Monday, February 11, 2013

Shymkent - a Lazy Day

Our 3rd day in Shymkent was a nice and relaxing day, although we didn't do anything special. My friend's daughter had round 2 of her figure skating competition, and after that we went to the nearby mall, Mega, which was quite similar to the Mega mall we have in Astana. Next was the closing ceremony for the Kazakhstan Winter Games (my friend's daughter came in 8th out of 15 in her division) and we got to watch the winning figure skaters do their routines again.
Then we walked back towards Mega and went shopping at TsUM, the large shopping center across the street from Mega. I don't know what TsUM stands for (Ts probably stands for “center” or “central” and M probably stands for “store”) but Almaty and Astana also have a TsUM. TsUM is older than Mega (Mega is not listed in my “Lonely Planet,” which is about 5 years old, but TsUM is.) TsUM is a bit more like Artyom in Astana—a large, multi-storied building full of alleyways and small, enclosed spaces—shops. It looks like it should be cheaper than a modern, Western-style shopping mall like Mega, but it didn't seem so. I think you can bargain more in a place like TsUM, but in Mega you can hunt for sales and discounts (just like at TsUM, I guess). We did find a necklace for 2 million Tenge. That's about $12,000.
We went back to eat at Mega. Later that night, my friend commented on what a lovely vacation we were having, how much she liked Shymkent. “You like being on vacation,” I said, reminding her that we hadn't done much in Shymkent that we couldn't do in Astana. She laughed and agreed with me.
So how is Shymkent different from Astana, since in so many ways it's alike? Well, I think if you take Astana—or Almaty—and take away most of the the modern, Western elements (in Astana, this would be all the funky, modern architecture; this would also be restaurant chains like Pizza Hut, Hardee's, and even my favorite pizza restaurant, Il Platio), and keep the Kazakh/Soviet elements—the Soviet architecture (very square); the wide streets; the small cluttered shops; the Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkish, and Russian food; the people (though slightly less stylish)--then you have Shymkent.  I'm not too good at describing it, but it seemed more Kazakh, which, well, it is.  It's known for having more Kazakhs than many other cities (such as Astana, Almaty, or Karaganda), but a quick wikipedia search tells me that it is 65% Kazakh, just like Astana...  Maybe the difference is that in Astana, Russians make up most the rest, whereas in Shymkent, Uzbeks and Russians tie for second place...  Whatever it is, as I sat in the Mega food court, I noticed almost no Russians.
In Shymkent, I stood out as a foreigner.  Even before I spoke, I was recognized as a foreigner.  I was a novelty, and lots of people talked to me or asked my friend where I am from.  This happens in Astana, too, but was more frequent in Shymkent.
All in all, I liked Shymkent.  We didn't get to see all of it--I later learned that there is a Central Bazaar which is quite cheap--but I enjoyed the parts I did see.  Nothing fancy, nothing new or different, but a nice, familiar vacation.
On Sunday we went to Otrar and Turkistan...  That was fascinating and will be in the next post!

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