Two weeks until departure -- the apartment search continues, but things are at least progressing. I think I contacted about a dozen people about my real estate woes, and as expected those friends have talked to their friends, and those friends have a few interesting options. One is a one-room place near the center of the city at $100 per week -- great! Except it comes with a roommate. Next...! Another intriguing offer is a newly renovated ("kapitalni remont") place near the Al-Farabi University -- sounds gorgeous, but this one's asking $1000 per month. Yow, I'm having flashbacks to apartment hunts in LA.... The general consensus seems to be that $700 is the average for a decent, one-room place in the city. Crap. I guess I can scrap my initial housing budget.
In more encouraging news, the organization that's funding me has offered to pick me up at the airport. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but trust me it is. Nothing worse than coming off an 18+ hour trip and the first thing you encounter (after the interminable lines at customs and the chaotic baggage claim) is a MOB of overzealous taxisti offering to drive you to your destination, and take you to the cleaners along the way (metaphorically speaking of course). They will ALWAYS charge foreigners more, mostly because we, poor fools, don't know how to negotiate; but also because they assume we have lots more money than locals. It's a safe assumption, considering most foreigners are working for either an oil company, an embassy, or an NGO. So, based on this imbalanced scale of wealth, foreign grad students occupy a kind of (dare i say it?) liminal space. They don't have the insulation of the mad money, chauffers, and phat apartments that most other inostrantsii (non-natives) have. But unlike the moneyed ones, we poor grad students have the advantage of actually knowing our way around, speaking the local language, and learning the fine (and utterly underused in the west) art of haggling for EVERYTHING.
Ah, see what I have to look forward to? C'mon, you are totally excited for me.....!
Oh, lastly, I went on a little shopping spree and got some fun techie items for documenting lots of musical-type things for my research. Plus -- the thing that will make life so much easier -- Cyrillic keyboard stickers! So that I can type in Russian and Kazakh on my computer. How did I live without them up to now?? Well, actually, by guessing a lot. Sad, huh? Well, it's a new world now, baby!