Mar 04 2013

Kazakhstan News Roundup

Category: In The Media,KazakhstanChrisM @ 6:34 pm

I think these links will end up all being EurasiaNet articles…

Actually, I’ll start off with a piece about life in Turkmenistan (to the South-West of Kazakhstan). President Berdymukhamedov has, so far, not presented himself as quite as egocentric as his predecessor, but if government officials have come up with the following, without specific orders from high, then the personality cult-like environment may well not end up much different. The photo from the original (Russian language, I’d suggest using Google Chrome as it can automatically translate for you) article gives you an idea of what Eurasianet’s piece is all about, and the comments at the bottom are full of the normal “WTF” vs “Don’t dishonour our glorious nation an the president” type responses. Basically, newlyweds now appear to be required to have at least three photos of their wedding with Berdymukhamedov’s portrait in the background. Here in Kazakhstan (unless there are a lot of Western dignitaries in town), you will often see Nazarbayev on billboards with inspirational messages, but I don’t think I’ve seen any photos of him in taxis here (see the last picture here for Turkmenistan taxi requirements!)

Next up we have another horse reference. This one shouldn’t be a problem for vegetarians (though vegans don’t drink milk, I think?) as no meat consumption (or dead animals) are involved. Instead, we have an article on cosmetics research carried out by students from the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (apparently also known as KazGU or KazNU). They decided to try and solve the issue of allergic reactions to the chemicals found in many popular soaps by using Kumis (fermented horse milk) as a natural alternative. In terms of the health benefits, the oft-used buzz word of antioxidants appears, though I’d be interested if any of these are broken down/killed off by any of the processes involved with soap making. I’ll have to ask AlexC what is involved in the process. As is often the case, the comment section at Tengri News is worth a read!

How powerful people prevent the population protesting. I should probably start a local AA chapter (Alliterators Anonymous)!

It finished a little over a week ago, but the P5+1 conference held in Almaty has the potential to finally bring some good news to those of us interested in Iran’s nuclear programme. We won’t know many details until early April (and even then there is no guarantee that a) Iran and the six other nations will not only agree to, but also carry out their parts with any treaty or long term plan and b) That much detail will be revealed about any agreements made), but if you’re interested in the topic, check the articles here, here, here and also here (focuses on Kazakhstan’s background in the nuclear power/non-proliferation arena.)

OK, that is enough for now, I’ll publish this and then trawl through my bookmarks/starred RSS feed items in Google reader.

Mar 01 2013

Videos To Make You Roll Your Eyes

Category: Kazakh Driving,VideosChrisM @ 2:04 pm

OK, so there are some Russian driving incidents in here as well, but I’ve not got a separate category for that!

Compilation of dashcam videos (titled as Russian, though I think a few are from other countries) –

Almaty (Kazakhstan’s old capital city) lane abuse (drivers deciding they are in too much of a rush to stay on their side of the road) –

Stopping Almaty lane abuse 🙂 (I’m impressed with the guy’s attitude, but unless he has a lot of money to pay for repairs, and a weapon in the car to scare off any nutters not wanting to return to their side of the road, I can’t help fearing for his safety) –

Aktau road rage (The bibib page seems to apportion blame a little one-sidedly in this one) –

Mar 01 2013

Kazakh Driving Updated

Category: Kazakh DrivingChrisM @ 9:42 am

A few weeks ago, somebody e-mailed me asking questions about driving in Kazakhstan, having read some of my older posts. I decided to take my reply to him and publish it here, so if others have questions, they may find the information they need, without waiting for me to reply to their messages 🙂
The cost of second hand cars over here in Kazakhstan – they seem to retain a lot more of their value than back in the UK. Great news if you bought a new car and want to sell it, pain in the arse when trying to buy one for yourself.

