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Hal Foster

Hal Foster

ex-Los Angeles Times journalist, journalism professor

Hal Foster is a longtime journalist and journalism professor. He was a writer, editor and manager at the Omaha World-Herald, Portland Oregonian, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. He was also a journalist in Japan for nine years. Five of those years were as executive editor of Pacific Stars and Stripes, the daily newspaper for U.S. military and Embassy people in the Far East. Four years were as an assistant managing editor of Asahi Evening News, the English-language arm of the giant Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun. Big stories he has helped cover include the Soviet downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007, the Mount St. Helens eruptions in Washington State, the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, the Kobe earthquake in Japan and the Aum Shinrikyo cult's gassing of Tokyo subway trains. After obtaining a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication at the University of North Carolina in 1988, he taught at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas; headed the Journalism Department at Auburn University in Alabama; was a Fulbright Professor of Journalism in Odessa and Lviv in Ukraine; and taught at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He was a journalism professor and dean of the College of Social Sciences at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research before resuming his news career. He has also been a journalism consultant. He has taught seminars in media management, business journalism and other topics in Ukraine and Kazakhstan and has done on-site consulting at independent newspapers in Ukraine, Bosnia and Poland.
‘Marco Polo’ actor Erden Telemisov’s journey from sales to screen tough guy

When Erden Telemisov was living in his native Karaganda, he remembers getting sign after sign that he ought to be an actor. Family and friends told him his big frame, shaved head, expressive face and charismatic personality would make him a natural in the entertainment business.

A guy who builds feedlots in Kazakhstan and buffalo enclosures in America

Jake Schubert has helped cattle owners in the United States keep their animals productive and healthy since he was a boy. In the past four years he’s done the same in Kazakhstan.

Two Kazakhs start education-, job-recruitment businesses to help their countrymen go abroad

A lot of Kazakhs go overseas these days for business, diplomacy, education, to work or take a vacation. A few optimistic souls with an entrepreneurial bent actually start their own companies to build bridges between the country where they’re living and their homeland.

A Spanish chef who loves Kazakhstan is translating the works of the poet Abai

Jose Luis Velasco became fascinated with Kazakhstan when he was a teen-ager in the 1970s. Over the years his fascination grew to the point that he learned all he could about Kazakhstan from books and Kazakhs visiting or living in his native Spain. Although the 58-year-old has yet to visit the country, he’s become such a fan that he’s translated works of the legendary poet Abai into Spanish and Spain’s regional Catalan language.

Astana Opera Conductor Alan Buribayev’s bond with Kazakhstan’s signature opera, “Abai”

In 1944 the composers Akhmet Zhubanov and Latif Khamidi mesmerized audiences with the premiere of what was hailed as the masterpiece of Kazakhstani opera.  Kazakhs adore the opera as much as they do Abai himself, but international audiences were unaware of the outstanding work until recently. That’s when Zhubanov’s great-grandson Alan Buribayev decided to make it a mission to help introduce “Abai” to the world.

Once-high-flying Shumenov is back on track with a new boxing style after a stumble

April 20, 2014, was the worst moment of Beibit Shumenov’s boxing career. The 31-year-old, who held two of the world’s four light-heavyweight titles, fought 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins that night with the goal of taking Hopkins’ two titles. That would make him the undisputed champion in his weight class.    

Aliyev lands a spot alongside Ablyazov in the money-laundering rogue’s gallery

For the second time in six months a notorious Kazakh has become a poster child for international money laundering. In early spring it was Mukhtar Ablyazov. Now it is the late Rakhat Aliyev. Both are accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains by buying trophy British properties.

An intriguing commentary on the nature of Kazakhstan’s development model

...Once in a while, the monotony of the analytical gruel is broken by a real steak dinner – something you can actually sink your teeth into. Like a recent analysis in the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti that offers insight into Kazakhstan’s evolving place in the region and the world...

A love story about Kazakhstan from a former Peace Corps volunteer

In 2004 the Philadelphia psychotherapist and her speech-pathology husband, Dr. Woody Starkweather, headed for central Kazakhstan to teach – she at Zhezkazgan Humanitarian College and he at Zhezkazgan University. The two stayed in Zhezkazgan for two years. Janet wrote a memoir of the couple’s experiences, “At Home on the Kazakh Steppe,” that was published late last year.

America’s renowned Centers for Disease Control is a key Kazakhstan partner in fight against epidemic

 Dr. Alfiya Denebayeva and her colleagues have the important job of trying to prevent HIV/AIDS from spreading in Kazakhstan. Their work at the Almaty AIDS Prevention and Control Center includes staying abreast of the latest techniques for monitoring, analyzing and treating the condition.

Why Almaty should get the 2022 Winter Olympics

 Bright spots in Almaty’s 2022 Winter Olympics bid include a moderate $3.6 billion cost and many existing competition facilities, while a key concern is the need for eight more hotels to accommodate fans, the International Olympic Committee says. The comments came in a 137-page report in which the Committee assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Almaty and Beijing’s Games proposals.

History explains why Kazakhstan doesn’t want to be in a common-currency zone

 President Vladimir Putin’s recent proposal that the Eurasian Economic Union have a common currency was deja vu all over again for those who helped take Kazakhstan independent. Those leaders’ memories of what happened when the Russians promised Kazakhstan a common currency in the early days of statehood are far from pleasant. 

Remembering a great musician and my friend Batyrkhan Shukenov

Batyrkhan Shukenov’s death on April 28 hit me hard because not only did I love his music like millions of other fans, but he was my friend.  A few weeks ago, I asked Angie if I could send the lyrics I’d written for the song to Batyr’s longtime composer and friend, Kuat Shildebaev, who is as nice a man as Batyr. Maybe Kuat would be interested in setting the lyrics to music, I said. She said go ahead.

How U.S. Embassy, Kansas State University helped a young Kazakh shake off tragedy

 Timur Ilyassov will never forget his junior year in high school. The jazz-saxophone whiz won a national competition for best student musician in Kazakhstan. That not only landed him an audience with President Nursultan Nazarbayev but a full scholarship to the prestigious Almaty Conservatory. Those aware of his sparkling musical and academic accomplishments would have thought the young man’s life consisted of nothing but sunshine and promise. But dark clouds were gathering around him. It took five years for him to heal enough to want to return to school.

British country singer David Bradley’s improbable journey from Kazakhstan to Nashville

 The story of David Bradley’s rise to the cusp of country-music fame sounds like it was concocted by a promoter on steroids. The most intriguing parts are the connections with Kazakhstan, including a concert that drew 22,000 people and a love story with a Kazakh girl that inspired his first single. 

Artist with cerebral palsy winning fans in Kazakhstan, Spain and elsewhere

“This work is amazing,” he said. “This young lady has such talent in color. I want her in my classes.”
It was a pivotal moment in the story of the 25-year-old Tolkyn Sakbayeva, who has been painting in Spain for 18 months and who will earn a second degree -- from Almaty’s prestigious National Art Academy.

Longtime Almaty resident becomes the first Kazakh to earn master-tour-guide status in London

Ainura Bertram has become the first Kazakh to earn London’s most prestigious tour-leader distinction: a coveted Blue Badge that designates her a master guide. 

An unusual Astana love story

 Their love story didn’t start the way a lot of them do, with an instant, magnetic attraction between two people.

Mukhtar Ablyazov’s role in the world’s fight against money laundering

Except for a few family members and a dwindling number of those who consider him a dissident, most people who have followed the Mukhtar Ablyazov story have nothing good to say about him. They see him as an embezzler, swindler and con man par excellence – a guy whose theft of as much as $15 billion from BTA brought Kazakhstan’s once-strongest bank to its knees. In an ironic twist, Ablyazov actually may end up doing the world some good, although it won’t be of his own choosing.

A young Kazakh, steeped in Italian fashion, starts her own business in Almaty

 When she asked her mother at 7 what she should be when she grew up, Mom didn’t hesitate. “I think you should be a fashion designer.” That career would combine Ainura’s love of creating clothes with the sketching that’s a key part of the design process.
Ainura’s realization that Mom was right led to her going to an excellent fashion university in the country that is synonymous with fashion – Italy – and to starting her own fashion business in Kazakhstan.

