Friday, December 13, 2013

Tonight, I

Tonight I...

Wore two pairs of tights to walk two blocks,
Drank half a liter of beer in about two minutes,
Lost a beer drinking contest, but
Gained a very eager (prospective) (dermatologist) Turkish bridegroom,
Learned the saying "When Turkish people were born, Chechens cried,"
Toasted that saying, despite (still) not knowing what it meant,
Learned the saying "When Tatars were born, Jews cried,"
Didn't quite learn what that meant, either,
Didn't finish a plate of chechil, for the first time,
Drank to the death of Paul Walker with a bunch of Kazakhstani Fast and Furious fans, and still
Got home by midnight. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A trip to the post office

Yesterday's big outing was a trip to the post office. Now, I've been to the post office before, but that was to pick up a package, which is done in a different part of the building. As with most administrative buildings in Kazakhstan, walking in the front door deposits you into another room with many doors, mostly shut, perhaps a stairway, and several people sitting around. In the case of picking up my package, I walked in at the speed of someone expecting to enter a grand hall, pulled myself up before I hit the back wall, took out the little piece of paper that had been left in my door, and said to one waiting woman, "Excuse me, I don't understand Russian, is this OK?" She said I was in the right place, so I waited. Eventually, one of the small, wooden doors opened, someone walked out, and one of us went in. There's no line, no number, just an honor system among waiters to enter the small room in the order you arrived. After a few people didn't come out for some time, I got worried. But no--when my turn came, I found, in the little room, two middle aged women behind a tall counter and yet another doorway, open this time, leading to a cavernous room of packages, where, after some searching, they found mine.
But yesterday's trip was to the sending away part of the post office, and that was different. It did have a large hall, where people took numbers and waited for their window, like at the DMV--but I didn't spend much time there. I first had to go to the packing and customs area.
I had been told that I should not package my things up before going to the post office--that they would do it there. So I arrived with two bags full of books and clothes that I couldn't pack but can't bear to part with yet. When I got to the counter--just another doorway into a small room with a table pulled in front of it to serve as a counter--they asked what was in the bags. "Books and clothes," I said. "Newspapers." They puttered, they gave me some envelopes for the other letters I'd brought, but they didn't make a move to weigh my bags. They gave me a form--in Russian and French---to fill out. Where I gathered I was to write down the contents of the packages, I wrote "books and clothes" in Russian.

No, no, no. Pointing and explicating, with a great deal of patience, they explained that I had to list each item. I was aghast. Thinking I didn't understand, one lady pushed the table aside, scuttled out the door, and came back with another customer from the big hall who spoke English.
"You have to list all this stuff, you know."
"I get it--but why?"
He shrugged.
"If I come back tomorrow with the bags sealed and just say it's documents do we have to do this?"
He spoke to the ladies and shook his head. "No, you have to."
So the ladies and I emptied my bags and weighed each item, creating a long list that ran down the side of the customs form. Skirts-2-0.438kg. Dresses-3-.332kg. Shoes-1 pair-.129kg. Etc. I couldn't bear the idea of weighing a bunch of my socks in a crowded little closet with people reaching over me for envelopes and things, so I'll be making a larger donation to the Sisters of Mercy than I thought before I go. I also had to list my books, by author and weight. This took some explaining, too, as I simply couldn't believe they were asking me to identify each book by its author and write it down separately, but they did, so I did. Then the lady handed me two more forms to copy my addresses and long list on, as they needed the information in triplicate, of course.
The nice ladies took great care to show me where to go--where to deposit my envelopes and what number to take when I went to a different room to weigh my complete parcel and pay for it. That was more what I expected. When I got to the counter, I was very glad my Russian teacher had declined to teach me useful things like the names of food and how to give detailed directions, but did teach me lots of lovely words like moon and garden and ocean, so when the lady asked me if I wanted my package to go by air I could forcefully say no and say, "by sea."
We then went through my address together, while she jokingly groaned about having to write in English and asked me to check things. "Almost. No, not Russian N. English N." That got a chuckle. The package wasn't that expensive, compared to shipping from Laos, say, or using private shipping companies, but it was still more than I had in cash, but it was no problem for me to run to the ATM in the next room. Again, a great deal of patience. Processes that seem...ridiculous... but yes, kindness and patience. And isn't it nice to find heterogenity, with KFC opening up around the corner and Coca-Cola the world's drink?
It snowed again last night, so the ugly brown slush from yesterday's mini thaw has been all covered up again. It's awfully pretty.