Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Looking like Zoltan looks

When a person walks into a room, turns around in a circle and comes back out saying "I couldn't find it!", we call that "looking like Zoltan looks."

Today he misplaced something. There was drama, tears, and he even accused our nanny of throwing the thing away.  After nap he noticed it was in very plain view, right on a shelf in his room.  His comment:  "I guess I looked like I look."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bringing home the bacon

This week I had my first business trip, to Almaty.  Part of my job is meeting with people doing work in different parts of Kazakhstan. It was a good trip, productive professionally and a good time personally to see another part of this enormous country.  Our hotel's dining room was on the top floor so when I walked in for breakfast yesterday I gawked like a country yokel at the stunning mountains that overlook the city. If Terry helps me I will upload the photos from my phone.

There was no time for sightseeing but I did manage to eat Indian and Vietnamese food so I was pretty happy. I also had an expedition to the grocery store. It is well known among the Astana embassy crowd that when in Almaty one must pick up some food items that are not sold in Astana. Sadly, the cheddar cheese was completely sold out - Philly cream cheese took up its old space on the shelf (one of the store workers brought me to exactly where the cheddar was).

I did, however, manager to snag a few pounds of bacon. My original intent was to fill the insulated lunch bag I'd brought for the purpose, then when I saw the price tag ($15) I decided Terry could savor the occasional strip.  I got the bacon into the hotel minibar fridge. The next morning I had to request ice from the hotel, then fill a Ziplock I'd brought for that purpose in an attempt to keep the bacon cold throughout a day of meetings and flight back to Astana.

When I got to our apartment tonight, some of the ice was indeed still solid, and the meat was still cool enough that I felt safe keeping it.

There is now absolutely no doubt who in this household brings home the bacon!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Drinking or no drinking?

The other night we went for dinner with friends. They speak better Russian than we do, so when the hostess asked something as we were handing our coats in to the garderobe (coat check, not medieval toilet) I didn't pay too much attention and let the friend answer.  The hostess led us from one room to a different one, and then everyone stopped and looked quizzical.  They asked the question again. It definitely wasn't "smoking or non-smoking room?" which is what I had gotten used to in Russia.

It was a Turkish restaurant. The question was "drinking or non-drinking room?"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hockey time

A friend kindly picked up tickets for us when she got tickets for herself this week, so on Friday we went to our first Kazakhstani hockey game. Go Barys!!  [barys = snow leopard, a Kazakhstani national symbol]  We had been warned about the madhouse of parking, and several people without kids recommended that we take a taxi or bus. We decided we'd try it in the car, as overtired children at the end of the night are best contained within car seats and not waiting outside in the cold for either of the other options.

We got to the stadium a bit less than an hour before game time. A good deal of parking still available at the stadium. Free. Yeah.  We get in and look for food. Not great options, next time we will try to get to the game even a bit earlier and grab dinner near the stadium.  The stadium seats 4,000 people. Cozy.  We hear the new stadium will be finished by next season.  We took a wander before game time and there were a bunch of rooms that seemed to be holding different kinds of practices, such as dance or karate, around the main arena.  There were two ping pong tables inexplicably in an open area by the end of the hall [during one intermission we watched people playing, apparently it's a "thing" and they bring their own paddles and balls].

It was a good game, the home team won and the kids stayed entertained. When it was time to go there was a small crush of people on the way out but we were soon outside. Walk to the car, get the kids strapped in and .... five minutes after I got into the car we were on the road. The "traffic" on the road was another 2-3 minutes, maybe.

Oh, and did I mention the tickets cost 1000 tenge? That's about $7, being generous with the conversion rate.  I think we'll be going back.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Car: Finally Victory

We didn't have any more pockets of free time until Saturday morning so that is when we went to make our second attempt at getting tires.  We were told at the embassy if we had pressure sensors for our tires we had to go to this one specific place to get the tires put on, even if we buy them elsewhere (as we had to - they don't sell tires at this place). So I called every half hour Saturday morning until they were open because their hours are not on the web site nor their telephone's prerecorded message.  We did ok finding the place except that the map showed the place being several blocks earlier than it really was.  We bought the tires and they said it would be about 10 minutes and they would bring them out, we could go wait in our car.  Um, it is freezing and sleeting and my children are with us, so I think we'll wait right here.

After a bit of time Terry went down to wait in the car. The kids had a snack and were playing with the few toys they had brought. Time ticks on. They eventually try to tell me to go downstairs and wait. I tell them I will go when we have tires in the car.

