May 31 2012

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Category: Kazakh Driving,Kazakhstan,Personal,WeatherChrisM @ 9:15 pm

OK, so that was really just me crowbarring a Bare Naked Ladies & Rita Mcneil cover track into this post’s title, but I wanted to write about a few things that hit you when you spend some time in Kazakhstan. As you may have noticed from recent tweets, the style of driving can really leave you shell shocked if you are actually driving yourself. Even as a passenger, it is noticeable, but once you are responsible for other people’s sanity and safety, you really tend to pick up just how different people approach road journeys and safety here. Lane discipline is virtually absent, and if you are not moving forward before the green light appears, more often than not you will be honked at for slowing everyone down. Combine that with the fact that the traffic that had previously been on green at the lights will regularly drive through red lights, and you can start to understand why accidents are so frequent here. Hence the GPS device (I really must dig out that website address I promised a while back) and video camera to continuously record what is going on around our car.
Moving on swiftly before my blood pressure spikes, the weather here really does spend most of the year at one extreme or other. My YouTube upload from years ago (YT removed it due to copyright issues) mentions one of the common misconceptions about the climate here in Astana – it doesn’t snow 9 months of the year. Sure, temperatures do occasionally drop to -35/-40 degrees celsius with biting winds and snow drifts, but by March-April the snow has usually melted, and up until August/September, hot days can get very close to 35/40 degrees in the shade. This means that well designed & built houses have to include thicker walls (for insulation from the heat or cold, depending on the season), external doors open up onto normal room doors wherever the outside elements come into contact with the building, and air conditioners are not just found in offices (back in Britain, it is relatively rare, given our drizzly, not too cold, definitely not often very warm weather).

Double door in the background
OK, I searched for quite a long time to find this particular picture, from 2006. For some reason, I was sure that you could clearly see the external door (you can), with the internal door also visible (not really). However, having found it, seen Irina in her red hat, and Karra as a kitten, I couldn’t resist re-posting it, sorry.

Back to transport for a moment, one of the best differences, for me at least, is should you not have your car with you (drinking alcohol, your partner needs it etc.) getting from point A to point B is as simple as sticking your hand out by the side of the road, and waiting for a normal citizen to stop and agreeing on a price for the journey. Certainly, you will need to know the name of the road where you want to go, foreigners will often have a higher price originally quoted, and knowing a smattering of Russian is usually required, but compared to phoning a taxi company, waiting for it to arrive, and paying (in Britain at least) silly prices, it is worth the little effort involved. By the way, learning a handful of Kazakh words/phrases will sometimes ensure a more reasonable price, and occasionally even a smile.
Speaking of smiling, whilst friends over here are more often than not true and reliable, meeting strangers at random on the street can easily lead to incorrect conclusions about locals’ mentality. If you look like a local, then you’ll just not get eye contact or happy faces very often. Look like a foreigner, and people’ll have no qualms with pointing and discussing you with their friends. Look like a little unusual, even for a foreigner (if you can’t figure out why I’d write this, I’ll assume we’ve never met 😉 ), then expect occasional instances of people simply stopping their conversation, their direction and speed of travel to stare, point and loudly discuss what a strange object has appeared in front of them. Once you grow accustomed to it, then you realise that there is normally no malice involved, and over the years, more foreign people have come to Astana, and so most locals have grown accustomed to seeing something beyond the shiny-suited businessman.
OK, I’ll stop for now, as this post has veered dangerously away from the positive vibe I was attempting to employ earlier on today.