There is a small but handsome lake in Gorkiy park and so many trees. There is a small but handsome lake in Gorkiy park and so many trees. There is a small but handsome lake in Gorkiy park and so many trees. There is a small but handsome lake in Gorkiy park and so many trees. There is a small but handsome lake in Gorkiy park and so many trees. There is a small but handsome lake in Gorkiy park and so many trees.

There is a small but handsome lake in Gorkiy park and so many trees.

Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park. Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park. Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park. Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park. Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park. Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park. Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park. Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park.

Today I spent the weekend on two different sides of the city and saw the very cute and also large Gorkiy park.

Today I had more food than I usually have in two days. 

ALSO I FOUND BOBA. IT IS POPPING BOBA AND NOT THE GOOD OLD CLASSIC KIND BUT I TAKE WHAT I CAN GET. Today I had more food than I usually have in two days. 

ALSO I FOUND BOBA. IT IS POPPING BOBA AND NOT THE GOOD OLD CLASSIC KIND BUT I TAKE WHAT I CAN GET. Today I had more food than I usually have in two days. 

ALSO I FOUND BOBA. IT IS POPPING BOBA AND NOT THE GOOD OLD CLASSIC KIND BUT I TAKE WHAT I CAN GET.

Today I had more food than I usually have in two days.

ALSO I FOUND BOBA. IT IS POPPING BOBA AND NOT THE GOOD OLD CLASSIC KIND BUT I TAKE WHAT I CAN GET.

This month has been visually stimulating. This month has been visually stimulating. This month has been visually stimulating. This month has been visually stimulating.

This month has been visually stimulating.

Our building finally had the central heating turned on this week. An exciting day for all, friends: I no longer have to take painfully almost lukewarm showers in the morning. You see, I don’t eat breakfast because the extra sleep is more valuable, so I have to apply heat from the outside to get my body warm in the mornings. I’ve also been sick lately, so the cold has been a nightmare. That first warm shower felt like it washed years off of my age. Ahhhhh, I can taste the SATs.

In other news, we dipped briefly into winter last week, to the point where the rain would turn into snow. That very weekend, I was sitting in the kitchen, nursing my fifth cup of tea that morning where I heard a ruckus coming from behind the cupboards. 

"The construction crew is doing some work in our walls, it seems!" I told my host mother.

"Oh no, that’s the pigeons," she replied. 

Apparently when the weather gets colder, birds fly into the ventilation shaft of our building, all the way down to the lower floors where’s it warmer. That shaft runs right through our kitchen, and you can hear them gracelessly tumbling down past our floor, flapping all the while. Don’t ask me where they sit, I’ve been thinking about that for days. Apparently my host mother’s sister was also scared by the sounds coming from the walls this week, so I am not alone in my confusion.

Also: I finally bought a bag that doesn’t clash with the aesthetic of the average fashion-conscious Kazakh. The literal weight on my back is a figurative weight off of it. The bag is blue and is the perfect size to carry all my A4 sheets and textbooks. I had to lie in every store I visited that I was looking for a gift to avoid lectures about how the bags I was looking at were “men’s bags,” but we all have to make sacrifices. I also had a terrifying first experience bartering, but I scraped some money off of the original price: a victory!

Practical Notes on my First Month in Almaty:

  • Getting a SIM card here is easier than in Russia. You don’t even need to register it to your name. The process of paying for services is the same: deposit money on your phone number at the booths in kiosks. I’m super glad I brought my phone with me, but make sure that if you do the same, your phone is unlocked. My iPhone-using classmates know what I mean.
  • The buses and trolleys run very well here, although they do get packed during rush hour. Buses more so than trolleys, I’m still not sure why. Usually fare transactions happen at a pay station that dispenses paper tickets and your change automatically, unless your bus has a conductor, and then you pay upon exiting the bus. Sometimes, later in the day, the drivers have all their passengers transfer onto the trolley in front of them. I have yet to figure out whether my fare transfers with me, but I never bought a second ticket.
  • Bus fares are a hassle here. Getting enough change to get to campus in the morning can be difficult. As I like to say, here in Almaty, shopping is an exercise in lying. The shopkeeper always lies that they can’t make change in coins, and I lie about the coin purse lying in my pocket whenever they ask if I don’t happen to have change.
  • If you are going to get a monthly bus pass, do it early. They usually run out on the 2nd of the month. It’s a rather expensive pass so I don’t know why they would ever make it possible to run out of monthly passes, but it’s a thing you grumble about and move on. Hopefully our student passes are available next month.
  • You don’t want to drive here. Don’t do it. You can’t handle it.
  • Dressing better, especially when it comes to wearing skirts, can make crossing the street a lot easier. Drivers are more likely to let a pedestrian cross the street in front of them (yes on a green light for the pedestrian - go figure) if they look nice.
  • The air quality here is worse the lower downhill you go, but man are the mountains amazing.
  • Aport Apples are local and delicious.
  • Scarves are a great hood-substitute, with an extra serving of versatility. Girls pull them out of their bags if it ever suddenly starts to rain.
  • Like the sushi (so much cream cheese), korean food here is plentiful but really localized to the Kazakh/Russian palate. That means less spice and a confused me. 
  • Still no word on BobaGate 2014. I have not yet lost hope.
  • No one thinks I’m American when I’m out alone. They think I’m on the far end of the weirdness spectrum, but definitely Russian, local or not. (Pats self on the back.)
  • People are more ritually, publically polite here. It’s a nice change. 
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There’s a tvorozhenniy product that’s plombir flavored and it’s better than ice cream. I’m actively upset that it does not exist in the U.S. 
  • Sleeping is important. Especially when you’re sick.

And on that note. I should get off to bed. I start late tomorrow. It’s fabulous.

Today a cultural festival. My cough is not going away. Today a cultural festival. My cough is not going away. Today a cultural festival. My cough is not going away. Today a cultural festival. My cough is not going away. Today a cultural festival. My cough is not going away.

Today a cultural festival. My cough is not going away.

It’s the first text post of this trip. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been putting off writing about my experiences for a while. It’s a lot easier to keep you all updated in bursts and spurts and let the photos be the commentary, but sometimes you really do need to put things into words. 

I had things I wanted to say but now that I’ve sat down to write them down they’ve all flown out of my head. I guess some things never change. I’ve always had trouble putting stories in my life into a coherent narrative. (I hated that segment of the third grade so much.)

Hello my name is Lena and I grew up in a cinematographic age. My language is montage, I experience life in bursts of colors, my memory is made up of brief impressions of light and sound and smell. I’d like to think that’s how everybody thinks, but I’m not going to make assumptions about the rest of the world. All that I’m saying is that as a result of this, I’m not quite sure how coherent anything I write here can be. I’ll try though.

Almaty is a beautiful place. I’m happier here than I’ve ever been when travelling abroad in Russia, although the reasons for that are ones I’ll ruminate on later. There’s still more to see. I’m reminded of Sochi every morning, when I walk onto campus and see these gorgeous, snow-capped peaks, but (honestly) they are much more impressive than the ones I saw there.

The mountains towering over the head of al Farabi look different every time I see them. Today, for example, we started an hour later than usual, and suddenly the foothills were visible in all their glory. It was invigorating. 

Would you like to know what my typical day is like? I think that’s what these blogs are for. Every morning I wake up to my phone ringing, get ready for class, wait for the water to heat up (it takes forever) and usually neglect to eat. I either take the bus to class (a 45-minute trip) or get driven there when my host mother is teaching on campus. From 8:20 to around noon we’ll have classes - this varies by day, and afterwards we all attend a mix of individual classes or courses associated with our majors. I’m auditing three courses because I’m a heritage speaker and a disgusting over-achiever… or something. Probably: “or something.” My individual courses here are amazing: last time, we spent four hours (in a row, making up for lost hours when I was sick) discussing the grammatical basics of The Verb. That’s right folks. I’m finally learning basic grammar in a way that I can understand. For the first time in my life I’ve finally started to recognize (and differentiate) причастие and депричастие without having to check my notes. Individual study time is a great way to get things explained in a way conducive to your own style of thinking. 

Then I go home very tired and still nursing a cough that actually had me miss a day of class last week. I do my homework, stare blankly into space in an exhausted stupor, eat delicious food, and sleep early. It’s amazing. I never slept early at home.

We finally had a chance to meet students our age yesterday, when we had open discussion circles, and boy was that a breath of fresh air. By “a breath of fresh air” I mean we all thought we would spend 8 months friendless and alone, mechanically going through the days in an academic trance. Now, though, there’s a promise of maybe actually making friends. I don’t know: making friends is complicated enough in the U.S., I have no idea how that’s going to work here, but hopefully something works out. 

I don’t want to be alone.

