Table of Contents:
An interview with myself, by Adrian Zissos (May 2004)
It had to be one of the toughest trips I’d ever taken. And that was just getting there.
But then it got better. Much better.
Hong Kong team, winners of APOC Relay
How did you get there? Where, in fact, was APOC 2004??
It was in Kazakhstan in a city named Ust-Kamenegorsk, fun to pronounce (try it) but a bit scary to go to. Look on a map (but a recent map – it was not on Soviet maps we were told as it was a top-secret place. Perhaps something to do with the atomic bomb test site just a few hundred kilometers away? Or the now-abandoned factories littering the country-side that manufactured potentially suspicious and secret things) and if your map is recent enough it will be close to the Chinese border, north of the old capital Almaty (which is magnificently situated at the edge of the Altai Mountains but maybe subject to earthquakes (which might be why there is a new capital city)). To get to Ust-Kamenegorsk (pronounce it just “oost” we are told – the fun of the full name wears off rapidly) from Almaty you must take your chances with the local airlines - the ones with circa 1955 planes (original curtains covering the window, original chair backs flopping forward, seats lifting up so you can store stuff underneath; same old propellers). It was as if we were in a flying museum (or a museum that flies). I comforted myself using inductive reasoning – if this plane hadn’t crashed in fifty years then very likely it wouldn’t crash today either. An Antonov plane someone in the know said, which once the fear abates is pretty damn cool. Which is pretty much the way with everything in Kazakhstan.
Is it safe to go to Kazakhstan?
It seems instinctively to be not the safest place in the world to visit, the common impression (which I held before the trip) being that it is in a region of political and religious turmoil, sanctioned corruption, and generally an unfriendly place, but the APOC website provided some comforting words
“The Republic of Kazakhstan is a sovereign state that successfully exists for 10 years. During all this time, there has been no case of the so-called “Hot spot”. The nearest hot spots are placed from Kazakhstan frontier (Afghanistan) over 1000km. Apart, from the center of APOC – over 2500km apart.”
Or maybe not so comforting. And travel web sites have many warnings about kidnappings and scam artists. And health websites warn of tick-borne encephalitis and rabies. We were very nervous about going; but when we got there we didn’t notice any such things. We were never kidnapped, saw hardly any ticks, and felt safe walking alone (even in the evenings, which are quite dark because although there are plenty of street lights there is no electricity going to them). And of course we were careful eaters and drinkers of only bottled water. There was a brief appearance of travelers’ diarrhea but it was attacked with Imodium and quickly vanquished. As we’d hoped the toughest thing about going to Kazakhstan in the end was saying goodbye (see below).
Name three surprising things about Kazakhstan
1. It is the 9th largest country (area-wise) on the planet
2. It has vast natural resources, especially oil and minerals and I’m sure this will eventually bring prosperity and a strong middle class.
3. It is exactly on the other side of the world – right next to China & Mongolia
And where did you stay?
We were told three star hotels abound, but were skeptical. Why would they abound, what reason is there for a hotel in Ust? None really it turns out, since there’s almost no tourists. Our room was appalling though basically clean with fresh wallpaper on the seventh floor. Some rooms had phones but they were just a nuisance, mysterious late night callers asking “Do you like to come to eighth floor for eating and striptease?” We did have a TV but didn’t bother to plug it in since, well it seemed pointless. One day our interpreters plugged it in and we channel-surfed. I was overjoyed by the appearance of ESPN and live coverage of the Stanley Cup hockey finals (Calgary Flames scored within seconds and I alarmed the interpreter by shouting and jumping “like a crazy person”). Plumbing was basic: a toilet that kept running, basin, kind of half tub half shower thing; pipes were a mix of rubber hose and copper tube and two-cent taps. No end of hot water to astonish us (though patience is required, and more patience the further down the hallway that your room is).
What were the other tourism facilities like?
Non-existent. Particularly staggering was the absence of post cards. Never before have I experienced such a complete absence – we had to search for days to find any. And when we found them the photos were of hydroelectric dams, bars of gold bullion, smoke stacks, and bridges.
How did you communicate?
This is like Russia with its not English alphabet. And its not English speaking people. But we received a big surprise, a truly wonderful surprise. We were met at Ust airport by students from the local University’s English classes who were volunteering to be our interpreters. We have two with our group of eight almost all of the time, from first thing each day to bedtime. They make sure we are having everything we wish and that we are always on time and always in the right place. Over the two weeks everyone falls in love – they with us and our strange Western ways (“why is it we won’t walk in two’s side by side when we are told?”) and us with them and their goodness, kindness, warmth, humour, and slightly not quite right English. When it is over this is what will have the longest and deepest impact. Rivers of tears flowed at the airport when we left.
