15 April 2013

How to find an address in Astana

I have found that there is very little that cannot be bought in Astana as long as you know where to look.  Next week our children’s school celebrates International World Book Day, the day is designed to promote a love of reading in children and is hugely popular with kids, not so much for the parents who have to find or make a literary themed costume. 

I have always made costumes for the children but just as I finished this year’s creations I found the address details of a theatrical costume shop in the city so I decided to have a look for future reference.  Of course, in order to visit the shop I had to find it first.  This is sometimes easier said than done as addresses in Astana are not always where they should be. It is not uncommon for a building to have an address on one road but an entrance on another. 

I thought that I would be lucky as they had a map on their website, this should have raised a warning as these maps are notoriously inaccurate.  Nevertheless, filled with confidence a friend and I hopped in the car and drove over to Imanov Street in the old city. She had the address and a map printed from the website and directed me to park in front of where it should be, we got out of the car to find ourselves parked in front of a hospital.  As there was no hospital marked on our map we thought we might not be quite where we needed to be.  Undaunted we decided to walk around the block to see what we could find.  Although we had parked on one of the main streets in the old town as soon as we walked into a side street we could have been in a village and we found ourselves walking along an unmade road lined with small, somewhat tumbledown houses. 

It was clear that there were no costume shops in the vicinity so we went back to the hospital to ask directions.  Some old men were sitting outside were happy to speak with us.  Where were we from?  Did we like Kazakhstan?  They wanted to practice their English and were very impressed that my friend could speak Kazakh but 10 minutes later and it became clear that they could not help us.  We looked down the road and saw a bank so went in to ask the Okhrana (security staff) for directions.  We were given a vague wave of the hand in the opposite direction down Imanov to that indicated on the map but since that had been wrong we decided to try this suggestion.  It turned out that we were right – the vague suggestion was a better bet than the map and we eventually found the shop down a side street.  A simple error meant that map on the website had placed south on the top instead or north.

This is not an unusual experience in Astana, addresses are usually unclear and map skills do not seem routinely to be taught in school.  It is not helped by the fact that streets sometimes have two names, one Kazakh and one Russian and the name on the map is not always the name in common usage.  When we first arrived I asked someone where I could find Keruen (our closest mall).  I took out our map and pointed to our house expecting that she would then be able to give us directions.  This was overly optimistic on my part as she waved vaguely in the direction of the Ak Orda (the President’s Palace).  We had walked there the day before and seen no sight of a large mall. It turned out that the mall is midway along Nurzhol Boulevard between the Ak Orda and Khan Shatyr, nowhere near where she pointed.

At the time we thought this might have been a one off, a fluke, but since then people have sent us on the wrong road out of town when we have asked for directions to other cities and taxis (on a flat fare) have taken us the most illogical routs from A to B. Before we bought our car we walked 4km up and then down the entire length of a road looking for a bar where we had agreed to meet a friend; it was not there, we could not find it.  Feeling rather stupid we called them and they were in the bar, yes we were on the correct road, it was close to a crossroads with another street.  We looked again at every building within one block of that crossroads, no bar.  An hour later feeling very cold (-20) and rather fed up we gave up on the rendezvous and went elsewhere.  The next day our friend checked with another acquaintance and shamefacedly admitted to us they had given us the wrong road name.

On one particularly memorable occasion I had to give our electrician a lift to the electric mart to pick up some cabling and fuses for our home.  I needed directions to the shop not having been there before.  When I left I was going to drive the fastest route back, there was a little bit of traffic but nothing that would have added more than 10 minutes to the 20 minute drive.  The electrician was horrified by this and suggested that I could not possibly drive back that way – he knew a short cut.  I was a little dubious as I thought I knew the quickest way possible to get home but decided to go with the ‘local knowledge’.  Every time we hit a small amount of traffic he directed me on another short cut.  This short cut became wilder and wilder as the journey continued and I was directed on increasingly elaborate manoeuvres:  U turns, the wrong way down one way streets and illegal left turns.  The 20 minute journey ended up taking 2 hours but when we arrived he was beaming – was I not pleased that we had avoided all the traffic!

I do wonder if he was testing my driving skills.  On the way to the shop he was surprised to see I was driving a stick shift.  Most cars here, even 4x4’s are automatics and it took us some time to track down a proper, mechanical car.  These cars tend to be used for hunting expeditions where the 4x4 capability can become necessary and it is vanishingly rare to see a woman drive one.  He was intrigued at this ‘could I drive it properly?’ ‘did I not want an automatic?’ and I had him roaring with laughter when I pointed out that I wanted to be the boss not the car.  He admitted that he could only drive an automatic and I really do think he may have wanted to see whether I was as good as my boast.

It is all rather good fun and we have learned to leave extra ‘searching’ time when we am going somewhere for the first visit, this means we can keep our sense of perspective and not get too frustrated.  In this instance the expedition was worth the effort, the costumes in the shop were very good quality and very reasonably priced to hire.  Next time the children need to dress up I will be saving my eyesight and time and just pop down there instead.  

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat

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