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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Winter Fashion, Ha!

Fun fact:  Astana is the second coldest capital in the world.  And it's been a bit chilly in Astana lately.  Most of last week, the temperatures were above zero fahrenheit, but they plunged starting on Friday.  I didn't have to be anywhere Friday through Sunday, so I stayed inside like a wimp.  I had to go to work starting on Monday, though, so I eventually had to brave the weather.  As long as it isn't too windy, I've found that I can layer enough clothing to make the walk to work bearable, if not exactly enjoyable.  Wind changes everything.  Anyway, as a sample, this is what I wore today:

  • Long-sleeved cotton top
  • Wool cardigan
  • Silk long johns (I've found that they keep my legs warmish outside, but aren't suffocatingly warm inside my office, which is always hot no matter what).
  • Corduroy pants
  • Thick socks
  • Very warm snow boots
  • Yaktrax!
  • Fleece scarf
  • Medium-weight jacket
  • Heavy knee-length coat (which I bought a size bigger than normal so I could wear things like the medium-weight jacket underneath).
  • Down-filled hat with fake fur trim
  • Fleece face mask
  • Thick gloves
Even with the gloves, my hands were kind of cold on the way in today, so I may swap the thick gloves out for thick mittens the next time it gets this cold (the powers that be claim that it will be slightly warmer tomorrow).  I wouldn't say my ensemble would win any points for style (or even for allowing people to easily recognize me with my hair and most of my face covered), but it's enabled me to get my wimpy, native North Carolinian self between my apartment and my office with a minimum of pain.  At a certain point in the winter, that might be all I can really ask.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Wintry Menu

I think every country has seasonal limitations on what sort of produce can be bought.  I always get a kick out of seeing fresh cherries in the winter in the US for $9+ per pound, and wondering who is actually buying them.  Kazakhstan may have more seasonal limitations than many other places, although I've been told that the situation is improving rapidly.  There have been some pleasant surprises.  I don't know where the fresh apples and pears we've been buying are coming from, but they have actually been pretty good.  Other surprises have been somewhat less pleasant.  Know how everyone complains about the "fresh" tomatoes that are available in the winter in the US?  The ones I've had here are even crunchier.  And good canned tomatoes seem not to be as readily available, at least in the places where I've looked for them.

We decided to have a few people over for dinner last night, and I wanted to plan a menu that made use of what was readily available, without having to chase down difficult-to-find ingredients, or risk serving people something like icky crunchy tomatoes.  This is what we had:

  • Appetizers:  potato chips, cheese, and halal sausage.
  • Soup:  Lentil soup.  My recipe includes red lentils, onions, cumin, and lemon juice.  I'm happy to say that lemons are being imported from somewhere.
  • Main course:  Latkes!  A good way to make use of a seemingly endless potato season.  I had actually been thinking of having people over for latkes during Hanukah, but we had some kitchen plumbing issues at the time, so social gatherings in our apartment weren't ideal.  I think latkes are tasty at any time of the year anyway.
  • Side dishes:  Roasted root vegetable salad and apple/pear/ginger sauce.  I make variations of roasted root vegetable salad all the time.  For this one, I made use of the beets, green radishes, and onions that are available here. I made a mustard vinaigrette to go on it and added chechil.  I'm not sure where the ginger root I used in the apple/pear/ginger sauce is coming from, but I'm happy to have it.
  • Dessert:  Raspberry upside down cake!  We froze a bunch of raspberries in the late summer/early fall, and decided it was time to start enjoying them.  It was fun to taste raspberries in this snowy, subzero weather.
I'll be interested to see when new produce starts coming into season...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Room For Improvement

Visiting and living in other countries is often great.  Actually getting from your home country to whichever country you're trying to visit is usually another story.  We are back in Astana now.  On the positive side, our trip was safe, delays were minimal, and three of our four checked bags came through with us (we received the fourth one yesterday, I'm happy to say.  It had our peanut butter supplies for the next several months!).  On the negative side, I saw multiple opportunities for improvement throughout.  So, without further ado, here are my unsolicited (and probably unwanted) ideas for how our most recent international trip could have been improved:

TSA Employee:  The fact that your job description includes passenger pat-downs does not give you license to be as creepy as possible in the process.  If you really feel the need to reach inside the front waistband of my pants, it would be professional to advise me of such beforehand.  Also, I'm pretty sure your job description does not include poking my bare abdomen with your fingertips.  I have been through quite a few airport pat-downs, and while they are never enjoyable, they rarely leave me thinking that they would be considered assault in any other context.

JFK Airport:  Why is the airport set up so that if I have to change terminals, I have to actually exit the airport and go through TSA security again?  People who have the misfortune of a layover at JFK are suffering enough already, and if we have already been through security (particularly at another US airport), why should we have to go through again?  I missed a flight out of JFK years ago, partly because of needing to go through security again after switching terminals.  How much time and manpower is wasted there screening passengers who were already screened at their airport of origin?  And just think--if I hadn't had to go through security at JFK on this trip (having already gone through it at RDU), I wouldn't have had to write the paragraph above about appropriate behavior during a pat-down!

