Қара Жорға (Qara Jorga) is a popular dance song in Kazakhstan. My first connection with it is when my infant host brother was trained to perform it for houseguests. Snapping his little fingers and moving around, he’d dance around on his little toes and everyone would clap and give him candy. At the time (three years ago) I understood that the repeating “bolmasa” means “if there’s not,” but didn’t get the poetic language at all. Here’s a modern version of the song:
When people ask about Kazakh sports, the first thing that comes to mind is kokpar. Often described as Central Asian polo, kokpar is a competitive sport on horseback for nomads (Kyrgyz kokboru and Tajik buzkashi are similar: see a great buzkashi film trailer here!).
I haven’t yet seen the game in person, but the piece below is a great representation by a local TV channel:
It’s December 31. As I stamp my feet and shake snow off in the entrance to old Maral-apai’s flat, I’m greeted by her kelin (daughter in law) and then her husband, whose face lights up as he swings his baby grandson in the air. The guests sit and watch TV until we hear the call: “Dinner is ready!”
… and then everyone begins to put their coats on.
Yes, dinner is across town! We drive to Karima’s house, a relative who has prepared an elaborate spread, starting with New Year’s traditional olivye salad, and moving on to fish salad, raw fish slices, and caviar tarts, a burst of sticky salty orange balls in a creamy shell. There is fish soup, then baked fish sliced vertically, large bones still cross-cutting the middle.
New Year is a family holiday, and so I’m honored to be invited in as the family toasts each other, wishing happiness, health, and long life. Karima’s husband leans over and warns me, though, that there are more dinners to come. “This is why Kazakhs are “tolyk (full)” he laughs, hands shaping bulges around his stomach and hips. His wife laughs too, then smacks him on the shoulder.
But he’s correct about the feasting. We stop by a third relative’s house for tea and salads, then return to the first house. A table that was empty two hours ago is now full of salads, fresh chicken wings, and a large platter of manty dumplings filled with oil and lamb. Again the family eats, and again the grandfather closes the meal with a brief Muslim blessing, as everyone crosses their hands over their faces, “Au-meen.” This may be a Russian holiday, but it’s been comfortably adapted by Muslim families across Central Asia.
Just before midnight, Nurali’s parents disappear. The doorbell rings, and Father Christmas arrives with his snow-princess assistant. “Ho, ho, ho!” Ded Moroz cries out, and asks, “Who have we here?”
Little Nurali’s face lights up; he receives a giraffe on wound-up springs, which hops across the table and chants “again, again!” while Father Christmas gives out glasses for the grandmother, a new cell phone for the grandfather, and a compass for a younger cousin.
After Father Christmas leaves, the young parents reappaer, and ask their son, “How have you been? Did Father Christmas come?”
Nurali nods, eyes wide.
And once again everyone toasts to the New Year, as the guests begin to leave long after midnight.
Note. Kazakhs celebrate the New Year twice: first in January with the arrival of a new calendar, and again in March with an older celebration, the arrival of spring during “Nauruz.” Since it’s January, I’ve described how one family welcomed in the new calendar year. Note also that Ded Moroz, a bringer of gifts and cheer like Santa Claus, has a Russian name that means ‘old man frost’; I’ve translated it as Father Christmas to convey a merry atmosphere to English-speaking readers!
We welcome 2013 with some interesting writing from our contributors‘ personal blogs. Happy New Year!
Celia, our contributor from Kazakhstan, explains how to catch a taxi in Astana.
“YOU’RE RUNNING LATE to meet with a friend – you’re always running late. So you tromp through the snow to the edge of the road, stuffing your woolen gloves into the pocket of your giant parka.
“You’ve learned that a street taxi (aka gypsy cab) is the quickest way across the city. Astana is the new and icy capital of Kazakhstan, built ten years ago on the south-Siberian steppe. Someone here with a car is looking to make some money, and you’re looking for a ride; it’s a perfect match. So you hold out your hand towards the road… “
LeX, our contributor from Malaysia, describes the Korea travel highlights.
2012 is another unforgettable year and for sure was a great travel year especially in South Korea! Let me present you Korea Travel Highlights, Best of the Year 2012.
Liz, our contributor from Australia, writes about her trip to Hoi An, Vietnam.
It already feels like a lifetime ago, but a few weeks back I was sunning myself in beautiful Hoi An, hitting up An Bang Beach’s bars at happy hour, indulging in massages at Na Spa (how I wish there was one in Sydney – with the same prices!) and feasting on bo la lot, banh xeo and fresh spring rolls galore.Hoi An is like the ultimate happy holiday land – it’s bright and colourful, there are long stretches of beach dotted with traditional round fishing boats, street vendors hawking delicious eats and a stunning mix of architectural gems spanning centuries of French, Chinese and Japanese influence. There are patisseries, cafes, wine bars and restaurants serving up amazing yet cheap Vietnamese food, and of course, there’s the shopping.
The long central area, with the Stupa right at the end, allowing some space for pradakshina, sculptures or paintings adorning every wall or pillar, the ribbed roof – it all added to an impressive sight, especially since most of the structure is intact, even after all these centuries!
Happy New Year!
This month we are looking at water around the world and we kick off the new subject with a photo of the beautiful Tien Shan Mountains taken by our contributor in Kazakhstan, Celia. She says, “A man stands on a bridge (look closely!) by the mountain streams at Medeu, in the Tien Shan mountains of southern Kazakhstan.”
One of our newest contributors, Celia from Kazakhstan, has taken this sweet photo of a little boy in Mongolia. She says the picture is of, “A Kazakh herder’s son as he opens the wooden door to his family’s felted yurt home. Bayan-Ulgii Province, Mongolia.”