Back in Beijing

Click here for a map of the trip

Last evening I came back to Beijing, which felt like a miracle. Many times during my 9 day trip I felt like I would never get back and for the rest of the times I didn’t want to go back until that one day when everything went wrong and all I wanted was to get back to Beijing. How do I feel now that I am back? Actually, I don’t know. I have one month left and coming back to work for only one month feels kind of useless. I didn’t have this feeling of coming back home for some reason or maybe because the last few days of the trip were so awesome I got a little ‘after trip’ depression. Continue reading “Back in Beijing”

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Winter Trip Plans

Chinese New Year is nearing and I will have 9 days off work, which makes me lucky. At our hotel not many people get a long holiday, a few days at most. The public holiday is 3 days 31st-2nd. But the VIP lounge is closed for a week and 3 days so that’s why I get time off, and even if we weren’t closed I would have asked for a week off. This is the only chance for me to travel so I will, even though it’s going to be hellishly crowded everywhere and there would be enough activities in Beijing as well. It’s a pity I don’t get to see the capital city empty, maybe next time. Continue reading “Winter Trip Plans”

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.

Travel Plans

Nothing is ever simple.

Sigh.

Like my previous post this is going to be a long rant about nothing in particular and on the side about evolution of my travel plans for this summer, which is long gone. It’s getting cold and rains every day, I kind of missed this weather but still, since I can never be satisfied with anything I can’t just be satisfied with this weather either, this is a principle.

Why can’t I ever be satisfied? (Here we go on a side track again…) Well, that is natural to a Russian character (never smile and yell at everyone, like we learn in almost every Russian store. The client is never in the right and unexceptionally always stupid). Though, in reality my non satisfaction is just a joke but no one ever gets it. I tend to complain and critique everything but it’s supposed to be just a joke, this again is typical Finnish attitude (everything is depressing and nothing is good). Remember everyone, everything is just a joke. (But within every joke lies a bit of truth NOOOO, this will never end.) Like I once commented myself and there lies a great philosophy within this comment. Truthfully I am always satisfied with everything but only some things impress me.

Eats everything. Likes only something.

So one day, on the eve of my departure to South Korea I met up with a few friends I met back in China and we went to the only Korean restaurant that exists in Finland for a dinner accompanied by a few of my cousins. ANYWAY. Despite me having a cellphone war with my former summer job boss who was an asshole, a total dimwit and arrogant shit who refused to pay me enough money for my perfect and amazing work, ahem, we had a lot of fun while drinking soju and talking about old memories. Then I randomly suggested we could go to Tibet together after I finish my exchange study year in South Korea. My friends agreed.

This is how summer 2012 begun.

Back in dark, cold and depressing Finland.

So the first plan was pretty bare and simple.

1. Go to China

2. Travel In China

3. Go to Tibet

4. Travel in China

5. Go home, possibly via Vladivostok and Siberian Railway

Everything was set but then… Then my boyfriend said he can’t come because this and that, friend’s wedding, this and that, work, blah blah. After some time the Tibet plan fell apart too because the fuckers Chinese government first enforced ridiculous stupid rules on traveling there and then closed Tibet all together. Thanks a lot assholes!

I don’t know how I got the idea for my second travel plan, simply don’t remember but one day it was born out of nothing.

1. Go to Tibet (we still didn’t know about the secret evil plans of the evil government)

2. Travel in China.

3. Fly to Iran and train (go by  train) from there trough Turkmenistan ->Uzbekistan -> Kazakstan ->Russia ->Finland

But then… The Chinese really know how to ruin the day, and the communists via bureaucrats too. The most absurd thing is that it’s almost impossible to get a visa to China in South Korea because (you don’t know how many time this drove me crazy!) apparently passport means nothing in South Korea, NOTHING! You do nothing with your passport so just burn it. You must get an alien card and use it to get a sim card, travel inside Korea, fix your phone, go to toilet, rent a house and whatnot. Also, for getting a Chinese tourist visa you will need a fucking alien card, that fucking stupid card ARGH! And it has to be valid for half a year after the visa expires, the FUCKERS! I wanted to go burn my passport in front of the fucking Chinese embassy, they are all useless, completely useless. What the fuck is wrong with that mental government? Excuse me.

Then the lovely Turkmenistan. As if they are so freaking rich they don’t need tourists to support their corrupt shitty little shitgovernment. I applied for a visa which you can get only trough a tour agency or there is a transit visa which you can get from the embassy and Turkmenistan has no embassy ANYWHERE, in western countries that is. It was all set and blah blah but then the fuckers refused to give me a visa and you know why? Because I was born in Russia. WTF? I don’t even have Russian passport anymore. What the fuck is wrong with all these people?!

So I had to reconsider my plans. My friends luckily had a plan B after Tibet. So the new plan was:

1. Go to Hong Kong (to get a Chinese visa)

2. Go to Guangzhou to meet some friends.

3. Go to Xining via Xi’an

4. 10 days mountain treck.

5. Travel around xining

6. Go to Urumqi

7. Fly to Iran

8. Fly to Uzbekistan

9. Train to Kazakstan

10. Train to Russia

11. Train trough Russia, visit relatives in Siberia

11. Bus to Finland

But yet again my plans changed. It was not my fault anymore, my boyfriend couldn’t get his visas to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan arranged on time (because he is a guy and guy’s suck at multitasking… If you are now reading this know that I’m still bitter!!) and we had to drop Uzbekistan from our plans. Also because the fucking west is enforcing sanctions on Iran and it’s impossible to use credit card to buy tickets, the flight was a bit too expensive. The sole reason why I even had visa to Uzbekistan was because I thought everything was arranged with the Turkmen visa and wanted to visit a friend in UZ, in the end he couldn’t be there on the dates I wanted to visit and the Turkmen dictator fat ugly pig government fucked me up. Also my travels inside China didn’t quite match the plan.

In the end:

1. Flight to Hong Kong

2. Bus to Guangzhou

3. Train to Shenzhen and back

4. Train to Xining (Dear god, don’t let me remember that hellish experience)

5. 10 Days mountain treck.

6. Back to Xining.

7. Travel around Xining.

8. Go back to the mountain village.

9. Back to Xining.

10. Lanzhou -> Urumqi -> Iran

11. In Iran: Tehran -> Gorgan -> Tehran -> Shiraz -> night with opium smoking nomads -> Yazd -> Esfahan -> Tehran.

12. Fly to Alma-Ata, Kazakshtan

13. train to Almaty

14. Train to Chelyabinsk, Russia -> Perm -> no time to visit relatives -> Ekaterinburg -> St. Petersburg.

And here I am.

The rest of my travel plan is like this:

First of all skip two first weeks of study at Uni (what a good start!). On 14th go back to Finland, take a cheap night bus and stay a few nights in Helsinki with relatives, also meet up with a few friends -> 16th be back in Turku -> 17th start GOD DAMN studying! -> get a new sim card -> sing up for work -> next weekend visit relatives in Kustavi -> gather your stuff from everywhere around -> earn money to pay off credit card bills and debts -> buy a new carpet and new pillows -> STUDY!! -> plan next trip to Asia -> travel -> come back -> study more -> plan another trip -> another trip

And life goes on