Thursday, February 25, 2010

Half A World Away

We finished up in the Orakoy, waterfront, district in Istanbul (see pic) and shuttled off to catch a plane to Astana.

Now we're officially, and exactly' 12 time zones away from Ames...Halfway Around the World! When I was a kid, there was a saying that if you drilled a hole down far enough and crawl through it, you'd end up in China. None of my friends at the time knew there was another country to the west of China, or what it was called. I'm there now, and its called Kazakhstan (land of the Kazakhs).

The 5+ hour flight over 4 time zones from Istanbul was uneventful, except for the fact that we checked in around 6:30am at the King Hotel amid flurries of snow. My travels are starting to remind me of a bad Jr. High sleep and strange food.

The King Hotel is spacious compared to the closet (called a double room) we stayed in at the Erboy Hotel (actually I really liked the Erboy. Mahmed, a waiter in the hotel's restaurant, really made us feel welcome).

The trip from the Astana Airport (modern, with typically unsmiling passport agents) featured a quick tour of this Boom Town of Central Asia. Our taxi driver drove at double the speed limit but would interrupt his tour guide chatter to suddenly slow down. Then he would speed up again. He explained that there were speed traps along the route and he would slow down just as he passed them, only to build his Mercedes up to ramming speed once again. Somebody ought to write a book on impractical government ideas.

We passed all kinds of new buildings; most notably a gold crowned mosque, built by some Saudi sheik. Scattered along this route my jet-lagged brain remembers slurred descriptions of embassies, oil ministry buildings, a new soccer stadium, and a bicycle track. Although who knows what we really passed at 120km/hour?

We slept til noon. and had breakfast (or lunch?) at 1pm Kazakh time, after which I tried to catch up with my emails and take a quick nap. AB met us at the hotel at 4pm to grab a cup of coffee with one of his partners, referred to here as M. (sorry for the name abbreviations but the Kazakh's are snoopy about partners like this, if you know what I mean ;-).

M. runs a real retail business that helps people learn English and find connections with you-know-who. We enjoyed an interesting conversation with this servant.

Then we hustled a few blocks over to AB's 4th floor apartment in his Volkswagon SUV where we dropped some gifts on him, like Slim Jims, taco seasoning, and a chunk of cash donated for AB's van repair/purchase fund from some caring Ames people. His kids are totally delightful and you can tell immediately that they have had a lot of love...all 5 of them!

Others of our particular persuasion showed up for some tea and desserts. Then we (actually, They)sang two songs in Russian. What a great group! Medical people, students, fellow workers, new people, professional people all joined together. This was their first night for this type of meeting so they let us Americanos join in their 2-Truths-And-A-Lie Game. Most of them are conversant in English and Russian, so we all had some good laughs. They then worked on signing people up or organizing something, although I'm not sure what it was?

AB dropped us off at a popular Kabob place where I downed some lamb-kabobs (not my favorite) and some mashed potatoes. We walked 15 minutes in sub-zero cold to get back to the King Hotel.

Tomorrow, we'll meet up with more partners and get a tour along with a concert!

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