I actually really need help with mastering how to speak to young people in Russian. I don’t know how to do this. I need to do this here. There is no where else to do this.

Everything will come with time. 

Two days ago we had our first snow. Well, very wet snow that melted as soon as it hit the ground, but I’m from California, it was still a Big Deal. It seems like I’m starting to kind of understand temperature in Celcius. Climate-themed breakthroughs. It’s great. By the way, the heating turns on October 15th throughout the entire city - a month later than it usually gets turned on in Russia, so there’s some climate commentary for you.

I drink a lot of tea. The plombir-flavored yogurt-esque tvorozhennyi produkt here is delicious. I had the legendary aport apple for the first time yesterday and it was deliciously tart. Kazakh dishes are meat-based. Horses are very important. They are friends and food - but not at the same time. Hierarchy is important. Elders are respected everywhere. Never in my life have I seen such actively polite youth in buses. It’s a Thing. It’s great. People dress well here. At least while the weather permits it. 

Generally though, I’m having a great time. Now it’s time for me to sleep.

Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks. Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks.

Lake Issyk formed by way of avalanche. The trip was a really great opportunity to climb all over rocks. I am still sick, but the mountain air was a nice break from the exhaust filled city. But look at these cool small rocks and also big, old rocks.

We went up to the mountains yesterday. So I present to you a photo essay titled “Travel summarized through photos of mountains.” We went up to the mountains yesterday. So I present to you a photo essay titled “Travel summarized through photos of mountains.” We went up to the mountains yesterday. So I present to you a photo essay titled “Travel summarized through photos of mountains.” We went up to the mountains yesterday. So I present to you a photo essay titled “Travel summarized through photos of mountains.” We went up to the mountains yesterday. So I present to you a photo essay titled “Travel summarized through photos of mountains.”

We went up to the mountains yesterday. So I present to you a photo essay titled “Travel summarized through photos of mountains.”

My search for boba in the very люкс shopping mall did not prove fruitful, but I did find sushi and took a higher altitude photo of the back of campus. A real campus, folks! 

But really, home dinners are even more satisfying than sushi. 

Also: my independent studies notebook is emblazoned with a very cute puppy. That’s right dear readers,  I don’t work in race car notebooks like the others. No, I’m an individual. 

Puppies! What else could I want in life? 

(The answer is boba.) My search for boba in the very люкс shopping mall did not prove fruitful, but I did find sushi and took a higher altitude photo of the back of campus. A real campus, folks! 

But really, home dinners are even more satisfying than sushi. 

Also: my independent studies notebook is emblazoned with a very cute puppy. That’s right dear readers,  I don’t work in race car notebooks like the others. No, I’m an individual. 

Puppies! What else could I want in life? 

(The answer is boba.) My search for boba in the very люкс shopping mall did not prove fruitful, but I did find sushi and took a higher altitude photo of the back of campus. A real campus, folks! 

But really, home dinners are even more satisfying than sushi. 

Also: my independent studies notebook is emblazoned with a very cute puppy. That’s right dear readers,  I don’t work in race car notebooks like the others. No, I’m an individual. 

Puppies! What else could I want in life? 

(The answer is boba.) My search for boba in the very люкс shopping mall did not prove fruitful, but I did find sushi and took a higher altitude photo of the back of campus. A real campus, folks! 

But really, home dinners are even more satisfying than sushi. 

Also: my independent studies notebook is emblazoned with a very cute puppy. That’s right dear readers,  I don’t work in race car notebooks like the others. No, I’m an individual. 

Puppies! What else could I want in life? 

(The answer is boba.) My search for boba in the very люкс shopping mall did not prove fruitful, but I did find sushi and took a higher altitude photo of the back of campus. A real campus, folks! 

But really, home dinners are even more satisfying than sushi. 

Also: my independent studies notebook is emblazoned with a very cute puppy. That’s right dear readers,  I don’t work in race car notebooks like the others. No, I’m an individual. 

Puppies! What else could I want in life? 

(The answer is boba.)

My search for boba in the very люкс shopping mall did not prove fruitful, but I did find sushi and took a higher altitude photo of the back of campus. A real campus, folks!

But really, home dinners are even more satisfying than sushi.

Also: my independent studies notebook is emblazoned with a very cute puppy. That’s right dear readers, I don’t work in race car notebooks like the others. No, I’m an individual.

Puppies! What else could I want in life?

(The answer is boba.)