26 November 2014

How to sell a car in Astana

I have written before about the lengthy and complicated process of buying a car in Astana.  Selling a car is even more complex. 

Even old cars hold their value well in Astana. Selling them is,
however, time-consuming.
Kazakhstan has just brought in new emissions laws and this means that only newer vehicles that meet the emissions codes may be imported into the country.  This has caused massive problems in the diplomatic community as the cars are registered on red plates without import.  Sale to a new owner is then exempted from import again.  The actual impact of the law is somewhat obscure but the practical effect is that no diplomat is able to sell a car of more than 10 years old – even cars approaching that age will be cheap and difficult to sell.

Our car, which we bought from a local, was not registered to us on red plates but on yellow, expat, plates with all import and duties fully paid by a previous owner.  This meant that our car was exempt from the new legislation.  We considered driving the car to Europe and leaving it with a relative so that we have a European side drive car for mainland holidays but I suspect, given the age of the car and the maintenance history, it would have failed any EU emissions tests and cost a lot of money to bring up to standard.

We did advertise the car for sale through expat channels but expatriate purchasers were reluctant to buy such an old car.  This was probably because of the level of uncertainty on the emissions law and its application to expat purchasers and because of the high costs of second hand imports (cars do not generally depreciate their value in Kazakhstan to the same extent as in Europe).  Our only practical option therefore was to sell to a local purchaser.

This actually made the whole process much easier – we were intending to go to the car mart on the ring road and hawk the car there but the colleague we asked to help us asked instead if he could buy the car from us – this was a perfect solution but I suspect the market would also have been fine as long as we had help with translation.  I could have managed the negotiations and garage work but dealing with the bureaucracy of the transfer without assistance would have been a nightmare.

In order to transfer ownership we had to take the car to the office of the road police some distance out of town, this would de-register our yellow plates.  I came along to drive and allow the purchaser and my husband to hop out and deal with paperwork as necessary.

The first two times we went to the police station the office was closed with computer problems but we were lucky on the third time.  I ended up with the usual experience when driving Kazakh men – ‘could I really drive a manual? (Yes did he want me to show him how)’ ‘did my husband mind being driven by me?’ ‘had I really been driving for 20 years at my age?’ ‘is the UK driving test hard, does everyone really learn on a manual – even the women?’.  I struck a blow for feminism by asking if the purchaser would teach his wife to drive, he considered my question for a while and said it might save him on the cost of a taxi when he and his friends went out to have a drink!  It was all fairly good natured, the purchaser is a lovely man and a good colleague during our time in Astana just with very different cultural expectations. 

After sorting out the plates we had to go to the ‘consul’ – I am not quite sure what we did there but it was, apparently, necessary.  None of us knew where this office was and we ended up driving around the right bank in rush hour calling various colleagues for an address – an hour later we finally tracked it down.  We then had to go to a notary and register the actual transfer of the ownership of the car which would enable to purchaser to get a technical check on the car and apply for numberplates.

We kept the car that night as there was no time to get a tech-check and register new plates.  The next day we passed it over to the purchaser so he could sort out his paperwork.  It was very strange to see the car under a different number that afternoon. 

We managed to get the sale sorted out one week before we left.  If I were doing it again I would start the sale process earlier.  There are so many hurdles to jump to re-register ownership, it took us three days to find the police station open and if any of the other offices had been closed it might have caused problems.  It was a bit of a pain being without the car for the final week and having to rely on other transport means but at least we knew it was sorted and done. 

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Ersatz Expat

20 November 2014

Fresh Spring Rolls - a memory of Cambodia

I wrote recently about how important food and recipes are as a souvenir of my travels around the world.  These delicious fresh spring rolls instantly transport me back to Cambodia and memories of a wonderful Christmas holiday there.  The rolls were on the menu of a cooking course my sister and I indulged in on one of our 'relax' days.  The ingredients (or good substitutes) are generally easy to source in most parts of the world.  I even managed to get the roll papers in Astana!

At the cooking course all ingredients were laid out.  My kitchen is less organised.  

You need:
Rice Paper wrappers (3 per person)
grated carrot
cucumber cut into strips
vermicelli noodles cooked and cooled
sliced spring onions
cooked chicken, shrimp or pork.

Place the rice rolls in a plate of warm water for 5-10s, remove from the water and place on a teatowel.  Put a selection of the ingredients into the roll, fold in the ends over the ingredients and roll up.  It is that simple, you can change the ingredients depending on personal taste and availability.  Serve with the sauce of your choice, I am partial to the following:

Ready to eat.  
You need:
Fish Sauce (3 tbsp)
Palm Sugar (2tbsp)
Lime juice (2tbsp)
Chopped garlic and shallot (1tbsp each)

If you cannot find fish sauce substitute a combination of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  Muscovado sugar will substitute for Palm Sugar. 