Turkish company filling growing aviation-training need in Kazakhstan

Running airports has become more challenging in Kazakhstan in recent years because visitor traffic at many of them has outstripped the capacity they were designed for.
The prime example is Almaty International. “It needs to be renovated and larger,” Gurcan said.
Industry leaders, such as Air Astana CEO Peter Foster, have called on Kazakhstan’s airport planning and regulatory agency to increase capacity at a number of airports to keep up with soaring passenger traffic.

Swedish firm’s acquisition to take kidney care in Kazakhstan to the next level

Three years ago the international kidney-care provider Diaverum began considering what countries it should choose for its second wave of overseas expansion. The factors it weighed included a country’s economic strength, commitment to improving health care, quality of doctors and nurses and ease of doing business. In the end, Diaverum whittled the expansion possibilities to a handful of nations. Kazakhstan was one. 

South African is working hard to fire up young Kazakhs about robotics

When Pragasen Naidoo began teaching computer science at the Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Uralsk three years ago, he was delighted to see a colleague using Lego Mindstorm robots in class. He began taking students to robotics training and competitions abroad, and he organized a national robotics competition in Astana.

Projections of Kazakhstan’s economic growth in 2015 drop precipitously

 Kazakhstan will avoid recession in 2015, but its economic growth rate will be the lowest since the 1.2 percent it posted during the financial-crisis year of 2009, three of the world’s most prestigious development banks have forecast.

A Kazakh husband and wife who are destined for science stardom

Talk with Eldar Akmetgaliyev and Almagul Zhanaidarova for just a few minutes, and you’ll realize they’ll be making their mark on Kazakhstan and the world in years to come. 

Worrying about Ukrainian and Kazakh friends made 2014 a tough year

 The year 2014 is one of the most difficult I can remember. The main reason may surprise you: It was the Ukraine conflict, which not only led to suffering among lots of my Ukrainian friends but also consternation among some of my Kazakh friends.

Reintroducing wild horses to the steppe will be a painstaking process

  Sometime in 2016 a joint Kazakh-German task force will fly an important cargo from Germany to western Kazakhstan, where it will be transported to semi-arid steppeland.
The operation will be carried out with military precision, but the cargo won’t be military.
It will consist of six chubby little creatures known as Przewalski horses.

It’s time for Ukraine combatants to consider asking Nazarbayev to mediate a peace

 In 1974 and 1975 U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger flew back and forth between Israel, Egypt and Syria to negotiate an end to the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

News organizations dubbed Kissinger’s mediating “shuttle diplomacy.” That term has applied ever since to a diplomat or head of state jetting between combatant countries to try to negotiate an end to conflict between them.

I thought about shuttle diplomacy when I read a terse announcement last week from Nursultan Nazarbayev’s press service saying that Kazakhstan’s president would be in Kiev on a “working visit” on Monday, December 21.

An inside look at the entertainment memorabilia that’s part of Hard Rock Cafe’s success

 When the first Hard Rock Cafe opened in London in 1971, one of the regulars was the legendary Eric Clapton. The latest beneficiary of the company’s memorabilia-collecting tradition is Almaty, where the newest Hard Rock Cafe just opened. Its initial collection includes jewelry worn by Rihanna, who has a strong fan base in Kazakhstan; a pair of Michael Jackson’s black loafers; a jacket worn by Elvis Presley; and a guitar played by Angus Young of AC/DC. In the 33 years since, the collection has grown to an astounding 77,000 items, most of which are displayed at Hard Rock’s 148 cafes, 21 hotels and 10 casinos. That makes it the largest and most valuable collection of rock items in the world.

Kazakh peacekeepers excel at Steppe Eagle exercise so real it was sometimes scary

The Kazakh peacekeepers were still tired from their long deployment flight when they got the word that townspeople in a sector where they’d been assigned had begun rioting. The troops grabbed protective shields and other crowd-control gear and hustled to the site. They found a hostile, screaming and cursing bunch that immediately took them on. Amid the chaos, Molotov cocktails began flying. Some landed at the feet of the peacekeepers, the flames boiling up on the soldiers’ shields, boots and legs.

 

China is putting its money where its mouth is on Silk Road initiative

A year ago Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a key foreign-policy speech at Nazarbayev University in which he proposed creating a new Silk Road connecting China and Europe through Central Asia. 

Why the CEO of the petroleum-equipment maker Allen Global is rushing to invest in Kazakhstan

A lot of countries proclaim themselves business-friendly to try to attract foreign investment.
Jerry Nichols, CEO of the American oil and gas equipment maker Allen Global, has learned that many of the claims are bogus.
In a lot of so-called business-friendly countries, overseas investors find themselves running a gauntlet of regulation, red tape and other problems, he said. Not so with Kazakhstan, said Nichols, who became a believer in just one trip in October.

Mukhtar Ablyazov’s last stand

The world is closing in on Mukhtar Ablyazov. The former chairman of BTA, who fled Kazakhstan in 2009, just before the government took over the wounded bank, has one chance left to avoid extradition to Russia and prison.

Kazakhstan’s new defense minister is the right choice at a crucial time

I learned this week that President Nursultan Nazarbayev had named Astana Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov the new defense minister. I think it’s a great choice. If anybody can mold Kazakhstan’s 110,000-person military into the kind of top-flight fighting force that makes a potential enemy hesitant to attack, it’s Tasmagambetov.

Golovkin, the guy with a Rocky-style punch, is nearing boxing superstardom

 It was a Rocky moment. Everyone who watches a boxing movie has seen the oversized leather mitts a trainer dons to help his fighter develop punch. When Abel Sanchez slipped on the mitts in 2010 to assess Gennady Golovkin’s pop, his new protege hit him so hard that “I felt it all over, down to my toes.”  

A Kazakhstan singing prodigy makes her mark in Italy’s opera scene

 Miracles have figured prominently in the life of Maria Mudryak, a 20-year-old Pavlodar native who has been captivating audiences in the most world’s most discriminating opera venue: Italy.

When someone bent on suicide victimizes strangers who are my friends

I remember the excitement in the email I received from her in June. “Papa and Mama agreed to buy me a car!” 19-year-old Leila, a student at the Kazakh Russian University, enthused. To show off a little, she sent me a photo of herself sitting behind the wheel of a black Honda.I knew her parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I told her I hoped she appreciated their sacrifice for her. She said she did.
 

Kazakhstan is close to getting main pieces of its economy-bolstering rail lines in place

Roads, rail lines and air routes aren’t just ways to get from one place to another.
They’re also economic sparkplugs. 

Nazarbayev warns of global economic crisis if sanctions against Russia escalate

The West must stop racheting up sanctions against Russia or there will be a new global economic crisis, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has warned.
Painfully aware that the international recession of 2008 brought Kazakhstan’s economy to a standstill, the president is clearly worried that Kazakhstan will be one of the countries that suffers if sanctions against Russia escalate.

A stand-up comedy routine with Robin Williams – but not the kind I wanted

June of 1998 was an idyllic time for me.
I had passed all of the hurdles for obtaining a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication at the University of North Carolina, which meant I was only weeks away from obtaining the diploma itself, in August.
I had just been offered my first job as a full-time professor at Sam Houston State University near Houston, a position I would take in September.

Pssst, Sabina, have your Mom read this pitch about why you should model in Tokyo.

Sabina Altynbekova, the 17-year-old Almaty resident whose good looks caused a sensation at last month’s 19-and-under Asian Women’s Volleyball Championships in Taipei.

 

Kazakhstan wooing foreign investors at a breathtaking pace this year

Kazakhstan has been engaged in a whirlwind of activity to increase foreign investment since Karim Massimov returned to the prime minister’s position in early April.
The hard work during those three months has paid off, with international companies and development banks pledging tens of billions of dollars toward creating infrastructure and diversifying the economy.

Thoughts about the obstruction-of-justice conviction in Boston

A Boston jury’s conviction of 20-year-old Azamat Tazhayakov on charges of obstructing an investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 has left some Kazakhs in disbelief.

Remembering two peacekeepers – one Kazakh and one Ukrainian

At times during my journalism career I’ve been amazed to discover that seemingly unrelated stories I’ve done have ended up intertwining.

Skype call records add tantalizing wrinkle to Aliyev murder case

The seven-year-old Rakhat Aliyev murder case has been a sensational affair because of his prominence, his contention that he’s a dissident rather than a criminal, and his flight from Austria to Malta when Austrian authorities were closing in on him.

What Kazakhstan should do to reach its agricultural potential, according to experts

A century ago most Kazakhs who lived off the land were herders rather than farmers.