And thank goodness they were with us. English in Kazakhstan is rarer than nice looking orienteering suits at O-Ringen. And what English there is is tortured. Try to figure out this piece of befuddlement we encountered when trying to obtain a travel visa:
“In connection with some complicated external conditions under the order of Government of Republic of Kazakhstan the addition on registration of the visa for entrance to Kazakhstan is brought in. Some countries including your country should receive the visa, but under the simplified circuit: Agrees of the documents, sent by you, we make out to you visa support, and number of visa support we send to you.”
What did you eat?
Breakfast was provided by the hotel and varied from awful to inedible. A typical offering was rice with wieners (hot dogs). Instead of eating this we picked up some baking from the nearby corner grocery to tide us over. Lunch was at the event site and was fabulous. Each day we cheered the erection of The Big Yellow Tent in which we could buy soups, goulashes, salads, and cakes, occasionally supplemented by local delicacies of cheese and breads and noodles. Dinner was back in Ust. There were few restaurants (people are generally too poor to eat out much) and we took turns eating at the pizza place or the pancake house or the Chinese restaurant or (for a special and expensive treat) at the Kazakhstan traditional food restaurant. All of these restaurants had one thing in common – no English menu, at least not until we made some with our interpreters. Because there were so few restaurants and so many foreign orienteers the serious competition each day was to be first to dinner, before your favorite restaurant was full of other orienteers. The price of eating out was incredible – dinner with drinks cost only $40 for the entire group of us ten. Some orienteers still objected to splitting the bill evenly since some had beers and some hadn’t (etc etc) but they were overruled when we pointed out it was only a matter of pennies, and that anyway juice is probably more expensive than beer.
So, how many took part in APOC 2004?.
About 400 people. A disappointment no doubt for the organizers (who I think underestimated the “fear factor”, and even had they not would probably have been unable to convince us (see “how will we communicate” above) that we should not be afraid of the difficulties). More than half were Russians and Kazaks and maybe just under half were from other places especially Australia (30), Hong Kong (30), Japan (20). Canada and USA had a poor showing, with three only from each country.
And how was the orienteering?
It was absolutely fabulous. A splendid opening ceremonies with a cast of hundreds of young dancers, followed by a full schedule of events (including five (!) World Ranking Events) starting with Park O in Ust, then three days in glorious open terrain with rock detail and views. Then two APOC races in more wonderful detail terrain, and finally the APOC relay close to Ust in kind of easy but hilly terrain. The course setting was grand and the electronic timing flawless; in fact the individual splits printout we all got at the finish line we especially cool, not only giving our time for each leg but also our tpk for each leg. The maps were accurate and the terrain outstanding – fast, fun, open areas with patches of rock and contour detail and overall great runability.
How did the Canadians perform?
Adrian Zissos ran in M45 and was unable to make a clean run, having at least one frustrating error in each race, managing a best result of 3rd place in the APOC Middle distance race by the skin of his teeth – 1 second ahead of 4th place and eight seconds ahead of 6th. Charlotte MacNaughton limped on a badly injured foot and scored quite a lot of World Ranking Points in the Women’s Elite, her top result being 7th place on the one cold rainy day. Alex Kerr started the week quite well winning the Sprint and tying for first in the Kazakhstan Cup, but his brain went walkabout in the two APOC races and the less said about his performance in those the better.
There was good (the yellow tent with cheap and plentiful food and drink each day) and bad (only two toilets and them just a box around a hole dug in the ground). The bus rides from town were something else. Each day we traveled 100km over potholed roads in dilapidated buses that required three hours for the one-way journey and continually amazed us by not breaking down. The biggest problem was that the busses required so long to get to the events that we had to leave at 6 am each morning. Somehow this wasn’t as bad as it sounds. The bus was a social adventure, and especially social when traveling with the local kids who had endless curiosity about everything from the West.
Please, sum up your experience.
It was a hard trip certainly. But we adjusted to the conditions quickly and once we got past the lousy toilets and the difficulty of ordering food (and of finding any restaurants at all for that matter (and of the boredom of eating at the same place every third night)) we realized we were having the most fantastic orienteering trip we ever did. It was an extraordinary adventure and I hope I’ve shared some of the fabulous good times, friendships, orienteering, eye-popping scenes and wonderful memories.
When are the next Asia-Pacific Championships?
APOC 2006 will be in Hong Kong at Christmas and is certain to be another excellent orienteering trip with extraordinary cultural experiences and great orienteering. Information will appear on the Hong Kong website (www.oahk.org.hk).