Heat the fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice in a pan, cool and add the ginger and shallots.  Many people like to add crushed peanuts to the sauce –chopped ginger and chilli also work well.

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of the expat kitchen.

Ersatz Expat

13 November 2014

Family Visits

One of the defining characteristics of expat life is that it is lived at a distance, sometimes a great distance, from family.  Costs and bureaucracy add to the physical distance but there is an emotional distance too, often overlooked.

Visits help to maintain strong family bonds.
Living abroad changes us – it opens the eyes to experiences beyond the home country, makes you think in a different way.  Some things which seem so important at home become far less so after a few years abroad whereas other rituals which were never very important suddenly become defining characteristics of home and the home culture.  What goes and what stays is different for every expat 

Nevertheless while we change our family stay the same.  Very often they will have no idea of normal day to day life – many expats say their family members think they live in a permanent ‘Club Med’.  Other aspects of the expat lifestyle (housekeepers, drivers etc) may give rise to jealousy even if they are a necessary part of your life abroad.  I never forget the reaction of our family and friends back in Europe when they found out that for one particular posting I was followed everywhere by at least one armed guard. (my parents had more).  To them it sounded impossibly glamorous, to me and my immediate family it meant that there was a threat that had to be taken very seriously.  I worried whenever I was in the UK far away from my parents – never sure whether I would hear (and worse, have to break to my sister) the horrible news that the guards proved necessary. 

Some experiences can't be described over the 'phone
they have to be lived in person.  
These days, of course, my husband, children and I are the ones that are travelling.  My father and sister take this in their stride – it is life as we have always known it.  My husband’s family are experiencing this for the first time, our life is more strange to them and visits more difficult to arrange and undertake. I found, as a child, that it was easier once I had visited my parents in a new location, to imagine their day to day lives and how I fitted in to that.  Because of my itinerant life I have never had a physical home – home has always been about people not place and so family visits mean a lot to me. Family members can visualise how our lives are every day, although of course it is not quite typical as you lay on special experiences – trips to museums, heritage sites or good restaurants.  It is also important for expat children to understand that family will come and visit them and not just wait for the children to go back to the home country.  I loved it when my grandparents visited us in Norway and the UK - I visited my grandparents often and shared in their lives but there was something very special about sharing mine with them.  Our children feel the same and relish being the ones in the know.  During one visit to Kazakhstan Master and Miss EE were spending an afternoon with my father while Mr EE and I were at work, they refused to let him leave the house unless he was wearing enough outdoor clothes.  It was autumn and he thought they were being excessive but they were proved right when, 15 minutes into their trip to the park he was feeling the effects of the steppe wind!  

We have had, in our first three months in Miri, as many visitors as we had during our whole three years in Kazakhstan.  Malaysia is easier and cheaper to get to and there are no visas, it is a holiday destination in its own right.  Kazakhstan was beautiful – and probably far more exotic in the sense that fewer people visit – but many people were put off by the extreme temperatures.  Who wants a holiday in -35 degrees C?

It is important for family to understand where and
how you live to give context when you ring home.
Of course we also have a trump card here in Malaysia – our new baby daughter.  Unsurprisingly everyone in the family wants to meet her and therefore are taking the time to come out and visit.  The nature of these visits is very dependent on the family member.  My sister came to help when the baby was born but took a few days beforehand to explore Sarawak before taking over childcare/school runs for our older two while I was in the hospital.  We have just heard the exciting news that she will come to spend Christmas with us, bringing her new significant other for the first time, they will probably use us as a base - going away for a few days before coming back for a day or two with us.  We expect to see her more than any other family member as she will happily detour to see us on her way to and from any other holiday.

My mother and sister in law came a few weeks after the baby was born.  It was their first trip to Malaysia or even this part of Asia so we made sure to show them as much as possible (trips to see Monkeys, the Miri tourist sites, Lambir Hills etc) and treated my mother in law to her first ever Chinese meal for her 80th birthday.  It was also a chance to spend time with all three of the children.  My mother in law is elderly so may not come out again but we do hope to see my sister in law and the rest of the family in the future. 

