This is Suwei and I thought I would post a quick note of my thoughts...
We are in Almaty, Kazakhstan and are doing fine. We are in a little sticker shock especially having come from Mongolia where things are inexpensive. Almaty is like Switzerland: lush green, trees everywhere, mountains in the background of the city. It's beautiful, it's very European, it's very expensive, and modern. It's strange to go from literally camping (in gers) for a month to fly into a city where the girls are dressed to the hilt in designer clothing getting their $300 heels stuck in the sidewalk. Anyways, Karl and I can not afford to stay in this city for too long. (We just found a nice hotel with rooms for $80/night and we are considered lucky!) We hear Borat couldn't afford to graze his cow here anymore and headed for cheaper pastures.
We were searching around on the internet yesterday and found an ex-pat site that listed a real estate company (for possible short-term apt leases). We called it this morning and got routed to an American. We met him at his offices this morning and he just talked to us and gave us a lot of good information. Very nice guy; from San Diego; been living here with his wife for the last 10+ years. Anyways, he said that when he got here (for a job in 1995 dismantling a nuclear facility) he was lost too. But he had met some girl on the plane who spoke English and she gave him some advice and a few phone numbers of people who could help him. So he's passing on the karma. We were armed with a lot of information after that talk. We went to the recommended travel agency afterwards to work out this current stage of our trip and plan for the next.
In general people here are really, really nice and helpful. Some lady off the street back from grocery shopping helped us get a taxi to our hotel yesterday. We communicated with body language and hand signals -- amazing! Our taxi driver went out of the way to help us find our hotel (every building on this street had 276 on it!). It goes on and on. It's also the only place so far that both Karl and fit in...at least visually. There's still a lot of Russians here so lots of blond and light-colored hair and yet Kazakhs look very general Asian...so Karl gets mistaken for Russian and I for a Kazakh. Anyways, it's very international here so we see all kinds. (Sushi restaurants and Irish pubs are the most common restaurants...can't afford either though.)
Anyways, that's all for now...will write more when it cost less than a quarter per character!