We’re on our way to Kazakhstan and we know very little about it. I know it’s cold there, I know it used to be Russia, I know they undoubtedly didn’t like Borat very much, and I know that it’s the sort of place where the President enjoys a 97% approval rating but that’s mainly because it’s illegal to disagree with the President. That’s about it for what I know but those things are just common sense. But they’re all I know. I don’t know any cold hard facts about Kazakhstan and I know nothing about Kazakh people.
I feel like I know at least a tiny bit about most countries and their people. I know that at any given time, 95% of the population of Australia is backpacking somewhere in the non-Australian world. I know that French people shrug even where they know what they’re talking about. I know that East-Timorese people make a pretty darn good peach cobbler! And I know that British people make up facts sometimes.
Kazakhstan is part of a large cluster of former Soviet Stans that no one knows too much about because they generally don’t get any Western press: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz- “not one person has ever spelt this correctly on their first try” -stan.
The Western Media don’t report on the five former Soviet Stans very much because they tend to stay out of wars, they’re located a bit out of the way, and they don’t emigrate very often. You don’t meet a great deal of people who tell you that they have Tajik heritage. Also, they usually avoid most of the sports we’re into by sticking to horse stuff and non-WWE wrestling. The Western Press usually only bothers if they do something really weird.
We thought that we weren’t travelling hard enough so decided we should go to the furthest away location we could get to for the smallest amount of money. The price was £34, the distance is 2800 miles, and the place is Kazahkstan.
Anyway, we are at Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc Airport, ready to depart for the biggest Stan of them all. A lot of people said I’d never make it this far and I always thought, what an obscure yet bold prediction. But here we are.
You know what’s a strange concept: Airports advising you that you should get your luggage wrapped in plastic film. It’s like they’re saying; “Look, we know some of the guys who work here aren’t very trustworthy so can you just double-wrap your stuff so they can’t nick anything? Also, it costs £10“.
The thing is, before they said anything, I was sure that my luggage was going to be just fine. I did the zipper up. Then I did the other zipper up. It didn’t occur to me that something could go wrong. But now you’re saying something could? And I should chuck you a tenner because you hired guys who like nicking luggage when their sole job is to handle luggage but not nick it?
It’s like going to a Mechanic and the Receptionist is like, that’ll be £900! Also, I’d advise you to pay us an extra £100 to pay for a GoPro to put in your car just incase the mechanic tries to steal your Best Of Alanis Morissette.
I feel like it shouldn’t be up to us to finance the hiring mistakes of the employers. But then again, that twirly wrapping machine is cool! So maybe I’m on the fence.
Anyway, when it comes to airports, I’m a traditionalist. A stick-in-the-mud.
I like the old fashioned way of doing things. Specifically, I just like there being two sections in the airport: The section before you go through security, and the section after security.
But nowadays some of these fancy, new-age airports often have three sections: Pre-Security, Post-Security, and then Post-Post-Security.
If you have time, you can cross into the next section whenever you want. But, as everyone knows, each section is a new point of no return. Once you cross a security threshold, there’s no turning back. You have to be 100% sure that the next section is the one for you, though. Going through those metal detectors is like joining the Army. Once you sign up, you can’t just quit or leave. If you do, you go to jail for three years.
Pre-Security can be a good time, there’s a miscellaneous Italian restaurant, a coffee shop, a souvenir place, a place which optimistically slaps a £30 price tag on books, and 350 taxi drivers. You look around and think, shit, is this it?
A dull nervousness fills the air. There’s a lot of people standing around, eyes darting to the Departure Board because that selfish airport has yet to let them know which gate their flight departing three hours from now will be leaving from.
You know you have time, and you’re pretty sure that there will be 60 different restaurants once you cross the security threshold. But then a voice in the back of your head says something like “Hey, pump the breaks. That’s not always the case. Remember Luton Airport? Pre-Security is wall-to-wall Gourmet Hot Dog Stands and Post-Security: Nothing. Not even a bookshop sandwich.”
You end up compromising and go to the coffee shop to receive the hottest coffee ever poured. But then, something in Hungarian comes out of the tannoy and every single person in Section One legs it to Security.
It’s time to panic. Your bastard coffee (deliberately) burnt your tongue and you immediately know that you won’t be tasting anything for a week.
It’s time to cut ties. That coffee has about as much business getting through security as a crossbow. You’ve got to get rid of it. It’s hurt you, and it’s holding you back, but it cost you £3.
Ultimately, our coffees went the way of Old Yeller and we headed to security. I was a little nervous because I’d made a slight wardrobe error. I get a little overheated on a plane so I have to wear special trousers. They’re great, there’s loads of different compartments you can open up so you can get your legs some much needed air if things go south.
But the issue is that sometimes SOMETIMES, they set off a couple of the more sensitive metal detectors and I have to take my trousers off.
We got near the front of the queue and an Airport Security guy graciously shouted at us just the eight times – demanding that we take off our shoes and put our laptops in a seperate tray, even though we were standing directly in front of them with those things in our hands. Then, a Liverpudlian Stag-Do acted like they didn’t know how queues work. Oh well, nothing could dampen my spirits: I had just found out that I have the best socks in the queue. From there, it was easy. We sailed through.
We were in Section Two: Post-Security. As far as Airport Sections go, Post-Security is right up there with the best. They’ve got so much to offer: Fancy shops where everything costs three times as much as you paid for your plane ticket, some real interesting characters who place their bags across three seats, and pints that won’t cost you a lick over £11.
But Budapest has that seldom seen but frequently discussed Third Section: Post-Post Security. It exists because they want you to go through another set of metal detectors before you get near the gates just in case you decided to buy a knife in Michael Kors.
Once again, we hovered a bit. We were thinking that maybe we were in the section where everything cool and interesting was at and maybe the next section would have nothing. Also, I was nervous about how my many-zipped trousers would fare against another metal detector.
Fortunately, me and my trousers got through. Unfortunately, Post-Post Security was dead. Not a lick of action from gate 17B all the way to Gate 42! Not a Coffee Shop, not a WHSmith, not even a bloody vending machine.
We went and sat by our gate and pulled our laptops out. Unsurprisingly, we were the only foreigners heading to Kazakhstan. Surprisingly, everyone sat around us looked a little familiar.
I looked toward Laura: “Everyone looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt!”
“I know! Do you think this is just what all Kazakh people look like? Also, is there such thing as positive generalisation?”
Seven short hours later: we were in Kazakhstan.
We joined our first Kazakh security queue and did the usual shoes off, laptop in the basket thing. I went through the metal detector and one of the guard’s immediately grabbed me on the arm and gestured that I follow him to the side.
I started speaking before he could ask me anything: “Sorry, they’re for my legs, I get overheated”
“No, no. Can you open your laptop?”
“Oh. right. Yeah”
This has happened to me a couple of times before, I’m not sure what they think is going to happen. Maybe I’m a particularly careless terrorist who left a “How to bring a big bloody knife into Kazakhstan” page open? Maybe they’re thinking I left some niche porn open on there and they can have a good laugh?
I’ve got one of those fancy laptops that just opens up to whatever page I was last looking at when I last closed it. I opened it up and immediately handed it over.
His eyes narrowed as he scanned the screen. His face read something in between perplexion and exasperation. He handed me back the laptop: