes they just don’t happen at all. When you live in a place like Almaty, it is nice to have things organized so that you have some nice evenings, the expat community gets a chance to mingle a bit, groups mix up and you can have a bit of hassle-free fun. But it relies on there being a number of people willing to help put these things together. Arranging a black tie evening for 225 people at a five star hotel, with a five-piece band and a piper flying in from Scotland, sit down dinner, speeches and haggis being smuggled into the country by the suitcase takes more than an afternoon to organize.
Actually, the event took off steam and especially once our initially-reluctant dance instructor got enthused, and paying punters started coming to the dance practices we had organized then we all got quite excited about everything and things really got going. Once the band arrived (they are called The Infamous Grouse (great name, great band I think their website is www.infamousgrouse.com or maybe face book, not sure and cant check on the internet at the moment)) we all had a blast of music-filled evenings, nights at the pub and the evening itself, which ran until nearly 3am, and was brilliant.
Highlights for me were the pre-party to welcome the band, thank the people who had helped us to organize everything, and have a good knees up at our house the night before the Burns Night, when Hugh Donald gave us a virtuoso accordion performance sitting in our living room. Our kids, and our friends kids who were staying the night, were all sitting listening on the stairs in their pyjamas and I loved that.
And taking the band hiking two days after the Burns, watching as my gutsy friend L showed her mettle once again, helped me to carry the baby in the back pack and then literally crawled up such a steep slope of ice and snow with Connie on her back. And good for the band for sticking with us, even when we had obviously taken the wrong route and ended up hacking our way through huge pampas grasses, climbing through barbed wire fences (disappointing on that walk as they were the first bits of barbed wire we have ever seen in Kazakhstan!) but finally getting a fabulous view of the Tien Shan mountain range.
I also enjoyed the very cool sound technician guy on the night, complete with permanent sun glasses, skinny jeans, studded belt and afghan head wrap. Despite having zero verbal communication, through a series of thumbs up, thumbs down and other gesticulating, he did exactly what I wanted with the music all the way through the evening. And if I looked at him after a long break and gave him a “turn it up slowly” kind of sign, he immediately spotted that I was looking at him, and did exactly what I asked. Brilliant.
Big problems getting the Internet in the house. BIG problems. The telephone line has to be upgraded before the Telephone company, Kaz Telecom, will install any new Internet systems. The upgrade would be done in the first two weeks, then the last two weeks of December, we were told.
On January 3rd with no Internet and no landline, I called our agent to ask about progress and she told me that there were two landlines in the house and so I could use dial up Internet in the meantime while waiting for broadband to be installed. Dial up internet is so obsolete that macs don’t even come with a built-in modem. And since I have a mac, quite apart from the fact that it probably takes about 500 hours to download one email on dial up, I can’t even try since I don’t have a blinking modem. However, I did in desperation plug the telephone line into the computer in the vague hope that something might happen. All that happened was that I discovered that neither telephone line was working at all. A man came at 8.30 on Sunday morning to make them work (which was fantastic because we had got in from a late night at 2am and had banging heads, and installing the phone lines involved copious amounts of hammering - nice).
And today, even worse news. They are not going to upgrade our lines until February and they absolutely will not install any broadband on the old system, so I will just have to lump it. Or find another supplier (I do not yet know of another one for this area).
So I have to go to wretched Café Delia every day to download my mails, where the band width and speed is pathetic, and where I cannot open or update my blog. And I cannot skype my friends or family, or Internet shop (quite useful when you live in a place where you cant get anything, and anything you can get is three times the price it should be and old stock). AGH ALMATY!!!!
One of my friends here is Korean and she is very friendly and nice and in this blog I will call her Mrs Kim. But her language skills are, by her own admission, absolutely hopeless. We met at the beginning of the year. I was finding that my new Russian lessons were opening up the language section of my brain, and my non-existent Korean (see bigseoulsister.blogspot.com for some clues about that) was absolutely flowing. I was positively lucid! So she took hope from the fact that she had met a westerner who could occasionally translate some of the words into Korean. A shame that she believed this, because the Korean is now firmly gone again and seems, since our recent visit to Thailand, to have been completely overwritten by my very patchy Thai. But that is her disappointment, not mine, since I am more likely to return to Thailand and it is very useful to have some Thai in Thailand. But I digress. This friend’s “Engrish” is terrible, her Russian is, I believe, even worse (although this is hard to imagine!), and after a long trip back to Korea she admitted defeat and hired a full time interpreter to go around with her. This is weird but works well as she can now communicate with everyone she needs to.
But my friend is a plucky and courageous woman who is not going to allow a total lack of communicative ability to prevent her from living in a normal life. When her son single handedly built a 10 metre long ice tunnel in their back garden (not an unimpressive feat given that he is only 7 years old, and my husband spent the best part of his Christmas holidays trying and failing to build an igloo in our garden), she decided to invite some friends over to see it and play in it.
This involved getting the interpreter to write a long and detailed invitation for the kids to come on a certain date and enjoy “fellowship”, snacks, playing in the yard with the igloo tunnel and a request to bring warm clothes etc. Then followed lengthy discussions about how the kids would arrive (we were dropping ours off), she offered the use of two drivers to pick up and collect the kids. It was really quite an intense amount of time and effort required to coordinate what would have taken between two native English speakers from the same country, approximately 1 minute.
But both husband and I were impressed at her guts and effort and really keen for our kids to go and enjoy themselves. The children were excited at the thought of being offered good Korean rice and Kim (dried seaweed) which they so loved eating while living in Seoul, and so they tottered off quite happily to play.
We are both knackered after a tough month of the baby being sick, mother in law staying for four weeks, moving house, organizing the Burns Night and I have also been diagnosed with bronchitis, so basically feeling a bit run down. And with both he big kids away playing in the Korean house on a Saturday morning, we decided to put the baby down for her nap and watch a DVD (in the day – exciting!).
But half an hour into our film (the outrageously certified 12 Batman film, the Dark Knight – someone must have taken a bung to make that a 12, we were both terrified) the phone rang, and it was Mr Kim.
“Who has had an accident?” asked husband on the phone. I could only hear one side of the conversation but it went something like this:
“Ah, Sasha has had an accident. Is she OK?”
“Oh, you are taking her to hospital? Is she OK?”
“What? What? Which hospital are you going to? Is she OK? Where is the hospital?” and he hung up.
We were not sure how serious her accident was, but we knew she was going to a local hospital up the road, so no time could be lost. husband jumped in the car, mobile phone in hand, trying to find out where they were. We had to wait for him to get there before we would know if she was about to lose an eye or something horrific.
Well, fortunately, it was not too serious. She had merely slipped and needed 7 stitches under her chin.
Husband said that he arrived in the local hospital and burst into the room where Sasha was being attended to, and into which he was not supposed to go according to hospital rules, calling out “Stop!” to the white gowned doctor who stood, poised with needle in hand above our bloody-faced five-year-old daughter who was lying out flat on an operating table.
The doctor took offence that husband preferred to remove our daughter and take her to a place where we could understand the diagnosis and treatment from a doctor who spoke our language (husband understood that much and tried to explain in Russian,
“Look mate, I’m sorry but I can’t speak Russian and neither can this bloke here, and I would just rather go and get this sorted out somewhere where I can understand what’s going on.”) but husband persisted and soon they were heading down the road, daughter sniveling in the passenger seat, on their way to the clinic.
The South African doctor greeted husband warmly – we are practically on first name terms these days, and also informed us that at a recent management meeting of the clinic, we had been mentioned by name as the month’s most profitable family!
Seven stitches later and Sasha was happy as Larry to have a genuine injury with antibiotic pills to take to school, we were greatly relieved not to have anything worse to deal with, and instead of Batman we all three watched Barbie and the Diamond Castle, which is a completely ridiculous film but Sasha loves it.
I am gutted for Mrs Kim. She put so much effort into a lovely day and her worst nightmare happened within half an hour of the start. I am going to ask one of my friends in Korea to translate a message into Korea for her to tell her to please not worry about Sasha’s accident which could have happened anywhere, that we in no way blame her for the accident happening, and that we are terribly sorry that the lovely day she had spent so much time and energy organizing had involved a trip to the local A&E.
As previously described, our key concern about moving here was the lack of adequate medical facilities in town. It is not that Kazakhs are all dying on the streets for a lack of doctors (although I believe the life expectancy for Kazakh males is only about 56 – need to check that) but that without perfect Russian one is completely at the mercy of the doctors here unless you use the International clinic. Also, the method of studying medicine in this part of the world is completely different to the UK. Instead of learning all about medicine for about five years, then specializing, the doctors here train exclusively in their specialism from more or less the beginning (once they have done parts of the body I think they then move on to their chosen special subject) and so a fully qualified doctor who specializes in, say, bones will have almost zero understanding of the needs of, say, a 14 month old baby.
