- Baikonur is preparing for a visit of Putin later in June. (the meeting is mentioned shortly in this Jamestown report: http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2371104). So, every bus ride I notice new things being put up: big billboards with Putin and the Kazakh president Nazarbayev shaking hands and the town is being cleaned up it seems. Too bad I won't be here anymore when he's coming... could have been interesting to see if there would have been any special events for his visit.
- I mentioned the interaction between Kazakhi's and Russians in an earlier post. I'm starting to notice some clearer differences though. It does seem that the Kazakhs are the less well-off population group. Most of the menial jobs such as cleaning, working in restaurants and at bars, selling goods at the market are done by Kazakh people. In contrast, you hardly see any Kazakhs working in the Cosmodrome itself - these jobs (I assume these are the better jobs available) are done by Russians.
- continuing on with a work-related remark: most 'responsible' work is done by women. At the Cosmodrome most security people and (apparently) also the people who handle cranes etc are women. The reason for this is supposedly that the men are too unreliable because they are drunk for most of the time!
- and yes, alcohol (well, beer and vodka) is ever-present here. You see a lot of people walking outside on the streets holding beerbottles from about noon onwards. If not beer, there will be a group of men (with sometimes one or two women) sitting around with a bottle of vodka in the middle. The cliche seems to be true: every restaurant has over a page in the menu listing the different types of vodka that they sell. And it comes on to the table automatically if you are out for a fully arranged dinner. Having so many people drink outside also means that the streets are full of broken glass but everyone cycles around here on incredibly crappy bikes. It's clear that the mountainbikes from the hotel are envied by the locals.
- there are tons of kids around. Even while were out late last night there would still be loads of children (between 6-10 years) playing out on the streets. I get the impression that women want to be married young, that it's not done if you're not married in your early 20s or so. And apparently it's quite normal to have many children. However, it also seems that there are a lot of social problems such as alcoholism which leads to a lot of single mothers.
- people here seem to go out quite a lot. I was expecting this to be a fairly poor town, which in a way it is, so that people couldn't afford to go out much. However, the disco's are usually pretty busy, and even last night - on a Monday, of all nights - the one Italian restaurant here was packed, as were the beergardens and shaslick places further down the street. So, either it is just ridiculously cheap (which it is, I think our meal of shaslick-meat, bread, fries and beer cost about E10 at most for two persons) so it doesn't matter if you cook yourself or not, or they don't earn so badly here after all. In that sense, I can imagine that especially for the Russians there must be some kind of (financial) incentive to move out here and build a live.... Also, the people don't look very poor. Most people are well dressed (as in, the quality of clothing - it's not falling apart or anything, but the style of fashion here could use some improvement!), although the houses look very rundown.
hmm, all for now I think. Time for lunch!
[btw, happy update on the jobthing below - heard yesterday that I have a new interview scheduled a few days after I come back! Yay!]