don't make sense. BUT one thing they do more logically is pricing for
movie theaters. While most American theaters divide movies into
matinees and evenings, theaters here have a sliding scale. The very
first show may be 400 tenge and the evening shows are 1000. Mid-day
shows fall somewhere in between.
I can't speak for all Peace Corps volunteers, but when I decide to see
a movie (I've seen three in two years) I prefer that early morning
show. So that's how Ken, Berik, and I ended up at the Mega in Astana
at 9:30, before the mall even opened. The only store we could go to
was Ramstor. Everything else was cut off by some guards. Early morning
mall-walkers are prohibited in Kazakhstan. At 10am we rush up the
stairs to the fourth floor and check the time for Inception (in
Russian, Nachalo, which I translate to beginning. Is that what
Inception means? Honestly, I don't really know. When does anyone even
use that word?) 10:50! And the cost is 600 tenge. Blin! The price at
the new tent-mall (way disappointing) was 500. But we're here and we
buy three tickets next to each other. Another difference (possibly
improvement?) is selling specific seats in the movie theater, rather
than having general admission.
Berik is grateful because he has 50 minutes to run home and get the
glasses he forgot. Ken and I have 50 minutes to wander an empty mall.
We walk across the food court to this place called Babylon. Imagine a
stripped-down mall version of a Chuck-E-Cheeze without pizza or a mall
arcade on steroids. This place has bumper cars, laser tag, arcade
games, a 4-d theater, air hockey, DDR, etc. If you want to blow some
tenge, it's a good place to go. We weren't looking to spend any money
though and just wanted to check it out.
We walk in and see a strange site, even for Kazakhstan. There was a
circle of their employees (all Kazakh teenagers probably with summer
jobs) dancing in the middle of the arcade. I thought it was some
Target-like morning teambuilder. And it was strange to watch. Almost
embarrassing to watch. We started wandering the empty center and I
made my way to the ticket counter. I wanted to know how much
everything cost. The woman there said that bowling had been replaced
with roller skating, laser tag was 300 tenge for fifteen minutes, and
there was a morning discotheque every day if we wanted to join in.
Disco-teque! That wasn't a morning warm-up. That was a kid's disco!
What else were we supposed to do for fifty minutes? Ken and I
immediately decided to join in.
By this time, the circle of ten Kazakh teenagers had been joined by a
Russian father and his daughter, who was about four years old. A
skeptical mother sat out on the side, not having nearly as much fun as
enthusiastic father and daughter. The circle had two dance leaders who
were leading the scripted hand and dance motions for each song. Ken
and I joined in and quickly caught on with the choreography (it was
for children, after all). And honestly, there I was in my clothes that
hadn't been washed in a week, beard that hadn't been trimmed in two
weeks, and I don't think I've ever felt more self-conscious in my
life. I couldn't help but wonder what they thought of me and Ken, two
random strange-looking people speaking English with one another, who
just happened to be at the kid's disco at 10am on a Sunday morning.
Three songs in, my concerns were slightly abated when all of a sudden
the dancing circle broke down into a game of apparent tickle tag. Ken
and I had no idea what was going on when one of the Babylon employees
came running at us and got us each with a quick tickle attack. Next
the Russian father got us from behind. Nothing says acceptance like
voluntarily tickling of another person, and I felt a little more at
ease after that. The rest of the dances were fun if we had been small
children or if you were not a small child but had nothing else to do
or if you have a heart. We did conga lines, heart motions, brought the
circle in, brought the circle out, etc. And then the clock hit 10:30
and it all ended.
Kazakhstan has been full of strange experiences, but that was probably
one of the strangest.
(And yeah, we saw the movie at 10:50. It was good, and we understood
almost all of it in Russian. The next question is should I see The
Expendables at the movie theater because there's a lot of action and
explosions, or wait and see it on video because the voices won't be
dubbed over into Russian?)