Wednesday, February 12, 2014

+2 hours from Sochi (Сочи)

Posted by Robyn

Only 2 hours ahead of Sochi, we are getting lots of live coverage of the Winter Olympics. In Russian. and in Kazakh.  (The Russian channel has higher production values. more breaks, and a lot more shots of Vladimir Putin).

For most of the coverage there is a single feed with names and athlete standing in English. so we can follow along without commentary, but you know what? We confess to missing the athlete-profile-centric coverage provided by NBC English-language media.  Although we don't miss the hype and marketing of so many of the Olympic sponsors. Or the endless commercial interruptions.

Kazakhstan has about 50 athletes competing, but just one, the male figure skater Denis Ten, who is a serious contender.

and we hear he's been training in California for the past few years
So the locals don't seem that into it, and to our surprise, we haven't been able to find local coverage of all the events, even some of the more popular events like figure skating. We do feel like we're a little more interested overall than most of our new neighbors. Except for the US v Russia hockey game this coming Saturday evening that is. That will be big. We have a friendly bet with our friends Sasha & Natasha on the outcome. (Want to guess who is betting on which team?)

So when Kazakhs are not competing, it seems like they will root for Russians/other former Soviets over the rest of the world. While we can't yet understand the Russian commentators, local friends tell us they celebrate when Americans fall or fail. Doesn't seem very sportsmanlike, does it?

We did enjoy the opening ceremonies live... high definition picture on our TV, narrated by BBC commentary streamed over the internet with the help a VPN to overcome network geographical restrictions.  Technology!

What are you following in these Winter Olympics? 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

20% Off

Posted by Kevin

As of this morning there's a 20% off sale on your travel to Kazakhstan. Well sort of. The Kazakhstan Central Bank announced a devaluation of the Kazakh tenge this morning. News spread fast. Notwithstanding the recent interest in the Sochi Winter Olympics, the national television networks had their top story for the day. ATM's around Astana were switched off and some businesses screeched to a halt as they reevaluated their pricing. Our primary grocery story seemed to be operating business as usual with no changes as of yet. What will tomorrow bring?

For us, the devaluation may have a limited effect on our lifestyle here as we live off an income stream of US dollars. The effect on many of the locals many be less forgiving. Local friends and colleagues have effectively lost 20% of their tenge denominated savings. Although I have observed that the country operates on a semi-parallel currency system with many ATM's dispensing either US Dollars or Kazakh Tenge, this seems to be more the case for those with real estate and other hard assets of foreign origin.

What will happen to my 35 cent loaf of bread, my 40 cent bus fare or my one dollar yogurt? It looks like they will cost more tenge.

Have you lived in a country during a currency devaluation and have tips to share?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Polar freeze

That polar vortex blasting the US of late?  That is typical winter weather in Astana.

Having said that, until the last week or so, Astana has been having what for the locals is an unusually warm winter -- having dipped below zero °F only 3-4 times so far. But that recently changed with a typical polar freeze taking over and with temperatures falling to -31 °F (-35 °C).

How do we survive?  We do as the locals do (minus the fur coats).

Essentials for surviving the polar freeze?

For humans?
  • Base layer - something that wicks away from the skin (thermal silks).  Fleece or fur-lined boots. Ugg boots and a pair of wool socks have kept my (Robyn) feet warm on even the coldest days so far. Columbia boots (rated to -25 °F) and plenty of SmartWool™ socks have been keeping Kevin's toes very comfortable.
  • Regular clothes - fashions are similar to what we've been wearing at home: jeans, dress pants (except we have not seen any khakis/Dockers so far, maybe in warmer weather?)
  • Sweater or fleece jacket - this is the key: adding another layer or two underneath a coat.
  • Down coat with a hood, plus a scarf and a hat.  You absolutely must cover your face against the wind.

For cars?
While some residences have parking garages, many cars are parked on surface lots.  So no garages, no power to turn engine heaters.  Instead, many people have remote starters... a colleague has an automatic starter that will turn the engine on for 30 minutes whenever the temperature dips below a certain threshold.

It is not uncommon to see a parked car running for several minutes, no driver in sight!  Those without remote starters have to get up every 2-3 hours on nights when it's -25 °F to turn on their engines.

For homes?
NO PROBLEM.  Every indoor space we've entered so far has been way overheated by American standards.

Radiator heat is everywhere. Winter has been an exercise in bundling up to go outside, and then stripping down to short sleeve shirts indoors!

Are you staying warm this winter?