Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast. My name is Sam.
And today we’re asking what’s the craic about Kazakhstan. So we’re gonna learn about any experiences we may have had in Kazakhstan, what life is like there. What we associate with Kazakhstan, what towns or cities we may have visited.
What were our favorites there and maybe even about the food. What’s the best thing about Kazakhstan, maybe problems in Kazakhstan. Culture – it is a little bit different from Russia, but how and why? In what way? Difficulties in living there and going there.
Although if you go with an Irish passport, you can go in visa-free for a little time. So that can be good for you. If you’re Irish of course. And the best places for tourists – what we would recommend. So, something hopefully for everyone, and learning something about somewhere maybe not so well-known, Kazakhstan. So, are you happy?
Are you thrilled? Are you over the moon?
So, let’s learn about Kazakhstan.
And let’s learn about you! Where were you born?
I was born in Kazakhstan, of course.
How dd we pick this topic? Wow! We’re so clever! It’s almost like we chose it!
Okay, so I was born in Kazakhstan in the city called Усть-Каменогорск, or the Kazakh, they call it Ust-Kemen.
How does it translate? For those who don’t speak Russian or…
Well it can be translated like… Well you know in Ust-Kamenogorsk there is… There are two rivers, the Irtysh and the Ulba river, and the Ulba river flows into the Irtysh, and so that’s the place where those two rivers meet, it’s like, can I say the mouth of the river?
Right. Yes, you can. Yeah. And kamen – is it like stone?
Yes, it’s stone. Yes. Because the nature is kind of mountainous. And well, you see the river, you see those mountains, so that’s the name. What’s the name of the city means?
Logical. I like logic. Okay. And tell us more about your place. So, you’re from Kazakhstan, but let us know, who are you?
Well, I’m a person. Oh well.
No, I’m not Kazakh, I’m an ethnic Russian. And well, I was born and I was raised there. Well actually I can say that up to this moment I spent the most of my life there. And, well, of course I had some good memories, maybe some of them are good, some of them are not so good, but still. Well, it’s life.
And you were born in the Soviet Union, right?
Yes, I was born in the 80s.
Eighty-nineties? 1880s, wow. You heard it here first. Were you born in the 80s? I was born in the 80s too.
Yes I was born in 1984, in the Soviet Union.
Right. And I was born in 1983, but not in the Soviet Union. Somehow… How could it be that I was born in 1983 but not in the Soviet Union? Okay. Wow, okay. So what three things would you use to describe Kazakh life? What three words?
Okay, well I would say, first of all, hospitality, because Kazakh people are very hospitable. They like having guests.
They like to put you in hospital. Guest-friendly. Hospitable.
Yeah. And then maybe two things that they’re like.. it’s kind of a mix of love of traditions, because, well, Kazakh people try to keep their traditions alive.
And strive for modern life, for modern technologies, because, for example, if you visit, well, some cities in Kazakhstan like the capital Astana, which is not Astana now. You know?
Yeah. And Almaty, well, usually when foreigners, I mean when tourists come to see those cities they feel surprised, because what they can see there, it’s very great. And they see modern houses, infrastructure, and they say that it looks more like Europe, not Asia.
Right. And when I think of Kazakhstan, I don’t travel much in Kazakhstan, but I think of people riding on horses, with brown Asian features, and they’re riding on horses, you know, in lovely clothes, very traditional clothes.
And there’s an eagle in the sky, going through these fields with blue sky, lots of wheat in the fields. And wind is coming down. It’s just, you know, beautiful scene. But I guess that’s very stereotypical, right?
It’s not quite everyday life.
That’s what we call stereotypes, yeah.
But it’s a former soviet union country.
It feels quite like Russia…
Yeah, because if you go there… Well I don’t think that you will see a lot of differences between life in Russian and life in Kazakhstan. Well, it’s quite similar.
How did you or your family end up in Kazakhstan?
Well my family moved to Kazakhstan… well as far as I know during the first World War, like in 1914. Because my… not my grandfather, but my great-grandfather, he lived in Ukraine, and well some of my ancestors they lived in Russia. I mean, in those Russian regions that border with Ukraine, I mean modern Ukraine.
