Many travelers who visit Astana are struck by the feeling of a Dubai on the Steppe, where flashy buildings express the aspiration of a nation. That is probably oversimplified — I’ll reflect more on Astana soon — but I it’s true that Kazakhstan’s capital has undergone rapid changes. Once an administrative town, the city was transformed ten years ago when it was selected to be the new capital city of rapidly-developing Kazakhstan.
While brittle at –40 C/F in the winter, as we approach summer, the river banks and broad boulevards in the new part of town are a favorite place for walking, among parks, fountains, ornate human-sized rings, and bronze statues of young men and women.
And while located in a colder climate, Astana has benefited, like Dubai, from a massive investment of oil revenues in building projects. As much as 8$bn to 13$bn has been spent on developing the city, and authorities are scrambling to provide housing for a doubling population. Most recently, it was announced in December that Astana had won the bid to host the World’s Fair in 2017 – the perfect opportunity for showing off the city and country on a large scale.
But most of all, newcomers tend to notice Astana’s elaborate buildings. Like the UAE, Kazakhstan has invested its oil revenues in building an all-new modern city. Below, I’ll share with you the seven buildings that make me smile whenever I see them — especially when I think of their local nicknames. If you visit Astana, ask for the newest building, and take a good look: a new nickname is likely not far behind.
Students sit on the steps outside during the week, and exhibit opening are held on the weekends. The round blue Shabyt (“inspiration”) building is an art gallery, art university, and studio all in one, hosting some of Kazakhstan’s most modern artists.
KazTransCom, or the Kazakh ministry of transportation and communications, is primarily known for being housed in a building that looks looking like a giant raspechka, or lighter. Legend says that at one point during construction it briefly caught fire, making the resemblance even stronger.
A local driver pointed this one out to me, saying that the Northern Lights, a swanky apartment building where many professional expats are housed, looks rather like a set of tall stacks of salfetki, or table napkins.
Bayterek (“White Poplar”) is a beautiful monument to Kazakh folklore and offers a golden-glazed view of the city. It’s also widely known as Chupa-Chups, for the giant lollipop of the same name. I was a bit dismayed to read National Geographic last year, as a man began his front-cover travel article by asserting that the Bayterek tower was too unique for nicknames.
A bit obvious, but the Palace of Peace and Harmony is also known as the Pyrameed. Designed by architect Norman Foster, the top floor hosts a conference room with large King-Arthur style round table, right beneath the glassy peak. As guests look out, they see white doves etched in the blue glass, soaring over the city skyline.
The nickname that one salty old taxi driver provided for the Khan Shatyr (“King’s Tent”) is perhaps unkind, so I’ll refrain. But you can’t miss a pointed tent on the edge of the city’s skyline. This toasty-warm mall indoors hosts an arcade, expensive European clothing stores, and a beach with swimming pools on the top floor, overlooking the center. It’s one of the best placing for enjoying yourself in the –40C weather, so I’ll just leave the nicknames to your imagination…
Most recently, a Music Hall was built that seems a combination of Box and Giant Clay Jar. It’s my favorite for the time being, mostly because I’d pay a great deal to see the faces of ancient Scythian warriors if they could step into their homeland today, and see how a small clay pot has taken over an entire building!
Read on from librarian Liz, as she covers the cranes better than I ever could!
1. My guess is, if you’re wanting to learn Kazakh, it’s because you’re 1) a grad student in search of obscure research, 2) a professor who got a job in Kazakhstan, 3) an aid worker or teacher, 5) a diplomat, in which case you already have expert help, 6) someone who got married to a Kazakh, 7) a trailing spouse, who got married to someone who ended up in Kazakhstan, 8) a tourist, or 9) insanely good at and fascinated with languages.
Now I can’t speak to the polyglot, but I can offer a few tips for everyone else. As a brief introduction, Kazakh is currently written in Cyrillic (like Russian) but is an agglutinative (“sticky-ending”) languagewhere all the endings pile together onto the ends of words. For instance, here’s an online article about a new restaurant in Pittsburgh that serves delicous Afghani and Venezuelan food (…why am I not in Pittsburgh??). The tagline for the article reads:
Питтсбург қаласындағы «Жанжал асханасы» деп аталатын ресторан Куба, Иран, Ауғанстан мен Венесуэланың ұлттық тағамдарын пісіріп, бұл елдерді жаңа қырынан танытқысы келеді.