Basically, if you move to Kazakhstan you have to pray that you don’t have a serious accident or health problem, because you won’t be able to treat it here. If it is an emergency, they will patch you up and get you on the next plane out to Frankfurt, London or somewhere. If it is a long term serious thing, you have to basically go home.
The health care here is provided by SOS and the name probably gives you a clue – you have to be in pretty desperate medical circumstances to want to use these guys. They are a health care and security services firm who operates in all the dodgy parts of the world where normal western standard medicine is not available. Places like Africa, Central Asia, the middle of China. One of our friends works for them, and was previously in Nigeria where one of his biggest headaches was getting the bodies out fast enough since the volume was so high. Their clinic is full of ‘exciting’ pictures of private jets taking off in rural locations, I suppose to make people feel they are living on slightly wilder but safe side of life. For me, the thought of being so far from adequate health facilities that you need to charter a jet to get to any, and the imagined image of me (or anyone I know) being stretchered onto a plane to go to the doctors, is my idea of total hell. For some, it is what makes living in these places worthwhile – lots of gory stories, and extreme living.
The doctors work six weeks on six weeks home leave, and are on 24 hour call for that time. At the moment we have a nice South African doctor and when he goes home, we have a nice Australian doctor. Both seem competent but have different attitudes to certain treatments, so if you go with one issue one week and then go back with the same issue but continued problems the next, you may be diagnosed or prescribed with totally different conditions and solutions by the other doctor. But not to worry, there is always an element of critical analysis required of doctor’s opinions anyway I have found since starting to use private health care 10 years ago. (It was lucky we were advised to get a second opinion on the back doctor who wanted to have a go at My husband’s disk problem with a ground breaking laser technology in Brazil – the country’s No 2 back man who My husband got an appointment with thru friends’ contacts subsequently advised that the chances of irreparable damage to My husband’s spinal cord could have been up to 70% if he had gone thru with that procedure). And most of the time, people don’t have serious medical issues. So for day to day run of the mill things, the general doctors are absolutely fine.
The last few years, our family has spent thousands of pounds in private health cover and in total I think we have been to the doctors about 8 times for totally minor things like ear infections. When we came, we just thought that we would probably be fine since our track record for the last 5 years has been pretty good. But it has not been quite as planned. As you already know if you have read the rest of this blog, I have already had a general anaesthetic here. And unfortunately we moved into round two medical trauma a week after New Year when our baby Connie developed a high temperature of 40 degrees or so for days and days, didn’t respond to antibiotics, had green diarrhea so badly that her bottom turned inside out, and eventually had to be put on a drip for a night in the clinic.
We have been very lucky with our kids and not had serious problems, let alone hospitalization of any of them and it was quite shocking how quickly she went downhill and became a really sick baby. The doctor came to our house for a visit and she seemed to be rallying, but by the end of the day, she was flopping around, eyes sunken, drifting in and out of fitful sleep, occasionally crying as her tummy cramped and more of that awful green, mucousy poo came out. It was pretty awful.
In the end we called the doctor and told him that she hadn’t improved at all, and what did he think, so he told us to bring her in to go on a drip for one night, but that she might have to remain on it for 36 or even up to 48 hours.
Putting a drip in a tiny baby is a tricky thing since they have such small veins. Getting the needly thing to stay in is also tricky since they tend to wave their arms around and bend them, so everything comes out. We were lucky, the doctor is experienced and it only took about three attempts to get the line in. Then we splinted her arm and settled down for the night. At about 10.30 the doctor went home and handed over to the Local Night Doctor. The South African doctor told me that if there were any problems to call him and he would come down. But I thought, well, she is a doctor, (not knowing about the way Doctors become doctors here as previously described) and local, so her methodology might not be quite as expected but she is qualified so I expect that “Everything will Probably be Alright” – my motto for living in Kazakhstan.