What’s behind Kazakhstan and Belarus’ opposition to import penalties on Ukraine?

Kazakhstan and Belarus have rejected Russia’s call for the Eurasian Economic Union to limit imports from Ukraine or slap heavy tariffs on them – moves that much of the world sees as a Russian attempt to punish Ukraine for signing a trade agreement with the European Union.

A Kazakh woman’s intriguing professional journey through swaths of paradise

Alua Pikard will be the first to tell you she’s led a charmed professional life.

A special-forces unit, started from scratch, wins a key battle in Ukraine

Two hundred yards from the quiet lapping of waves on the Azov Sea, Volodymyr Shmarra sat on a bench, took a long drag from a cigarette and sighed from fatigue.

When TV journalists use satire to barbecue the high and mighty – and I’m part of the fun

One of the things I’ve learned as a journalist is that if you want to skewer someone, the most effective way may not be to criticize them directly.

A story of bribes, a plane crash, a suicide and convict transfers

At first glance it looked like a ho-hum news story about a justice-system procedural matter – the transfer of two Ukrainians that a Kazakhstan military court had convicted of bribery to a prison in their homeland.

Almaty logistics hub is a key element in getting goods to U.S. troops in Afghanistan

There’s an old saying that an army travels on its stomach.

Learning that I’m a legend at Air Astana

I learned the other day that I’m famous at Air Astana.

Snow leopard study in the Almaty area to be an international collaboration

Most of the world’s endangered snow leopards live in countries where it’s difficult for Westerners to conduct wildlife research – Pakistan and Afghanistan because of political turmoil and China because of red tape.

Sumo champ should teach young Kazakhs not just the moves but also about the decorum he lacked

In the late 1990s the Japanese Sumo Association became alarmed about a drop in interest in the sport.

A renowned locust expert returns to his roots to help Kazakhstan battle the pests

After getting his bachelors degree in entomology from Russia’s St. Petersburg State University, Alex Latchininsky spent 15 years helping the Soviet Union combat an age-old pest: locusts.

Politics may mean Almaty has the inside track for the Winter Olympics, some pundits say

The Olympic Games aren’t supposed to be political, but in reality many of them are.

A story of love -- and incredible patience waiting for someone

Tommy is one of the most self-assured guys I know.

KazBeef expands, introduces new technology and new business model

The government corporation that is spearheading Kazakhstan's quest to become a global beef powerhouse has not only introduced new cattle-raising technology here but also a new business model.

Kazakhstan will have trouble making its bad-loan reduction targets, Standard & Poor’s says

Kazakhstan’s banking system has been wallowing in bad loans ever since the global economic downturn of 2008 and 2009.

Kazakhstan likely to achieve all but one of its U.N. development goals, country director says

Kazakhstan has a good chance of achieving seven of its eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline, the U.N.'s country-programs director said in a recent speech at Nazarbayev University.

From poor Kazakh village girl to glamorous San Francisco model

By studying hard, Zhanel would get a scholarship to Eurasian National University in Astana. Her bachelors degree in computer science would give her a shot at a master’s degree in the United States. And – the biggest surprise of all -- her exotic good looks would open the door to a modeling career in San Francisco.

It’s my two-year anniversary with Tengrinews – thank you, readers!

Next month will mark my second anniversary of writing columns for Tengrinews.

Recalling the chasm between the two camps in Ukraine

I’ve watched the tragedy in Ukraine unfold with a sadness that comes from knowing a lot of Ukrainians, many of whom struggle when things are calm, let alone when political turmoil reigns.

The bottom line on the lace-panties absorption-rate issue

 The global snickering over the Customs Union’s decision to ban lace panties on July 1 reminded me of the ridicule heaped on Japanese trade negotiators trying to defend non-tariff barriers years ago.

 

An actress with a soul that hooks you deep

They say that eyes are the window to the soul, and you can certainly get a feel for the soul of this successful Moscow-based actress by looking into her eyes.


Energy-sustainability expert and Expo 2017: a match made in heaven

When Aidar Marat returned to Kazakhstan from New Zealand three years ago, he was determined to make cities here energy-sustainable.

 

 

President Nazarbayev's State of the Nation Address Is chock full of initiatives

Kazakhstan needs to privatize many of its government-owned companies and create a blueprint for the long-term development of its battered financial sector, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in his recent State of the Nation Address.


Nazarbayev University professor’s invention may help address climate change

A couple of decades ago Nazarbayev University Biology Professor Peter Rogers invented a bioreactor that could remove carbon dioxide from the air inside diesel electric submarines and other closed environments.


Almaty family makes preserving national treasures their life's work

Anyone who has seen a reproduction of the glittering armor of Kazakhstan's Golden Man has marveled at its intricaey – the thinness of the foil and the hundreds of individual pieces in it.      


A trip to Dubai for medical care and a shopping spree

When Nazarbayev University's founders began planning the institution four years ago, their mandate was simple yet daunting: do what it takes to make the university world class.


Vignettes that reflect the warmth of the season

She was only about 4 years old. When she walked into the Ramstor at Kenessary and Imambayev ahead of me, she was proudly holding her grannie's hand. She chatted softly with grannie until she saw the tree.

Getting priorities right during the holiday season and beyond

A European friend called me the other day to say that he and his wife wanted to give me money to make Christmas brighter for a widow with 3-year-old triplets.

A friend struggles with a May-December love

I knew something was wrong the moment I heard Ian's voice. It had a sadness to it, a melancholy I'd rarely heard in him. 

Writing a love song for Batyr

If you're a Batyrkhan Shukenov fan, I've got some great news for you: Batyr is moving toward recording an album in English.

 
Small-town Canadian builds thriving factory in Kazakhstan

 In 1989, during Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost era, the premier of Canada's Saskatchewan Province invited a Soviet agricultural delegation to tour farm-equipment factories in his territory. The Soviets were finally open to buying Western equipment, and Premier Grant Devine wanted to help Saskatchewan manufacturers develop a new market. 

The head of the Soviet delegation was a rising political star named Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Daniyar the Bolashaker's secret to becoming an English-language ace

I noticed the other day that the head of Kazakhstan's Space Agency had said that many Bolashak scholars had learned their English in bars. Talgat Mussabayev had complained that a lot of Bolashakers trying for jobs at KazCosmos had “colloquial English.”

You know Bolashak. It's the internationally renowned program that President Nursultan Nazarbayev started in 1993 to send Kazakhstan's best and brightest overseas to study.

Trying to make love blossom by putting her face on a rose

We all know that a sure-fire way to make a woman happy is to give her flowers. My friend Jesse Foster is taking this patented approach a step further. He and his partner Sergei Golenyayev can offer you roses with your beloved's face on them. The way I figure it, if plain old roses make a lady happy, how much happier will she be if you give her roses with her face on them?

The big, bad wolf is alive and well in Kazakhstan

I’ve never been one to moon over celebrities, but I wanted you all to know I’m thinking about starting a Daulet Tuyeshiev fan club. Daulet isn’t a movie star. Or a TV talk-show host. Or a singer. He’s cooler. He strangles wolves with his bare hands.

 

Thoughts about customer service – or the lack thereof

It’s the little things that count with customer service. I’ve known that for a long time, but I forget it when I live in a country where customer service has yet to become a valued business principle. I’m not talking just about Kazakhstan, either. I have lived in other countries, such as Ukraine, where an overarching business principle seems to be that customers can take it or leave.

A flashback for a guy with a small role in a Godzilla movie

Over the years the T-Rex-looking monster Godzilla has wreaked terrible havoc on Tokyo and other parts of the Japanese isles. A scary dude, I thought when I was a kid. Adults could laugh at the huge, cranky reptile but Godzilla could give nightmares to kids. I had a Godzilla flashback the other day. It wasn’t a scary memory from childhood, though.

Radisson’s four-star Park Inn complex opens

Astana has long had a sufficient inventory of five-star hotel rooms, but industry watchers say that for some time it’s lacked enough four-star space. The recent opening of the Radisson Hotel’s Park Inn complex has made a dent in the four-star gap.

Chinese president stresses friendship with Kazakhstan, pledges major economic investments

Chinese President Xi Jinping courted Kazakhstan like a suitor bearing flowers and chocolates this weekend with a foreign-policy speech on China’s relations with Central Asia and a commitment to one of the largest investments ever in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas industry.

