Daniyar the Bolashaker's secret to becoming an English-language ace27 november 2013, 19:03
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.
I know dozens of Bolashakers, so when I heard Mussabayev's comments, I began trying to recall whether their English was legit or suspect.
I thought right away of my friend Daniyar, who had studied anthropology at Cambridge.
Here's a snippet of our most recent conversation:
“Hal, my friend, you need to find something to replace that ostentatious tie,” he said with a smile. “Chartreuse and metallic gold are not a propitious combination.”
I smiled back, but was thinking to myself: “Ostentatious? Propitious? You little show-off.”
“Danny, my friend, you're as diplomatic as ever,” I replied. “How's your job going?”
“Splendid,” he said. “I'm sure I'll be a real-estate billionaire before the age of 30. The only thing I don't like is that my boss is a bit supercilious.”
“Personally, I wouldn't mind my boss being super. Wouldn't want him to be silly, though,” I said.
Danny looked stunned. “Hal, Hal, Hal,” he sniffed. “Where did you learn your English? Supercilious means haughty, looking down on others, thinking you're superior.”
“Oh,” I replied softly, looking down at my feet and wringing my hands.
Trying to change the subject, I said: “Danny, did you see where the Dallas Cowboys beat the Indianapolis Colts 32-31 in the last second the other day. Exciting game.”
“I don't pay attention to sports, Hal,” he said in a tone that was, well . . . supercilious. “I don't need any vicarious thrills. I get sky-high chasing business opportunities every day.”
His rejoinder confused me.
“I guess the Vikings WERE thrill seekers,” I answered. “But they were pretty blood-thirsty. I'm not seeking those kinds of thrills.”
“I thought you were a big-time journalist with a big-time vocabulary,” Danny chided me. “Vicarious has nothing to do with the Vikings. It means living through others, getting thrills by watching others perform.”
“Danny, old pal, I gotta call a spade a spade. You're showing off with those 50-cent words.”
He thought for a moment.
“I don't mean to be condescending,” he said. “Sorry.”
“Well, you ARE descending into con-hood when you use such words,” I replied.
Danny chuckled. “Oh, Hal, you ARE a card!” he said.
I didn't know what he was talking about.
“Something troubling you? You look nonplussed,” Danny said.
“I'm not nonplussed. Confused by your big words, maybe – but not nonplussed. There are a lot of pluses in my life, I'll have you know.”
Danny looked at me like he'd seen a saiga antelope bellying up to the bar. Kind of astonished, I'd say.
“There are indeed a lot of pluses in your life,” he said in a tone that indicated he'd begun feeling sorry for me. “For one thing, I envy your gregariousness. Until I was a Bolashaker, and studied in England, I was a bit shy.”
“I thought every Kazakh was gregarious,” I said. “I mean, Yuri Gagarin is part of your tradition – cosmonaut hero and all. I read they turned his home at Baikonur into a memorial.”
Danny looked astounded, then nonplussed, then empathetic.
“Gregarious means outgoing,” he said. “Has nothing to do with Gagarin or any other cosmonaut.”
“Whew!” he muttered under his breath.
Now it was his turn to try to change the subject.
“You know that guy who hit on your girlfriend at the club the other night?” he said, “What did you do?”
“I asked him to go outside and fight,” I said.
“And?” Danny inquired.
“He wouldn't. He could see the fire in my eyes.”
“But he was a lot bigger than you.”
“Some got the macho and some don't,” I replied.
“What a pusillanimous character he was,” Danny said.
“He WAS a pus – .” I caught myself – no need to be vulgar. “A pussycat, all right.”
Danny emitted a belly laugh. “Hal,” he said, “talking with you is more fun than watching Murat Murturganov the Clown cavorting.”
I had finally had enough of this conversation with my brilliant friend. I was actually getting a headache trying to figure out what his 50-centers meant.
“Well, Danny, I gotta run,” I said. “I'm curious: Where did you get your incredible vocabulary – from some world-class literature professor at Cambridge?”
“Nope. From Chauncey the bartender at the Highbrow Pub in Cambridge,” he said.
My God. Maybe Mussabayev the KazCosmos chief had been right.
“Chauncy the bartender?” I asked.
“Yep. He has a doctorate in English literature from Oxford. Never wanted to teach, though. Thought bartending would be a lot more fun.”
“Wish I'd had old Chauncey,” I said. “When I became a journalist, I had to unlearn my English and start over.”
“Oh? And where did you learn it from?”
“From Guido the bartender at the El Sorrento Bar, Grill and Massage Parlor in Omaha,” I said.
“Wow – you overcame humble roots to rise to the Los Angeles Times despite your English training. You're a true American success story,” said Danny, a twinge of awe in his voice.
“Aw, shucks. Just lucky, I guess.”
Danny looked at his watch, then suddenly jumped up and threw on his coat.
“Where are you going in such a rush?” I asked.
“KazCosmos headquarters. I'm going to apply for a job there. My dream is to be both a billionaire and a cosmonaut before I'm 30.”
A frown suddenly creased his face. “Just hope I can pass their English exam,” he said.