Published: March 10th 2011March 10th 2011
I had no plan about tour in Almaty at all. The only reason I’m here is to apply my Uzbeki and Kyrgyz visas. I reserved 5 workings days for it. Out of my expectation, I got both on a day, through an annoying, inefficient, chaotic, and suspicious corrupt procedure.
The remaining days were full of upset. I lived in a typical old-fashion Russian hotel full of moisture and oldness. Only few lodgers lived here, at nightfall, the silent hallway under the dim lamp is somewhat creepy. As well as Russian style, the rooms are like cells, and here is a gloomy jail. I can’t speak Russian, stayed in a place nobody talk with is depressed.
I got in an outdoor restaurant in a Commercial strip and pointed to the picture above to indicate what I wanted. Suddenly, the chef, or maybe also the boss asked me:
“ni-shi-zhong-guo-ren-ma你是中國人嗎? (Are you Chinese?)”
I was surprised and did not react immediately until he asked me again. I answered him: I am a Taiwanese.
He is Hali, a Kazakh from Xinjiang, China seven years ago. He lived with his wife and brothers, sisters-in-law who all are Kazakhs from Kyrgyzstan.
Then I go to his restaurant everyday. He is also a stranger here, even he has learned Russian, and married here. His wife took their children to visit his hometown, a small village near Kazakhstan-China border lately, I can perceive his loneliness. He isn’t the boss, but just an employee, the burden is heavier especially after the other partner quitted.
The day before I left Almay, I visited him again. It’s Friday and he had many customers. He was busy until evening. After he finished all, it’s time to close. I didn’t come yesterday. He told me he stood outside to look for me for a while. I was dealing with my visas so didn’t come. “How about visit my house?” he invites me every time but I always declined him. “OK” I replied, because tomorrow I would leave for Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
We took the tram to pass about 4 or 5 stops and got off. It’s not suburb yet, but far enough away downtown. We walked across a bridge and along the bank. Many one-story houses gathered in this region. As soon as I got in, Hali’s brother and sister greeted me with genuine friendly smiles. They are sincere people. We sat at the round table. They gave me the space facing the gate, which usually means the main site for guest, and handed me a num (a kind of bread) and a bowl of warm noodles.
Although they are no longer nomads, the nomadic friendliness still remained, kind of purely and simply care to another traveler, who no matter lost in grasslands or alone in an unfamiliar city.
We watched the TV together, and talked via Hali, he translated our Chinese and Kazakh. We didn’t catch too much but still got some laughs. They are really nice people. We all are aliens here. They came here for work, I traveled here for…traveling. I was traveling lonely.
I finished my supper. Hali asked me if stay tonight? I answered sorry, I have to go back to pack my luggage. I really appreciate his host.
We left the house, it’s very dark. Walked along the bank of river and reached the road. Hali called a taxi for me. He inquired the price in Russian for me. Then we shook hands and said goodbye. I seated myself inside the car and close the door. The car drove me left. The driver is quiet, so as this foreign Almaty. The light of limp cast inside, light and shadow streak was rolling on my face. My brain was vacant. I stayed here over 8 days, but Almaty was still a distant city to me or perhaps I was distant as usually. I think I won’t come to this city again, and won’t see Hali either.
We didn’t have much deep talk actually. Sometimes we just stay still. I think I will miss the time we sat inside the outdoor restaurant under sunshine shedding through canopy, and looked at the continuous flow of pedestrians in the strip outside.