New Education Minister has the talent to keep reform on track

Four years ago President Nursultan Nazarbayev called on a 35-year-old rising star in government administration to form a team to start a new Western-style university in Astana. That university had to be world-class, the president told Aslan Sarinzhipov, whose credentials included management positions in the Foreign Ministry and World Bank. The team that Sarinzhipov assembled did such an amazing job of starting Nazarbayev University that this week President Nazarbayev named him Education Minister.

A vacation as a time for taking stock

A lot of people take vacations to chill out and not think about things. For me these breaks from work have always been about taking stock: deciding what I’ve done that’s been worthwhile in the past year, and where I should be going.

Bolashak to add short-term student experience abroad to its degree-focused repertoire

The famed Bolashak scholars program has changed over the years to meet Kazakhstan’s evolving needs for professionals who can take it to developed-nation status. The latest wrinkle is helping Kazakh university students obtain a short-term educational experience abroad – from a semester to two years – rather than an overseas degree. That’s a major departure from the overseas-degree focus that’s been the main thrust of the Bolashak program since President Nursultan Nazarbayev founded it in 1993.

Boston arrests show that the ‘help your buddy’ mentality doesn’t play well in some countries

Many Americans have been astounded that the Kazakh students Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov were willing to risk lengthy prison terms to help two Dagestan buddies implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings. Not me – because in my seven years in Kazakhstan, I have seen the “helping your buddy” mentality taken to extremes.

An attempt to bring back a semblance of the nomadic way of life: reintroducing herd migration

For hundreds of years Kazakhstan’s nomads used a proven system to keep their animals fit and productive. They moved cattle, horses, sheet and camels to lush pastures at higher elevations in summer, then returned them to grazing lands around their permanent, lower-elevation settlements in winter. Some of the migration routes were more than 1,000 kilometers long.

 

Could journalists have warned us of the global financial meltdown?

It seemed like a simple enough task: tell those at an Astana Economic Forum panel session whether the press failed to warn the public about the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. My assumption as I began scouring the Internet for background for my presentation was that the press did blow it.

Kazakhstan’s restoration of Italian chapel gives devastated city a bit of hope

Many of the 67,000 residents of L’Aquila, Italy, have had little to cheer about since an earthquake leveled much of their city four years ago. Kazakhstan recently provided them with a bright spot.

Conference spotlights Kazakhstan’s youth suicide problem, search for solutions

Twenty-one-year-old Aknur Sakhanova had just entered the hallway to her Almaty apartment when she came across a grisly sight. The Almaty State University student’s neighbor, who was about 25, was hanging dead from a rafter, having committed suicide. The young man had a wife, a 1-year-old baby and a mother to care for – but no job. After months without work, he could no longer face a world that he felt was closing in on him.

David Cameron impresses Nazarbayev University crowd with answers and aplomb

When David Cameron became the first sitting British prime minister to visit Kazakhstan, his flight from Pakistan arrived late at the Caspian Sea oil city of Atyrau. Cameron said yesterday that he apologized to President Nursultan Nazarbayev for the delay on Sunday. “Don’t worry,” Nazarbayev smiled. “We’ve already been waiting for you for 20 years.”

A friend agonizes as he continues to wonder why his girlfriend chose Facebook over him

It hadn’t been easy for Danny to get over Aigul, the girlfriend he lost because she refused to remove sexy bikini photos of herself on Facebook that generated lewd comments from her male “friends.”

Sexy Facebook photos: an example of the wired world’s threat to today’s relationships

My friend Danny was depressed. He had had a bad fight with his girlfriend Aigul, whom he loves and wants to marry. He needed to talk about it. “She posted photos of herself in a bikini on Facebook,” he said.

Kazakhstan universities to have policy-setting freedom by 2016, conference participants told
Within three years Kazakhstan’s universities will have the authority to decide what academic programs and courses they’ll offer. This autonomy will help the universities respond better to changing student, employer and society demands for skills, according to speakers at the Second Annual Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum at Nazarbayev University.
 
A buddy tells me a Whopper of a story

He and Marzhan had been comfortable from the start precisely because she was a modern Kazakh girl. She wasn’t worldly or wild, but she enjoyed many of the things he did – listening to live music, dancing, having a drink or two. And she liked to be fashionable. Ben loved her taste in clothes – chic but elegant. So the words “I want a burkha” chilled him like a snowstorm roaring down on Astana from Siberia in mid-January.

When your pet chameleon stalks you like he’s thinking about steak

My Almaty friend Vadim had always wanted to have an exotic animal like a reptile for a pet. A couple of years ago, his girlfriend Angela made his wish come true. She gave him a chameleon for his birthday.

Kazakhstan is ramping up its renewable-energy effort at right time, experts say

Kazakhstan has been talking about developing renewable energy for more than a decade. Until recently, there’s been too much talk and too little action, alternative-energy supporters have complained. But that’s changing, with wind and solar projects in the pipeline.

Michio Kaku, the American physicist who has popularized science, will speak at Nazarbayev University

Kaku, whose hundreds of television appearances have made him the world’s most recognizable scientist, will discuss “Physics of the Future: New Opportunities for Science and Business.” The talk will be at 6 p.m. in Nazarbayev University’s Senate Hall conference room.

Telling someone the truth when it can cost you their love forever

If you really love someone, sometimes you have to be prepared to lose them by telling them an unpleasant truth. Some weeks ago my friend Ryan told his girlfriend Zhanna that he believed she had a mental condition that required treatment.

My fabulous artist friend Diana Solovyova’s triumph in silk painting

The longer I know Diana Solovyova, the more I appreciate her artist’s soul. Everything the Almaty resident has created in the five years since we’ve been friends has been outstanding – whether charcoal etchings, paintings, sculptures, photos or Marie Antoinette-style dolls.

Cyber-exhibitionists, cyber-voyeurs and Facebook Addiction Disorder

The more I get to know Almaty film maker Igor Tsai, the more I appreciate how perceptive he is for a 24-year-old.

How a Ukrainian journalist’s moving story caused a young Kazakh to choose a broadcast career

Five years ago a Ukrainian journalist came to Almaty to tell a heart-rending story to students at the Kazakhstan Institute for Management, Economics and Strategic Research. Tatyana Goryachova described how she’d had acid thrown in her face for writing about corruption in her city, Berdyansk. Her moving account included the searing pain of the hydrochloric acid in her eyes and how she begged God to save her sight after staff at the Filitov Eye Clinic in Odessa said she’d lose it.

A true believer’s challenging quest to promote volunteerism in Kazakhstan

When Vera Kim was a university student, her volunteer organization took some orphans to a classical Russian play at the Chekhov Theater in Pavlodar. The organization had assigned a volunteer to each child. Vera’s charge was a 5-year-old boy. The child didn’t say a word during the play, so Vera concluded he was bored. But when the curtain dropped, the boy looked up at her and said earnestly: “When I have my own family, I’m going to take my children to the theater.” It was a moment that touched Vera’s heart, strengthening her commitment to helping others through volunteering.

Fashion designer Zhanar, who wowed ‘em in Russia, returns to her Kazakh roots

Zhanar Yerkingaliyeva remembers her fashion-design splash in Tokyo as if it were yesterday. To get to the land of such legendary designers as Kenzo, Issey Miyake and Hanae Mori, she first had to beat out several thousand competitors for one of two Russian spots in Tokyo’s New Designer Fashion Grand Prix contest.

Bollywood beckons Timur Bekmambetov’s action-scene choreographer Igor Tsai

“I owe this to Hal. If he hadn’t written the story, Bollywood wouldn’t have opened to me.” -- Igor Tsai

A mistranslation that could have provoked a crowd’s animal instincts

Translation mistakes can be so hilarious that I’m always on the lookout for them.

Odessa – a wonderful city with an airport that’s a bus station

Odessa, the Black Sea’s most storied city, has long had the potential to become a great tourist attraction. That potential revolves around it having a modern airport, however – and either the city fathers of Odessa or the national government in Kiev refuse to change the crackerbox, antiquated facility that’s there now.

Three Nazarbayev University students hope to worm their way to prosperity

In an industrial center near east Astana’s Shanghai Bazaar is a new kind of factory. One that produces maggots. Three Nazarbayev University students started the operation to produce protein-rich chicken feed.

My friend Murat the clown’s frolicking at a Kazakh wedding in Thailand

Forget about the traditional ride in the stretch limousine after the wedding ceremony. Adil and Ulpan got a ride on an elephant when they got married. That’s because the Kazakh couple traveled to Thailand to marry.

