Hits and Misses

Things I Miss:

  • Chips that aren’t crushed.
  • Half-sweet soy mochas from Starbucks, even though they always give me a stomachache.
  • Good pizza.

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  • Rosé.

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Specifically, Okanagan rosé.

  • Cycling over the Lion’s Gate Bridge.
  • Cycling. Period.
  • Events (other than the ballet and opera).

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Though I did see a really great ballet last night.

  • Good beer.
  • The ability to spontaneously meet up with friends for a drink (that doesn’t take place in someone’s apartment).
  • Meeting new people. It’s hard to meet people when there are no events and both expats and locals seem to be very family-focused.

And here’s one that gets an explanation: hugs. In the six months I’ve lived in Astana, I can count the number of times I’ve hugged someone on one hand. And the number of occasions on which I have come into any sort of physical contact with someone on two hands. This includes both times I’ve had my hair cut but does not include the number of times I’ve shaken hands, collided with people on the soccer field or high-fived after a game.

I am both embarrassed and surprised to admit this as I have been called out by two separate friends in the past for being hug-averse. When I saw how the latter felt hurt by my stiff-as-a-board reaction to hugging, I softened and fully embraced the friend-hug. But here, no one hugs. I think it’s because living, working, and socializing together creates a strange dynamic. No one wants to risk crossing a line or making someone uncomfortable when they have to see that person in all facets of day-to-day life. And then see above re: meeting new people.

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A reluctant hug with one of my best friends (2008, pre-hug-reformation).

On to the positive!

Things I Like:

  • Free coat check everywhere.
  • Not being sick ever. I had chronic sinus infections/bronchitis every winter in Vancouver but have not had so much as a cold here.
  • Toothpicks are socially acceptable.
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Lemons

The best produce to be found in Central Asia is Uzbek lemons. They are cheap and delicious and the best lemons I’ve ever tasted. And I love lemons! First thing every morning, I drink a glass of water with half a lemon.

The only thing better than an Uzbek lemon is an Uzbek lemon on an Uzbek plate.

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It took me a while to find these lemons. I was at a friend’s on New Year’s Eve and he brought some slices out with tea and mentioned how much he liked them. Until then, I’d always bought regular lemons but then I noticed that I could get “Tashkent lemons,” as they’re referred to here (Tashkent as in the city in Uzbekistan) at the grocery store I go to most often – Alma 24 in Asia Park.

Though I’ve never tried one, I’m almost certain these are Meyer lemons. They’re fruitier, oranger, and the skin is smoother than a regular lemon.

It’s worth keeping your eye out for these beauties.

How to Plunge in a Frozen River (крещения)

A few months ago, a friend of mine mentioned something about jumping into the frozen Ishim River after the holidays. Knowing absolutely nothing about the circumstances, I was totally in.

Turns out, this frozen river plunge is part of Epiphany, which according to Wikipedia, marks the baptism of Jesus. On January 19, every year, all water is thought to be holy and those who are Russian Orthodox (and anyone who wants to partake!) submerge into the icy waters three times to cleanse themselves of all sins. It’s referred to as крещения, simply meaning “baptism.”

By 20:00 on the eve of the 18th, a hole is cut in the ice and a wooden platform installed to step down into the water. When possible, the hole is shaped like the cross. Apparently at 0:00 on the 19th and 0:00 on the 20th there are some religious ceremonies. We decided to go at 6:45am before work to miss the line-ups. There were a few other locals around but no waiting! I’m not sure if I could’ve braved it otherwise.

IMG_6621Looking far too serene.

Large cities like Moscow have multiple locations. In Astana, the Epiphany location is on the left bank – kind of across from Ramstore, in Astana Park. We took two taxis for the six of us and paid the drivers to wait for us to finish so they could drive us back. We had to walk a few minutes from the drop-off point so bring something other than flip-flops!

We wore our bathing suits under our clothes and laid everything in the changing yurts. After quickly undressing, we went out with our towels and shoes, and one at a time, ran down the steps, dipped under three times, and immediately got out.

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In Yellowknife, we rolled around in the snow and ran into saunas and in Vancouver there’s an annual Polar Bear Swim on January 1st, which I never took part in. So I had never experienced anything quite like this before. It was INTENSE. From the moment of first submerging, until 60 seconds after getting out of the water – I was in shock, shaking, and wondering if I would ever get warm again. But then I felt an allover warm glow, which lasted throughout the day.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetThe expression on my face perfectly reflects my inner turmoil.

After everyone was finished and we took some snaps, we went back in the yurts to change out of our wet bathing suits into warm dry clothes. My first instinct had been to wear a one-piece bathing suit but I read online the night before that it’s best to wear a skimpy suit, so as not to retain icy water next to your body.