Once that happens it's off to get the tires put on. Here is victory #1.  I had to explain that we wanted the spare put back under the car, one new tire on the rim of the busted tire that was currently in the car and then that put on the back, the other new tire on the other back rim and lastly the tire from the back rim to replace a front tire that was well worn.  It was all done perfectly.  And we were able to lunch while we waited, thanks to the Hardees that shares space with the gas station next to the shop.

Except the tire pressure sensor was not re-set, indicating that they probably didn't do whatever was supposed to make them the only place to get pressure-sensor-tires replaced.

Victory #2 came during naptime, when I had to run out and buy a birthday present for a party Alex will attend this week. The invite came Friday, the party is Wednesday. Felt like we were back in Russia. With the help of the car I was now completely free to use - with gas, windshield wipers and a spare tire - I was able to run to the store and back in record time. I even didn't get lost!

Monday, October 6, 2014

More on the car

This car is more needy than a newborn.

When we realized what was missing from the car we immediately sent a confident message to the transportation guy that we were sure the windshield wipers and tire were somewhere and we would be happy to pick them up the next day. Confidence does not always make magic happen. The tire was still there, yes, but nobody knew what happened to the windshield wipers. And of course it rained, but cleared up enough for Terry to drive the car to the embassy the next day (after we corrected our insurance to also cover him. Somehow that never came up when I was dealing with all the paperwork previously. Now that I think about it, I may or may not still owe our shipping guy 2200 tenge - roughly $15 - for that.)

When you put a car on a boat for long distances, you are required to be sure there is no more than 1/4 tank of gas in the car. There are many stories of people aimlessly driving their car for a long period of time in order to get to that point when the transportation folks arrive and discover a fuller-than-allowed gas tank. I have to imagine some car exploded on some cargo ship somewhere in the world and now we have this rule. Anyway, what it means is #1 priority when a car arrives at the other end is to fill the tank.  Unless you don't have a spare tire because the spare is on the car and the busted tire was taken away from the car so a second nail-through-tire mishap would become tragic. In that case priority #1 is to re-obtain the busted tire so there is a rim on which to put a new tire.

I speak Russian, Terry does cars, so we end up having to do a lot of things together that one or the other of us could theoretically handle on our own. One day last week I had enough of a break between meetings, and he had enough free time, that we decided to hold a late "lunch hour" and get some things accomplished. First was finding the busted tire at the embassy motorpool garage. First step: find the garage (10-15 minutes). Second step: let them know we came for the tire  - not as easy as it sounded as the guy we spoke with didn't know about "the tire" so I tried to explain in my level-2 Russian and he definitely came out of it thinking I was asking for one of the embassy's tires because the second guy was surprised when I said "maya shina" - my tire - and he eventually figured out what I wanted and showed me the tire, then made Terry drive into the warehouse to where the tire was to pick it up.  Getting to the gas station that also sold windshield wipers was the easy part of the whole experience, except that our car takes two different sized windshield wipers and one of those sizes was not sold there. We found close enough and the guy pumping our gas helped up get the wipers on with the help of Terry's pocket knife to open that darned clamshell packaging.

Off to the tire store! Except the shopping mall where the tire store was meant to be has  two names and the one we knew wasn't the one proclaimed in big letters on the top of the building so we had to go past, turn around in traffic, and head back.  There was a sign showing that parking could be had in the back so off to the back we went. The biggest tragedy of this story is that we didn't get photos of the abandoned construction site we walked past from the parking lot to the front of the mall. Imagine a half-built building, sitting in at least a half-floor of water like a little pond, and the road that goes along this pond has almost rusting metal bars sticking out every few inches or so into the air above the pond, dissuading anyone from jumping in (not that one would. It also smelled of sewage).  I have never seen anything like this in the middle of such a developed city - as Astana is nothing if not a very developed city.

But I digress.  We go into the mall, find the tire store, and ask for the tires we need. I had called earlier and I knew they had them but there must have been a mis-communication because they now told me they only have winter tires. We have four winter tires on a boat in the Atlantic so we really wanted all season/summer ones. Strike out!

Making the best of the situation, we headed to the grocery store we noticed in the mall. We've been in this chain before, it sells Shop-Rite brand stuff. We grabbed a bunch of things we didn't think existed in Astana and called it a victory.

Part II comes soon .....

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I drove my car

The car is here, cleared customs, registered, insured and ready to drive. We only noticed after we got it home that the windshield wipers have gone missing, as well as the rim to the tire that got destroyed in shipping (the benefit of a big car is full sized tires as spares!) I'm hoping motorpool can find those items today. We still need to buy tires as we have no spare right now ...