To flip that roughly into latin letters, so you can read it:
Pittsburg qalasyndagy <Janjal askanasy> dep atalatyn restoran Kuba, Iran, Aughanstan, men Venesuelanyn ulttyq tagamdaryn pisirip, bul elderdi jana qyrynan tanytqysy keledi.
A ‘direct’ translation would go something like:
Pittsburgh city-at “conflict cafe” said named-was restaurant Cuba, Iran, Afghanistan, and Venezuela’s national foods-to cook, this countries-to new side-from introduce-to is wanting.
Well, that’s pretty terrible. So a full translation might be:
Pittsburgh’s “Conflict Kitchen” restaurant fixes national foods from Cuba, Iran, Afghanistan, and Venezuela, introducing a new side of these countries.
Besides how amazing this food sounds, my point is: look at all those word bits! More or less, red = belonging; purple = where it’s at/from, orange = adjectives, light blue = passive, active, or reflexive, green = verb tenses, gray = plurals, dark blue = accusative or genitive cases. And often you can see two or three endings on a single word. Beautiful.
I love Kazakh for this reason – not just because the base words are great (above, pisiru = to cook, janjal = conflict, qala = city, tagam = food, jana = new), but because adding all the endings and watching how they interact is like studying a puzzle.
So should you want to join me in this puzzling (and trust me, I’m often puzzled…), I’ll note below some tips and resources I’ve found useful for Kazakh learners at all stages:
First, learn your alphabet. Kazakh may change to the latin alphabet in the future, but as of now, it’s still in Cyrillic. Download the alphabet PDF from Indiana University, and then Niki Dutta’s great list of the 500 most essential words in Kazakh, Russian and English. If you actually plan to live in Kazakhstan, it wouldn’t hurt learn both Kazakh and Russian.
Next, try puzzling through some posts at the new Kazakh Language blog. Not sure where this blog popped up from, but it’s got song and story translations, carefully broken down for the English-origin language learner. For instance, this post takes a Youtube vid of Dinara Sultan’s song Sen (“You”) and adds the lyrics in Cyrillic and Latin letters, then the English meaning, and then a breakdown of what each word means. Not a bad way to learn!
If you’re really interested, look for a tutor. Perhaps there are Kazakhs in your city on study or business. But if not, sharedtalk.com offers free language exchange. There are always young Kazakhs looking topractice their English, and they’ll be delighted to teach you some Kazakh in return! Message until you find someone you like, and then you can try Skyping for more audio practice.
If you’re serious, classes are very helpful. In Kazakhstan, try KIMEP in Almaty or the Eurasian National University in Astana. A handful of American universities also teach Kazakh, including U Wisconsin, U Michigan, Indiana U, U Washington, and UT Austin. Indiana University has a strong summer program in the US, and American Councils puts you right in Kazakhstan for a summer. It will run a few thousand dollars, but you can often get full scholarships if you’re a grad student, or planning to start grad school soon.
The classic textbooks in English are the 2009 Kazakh Language Manual from the Peace Corps, edited by Michael Hancock (find the 1995 version freely here), and the green Kazakh Language Made Easy, by Iraida Kubaeva. However, both are somewhat hard to locate outside of Kazakhstan. University of Arizona sells CD lessons at three levels. Radio Free Europe’s Azattyq.org is good for listening to news, and Youtube has music videos.
More and more publishers are starting to add Kazakh to their language series, with varying results. Try Colloquial Kazakh by Zaure Batayeva, or download audio flashcards from BYKI online or via iPhone. Search “Kazakh” on FlashcardExchange to find my many free flashcard sets, and then pull them into Flashcards Deluxe Android / Apple app for practice while you’re waiting in the airport. This has worked great for my vocab, but I’m now open to suggestions on how to improve my grammar!
Once you’ve started, Kazakhstan’s official language website (https://til.gov.kz/wps/portal/) offers a decent Kazakh-English-Russian dictionary. Even better, click Электронные книги for free ebooks in Kazakh. An “I love reading!” series offers easy readers translated from English — with such culturally-relevant (?) tales such as Sharks, Ships, Musical Instruments, and Vikings.
