Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Almaty! - Bazaar - Friday, 26 March 2010
(No pictures of the bazaar... So here's one of the Almaty-1 train station. Almaty-2 is where we got off, right next to the center.)
What is the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city with only 2 1/2 days to spend there? Go shopping, of course!
It was above freezing in Almaty, and the sun shone bright into our cabin on the train, and so when we got arrived, we were burning hot and bemoaning our lack of "spring" coats. (Where I come from, "spring coat" is an oxymoron; here, it's a fact of life.) Rebeca had heard of a bazaar that's larger and cheaper than Astana's Central Bazaar (the one I went to in October) and so we decided to go there to look for lighter-weight coats and in general to shop.
Rebeca's church in Astana is a small branch-off of a church in Almaty, and through her church she had made contact with a nice Russian lady in Almaty, who had a small apartment and was willing to let us stay there for the weekend. She frequently stays with her mother, and so had no trouble allowing us to stay there. Kazakhstanis are amazingly hospitable. (We stayed for free.)
However, she was worried when she learned that an American would be coming. She wasn't sure if her place was up to par by American standards. I said that, after my experience with my apartment in Astana, I've learned that the one thing I really need is water. As long as there's water and I can shower and drink coffee, then I'm fine.
Her place was small and excessively cluttered. The kitchen was in the process of being redone, which explains some of the kitchen mess, and the fact that there was no sink in the kitchen.
After she left to return to work and we'd eaten a small snack, we did something that I could never do in a non-English speaking country: ask around to find the bazaar. We just went outside and Rebeca asked the first person she ran into. We headed towards the bus stop, and when we weren't sure if it was to our right or to our left, she asked someone else. Speaking the language makes a lot of things incredibly easy!
We took bus 52, a small bus, and after 5 or 10 minutes we realized that we had no idea how to get back, so we asked some girls sitting next to us if they knew where we'd gotten on. Luckily, they did, and we wrote down the name of the intersection.
The bus drove for quite some time and after a while we found ourselves bumbling down a tiny alleyway between shacks. There didn't even look like there was enough room for a mini-bus, and it didn't even look like a road.
Finally the bus stopped in a crowded, cramped alleyway, and we soon learned that this was the end of the route. We got off. The tiny alleyway was filled with people and vehicles. Ours wasn't the only bus that took this route.
We walked a bit further and came to a larger road. Across the road was the bazaar--a long row of ramshackle buildings. We crossed the street and made our way into the bazaar (a good bit was under some sort of cover, with the booths or stalls not being too much different from the shops at Astana's Artyom mall, although, perhaps, dirtier, and we were outside, albeit under cover). It was near closing time, but that probably was for the better--no need to waste too much time on shopping!
I noticed that Rebeca is as uncomfortable with bargaining as I am, so bargaining is not something that locals naturally do better than me. When we came across some hair accessories that seemed highly priced, she did what I frequently do--put them down and move on. We didn't bargain for the track suits we bought our children--the price was cheap enough to begin with. 2000 Tenge ($13) for a windbreaker-type coat and matching pants. Another 2000 Tenge for a light-weight coat for me.
We bargained for the sunglasses--my brother, Sophia and I each picked out a pair; the asking price was 3000 Tenge ($20), we asked for 2000 Tenge and settled for 2500 Tenge.
As the stores finally closed, we headed back towards the buses. Rebeca and Allison stopped to buy some food at a stand--a bag full of white balls. It looked like it could be a yummy snack, but when Rebeca said it was a traditional Kazakh food, I had a faint memory of something I'd read or heard before... Maybe these aren't good?
Nevertheless, I took a taste, and luckily Rebeca has a good sense of humor and is not easily offended, because I couldn't help myself--I spit it out while making a face that Rebeca found hilarious. The balls are құрт ("kurt") and made of sour milk and taste like sour milk.
I'm proud that I've tried a traditional Kazakh food. I'm not proud of the face that I made, but am glad that Rebeca was not insulted. She and her daughter happily ate more of the kurt and saved some for later.
An acquired taste, maybe?