The local doctor looked a bit nervous at being left with a foreign woman and her baby. She also looked, I thought, a bit like the sort of doctor who might accidentally kill someone and then try to cover it up – but perhaps that was my being worried! I suspect that her specialism might have been geriatrics, she certainly didn’t know much about babies. Her first bit of advice to me was that reading with a reading light (which we had brought in so that the room was not lit with strip lights) was bad for my eyes, and that I ought to stop. “It’s OK, I am only reading for a little while, I think my eyes will survive,” I told her, smiling politely but holding my ground as she actually tried to switch the light off.
Later that night, the drip machine started to beep an alarm. She changed the bottle to the next bottle and it continued to work. But at 5am the alarm went again, and I noticed a large air bubble coming down the tube so I rang the bell to call her. She looked at it, and started fiddling around near the shelves, obviously not knowing where anything was. She farted around trying to suck the air out with a syringe (and almost injecting more air into the tube), then took the machine apart about five times getting all the tubes tangled up and spilling saline all over the floor. Still no solution. Then she fiddled about so much with Connie’s arm and dressing and splint that she managed to make the line fall out but would not admit that she had done that. Finally, at 7am she gave up and switched the machine off. She didn’t tell me that she was waiting for the doctor to come in, so after a while I asked her if she was going to switch the drip back on (after all, if I was just going to be lying on a bed with a sick baby I would much rather have been at home, and not in the SOS day room), to which she tetchily relied “No, I am waiting the doctor.” After being awake almost all night and enduring the last two hours of watching some technical incompetent trying to fix my baby daughter’s drip, I have to admit that I was feeling slightly frosty. So I asked her if it would be OK to switch off the light so that we could both go back to sleep. She was fiddling around counting medicines and recording them on a clipboard. She tutted, rolled her eyes, and stomped off to leave us to sleep for 20 minutes before Husband arrived with some breakfast. Not a great night.
However, no need for anything apart from this small bloggy moan, since the baby did recover eventually, and is now fine. The South African doctor patiently explained the way local doctors are trained when I told him quietly later in his surgery that the night doctor had been a bit ‘interesting’. And he said that the clinic is really working hard to try and get their local staff up to more recognizable standards of patient care (and bedside manner!) which is good I suppose.
We were glad to go home, and thought that would be the end of it, but we were back again last Saturday at the end of another interesting set of circumstances which probably deserves its own blog entry title.
Wow, a long break from my blog but things remain largely the same as my last entry. We are now a month in our new house, but there is no sign of the Internet being connected. The latest delay is that the telephone company will upgrade our telephone line and until that is done there will be no installation of the Internet at all. I have resorted to sneaking out in the early morning to the main Internet café here (Café Delia) and stealing the whole bandwidth to myself, otherwise the speed of connection is so slow I want to slit my wrists. I have spent three days in various internet wi fi hot spots (they should be called “tepid pools” in Kazakhstan) trying to download an upgrade to Itunes so that I can actually use my new ipod and sound dock that I was given for Christmas. In one of these places, the length of time estimated to download my 60mbs was so long that there was not space for the download box to fit it in, It just kept on going up: estimated time to download 4 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, 35 hours then blank!
Having left the house with everyone sleeping this morning, I have finally managed to do the download today. It sounds very superficial to whinge about my itunes upgrade, but it also means that to check my emails takes approx 5 minutes per message to open. Given that we are trying to organize a Burns Supper at the Intercontinental Hotel for 250 people in under 3 weeks time, not having working Internet is frankly a pain in the bum.
We have had no internet in our apartment for more than 10 days, during which time I have been able to go to an internet café three times, only one of which resulted in a successful download of my messages. Thwive I failed once because the connection speed was too slow to connect, once because of Apple’s insane insistence on making you download their browser to be able to access your webmail (boo hiss, I will soon move to gmail). Coming from super-connected Korea where the internet speed is second-to-none, this is very frustrating. But like any kind of deprivation, the first few days are the most acutely painful, and then you kind of get used to it.
So moving into our new house and learning that I will have to wait two weeks to be connected to the internet here (for that read up to a month, since New Year will happen during that period), is not too traumatic. I suppose this is a good thing (the not being traumatized bit, not the length of time I will remain off line). I opened my computer last night to see if, by chance, there was an open wireless network that I could log into from the new house, but there was nothing.