Learning it was puppy love provided only temporary relief

I was wandering around the Khan Shatyr shopping center the other day when I bumped into my bright-eyed friend Sabrina. When she saw me across the central atrium, the half-Ingush, half-Russian beauty came rushing up with an excited look on her face. And the first words out of her mouth were: “I have a new poopie!”

A foreign guy’s poem to his Kazakh girlfriend

Love can make an otherwise mature guy become as giddy as a high schooler, I’ve learned. I know someone who loves a Kazakh woman so much that he wrote a poem about her.

Expat books executive has helped Kazakhstan turn many pages on progress

Shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, Bizhan Faramarzi came to Kazakhstan looking for opportunities in the oil business. Over the next two decades, the American-educated Iranian would build a successful operation in Kazakhstan. But not in oil.

When two smart alecks go head to head against each other

I love smart-alecky humor. This is the kind where you stick a needle in someone. The needle can be long and sharp if someone has done something to deserve it, or it can be short and painless for those who deserve only harmless fun to be poked at them.

The trauma of a murder trial, and the possibility of performing in Kazakhstan

In the weeks leading up to her husband’s murder trial in September of last year, my daughter Angie was nervous. She was fully aware that many victims of violent crimes in America are victimized twice – once from the crime and then from a traumatic trial-court experience.

Forget about Russia, Gerard Depardieu – Kazakhstan is beckoning

French actor Gerard Depardieu’s quest for Russian citizenship to escape a wealth tax in his homeland has been great fun to follow. More fun, in fact, than “The Closet,” Depardieu’s funniest film in French. It’s about a man working for a condom company who has to pretend he’s gay to keep his job. It hasn’t been just the absurd spectacle of Depardieu cozying up to Vladimir Putin for Russian citizenship that’s been hilarious. It’s also been some of the great lines the news stories have generated. Lines every bit as memorable as in an Oscar-winning movie.

Men of few words who are masters of persuasion

I taught a course at Nazarbayev University recently that I’d never taught before: Presentation Skills. One of the course requirements was a persuasive speech. As I was thinking about the skills it takes to persuade other folks, I remembered a story that an Australian friend told me about two of the most persuasive guys in Kazakhstan.

Conference spotlights Kazakhstan’s fast-moving bid to join World Trade Organization

A lot of Kazakhs have expressed concern that the country’s quest to join two free-trade organizations -- the Customs Union and the World Trade Organization – will backfire, damaging the domestic economy rather than helping it. One of the speakers at a recent conference on Kazakhstan’s drive toward WTO membership offered reassurances to domestic businesses, however.

First an Expo, next both a Winter and Summer Olympics for Kazakhstan?

A lot of ingredients go into a developing country’s rise to the elite club of wealthy nations.

Among the most important are a well-thought-out national economic-development plan and an educated, hard-working population.

Many international economic experts say Kazakhstan has had an excellent development blueprint in place, with just one measure being a huge jump in gross domestic product per capita since independence 20 years ago.

11-week-old’s murder changes a mother and the rest of her family forever

One of my daughter Angie’s last memories of 11-week-old Bryan was singing “Pure Imagination” softly to him in his hospital room in Portland, Oregon. It was her way of saying goodbye to her son, who was brain-dead, the victim of such violent shaking that he had suffered massive brain damage. Angie had reverted to music, her overriding joy next to her twins Bryan and Ethan, at this most difficult moment of her life.

A student who plans to become a doctor – and the touching reason why

I was moved by an essay that one of my Nazarbayev University students submitted for a Communication class assignment. She agreed to my request to run this edited version as a guest column.

It was hard not to laugh about this friend’s hard situation

There was such desperation in his voice that I immediately became concerned something was terribly wrong.

“You’ve got to help me – I’ve got a real problem,” Samir pleaded in a tone so plaintive I thought he was going to cry.

Normally he’s a happy-go-lucky type, so I feared the worst. The only thing I could think of was that he’d developed a life-threatening illness or lost a family member.

So it was with some trepidation that I asked: “What’s wrong, my friend?”

Kazakhstan firm designs new type of windmill for breezy gorge areas

Kazakhstan has the highest wind-energy potential per capita of any country in the world, according to the United Nations Development Program. But there are a couple of catches. One is that Kazakhstan’s best wind potential is in gorges where speeds can reach near-gale force. Under such conditions, a conventional windmill shuts down to prevent damage. Another catch is the high cost of the cables needed to connect conventional windmills to each other and the electrical grid. The fact that high-tower windmills must be spaced considerable distances from each other -- for safety reasons – increases those costs. Almaty power engineer Marat Kombarov has found a way to get around these problems.

Rustam Ospanov’s rise from record collector to force in Kazakhstan music

Rustam has talked many of his overseas colleagues into coming to Kazakhstan to perform in Jazzystan festivals, the ninth of which will be in Almaty September 21 and 22. The headliner will be the Brazilian singer and composer Marcos Valle, one of the pioneers of bossa nova.

Rustam’s success hasn’t come easy. His first seven years as a DJ after graduating from Almaty’s Kazakhstan Institute of International Relations were tough.

President’s Nazarbayev University speech is educational, political–and an entertainment extravaganza

President Nursultan Nazarbayev strode into the university that bears his name yesterday to deliver what many expected to be an educational-policy speech. The 2 ½-hour-long event turned out to be a lot more than that. Listeners ranging from grade-school children in remote locations to Cabinet members on the Nazarbayev University campus got a major political speech as well as an educational address.

Unusual photos and video will make two couples’ wedding memories last a lifetime

I’ve been amazed at the creative talent I’ve found in Kazakhstan since the day I arrived almost six years ago.

The country of only 17 million has some of the best entertainers I’ve ever seen, including musicians, singers and dancers.

Kazakhstan also boasts excellent writers, poets, composers, painters and sculptors.

Now I can add another genre to the creative-artists list: wedding photographers and video makers.

A surprise ending to the video-making part of the story I’m about to spin for you is that the project got the groom so fired up that he auditioned for a movie – and got the part.

An American cowboy spurs some classroom laughter

Oh the dangers of bringing a cowboy to the classroom!

My Nebraska bronco-buster friend Mike Slattery called me recently to say he was in Astana for three days on a much-needed break – and could we get together.

I was glad he was in town because Mike is a favorite of mine. He’s the kind of straightforward guy you feel comfortable with. He tells you what he thinks. He has no hidden agendas. And he’s got a great sense of humor.

Mike has been putting in long hours at the ranch he runs for KazBeef, a subsidiary of the government’s national agricultural conglomerate KazAgro.

Kazakhstan cyclist Alexander Vinokourov’s Olympic gold is a dramatic comeback story

Kazakhstan cyclist Alexander Vinokourov’s gold medal in London over the weekend was one of the great comeback stories in Olympic sports.

To get to the winner’s podium, the man whose adoring fans know as Vino had to overcome a two-year suspension for doping five years ago and a shattered leg from a horrific cycling accident last year. His leg was broken in so many places that doctors had to insert a metal plate in it.

Also on his way to Olympic gold, the 38-year-old Vinokourov had to weather a storm that his doping suspension caused in the ranks of Kazakhstan’s national cycling squad, Team Astana. The manager and 14 riders – including the fabled Lance Armstrong -- left when the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation allowed Vinokourov to rejoin the team in 2009.

A young military officer’s engaging story of how President Nazarbayev helped him get married

It was a momentous occasion for Mikhail Futman, so you could understand the young army officer being nervous.

After all, it wasn’t every day that you got to meet the president, Mikhail said at a Nazarbayev Center conference this month.

He captivated the crowd with an important chapter of his love story that unfolded during Kazakhstan Independence Day celebrations in Astana in mid-December of 2006.

Timur Bekmambetov’s rewarding gamble on a 16-year-old fight-scene coordinator

Igor Tsai was only 16 when he learned in 2004 that famed director Timur Bekmambetov would be shooting the surrealistic thriller “Day Watch” in Igor’s hometown of Almaty.

An avid movie fan, Igor had long believed that film makers should be doing a better job of creating action scenes. And the tall, handsome young man thought he was just the guy to lead the way.

Bekmambetov’s gamble on the teen-ager has paid off big-time. Igor has become one of the top action-sequence coordinators in the business, a skill that’s particularly important in Bekmambetov films because action is the director’s forte.

