Filipino Kazakhstan: My Pinoy Life in Almaty
Take a peek at the lives of the Filipinos around the world. Read on as Juliette Casabal reveals her life in Kazakhstan.
Tell us something about your host city and country.
Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country bordered by Russia and China. The city has a population of 1,348,500 (as of 1 September 2008), which represents nine percent of the country’s population. It used to be the capital of Kazakhstan and still remains the major commercial center in the country. One of the most famous buildings in this city, Kazakhstan International Hotel, where I work currently, is considered as the icon of tourism in Kazakhstan.
This country has some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen and has a lot of places for those who love nature tripping. People here spend a lot of their time outdoors during the summer in the many parks that dot the city. Almaty is also known for ski resorts and has one of the biggest ice skating rinks in Central Asia. Unlike what most people think, Kazakhstan is safe and modern, and is in fact very European when it comes to the standard of living, lifestyle, fashion, etc. The city is teeming with typical urban activity and has a lot of nice restaurants, bars, cultural places and a great night life too.
Weatherwise, there are four seasons here which represents extreme conditions sometimes. Summer in July can be as hot as 40 degrees centigrade while during winter, when we have snow, the temperature can be as low as -12, even -50 degrees centigrade.
Since when have you been staying there? Can you recount briefly why you moved there?
I moved to Almaty in November of 2007 and took a post offered by the Intercontinental Hotel-Almaty. Presently, I work for Kazakhstan International Hotel which owns several hotels around Central Asia.
What do you there do for a living?
I just recently got promoted to Senior Operations Manager reporting directly to the General Manager. The company hired me to train all the Food and Beverage personnel and to open three restaurants around the country. I have just opened The Noodles, an Oriental/American concept bar and restaurant which is the first of its kind in Kazakhstan (as this is the first time that a global brand Gloria Jeans Coffee merged with a local brand). I run the entire daily operations and collaborate with the executive chef about the menu and design promotions.
Is there a Filipino community there?
Yes there is a Filipino community here and it’s called Pinoy-Almaty. We are about 65 Filipinos here in the city, although I believe that there are about 3,000 to 4,000 Filipinos working in Kazakhstan, and they have good professions. In Almaty, Filipinos are mainly consultants, engineers, auditors, lawyers, though there are those few who work in domestic services. Still, even the Filipinos here in domestic services get paid well – from US$500 to US$1,000.
Since most of the Filipinos here are busy in their respective jobs, unfortunately, it is only on during Christmas that we are able to get together.
Tell us about your life there.
For some reason, I always get mistaken for a local – a Korean Kazakh, they say. Since it is very multicultural here – although locals are all called “Kazakhs”, they come from different cultures (i.e. Russian Kazakh, Ukrainian Kazakh, Mongolian Kazakh, Korean Kazakh, etc.), so there is a lot of diversity not only with the way people look but also their traditions.
My life here in Almaty is purely work, since I also live in the same hotel where my job is. I consider my occupation as my social life as well. I have long hours, and spend most of time at work, in fact up to 12 midnight. Luckily, I have the kind of work and workplace where friends can visit me, so I can mix business and pleasure. My friends would come to dine and drink in our outlet, and I get to chat and sit with them from time to time while I’m working.
During whatever free time I have, I love taking walks around the city and spending time just sitting and relaxing with friends at local cafés.
What cultural practices/behaviors have you acquired from your host country?
None really. I must say that the people here are very similar to us Filipinos. Although their lifestyle is very European and they are quite liberal, when it comes to family, they are very much like Pinoys. They have very strong family ties and values and spend their weekends together. Even their weddings are similar to ours – they too have the same practice as “pamanhikan.”
I love the Kazakhs. They are very friendly, warm and soft spoken people, and yet mysterious for me at the same time. The only thing I hate here is the winter. Sometimes, the extreme cold is just too much for me to take.
Your greeting to Filipinos across the globe.
Always remember that you are a Pinoy and that you are exceptional because of your personality. As Pinoys, we are naturally sensible people and that’s what makes us global.