What if you need to translate some reading materials? You can find phrase lists and scans of print dictionaries online, and those are great for set words and phrases. But they’re less useful for sorting out colloquial wording. The online dictionary above gives only one English word for each Kazakh one one. So my personal strategy is to enter Kazakh words into the http://sozdik.kz/ dictionary and then copy the long list of meanings and sample uses in Russian. I then paste into Google Translate so that all the Russian flips to English. A terrible method for exact translation, but it gives the most comprehensive sense of difficult or complex words.
Another great resource for mid-level learners is Akmaral Mukan’s $70 Learner’s Dictionary of Kazakh Idioms. I’ve been begging for this for ages, but my Kazakh teacher-friend are often more focused on getting locals fluent in Kazakh before training foreigners! But luckily for us, Mukan has lived in America but spent years collecting and testing idiomatic phrases and example sentences in Kazakh, then translating for the English learner. If you’re serious about Kazakh, this is a great book to use for digging deeper.
Well, it’s not available yet, but I dream of someday getting paid to work with local linguists on building roots lists as well as frequency lists for learning Kazakh. I tried starting my own roots list a little while ago, but I’d like to see a detailed database with Kazakh-English words, searchable by presumed root, synonyms, type of word, commonality, and topic. Ideally you could query and then download personalized word lists for study. If anyone’s working on this, let me know! And for more about what’s possible with online dictionaries today, watch lexicographer (dictionary-builder) Erin McKean’s TED talk about the possibilities of interactive online dictionaries. She responded personally to my queries about what kind of database programs are best for building an interactive multilingual dictionary, so I think she’s the best (!!! ).
I’d also like to see frequency lists in the same database. You can currently buy mass-produced topical vocab lists, although I prefer the free Kaztest ebooks on til.gov.kz above. But either way, vocab lists tend to range from the inane to the absurdly specific. They’re often focused on obscure nouns, rather than those common verb combinations that everyone uses but no one translates. I’d like to see something like Brown’s 10,000-word Russian Learner’s Dictionary, but again interactive and with the possibility to download word lists. This would be more useful than memorizing lists of words like асқатық (condiments) and ұшақтың құйрығы (airplane’s tail), that I *cough* have definitely not done…
My only other wish is for more texts on mid– to advanced-level grammatical concepts, as everyone keeps remaking introductory Kazakh-English textbooks in different formats. But once you’ve got the basics, where do you go from there? Hopefully to Kazakhstan, to try out your әдемі (beautiful) қазақ тілі (Kazakh language) skills!
A year and a half ago, I wrote about the WeAreThe99Percent meme, on a blog which featured images of people holding signs of paper to express dissatisfaction with life in America during the recession.
So it’s been interesting to see the patamushta (патамушта) meme popping up in similar ways. When I first saw the Hyperbole and a Half comic redone in Russian on facebook, I didn’t get the punchline:
Huh? I thought. Must be some slang I haven’t learned yet.
But apparently this is a response to the proposed rise in the retirement age for women in Kazakhstan. At independence, women retired at 55 and men at 60, but that was later raised for both genders, to 58/63. And now, citing rising retirement ages and expenses in Europe, a law has been proposed to gradually raise the retirement age for women by five years, to age 63.
I feel a lot of sympathy for women with a longer work life, but I’m also curious to know more about the new Minister of Labor, Serik Abdenov. On taking his post last year, Abdenov said there was no need to raise the pension age of 58 for older women. In December, he raised pensions 9%, to an average of $219 dollars/month.
And citing financial pressures, the youthful-looking official is now defending the proposed law raising the pension age to 63. I believe Kazakh workers pay a 10% income tax and 10% pension tax, although women only earn 60% of what men do.
From a rather cynical perspective, I’d note that women put in less cash to pension funds because they earn less and take time off to bear children — but they also are expected to contribute far more labor on a daily basis to household, family, and community than most men. Then, they’re penalized with lower social support at retirement age.
Well, that’s my general critique of wages in most nations! One would hope countries could use export revenues to support the elderly, or push men to take a bigger role in the home, or advocate for equal pay and otherwise recognize women’s unpaid labor. But instead, we seem to expect women to do more to magically fix this wage gap themselves…
/off soapbox. Anyhow, at a recent press conference, the new Minister tried to allay concerns on the rising retirement age, responding that:
Вам нужно работать и работать, потому что… уважаемые земляки, потому что, потому что. Ну, зачем вам в 50 лет думать о пенсии? При выходе на пенсию мы просто приобретем дополнительные болезни, мы будем раньше стареть. Это однозначно.
Translation: “You need to work and work, because… dear countrymen, because, because. “Well, why do you need to think about retirement at the age of 50? At retirement, we will just acquire additional diseases, we will get older sooner. This is clear.”
This nervous repetition of “потому что, потому что” (“because… because…”) is pronounced ‘patamushta’, and has caught on wildly. My Kazakhstani friends have been gleefully reposting some of the facebook images, many of which are collected on the Patamusta facebook page:
Its’s a universal strategy of protest: get cute kids holding up signs to arouse viewer sympathy. Why don’t officials get a counterforce of cute kids in response?
This demotivators–style picture highlights both age discrimination against older workers, and how pretty girls are sometimes expected to be sexually available to their bosses (cf. the 2004 book by Joma Nazpary).
This one confused me at first. But apparently two eggs were thrown at a recent press conference.
…So this isn’t a criticism of Kazakhstan, so much as a comment on how societies and economies work in general, and in the context of gender differences. I live a privileged life in the country’s posh capital. From this point of view, the neverending breathless talk of unrest in Central Asia sometimes sounds like wishful thinking on the part of policy bloggers.
But I do see these images as a way of “speaking back,” much as citizens can also protest in person (cf. Yessenova’s 2010 “Borrowed Places” article). Community protest can help people to let off steam or convey the depth of their feeling on legislative issues. But sometimes images are just fun, and I think some of my friends gain a sense of satisfaction from laughing at the many things we can’t control.
At any rate, the 99 Percent meme came and faded quickly, but is now echoed in this new form. This has me wondering: will ‘patamushkta’ similarly stick around, or is it here briefly and gone forever?
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, but wanted to wrap it up. As explained in two earlier posts, before getting my library jobs I used to edit article titles for a big online ad-revenue company. My job was to turn your real internet searches into cheesy titles for self-help articles, at $0.04 a title, and I made $15–20 an hour just by rearranging sentences while watching Colbert on the other half of my computer screen. Some unemployed writer would then churn out content to match my titles (sorry, DS writers!), with all ad profits going to the company.
Fun while it lasted, but I eventually left it for a Real Job. So below is one last collection of actual google searches, perhaps typed by someone close to your heart:
So readers, help a Google Searcher out. What’s the Dream Symbolism of Chocolate Milk? Or any other answers for the pressing questions above?
I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing a lot lately. Not for me, although I suppose that would be good… but for our institution.
One of the things I’m learning about international schools here in Kazakhstan is that there are more and more competitors all the time: American schools, British schools, Turkish schools, multiple types of local government schools that recruit expat teachers. Some schools expand eagerly, while others are obliged to do so by complex local politics. But that isn’t all: we also compete with specialist Russian-language schools, elite boarding schools in Europe and America that welcome Kazakh money, and even homeschooling arrangements between expats.
So it’s been thought-provoking to read Steven Bell’s 2009 article for librarians, called From Gatekeepers to Gate-Openers, in which he argues that the job of librarians is not what we think it is (“opening doors to information”). Instead, he cites Seth Godin to say that we should be creating tribes: offering people the experience of being part of a group that has meaning. Sounds a bit woo-woo, but in the crux of his article, Bell writes:
“Information is available from too many sources, and to the casual user all information is the same in terms of quality. That’s why differentiating the library is a critical part of user-experience design. If users perceive all information sources as the same then it really doesn’t matter where they go for it. Experiences can be created around differentiation” (52).
Got that? He’s saying that info is everywhere; offering the best info doesn’t set libraries apart. Instead, he suggests we need to focus on creating meaningful experiences that connect people to their aspirations for accomplishment, beauty, creation, freedom, enlightenment, etc… That whole, is the Harley company selling motorcycles, or is it selling “the concept of freedom to middle-aged men”? thing.
Similarly, all these schools compete for the best and richest students… but the best education may not be at the heart of what parents are seeking. Especially in this tight market, I think our school needs to do a lot more focusing how to create that experience of certain types of meaning for parents and children alike.
I’ll keep the specifics to myself as I think them through. But I do wonder if we need to stop selling even our nationally-branded education, and instead start highlighting other core meanings that affluent folk are hoping to derive from our school. Question: when you’re looking at a school or workplace, what do you typically find yourself looking for?
I’m really curious what y’all think of this video (embedded above) that’s been floating around recently.
I know that the rich use wealth to create more wealth. I know. But I also know that such profits are increasingly created by the work of thousands of temps and grunt workers, many of whom don’t share in even a fraction of the rewards of their work.
And I can’t shake what I’ve seen in my own temping days. Just out of college, I took a standardized test scoring job that advertised at $12 an hour, 1–2 month contracts, college grads only. We sat in a barren room supervised by a weaselly man in a tall chair, as we cranked out ‘scores’ for creative writing and historical understanding in ways that measured not insight, but how well the student was prepped for the test.
And I still remember the people around me – all college grads and most competent members of the middle class. Artists needing cash, mothers needing money for their children. A clever woman with a master’s degree in economics. My grandma’s church friend, who had cancer and wore colorful hats. A lawyer from Boston, a gentle man with his face slid sideways by a stroke. There was a curly-haired brunette looking for a full-time teaching post, who cheerily called in sick when she had interviews. A beautiful Latina with a degree but no job.
And most heartbreaking of all, the father of my friend Anna*. Todd* was a deeply intelligent man, had worked in banking and social services, before being downsized. Still healthy, he was nearing fifty and couldn’t get a permanent position again. So here he was in this barren overheated room, stooped over a computer and typing out results on fifth-grade essays, trying to keep a mortgage above water. But even with his wife’s work, his temp income wasn’t enough to keep paying the bills. They were a good family, conservative and financially responsible – but they still lost the house.
And I can’t believe that was necessary. I can’t believe that Todd should be discarded from the workforce like that, or the lawyer, or the cancer lady, or the beautiful Latina. But I think those people are pictures of the middle class we see in the video above. These are the professionals with degrees, poise, and experience, who slip underwater after one layoff, one bout of temporary illness, one restructuring of a company. And this is the ‘fear of falling” that journalist Barbara Ehrenreich talks about, that affects us all.
And isn’t that what a safety net is for?
Now when talking about inequality, I’m not just calling for government intervention. As red-state Americans, yep, we’re very proudly not about government fixin’ things.
But I find it very concerning that (more…)
With some trepidation, I made this blog publically searchable last year, just as I was starting to publish columns and cultural pieces in other online venues. And in the recesses of wordpress analytics, I’ve just run across a list of all search terms that led people to this blog.
Below I’ll note a few of the oddest searches, along with the number of times they led someone to this blog. Many terms seem to be from separate posts cobbled together, and they truly vary:
womens day 18
ivan groznyy the terrible part ii 7
kazakhstan nightlife 7
khan shatyr christmas tree 4
russian settler farmer 3
ottoman women harem 2
europe life 1600s 2
astana temperatures cold 1
tatar side curl 1
wanted personal assistant in astana 1
where is the turan plain on a map 1
drunk kazakhstan students 1
lutheran nuns in america 1
south carolina secession signers 1
romanian women painting 1
kazakhs watching tv 1
muslim madrasa 1
fall of nestorianism 1
erotic preteen boys 3
girls or women “pretty but plain” 2
russian sailor 2
sandwich spreadly 2
cannibalism in africa 1[*]
*[I do think tourism in Africa and legends of Soviet cannibalism were separate posts!]
caspian sea village women 1
indian boys masturbing 1
man meet preteen boys 1[*]
*[Ugh. No posts on preteen boys here. Guys! You’re at the wrong blog!]