Added to this, the last few days my phone has been playing up. I have been trying to call husband and being told that my calls are barred. I looked into the phone security and it seemed that the kids had been playing with it and locked me out of my own phone security with a password (chances of recreating the password input by five-year-old fingers who know not what they are doing must be about the same as picking the winning lottery ticket). While I like them being able to listen to music (their favourite song at the moment is Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day which, even though it contains the F-word is such a great song that I cannot resist letting them listen to it) I don’t like having my phone settings changed.
Eventually, I restored the phone to its factory settings (deleting Green Day and the rest) in order to be able to make a call. But all to no avail. And then husband called from the office to say that the finance department had forgotten to pay the bill for October so I had been cut off, and once it was paid I would be reconnected.
The mobile phone company helpfully sends you anglicised English messages (Russian but written with non-Cyrillic letters) which means that you can read the sounds out loud, but still have no idea what they mean. So perhaps they had warned me of my impending cut before it happened. I don’t know.
It is difficult to organise life with driver, nanny, three kids and husband all in different places without a mobile phone. I know it sounds so pathetic to complain about having to organise a small army of staff, but there is no point having them if you can't organise things like what time to collect me, or the kids, or husband from a certain place. And with no mobile as well as no landline or internet, I have been feeling quite isolated - and from time to time, dare I say it, a bit lonely! As with all things in Almaty, a hefty cash sum was dispatched to the office and the problem was quickly solved.
All I need to do now is get a landline in the house.
This may or may not be the correct date.
We have had numerous conversations
about the right
I have not checked yet what it is. Frankly
speaking, the last few days have been a bit of a whirl. This has been partly from my own making – more of that later – and partly because when you have not had internet connection for more than 10 days and your cable TV is disconnected and your phone gets cut off because the company didn’t send the bill for October and your husband’s company didn’t pay the bill, then you start to stop tracking things like dates! So it must be around the 8th or 9th, but yesterday was a bank holiday, so even if the date is wrong the week is shorter than we need to do what we want to achieve!
And so I am writing this in my lovely new house, but I have no internet connection to upload so I am saving it to word and then at some point in the near future I hope, I will transmit it to my blog site, by which time any regular viewer will have assumed that I have stopped posting to this blog at all, and stopped visiting.
So let’s back track to the move. When we packed in Korea, it took nine men four full working days to pack us up. Admittedly, unpacking is quicker, but the moving company here was confident that it would take them just two days to unpack us here. I was dubious, and especially so when they told me that half of one of those days would be to unload the container from the train and put it onto three trucks to be moved to the house here from about an hour’s drive outside Almaty.
So let’s just put it down to differences in definition, such an important part of life. Yes, they did take everything out of the boxes in two days. Did our previously fairly well organized Korean home re-appear unpacked in Almaty? No, it did not. A scene akin to the effects of a force 15 hurricane attacking the house, or an angry giant picking every room up, shaking it around a lot then moving off to destroy something else, did.
But then the definition of packing here is different from other places. An aside to the big move, the one that involved 384 boxes, is the smaller move from temporary apartment to home.
We had arranged for our basement to be divided in two, to provide a dedicated guest room for the people we hope will come and stay. And then we had decided to use our previous guest bed in our eldest daughters room and put the bunks in the second oldest daughters room, so that both of them could have friends to stay without a having to get involved with the usual inflatable mattress scenario. Which left us a guest bed short. So we arranged with our landlord of our temporary apartment who was selling that flat, to buy one of the bedrooms-worth of furniture off him as we left.
And he arranged (since our movers here were planning to over charge us about 2000 percent on any extra work we gave them) for some guys to come and move it for us. And we then arranged that since the guys were coming, would they also, for an extra fee, move our stuff (suitcases, boxes of files etc) since we both have sore backs at the moment. Sorry to bother you with the tedious background details of this situation (scroll down if you are falling asleep).
So they came to the apartment and wrapped up the furniture, we had already packed up our clothes and files etc into boxes and suitcases (which was fun after an impromptu 1.15am laser pen disco with Debs and Matt who had popped in on the way home from the pub for a last drink together, as we had all been living in the same apartment block).
Then they drove them the five minutes to our new house, and we were telling them where to put the boxes, and all was going pretty quickly. In fact, I was even beginning to think that the local movers are not too bad, maybe people could use them if they were moving in Almaty and not have to use the top dollar English-speaking ones, when suddenly the rough-looking foreman said in Russian to his men, “Right lads, get in the trucks”.
