Kazakhstan – The Land of Borat

Nature or nothing.


I decided to go to Kazakhstan because I had some friends there and wanted to visit them, in the end I only had time for the two guys in Almaty but it was still fun, from there I took train to Astana and then continued to Russia. I hope my Kazakhstani friends don’t read this blog post or they will start hating me. Find out why.

The Borat joke begins, WAWA WIWA! 

I met these guys in China, we studied in the same university. There was also a guy from Italy, Britts, Finns and Koreans. But anyway, we once watched Borat and this Italian guy fell in love with the movie, WAWA WIWAA became our hello, and we made “King of the castle” jokes about anything king of the cookies, king of Vietnam, king of the room, Kimg of the library, king of the KTV, king of everything.  We also made sure to talk with Borat accent.

However our Kazakhstani friends didn’t like Borat, at all. In fact they hated Borat with passion and threatened, while walking around in Kazakhstan sports wear, that if  Sacha Baron Cohen ever came to Kazakhstan he would be beaten to death. We tried to explain really hard that we understood Borat was just a joke but it didn’t seem to sink into their brains. They just madly hated Borat, blindly. Later when I came to Kazakhstan and they made sure to show me all the cool places they asked jokingly: “So what do you think? It’s not like in that Borat movie around here, right? Hehe. ” I could hear it in their voices, as if they were saying “We told you Kazakhstan is not some retarded village.” They never understood no one ever thought so in the first place and I still don’t get why.

Back in China I am not sure who started this joke but since one of the guys was tall, one middle height and the girl really small we started calling them  (behind their backs)  Da (big in Chinese) Borat,  Zhong Borat(middle) and Xiao Borat (small). In fact we had a lot of fun until one other Italian guy went and blurted this out to the Kazakhstani friends, he had no idea they didn’t know about this.

One evening I am in my room, having my dark period which doesn’t mean period as you think, but a time period when I just write my stories or whatever and don’t come out of the room.  Suddenly Xiao Borat runs into my room, her face red from rage and starts asking questions. “Did you know? Who started this? We will show him what’s his place! He is so dead! making fun of us like this!” I tried real hard not to laugh, but seriously, no matter what I said she wouldn’t calm down. Soon she left, still angry, huffing and puffing.

In the end there was a huge argument between the guys, I stayed out of it for safety reasons. The Kazakhstani guys said bitterly “But you know what, in Britain it always rains so you can’t go out and play” which was supposed to be a huge insult for our British friends … … What comes to Italians, the Kazakhs started talking about the ‘Italian who went to Malta’ – youtube video, if you haven’t seen it go watch, it’s super funny. It was supposed to insult out Italian friend but he just found it funny instead. They argued and argued until nothing was the same anymore, and our Kazakhstani friends stopped hanging out with us, they just wore their Kazakhstan sportswear and smoked cigarettes by themselves in a small group. Gangsters.

Anyway, I kept my relationship with them just okay and so I was able to visit them this summer. I was supposed to visit the girl too but she lived too far. One of the guys lives in Almaty and the other in a small village but he came to Almaty so we could hang out. Since it was the end of Ramadan and there are many muslims in Kazakhstan, my friends too, they had a huge dinner party and we got to join in. I must admit Kazakhstan food is nothing special. Sorry. But visiting someone’s home is always a very fun experience, though everything in Kazakhstan reminds me terribly of Russia.

Sightseeing the subway

I must admit that there is nothing (much) to see in Kazakhstan unless you go meet friends or go trek on mountains.  The mountains are very beautiful and the landscape similar to Russia, just majestic. Tourist sights… well, so so. If you want to go on a trek it must be organized beforehand, a month in advance at least.

The public transportation is really badly organized, luckily in Almaty you can walk trough most of the sights by foot in half a day and in Astana there is a bus which will take you to most of the places. In Almaty they have subway but it doesn’t go anywhere useful. The locals call it a “tourist attraction” and they took us to the subway just to see how amazing it was though it was nothing special, really. On every station there was a huge picture of their president Nursultan Nazarbayev, just like pictures of the assholes in North Korean metro, or pictures of famous poets etc. Our friends insisted that the wall, or parts of it, was covered in gold but seriously… it wasn’t.  The subway was new, pleasant and quiet, not many people used it. And we mostly saw some tourist taking pictures there even though it’s forbidden, ah well… Actually many earthquakes happen in Almaty so the building project of the subway had always been disputed, still they are going to build more lines soon. more tourist attractions for locals… There are some nationalities I will never understand.

So in Almaty most people transported by cars or taxis. I didn’t see even one normal taxi, all were just random cars. You stand by the roadside and stick out your hand, just wait till someone stops and then you can start negotiating for a price. If you don’t know any Russian or Kazakh this procedure is almost impossible. There are trams and buses but then you have to have a travel guide to know which one will get you where.

In Astana everything is easier if only you can read Russian (because the places where the buses go were written on the sides), most of the buses go to the train station or near it and from there you can go anywhere. People are mostly pretty friendly so asking directions shouldn’t be impossible, language barrier might be an issue. Though our Kazakhstani friends, of course, tried to make their country sound as macho as possible always reminding us how bad the people are and how some get killed just for a phone.