With society in mind, Kazakhstan changes the way it awards research grants

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has long wanted more of Kazakhstan’s scientific research turned into products that spur the economy and create good jobs.

A new center in Astana is helping the country realize that goal by introducing an international system for evaluating research proposals.

One of the aims of the National Center of Science and Technology Evaluation is ensuring that applied-science proposals – those that can be converted into products – receive major consideration.

Pilot of recent solar-powered flight charms Kazakhstan energy-symposium crowd

Five weeks ago, Kazakhstan pulled off an international public-relations coup by luring a whopping 11 Nobel Prize winners to the Astana Economic Forum. Yesterday it did it again.

Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard showed up at a sustainable-energy forum in Astana just three weeks after making a historic solar-powered flight. The 20-hour journey between Madrid and Rabat, Morocco,  on June 6 generated world headlines as the first non-fuel-powered flight between continents.

Leaders of Kazakhstan’s quest to land an expo in Astana in 2017 were delighted with the luster that Piccard’s presence gave the Future Energy symposium, which tied in to their expo bid.

A dazzling day of U.S. military cadets and Kazakhs who will be joining them

When Lt. Col. Dave Bennett asked me to meet four Kazakhs heading for U.S. military academies, I told him I’d be delighted. But I didn’t know it would turn out to be one of the most pleasant days I’ve had in some time.

Not only did I meet some of Kazakhstan’s most outstanding youngsters, but also their parents, the first Kazakh graduate of West Point, eight West Point cadets who were visiting Kazakhstan and the cadets’ terrific professor and mentor, Col. Rickie McPeak. Dave, who works with Kazakhstan’s military as the U.S. Embassy’s security assistance officer, told me proudly that this was the largest crop yet of Kazakhs heading for the U.S. service academies.

How the G-Global Web site helped a Swiss executive get off to a fast start in Kazakhstan

Three years ago Richard Debrot gave ski lessons in his native Switzerland to a family from Kazakhstan’s commercial center of Almaty. ... When he posted the proposal, he said, he didn’t know the site was holding a competition for best business paper. So his prize was a surprise. “To win a prize for my article” was a nice bonus, he noted. But “far more important was the credibility” he obtained from the Forum designating him an energy-solutions expert.

Making a new friend in a most unexpected – and most touching – way

I’m a curiosity in Kazakhstan. A professor, newspaper and online journalist, and a guy who did the quirky work of modeling, acting and voice dubbing during my nine years in Japan. So a number of Kazakhstan journalists think I’m interesting enough to interview.

The tragic story of a mother with 1-year-old triplets who lost the husband she cared so much for

Leonid and Yuliya Orobinski wanted children so much that when doctors said Leonid needed fertility treatments, the Astana couple set out to raise the thousands of dollars necessary. Leonid, a construction-site electrician, was unable to find a moonlighting opportunity. But Yuliya worked a double shift as a primary-school teacher from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. five days a week.

Japanese jazz pianist and his mates rock Astana crowd

Japanese jazz piano player Mitsuaki Kishi gave such a mesmerizing performance at the 2004 International Jazz Festival in Vladivostok that fans in the Russian city began clamoring for his return. They were so insistent that they kept up the drumbeat for six years until they finally got their wish in 2010. The rollicking concert that Kishi-san performed at the Astana Opera and Ballet Theater recently showed that his ability in Vladivostok to connect with jazz fans from the former Soviet Union was no fluke. His Astana fans filled every seat on the main floor and balcony of the theater and stood the entire length of both aisles on the theater’s wings.

Astana Economic Forum offers kernels that could help global financial system

Kazakhstan’s brain trust had hoped that the Astana Economic Forum would generate ideas about preventing new global economic and financial crises. A lot of ideas did surface at last week’s event, but none was a silver bullet – a magic solution for warding off another economic or financial disaster.

Visiting Nobel winners to deliver 28 lectures to Kazakhstan students

Four years ago President Nursultan Nazarbayev was wrestling with a global economic crisis that had hit Kazakhstan hard.

One way to help solve the domestic problem, he thought, would be to tap some of the world’s top economic minds.

“They would have the knowledge of the economy and they would know how to cure the economy – both Kazakhstan’s and the world’s,” was how the president was thinking, according to Murat Karimsakov, who heads the Astana Economic Forum’s organizing team.

President Nazarbayev suggested that the Forum, which was brand-new, invite Nobel Prize winners. Not only could the laureates help Kazakhstan, he reasoned, but they could also increase the Forum’s attendance by attracting those wanting the latest in economic thinking.

Snapshots of the12 Nobel winners coming to Fifth Astana Economic Forum

A 12th Nobel Prize winner will be attending the Fifth Astana Economic Forum that opens today.

Organizers of the three-day Forum announced a few weeks ago that 11 Nobel laureates would be coming. Another invitee accepted after the announcement.

 

Seven of the 12 Nobel laureates at this year’s Forum won their prizes in economics and three in chemistry. One laureate won in physics and another in medicine.

Conference on 20 years of U.S.-Kazakhstan ties covers successes and challenges

The possibility of an extremist regime re-emerging in Afghanistan after NATO forces leave in 2014 was on the minds of many speakers at a conference in Astana on Friday marking 20 years of U.S.-Kazakhstan relations.

The event at the headquarters of the new Nazarbayev Center think tank, whose director is former Foreign Minister Kanat ayev, both celebrated the countries’ joint accomplishments and spotlighted challenges.

Soviet use of ethnic Germans as slave laborers is an eye opener for German ambassador

Guido Herz began delving deeper into the history of ethnic Germans in the former Soviet Union when he became Germany’s consul general in the Russian city of Kaliningrad seven years ago.

Like many Germans, he had had only a sketchy notion of what ethnic Germans had endured under the Soviet system.

Nazarbayev University to start graduate programs, plans new construction surge

Nazarbayev University is wrapping up a progress-packed second year and has ambitious plans for its third year, including starting a graduate program and doubling the size of its campus.
That’s the word from Aslan Sarinzhipov, chairman of the university’s Executive Council, which has spearheaded the start-up effort since Day One in June of 2010.

Kazakhstan’s American-flavored first cattle auction is festive and productive

It was one of the biggest days of Beibit Yerubayez’s life, and he was worried.

The weather wasn’t cooperating. It was a few degrees above zero, and raining. In fact, it was raining sideways, the drops pushed along by a howling wind.

Beibit, the Astana-based head of the Kazakhstan government’s KazBeef operation, was afraid that many of those he’d invited to the day’s important event near the village of Mamai, three hours north of Astana, would take one look at the weather and go back to bed.

Fifth Astana Economic Forum will feature 11 Nobel winners, two billionaires, several heads of state

The luster of a conference depends on its headliners – and by that account, the Fifth Astana Economic Forum will be glittering, with 11 Nobel Prize winners, two billionaires and several heads of state coming.

The Forum, which will address some of today’s most pressing economic issues, is fast gaining a reputation as one of the world’s premier economic events.

That’s partly because of its decision to assemble as many Nobel laureates as it can at the Palace of Independence convention center in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana.

A young woman’s 9/11 kindness comes back to her 11 years later

Forty-eight hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a 28-year-old woman in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, wrote a song to let go of her emotions from that awful day.

The song, “Never Forget” – which you can listen to on this page -- received air play in the Portland area, other parts of the United States and in Europe.

A Kazakh guy who’s as mischievous as they come – just ask five Russians

I like folks with an impish sense of humor – and that’s one reason I took to Almas Kamalov the moment I met him.

The first night that I sat down for a beer with Almas and our mutual American friend Jake Schubert, I learned that Almas can be as mischievous as a 6-year-old pulling the pony tail of the classmate in front of him. 

That mischievous side was really on display when Almas, who is now director of the Astana branch of  Agro Credit Corporation, decided to have fun with some Russians in London in the summer of 2010.

A taxi-driver hero who returned a very expensive computer to one of my friends

Everybody has heroes. In the military arena, some of mine are American Generals Douglas MacArthur and George Patton and the Red Army commander Marshal Georgy Zhukov, all of whom played key roles in winning World War II. In the political arena, my heroes include Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.

I’ve just added to my list of heroes a “little guy,” 31-year-old Galym, who gave a friend of mine a ride in his car a couple of weeks ago.

A pleasant moment in student recruitment

I’ll never stop doing journalism, but my “day job”at the moment is teaching at Nazarbayev University.

