I took the train from Urumqi to Almaty, Kazakhstan on Monday, July 3rd. I presented my brand-new Kazakh entry visa at the border and got across no problem (unless you count waiting 6 hours as a problem...)
Quick fact: the Kazakh language is closely related to Uighur, Kyrgyz and Turkish, and although the new president is pushing Kazakh language prevalence over Russian, Russian is still the major language of education and business in this former Soviet Republic.
Almaty isn't the capital of Kazakhstan, but it's the biggest city, so it's the place to be. Unfortunately, I found out pretty quickly that if you don't speak the language(s) it isn't the place to be. I walked around the city a lot and scrambled to learn Russian as fast as I could. I totally support ethno-linguistic group language preservation, so I was going to try to learn Kazakh, but if you've ever tried to find an English-Kazakh language primer in China... well, I bet you haven't. So Russian it is. Anyway, Almaty was fascinating for what bit was (central asia, man!) but, I'm sorry to say, not a friendly town. So, on Friday, having spent a few days of not-being-helped by various aloof locals, I gave up and hopped a bus for Kyrgyzstan. Which is where I am now. And the rest is going to wait because I've got secret stuff to do!! Later fools!
3 awesome things about otherwise not-awesome Almaty:
- The Kazakh flag is the most beautiful flag in the world.
- I ate at an awesome Hare Krishna restaurant. The Hare Krishnas have been harrassed on and off by the Kazakh goverment, but they're still in operation, I was happy to see. I was going to go out to their farm, but the seat of my pants flew to Kyrgyzstan before I could.
- I arrived in Almaty with no place to stay, but one of my Chinese cabinmates from the train had a friend meet him at the station (a Chinese friend living in Almaty) and this friend, unsolicited: gave me some Kazakh money/drove me to a hotel in his car with a right-side steering wheel even though they drive on the right side of the road/paid for my first night/left without giving me a phone number or anything. Wo-oah. I know. What a sweet stranger!