APOC 2008 (APOC is held every two years) has not yet been awarded. I encourage orienteering clubs in North America to consider hosting it. Contact the APOC Secretariat for more information (David Hogg, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Language practice and something else
by Zhamilya Aimanbetova, Kazakhstan, Ust-Kamenogorsk
The twenty-first. I was the twenty-first interpreter for Asian-Pacific Orienteering Championship. The first time I heard about this opportunity to practice my English that I study at school was when the list of translators was already complete. Twenty students of the university had already been selected by the organizers. But I rang the event centre and one more name appeared in the list. The first question I asked after I was told that I’m in the list was “What kind of a sport is orienteering?” I knew nothing about orienteering. But after some days communicating with athletes I learnt all the terms I needed and didn’t.
Interpreting, guiding and doing everything to help the foreigners feel as good as possible that was my job. Actually, sometimes the pause between telling “Good night!” in the evening and telling “Hello!” in the morning was only about five hours. That was the time we could sleep.
I think it is a kind of advantage that I’m not a specialist in sports because I could communicate with people valuing not their sport achievements, but only cultural and personal characteristics. Each of approximately 300 participants had it.
I was responsible for the Japanese team but they came later than the competition started, so, Canadians – Charlotte, Adrian and Alex were “under my ward” for that time. The first day we had a three-hour bus trip to the competition place and that was something absolutely amazing for me. Can you imagine 30 people in one bus who speak English, but each of them speaks his own English? I’ve heard German, Canadian, Chinese, Japanese and British accents in the bus I traveled on. So many cultures together made usual trip be undeliberate cultural exchange.
The youngest participant of APOC was nine and the oldest was about eighty. Such a huge difference between our and foreign people of retirement age! Almost all of those, who are over fifty-five here in Kazakhstan spend their time knitting, watching soap operas, raising grandchildren or at best playing chess on the veranda of their country house. They don’t do any sports at all. In spite of such a big age distinction (the interpreters weren’t older than 23) we didn’t have any problems in directing our teams.
Speaking about the Japanese I was responsible for, there was a special system of communicating any news or changes. Actually, there were three different teams from Japan on the APOC. One of them had its own Russian-Japanese translator brought from capital. The problem in my team was that I didn’t speak any Japanese and they didn’t speak any English. There was only one lady Naoko who spoke a bit English in the whole delegation. The organizers gave me info in Russian I translated it into English and finally she translated it into Japanese as she understood it with her English. After some practice we managed to understand each other and I’ve even learnt some phrases in Japanese. Another surprise for me was the team members’ attitude toward me. I’m only 18 and all of my eight athletes were over 60. But every time I did something like help in making order in a restaurant all of these old ladies and old men started thanking me by bowing. What is more, they called me Zhamilyasan adding san to my name. It was very pleasant for me – I was only san among 21 interpreters.
One more advantage of being an interpreter is that you have a chance of communicating with all the participants. You have plenty of time for it when your athletes are running. I’ve got acquainted with so many married couples who met doing orienteering together. So, orienteering is not only sport for life as its motto announces, but also sport for starting family, I think. There was a couple from Switzerland Sven and Careen who were traveling around the world living in tents. Basically, I saw a lot of participants who are very close to nature. They’re doing skiing, working with animals and environmental issues. After watching the races the athletes did, I made up a conclusion that Orienteering is first training your mind and after that it’s training your feet.
All the time I’ve spent with athletes was a real experience in uniting cultures of the USA, England, Russia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand together. It was like a model of the world. Ideal model.
When the competition was finished all the volunteer interpreters were unanimous in the fact that the long hours and some difficulties we had were absolutely compensated for by communicating with interesting people who all of the participants were. There was one phrase I heard from one athlete towards translators in the airport. It made me forget the fatigue and inconveniences we had during APOC. It made me be proud of my membership in one more team we had on the championship – the interpreter team. So, the phrase was short: “You were Kazakhstan for us, guys!” For the reply I want to say that all the athletes were incarnation of their country for us. Now when I hear Australia I don’t think of kangaroo; I remember thirty athletes from Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. And Manchester for me is connected not only with “Manchester United” anymore, but with couple who has been doing orienteering for many years. And Canada is not just maple leaf for me now.
All of APOC athletes made me desire to visit at least 16 countries in the world to enjoy the culture they have.
And finally some photos…
Our bathroom in Ust-Kamenegorsk
APOC Middle Distance terrain
Busses at the rest stop
Local delicacies inside the Big Yellow Tent
Our interpreters Aizhana and Sulta
From Randy Hall (U.S.A.) with loads of maps ….. http://www.mapsurfer.com/articles/kz04.html
And there's also some APOC stuff on page 7 of the June 2004 newsletter linked from this Aussie page ..
Western & Hills Orienteers Home Page: http://westernhills.nsw.orienteering.asn.au/
And the official website, for as long as it stays up is http://www.lik.kz/apoc/DefaultEng.htm