Being a 21st Century professor means multitasking, and one of those tasks is recruiting students.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. You have to get inside the heads of 17-year-old high school seniors, then punch the buttons that will convince them to come to your university.

I took a two-day recruitment trip to Almaty recently with a colleague, literature Professor Gabe McGuire, whom Nazarbayev University students not only respect but adore.

Actor Armand Assante’s documentary about Kazakhstan wins first prize at Florida film festival

Hollywood actor Armand Assante began falling in love with Kazakhstan in 2007 when the Kazakhstan Film Festival invited him to Almaty to show his new release “California Dreamin.”

A busy work schedule prevented Armand from accepting the invitation from festival president Yermek Amanshayev, whose day job is president of Almaty-based Kazakhfilm Studios.

But before 2007 was out, the Hollywood action-film producer Erken Ialgalshev had brought Armand to his native land – and the actor was blown away by what he experienced.

The book ‘Silent Steppe’ puts a human face on 1930s repression of Kazakhs

One scene in the riveting memoir “The Silent Steppe” is so haunting that it could have come straight out of a Hollywood movie. Twelve-year-old Mukhamet Shayakhmetov is lying in bed half-conscious with malaria when he hears faint footsteps.

It is 1934, a time when Josef Stalin’s forced collectivization of agriculture has killed an estimated 1.2 million Kazakhs over four years. Mukhamet lifts his head from his pillow to see an intruder “walking off with that small bag that had been stowed away in the truck containing the last three kilograms or so of wheat grains we had managed to put by.”

Obama’s special show of respect for Nazarbayev and Kazakhstan at Seoul nuclear summit

 Because Kazakhstan has a nuclear-disarmament record it can be proud of, President Nursultan Nazarbayev always enjoys a moment in the sun when he attends an international nuclear conference. At the Seoul nuclear summit this week the sun was shining so strong that an anti-tanning lotion might have been in order.

American President Barack Obama went out of his way at the summit to salute Nazarbayev and the government and people of Kazakhstan for what they’ve done to make the world safer from nuclear weapons. Obama’s recognition came partly in words, but even more unmistakably in deeds.

How a dastardly line-jumping scammer foiled even the bank number-machine system

I was having a pleasant breakfast on a recent Sunday morning with my American friends Glenn and Mary when the subject of line jumping at banks came up. This practice chaps my hide so much that I wrote a blog not long ago in which I beseeched bank executives to put number machines in all of their branches to stop line jumping.

The machines, I said in my blog, would be a foolproof way of preventing line jumping. Every entering customer would have to obtain a number from a machine before she could be served. No number, no service – a system I asserted would be a sure-fire way to foil those deviates known as line jumpers. Well, I must humbly admit I was wrong about the number machines being foolproof, and grovel for your forgiveness.

Fukushima-disaster experts’ visit underscores Kazakhstan and Japan’s shared nuclear legacy
In recent years Kazakhstan and Japan have developed the kind of soulmate-like kinship that could only have been forged from shared tragedy. That tragedy, of course, is nuclear.
Japan is the only country to have suffered atomic-bomb attacks, and last year it became one of a handful of nations to experience a nuclear-energy disaster: the near-meltdown at the Fukushima power plant. Kazakhstan has suffered nearly 500 nuclear tests on its soil, and many Kazakhs were dispatched to help contain or clean up the nuclear-power-plant disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine.
How a pleasant evening turned very, very ugly

 It started out pleasantly enough with a friend’s request to get together, but it ended up being one of the ugliest evenings I’ve spent in Kazakhstan. All because of a guy who was impersonating a police officer.

The warm story of an American adopting a 30-something Kazakh as her son

This is a love story about an American woman and a Kazakh man – but not the kind you normally think of. It ‘s about an American woman who had never married becoming so taken with a Kazakh exchange student that she adopted him so he could be her heir.

Paying for an operation, and helping to keep four babies warm

It was a day when I was experiencing donor fatigue, so at first I wished I hadn’t received the call I got on a recent Wednesday. Two days before, a sweet little Tatar friend had told me she needed an operation in Almaty for a serious sinus condition. Astana boasts excellent doctors, so Asmira’s condition must have been really threatening for physicians here to recommend that she go to an Almaty specialist.

11 Nobel Prize-winning visitors announced at G-Global Initiative promotion

This year’s Fifth Astana Economic Forum will boast eleven Nobel Prize winners, the head of a high-powered group of economists from countries in the former Soviet Union has announced.

Murat Karimsakov’s announcement came at a press conference this week at which he and four other senior economists endorsed the G-Global Initiative, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s proposal to make the world economic system fairer.

An American hopes to make wine in the steppes around Astana

Scott Overmyer wants to start a winery operation in the often-frozen steppe around Astana. Those unfamiliar with growing wine grapes may think the Nazarbayev University professor came up with the idea of a northern Kazakhstan winery after downing too much Zinfandel.

Trying to give my friend Sam a second chance at love

It was an opportunity lost – or was it? A few weeks ago my American friend Sam took his new lady Sabrina and two of her girlfriends to a movie at the Saryarka shopping center in Astana.

A guy who goes out of his way to make sure his hard lessons come in pairs

Some guys never learn. I know this guy I’ll call Richard who has a habit of stepping on the same smelly cow paddy twice. 

The nitty-gritty reason that banks need to install customer-number machines

Banks in Kazakhstan need to pay more attention to customer service.
Time and time again, I get the impression that banks here are run for the convenience of the management and not customers.

A woman’s take on what a cowboy ought to be

 Betsy Model is a playful rascal. When the New Mexico resident read my recent blog about tips on being a cowboy, she shot me an email that said: “Hal, you crack me up – you do – and I thought your blog was a hoot.” Then she sent me what she calls a “woman’s perspective” on what it takes to be a cowboy.

America and Kazakhstan’s ‘Silent Steppe Cantata’ was entertaining and inspiring

One of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in a long time was attending the recent performance of the “Silent Steppe Cantata” at Congress Hall.

A holiday to remember a country’s progress and friends

Where I live, I can always tell if there’s a holiday. That was the case today at the start of a holiday that’s more special than most – the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s Independence.

Robotics competition shows Nazarbayev University applied-science quest is on track

A recent robotics competition at Nazarbayev University offered an entertaining and intriguing example of the university’s determination to bring applied science to Kazakhstan.

A bottle of wine for a beloved teacher

It was the kind of moment that makes life worthwhile, that is so precious that you walk away feeling a rosy glow.

An exciting Kazakh-American musical collaboration – and the story behind it

Three years ago an accomplished young Kazakh singer living in Los Angeles convinced an American composer to set the words of Kazakh poets to music.

A new definition of a ladies’ man, thanks to my friend Charlie

There are a lot of ways to spot a ladies’ man.

A new wrinkle on the airport taxi scam: the godfather

I’ve had some bad experiences with taxi-driver bandits at Almaty International Airport this year, but the same wasn’t true at Astana International Airport – until recently.

Bargain restaurant meals that you won’t want to pass up in Astana

I’m one of those single guys whose cooking is so bad that even a starving wolf would turn up his nose at it. So I’m always excited about finding a good restaurant meal for a bargain price.

New U.S. ambassador is nuclear-savvy and experienced in the region

Exclusive interview of new U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Kenneth Fairfax for Tengrinews.kz English.

Watching an agricultural-financing deal get done in minutes

It was a fascinating lesson for me in how quickly a deal can get done in Kazakhstan’s booming agricultural sector.

A real cowboy’s advice to an ethnic-Russian cowboy wannabe

... Develop some attitude. “Cowboys usually have a cocky and tough attitude” that women love, Mike said. In fact, women wonder how that attitude translates behind closed doors, he added....

Astana conference, 2 others are vital for Afghanistan’s future, foreign minister says

Exclusive interview with Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov specially for Tengrinews.kz English.

The opening of an American burger joint in Kazakhstan warms my innards

I’ve been trying to come up with a clever way to trumpet Hardee’s’ arrival in Kazakhstan. At first I considered grabbing your attention with: “Kazakhstan no longer has to play catch-up with the West.”

Why Kiev will be special for me forever

I recently learned I needed to go to Kiev on business – and like every trip I take to Ukraine’s capital, this one put a smile on my face. That’s because this trip, like all the rest, made me remember the Pumpkin story.

My night with gangsters and belly dancers

I was told it was the best shashlik place in Almaty – great-tasting meat, big portions, cheap prices. “Sounds like a deal,” I told Terry, who had invited me there.