This would have been fine, except that they had not finished. And the two remaining items waiting to be moved were massive, heavy bits of the huge wardrobe that we have purchased. One huge block had been put in the middle of our living room, the other large wooden base was blocking the access to the downstairs loo and almost unmoveable it was so heavy.
“No, no,” said my husband, “You haven’t finished.”
“Fssyo (finish)’” said the foreman,
“No, you have to move these two big things into the basement,” said My husband.
“Fssyo,” he repeated.
His men were looking at each other, and at us, and hovering around.
“Get in the trucks,” he told them again, and off they went.
My husband, increasingly desperate not to have to move these things himself, was hopping around, trying to persuade the grumpy man to allow his burly strong men to move the things downstairs in an effort that would have taken them less than 5 minutes, but the foreman was having none of it. Emphatically, he went and sat in the truck himself, his men around him while My husband phoned our go-between contact urging him to intervene.
The foreman then tried to explain, “Ahh, sorreee, my director, he say no, he say finish. My director, my director he say no move.”
“Well, tell your director he is not getting paid if you don’t move these things downstairs. It will take you five minutes. Please,” begged My husband.
A few more minutes of heated phone calls ensured, during which time the offending items could have been moved downstairs several times, and then with a flourish of the foreman’s arm with the words “Go, Go, Go,” and in a cloud of road dust, the two trucks and all the muscle disappeared, leaving us with the gigantic pieces of furniture in the middle of our living space.
“Maybe we can move it ourselves,” said My husband, and tentatively tried to push the wardrobe across the floor to a less prominent position. It didn’t shift!
We managed to resolved the problem later that afternoon, when some guys came to remove the rubbish from the previous days unpack and My husband got our controller at the moving company to tell them to shift it for us. And then some guys turned up to reassemble the bed and wardrobe. Apparently, moving something does not include keeping it in the same form as when it is picked up, the movers were quite happy to move it, but then leave it totally dismantled.
No internet now for 7 days. I hate being off line. I can’t phone anyone. I can’t email, I can’t check my mails. I haven’t been able to do my last minute Xmas shopping and get my mum to post it out for us. I am on strict instructions not to spend the 2 days we get in Bangkok shopping (and frankly I would rather spend the time as a family having a holiday than haring around trying to arrange stocking fillers etc), but since the airport there is pretty majorly infested with Anti government protestors, the chances of us actually making it to Bangkok in the next two weeks are slim.
My friend in Bangkok, the Mighty L, reports that protestors have even ripped apart images of the Queen of Thailand in the Northern provinces (in response to her attending the funeral of a pro-government rally victim) which is quite out of character for Thailand and quite worrying for the future of the monarchy there. The monarchy in Thailand being not quite as kosher as one might like, but definitely better than the utter crack pots who would otherwise be in charge of the political spectrum. The fact that the airport has been occupied for more than a week and, umm, the army have not been ordered in by the government to empty it says quite a lot about who is in charge there. Or about the power stalemate. Why is the government not just sending the army in? Why do the BBC reporters keep referring to the “military” levels of organization of the protestors etc?! Perhaps because the government is no longer in charge of the army, and the army are helping the anti-government rallies. I am glad we don’t live there any more.
Having said that, the continuing gloom in the global recession is not at all good either. God. I am not sure if you want to be miserable in places like London and kind of grieve along with all the others as people lose their jobs, and all the fun in life is removed with financial constraints. Or whether one is better off living somewhere utterly bonkers anyway, where things will likely remain fairly bonkers and the possible solutions to a down turn will be interesting to see. I don’t know. We still have skiing 20 minutes away, but not if the lift operator goes out of business. But surely the super-rich Kazakhs would not want to be embarrassed in front of their Asian neighbours and admit poverty to the extent that the 2001 Asian winter games would have to be cancelled for a lack of lift facilities.
The worlds largest outdoor ice rink (until Mexico city unveiled a very wet-looking one on the news today which is apparently bigger) at Medeu, which is just outside town, was open all summer with no ice on it. Now that it is cold enough for everyone to want to go skating on it, they have shut it to prepare for the 2011 Asian games and it is surrounded by 20-foot metal fences like everywhere else in town (to cover up non-working credit-crunch-quiet building sites.