In Almaty most of the sights are just some monuments or palaces, like sports palace or culture palace etc. There is a nice museum about the country’s history, minorities, relations, wars and the beloved precedent whom they like to call “daddy” as a joke, of course (or?). There is a also the highest mountain range in the world (for winter sports) with the largest area of artificial ice field – Medeo. But it’s just an ice rink and nothing more. From there you can take a cable car to the mountains but it’s damn expensive. If you have a car you can also go to a picnic, we did this. On our way back we stopped to buy horse milk which was kind of alcoholic drink, from the nomads. Just a day before my friends tried to convince me that the nomad culture was dead for good. Typical Kazakhstan…

 Daddy’s will is the law

Astana, is by far, the weirdest city I have been to. It’s true that some years ago it used to be just a random village when suddenly the Daddy decided to make it the capital. No matter if most of the transnational companies who have business in Kazakhstan prefer Almaty anyway. No one really cares about Astana. Except the Daddy himself.

We went to see all the must see sights in the new city center (like the palace of peace which is just an ugly pyramid with expensive entrance tickets and nothing inside). But it was way too artificial and there were no people, it reminded me of an empty, fake, boring, huge, useless amusement park no one cares about. The most interesting place in Astana was former house of the Daddy where we could look at his accomplishments in life and the gifts he had received from other countries, reminds us of North Korea, right? When we arrived to the museum it was closed for lunch, I never understood this habit of communist countries. Is it that hard to hire enough people so when others have their lunch the others can keep the place running? Idiots. We also visited the museum of modern arts, there were a few nice pieces buried in trash, this is my opinion.

The stupidest thing is that, you never know if you are in a city or a village. The new city center is build somehow separately on the other side, if you start from train station you go trough this village, kind of, then pass new high story buildings surrounded by nothing, no shops, no restaurants, then come somewhere with a lot of space and a few huge monuments, a mosque, a huge park, then there is a concentration of high story buildings and ridiculously huge hotel build in Chinese style then there is a huge highway surrounded by nothing really, then a street lined with super expensive shops, you come back to soviet style blocks of flats, then a marketplace, there are some even older wooden houses who all sell tombstones (seriously, everyone was selling tombstones, there would be houses next to each other only selling tombstones), a few cafes, overpriced shops which sell worse crap than they sell in Russia and you are back at the train station. WTF just happened? Makes no sense. You can smell it in the air, the artificial city. And in the end you come to a conclusion that it’s crazy, it can’t work, never.

There is one good thing I can say about the Daddy, when he came to power he gave up on the nuclear weapons. He simply said Kazakhstan doesn’t need them.  He did something every ‘daddy’ should do. But did you know about this?

Green and water for high price in Russian

Kazakhstani people don’t know how to use the irrigation systems. I regret not taking video of the broken nozzles which were either attacking bypassers, drowning the plants or trying to create lakes. Either they were shooting in wrong direction or just leaking on the ground, sometimes the flow of the water was too powerful rising up towards the sky and sometimes it was plainly shooting to the side like from a hosepipe. Not only in one place but all around Almaty and Astana, it was like this. Instead of healthy grassy areas there were swamps.

Kazakhstan seems pretty clean and well taken care of, Almaty was a very pleasant city with a lot of green (swamps?), some part of Astana too. Everyone can speak Russian so if you can speak it or Kazakhstan then you can get buy very easily. The service was better than in Russia, you can see the difference already in the embassy when getting your visa. Except the tourist office at Astana train station, when I asked about the museums she said: “Of course, I don’t know.” What the hell did she mean with “of course?!”

Sadly everything in Kazakhstan is ridiculously expensive if you think about the pays people get. Kazakhstan is definitely not a budget destination. Okay, vodka was cheap so if nothing else then… Food in cheap places was worse than in Russia, way worse. As for hotels in Astana you can stay in a resting rooms at the train stations and in Almaty it’s possible to rent rooms even for a short time, the quality is good and the price low (about 40 dollars/2 people). Hotels start from 50 dollars and go up to heavens.

To get rid of the past

If you long to see nomads or pieces history in modern times, it is being actively erased instead of being melted into new, at least in bigger cities. You can sense, from people’s words and attitudes that they are eager to move on and they are definitely super proud of their new achievements. Everything old is in the past, not worth even mentioning. I don’t understand what they are afraid of. They don’t care about the past, maybe because it was tainted by communism, they only look forward. This is sad because they don’t appreciate what they already have, eager to get rid of it all. You should have heard with how much pride their voices were colored when my friends talked about the new achievements of their government. But achievements for who? The gap between rich and poor is growing day by day… while nationalism just grows stronger.

I didn’t see much beggars, a few gypsies with their kids annoying by passers and once a woman with a baby buggy approached me, I though she was going to ask for directions but she just asked for money for the child’s food. While remaining in confused state I gave her a few coins, breaking my vow to never give anything to beggars, except food. She really didn’t look like one either.

Everything is getting polished on the surface only.  Ask to be taken to a village, they will tell you there is nothing to see, ask to be taken to a bubbly market they will take you to a supermarket. Streets are lined with Gucci, Prada, Samsung and Apple. What they want you to see is all new, extravagant, soulless and empty.  Capitalism? Everything is screaming modern and striving to be recognized, but old soviet trams still run on the roads, still.

So if you really really want to go to Kazakhstan go for the nature and breathtaking landscapes – everything else is pure business.