A friend’s tragedy that has left scars on her and one who cares about her

I met her a couple of years ago when I was living in Almaty. It was a sunny spring day, and I decided to take a walk in Panfilov Park, which was near my apartment. I came across Assel and two other university friends talking animatedly on a bench in the park.

An airplane adventure that’s more than just a travel story

“They have a term for it in Russia,” he said. “it’s called bespredel. It means that people can do exactly what they like and get away with it.”

Andrew Auster’s frenetic life with the Haileybury schools in Kazakhstan

My friend Andrew Auster’s life has been a whirlwind since he arrived in Kazakhstan in 2007.

The bottom line on language mistakes

... One day she called me at work in a panic. “There’s a moss in the house!” she screamed. I should have realized she was trying to say “mouse,” but I didn’t. “A what?” I asked. “A moss! A moss!”

“Avatar’s” Michelle Rodriguez is the real deal: bright, lively, captivating

Anyone who loves movies knows that Kazakhstan director Timur Bekmembetov has taken Hollywood by storm.

A German professor’s great idea for helping me become rich
I’ve had some interesting jobs during my career – military officer, journalist, public relations person, professor. But the one that’s been the most fun has been actor.
My bid to assure my friend Jake that a smelly situation would come up roses

It wasn’t Jake Schubert’s week. It started with an immigration problem. Jake, a resident of Valentine, Nebraska, in the United States, had stayed for more than 90 days in Astana without registering at an immigration office.

A meaty question from the president that impresses a Nebraska cowboy

The president was coming, and my American cowboy buddy Mike Slattery wanted to make a good impression.

Almaty resident who dreams of film career helps Americans make ‘Babushka’ documentary

The documentary “Babushka,” which was released this year, is attracting attention in Kazakhstan, the United States and elsewhere because of its universal appeal about love, overcoming tough times and hope.

A prosperity index that you know in your gut is right

Sometimes taxi drivers can be hilarious. Aslan could tell I was a foreigner and began chatting me up in Russian.

The Almaty airport taxi scammers are on the defensive, but need to be knocked out

One of the rewards of being a journalist is that you can make a difference in people’s lives.

An encounter with a beggar that brings back painful memories

I could see the fat gypsy woman walking along Kenesary Street holding a baby, with four small children in tow, as I stood waiting for a friend in front of Congress Hall in Astana.

An actor with a bad-guy persona but a comedian’s delivery

Michael Madsen has played bad guys in most of his Hollywood films, so it would be easy to assume that in real life he’s a guy with an edge.

When a Hollywood star says you’re handsome

Rodriguez didn’t answer the question – at least not right away. The first words out of her mouth were: “You know, you’re really handsome. Have you thought about being an actor?”

My walk down the red carpet

Armand Assante gave me a chance to find out at the opening of the Second Astana International Action Film Festival – and it was as exhilarating as I could have imagined.

A love story without a Hollywood ending

Jack had gotten the romance off to a Hollywood start by grabbing a rose from a street vendor in Almaty, then hailing a car to catch the gorgeous woman he had spotted on the street before she could disappear onto a bus.

A Hollywood romance story right in Almaty

It was mid-summer and my friend Jack, who had broken up with his girlfriend a few weeks before, watched a stunning beauty walk past the Almaty park bench he was sitting on.

An American professor’s contributions to journalism education in Kazakhstan

To start with, literature professors and not former journalists were teaching the courses. The question this posed was:  How can a professor who has never been a journalist teach the skills needed for students to succeed in the profession?

Books & Coffee has a problem most stores would like: a customer surge

Martha Peake’s Books & Coffee in Astana is bursting at the seams these days.

A tale of gulags, hunger and the only way out for a 5-year-old

Antonova asked her parents when she would stop being hungry. “One day you will stop being hungry,” they told her, “but we will be long gone from this earth when that day comes,” was the answer.

Astana Day volunteer finds herself catering to the stars

Astana Day celebrations each year bring in big-name entertainers from around the world.

A secret I wish I hadn’t heard – a friend’s divorce
“I’m divorced,” she said – and it was because of religion.
Please, Almaty, lower the boom on the airport taxi scammers

Mr. Mayor, please stop the taxi scammers who prey on foreigners arriving at Almaty International Airport. They are giving Almaty and Kazakhstan a black eye.

How a stroke of luck helped me meet the musical superstar Batyrkhan Shukenov

It started out as a day when I would meet the remarkable headmaster of the Haileyberry international school that will open in Astana this fall. As fun as it was to get to know the enthusiastic and gregarious Andrew Auster, the day would blossom into a chance for me to realize a longheld dream: Meeting the Kazakh musician extraordinaire Batyrkhan Shukenov.

The tale of a Kazakh horse rider in Moscow

“Look at those horses,” one of the inebriated Russians told Anvar. “You Kazakhs are supposed to be hot-shot riders. I dare you to ride that thing.” “I’ll not only ride him – I’ll ride him all the way back to the hotel,” Anvar shot back.

A customer quibble for Air Astana CEO Peter Foster

“Miss, my brother is Peter Foster, the Air Astana CEO. He was supposed to book me in first class, but he didn’t,” I said. “Would you...

 

An American cowboy’s adventure in Kazakhstan

Michael is having the adventure of his young life, running a ranch of 1,300 recently imported American cattle three hours north of Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana.

 

Bin Laden news causes memories of 9/11 to rush back

The death of Osama bin Laden invoked memories of that terrible day of September 11, 2001, for hundreds of millions around the world – and I was no exception. I was executive editor of the News Herald, a medium-sized daily in Panama City, Florida, when 9/11 occurred.

Pockets of good news on the banking front

Kazakhstan has had some good banking-sector news recently. Unfortunately, it hasn’t applied across the board – it’s involved only selected banks. Bad loans continue to weigh down many financial institutions. And Kazakhstan banks as a whole still owe billions of dollars to overseas lenders.

A new idea for tackling Kazakhstan’s technical-training gap

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has come up with an intriguing idea for providing state-of-the-art technical training to young Kazakhs.

He told the Cabinet this week that he wants to see a network of world-class technical training colleges in Astana, Almaty, the oil and gas center of Aktobe and the economically important southern Kazakhstan city of Shymkent.

Kazakhstan’s little-known sacrifice at Chernobyl

I read with interest the news coverage of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s appearance at a conference in Kiev marking the 25th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The president said the Kremlin ordered 32,000 Kazakhs to Chernobyl to deal with the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The stomach-tightening threat of the dreaded toilet ladies

A quiet danger lurks in the bowels of many cities in Kazakhstan. It's not corruption or the mafia.  It's the dreaded toilet ladies.

An Almaty banker with a heart of gold

I’ve met some good-hearted bankers in my life, folks who wanted to help others. And one of them is right here in Kazakhstan.

Springtime without fruit-tree blossoms and a little girl

Every April a plum tree and a cherry tree burst into bloom a few steps away from the Nazik coffee shop at Dostyk and Vinogradova Streets in Almaty. And every April until now, I have been able to see how much a little girl has grown.

Reflections on the presidential election

“Do you think that Exxon Mobil wants a change of government here, or the White House or the European Union?” the analyst asked. “Kazakhstan is critical for (the West’s) energy security, investment security and minerals.”
Although Western governments wouldn’t admit it publicly, “it is just in everybody’s interests for this man to stay here (in the presidency),” the pundit concluded.

Leaders’ humor – in Kazakhstan and elsewhere – makes life a little brighter

The ability to crack a joke or to laugh helps leaders in any country connect with those they work with or those they represent.

I remember even decades later some of the funny lines that leaders of my own country – the United States – included in speeches or uttered spontaneously.

Japan’s nuclear tragedy recalls a memorable day in Kazakhstan

Why can’t the world’s powerhouses – the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Western Europe – come up with a crash program to create a hydrogen fuel cell that would power everything on the planet? Homes, businesses, cars, everything.

It would set the world on a path that allows the phasing out of nuclear reactors, assuring that there are no more reactor victims.

Kazakhs aren’t the only ones who like Nauryz, believe you me

Nauryz, the rites-of-spring holiday that Kazakhs observe every March, can be a good deal for foreigners like me.

Eurasian Bank bond plans a good sign for sector

The news that Eurasian Bank plans to issue $200 million to $300 million worth of ruble- and Euro-denominated bonds in the second half of this year is a good sign for Kazakhstan’s banking sector.


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