Monday, September 6, 2010

Returning to Astana - My New Home

Hooray! I had seen my new apartment last year, but now I get to live in it. It is as nice as I remembered.

It is located on the other side of town from where I once lived, near the "new" downtown, where the fancy new buildings and government offices and the funky Beyterek Tower are. It is near the river and the large park by the river that I have never gone to but am slowly hearing good things about.

It is next door to Mega, the fancy shopping mall that Sophia loves, which has a fast food court, a theater, a children's area with games & roller skating, and Ramstore, the grocery store that sometimes sells items such as peanut butter and Parmesan cheese.

It is practically next door to Sariarka, another shopping mall, which seems pretty similar to Mega except no Babylon (the play place).

It is a bit more than a stone's throw from the steppe, but not that far at all. If we lived a bit higher up, I'm sure we could see the steppe from our window. But we're on the first floor.

It is about a 20 minute walk from Khan Shatyr (Kazakh for "Palace of the King", the large crazy tent-like structure that is supposed to be a city within a city, an architectural marvel that maintains a constant pleasant temperature year-round, with a beach and a waterpark--but it's really just a huge, over-done mall. With a pathetic excuse for a beach that costs 8000 Tenge ($54) just to go in for a day.

Our apartment's biggest downside is that the only buses that come by the nearest bus stop don't go anywhere that I'd ever care to go, except Khan Shatyr (which is only 2 bus stops away, so why bother with a bus?) or the airport (which is nice). It's about a 10 - 15 minute walk to the bus stops where I can find a bus to take me shopping, to the river, to the old downtown, to the American library, to church, etc. Since the weather is nice, that's not a problem. When the weather is minus 40, that might be a problem.

We are also pretty close to the new school; however, we must first cross a super-busy street before we have a 5 - 10 minute walk. In the mornings, we have mastered the art of jay-walking, as it's not too busy. But sometimes we get stuck in the middle of the road while cars whiz by us on either side. NOT GOOD. Even though plenty of Kazakhs--even with kids younger than Sophia--do this, that's not something I think I could ever get comfortable doing. Sure, I've yet to see anyone get hit. But still....

It's a short walk to the intersection with a light and crosswalk, and that entire area is under construction. Maybe by the time snow and ice have covered the ground, then there will be a real sidewalk there, and I won't be tramping through dirt on my way to school. But then, I won't be able to see a real sidewalk and I'll be tramping through ice not dirt...

Still, the location is great. There is a mini-mart, the Dolphin, directly below us--literally. If you look out Sophia's bedroom window, you see the tip of the glowing blue dolphin that marks the entrance to the store. The mini-mart will be very useful when it is too cold to run to Mega for groceries. And useful when I'm just too lazy. Great for a sugar run, when all you want is something sweet and you have nothing in your house.

Our apartment is on the first floor on one side, the second on the other. Underneath us (besides the mini-mart) is an enclosed basement garage, meaning that if we got a car (which we won't) we could keep it inside in the winter, making it so much easier to start. The playground is nice, nothing fancy, and the whole area around it is concrete, like a parking lot, but cars are blocked from coming there. A good area to practice riding a bike, but I've yet to get Sophia one (I've been looking). I wonder if when winter comes, if it'll be good for ice skating...

The problem with being on the first floor (at least on half of the apartment) is that if I open the curtains, all the children playing and all the people walking to and from their homes can look inside and see us. If I open the windows because I am hot (no air-conditioning, a bright sun, and 95 degree weather does make the inside quite hot!), then I can hear everyone outside and they can hear us. Not all the windows have screens, and it would be very easy to climb inside our apartment from the outside. So I keep the windows on that half of the apartment closed when I can.

In the apartment, there's a nice entrance foyer, with plenty of room for shoes, a wardrobe for hanging coats, a table with the phone and a stool for taking off shoes. To your right as you walk in, there's the large living room, with a couch and a two-person couch, a dining table, and a super-large flat screen TV that I'm quite terrified will one day just fall over and break. Usually Astana apartments have an indoor (but not heated) porch attached to each room; in this house, the owners made those porches part of the inside. So there's an extra mini-room, or sun-room, attached to the living room, making the living room even larger. The cabinets in this living room contain what looks like real crystal. So I stay away. And made a rule: no throwing balls in the living room. (I have a 7-year old, so of course one day she decided to play ball in the living room, so I had to make that rule.)

From the entrance foyer, to your left, is the kitchen, not exceptionally large but larger than any kitchen I've ever had. It has a nice table, plus a bench, a stainless-steel refrigerator, a bit of counter space, 2 small sinks (I only had one last year!), a flat-top stove, and an oven that took me quite some time to figure out how to work. And plenty of liquor stored in a cabinet.

Further down the entrance foyer is another hallway; straight ahead are the bathroom and toilet room; to the left is Sophia's room; to the right is mine. The bathroom is long and narrow, with a small German washing machine in it, and a tiny yet mostly clean shower. The sink area is large and beautiful. Plenty of space to store my stuff! Finally!

The toilet room has a bidet.

Sophia's room has a large cabinet and I found an extra small cabinet in my room's storage space that I put into her room. Plus, I have a couple other plastic storage units for her. So for once she has enough room for all her stuff. Her bed is cool. It took the school's driver, Abai, coming over for me to learn how to work it. But the side can go up and down, turning it into a couch if you want; the head can go up and down, kind of like a hospital bed. It's cool. Good for raising the head when I want to read her a story.

My room has more furniture than I've ever had before: a TV table and TV, a computer desk; a fancy bookshelf/cabinet thingy; a vanity (make-up table with drawers); a wardrobe; a full-sized bed; two end-tables on both sides of the bed. Everything in matching dark wood. And nothing's broken yet, so I'm guessing it's at least decent quality.

What the bedrooms are missing are sheets. I sleep on a sheet that is too small for my bed; Sophia sleeps on a bedcover. So we need to buy sheets. But that's okay.

Sophia's bedroom has the indoor-porch, that's where I put the Christmas tree and her sled. My room has the extra space, which is good for storage (empty boxes and suitcases) as well as a great place to keep the vacuum cleaner out of sight and to hang-dry the clothes.

Yeah, no clothes-dryer and no dishwasher. Two appliances I miss.

So, as wonderful as this place is, I was a bit daunted by the sheer thought of cleaning it, so as soon as the teacher who lived here last year mentioned that he'd had a maid, I begged him to hook me up with her. He gladly did. He still uses her--he's a single guy, so he was moved to a smaller apartment this year, and seems to bear me no ill-will at having him move out of this fancy place. So now I have a maid, someone who's cleaned this place before, which is nice, because I'd have no idea what to tell a maid to do. So she just does for me what she did for the other teacher. She's come by twice so far, and my place is sparkling clean. She'll also iron any clothes I leave out for her. Last year, I got by without ironing.

So, really, it's not like she's doing any work that I'd be doing otherwise. She's sparing me the pain of thinking about work that I should be doing.

And I'm happy with this place. It's large; it's well-furnished; well-stocked in the kitchen (pots and pans, etc); good location; and it's clean!

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