Etihad Airways:  When one of your employees notices a passenger who is so drunk that he falls down during boarding, the proper response is to remove him/her from the line and not allow him/her to fly.  After all, someone that intoxicated could quite possibly pose a security threat, particularly on a lengthy flight that crosses the Atlantic Ocean.  Here is an example of an improper response to the situation:

  • Wait until drunk passenger is already seated (in a window seat, no less).
  • Inform him that he is intoxicated, and, as such, is not to ask the crew for any alcoholic beverages during the flight.  Fail to inform flight attendants who will be serving beverages of this arrangement.
  • Ask Scott to be a witness to this arrangement, as he is not on Etihad payroll, and should not be in charge of babysitting the drunkards they allow to board their planes.
  • Dismiss my request to move the (sober) two of us elsewhere on the plane.
Surprise, surprise, the drunk next to us requested a Heineken beer the first time the flight attendant came around.  Scott and I had to tell her that he was not supposed to have any alcohol.  Fortunately, he did not become belligerent, but what if he had?  Oh, and he managed to snag a cup of wine later on in the flight, so Etihad is obviously extremely lax in enforcing its own inadequate rules.

Prospective Drunk Passengers:  There will almost certainly be plenty of booze wherever you're going.  Why not wait to liquor up until you're in a situation where people can get away from you, rather than having to smell your beer breath at close range for hours on end?  Better yet, you could cut down on your drinking, but I realize I may be asking too much here.

Abu Dhabi International Airport:  Put up some signs, for crying out loud.  Or, alternatively, have extremely attentive employees direct traffic so that weary passengers can collect their onward boarding passes and go where they need to go.  You really cannot have passengers stand in line for 2+ hours at a transfer desk, only to tell them that they need to go stand in a similar line at another transfer desk to get their boarding passes.  Either you provide all boarding passes at every transfer desk at the airport, or you put up signs advising passengers which transfer desk they should wait at.  It really is that simple.

Maybe this trip just served to make me happy that I probably won't be making a long trip again in a while...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

United Nations Tour

One thing we did in New York was take a tour of the United Nations.  This had been on my mental list of things to do for years, so it was great to actually have a chance to do it.  We were staying in a hotel that was a fairly comfortable walking distance from the UN, and had a free morning, so decided to go for it.

We had to show up 30 minutes prior to the start of the tour to go through security.  After that, we were given stickers that seemed to be color coded by scheduled tour time, and we waited in an enclosed space for our guide.  Our tour group was quite international.  There were other Americans from different states, people from Germany, and people from Nepal.  Our guide was from Japan.

We had to walk a little outside first, which gave us a chance to admire a couple of statues.

When we went inside, one of the first things we saw was a series of Persian carpet portraits of all the secretaries general!  The most recent three are pictured below.  I was amazed by the detail.

We were unable to see the General Assembly, as it was under renovation when we took the tour.  However, we did get to see the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the Security Council.  The Economic and Social Council was first.  The guide told us that the partially finished ceiling symbolizes the ongoing nature of development.

Economic and Social Council

I was fascinated to see where people could plug in earphones to hear a simultaneous translation in one of the official languages (Arabic, English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese).

The next stop was the Trusteeship Council.  Its original purpose was to help states that were under colonial rule transition into independence.  Our guide told us that while the hall was not being used for those purposes today, it was being used for General Assembly meetings while the General Assembly Hall was being renovated.

Trusteeship Council

The Security Council was my favorite part, probably because I always hear about it.  The tour got me thinking about how things might (or, in some cases, might not) be different if the Security Council had no permanent members.

Close-up of Security Council tapestry

My favorite language!

We also saw exhibits including artwork, pictures from the UN peacekeeping missions, and artifacts from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The last picture shows the UN from the outside.  Flags for all the member states span for several blocks, but none were flying on the day we visited because it was snowing.  Got to love that winter weather!

Cans fused together during bombing of Hiroshima.

Portion of the UN declaration on human rights

Model of the UN

Outside, where the flags fly in better weather

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New York Winter Travels

Rain and snowflakes mix
Steady rain late afternoon
Wet walk with luggage

Bought new umbrella
Walked in and out of subway
Puddles abounded

Umbrella too small
Soggy clothing and jammies
Pay for cab next time

Thursday, January 1, 2015

North Carolina Pictures

We're heading off to New York for the last stretch of our holiday soon, so here are some pictures from North Carolina.  I am not posting pictures of any human relatives or friends out of desire to protect the innocent.  :)  We spent time in my hometown and made a trip to the NC coast with my parents.

A not-so-innocent, furry family member.
A portion of our tree!

Birdie footprints!

And ripples in the sand.


And another sunset
You have to know what to look for here, but we saw a night heron catch a fish.  He has it in his mouth here.


Even the fish are in a holiday frame of mind.

Path near the aquarium.

A heron, probably looking for his next meal.