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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pictures From A Recent Saturday Walk

Before the cold sets in, Scott and I have been trying to take advantage of the weather and go on some walks over the weekend.  I saw a few things I'd never seen before on one of these walks, so I'm glad I had my camera!

This year marks the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate, so at least some of the new decorations were in honor of that.

Apologies to the complete strangers in the picture--I wasn't patient enough to wait to take the photo!
I wondered if these horses might have had to do with the anniversary, too, since I don't recall seeing them before.

My favorite one was painted with pomegranates.  Too bad pomegranates don't actually grow in Astana!

I was curious about the origins of this one, too.  I wondered if it might have been sponsored by the Israeli government or maybe the local Chabad.

No matter what the occasion, there is always more room for fake plants here.

And a sculpture I had never seen before!  Near something that looks like a disco ball!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Dumpsters Have Dreams of World Domination! Or...

I suppose the more boring and likely possibility is what I've come to call a "Google Translate tragedy."  I received an email yesterday in three languages:  Russian, Kazakh, and English.  Here is the quote from the English portion that provoked my concern about the dumpsters' intentions:

We hereby inform you that due to the sport event in the Sport Center on September 19-20, 2015, the territory was liberated from the dumpsters.

On a related note, I'm happy to say that I don't think those of us who use foreign languages on the job will be replaced by machines any time soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Where Did My Attention To Detail Go? Oh, Yeah...

Class 1, Classroom A

Class 2, Classroom B
Class 3, Classroom C
Class 4, Classroom D
Class 1, Classroom A

Class 3, Classroom C

Class 1, Classroom A

Class 2, Classroom B
Class 3, Classroom C
Class 4, Classroom D
Class 2, Classroom B

Class 4, Classroom A

Class 1, Classroom A

Class 2, Classroom B
Class 3, Classroom C
Class 4, Classroom D

Behold, my teaching schedule for fall semester.  Is it just me, or does this seem particularly diabolical?  The chart I'm posting here, by the way, is an adaptation of one I made for my own personal use at the beginning of the semester in order to keep track of the ridiculous meeting time and classroom changes depending on the day.

I'm not the only one who has trouble with this, either.  One of my students from Class 2 missed a Thursday class and told me later that she had forgotten we had class that day.

In addition to what is readily apparent in the timetable, Class 1, 2, and 4 are different sections of the same course.  Class 3 is a different course.  So, I have the one different course smack dab between two of the same courses three days a week.

Also, because Class 1 meets on MTWF and Classes 2 and 4 meet on MWRF, Class 1 is always one lesson ahead of the other two classes on Wednesday.  So on Wednesdays, I teach three different lesson plans.

Also, as is apparent on the timetable, Classes 2, 3, and 4 are back to back on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  That means no time to clear my head between classes, especially if students come up to me after class to ask questions.  (I don't mind questions about the actual material I covered, but unfortunately, they're not always so relevant.  Grade grubbing for one extra point on a test comes to mind.)

I was pondering all of this today, wondering why I had had so many brain farts over the course of the day, and I came to the sad conclusion that this is likely to be the case all semester, particularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

On the flip side, those three days have opportunities for exercise.  While all of my classrooms are under one roof, I teach in three different "blocks".  I have to traverse a common area on the ground floor to get between blocks.  I generally avoid the elevators because they are hot, slow, and crowded.  So a typical stair-climbing schedule on MWF looks like this:
1.  Climb to 4th floor office on Block A
2.  Go down four flights of stairs, climb to 5th floor classroom in Block B.
3.  Go down five flights of stairs, return to 4th floor classroom in Block A.
4.  Walk down one flight of stairs to classrooms in Block A.
5.  Walk down three flights of stairs and climb to 5th floor of Block C.
6.  Walk down five flights of stairs, and climb to 4th floor office of Block A.

My brain may be mush by the end of the semester (or perhaps by next week) but maybe I at least have the hope of some level of physical fitness.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Flamingos, At Long Last!

