Sunday, February 14, 2010

capital city

in 1998, kazakhstan took a backwater provicial capital called akmola (kazakh for "white tomb"), renamed it "astana" (kazakh for "capital"), and made it the nation's capital. akmola was a frozen in the winter, mosquito-infested in the summer kind of place. but in the past 10+ years astana has emerged as a shining city built in the middle of nowhere, fueled mostly by kazakhstan's oil wealth. kind of like a dubai of the steppe. or maybe a brasilia not of the amazon.

in any case, if you're going to transform a small town into a big modern capital, you don't just need buildings. you also need people. and so, the kazakhstani government encouraged people to come to astana.

the encouragement seems to have worked. astana is now the second biggest city in kazakhstan (almaty, the capital before 1998, is the first), notwithstanding its remote location and harsh climate.

when we tell people we are interested in seeing kazakhstan, everyone suggests we see astana. plus, astana is promoted everywhere in subtle ways. the clock in our hotel lobby says it is set to "astana time" even though that happens to be the same as taraz time. the upper right corner of the browser at this internet cafe gives the local weather in astana, not here. even though astana has a completely different climate from here. the new housing complex built across the presidential park is named after astana. the national airline is called "astana", etc. astana is always in the air.

all this astana-talk has gotten me pretty curious. i would love to go. there are four flights a week between taraz and astana. mrs. noz is not sold on a weekend trip yet largely because of the weather. astana is the second coldest national capital in the world (after ulaan baatar, mongolia). during our daily internet cafe visits this winter we have often seen mid-day temperatures for that city at around -25 degrees C. (right now is a balmy -16). damn that browser-based weather report!