August 1, 2017

Back to Kazakhstan day 8: Expo 2017

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It's my last day in Kazakhstan, and I'm a little weary from all the traveling while carrying my heavy camera bag.  I decided to lounge around in my hotel room a little longer than I had planned to, then took a taxi to visit Expo 2017.  As usual the hotel reception called for a "city taxi" (read: regular car willing to pick up passengers for money).

Fortunately it was still relatively early - just after 10 a.m. - and I didn't have to wait in line long for a ticket.

Not that I have covered most of Astana on foot over the last few days, but the Expo is pretty much the only place in the city where I have seen recycling bins.

I haven't been to an Expo since Tsukuba '85 when I was still in high school, but I figured that at any expo, it's imperative to go and visit the host country's pavilion.  So I dutifully went inside the giant ball that is the Kazakhstan Pavilion.

There were lots of different displays about energy products - since that's the theme of this expo.  One of the video/multimedia displays is housed inside a yurt-like structure...

The theme for the top floor of the pavilion is "Space Energy", and there are displays about the International Space Station and more - given that Baikonur now is currently the only spaceport that still launches regularly-scheduled manned missions. We see a display of astronaut food from the Italians, as well as a Lavazza coffee machine made for the ISS.

I was running out of time and could only spend less than 2 hours at the Expo, so I hurriedly exited and went back to the Hilton Garden Inn Astana to take one last shower (my fourth in 24 hours) before checking out.

I was meeting my fellow traveler Kevin for lunch, and Fine Food Dude had mentioned that the national cuisine at Arnau (Арнау) was pretty good when he visited earlier this year.  It was a short distance from my hotel, across Lover's Park, so I slung my big, heavy camera bag across my shoulder and decided to walk.  I was sweating and cursing a little under my breath after 18 minutes...

With just the two of us instead of the original three, the number of dishes we could try was limited.

"Asyp" national lamb sausages (Асып национальная колбаса из баранины) - this was OK.  Probably made with some offal, and the texture was a little dry and hard.  Served with some yogurt on the side and the stereotypical tomato/cucumber salad.

Besbarmak sturgeon (Бесбармак из осетрины) - Kevin was curious to try a besbarmak dish that does not feature horse, so we decided to go with this.  This was alright.  The slices of sturgeon had some collagen, so texture-wise it seemed similar to eating slices of pork collar.

Finally, a proper besbarmak with a bowl of soup on the side!  This was, of course, sturgeon broth and not lamb broth.  There was also a small pile of cheese made from cow's milk, which was soft and lightly acidic.  One is meant to add the cheese to the broth.

Lamb kuyrdak (Куырдак из баранины) - not a fan.  The stir-fried cubes of lamb were a little on the tough and dry side, although there was the occasional piece of liver besides the potato that made it a little more interesting.

Kazakh sweets (Казаxские сладости) - I think these are just different variations of jent (жент).  The cookies in front have a powdery and grainy texture, almost like a Tibetan tsampa (རྩམ་པ་).   The ones in the middle were made with raisins and have a sticky and wet texture.  The ones at the back were more dry, like the ones on the left, but with cinnamon.  Kinda an acquired taste, I guess.

I was a little ambivalent about drinking local wines, but I knew that Kevin really wanted to try more bottles, so we ended up ordering something off the wine list that cost more than our food...

2013 Sary Arba Rkatsiteli - some fragrance in the nose here, floral, a little pine.  A little alcoholic, pretty ripe and hot on the palate, with good acidity on the finish.

I bid Kevin farewell, hung out in the lobby of my hotel for a little longer, and headed to Astana Airport to start my journey home.  This would be a long, 3-legged journey with two layovers...

Upon arrival at Almaty Airport with two hours to kill, I headed back up to the departure level and found myself a table at Сат Сапар. This time around I decided not to have the besbarmak, and ordered myself something different.

Frying mutton (баранина на сковороде) - not as tasty as I had hoped.  The mutton chunks were a little tough, and in fact the flavors weren't all that great, either.  Not enough mutton fat...

Check-in time came around, and the process was pretty straightforward.  I stood in front of the immigration counter, and it all seemed to go smoothly as I saw the officer stamp my boarding pass, stamp my immigration card...

...then she stopped just before stamping my passport.

She started counting with her fingers, seemingly immersed in thought.  Then she picked up the phone and called someone.  She re-scanned my passport.  Multiple times.  Got on the phone again.  I was stuck in front of her counter, and holding up the line of people waiting to get through.  I was a little anxious, as something was clearly wrong.  While I knew that I hadn't committed any crimes worthy of being detained, deep down a sense of uneasiness began to emerge.

After what seemed like an eternity, another officer came over and took my passport.  He motioned for me and another man from Mainland China to follow him to his office, and we dutifully complied.  This looked like the proverbial "let's-go-to-a-room-so-I-can-do-a-strip/cavity-search" experience, and the anxiety level started to build up...

Once seated in front of the officer's desk, I confessed that I had no idea why the two of us had not cleared immigration.  Well, Kazakhstan law states that foreign visitors (apparently with some exceptions depending on which passport you carry) are required to register with local police within 5 working days after arriving in the country.  This was printed on the back of the immigration cards that we had to fill out, but it had escaped my mind.  I had assumed that this was something that a major hotel like Hilton would have done on my behalf, but they didn't have my full itinerary.  Saying that I had spent 3 days in Baikonur - technically a concession administered by Russia and not Kazakhstan - didn't seem to help.  Today was the 6th working day since I entered Kazakhstan, and I had clearly contravened the local law.

Thankfully the officer was in a good mood.  This was our first offence, and I was helping him translate the discussion with the other passenger.  He proceeded to input our personal information into his computer, printed out a multi-page document in Kazakh - which neither of us could read - and asked us to sign the "warning letter" and apologize for our transgression.  Not having much choice in the matter - and keeping our boarding time in mind - we complied with the officer's demand.  We were then given back our passports and allowed to board our flight.

That was an experience worthy of a bucket list... and literally my last memory from Kazakhstan on this trip.  These 8 days I spent back here have certainly been very memorable!


Unknown said...

My immigration officer warned me that we can at most transgress this law twice. So next trip will be the last chance to register at police. Otherwise we must appear at local court.

Unknown said...

My immigration officer warned me that we can at most transgress this law twice. So next trip will be the last chance to register at police. Otherwise we must appear at local court.


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