Kazakh Chronicles (2)

  • I was mostly lucky, weather-wise, but this is no Mediterranean island: +50 °C summers and -30 °C winters remind you that you’re sitting between Siberia and the Gobi desert
  • Although it has huge oil reserves, dirt-cheap gas is not part of a Venezuelan-style social contract; regular sells for about $1/liter – having said that, kazakhis love big cars, a fondness only partially explained by the tough winters.
  • Speaking of cars, I think this is the only country in the world where you can pick your choice of left and right-hand drive cars, the latter being much cheaper; when the government tried to ban them, people protested and officials caved in, pulling the ban.
  • There are taxis. Oh, yes, like millions of them. Essentially anyone spotting a person gesturing for a cab can stop and haggle a price for the ride. How professional taxi drivers manage to make any money is a mystery to me.
  • I had both kazakh food and uzbek food – the latter is more elaborate and frankly overall better tasting. If you like horsemeat, however, this is the place for you.
  • I wasn’t able to identify a kazakh type for the boys: they range from the heavily built to the very lean, reflecting the ethnic mix; girls however are almost invariably very attractive, tall and slender, morphing over time into rather stocky wives. Diet, pregnancies, sloppiness? Who knows.
  • Turning to Social Media, it seems most of the issues are the same facing us in the west, demonstrating that the fear of losing control has nothing to do with the recent history of the country.
  • Trolling seems – however – a big problem. Companies and politicians hire professional trolls whose job is to provoke the opponent into saying something they shouldn’t be saying to then use it against them. In the breakout session moderated by Larissa some of the panelists relayed tales of destroyed reputations because of this. Everyone seemed quite surprised to learn that trolls are, at most, a curiosity in the west and simply calling them out as such is usually sufficient for the rest of the audience to tune out. Not so here: one of the panelists illustrated a list of tip on how to defend yourself from trolls, item #1 being “Use humour”. Rather disturbingly, I got the sense that public relations is (at least by some) equated to “positive trolling”; not so flattering…

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