Incredible though it may seem to anyone who has ever spent a winter in or around Astana, Kazakhstan boasts a colony of flamingos for several months out of the year.  Seeing these flamingos in the wild has been on my Kazakhstan bucket list even before we arrived.  I've blogged about my two previous (failed) attempts here and here.

A few weeks ago, one of our colleagues started organizing another trip out to the Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve, which includes Lake Tengiz, where the flamingos stay while in Kazakhstan.  The trip was for today, with a scheduled departure time of 6 AM.  We had a lot of thinking to do.  Should we take the near certain reward of sleeping in on a Saturday morning?  Or should we forgo the sleep and have a long, bumpy ride to Korgalzhyn, where we had already failed to see any flamingos twice before?

We ultimately decided on the trip.  We had an immediate reward of the departure time being pushed back to 7 AM, and a more long term reward of finally seeing the flamingos!

The ride to Korgalzhyn was even bumpier than I had remembered it.  Some of the roads are in pretty poor condition, and the combination of the driver driving over some potholes, swerving wildly to avoid others, and speeding on the relatively smooth sections of road made for an exciting trip.  We stopped at the visitor center where I had taken pictures of the flamingo gate previously as some sort of proof that these flamingos existed.  We had a small breakfast that our guide had packed and used the facilities (outdoor squat toilets with no lighting!).

Mural at the visitor center
 Then we headed off to Lake Tengiz.  As we approached, we could see lots of obviously tall birds in the lake, and my hopes soared.  While the birds appeared white from a distance, they were indeed the flamingos!  With the aid of binoculars and a telescope, we were able to get a much better look at them.  We could really see their pink color when they flapped their wings or flew.  Interestingly, their wings also had black feathers, which was a very striking contrast to the pink.  We could even hear the flamingos honking at each other (I'm not sure that's the term ornithologists would use for flamingo vocalizations, but that's what it sounded like to me!).

Despite Scott's and my many efforts to get good pictures of the flamingos, we didn't have much success.  A better zoom on the camera might have helped some, but the other issue was that the flamingos understandably didn't want much to do with a minibus full of sleep-deprived humans, and tended to fly progressively farther from the lake's shore as they saw and heard us approach.  The two pictures below are probably our best ones of them.  The little white dots are the flamingos.  If nothing else, I think the pictures give an idea of the sheer number of them.

We also found some pink flamingo feathers and what appear to be flamingo tracks

I wasn't at all optimistic about seeing saiga, another famous steppe inhabitant.  And we didn't, although we did see some saiga tracks.  I was happy to even see evidence that they had been in the area.  Between poaching and a mysterious wave of deaths last spring, the saiga have been having a very hard time.

I would have missed these, but the guide pointed out these saiga tracks to us.
After flamingo-watching, we had lunch at a guest house near the visitor center, the same guest house where we ate when we visited Korgalzhyn last spring.  The food was delicious.  I wish I knew of a restaurant with such well-prepared Kazakh cuisine near us.

It was a wonderful day.  It was amazing to be in the presence of large numbers of such an iconic animal in the wild.  Our photos leave much to be desired, but I don't think I'll ever forget watching the flamingos through the binoculars and the telescope.  Whatever else Kazakhstan may have in store for us, I am happy to have had this particular experience.

Beautiful blue sky on the steppe today

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Holiday Walk Pictures

Monday was Constitution Day observed in Kazakhstan, so we didn't have to go to work.  Yippee!  Monday is one of the days during the week when I teach all four of my classes, so I felt like I was really getting away with something to have the day off instead.

We met up with some friends near the Radisson Hotel and walked to a complex called Highville to undo our caloric expenditure with a fried chicken meal at a Korean restaurant called Kakaodak.  To the extent possible with the constantly shifting construction situation in Astana, we walked along the Ishim River.  I took a few pictures along the way:

Peaceful park scene

Another of Astana's fake trees!

There is a whole line of them here!

Sadly, one of the fake branches met a bad end.

The sign is proclaiming someone's love for Astana.  I'm not sure about the colorful structures in the river.

There is another sign proclaiming someone's love for Astana across the river.  Also, you can see Astana's pyramid in the distance.