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.


  • Rosé.

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Specifically, Okanagan rosé.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.


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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.


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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.


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!


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!


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

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.

How to Buy a Winter Coat

My co-worker told me that I am the “most coat-averse person” she’s ever met because my winter coat of choice is to layer 2-3 sweaters. I’m not sure why I dislike winter coats so much. I was born in Yellowknife so this is my habitat of origin. But I clearly remember when I was 5 years-old, living in temperate Vancouver, my parents told me to put on a coat before going to play outside. I refused and then they formed an ultimatum: I had to put on the coat or come back inside. I agreed by bursting into tears and making no physical effort to help while they put the coat on me. The neighbour kids were all slightly older and I think wearing a coat made me feel like a baby. But crying in front of them was totally cool.

I have grown to appreciate coats. But often I feel I’ve picked the wrong coat and I’m overdressed in both style and temperature, or it starts raining and I’m not wearing my rain coat, or I like a coat with jeans but it makes me look like a mushroom when I wear it with dresses. The 2-3 sweater combo never lets me down.

It wasn’t until I went for a run one morning last week and my phone died because it was so cold and I got frostbite all over my legs that I finally relented and put on my winter coat on my way to work.

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It was very pretty that day, though.

A winter coat is essential here and unless you were previously living in Edmonton, Alaska, or Yakutsk, you will have to buy one. I think it’s generally cheaper to buy one here and then you’re not taking up valuable luggage space. And the cheapest place in town to buy one is the bazaar.

Going to a bazaar as a tourist is very fun! Some of my favourite travel experiences have been in bazaars – the souks in Marrakech, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, a craft bazaar in Almaty. I even like the run down ones like the Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet in Las Vegas (they sell grilled cheese and false eyelashes for $1!). But going to a bazaar when you need a specific practical item is a personal hell that I never knew existed (some people apparently like it).

There are two bazaars here, Artyum and Eurasia. I went to Artyum since it is apparently the cheaper of the two.

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The comatose expression on my face is a testament to how comfortable (ie. like a sleeping bag) this coat is.

Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Don’t buy coats with fur. If there is any fur on a coat, even just fur around the hood, it automatically goes up 10,000 tenge +.
  • Try to buy your coat before October. Once the first snow hits, it will be more expensive.
  • You can bargain about the price.
  • Check the coat’s materials. Many are made with polyester and you’ll want a down coat for maximum warmth.
  • Try to get a coat that has a knit part inside the sleeve to keep the wind out.
  • Make sure the hood fits over your head! It might not fit over whatever fur hat you have chosen, but it should at least fit over a toque (I keep forgetting that nobody here knows what that word means).
  • Bring an amazing friend with you to help you through the process.
  • The tenge underwent a devaluation last year so by next year, who knows what a reasonable price for a coat will be. I paid 32,000 tenge.
  • You’re not going to look good so just don’t worry about it! I went with the coat that made me look the most like a hot dog.

If You Want to Buy a Fur Coat/Hat 


Fur is so practical in this region that I don’t take issue with it. You will see all types wearing fur coats, from little old ladies on the bus to glamor queens at the opera. Fur coats are available at the bazaar, along with the other coats, though I’ve heard it’s cheapest to buy in Turkey. I’m not sure exactly how much coats go for but I imagine $$$.

Fur hats tend to be pretty expensive too – even more expensive than the coat I bought. If you can find one in the off-season, it’ll be a good deal so snatch it up! I already had a fur hat that I bought in Moscow in 2008 and now it’s finally being put to good use. It is the warmest thing I’ve ever put on my head.

How to Go to the Opera (or Ballet)

The Astana Opera House is the only building I’ve seen in this city that is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. It is also the only building with a justified use of excessive marble. There are very few events in the city and I really miss being immersed in a creative environment, so I make a point of going to an opera or ballet once a month.

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Schedules and tickets can be found on the theatre website. Good seats sell out quickly and so tickets should be bought soon after release. Click on Tickets in the upper menu, then Русский, then КУПИТЬ, then follow the usual prompts of selecting the time and seating. The seating is poorly designed and it’s difficult to see from many areas. The best bet is to buy tickets in the central area.

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This is actually the best seat but it’s empty most of the time because only the president is allowed in (it even has a separate elevator to get to the box).

Tickets really range in price from 500 tenge ($3) to, well, a lot. When my friend asked if I wanted to go to the opera this month, I immediately said “yes!” I still always think of everything as being so cheap here and I didn’t convert the tenge until later. Then I realized it’s the most I’ve ever spent on a ticket for anything ($155). But I don’t spend much money here so I tell myself that it’s okay.

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Aida may have gotten Radames but Amneris gets that sweet cow bed!

Productions often use borrowed set designs and performers from other countries. For example, the opera I saw tonight is an Italian production. And every show I’ve seen so far has been amazing. I’m totally impressed.

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Before shows begin, there are no announcements to turn off cell phones. During the show, not only will you hear the chime of a mobile, you’ll often hear the person pick up the phone and have a conversation. There’s also a fair amount of in-person talking, flash-picture taking, and candy opening so slow it feels passive-aggressive. Two theories I’ve heard: 1) Mobile phone etiquette is behind the times here. 2) Some people are obliged by their employers to go to these shows, though they have no desire to do so.

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During intermission you can buy expensive wine and rolled meats served in martini glasses.

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And the staff wear incredible outfits that change with the seasons.

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Make sure to read a synopsis before you go! Subtitles are only in Kazakh and Russian. Even if I was fluent in either language, it would be too uncomfortable to constantly look up so high.

My friend Kevin is also always happy to provide a synopsis. Here is a summary of his explanation for Aida:

There is this slave girl who works for the princess in Egypt. And she and the princess both love the same general. But the princess doesn’t like that the general loves the slave girl.

Drama drama drama!

Then the father of the slave girl says she has to sleep with the general to find out information because he and the slaves are going to fight the Egyptians, and she goes, “oh ho ho ho ho boo hoo, okay.”

The slave girl tells the general about the fight and he is like, “oh no, not again!” And then they decide to run away together.

More drama drama drama.

The princess hears the whole thing and the general is taken away while Aida escapes.

Drama drama drama.

Then this guy says, “Hey, come down into this basement,” and the general says, “okay,” and then the guy locks the general in the basement. And the general goes, “oh ho ho ho ho so sad,” but then he hears the slave girl is locked in the room next to his and they talk and are happy and then they both die.