Again, a wonderful morning: bluebird day with snowcapped mountains shimmering in the sun – Innsbruck, Grenoble, Teheran, Almaty. I love these cities surrounded by mountains – on a sunny day there’s hardly a more beautiful views than majestic mountains. Almaty gives a booming impression: I have read that a lot of the old apple orchards have been taken over by the ever growing town – there are indeed a lot of cranes to be seen and none of the building projects gives a small impression. Big is beautiful.

almaty_buildingsite_20140408

You might have read about the plan to rename Kazakhstan and get rid of the unbeloved “stan” suffix (which apparently means “land”, so land of the Kazakhs, which somehow feels rather appropriate). So here’s a good story: certainly on Almaty’s roads you’ll see a lot of Toyota Landcruisers, particularly the Prado model is prevalent. In fact, it is so common, that some people reckoned Pradostan an appropriate new name for Kazakhstan.

A Toyota Landcruiser Prado on front of a electric bus on a street in Almaty
A Toyota Landcruiser Prado on front of a electric bus on a street in Almaty

I quite like the electrified buses on Almaty’s road. Pollution seems to be quite a problem in the area, so it seems a good idea to use electric buses. Assuming the electricity isn’t produced in a horrific coal-fire powerstation.
5aside_almaty_20140408Football (real traditional football, not this American sport designed to sprinkle as many television adds into a sports TV transmission as possible) joins the world. A lot of people play football here, quite a few of them in company teams fighting for victory and honour in corporate leagues. We were lucky enough to be able to see a match between two teams of a bank: enthusiastic and skilful players in a five-a-side match with a very pernickety referee. I suppose it’s not a bad idea to prevent injuries in an indoor football match, but this guy booked players where I couldn’t spot a foul. But that’s just me.

One thing that puzzles me is the normality of Almaty: before I got here it was the great unknown, but I probably expected some sort of exotic mix of Russia and China, with dudes holding golden eagles on their arms roaming the streets,  joined by the occasional horde of wild horseback riders. U, well, I don’t know what I expected. But what I didn’t expect is a modern city (which only relates to the small part of town that I have seen so far) surrounded by beautiful mountains, inhabited by very pleasant, unassuming people who drive their cars in a very civilised way: automobiles will stop at pedestrian crossings, drivers have understood the concept of lanes and if somebody wants to turn right at the next junction they tend to move into the rightmost lane a fair bit before the junction. I don’t know how you feel about that, but traffic behaviour tends to be a good indicator for the degree of factual civilisation of people. Take North America or most parts of Western Europe: fairly relaxed driving, lanes and traffic lights are respected, cars are means to get from A to B and not lethal weapons in the hands of reckless/inconsiderate idiots. Sit in a car in India, even if driven by somebody who can successfully pretend to be an intelligent person in most conversational situations, and you are exposed to a degree of crazyness which makes it extremely hard to believe that whoever steers this car has understood the most elementary rules of human interaction. Kazakhstan plays in the North American/European league here. I like it.