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Let’s go: Kazakhstan


“What? You are going to Kazakhstan?”


“For new years eve?”


“Wow. Why?”

“Why not?”



Most conversations leading up to, and those conversations on my return from Kazakhstan were much the same – those who would inquire about my holiday plans would be in disbelief, sometimes there was general confusion – why would I spend 1 week of my very limited holiday time visiting the unconventional, yet culturally diverse, Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan – a place famed for the satirical documentary, Borat, rich in natural resources, in the heart of central Asia. Kazakhstan – the destination of my first ‘stan’ trip. Kazakhstan – my new highly recommended destination for all adventurers.

And, so I set off, direct flight with Air Astana from Hong Kong to Almaty, where I would meet my dear, Kazakh friend and hostess with the mostess, Aliya. Aliya, like many young Kazakh people, is well travelled and educated abroad; we met several years ago whilst studying our masters in my hometown of Melbourne.

Wrapped up tightly in thermals and a feather down jacket, we ventured out of the airport, a nice – 17 degrees, to her four-wheel drive. Her friend was also with us, having just flown in from another city of Kazakhstan.

The “Borat” conversation was over within the first 5 minutes of our drive… What do I mean by the Borat conversation… well… Some Kazakh people find it rather entertaining that most (not all) Westerners associate the country with the movie… And to be honest, that movie, as ridiculous as it is, captured the cultural ignorance of some, whilst giving me my first, albeit false, impression of the country.

Almaty is the “old” capital of the country, whereas, Astana, the “new” capital, is a growing city that received its title upon the break up of the Soviet Union. Like the good ol’ rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, or Beijing and Shanghai, there is much political tension between the cities, possibly because Astana is the President’s preferred city.  Most people speak Kazakh (which was suppressed during Soviet times but is becoming increasingly popular these days) and Russian.

I had arrived just in time for all the New Year celebrations. As a Muslim country, Christmas is rarely, if not at all, celebrated. It is New Years Eve that attracts several days of public holidays. Families get together, people feast and give gifts and after a couple of days of partying in the city, people hit the slopes. I am told this is the typical turn of events.

On New Years Eve, we feasted with Aliya’s family on local cuisine such as a horse stew (it was surprisingly succulent), bread type dumplings, and several salads with a Russian twist (with eggs, beets, pickles, potatoes etc).  We drank vodka, as well as lots of tea (another popular choice), and for digestion, we had camel and horse milk. The kids let off fireworks in the backyard and then scoffed sweet cakes and local desserts like a millet based slice and a milk curd slice. At 12am, the family, kids and all, watched the President’s speech. And then… it was time to hit the upscale, VIP/invitation only club, Don’t Worry Papa…Papa should’ve been worried! There were hot Ukrainian go-go dancers on the bar, and French dj’s – it was the ‘it’ party in Almaty.


I quickly learned that Kazahk girls are seldom bothered by the cold weather outside (-10 and below). In short skirts, and super high heels, immaculate hair and make-up, the girls make their way around the icy city. Day and night – these girls look stunning. No track-pants or ugly beanies in sight.

As well as partying, I was fortunate to hit the slopes, namely Shymbulak (home of the Asian Winter Games 2011 and bid destination for the Winter Olympics 2018) and Akbulak. As one who prefers après skiing, having had the luxury of ‘playing’ in New Zealand, Japan and Canada, these slopes were most definitely comparable. And, so we ventured out, me, the beginner, and my friend, the snowboarding queen – we spent several days on the mountains.

If skiing and general snow-bunny-fun is not your thing, Almaty has a number of other tourist sights – all accessible in Winter (something tells me though, that they are even more beautiful in the Summer).

For a great view of the city, take the funicular to Kok Tube Hill. Wander through the great patriotic war memorial in Panfilov Park, and visit the Zenkov Cathedral for some interesting pics.