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There’s not really anything open at 7:00 in Astana, so we taxied back to campus and ate breakfast pizza (just pizza for breakfast) at a friend’s and he made us espresso. He also gave us muffins, baked on the weekend, which we realized were actually brownies in the shape of muffins.
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The gang (except Kevin who stayed dry and took photos).

 

How to Run in -°C

Chalk it up to my northern roots but I find running in the cold dry snow to be not so bad. Definitely better than running on a treadmill. And I don’t hold a grudge against treadmills just because of that time I fell on one in front of my model cousin when I was 13 (the safety belt is there for a reason!).

Before moving to KZ, I had never run in subzero temperatures before. Vancouver rarely dips below 0°C and the only other place I’d run outdoors in was Kauai, where I made a poor showing by melting into a red blotchy puddle after 2k of light jogging. On any given day, I would rather run in -°C than +25°C

The first time I ran in -°C, I wore a toque, top, jacket, and one pair of spandex pants, lent to me by a friend. It felt okay! But then when I took the pants off at home, my skin looked as if someone had thrown boiling water on my legs and my thighs were in the beginning stages of frostbite. Someone asked me how I knew it was frostbite but suffice to say it’s gross.

So I had a lot to learn. Here is my accrued wisdom – learned the hard way so you don’t have to!

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Temperatures

I could go out and buy all the proper gear but my foreseeable future doesn’t involve cold regions and while you can get sports gear here, it’s generally more expensive than it would be in the western world. Another friend of mine kindly lent me a muffler and another pair of pants and recommended wearing shorts too. This formula seems to work for up to about -15°C. When it gets to around -20°C, my teeth start to hurt and so I base my running schedule on the weather forecast’s predicted <-15°C days.

Gear

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Run like a burglar.

My outfit consists of:

  • Wool toque
  • Running tank
  • Running jacket that has flaps that go over your hands like makeshift mittens
  • Muffler
  • Running shorts
  • Full length running pants
  • Full length spandex pants
  • Running socks
  • Running shoes

First I put on the shorts, than the running pants, and then the spandex pants. I find it easiest to keep my hair in a braid so it fits under my toque and muffler. I don’t often keep the muffler over my face since I find it annoying but I will for brief spurts. I keep my iPhone in my shorts pocket, between the layers, close to my stomach so that it keeps warm – otherwise it will shut down from the cold.

One of my friends runs in up to -25°C and he wears one more layer of pants, and two more layers of tops than I do. And a toque that’s actually meant for exercise.

Snow/Ice

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The sidewalks are not always cleared of snow here and it’s so dry that the snow tends to get packed into ice. I always run in the snow to avoid the ice, even though it’s like running through tires and a lot more work. Sometimes your eyebrows freeze over, which is kind of neat!

I have many more close calls with slipping on ice in my day-to-day walking than I do with running. Actually, I fell so hard on my tailbone this weekend when I stepped up an icy entryway that I won’t be able to run for a week or two (I couldn’t tell if I was crying for pain or for sadness at having to be sedentary).

You can also buy some fun spiky things that strap on under your shoes to help grip the ice.

Wind

If you have an Astana number, then you get a text telling you when the wind reaches over 15km/hour. It is windy so often that I can’t really base my runs on it, which is for the best since the weather forecast doesn’t say anything about wind. I just make sure I’m running against the wind for the first half of my run and then I turn around for the last half. It is brutal and sometimes it feels like I’m barely moving. But I am building so much character!

Speed

You are going to be slower. Come to terms with that. And run for distance/length of time and totally forget about speed until the snow clears and the weather rises above 0°C or else you are going to be constantly disappointed.

Post-Warming Up

I always run up the 10 flights of stairs in my building to warm up afterwards, which sounds terrible but it’s very effective. Also, Astana is so flat and I’m doing a half-marathon in Almaty in April, which is more undulating, so this is my way of elevation training.

I find if I have a hot shower right away it irritates my skin and it’s better if I stretch and give it a bit of time to adjust first.

Final Thoughts

Running in the cold is hard. You’re bulked down with tons of layers, fighting against wind through fields of snow and your body is working so much harder just because of the temperature. But it’s totally doable and kind of magical in its own way. Take this as one of the very few opportunities to go outdoors this time of year, especially in Astana, which is not a city designed for strolling.

It is also worth it for how AMAZING it is when the cold lets up and you get to run in only one pair of running pants.

How to Go to a Conference

As a librarian, you should go to a conference every year or so. It’s like spending Easter with your family. You may not totally get the point or really want to go and it’s okay to skip it every once in a while. But you get to eat a lot, take a break from your regular work, and in the end, you’re generally left feeling like you’re glad you went. It’s just plain good to do.

