Some quick observations – July 3, 2009

by Michael Hancock-Parmer on 7/3/2009 · 3 comments

As said before, I am studying in Almaty this summer, trying to get my Kazakh Language skills as high as possible.  Here’s a link to some of my efforts – comments welcome.

To begin with, I want to say a few sentences in disclaimer.  I understand that writing from a specific place is an easy way to give weight to one’s opinions and observations.  However, I am still capable of mistakes and I still stand by my opinions as being merely opinions and observations, made without intent to offend.

That being said, here is what I’ve seen in the past couple weeks, if I may have license to generalize a little bit.  This is not the normal blog entry, no links to other news, just my own perhaps-ill-informed opinions.  I’m stating these to open discussion, not to state fact – if you disagree, please don’t start by assuming that we are standing on opposite sides of the issue.
It is relatively difficult to get an overall grasp of what is happening in any country at any given time.  It is even more difficult when you are in one geographic spot.  I can imagine a current Kazakhstani Peace Corps Volunteer taking issue with any of my opinions, since they are formed living in Almaty, and I think that’s a valid complaint.

So, some observations from living a month in Almaty, after living two years in Sayram in South Kazakhstan Oblast…

  • Some things are unchanged – there are still internet cafes where squads of young men play Starcraft and Diablo and Counterstrike, like a time capsule of late-90s  American gaming culture
  • Other things are completely changed – the relatively wide availability of Wi-Fi
  • Work continues apace on the Almaty Metro.  More than just metal shield walls – people are wearing hardhats [which means it must actually be dangerous], running machinery, and coming in and out of huge holes in the ground.  The signs I’ve seen claim completion by various dates, depending on how old the sign is.  Work began in 1988, and will be ‘completed’ by 2004, 2008, 2009, etc.
  • The people I’ve spoken to are surprisingly blase about earthquakes, considering how often they occur.  This is the same as I remember it.
  • The generation gap is huge and complex: if I were to generalize, there are at least four major groupings, by year of birth: up to 1970, 1970-1980, 1980-1990, 1990-present.  Children of post-Independent Kazakhstan are now graduating from High School, getting their first jobs, going to college, and more and more of them are studying abroad, especially with Bolashak/Болашақ/Болашак.
  • Transportation in Almaty is atrocious, and here I’m talking about the buses.  I don’t mean to open a can of worms, and I know there is perhaps a better place to discuss this, but let me say that private companies operating for profit are not going to operate an adequate system, because a regular schedule is not their priority, and yet that is what people want from a bus system.  Needless to say, there is a history to this statement.
  • The Crisis is on everyone’s lips, and yet I see a variety of responses and philosophies about it.  I have seen a number of very optimistic billboards drawn up by the state and various banks, and that’s a good sign of some kind of proactive government solution
  • Materialism is alive and strong, and that has not changed.  I think the arts have suffered since the fall of the Soviet Union.  This is perhaps too broad a statement, and unfair, as the arts and art/music education in the United States owes so much to the actions of a very small group of individuals.
  • Civil Society is still in evidence, and seemingly doing as well as can be expected, and still lightyears ahead of other Central Asian states.  Even Russia and Kyrgyzstan, from what I’ve seen and heard, are less interested in playing ball with the NGOs.
  • However, a common complaint is that the Civil Society in evidence is mostly a sham, and that the government is more interested in supporting their own NGOs, or GONGOs, the antithesis of healthy development.

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This post was written by...

– author of 20 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Michael earned an MA in Central Eurasian Studies in 2011 and remains a student at Indiana University pursuing a dual PhD in Russian History and Central Eurasian Studies. He served 6 months in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan in 2005. After the events in Andijan and the subsequent closure of the program, he served 2 years in southern Kazakhstan, returning to the Midwest in 2007. His general area of interest is on post-Timur Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, centered on the Syr Darya river valley.

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Bishkekbound July 3, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Please keep posting lots from Almaty! Come visit Bishkek. I like your posts.

JTapp July 3, 2009 at 10:53 pm

When I was in Almaty everyone hitchhiked by car for a small negotiated fee. Don’t think I ever rode a bus there… has that changed?

alan July 5, 2009 at 2:19 am

having just come back from 5 months of study in almaty, i would say those observations are dead on, although the degree of consumerism in almaty has been scaled back from what it was 5 years or even a year ago. and while wi-fi is prevalent in cafes and malls, i failed to find an internet connection that could load even a short youtube video in under 30 minutes.

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