Oysters in Almaty


read the italian version

 It is a long, long way from the ocean to Almaty, the biggest city in Kazakhstan. Located in the foothills of the Alatau Mountains, near the border of Kyrgyzstan, Almaty lies in the center of the Asian landmass. Scientists have determined that what is now Kazakhstan is the origin of all the apple trees in the world. The wild ancestor of the apple, Malus sieversii, still grows in the region. Oysters, however, are not native to Kazakhstan. If you order oysters while dining at even the finest restaurant in Almaty, you do so at your own peril. US bandy general manager Magnus Skold will vouch for this. At the 2012 World Bandy Championships in Almaty he dined on oysters and became violently ill from food poisoning. He was down for several days, but fortunately did not die.His survival, of course, made his oyster encounter and subsequent illness hysterically funny to the rest of us.


The 2012 tournament marked the first time the US national team competed in Kazakhstan.. The games were played at the Medeu bandy/speedskating rink, halfway up the mountainside between Almaty and the Shymbulak ski resort perched on its peak. Shymbaluk is the largest ski resort in Central Asia. It was also the very first downhill ski run in the former Soviet Union. The Medeu rink is nestled a valley carved out by the Malaya Almatinka River, 5,557 feet above sea level. The gondolas that bring the skiers up to Shymbulak and then down again pass over the rink on their trek. Medeu is a stunning site from the gondola. The stadium that encases the giant ice surface seats 8,500 spectators and is completely surrounded by mountain rock and trees, and in the winter, snow.

The US team arrives in Almaty on January 28, 2012. At the airport we are warmly greeted by our Kazakh hosts. We are immediately struck by the absence of ethnic Russians. Well, we are in Central Asia-not surprising that the majority of people are ethnic Kazakhs and other peoples of the great Asian steppes. A game begins among the US players; the doppelgänger game. Actually the Kazakh doppelgänger game. It consists of identifying Kazakhs who bear a facial resemblance to players on the U.S. team. The most striking resemblance is between a waiter at our hotel and U.S. forward Nick Hauer. Surely they must share a common ancestor, perhaps thousands of years ago. The waiter becomes Kazakh Nick. Even Kazakh Nick can see the resemblance, once it is brought to his attention.


Our first night at the hotel is most interesting. The entire team is lodged on the fifth floor. We go to bed early, exhausted after our long journey. All are asleep when, at some point deep in the night, a very inebriated gentleman exits the elevator onto our floor. He is lost. He cannot wait to use the bathroom.He pulls down his pants and defecates on top of the garbage receptacle by the elevator door.

The top is customarily reserved for spent cigarette butts, not human butts. The interloper then passes out before he can pull his pants back up. He falls face first onto the floor where he is discovered at 6am by US fullback Andrew Knutson. Andrew steps past the unconscious man toward the elevator and discovers the surprise atop the garbage receptacle. Andrew takes the elevator down to the lobby, where he informs the front desk what has occurred on the fifth floor. Perhaps what he relates is lost in translation, because it is at least an hour before someone from the hotel makes it up to the fifth floor. In the meantime, the inebriated man has awoken, pulled up his pants, and disappeared. His handiwork atop the garbage receptacle, however, remains. A number of the US players have awoken. They carefully move the garbage receptacle just outside sleeping player's doors and knock loudly. Several players are awoken in this fashion. Their reactions are of course priceless. Finally, the garbage receptacle and its contents are placed on the elevator and sent down to the lobby.


Hotel management and security finds me at the breakfast buffet. They are very angry. They bring me to the surveillance room where I am shown the videos of the US players moving the garbage receptacle from door to door and then onto the elevator. They demand an apology and threaten to have the team removed from the hotel.

I reply: "Show me the video, please, of the man arriving on our floor and what he did on top of the garbage can. I am amazed that that you would allow this to occur in your hotel. I am responsible for the security and safety of the US team, and now I am very concerned about your ability to provide proper security for my team. I am also very angry that you would allow this insult to occur on our floor."

 In response , hotel management and security convene for a private meeting as I remain behind in the surveillance room. They return after five minutes with an entirely new demeanor. They offer a proposal.


 "We will erase all video. Right now, here in front of you. We shall all forget what has occurred . Because nothing has occurred"

 I agree. we shake hands. I return to the breakfast buffet and the US team. If our waiter, Kazakh Nick, has heard anything about the incident that didn't occur, he doesn't let on. Even more important, he makes no attempt the rest of the week to serve oysters to the US team.

 (translated into italian by Vittorio Ragone) 

*CHRIS MIDDLEBROOK (He is a lawyer, was a professional bandy player and is also the author of a collection of 118 short stories - "The Bandy Chronicles-My Pursuit of a Forgotten Sport." As a US National Bandy Team player, coach and the current President of The American Bandy Association he has traveled extensively in the Nordic Countries, The Soviet Union and Russia as well as Central Asia and China. He currently resides in his hometown of Minneapolis together with his wife of 36 years, Cathy)

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