And well, they were forced to move to the east, so they ended up in Kazakhstan.
And then the rest is history as we say. Right. And I have been in Kazakhstan. I’m not… neither Russian nor Kazakh, but my wife is Russian, like yourself, who was born in Kazakhstan.
She was born just at the very end, and sometimes we blame her for the end of the Soviet Union, because she was born shortly before the end of that time period in history. So I went, because I have family now through my wife, in Kazakhstan. I went to a town called, let me see, Semipalatinsk.
Yes, but nowadays it’s called Semei.
She calls it Semei, which means kind of like family, doesn’t it? Genitive form, no?
Well, Semipalatinsk originates from the word ‘seven chambers’ or maybe ‘seven tents’ what we’d say in modern Russian. Well because there was an expedition…
Now they have no tents, just seven.
Well because the Kazakh name of that was shortened, because in Kazakh language, I don’t think that they like long words like Russians.
Right, right. It’s not easy for me too. And it’s close to where you were born and growing up? Not so far away? The North-east?
Right. Yeah. It’s one region. I mean, it’s East Kazakhstan. And well, if we talk about the origin of that name, as far as I know, there was an expedition that was… Well there was an order of Peter the Great who wanted to explore those lands.
I mean, that part in the east of modern days Kazakhstan, and they wanted to protect those lands because of some enemies, I mean, some tribes from China. They’re called Dzungars or something like that. And so, that’s why the expedition founded cities like Pavlodar, then Semipalatinsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk.
Okay. Good. I’m learning all the time. Every day is a school day as I used to be told.
And Ust-Kamenogorsk used to be, first of all, it used to be a fortress to protect those lands.
Wow. Good to know. What things do you associate with Kazakhstan? So when you hear the word Kazakhstan, what do you think of?
Well, just maybe I would think of some traditional things that you talked about, like camels and those traditional clothes, eagles in the sky. But also I think that Kazakh nature can be one of the places to visit for tourists, because actually…
Well I can say that nature is quite various, but the eastern and the southern parts of the country, the east and maybe south-east.. Well those parts are very beautiful and picturesque, because they are covered with mountains. Well, I think that mountains is the best place in the world, because it’s always very beautiful.
Yeah. Do you love mountains?
Well, I can’t say I love them. But anyways, it’s great to see…
You appreciate the wonder of them all. And I guess I was surprised and when I went to Semipalatinsk, I was there sort of late spring I guess or…? It was May time, would that be late spring?
Late spring, yeah. But with the difference in weather In this region is sort of confusing to me. But I was there with my wife and I was like ‘Wow! Look! Wow! There’s an eagle!’ And she was like ‘Oh yeah, an eagle, okay’.
And she was like ‘that’s normal and that’s nothing strange’, but for me that was WOW! Wow an eagle in the sky! And I saw several eagles, I mean, just you could look up at any time of the day, on any day and you could potentially see an eagle above you.
and that for me is quite unusual because yes, there are eagles in Northern Ireland, but I think we don’t see them as often and as regularly as you might in Kazakhstan.
Yeah, because the areas that are like steps, yes, can we say like this? Yeah?
With the flat land covered with grass, no trees. So well it’s just a common place for eagles, for such birds.
They’re looking for whatever, rats, or whatever they can eat there. So that was unusual for me. So I would associate the eagles with Kazakhstan. I guess it’s on the flag, isn’t it?
It’s on the flag, yes, it’s considered to be like a national symbol.
Right. But I since have seen them in Novosibirsk here, so it’s not unique, but it is maybe specific to this region, cause we’re not super far. Because they don’t need a passport, right? Or a visa.
They just fly and don’t need to stand through security control.
They don’t need to be preoccupied with people stuff.
They don’t have to get their… Go through a scanner or anything.
So which towns or cities have you been to? For me, I’ve only been in Semei, because that’s where my family were or are. Where have you been in Kazakhstan?
