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Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. An ultra-modern city of skyscrapers built in the central Asian desert - it brought back memories of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. But Astana felt more real, full of people, so in a lot of ways it was more like Dubai. It was a city putting on a show, for the World Fair, but it felt like a city that was always putting on a show, and certainly always welcoming to guests. If Astana is a city of the future, that future will be friendly and fun.

Astana means "capital" in Kazakh, which is widely considered to be a placeholder for "Nursultan", named after President Nazarbayev (the first and likely lifetime holder of the Presidency). The President is humbly delaying the namechange until after he dies, but parliament supports the change. President Nazarbayev is widely popular in Astana, providing good support to students and pensioners, and balancing the nationalists and the regionalists adroitly. It makes you wonder why he bothers rigging elections - he would pretty clearly win in a fully democratic vote. I was told this anecdote in Kazakhstan: 

President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan is so good at "winning" elections that during the American election, Trump asked Nazarbayev for help. Nazarbayev checked with Putin, and then gladly sent his top election men to Trump.

After the US election, the team returned to Kazakhstan and the President asked: "How did Trump do?"

"Oh", his election men said, "Trump did great, he came in second"

"What!", Nazarbayev said, "You let the Democrats win?!"

"Oh no, they came third."

"Then who won?"

"You did, Mr President"


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