How to choose a conference

If it’s your first time going to a conference, it’s practical to start with the standard conference in your region (ie. the British Columbia Library Association conference, if you’re in British Columbia), or a conference that’s subject-specific to your library (ie. the Canadian Association of Law Libraries conference, if you work at a law library). Conferences can be really hit-or-miss and picking one that’s well-established will show you what a good conference should look like.

Ask your co-workers which conferences they’ve attended. If your organization has sent staff to a conference previously, they’ll be more likely to send you to that same conference.

Think beyond libraries, as well. If you’re a law librarian, go to something like the Law via the Internet conference, or go to the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries no matter what your subject area is (I haven’t been to either of these!). A quick Google search will show you a slice of what’s out there.

How to pitch your workplace

Ask your boss in-person. If it’s the standard conference in your region or subject-area then it’s a no brainer and you won’t have to create much of a case for going.

Otherwise, before asking, look through the conference programme (if the programme’s not out yet, it’s too early to ask!). Pick out a few sessions that look highly relevant to your work and become familiar with the conference theme. I really wanted to go to a law conference in Australia a few years ago but looking through the sessions, I realized it didn’t have enough of value to justify going.

If you’ve never been to a conference before, that’s all the more reason to go! It’s an important part of professional development that any decent workplace will want to support.

Once your workplace has sent you on a conference, wait until your co-workers have had the opportunity to go before you ask again.

If you’re a student

Registration fees are generally cheaper and funding is often available specifically for students. Ask your program coordinator, check out the conference site, or talk with the affiliated association to find out more.

Like any travel, an out-of-town conference ends up costing quite a bit. Unless you already want to travel to a specific region, I would stick with local conferences, as a student.

If your workplace asks you to go to a conference

Just as anytime your boss asks you to do something – you’d have to have a really good reason to say “no.”

How to get funding

Your workplace may not be able to commit to an exact funding amount right away, but they should be able to give you a general idea. And definitely be clear about who’s paying for what before you go.

Often, you’ll have to front money yourself and then be reimbursed. Keep receipts for absolutely everything! And while it’s expected that you’ll socially drink, don’t submit a receipt for dinner with five drinks on it. Common sense!

If you’re in Kazakhstan, KEEP EVERY SCRAP OF PAPER. Even if it doesn’t seem important, it probably is. Seriously, tossing a boarding pass stub might mean a $2000 mistake.

Check around for external funding. For example, one year, I was fortunate enough to receive the Peter Bark Bursary, through the Vancouver Association of Law Libraries, to help go to CALL

How to choose sessions

Most of the research that librarians do is along the lines of, “We interviewed 5 people and here are all the vague and polite things they had to say on this topic,” which is why I was never interested in pursuing a PhD in this field. This feels like a horrible thing to say but please prove me wrong and send me some actually interesting library research.

I think librarianship is a very practical profession and for that reason, I like attending the super practical sessions best. For example, a former classmate of mine did a really great session: Enhancing Library Services with User Behaviour Data. And when I went to the CALL conference, a librarian discussed how to find translations of Quebec court cases, which I then turned into a post for my organization’s site because it was so helpful for our day-to-day work!

Don’t feel obligated to attend a session every hour of the day. I would say attend at least half a day’s worth of sessions/events and attend all the keynote sessions. It’s expected that you’ll take some time to yourself, especially if you get to travel to a different city.

Remember to take notes during sessions! It’s expected that you’ll report back on the conference either in the form of an intranet post, a presentation for your co-workers, an article for your organization’s website, etc.

How to network/make a good impression

Don’t think of it like networking. There will be a lot of social events and all you have to do is attend a good number of them. You’re not expected to go if any of the events charge extra fees. Most will be free and will offer food, which is a good incentive.

The most important thing is to know your workplace before you go. People will ask you questions out of curiousity and I’ll never forget how embarrassed I felt when another librarian asked if our libraries had print copies of British legislation and I stammered that I knew we had “the old stuff” but wasn’t so sure how current it was.

Make sure you check out the vendor booths, if only to say hi. Even if there’s no way your workplace will ever subscribe to that product – it’s good to know what’s out there and it’s also polite – both because many vendors are also sponsors of the conference, and I imagine it’s probably boring to have to stand around a booth all day. They also often have free swag, so hit that up.

Be aware of who is sponsoring the conference. Once, someone I had just met asked how I liked the lunch that day and I cracked a joke about the food. I was surprised when the friend I was with, who is normally so wry, was so polite! And then I realized that the woman who asked was part of the organization that had sponsored the lunch. Sigh.

I am actually very shy in professional situations and it was a bit hard for me to warm up during the first conference I attended (another argument for attending a local conference, either some of your co-workers or librarian friends will be there). Inadvertently, my biggest advantage was being really tall and then wearing a pair of loud heels that everyone liked. Though it sounds akin to the advice given out by a dating coach, they were the perfect icebreaker!

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I did not wear these rainboots during the conference in Malaysia.