Christmas in KZ (sort of)

I always follow Tina Fey’s rule: “say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” This explains a lot of how I ended up in Kazakhstan. So when The Billfold asked contributors to write about what they were doing for Christmas this year, I immediately volunteered.

The end result was a personal essay written from an inner place of great kindness and love and a geographical place that evokes a lot of reflection on “what is life?”

Denmark and Sweden were oh-so-lovely! I ate lots of great things, saw people I love, and drank in the scenery. The weirdest thing I noticed: it was the first time since moving to KZ that I had gone to someone’s house that wasn’t provided to them fully furnished. As a result, I bought a number of household things. And cheese. You can’t get good cheese here.

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I ate lots of fish.

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Made some flettede stjerner.

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Went for a run around Växjö Lake.

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Saw nice scenery.

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Ate my all time pastry fav: frøsnappers.

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And cried while eating a hot dog on the way home.

It is Christmas Day today, here in KZ, and in a strange turn of events, I am actually leaving for the airport to fly to Malaysia. My workplace came into some extra cash at the last minute and decided to send some of us to a conference in a nice sunny place – a great Christmas miracle, as one of my co-workers and fellow Malaysia-goers aptly put it.

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Watching the Malaysia No Reservations episode and drinking champagne with said co-worker. It was boring, but who cares*!

At first, I was reluctant. Pretty much every flight coming into Astana from Europe is a red eye and I’d gone into work an hour after coming back to KZ from Denmark. I was so tired that I entered the wrong PIN 3 times that morning and locked my bank card. And that evening I leaned over a candle and my dry-as-kindling hair caught on fire**. But then I remembered the rule of yes and recognized it for the thoughtful gift that it is and happily accepted.

So I will be spending the rest of this Christmas day in Almaty, walking around and eating honey cake and then hopping on a very long plane ride to a warmer locale.

Happy holidays!

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Here is a cat I was looking after for one of the professors. Now someone else has to look after her! She is so soft.


*The Uzbekistan episode of No Reservations is so similar to life in Kazakhstan! I highly recommend.

**My hair looks okay.


Illuminati aka How to Go to the Pyramid

Before moving, I came across the theory that Astana is The Illuminati capital of the world. The Illuminati are supposedly a masonic-style society, chock-a-block full of celebrities and politicians controlling the world. Any Beyonce fan worth his/her salt has heard of the new world order, specifically how Whitney Houston was actually assassinated to make room for Blue Ivy.

The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, more informally referred to as the Pyramid, is an integral part of the Astana/Illuminati theory. I think, primarily, because of its shape. All I care about is that Beyonce wasn’t there.

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The Pyramid was built primarily to house the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions every three years but I don’t think there’s actually been a meeting since it was built in 2006. Norman Foster, whom Wikipedia tells me is pretty fancy, designed the building.

It sits on the river, across from Highvill and is open 7 days a week, 10:00-18:00 in the winter and 10:00-20:00 in the summer. Tours leave every 30 minutes so you don’t have to worry about showing up at a specific time. Admission price is about $4.

Our tour guide showed us an opera hall but I’ve never heard of any public events held there. According to the official website, “Hall use, both for concerts, and for carrying out various conferences and seminars is possible.

We passed by a library but I assume it’s not public. I tried to look it up on the website but didn’t find any information. However, I did find that there is a VIP makeup room for rent, as well as a utility room.  Somehow, the utility room costs way more.


The elevators go up diagonally and we took one to a big empty room on one of the mid-floors. There was a display of traditional costumes tucked in the corner but we didn’t get a chance to look. Some Russian speakers showed up at the same time as us and our guide had to speak in two languages and so I suspect she limited the tour accordingly.

We then took the elevator to a set of stairs that wound through a bunch of fake plants with a fake rabbit arbitrarily placed on a shelf. It was weird and I mildly regret not taking any photographs.


The very top of the Pyramid is a conference room intended for the religion congress. Between the plastic covered furniture and the gaping hole in the middle of the table, it feels like Lysa Tully’s living room, if she were an Italian grandmother.


The glass is blue and yellow with painted doves.


All in all, I would definitely recommend going to the Pyramid, especially on a sunny day!


And afterwards, you should definitely go to Kakao Dak in Highvill for Korean fried chicken.

How Healthcare Works When You Leave Canada

If you are reading this because you are actually interested in the information (and not just an indulgent friend), please see this update!

What this post lacks in interest it makes up for in valuable information for other Canadians who are (thinking about) moving from Canada and wondering about healthcare options.

Please learn from my mistake.

Before I moved, I registered myself as permanently leaving British Columbia. I did this so that I wouldn’t have to pay the $69.25/month Medical Services Plan premium. My salary here is half of what I made back home and MSP felt like a steep price to pay when I also pay a fee in Kazakhstan for health coverage through my workplace.

When you leave British Columbia, if you do not declare yourself as permanently moved:

There are options for people having trouble making MSP payments:

  • You can apply for hardship with MSP as long as the hardship is unforseeable (not valid for me because a planned move is rather forseeable).
  • You can apply for premium assistance, based on your salary from the previous tax year (not an option for me because it wouldn’t take my current low salary into account).

It all seemed fine since I have coverage through my current workplace but then I started looking into travel insurance for the three months I’ll be travelling after I leave my job. There are no travel insurance or healthcare coverage options for non-resident Canadians unless they are a permanent resident of another country, or they have travel insurance coverage through their workplace.

To purchase travel insurance, you must be a permanent resident somewhere. For example, to list Canada as your country of permanent residency, you must be registered with MSP within your province. For British Columbia, if you’ve declared yourself as permanently moved, you can only regain MSP coverage by moving back to BC for six months (you can purchase insurance for the time period before MSP kicks in). I am not a permanent resident of Kazakhstan and I will of course not be covered by my workplace once I leave and so I am not eligible for travel insurance.

Basically, from the time I leave my employment in Kazakhstan, until six months after I move back to British Columbia or gain employment in a different country with a workplace that provides medical coverage, I have no medical coverage options. I’m kicking myself because it was reasonable to assume that I’d be travelling after my contract and possibly not moving back to BC and so I should’ve continued my MSP payments.

My last hope is in talking with World Nomads but it’s not looking promising.

Lesson learned: if you’re moving from Canada (specifically BC), do not register yourself as permanently moving if:

  • You are not a permanent resident of another country.
  • You are not getting healthcare coverage through your workplace.
  • You get healthcare coverage through your workplace but you plan on travelling once your contract is finished.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to continue drinking my tears from this delightful mug I purchased on Saturday.