Well I have been to many cities. Well first of all of course Almaty and Astana or Nursultan. And I’ve been to Karaganda, Kostanay and Petropavlovsk, Kokshetau. So many many cities. In the northern part, in the central part of Kazakhstan. Well, Almaty is in the south.
And are they all very different from each other?
No, I wouldn’t say they are different because they look like… well they look very similar to each other. Well of course the capital of Kazakhstan and Almaty, well, they are different, because, well, Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan, and the population is about two million people.
And well, the city is growing so fast, it attracts a lot of people from the nearby areas. So it’s like maybe Moscow in Russia. So many people…
Yes. A lot of people want to live there and want to move there.
Right, right. And a lot of the development is happening in Almaty.
Yes, of course. And it used to be the capital of Kazakhstan, that’s why maybe the city, well, the rate of development is quite fast.
Well it’s also the most beautiful city for me and I think for many people in Kazakhstan. Because when you come there you can see like, especially in the summer, there are lots of green spaces and you can see those high mountains covered with ice and glaciers.
It’s in the south, Almaty?
South-east, right. Those mountains and different landscapes.
They’re called the Alatau mountains.
Well they look very beautiful and they attract lots of tourists not only from Kazakhstan, but also form other countries.
Yes. Because even in summer and I should say that they climate in Almaty is, well, it’s pretty warm, especially in summer the temperatures can be like 30-35 or even 40 degrees Celsius.
Yes and when you go to the mountains, you can see the snow and the ice and, well, it’s so fresh when you go there.
If you go up on a really hot summer day, it’s a nice contrast.
You’re so hot, I mean I would be like melting in that temperature and if I go up to the snow, that would be nice.
Yes, and, well, one more thing that I like about the mountains, the Alatau mountains, is that they’re all covered in forests, so they’re not just… just grass or something.
Not just like, oh here’s some rock, big rock.
That’s why they’re very beautiful.
Almaty used to be a capital, right?
Yes, yes. Until 1998 or 7.
And so Astana, I mean, Nursultan now – it’s just recently been changed, but why is it the capital? And not Almaty?
Well because, I know that the former president of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev, in the 90s he wanted to change the capital city because, well, the location of Astana – it used to be called Akmola, then Tselinograd, then Akmola again, then Astana, now it’s Nursultan.
So it’s located in the geographical center of the country and, well, maybe it’s kind of easier to govern the country when the capital is in the center. And, well, as far as I know, one more reason was that it’s closer to the Russian border.
Because well, we know that Nazarbayev was and is very friendly to Russia. So maybe he wanted to strengthen it, to establish more ties with Russian federation.
That makes sense. It was a practical idea to do that. Okay. And I get the suspicion – I was gonna ask which is your favorite place you’ve visited, but I guess this is Almaty?
Yes. Yes, that’s for sure.
And is it by far better than Astana? What are the differences?
Well Almaty looks very modern because, well, if you go there you can see I would say even skyscrapers. I mean, some tall buildings. And they look very modern. Because, you know, the people who designed those buildings, all mostly, they are from Turkey or from Europe as far as I know.
Well, maybe I’m mistaken but… maybe some people who know better than me, they will correct me. But it looks very modern, and it looks like a European city.
And well, it’s very administrative, because all the governmental buildings of course are there, and in Almaty the atmosphere is completely different. You can feel it when you visit those cities and just when you compare them you can see the difference I think.
Do you think it’s more organized?
You mean Astana or Nursultan?
Almaty? Or Nursultan is more organized?
Right. So it’s more controlled and?
Yeah, because I would say that Almaty is like, maybe, a cultural capital of Kazakhstan.
It’s a bit like a situation between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Because it was the capital, and then now it’s Moscow.. It’s maybe a little bit like that, I guess. What’s the best thing about Kazakhstan?
Well, the best thing is the… I can say that the best thing is the ability of people to be friendly, I mean, because maybe you know that Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnical country…
There are like 100 or even maybe 120 ethnicities, ethnical groups that live there. And they’re all friendly, and I think that’s very great when people can be friendly towards each other in spite of differences in culture, in languages, in religion.
Well and I think it’s a good thing that Kazakhstan and Kazakh people or Kazakhstan-y people, because we’re not talking only about Kazakhs.
