While in Kazakhstan, one has to do more than just ski, sit in the hotel, and eat meals with the US contingent. Thus we headed down the hill to the Zelyony Bazaar to get some local flavor, enhance our cultural experience in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and of course get something new to blog about. Although we did venture as far as the mosque and saw lots of people who would be considered sketchy in the US, I think we can safely assure all of our parents that we were quite safe. Maybe a few blocks further and that wouldn’t have been the case, but where we went and in a group, I feel ok saying that.
As general trend one heads up the street from our hotel toward the glass palaces to find the Porsche dealer, Bogner, and other fancy brand names in the spotless white mall. Walking down the street takes one past joints like “Guinness Pub” or “Sushi bar” at first. After the first block, one is left guessing at the indistinguishable Cyrillic signs. Next, the clothing quality declines and number of street peddlers increases. The Bazaar is the natural culmination of these trends. Cross one last street and the occasional street peddler morphs a labyrinth of small shacks selling everything from spices to door locks. Somehow, this jumble is kept organized so the fake Nike shacks hang out with the fake Adidas and all the clothing irons for sale are located in one corner. Only watches and fake electronics seem to have missed the memo and are spread throughout the maze of the bazaar. Watches can be found down in the basement with the spices, or inside with souvenirs, upstairs with the jackets, and everywhere in between various doors, buildings, and outdoor areas all linked together.
Only one conglomerate of food peddlers stands out as organized with collaboration between sellers. The matching green vests and red aprons helped clue us in. Higher English proficiency among these peddlers marked our little group as potential customers. Previously, the smaller sellers accosting in Kazakh or Russian were easy to bypass. But once inside, everyone who had a word of English seemed to ask “Canada?” following whatever broken English greeting they knew. Our responses of “America” prolonged the conversation with chances for the Kazakhs to express any knowledge of US states (usually limited to New York and Washington DC) and draw us in for a sale.
Even implanted with our American hesitancy to eat questionable foods, a peddler easily drew us in with samples of pecans from Tajikistan. Hesitancy became wonder when the nuts came out of the shell tasting as if they had been caramelized. However, the offering of slimy pickled mushrooms from a different vendor was not received with as much enthusiasm and found a nice green bin once out of site of the peddler. Another sample of a date wrapped in dough and a few exclamations of Рахмет (Raxmet, thank you) quickly changed the scene from peddlers and potential customers to photographs and attempts to teach our group a little more Kazakh.
After this was finished, we toured the raw meat department. Brains, hooves, horse, and every other part of various animals was laying out ready for whatever Kazakh concoction. Senses overwhelmed, we departed satisfied with one day’s cultural experience.