coffee canister 6
“bad skype interview” 3
secretary bird baby 3
soviet women toothpaste poster 2
most expensive ethnic wear indian men n women 2
photo of ancestor he’s not white but what’s his ethnicity 1
charactr list of the time it never rained 1
морепродукты vocabulary 1
cloth over pyramid 1
real human appendix 1
children’s book put me in the zoo 1
sagebrush allergy kazakhstan 1
black women’s suffrage movement 1
giant domes over fields 1
caterpillar smoking hookah font 1[*]
*[There’s a “caterpillar smoking hookah” font? What have I been missing?!]
leatherlips yacht club ghost story 1
ugly peasant girl from the tale of despereaux 1
what is an ice shelf? 1
tatar women 1
spring forward into new year 1
Oh people! I’m not sure what I have to offer you on the definition of an ice shelf or the location of the Turan Plain in the new year. And students: this blog is really not a reliable source on sexy boys, sagebrush allergies, or hookah fonts. This is why you don’t do your research on Google!
Қара Жорға (Qara Jorga) is a popular dance song in Kazakhstan. My first connection with it is when my infant host brother was trained to perform it for houseguests. Snapping his little fingers and moving around, he’d dance around on his little toes and everyone would clap and give him candy. At the time (three years ago) I understood that the repeating “bolmasa” means “if there’s not,” but didn’t get the poetic language at all. Here’s a modern version of the song:
Now I still don’t fully get poetry in Kazakh, but I’ve mocked up a rough translation, which starts:
Qara jorga bolmasa / beedin sani keler me?
Qos etek koilek kimese / qizdin sani keler me?
Al qanekei joldastar / bireuin shiq toi bastar
Toi degende deidi-eken / domalaidi qu bastar
Without it, will the dance be fashionable?
Without flouncy dresses, will girls be beautiful?
Come, my comrades, leave your someone
Start the party, move around, you guys!
There are a lot of verses, so check my earlier post for more English lyrics if you want them.
I love the video above because it seems to be choreographed by a group of Halyk Bank employees in national costume, in front of the streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial center. But that’s not all! If you want to learn the dance, you can follow along with this Kazakh-language tutorial video:
And the Stroyclass construction firm has posted a great panoramic version on the rooftops of Astana, Kazakhstan’s architecturally-inspired capital city:
But finally… there’s “Kara Jorga Style!” Yes. Not just another Gangnam Style, but a Russian rap commentary set to the tune of last year’s Korean hit song. (Perhaps culturally similar to all the Kara Jorga flash mobs popping up worldwide in the past few years?)
At any rate, I enjoy how the singer has worked local and international culture together in this praise of a Kazakh song. And I also appreciate the surprise appearance from angry birds at the end!
[This was crossposted at PocketCultures — show them some comment love!]
Қара Жорға (Qara Jorga) is a popular dance song in Kazakhstan. You can see a great “traditionalized” version made by Kazakhs in China below:
So watching this on TV recently during the spring Nauruz holidays, I decided to try and translate it. I’ll talk more about the song in another post, but first I want to talk about the translation itself.
Translating Kara Jorga
Since I’m not fluent in Kazakh, when I say I translate I mean that… I study the song, knowing some words but still confused on the details. Then I look up individual words and phrases. Next I check my translation against Russian versions online for similar meanings. And finally, I transliterate the Cyrillic into letters you can understand, and shorted my long phrases (e.g. “If there’s no black-horse-dance, will the dance be fashionable?”) to something that better fits the tune.
Definitely an imperfect science, and I welcome corrections! But I hope this helps you understand the song a bit better! Below are lyrics in English and Kazakh:
Қара Жорға Лурики
Translation of lyrics for Kara Jorga
Qara jorga bolmasa / beedin sani keler me?
Qos etek koilek kimese / qizdin sani keler me?
Al qanekei joldastar / bireuin shiq toi bastar
Toi degende deidi-eken / domalaidi qu bastar
Without it, is the dance in style?
Without flouncy dresses, are girls beautiful?
Come, my comrades, leave your someone
Start the party, move around, you guys! (more…)
Nauruz is a spring festival celebrated across Central Asia, often with multi-day parties in smaller towns, and concerts and state-organized festivals in larger cities.
And due to the generous guidance of a local friend, my sister and I got to explore the festivities in Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana, for a few hours. Below is a short video set to the tune of singer Yerden’s Omir Koktem. I hope it gives you a glimpse of the big-city celebrations!