Insurance – there is a nationwide scheme that provides the minimum cover required by law. It is basically what we would call third party insurance in Britain… if you crash into someone, the insurance company is supposed to cover the cost of any damage to someone else’s car, but your car is not covered. The first couple of years, we elected to pay (quite a lot, something like 10% of the value of the car!) for full-on comprehensive insurance, but won’t renew the policy this year. If you can afford it, I’d recommend maybe getting comprehensive insurance the first year you drive here – peace of mind as you adjust to the nutters on the road, and if you do end up pranging someone, it is more likely to be at the beginning.
Road Tax – not 100%, but we think if we did have to pay for it, cops don’t ask for the document at least. Irina checked and discovered there is indeed a road tax payable each year. Whilst traffic police don’t seem to check your documents for this, if you forget to pay, there is a penalty to pay.

MOT – with a new car, like in the UK, first year or so, MOT check is not required, after that, keep it up to date.

Registration plates – new cars obviously get new plates, but with second hand cars, I’m not sure whether the plate “belongs” to the car, or the owner. Yellow number plates (starting with a D normally) are for diplomats and their families.

Registering in someone else’s name… Yes, this is possible, is the short version. You will need to always carry an official (stamped etc) letter from them stating you have permission to drive it, but the procedures for locals are simpler, compared to a foreigner, owning the car. The only thing to consider is if you pay for the car, but they legally owns it, don’t annoy them greatly, as they could legally sell it!

Driving license, make sure you have the UK pink card and paper part with you. International driving licences… I have heard of some ex-pats who got one the first year they drove, but didn’t bother again afterwards. Local traffic police don’t seem to know the rules or care that much if you drive on your home country’s licence. If they question the legality, friends have bluffed them with confidence that you have looked into it, and don’t require one. I think the rule might be related to how long you’ve lived/been driving here already? Anyway, _ALWAYS_ carry all your car docs with you, you will get stopped and have the car checked out by police, and it is a legal requirement to carry your driving licence(s), car registration documents, MOT certificate and permission to drive (if not registered in your name).

One tip in dealing with traffic police is to invest in at least a car video recorder (video registrator (or similar) in Russian). You want one with a wide angle lens, continuous recording, and decent enough image quality in the dark.

Here in Astana, I’ve heard that if the police are stopping cars for reasons of their own financial hardship, rather than genuine offences, they don’t bother with cars where they can see a camera lens in the windscreen – proof obviously exists that you’ve been driving OK. You will get stopped, and sometimes you may well need to smooth things over with a donation to the local police tea and biscuits fund, but don’t let them demand too high a donation (check with local friends, then add a good 40-60% on top as you’re a foreigner).

Some people have asked if they can just play dumb/or pretend they can’t speak Russian, this is nearly always not worth trying, in Astana at least, they’ll just demand you get your translator (makes me laugh how they assume I have that sort of cash to spend!) to meet you there and then at the side of the road. You’re better off explaining you understand a little Russian, please speak slowly for me. I tend to downplay the extent of my vocabulary, that way if they are just looking for some cash, and want to pretend I’ve broken the law, I pretend I don’t understand a key word in their sentence, so please do explain again. Eventually, they give up and wave you away. All I’d say is that (apparently) unofficial fines are normally a lot less than official ones, and the amount of time you’ll waste sorting paperwork, retrieving your licence from them etc, makes the local approach to quick unofficial fines a tempting offer.

Feb 14 2013

Horse Meat – Much Ado About Nothing?

Category: Eating Out,Kazakhstan,PersonalChrisM @ 4:52 pm

OK, so let’s start with the basics…

In Britain, and a lot of the Western world, horses are not bred for, nor considered as an option for, their meal-time meat. (Though I’m aware that areas of France (especially if you include donkeys), Portugal and Spain include horse meat on their menus, my knowledge of Europe beyond the West is pretty scarce, especially when it comes to culinary conventions, sorry.)

Here in Kazakhstan, especially by Kazakhs, horse is considered to be a normal meat/edible flesh, in the same way as chicken, beef or fish is. Although horses bred for eating are treated very differently, and indeed look different, to those destined for racing or transport on the steppe, a horse is just another animal that serves a purpose.

