Thursday, June 5, 2008

Will goes to Kazakhstan

And lives in a train station there.

If I thought that I went into Kyrgyzstan with too little information, I'm surprised I'm not huddled on my bed in the train station now crying in the fetal position. Although, actually, I was close last night since I put my bag at the end of the bed and didn't have enough room to stretch out.

When I went to Kyrgyzstan, to review, I didn't know Russian or Kyrgyz, I didn't know anyone, and I didn't have any plans. When I went to Kazakhstan by taxi yesterday, I didn't know Russian or Kazakh, I didn't know anyone, and I didn't have any plans. I also had all the pages for Almaty, the city I'm at, ripped out of my guidebook, leaving me without a map, without any idea where to stay, and without knowing where to go to eat.

So I'm in Almaty until Saturday night when I take a 40 hour train back to China. Yes, 40 hours. Initially, I was going to get to Almaty, then take a train somewhere, spend a day or two there, and come back in time to go to China. The nearest cities are 15 hours by train, though, and the idea of spending a whole day riding in a train each way as preparation for a 40 hour train ride didn't sound appealing. I also was intimidated by the schedule board that I couldn't read, and the fact that no one speaks English.

Before I came to Kazakhstan, every time I mentioned Almaty I heard "It's very expensive." When I arrived, the other guy riding the taxi with me wanted to be helpful, and told me that I shouldn't go directly to the train station to buy a train ticket and check out the rooms they had there, I should go to a travel agency he knew where they spoke English. I followed his advice, because I was new to the country and thought he might know best, but he didn't. We rode a bus for an hour, trekked around looking for the travel agency, only to find that it didn't do anything international. The hotel nearby was asking more than $200 for one night's stay.

So I went to the train station, worked out a train ticket for Saturday, checked into one of the rooms for a reasonable $12, and even timed my dinner with the rest of the country's so that when I went to a restaurant I could point at others' dishes to order.

I got some money changed into the local currency, Tenge ($1 to 120T), which is much easier to convert in my head than som, which exchanged at an awkward 37. I always found myself converting back to Chinese money in Kyrgyzstan, which only frustrated me at how much more it was. Now, though, I divide by 100 and another fifth and I have the American equivalence. Food seems to cost about the same as it would in America.

My room is in the International Hall of the train station. The room has three beds and a hatrack, and no air conditioning. The door doesn't close very well, but that's okay, since there's another room that attaches to ours and when those people want to leave they have to go through ours. The train station has a bathroom that we can use, and they have a plug where I can charge my laptop. My stuff isn't really safe, but it's unlikely to be stolen since this hotel wing isn't by the rest of the train station.

Today I've walked around looking for Internet and eating. I hope I can find my way back. Tomorrow I don't have plans. On Saturday I can go to a canyon with 50 other tourists and a Russian guide; it might be fun.

My whole situation here kinda sucks. I think it's a bad sign that I'm looking forward to a 40 hour train ride across Kazakhstan.


Mom said...

On one hand, the situation does look pretty bleak. You're lonely and isolated in a country that you don't understand, don't have info about, and can't speak the language. You feel stuck there and you're tired of being in unfamiliar places. You're alone and unhappy; perhaps you would even say you're miserable?
On the other hand, just turning the situation to a different angle, when I read your blog, I see a young man having an amazing adventure. I see you you are using your common sense and haven't resorted to extreme measures to escape your suffering (randomly getting drunk to forget your unhappiness, sleeping with any warm body to forget your loneliness, or spending money for a fancy hotel room to temporarily escape the uncomfortableness).
You could have just gone to the airport and charged a flight to somewhere, anywhere out of there- but you didn't because you have the strength of character to endure a few days of difficulty.
You are wealthy in love by your family and friends, just not in a place right now to experience it. You are wealthy right now in intelligence, but not in a place where it is very useful. You are wealthy in money compared to most people around the world but you are choosing to be uncomfortable now for a short while because you have some long-term goals that you want to pursue later.
Can you somehow twist your thinking to try to get a fresh perspective? And it may be impossible, but you could try to say to yourself "This may be my only time in Almaty in my life. Fifteen years from now when I'm talking with my son, what will I wish I had done today?"
You are a strong and brave man. You can endure hardship. Knowing these qualities about yourself is perhaps the best souvenir of Kazahkstan that a person can get.

Sheri said...

Here is the link to a map that shows his upcoming travel route...

Ardeth said...

Hey Will,
Your last two entries reminded me of some times during my travel when I had HAD IT with travel!!

So here is another mindset for you. Back home we are just experiencing the first black nominee to the presidency of USA!! Dave and I have been in tears reading stories of blacks and whites who grew up in serious racial discrimination and never believed such a day was possible in their lifetime. People who are for Obama, Clinton or McCain are stopping for a minute and marveling at the historic event. We are so LUCKY to have been born in America at this time.

So celebrate your luck, appreciate your Mom's incredible words, and suck it up with a grin. (Isn't this some of the experience you were seeking to be an even more amazing writer??)

Aloha, Ardeth (Virginga's friend)

P.S. You are an amazing writer!!!!!!!!!!!

Mel said...

dude will. you're freakin awesome. i love how nonchalant you are in random countries.
i think, despite being discouraged about your lack of knowledge about the languages, you're in your prime. adventure is at your fingertips. and you're always in a situation of challenge.
i really miss you brotheer :) post some more pictures. i love the pictures!