Rumsky's Australasia Walkabout travel blog

Typical dwelling in Kazakhstan

Typical gorgeous cemetery in Kazakhstan

The store where we spent most of time in Almaty buying a...

Beautiful Russian Orthodox church in Almaty

Impressive golden altar in Russian Orthodox church

Women in traditional dress and song in central park in Almaty

Does it really matter which one we use?

We were only in Kazakhstan for about four or five days altogether, mostly driving through it, so I have very little to say on the subject. Of what we did see, I would comment that the Kazaks seem to care more about their dead than the living, as evidenced by the multitude of spectacular cemeteries we passed, dispersed amongst ghetto after ghetto of spliced together, rotting and falling down homes.

Lonely Planet claims that Borat is in the top three things that Kazakhstan in known for (and the movie was actually filmed in Romania, by the way). The government banned Borat and all traces of the film until they noticed that the visa applications increased threefold the next year; now Borat is welcomed with open arms. We had two days in Almaty and with the exception of visiting a beautiful Russian Orthodox church and buying a new bathing suit in the Green Market, the rest of our time was basically spent buying a camera.

After the camera pooped out in Kyrgyzstan (the 2nd Nikon Cool Pix that has died within a year of purchase), I limped along with two different borrowed cameras until Almaty, which appeared to be the most developed of all the "Stans" we had visited. The store had a familiar, glitzy front with rows of potential cameras on offer. Dig under the surface, and the old Soviet crazy beauracracy is still alive and well. We spent the first half hour just trying to find someone unafraid to help us (pointing at a camera and showing our money caused all the salespeople to flee in hopes of finding someone who spoke English). A woman came and explained that they didn't really have that or many of the cameras actually for sale, and they couldn't sell the show models either. She tried to get me to buy some other brand but I insisted on one that took batteries, not any requiring an electrical charge. After some research she found one across town. Undeterred, Fran and I took the bus across town, found the store, found the camera, tried it out and it seemed to work, then spent another half hour or so trying to get someone to sell us the camera (deja vu of salespeople fleeing at our gestures and open wallet).

Someone finally took pity on us and sold us the camera, requiring a half hour or so of paperwork. I put my memory card in and it didn't work. So then we spent another chunk of time finding and buying a new memory card. More paperwork. The new memory card didn't work. One of the workers took the camera to the "Tech desk" (picture Bart Simpson goofing off in the back) and after another half hour, came back and deemed the camera DOA. We insisted on returning it and the memory card. An hour and piles of paperwork later, we left at 5:00 pm, having wasted the entire day with no camera to show for it. But we did manage to observe how the store employees needed to be frisked before they left the store on their breaks; clearly big brother doesn't trust his underlings!

Determined the next day to actually buy a camera, we went back to the store and tried to buy the camera that the former saleslady tried to sell us. Imagine our dismay when she wasn't around, and again the salespeople scattered when we tried to corner them to actually buy the camera this time. After about an hour, someone again took pity on us and took out the camera, which we insisted on trying with my memory card BEFORE we purchased it. Luckily, it did work although it is a sucky camera (the zoom is lousy). About an hour later we left, $80 poorer but with a camera that does take (again albeit sucky) pictures. A cultural experience in former Soviet frustration....and that's pretty much all I have to say about Kazakhstan.

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