Special Announcement– Next Destination!!

I may or may not have said I’d be in Turkey for a year, but this was before I realized that it’s better to stay somewhere for 3-4 months. You get the feel of the place, and then you move on to a new experience before you get too settled in and stuck. With that in mind, my time in Turkey is winding down.

So, I have an exciting announcement to make– I have decided that my next move will be to Russia! I’ll go there the second week in January. And yes, I know it will be cold. That’s actually something I’m excited about– I’ll be able to say I survived a Russian winter!

My reason for choosing Russia is mainly the language. I have been wanting to learn it for a couple of years. I’ve made feeble attempts to learn it a couple of times, but given up quickly since I didn’t have the necessary tools to tackle such a challenging language. I figure that if I go there, I’ll have plenty of practice partners, and plenty of time to study– because let’s be honest, I’m never going to go outside.

So hopefully, I’ll find a job that’s not too demanding, and a cozy little apartment where I can hibernate for the winter. My first choice city is Moscow, but I’m going to go wherever I can find a job. I’ve stopped drinking in preparation because I imagine that I’ll be doing some compulsory damage to my liver once I get there…



Fortune telling with Turkish coffee




Turkish coffee is unlike other coffee. The beans are ground into a very fine paste (that I, to the horror of many of my Turkish comparts, find delicious and looove to eat). Only a small amount of water is added to brew, and so the cup of coffee is more the size of an espresso shot. But you can take tiny sips and make that sucker last for an hour. This is the goal, so that you can sit at your nice seaside perch for as long as possible without having to buy any more overpriced items.


If you’re lucky, there will be someone around that can tell your fortune. Unfortunately for me, you can’t eat the coffee grinds if you want your fortune told. You have to wait until they dry, and then you flip the cup on its saucer so that the contents empty out. The fortune teller then reads the pattern that’s left on the walls of the cup.


Apparently, my future is quite uncertain. My life is full of intense emotion and questioning. And I will go to some “high” place, whatever that may mean, where I will search for an answer. If I get the answer I’m looking for, it will have a profound effect on my life.


But around the corner, there is some danger lurking (haha, of course!). Fortunately, there is a loyal person in my life who has the power to save me from this danger. It will depend on how I treat this person, whether they will be there to help me or not.


Well I’m a believer, and I like to think this is a series of events in my near future. After I heard this, I was really interested in figuring out who the loyal person was, and hyper-paranoid about pissing anyone off. Save me, loyal person! I haven’t found any situation where the fortune could apply yet, but hmm… maybe it will be true soon enough. If not, oh well… it was fun to think about.


I think the most challenging part of living in Istanbul has been the social life. (Ironic, since this is the part that I thought would be the most rewarding.) When I first arrived, there were so many social differences that I thought I’d never make real friends. I was going out every night to different social events, whether it be coffee, special interest groups, couchsurfing meetings, clubbing, you name it—and everywhere I went, I struck out in finding friends. I felt like I was crazy, because even though I thought I was forming good connections with people when we were together, it was really hard to keep in touch with anyone even via text, and much less to meet in person. I guess that I have a steady connection with many people– we’ll meet up every 2 weeks or so, and it’s enough to fill my social calendar– but I haven’t been able to find any sort of stable friend group, or companion, or any kind of real closeness in a form that I recognize.


But as I stayed here longer, and went through a lot of frustrations in the process, I grew to learn about some of the major cultural differences in socialization.


I’ll preface by explaining that I think some of the biggest differences are related to the Mediterranean style cafe social culture. Much of socialization takes place in cafes, where you’ll walk around and have tea/coffee in different spots with your friend. In each place, you’ll stay and chat for a while.


I think it follows from this style that you wouldn’t expect to see a friend too often. If you were meeting all the time for coffee, what would there be to talk about? You would just sit there awkwardly. I think it makes some sense in this case to have a lot of people in your life who you see on an occasional basis.


And then, it also follows that you wouldn’t keep in touch too much while apart, through texting or otherwise. Again, what will you have to chat about in the cafes if you are chatting all the time? You don’t want to give away too many interesting stories until you get together again.


A third thing that makes some sense in this light is to expect/desire a great influx of people in and out of your life. You always want to have new people to chat with, to keep things interesting. Turks are more content with fleeting encounters than any other group of people I’ve ever seen.


People can be kept at such a far distance and still be considered friends. They may not occupy any kind of role in your life, more than as someone to chat with occasionally. And yet, these people aren’t awkward “acquaintances”… they are somehow still important, though far removed from your daily life. And you can enter in contact with them, warmly, even after not talking for weeks.


And a good friend can be someone that’s close not because of the frequency of meeting, but because you’ve met them so many times over the course of a lifetime.


