Anyone else in Almaty, Kazakhstan?

I’ve been in beautiful Almaty for a month now, and it’s a really wonderful city, surrounded by amazing natural beauty and full of friendly and kind people. I’m sad that I can only be here for another few weeks, but I’m already planning my return. In the meantime, I just thought I’d check the Dope to see if anyone else is around, either in Almaty or elsewhere in Kazakhstan.

Also, if anyone has any questions about Almaty, Kazakhstan, or Central Asia, I’ll do my best to answer them.

So you know where I’m coming from: American grad student, in Almaty to study Russian and do some research on religion and politics.

I looked at some Google images. It really is fantastic!

Do you use an iPhone translation program or something to talk to people or can you speak the language?

From the OP: “in Almaty to study Russian.”

If not I guess that makes you Lord Almaty. Looks beautiful, quite the mix of old and new. Enjoy your stay!


Is it true that Kazakhstan has the cleanest prostitutes in the region, except for of course Turkmenistan?

The city is unbelievably beautiful, thanks for sharing that.

Your decision to study Russian in Kazakhstan is a bit puzzling, so I suppose the choice of Almaty has more to do with your religion and politics research. Why did you choose Almaty?

If you want to keep up with things in Central Asia in general and Kazakhstan in particular, MHz Worldview (runs as a subchannel of PBS in many cities) has a daily English-language news broadcast from Kazakhstan:

Vivalostwages: Actually, there’s no translation app for Kazakh anywhere that I can find, which is a shame. Knowing Kazakh gets you big brownie points here. Almaty is primarily Russian speaking, though.

Lieu: Thanks! But I don’t get the Lord Almaty reference.

Reticulating Spines: I get that reference though, haha. And so do most Kazakhs. Their opinions about that movie are surprisingly mixed, though they tend to dislike it more often than not. As for prostitution, it apparently exists in a kind of legal gray area here, which means that there are registrations for known prostitutes, but exploitation still happens at brothels.

MoodIndigo: I did an internship last fall where I worked on religious freedom issues in Kazakhstan and I got really interested in the country. Islam here is changing a lot as a minority of people, but especially young people, grow more connected to the larger Islamic world. And it is really worrying the people in power, who are still greatly colored by the Soviet past. I have several contacts here who I wanted to interview and who want to work with me, so Almaty seemed like a natural choice. They still speak very natural Russian in Almaty, so it wasn’t too hard to find a summer program either that was way cheaper than most in Russia.

FeAudrey: Thanks for the links!

Did you hook up with any of the locals?

A friend of mine did a placement in Iran and was able to pull a few. I’m still amazed by this feat.

And for a more serious question; how do the locals treat you? i.e. Is it safe to go out at night / Do they put you on a pedestal?

I worked south of Atyrau and a group out us took a long flight to Almaty to see the gorges and Valley of Castles. It was outstanding. If you want some other scenery that is easy to get to, try the Charyn National Park.

That decision is actually not the least bit puzzling - many Kazakhs are ethnically Russian and many ethnic Kazakhs don’t actually speak a word of Kazakh.

My question to the OP: what is life like under the Nazarbayev regime, do you experience (first-hand or otherwise) any of the oppression? It is described in the literature as competitive or soft authoritarian (Schatz, 2009), with the Nazarbayev regime working hard to create the impression of competition and pluralism while ultimately calling the shots. Is that something that jibes with your experience?

Short answers, as I am about to depart for a trip to Shymkent (the Texas of KZ), sorry!

Alba: I haven’t been looking for that, though I will say that there are a lot of people in Almaty eager to meet foreigners for various reasons. Almaty has a bustling nightlife (Even during Ramadan) and good cafe scene and so there are plenty of opportunities. On the second point, I have been really amazed and humbled by the hospitality and kindness that has been shown to me by locals; people warned me about going out at night but I have had no trouble. Of course, I will go to Shymkent tonight, and that is a lot more rough and tumble, so I may come back with different info soon. What gets (Kazakh) people to really like you is if you speak some Kazakh; even if they are normally Russian speaking they will light up and go to pains to help you out.

Svejk: Your question deserves a much longer answer, but I will say this. It feels freer than China. If you do not get involved in politics or non-traditional religion, you will not be bothered, and they don’t censor the internet as far as I know. Now, if you do get involved in those two things, then there will be some problems, and you are right, Nazarbayev has worked hard to create a democratic facade that isn’t really there, although it is questionable how much he is calling the shots these days.

Interesting fact about Almaty (and Central Asia more widely): every car is a potential taxi. You will actually see relatively few official taxis on the street; what you do for a ride is just stick your hand out and wait for someone to pull over. Then tell them where you want to go and how much you’ll pay, and if it’s all right with them then you are off.

I was there for 6 months in 2010. Hope you enjoy. There’s a lot of good stuff a bit outside the city. As someone mentioned above, Charyn Canyon is great, and is only a few hours drive. Big Almaty Lake is lovely, and the mountains around there between there and Chimbulak are gorgeous (did a 6-day hike through the valleys between them, which was amazing - us and our guide were the only people we saw the whole time). The Tamgaly petroglyphs aren’t too far away either (did that on the way to a weekend away at a camel farm nearby to do some horseriding out on the steppe).

Make sure you get out to Turkestan for a day-trip from there, the mausoleum’s amazing. Though I remember the public transport option to get out there from Shymkent is a little fiddly, you needed to get to a bus station just outside of town, then get a marshrutka from there (then the one we were getting didn’t quite get right into town at the other end, so switched to another one). People were generally pretty helpful though.

Not much, but I know at least a few blogging sites were blocked when I was there (I think blogspot and livejournal maybe?). I remember some news being shared through those when things were happening in Kg, but was able to get through using Opera+turbo mode(or whatever it’s called)

And it’s super convenient. You could just wander up to the side of the road anywhere and the 2nd or 3rd car that passes will probably pull over. The haggling side of it becomes a lot more comfortable once you get used to what the standard range is for trips of various lengths. Some might try to overcharge you if you look like you don’t know what you’re doing and just ask how much it is, but if you start out offering something at the higher end of what’s normal for that trip then people will often agree right away. And the good thing is that if you don’t like the price, the car behind will probably pull up too :slight_smile:
I really missed the convenience of that when I got back.

Russia used to be like that in late 90s. Not anymore.