Saturday, June 25, 2005

the joys of lagman

Oh rapture, that I am able to partake of the fortuitous bliss that is lagman. Such a rude name for something so delectible and delicious. For those that don't know, lagman is a native dish, originating within the ancient race of the Uighurs, who have populated Central Asia for centuries. It is the only somewhat spicy dish, and one of the only dishes resembling Chinese food, to be had in Kazakhstan, and I sieze every chance, with vigor, to eat this dish, since lagman in the North and East of Kazakhstan, though available, is infrequent and inferior--something like eating fajitas in Vermont or Texas chili in Seattle. I had eaten it three times in as many days, and twice today.

There are at least two varieties of lagman (at least there are only two I am familiar with): guru lagman and sairu lagman. All lagman has a bed of pasta, which if you are familiar with Chinese food, is like lo-mein noodles, and if you're not, is like really thick spaghetti. Guru lagman in my opinion tastes better and is much worse for you, since it is fried. It is much like pepper steak: fried red and green peppers, onions, garlic, and thin slices of spiced steak, and lots and lots of oil. Sairu lagman is soupier than guru, for it has a light tomato broth, while its padlif consists of tiny chunks of steak, diced peppers, onions, carrots, and potatoes.

Friday, June 17, 2005

vuipusknoi (the beginning of the rest of our lives)

On Sunday, my students will celebrate their initiation into the world of adulthood. It's a celebration called "Vuipusknoi," and can be equated roughly to the American high school prom, though it is not celebrated in the same way. In many ways it will be like many other traditional Russian celebrations: there will be dancing, singing, and alcohol. But in some ways it is very different. Everyone dresses up in nice suits and dresses (which is like our prom). The parents and teachers, instead of chaperoning as they would in the States to prevent ribald debauchery and fornication, also celebrate, which means that mothers, fathers, old men and women, and these 18-year-olds who were of late students, all get smashed together and party until the wee hours of the morning at the school. That, to say the least, is unheard of in the States. While Kolya assures me that the students only drink champaign, I have my doubts. He also slurred out the statement that everyone has their own personal tolerance and knows when to stop drinking; I thought it ironic that I had to remind him, as he was drunk himself when he said it, that they rarely do stop. Nina told me that when their oldest son, Jenya, graduated, they stayed out until 6 am because as they were going back to their home, someone stopped them on the street and they all started drinking toasts again. I told them that I found this a little strange. Kolya said we have different mentalities, and on this matter, I would have to agree. I don't want to transmit the message that Russians are lushes. They feel that nothing is official or christened until someone or someones have toasted to its health, wealth, and happiness, and so this tiny village's young adults will inaugurate the beginning of the rest of thier lives, as they say in Russian, "washed thoroughly" in drink.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

a comparison

All my students passed. One student, Vera Havalkina, achieved the highest grade on all her tests; she was the only one in the rayon to do so. Everyone else received the required minimum grade of 3 to pass. No one received a 2, basically because they aren't given. 1 out of 120 points will earn you a 2, and even the lowest grade was well in the clear with a whopping 23 out of 120 points. Amazing. One student bragged that he didn't even read the questions; he just filled in the answers - he got 34 points.
I ask myself if it was like this in American high school. I'm really not sure - I didn't see the gangsters, the pregnant teens, the drop-outs and the flunkies, even though I knew they existed somewhere on Temple High's "dark side" South Campus. Even then we joked that they finish faster than regular hard-working students, but i don't know what they had to do. Is America's system a joke about passing failures, too?

Friday, June 10, 2005

I defy you, anonymity

Sorry, in advance, for the (relatively minor) hassle I must subject you to. Please take the time to sign up with and create an identity so that you can talk on my blog and everyone knows who you are. To do this, one side effect is that you must create a blog. Only after you register can you post comments (and I really want you to post comments...)

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

rising vegetable prices in Kazakhstan

Many merchants in the past have come from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to hawk their wares on the Kazakhstan market, and these wares include succulent vegetables and fruits grown in their warmer climates. Now many Central Asian borders are closed (read the news, do a search for "Kyrgyzstan border"), these imports are now stuck in bordering countries just like all the other nationals. Some people can't even return to their homes because the border closed. Now the price of vegetables has risen, tomatos especially, and there seems nothing to be done. I was talking with Olga and Bakhyt two staff members here in Almaty, about this, and Olga commented that even potatos are expensive, and how could that be, since potatos are grown in Kazakhstan. It simple really, when you think about it, I told her. With the price of vegetables rising, the normal Kazakhstani family can no longer afford to eat, this results in more vodka consumption (because when they can't eat, they drink), and vodka of course, comes from potatos. She laughed; I don't know if it was because she thought I was trying to be funny, or because it was true.