Less youngish, I guess

I have found the best accommodations in Almaty. At least if you conceive, as I do, of “best” as meaning a happy combination of price and quality.Yes indeed. I have taken rooms opposite the Indian embassy.

It was not easy. Of the first two hotels in the guidebook, the first was not a hotel anymore, and the second was closed for repairs. Plus it was raining quite heavily. It was cold. I had to take a long diversion to the Russian embassy (to find out when it opens tomorrow), and I did not immeadiately figure out Almaty’s complex transport system (give me a metro any day).

It was in the nature of a birthday present to myself, I guess. Happy birthday Hayden. Here, have your own apartment with endless hot water, a kitchen, a balcony filled with odds and ends, and a view of the street through the dirty windows. I feel at home already.

My apartment search also generated the nicest comment of my birthday. The woman staffing the apartment bureau said, apropos of nothing just as I came up, “what beautiful eyes you have”. Of course, I take her at her word. And she was hardly in a position to judge the rest of my facial features, seeing as how they are obscured by this hedge.

Birthday celebrations were muted this year. I am still remembering last year’s riot in Singapore perhaps. A movie (the Incredible Hulk – highly recommended if only to make you wonder whether, if you returned to Berkeley to do post-doctoral work in the biosciences, Jennifer Connolly might be in your class), dinner, no sex. Not really a date at all. Particularly since the other participant was a) male, b) Canadian, c) someone I met on my way to the theatre and d) not aware that we were celebrating.

In the course of conversation it turned out that he just loved Georgia. Spent a month there. I hate it when that happens. When I meet people who loved places that I did not love. It makes me doubt my conviction not to return. And if I can never put any country on the “do not go back to these places” list, where will I be?

Turning 30 has rather made me think more about my limits. And it is caused me to criticise myself a little for all the things I have not yet acheived. My list of things to do is long. Perhaps if I had set more defined targets I might have been in a better position now to review my own performance. As it stands, it appears both entirely natural and extremely illogical to take myself to task for not having done this or that when I was never really clear that that was should I have been doing.

Almaty has a disturbing lack of landmarks. I have ridden the cable-car (excitement in itself – particularly for the people across whose property (including open top toilets in the back yard) the cable runs) up to this cafe to see the view. You can see where the city ends and the buildings fade out into steppe all the way out to the horizon. Bizarrely, or perhaps not, there are more trees in the city than outside.

It all begins with big ugly apartment blocks. Then it spreads in lower ugly apartment blocks (the bottom bits of which are shops and other necessaries). Ocassionally there is a massive building (stadium, huge hotel), looking for all the world like it was just plunked down without terribly much thought as to placement. Perhaps it needs a centre. A big square. A statue or two. Some skyscrapers…

It is expensive here. Although I guess I am comparing it with the cheapest of cheap parts of Central Asia, so it is not so seriously seriously expensive. Anyway, what the hell is this? Am I really complaining that some poor country is getting richer? Do I expect them to wallow in endless grinding poverty so that I can get a cheap meal?