So you would say you’re Kazakhstan-y. Could you say Kazakhstany in Russian?
I could I used to be but I live here.
Yeah, you live here now, so it’s different.
And I think that’s, well, I think it’s very good when people can value this friendship.
Right, yeah, and get along. Why can’t we be friends? Do you wanna sing with me? Why can’t we be friends? And I don’t remember the words.
And if you ask me, of course I was only there for a short time, I didn’t travel around, I wasn’t, unfortunately, in any of the big cities or anything, although I would love to visit Nursultan or Almaty. Now I want to go down.
After you told me so much about Almaty, I want to go there.
And you should go there in the summer, because well in winter it’s quite wet.
It’s chilly, it’s not cold, but it’s chilly.
Of course. Well it can be zero, maybe -5 but the most days it’s even, I mean the temperatures are above zero. But it’s very wet, because that humidity comes from the mountains and…
I’m from Northern Ireland, I don’t mind wet…
Wet, rain doesn’t annoy me so much.
You will be okay. But anyway the summer’s the best season to visit Almaty.
Right, right. No, but if you ask me what’s the best thing about Kazakhstan based on my very limited experience, I would say it’s my mother-in-law’s hospitality. Cause you talked about people in Kazakhstan being very hospitable, and I definitely feel that she’s very a very hospitable person.
My wife and I stayed with her. Of course it’s my wife’s home, but I felt very much at home with them, so it was always great. And I used an old Soviet coffee grinder and a Soviet coffee machine from, I don’t know, 80s or maybe even earlier.
And you know, the coffee tasted great. It was fantastic! I mean, of course, you plug it in, it doesn’t look like a modern coffee grinder, but it looked fantastic, and I enjoyed my coffee just as much as anywhere, it was great.
What food and culture from Kazakhstan do you enjoy? Or did you enjoy maybe when you were there?
Well, as for the food I think that… Well you mentioned baursaki, well, they are like small pieces of dough that are…
There are bigger ones too.
Okay. So, which ones did you like most?
First of all, my wife and I were just like ‘let’s go to a shop and get a few things’ and we saw, I saw, these baursaki and I thought Oooh! They look nice! I mean, they don’t necessarily look healthy, cause they are not.
Oooh! And they looked fresh, and there were six or maybe more in a packet, and I thought ‘Ooh! Let’s try these!’ and said to my wife and she said ‘yeah, sure’. And it turned out these were bigger baursaki, they’re kinda like a what I would call a doughnut or a gravy ring.
Yes, something like that.
There’s no jam or anything inside them. But they’re not sweet, but they are very savory, very salty and buttery and I guess not healthy. But delicious.
Yes. Right. Especially if they’re homemade and made by local people, I mean by Kazakhs.
Melt in your mouth, they’re delicious.
So I would definitely recommend those, but not too many, cause you’ll put on the pounds or the kilograms. And I tried the little ones too. And they’re kind of… they’re very different. At least what I’ve tried – they’re quite crunchy little balls.
And still delicious, and I guess not so healthy, but quite different form the bigger baursaki.
And maybe the second dish is beshbarmak, which means five fingers, because traditionally Kazakh people used to eat this dish with their fingers.
There’s no fingers in the dish.
Of course not. Well it contains meat, which is like finely chopped because… well it has some meaning, I mean, if you chop meat, I mean, if you cut it in tiny pieces, it means that you show respect for people who will eat this dish, so that they could chew it.
Something like that. And well, it contains this boiled meat and noodles. And it’s like spiced with some kind of sauce, but it’s very tasty.
Sounds good. I don’t think I’ve eaten it, but I’ve heard of it.
Yes, it’s a traditional dish, and well I should say that mostly all Kazakh food contains, I mean all Kazakh dishes contain meat.
It can be, I mean, it’s quite popular…
Well, nowadays horse meat or, well it can also be beef or lamb, but no pork of course.
Right, yes, it’s against most people’s religion. Cause it’s quite strange, maybe a little bit strange for someone in the UK. Like we had a few years ago a kind of controversy, because one of the big supermarkets was selling burgers.