Recently, investigations have revealed that some supposedly beef-based ready made meals in Europe (stories from Britain have cropped up most in my online reading) have contained very high proportions of horse meat. Now, to the people that keep horses as cherished companions/pets, especially around younger children, I can completely understand the revulsion many will have felt… However, to most of the other people now loudly exclaiming their revulsion online, and threatening boycotts, I have to ask, how many had already consumed these not-pure lasagne/bolognese/mince meat, and not noticed a thing at the time?
For anyone honestly able to recall a yuck-what-the-hell-is-this? incident PRIOR to hearing about the scandal, my sympathies are with you. To all the others, I would simply ask, do you not now consider horse meat to be a viable alternative? If not in your homeland, where social convention leads you to consider horses as some how more sacred than other mammals, then at least if/when you travel abroad?

I have eaten horse meat more times than I can specifically count, and the only problem I have with it is the method… beshbarmaq is flat sheets of pasta (not too dissimilar to lasagne, in that respect, spookily enough) with onions and boiled horse meat. Other than crisps (I failed to find images of these online, sorry), this meal is the only time I’ve knowingly encountered and consumed horse meat. Besides a big joint of ham, all meats should be baked/grilled/fried as far as my fussy taste buds are concerned!

Anyway, if you couldn’t tell the difference when you consumed a “tainted” UK ready meal, perhaps it is time to consider whether horse meat always belongs on your no-no list?

Feb 01 2013

Typical example of “parking”. There is room for it…

Category: Kazakh Driving,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 5:03 pm

Typical example of “parking”. There is room for it park normally, he just rammed it up the pavement and got out!

Kazakh Parking

Just realized that it wasn’t even a legal parking space! Everyone blocks them, but you’re supposed to leave the entrance to the walkway in the middle accessible!

Feb 01 2013

Sorry for blurred image, but if you’re driving tow…

Category: Kazakh Driving,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 12:16 pm

Sorry for blurred image, but if you’re driving towards Left Bank down Sary Arka, two buses clipped, heavy traffic.

Buses Collide

Jan 29 2013

Watching TV From Your Homeland

Category: Kazakhstan,PersonalChrisM @ 6:43 pm

OK, legal stuff out the way first. This post’s content was created by a nameless friend from Britain who talks about hypothetical situations, pays for his TV licence back in the UK, and does not want anyone else to break the law by using software he mentions for educational reasons. For the sake of convenience with writing this post, he is referred to as “I”…

So, you find yourself in a country where your favourite channel’s online broadcasts are not available. What should you do? There are a few options ranging from free (but you can’t really complain if there is a problem) to paying a fee each month.

Also, all logos, company names, trademarks and product names are the property of their respective owners. No affiliation, endorsement or other connection should be construed.
Blah blah blah etc. etc.

BBC iPlayer SyFy Channel 4 Fox ITV Player CBS Netflix YouTube hulu A and E Twitter GMail Google facebook

If you have no technical skills with computers and the idea of altering DNS settings or remembering to return them to normal each time your online media viewing session has ended does not sit well, then Hola is probably worth checking out. They currently have Firefox and Chrome plugins/extensions available (though they state their Chrome extension performs a lot beter). Once installed, you can either leave these running the whole time, or disable them when you are not viewing online TV that checks which country your computer is in. It seems to be fairly automatic, and iPlayer and Hulu are bother reported to work fine. Here in Kazakhstan, buffering and occasional time outs (“Your bandwidth is too low to watch this program”) seem to occur. However, I’m not able to test whether these issues are down to Hola’s servers being slow to respond at peak times, or whether this would in fact still occur if Hola was disabled, but iPlayer just worked natively when you’re associated with a Kazakh IP address. One thing to consider is that any DRM locked downloads (for example if iPlayer is buffering/timing out too much, you may wish to download the program from them first, then watch it one go) will not work correctly, as Windows Media Player will respond to a check with BBC servers with your true Kazakh IP, and so playback will instantly fail.

Hola - Watching TV from Home, Abroad

Next up is Tunlr (perhaps used in conjunction with DNS Jumper). This option does enable downloaded media to work (as your DNS settings will effect all programs (for example Windows Media Player) on your PC, not just the browser you happen to use), but you need to remember to switch back to your normal DNS provider when you are not viewing online content, as otherwise you could eventually find your IP address banned. (Why? Because if you are just browsing the web normally, for example visiting a friend’s site or googling something, you do not/should not be burdening Tunlr’s (free) network hardware with un-necessary work).

