I traveled extensively to Almaty, Kazakhstan. I lived there for four years. The first time was two years between 1995 and 1997; the second time was between 2007 and 2008, and the third time was between 2009 and 2010. Why did I choose to live there? While I was working on my Master's degree, I met a beautiful young lady, and I decided to follow her back to her country after completing my Master's degree. I took my degree in economics and traveled half way across the world, searching for an adventure. I was lucky and found a job with the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research (KIMEP). I taught there between 1995 and 1997, and it was one of the happiest times of my life. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the faculty, studious students, and occasionally a beautiful woman throwing herself at me.
KIMEP occupies a building that was the former Communist institute, which educated Kazakh citizens about Communism. When the Republic of Kazakhstan seceded from the Soviet Union, this facility became vacant. In 1992, President Nazerbayev donated this facility, and it became a Western business school. In the beginning, all the professors were from Western Europe and the United States. I had a great time there and regretted my decision to resign. Most of the students were engineers, mathematicians, and scientists, who were eager to change careers and study business.
When I first arrived in Almaty in 1995, I suffered severe adjustment problems. Their living standard is half the United States. Early in the morning, I went to the courtyard to buy milk from a vendor, who sold it from his car trunk. Then I took it home, and gently heated the milk on the stove to pasteurize it. Processed foods were hard to find, because many families prepared meals from scratch. The stores were dirty looking; the clerks were rude, and the stores have a little variety. Instead, I would shop at a bazar, which is an open market. Merchants sell their goods on small tables, and literally you could walk for miles, looking at merchandise.
Then Kazakhstan started to develop. President Nazarbayev opened Kazakhstan to free markets, and Kazakhs started to become wealthy. When I returned in 2007, I was startled by the changes. Many new modern grocery stores sprang up that served freshly prepared salads and casseroles in the deli. The days were long gone where I would spend hours slaving in a kitchen for hot food. A large variety of cuisines is available in Almaty, including American fast food, Mexican, and Chinese cuisines. When I left in 2010, a little stand called Begemont started making real hamburgers. Although hamburgers were always popular in Kazakhstan, the traditional hamburgers were a flatten meatball with breading.
Of course with modernization, Almaty inherited the problems of a hustle and bustle city. The first problem is cars. The streets in Almaty are too narrow, and it was never meant for heavy traffic. Cars were a luxury in the Soviet Union, and the Soviet planners did not accommodate them. In 2007, cars were everywhere and so were car pollution and traffic jams. Unfortunately, Almaty is next to the Tien Shan mountain range that prevents wind blowing through the city, causing the pollution levels to build up. The second problem is the rapid appreciation of housing prices. A condominium was approximately $5,000 in 1995, and quickly appreciated to $100,000. Finally, the Kazakh women are more materialistic. They want designer Italian clothes, purses, and footwear.
Then everything changed in Kazakhstan after the 2008 Financial Crisis. I do not know whether President Nazarbayev gave up on capitalism, or wants to consolidate and protect his power. After 2008, Kazakhstan is reverting back to the Soviet System. This is completely astonishing! Kazakhstan experienced tremendous economic growth, and achieved an 8% unemployment rate. However, many remnants of the Soviet Union remain, and are beginning to rear its ugly head again. Unfortunately the Soviet Union is being resurrected.
My days of living and working in Kazakhstan came to an end. I will probably never return to Kazakhstan. The government clamped down on visas, making it virtually impossible to stay there. I even had to leave Kazakhstan in December 2009 to switch my visa from a personal visit to a business visa in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Then Kyrgyzstan experienced a revolution in March 2010. Everywhere you turn; it seemed I had trouble in Kazakhstan. Even the Immigration Police came to my apartment in November 2009, and fined me $200.
- The area of the country spans 1,052,085 square miles.
- The currency is the tenge.
- The capital was Almaty, but moved to Astana in 2000. Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan.
- In 2010, the population was estimated at 16.5 million.
- This country has extensive mineral resources, such as coal and petroleum and also produces cement, iron, steel, fertilizers, and textiles.
- The leading space agency is the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Russia still has its space program located there.
- Kazakhs approximately comprise of 63.1% of the population with Russian comprising 23.7%.
- 60% of the population live in cities.
- The USSR tested its nuclear weapons in this country.