And it said on the packaging that it’s beef, beef burgers, so cow. But it was found out that it was actually horses, horse meat. And that was a big controversy and some people were like ‘Oh no, we’re eating horse!’ And it’s like some people were traumatized at the fact that they’re eating a horse.
Did they sue that company?
I don’t know if anything every happened, I mean, there was a bit of bad publicity, they had to change the packaging, but I don’t know if the company lost any money or anything, or anyone sued.
I don’t know if that was such a big deal for too many people. But it was a bit of a controversy and because people were like ‘well we can’t be eating horses’.
They just didn’t expect that, of course.
I guess it’s false advertising, but maybe people love horses more than cows? It’s just kind of hypocritical, but I’m just thinking from a Kazakh point of view that would be a really strange argument, that would be a really strange controversy.
Because so much horse meat or something.
Yes, and as for the culture, I think that the greatest, the most important holiday, national holiday, is called Nauriz, Nowruz. Well, it has the Iranian origin and in Kazakhstan it’s celebrated on March 22nd, but in some other countries…
It’s the day before my birthday.
In some countries like Uzbekistan or even in Russia in, like, Tatarstan or some, well I think it’s celebrated on March 21st. Well if we talk about Kazakhstan it marks the day of vernal equinox, I mean when day and night become equal.
So it marks the beginning of new year.
Right, and it’s very important. It’s kind of like New year for them.
Anyway, this holiday is observed in Kazakhstan, it’s a public holiday. People don’t go to work for three days.
So yeah. They celebrate March 21st, 22nd and 23rd.
23rd is a great day, yeah.
And, well, people gather together, they have fun, they have guests. They share their meals with each other. So it’s very friendly. Of course its not only Kazakh people who celebrate that, but all the people in Kazakhstan. And this holiday unites people, which is good too.
Sounds nice, sounds nice. What are some of the difficulties now? I mean, a little bit serious. If I go, or if someone goes, or someone is living in Kazakhstan, are there any problems?
Cause everywhere are problems.
Yes of course. I would say the problems can be like here in Russia, so. I can’t see much difference.
They’re not huge. Well, I think that some people have difficulties because the Kazakh language is so widespread and there’s an expectation that people should know it. And not all of the citizens know it – is that an issue or was that an issue?
Well, nowadays of course, I mean, the importance of knowing Kazakh is, well, higher. Well, anyway, if you know Russian, I mean, if you’re going to travel to large cities in Kazakhstan, everybody understands Russian and especially in Almaty.
Well I can say that in Nursultan many people who come from the southern parts of the country, they don’t know Russian or maybe they know some Russian and of course they prefer to speak Kazakh.
But if you travel to Almaty, you should be okay with that because even if you don’t know Kazakh and if you know some Russian, and even English, well lots of people speak English there too. Maybe not like that good English, but anyway they’re understandable.
Yeah. Cool. And lastly – what are the best places for tourists? I guess you’re gonna talk about Almaty?
Yes. Almaty and of course the mountains, the Alatau mountains. And…
And if we talk about places in Almaty that you would recommend? Any sights?
Sights? Well, first of all, of course, is the downtown, because it’s very beautiful and has lots of parks. And, well, also you can visit, I mean, not in Almaty, but there is a skating rink which is called Medeo, and it’s considered to be the highest skating rink in the world.
It was built in the 1960s I think, and it’s very popular with tourists, because if you go there – again, the landscape is very beautiful, and… For example, even if you go there in the summer you can have some fun, just to do some, like exercise, or to do some sport there.
And also if you go higher up in the mountains, there is like ski resort, which is called Chimbulak, which is very popular with tourists too. And well, you can have a great time there.
Sounds good, sounds good. Okay, well that was the craic about Kazakhstan. So we learned about our experience in Kazakhstan and the different places we have seen.
We hope that you enjoyed our talk.
And the connection that Vladimir particularly has with Kazakhstan. The different cities, where we went, the food, the culture. Any problem, but not too much. And great places to visit in Kazakhstan. So that was the craic about Kazakhstan.