Kazachstan, November 2006

(written in November 2006 )
Flight hours, a theme which is always causing heated discussions at our home due to the conflict of interest between my significant other from her professional perspective and myself as a frequent customer of airlines. But here I am : in Astana International Airport at 3 am local time waiting for my 4:20 flight to Frankfurt and then connecting to Copenhagen… 4:20 am in the morning. In Brussels International airport this is probably not longer possible with the recent environment laws. To set the picture, 4:20 means be in the airport around 2:20, leave the hotel around 2:00, get out of bed around 1:30 local time, which is actually 8:30 Belgian time. So I took the decision not to go to sleep at all and hope my developed air plane coach seat sleeping skills over the Atlantic to pay off in the other direction as well.

IMG_3067.JPGBut hey, I am in Kazakhstan! I was in Astana, the new capital, for the last 3 days, visiting some customers and partners of my employer. Quite similar to Moscow, where I was 1 month ago, this is clearly a country of old and new : and old capital and a new capital, old structures and new structures, old habits and new habits,…

The most significant project is clearly building the new capital south of Astana, it must be the most impressive building site I have ever seen. Think about Las Vegas without the neon and with civil servants in suits instead of tourists with Hawaii shirts . Most buildings, if finished, are to be compared to the average US skyscraper. They are not building one or two of these. There are at least 20-30 buildings I could identify, most will host ministries and other government companies. On the border I could also notice some signs of famous international companies, mainly banks. Central to the new city I noticed some “constructions”, a sphere on a metal skeleton and 2 gold coloured cylinders, each about 30-40 meters high. Nobody knew of what the purpose was. The site is symbolically surrounded by 4 major buildings : the presidents white house (with Kazakh-turquoise cupola), the ministry of defence, the ministry of interior and the headquarters of the Kazakh Oil & Gas companies.
kazOil.jpg
I am little bit used to the redevelopment of the European quarter is Brussels, but this is a totally other scale. There is a Berlaymont on every corner.
The term “green field” is quite a good description of the original site, 2 km south of the “old” Astana, there was nothing, just nothing. Steppes is the correct word for this endless field of .. nothing. The steppes are still there, passing the last building of the new site you can immediately see the steppes, the nothing, with one road passing through it ( 6 lanes as expected ) going to the new airport, 15 km further down south.

There are very little hotels in Astana. Looking at the fact there are very little foreign visitors explains this, after all this is a national capital, not an international oriented city. People also speak very little English, as they are already suffering from bi-linguity as we Belgians are very used to : Kazakh and Russian are spoken here by almost everyone. And I have not met a lot of other non-Russian speaking people, so there is very little incentive to pick up English, I had to negotiate taxi fare with the driver using our fingers, strangely enough before we agreed on the currency.
The hotel I had was quite convenient, it had wired and wireless internet connection, English speaking personnel, a decent restaurant and a bar with Belgian beer on tap, as everywhere in Kazakhstan ; Stella, Leffe and Hoegaarden all on draught and with matching glasses, both in 33cl and 50cl format.

By the way, check out the Kazakh Federal Portal, powered by BEA WebLogic Portal !


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  1 comment for “Kazachstan, November 2006

  1. aliya
    augustus 13, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Hi, i’m a citizen of Astana, and i’ve read your writings about it. I’m glad to hear you liked our buildings, but you must see the city now, it became more beautiful. And “a sphere on a metal skeleton” is called “Baiterek”, don’t know how to translate it into English, but it’s a name of a giant tree. Baiterek is a symbol of Astana. This year on July 6, we celebrated 10th anniversary of Astana, having number of big concerts. Whitney Houston performed on one of them.

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