Thursday, 24 December 2009

Thursday, 17 December 2009


Independence Day celebrations continued for me and some colleagues at our local 'shishcoteque' - a heady mix of Kazakh water pipes (kalyan), disco music, and garish lights.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Happy Kazakh Independence Day!

The Independence Monument: The Golden Man rides a winged snow leopard.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Black smokers

Out of context, a bewildering question from an English test.

(Gold star to the first person who can tell me what "black smokers" refers to here!)

Friday, 4 December 2009

Black Hat White Hat

Conflict was inevitable.

No sugar bowls were smashed in the making of this movie.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Beware the icicles my son...

Warning to foreigners: As temperatures fluctuate, icicles start to melt and may fall. Be sure to be walking somewhere else at the time.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Five fingers

Besh barmak (five fingers) is the Kazakh national dish. The name doesn't come from its content (!), but from the way its eaten - with your fingers from a common round plate, symbolising the equality of those eating it. A friend spent four hours cooking it for us, boling the horse meat and sausage, and preparing the sauce and pasta - delicious!

Monday, 9 November 2009

First snow in Almaty...

...time to crack out the fur coat and miniskirt combo?!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Dinosaur English

I set my students the task, "What are the dinosaurs saying? Write their words." This was an awesome version that came out - respect to student A.!

(Teacher smugness: we had recently been learning comparisons!)

With kind permission of Ryan North at Dinosaur Comics.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Red juice at the Green Bazaar

On leaving the people-warren of the Green Bazaar for our weekly shop, my housemate and I refreshed ourselves with acrid-sweet freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.

Almaty architecture

I have yet to get my head around Almaty architecture, but the city is full of fascinating blends of Soviet and oriental styles. I am appreciating more and more Le Corbusier's idea that a city is a machine for living...

Strange fish

A Chinese restaurant which has become a favourite haunt for my colleagues and me because of its steaming turines of spicy Szechuan beef and fresh spinach has menus in Russian and English. The English translations are sometimes somewhat perplexing...

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Camel-camel feedback

...and we tried to create an ontological feedback loop by bringing the thing face-to-face with its ideal form.


... shish kebabs cooked on a wood-burning bbq...


Staff party for Teachers' Day - eastwest music in nylon yurts...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Fancy seeing you here

When I took the cable car to a hilltop funfair outside of Almaty, I found the coconut shies, gift shops and roller coaster which I had expected. I was more surprised to find these Liverpudlians, frozen in a glade which resounds with their music.

Prayer sock

Like many of the peoples of Central Asia, the Kazakhs attach prayer ribbons to trees in auspicious locations. It seems that some latitute exists with regards to the nature of the ribbons. Alongside the more traditional strips of coloured cloth, this tree sported toilet paper and ... a sock.

Higher! Lower!

Almaty is an enormous uphill grid iron, orientated towards the Tian Shan mountains in the south. This means that directions in Almaty are idiosyncratic. Like many other twentieth century cities, everything is measured in blocks, but in Almaty there is the added dimension of elevation. Thus "Three blocks higher, on the left" is a normal way of describing things. If I am on the right track, I sometimes feel that I am in a gameshow, as the only directions I will get are "higher, higher", or "lower, lower"!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

In search of old Faithful

In 1854 the Russians established a fort here which they named Verny ('Faithful'). The streets around the site of the fort are still colonially chic, with wooden shuttered houses along dust or tarmac roads; younger children play with acorns and building debris, older ones squat pensively in conversation.

Pub Loud

When I feel like a pub,

When I feel like being loud,

I go to Pub Loud!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Day 4: Дома (home)

Arrive in Almaty 10 minutes late (not bad after four nights and 4017km). Met by rain and representative of my school. Snow-capped mountains brooding over the low cloud. Welcomed into spacious flat in 4-storey prefab block by 25-year old Englishman.

Day 3 (part 2): Into the mountains

At last we leave the steppe and climb up into the Black Mountains. By Almaty these will become the White Mountains, topped with snow all year round.

Day 3 (part 1): My sputnik leaves me

Decorated for his service the to the Soviet Airforce in WW2, and for his technical achievements in the USSR afterwards.

My sputnik (travelling companion) in a two-berth compartments, my Kazakh teacher, teller of dirty jokes and sharer of tasty food.

Day 2: Kazakhstan - The Steppe

Grass (and later sand) as far as the eye can see. Sometimes camels, horses, goats, and tiny settlements defying the expanse. Occasionally the domes of a great person's tomb, with a cluster of gabled graves of lesser folk.

Day 1 (part 2): Crossing the Volga

I believe it is a river, but it looks like the sea,

Though it is far removed from its estuary.

Day 1: Rtishchevo (Old Russia)

A perfectly planned grid-iron of 5-storey Khruschev-era blocks, round a central rectangular park with chrysanthemums and pansies. In the middle a bust of Lenin, and at the end a fountain, a Soviet-style hall of fame, and Lenin once again. Blue-and-white chocolate box station finishes the ensemble.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Happy Moscow Day!

I'm off now - train at 10.50pm, arrive Almaty 7.20am Wednesday. No posts till after then.

Friday, 4 September 2009

...and I cannot lie

Loved the opulent Metro stations (but didn't get any decent photos).

Less impressed by the sculpture park (but some redeeming features).

Inevitable "Stalinist" architecture shot

How unoriginal!

(cool though)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Changing trains

Just before dawn on the Poland / Belarus border:
Massive jacks lifted our train into the air, whilst a team of orange-clad workmen (with a little help from a gantry crane) efficiently swapped the Western European gauge wheels for the slightly broader Russian standard.

We were supposed to sleep through this, but I was too excited...

(Have safely arrived in Moscow now.)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

1939 / 2009

Seventy years ago today German troops attacked Poland, leading to the occupation of the west of the country. The Soviets soon attacked and occupied the east.

Today I say farewell to my friends in Berlin, and am to travel in peace through Poland, and on to Moscow, where other friends await my arrival.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Levitating kettle

A kitchen miracle
This levitating kettle!
Self-pouring magic
For chill autumn mornings...

Also had coffee and baklava with Maki at the Musenstube.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Graveyard kiss

A tree kisses a fallen gravestone in the Jewish cemetery, Prenzlauer Berg.

Friday, 28 August 2009


Dacha bbq and office lunch with Luise and her colleagues from the Sunday Tageszeitung (Sonntaz).

Conversation ranged from whether psychoanalysis is worth it to where to get the best Bratwurst (not Berlin).

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Bauhaus Berlin

Visited Bauhaus exhibition with Hans Hack.

Inspired to take photos such as this.

(Nice shoes, too!)

Sunday, 23 August 2009






Saturday, 22 August 2009

My youngest host so far

Provides: cuddles, chamber music, reliable wake-up service.

Also looks after: Mum Kathi, Dad Rory, and older brother.

Also known as: the youngest Elvis impersonator in Düsseldorf.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Brutal Polka

Where? Aachen (a.k.a. Aix-la-Chapelle)

When? All day every day.

Be there!

And so my journey begins...

Breakfast in Exmouth.

Lunch in Oxford.

Supper in Clapham North.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Green tomatoes at dusk

Represent: my parents, home, Devon evenings, potential, growth.

The feelings of: vertigo, of "why am I doing this?"