In terms of food, Almaty has some very trendy and delicious multi-cultural offerings. Try Navat for something close to the local cuisine. And, whilst in the area, why not try some Georgian or Russian offerings – plenty of restaurants to choose from. If you want to be seen, El Mirador is the place to dine and drink– the food is good quality (not necessarily the best meal of your life but very tasty!) and the shisha (another popular past time) is light and flavoursome.

I could go on and on about my time in Almaty and my adopted Kazakh family! It was one of the best trips of my life. I hope that I get the opportunity to return to Almaty and also visit Astana and surrounding cities over the summer – hiking the mountainous terrain and learning more about the diverse cultural influences of the Mongols and Russians would be an absolute privilege.

Love from your Kazakh convert,





The Staff Christmas Party

Do’s and don’ts


1. If your Christmas party is held straight after work, be kind to your co-workers – bring the following necessities to work to prep:

–       a toothbrush – no one likes to have a conversation with Mr Bad Breath.

–       re-apply deodorant – it is highly likely that you’ll throw your arms up at one point or another, whether it be whilst dancing or high fiving your co-workers.

–       put on your face – in other words, touch up your make up.

2. Dress to the theme – if your party is themed, don’t be the party pooper who is too scared to laugh at themselves. Don’t be afraid to look ridiculous. Run with the pack and don’t be the odd one out – you will draw more attention to yourself if you don’t dress to the theme.

3. Bring everything with you (jacket, phone, wallet etc)– do not return to the office!

Last year, a junior team member at my firm, returned to the office after drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Our Christmas party was themed, so he was dressed head to toe in blue spandex (as an Avatar). At about 10:30pm, he decided he would go back to the office to pick up his jacket and phone but instead vomited all over himself, the office and the toilets. What made this worse was the fact that when he went to the toilets, he forgot his swipe pass and got locked out of the office. He passed out only to be found the next day by the cleaners who thought this “blue man” was some sort of intruder.  

4. Talk to people you don’t know – “Hi, I’m X, I work in the X team. I don’t think we have met before?”

5. Avoid conversations that lead back to your work – yes, work might be a common feature of your relationship with your colleagues but sometimes it is nice to have other things to talk about – sport, food, travel, Christmas plans etc.

6. Enter quietly and leave discretely – it is not cool to be the first one at the party or the last one to leave.

7. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol to the point that you do not remember what happened – remember, these people have to see you daily.

8. Stay off social media sites – some workplaces have strict social media guidelines – a dirty photo here or there could actually result in some sort of disciplinary action – be careful!

9. Eat! And drink! (Your boss is paying!)

10. Have fun! 


The Surgical Mask

The surgical mask – your fashion (albeit germ-conscious) friend

ImageReviving the blog… with a post about the surgical mask and its popularity in Asia.

In my mind, the only place you would find a surgical mask is at a medical clinic or hospital. But in Hong Kong – if you are feeling sick, it is totally the norm to wear a mask.

My initial thought when I saw people wearing a mask was: EW. DISEASE. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. WHY ARE YOU IN PUBLIC. It is very uncommon to wear a mask when sick in Western culture. When you think about why people would wear a mask and the reasons behind it, it makes a little more sense – it prevents the spread of germs – (duh) – but that is never really our first thought. And, in a city of 7 million + ppl, that is an immensely important (and a considerate) thing to do.

…ESPECIALLY when you consider the whole SARS ordeal in 2003…H7N9 (not that it has been confirmed to spread human-to-human)… and other random strains of disease that seem to be taking over the world *think World War Z style.

Now that I’ve lived in Asia a couple of years, I’m not going to lie – I’m quite the fan of covering my face with a pretty blue or green surgical mask. In fact, wearing such an interesting accessory might be appropriate in situations other than as a prevention of disease… for example… when you need to use a dirty, public squat toilet (anywhere in Asia) and you need to mask the smells… or when you are having an incredibly rough day at work and want to spend the entire time crying… it is more than likely people will avoid you when that mask covers half your face… no one can see your frown…OR… (my personal fave) to hide that horrible puss filled, red, inflamed zit.

So, next time you see someone with a surgical mask, say a little thank you; they are sparing you their germs.





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