Children in particular love to show off their home to visiting family.
My father popped over a few weeks after my in laws left – he had been in Miri years before and sees the older children on skype every week so came primarily to see the baby.  Nevertheless we were able to make some weekend trips – walking on the beach and visiting the Niah Caves heritage site.  The older children had a wonderful time and he taught them to ride their bikes – an experience with him that they will remember for the rest of their lives.  We expect to see a lot of him as well as travel is not difficult for him.  He is retired but still has many voluntary commitments and some remote work so he spends his mornings here ensconced in my office doing his work before spending afternoons ‘en famille’ – the internet meaning he can work here every bit as easily as he can at home. 

There is something so indescribably lovely about spending time, just ordinary time together, having people right there instead of at the end of a phone line and subject to the problems that time zones generate.  As I type this I can hear my father’s voice speaking to my husband in another room and it is a very comforting, happy feeling.  This must be how my parents felt when my sister and I were able to be at home.  Home truly is where the heart is and I love it dearly when all the pieces of my heart can be in the same place at the same time.  

Seychelles Mama

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Ersatz Expat

6 November 2014

Food Souvenirs -

It may seem strange to think of food as a souvenir of your time in country but taste and smell are two wonderfully evocative emotions and can bring back an experience like almost nothing else.  A lot of the food I cook makes me think of growing up with Oma in the Netherlands and helping her prepare meals.  Whenever I have to substitute one ingredient for another I think of my mother’s struggles and creative solutions in her expat kitchen (and thank her for teaching me how to get around such problems). I have a range of British recipes that I have learned to cook and they make me think of the friends who taught me.  Borek transports me back to Turkey, churros to Venezuela, shashlik to Kazakhstan and so on.  
Traditional Christmas pudding - a variation on
my Mother in Law's family recipe.
I shamelessly collect recipes from restaurants – if I like a particular food I find that the chef is usually happy to share.  Sometimes, in out of the way postings restaurants can be a good source of information on where to source ingredients and if you are really lucky and strike up a good friendship they may sell you some part of their wholesale order.  Friends are also an excellent source of recipes – a Turkish friend taught me how to make Baklava and Turkish coffee, a Peruvian friend shared her recipe for causa etc.  I think of them each time I cook their recipes.

Traditional English Scones - recipe courtesy of a family friend.
I have a range of cookbooks that I picked up at various destinations.  Even just reading through them can transport me back to a place and time and it is all the more fun to make food to share with friends.  Of course the internet is a treasure trove of recipes from anywhere and everywhere but there is something so satisfying about a cookery book.

A small selection of books from trips around the world.
In Kazakhstan our housekeeper (a self-confessed mediocre cook) would be fascinated with the recipes I cooked from around the world and I would give samples and translate recipes for her to bring home for her sister to try, they now eat hot cross buns every Easter!  In Nigeria we had a wonderful cook, Johnson, (my mother was required to cater for sit down parties of up to 60 people at least once but often up to three times a week) who loved nothing more than to pore over my mother’s extensive collection of recipes.  He would spend hours preparing shopping lists for dinner parties and experimenting with substitutes.  Other than the failed attempt at profiteroles (substandard flour I believe) everything he turned out was perfect, a real feat given the shopping restrictions in 80’s Warri.  He also copied presentation – I remember a bread pudding where the orientation and number of slices was an exact copy of the picture in the book.  His dream was to open a restaurant – we would happily have helped him set one up but sadly his older brother, head of the family, decided he should continue with the secure work for expat families to support their ageing mother and the family children. 

Meatballs with mash and red cabbage - one of Oma's favourite family meals.
Last Christmas we were in Cambodia spending a holiday with my sister who flew in from the UK.  It was a mutually (in)convenient location and a place we had all wanted to see for  a long time.  I have never had the time to indulge in a cookery course on holiday before now.  Siem Reap, however, has a wide range of cookery classes available and with three adults available to keep an eye on the kids it was possible for two of us to indulge.  It is definitely something I will look into again for future holidays.  Now every time I make fresh spring rolls I remember, not only a terrific holiday in Cambodia but a wonderful afternoon spent with my sister whom I miss very much in the day to day of expat life.
Fresh Spring Rolls - evocative of
a wonderful holiday.

So much of expat life is about impermanence, memories help root us to our own personal history and food memories are some of my favourite. I see this pattern now repeating with my own children - when I cook plov it takes them to Kazakhstan, Yorkshire puddings  (a recently perfected skill) remind them of their granny in the UK.  I wonder what will remind them of me in years to come.

Added to the Expat Life Blog Link where you can find the best expat stories on the web.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Click on the picture for more information on the challenges of the expat kitchen.

Ersatz Expat