One of the big plant storage areas next to the biggest development site in town caught on fire a week or so ago at the weekend and we passed it as we were heading off to a shop somewhere while the fire engines were there. And the first thing that came to my mind was, “Oh, XXX Development company’s plant and materials depot is on fire. I wonder if that was an arson attack/insurance claim then.”
Off to watch the news to check the status of the Thai airport again then bed.
Tomorrow we begin to move into our new house. I should be sounding much more chipper.
Friday night was a leaving drinks for a guy who actually already left but who had come back to celebrate his new life in Luxembourg with a small cocktail at the Kazakhstan hotel (times are tough and no more fancy schmancy events are to be held at the most expensive hotels in town, according to Moscow head office).
Mainly the party was full of HR personnel, the usual expat crowd who go to everything, and his other colleagues.
The food was pretty ghastly (although in Almaty, even the worst looking food usually tastes better than you expect because of the delicious nature of the fresh produce here), so noone ate much, and by the time we all went next door to the pub at about 9.30, everyone was pretty well oiled.
The pub in question is the dubiously-named Guns and Roses pub: hotel bar with a rock theme and on Friday nights a live band. Actually, the G&R is not at all bad. A previous visit surprised with a really excellent cheese bacon burger. It is massive with lots of leather booths and a dance floor and loads of staff who mainly speak English, and as a result it is pretty much a favourite hang out for the expats in town.
Last Friday though, there were heaps of people we knew in there: a large girls night out, our office party and then the usual guys who are always in the pub no matter which pub you go to and on which night of the week. It must be a lonely life if you are here as a singly, and so no surprises that they head out for a beer and some company most evenings. The telly is crap!
Friday night was late and beery, and so we woke up on Saturday feeling under par (but not so bad as to want to give up on the day). We had a quick fry up and then got ourselves into gear to pack up for a day at the ski slopes. Hungover this, of course, took about four times as long as we would have liked and so we didn’t leave until about 10.30.
Spent the day at Chimbalak taking it in turns to look after the baby and go skiing and it was a pretty good day. Apart from the fact that by the time we had suited and booted everyone and carried all our kit and the baby in her pushchair up from the lower car park (it deffo pays to arrive early) to the café I felt like we had done a days skiing.
We were supposed to be going to another party that night, but I had failed to find a babysitter and it was probably a good thing. We were totally finished after six hours at the slopes looking after the kids, and went to bed at 20.11!!
Another Monday and another fabulous hike. I nearly didn’t go this week, as Sasha had been complaining of a sore tummy all weekend and then had a very slight temperature on Monday morning. I was looking forlornly at the snow-topped mountains out of the window while she happily coloured in some Balamory print offs at 9am when Allia the nanny arrived.
“Aren’t you going hiking today?” she asked
“Well, you know, Sasha is ill and I sort of thought I ought to stay at home with her’”
“It’s a lovely day today. Klassnaya pagoda (classy weather),” said Allia
“Yes, I know, fantastic weather for a walk,” I said.
“Oh, go on. I am an old woman and I can’t go, you go up there and have a blast. We’ll be fine.”
I didn’t need much encouragement and 10 minutes later I was fully kitted up and running out the door to meet the hiking group at the Gorny Gigant rendez vous point.
And what followed was my favourite hike so far. We drove past the ski centre at Chimbalak and further up the track, about 5 kilometers on snow and ice. Stopping by some unfinished chalets (surprise, surprise, nothing in Kazakhstan seems to be finished) with one guy mixing cement at snail’s pace, or should I say credit crunch pace we parked the cars and headed up a track. The beauty of this walk as that it was not too steep but looking all the time along a fabulous wide valley, the sun rising through the sky all the way. At one point we took a short cut through the snow walking up a steep incline on our way towards a massive rock face. We passed an RIP sign to some guy who had probably met his maker there, or perhaps who had also loved this spot so much he had chosen to be laid to rest there.
Then we walked up to a dam built apparently to stop avalanches from crashing down into town, and water from racing down the valley. A very quick lunch as it was v cold, then a brisk walk back down to the cars.
On the way down, friend L and I chatted about various things including currency fluctuations and the credit crunch (even the house wives are at it now). We commented, as we floundered about how many Tenge there were to the Euro and what the Pound was at, and therefore what was best to buy where, at how glad we were that we were having this discussion on our own, walking down a mountain and without our supposedly financially-astute husbands listening to the gobbledegook and utter nonsense theories that we have both developed!