DNS Jumper

If you prefer, you can just manually alter your connection’s primary and secondary DNS IP addresses to, and away from, Tunlr’s IP addresses, but DNS Jumper does allow you to do this with just a few clicks, and without having to remember a chain of numbers each time. Remember to click the Flush DNS button after applying new DNS settings in DNS Jumper to ensure that new requests are sent via Tunlr, rather than old cached routes being used again, resulting in repeated failure!
If you have an Android smartphone/tablet, you can still quite easily use Tunlr by installing DNS Changer Root. Ignore Tunlr’s warning – people with 2.2+ versions of Android on their phone can use Tunlr, it is just that they’ll need to use an app like DNS Changer Root to be able to alter their DNS settings easily. If you find yourself manually adding Tunlr’s server to your network connection properties or preferred network settings application, please do check back on their home page occasionally – their IP addresses do sometimes change, and when this happens, you’ll need to update your system before it will work again.


Also, should you happen to google DNS Changer Root, please be aware that the app (DNS Changer Root) is, as far as I can tell, COMPLETELY unrelated to the malware often generically labelled as DNS changer. One is an infection that will cause your PC/Mac problems, the app is an Android application that just happens to have a similar name. By the way, your phone or tablet will need to be rooted to install and use DNS Changer Root (the clue is in the name 🙂 ).

DNS Changer Root

If you need help rooting your phone or tablet, let me know, I’m happy to google some of my favourite forums/sites for you, but if you need real world/fast assistance, you may want to contact me at for IT consultant cost enquiries.
Finally, should you be here in Kazakhstan on a generous wage, and just want things to work on your computer (most of the time) without much interaction on your part, a VPN service, such as Expat Shield may make more sense for you.

Expat Shield

Ah, my mistake, Expat Shield is in fact still free, but the “premium” (more reliable, works with more services and has someone to complain to if things go wrong) route with the company is called EliteAccess. I should probably check sometime if they have an affiliate link 😉

Nov 18 2012

Panorama of the vote outside Asia (Azia) Park. The…

Category: Kazakhstan,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 1:33 pm

Panorama of the vote outside Asia (Azia) Park. The “lighter”, PlayStation 2 (my name 4it),huge mosque and others.

Snowy Panorama Outside Azia Park, Astana

Oct 11 2012

Less than impressed with the a…

Category: Eating Out,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 12:07 am

Less than impressed with the amount of meat in this “chicken” pie!

Izbushka's Virtually Meatless "Chicken" Pie

Tags: ,

Sep 27 2012

Riverside Promenade

Category: Anna's Videos,Kazakhstan,Personal,PicturesChrisM @ 5:50 pm

When I am away in Australia, Irina will be looking after Tim and Anna on her own most of the time, and so wanted to check out what the park-like area near Anna’s playgroup was like. The idea being that whilst Anna is inside, Irina could push Tim around in his pushchair for some fresh air, without having to drive off.
Anna had been there before, so led the way as we discovered what it looked like. It was a bit too sunny to see my phone’s screen, but I decided to test out a new app I installed, and so this is my first attempt at an HDR picture on my phone, taken down by the river Ishim/Esil.

First Time Using An HDR App - The River Ishim (or Esil)

First Time Using An HDR App – The River Ishim (or Esil)

Next time I’ll try and experiment with altering the exposure bracketing manually, and get a feel for what works in certain lighting conditions. The image above obviously has problems in the darker areas, but the sky looks nice at least. I’ll also try and find somewhere with shallow water running over rocks or the like, as though often look really good. I probably shouldn’t expect too much from a phone, but I want to play and see what is possible.
Very near this photo is a statue of Ataturk (check here for ‘s impressive 360 panorama of the same place).

Anyway, it looks as though there are enough paths, benches and views of the river to keep both Irina and Tim occupied, and we may all return the next time our morning is booked up with other commitments. We also spotted the passenger ferry, which we’ve not been on since Anna was tiny, and if the weather holds out, we’ll try and take a trip before I go away.

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