a lifestyle blog about living in Asia

Archive for the tag “friends”

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,





Hong Kong: the transit city

4 weeks of exam hell (preparation included) and now I am finally back to the fabulous world of blogging.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come to the realisation that HK really is a transit city. I knew on the surface that it was and is a temporary destination for many – as an international financial hub the city attracts talented people from around the world… it wasn’t until I had to say goodbye to some dear friends that I started contemplating the effects of a ‘transit city’ on the expat lifestyle.

People are always coming and going – secondments can be as brief as one to two months and the majority of postgraduate courses only last a year… In and out.

The main advantage of living in a transit city is that people are always open to forming new friendships. However, with that, comes the horrible realisation that sometimes these friendships are short lived – not always by choice, usually because of the surrounding circumstances.

As I was saying goodbye to a new friend, she mentioned that there are 3 types of friends in life:

1)   the ‘best’ friend – they are the ones you have history with and adore, they mean the world to you and you could hang out with them endlessly;

2)   the ‘hang out’ friend – the ones you love to just hang out with and can call on at any time for a laugh;

3)   the ‘fave’ friend – the ones that you don’t necessarily hang out with all the time but they could be a bestie if given the chance– 100% enjoyable to hang out with.

It got me thinking, in the last month, I’ve said goodbye to 1 ‘fave friend’ and 2 ‘hang out friends’ (although… at some point I also had a little crush on one of my ‘hang out friends’). It is kinda sad. My HK family and perception has changed. Transit. My HK family will eventually be an international family – friends scattered around the globe. It is all part of being an expat.


New Traditions: Easter with my new family in Hong Kong


My lasagne – ready to hit the oven… mmmm


family – old and new

New Traditions

Feels like a million years since my last post… Over the last week and a half I’ve played ‘host’ and ‘tour guide’. A dear friend that I studied with in my masters programme was in town… AND THEN!!! Two of my best friends (from Melbourne) spontaneously booked their tickets on Tuesday and Wednesday to come to HK for Easter weekend!

I’ve realised that you only start to appreciate family traditions with age and distance. I come from a big Italian family and the one part of our Italian heritage that lives on post my parents/grandparents immigration to Australia is our love of food. It is our family tradition at Easter (and other religious holidays) to eat lasagne and feast on a variety of salads and meats.Thus, all religious holidays go hand in hand with gutsing ourselves silly until we cannot move. It is fabulous.

I wanted to re-live ‘the feast’ in Hong Kong. On Easter Sunday, after a ‘night of crazy’ that ended at 4:30am, I woke up early to make my mum’s famous lasagne. The menu for our original party of 6 was as follows:

– Cold cut meats and cheese/starters (my friend who is currently kitchen-less was going to bring the first course)

– lasagne (as cooked by moi)

– potato puree with truffle, and a fig, basil and buffalo cheese salad (to be cooked by my foodie friend)

– apple crumble (whipped up by my roomie).

If only it was that easy.

At about 11:20am, one of my party-boy friends called to say he would be making an appearance at my local Church. So at 11:30am I rushed off to Easter mass, leaving the others to sleep/nurse their heads…

Within a few hours that morning, our party of 6 grew to a party of 9. The more the merrier I thought 😛 The 3 additions were close friends anyway and the only reason I didn’t invite them from the very start was my concern about space in our apartment (HK apartments are tiny). Nevertheless, I knew we’d make do; I was happy that they would be joining us for our family lunch.

1:30pm comes and goes… 8 of us are sitting around the table. Starving. My friend, who was doing the starters, is running late. We all keep looking at each other… hunger pains set in. We eventually decide to scoff the salad and potato mash…

2pm arrives… and my friend waltzes in… we all look at her eagerly… she holds up 2 bottles of wine as she screams ‘hiiiiiiiii’…

‘we’ve been waiting – we are starving’ – we all proceed.

‘oh? I brought wine!’ At this point I look around for the plastic bag of cold cuts. Nothing. ‘Do you want to get the cold cuts/starters out?’ I ask.

‘I thought we’d have a liquid lunch!’

My friend had substituted cold cuts for alcohol. It was hilarious. 8 hungry faces look around the table… My best friends from Melbourne look at each other confused that we aren’t feasting in the usual Italian way.

Eventually, one of the (hungry) boys got up with a promise that he would return with glorious food so we could start ‘feasting’. He returned with McDonald chicken nuggets, roasted pork (Chinese style), roasted duck (Chinese style), and some more salad.

I didn’t get my traditional feast, but I did start a new tradition! I had the best time and just thinking about it makes me so grateful for the new friends (and old ones) that I’ve made. My disastrous lunch was fabulous. I hope to do the same thing next year with my new Hong Kong family.

Future Easter menu:

– wine, wine and more wine

– lasagne (some things never change)

– McDonalds chicken nuggets

– roast pork (Chinese style)

– roast duck (Chinese style)

– fig, basil and buffalo cheese salad




 time to eat!!


gimme some of that duck!

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