In order to find a friend that you meet with often, I think that the biggest factor is not the amount of liking, but the convenience of meeting that person. The city is so big that its a drag to try to meet people who live somewhere else. You could easily spend an hour and a half traveling to the other person. And there’s not really a compromise in those situations– you’re either in Asia or Europe, the halfway point would be in the middle of the ocean. So one person of the two usually has to commit to a long commute. It’s a big deal, since most people already waste so much time per day on commuting to work. And if there are always so many new people to meet, whats the point of keeping people around who are difficult to access?

This different situation created a lot of misunderstandings for me. Back home, if you meet someone you really get along with, both parties will put in a great deal of initial effort to solidify the friendship. Otherwise, one or more people will probably label the other as an unimportant (temporary) person, and that will be the end.


Here, its not like that. Associations are easy to start and maintain, but almost impossible to move forward. At first I thought it was great that so many people were always willing to meet new people. But when I realized this was a constant thing with no further outcome, it started to seem inane, and I got real sad. What kind of sharing and deep emotional connection can there be, if this is the norm of social life?

I was taken aback recently when someone here told me that I was their good friend, and would always be. It made me think a little deeper about the different forms that friendship can take. Is it enough simply to be fond of someone, and the time you spend together, even if it is infrequent? Or does closeness need to come from time spent together, and making the other person an active part of your life, as I am used to thinking?


There are something amazing things going on here in the candy department. I’ve found replicas of many of the treats I love back home, but the ones here are just sooo much better. Let me lay it out for you.


First, all of the candies that you know and love are here, except improved. Kit kats, for example, are made with high quality chocolate instead of that fake sugary crap back home. I’ll never be able to eat an American-made kit kat again. Next, we have a knock-off of girl scout samoas, in both bar and cookie form. And if you think nutella is great, but were running out of ideas for things to eat it on, they sell it in squeeze tubes– it’s like chocolate cheez-whiz. Or, you can buy shortbread cookies filled with nutella. But perhaps the best of them all are called tane tane. Forget malt balls. These are cookie balls covered in rich chocolate. I buy them almost every day on my way home from work.


I’m spending more on candy than I’m spending on vegetables…


There are few other greater joys in Istanbul than riding the tram around town. I do this usually at least once a week, usually on a lazy saturday or sunday afternoon. For most people, the tram is just a means of getting around the city, but for some reason, I’m crazy about it. I think it’s because it’s so new and has big, shiny windows, and it goes through some of the oldest, prettiest parts of the city. I usually end up getting out and walking around, but following the tramline as it makes its way through the city.


I start my journey to the tram at Taksim square. After wading through the annoying crowds of slow-walking tourists on Istiklal street, I make it to the galata area. It’s a nice walk downhill through this artsy neighborhood, and I can look at all of the instruments and paintings for sale. I stop to buy a few sticks of pineapple– for some reason, pineapple vendors are popular in this area. I haven’t seen them anywhere else.


Then, at the bottom of the hill, I get to the tram. I can choose to stop at any number of exciting destinations. There’s Eminönü, one of the best places to take in the sea. There’s a bridge here crowded with fishermen trying to earn their bread and butter. Near there, vendors sell fish sandwiches, and the smell of the fresh fish and vegetables grilling makes me buy one every time. For those of us who have more disposable income, the underside of the bridge is home to a lot of nice, sit down fish restaurants. They even provide their customers with blankets to protect them from the draft of the sea.


The next stop may be my favorite– Sirkeci. This one wouldn’t be the first place on a tourist’s list, but I love it because of the dessert shops. There are a lot of baklava places, where you can actually see them making the baklava, and a lot of other pastry places right in a small area. But my favorite place to stop is Koska. They sell almond halva, a candy made of tahini and sugar. It is so delicious because it tastes like a cross between cookie dough and fudge. I get a whole block every time I go to Sirkeci, and I usually eat it until I start to feel nauseous.


After that, there’s Gülhane, home to a large park with lots of trees, benches, flowers, and even some sea views. Trees are sparse in Istanbul, so it’s nice to come here and be reminded that there are green things in the world. Strolling through the park leads to Sultanahmet, the touristy historical center with all the name brand landmarks like Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi palace. I try to avoid that area, because there are so many bad guys lurking here trying to scam tourists. I can’t stand to be treated that way. But, there is something to say for the architecture here– it’s all very well manicured– very cute restaurants and shops. It’s nice to sit and have a tea after walking a long way, and to watch all the people walking by.


A bit further down, you can get to the Grand Bazaar. It sells all sorts of rugs, jewelry, spices, perfumes, and other goods. Tourists eat this place right up. It really makes you feel like you’re in the middle east, or at least the Aladdin version of it. They’ve got the nice arabesque music going (could have been taken right off the Aladdin soundtrack), and people calling out things like “right this way!” and “miss, would you like a nice necklace?” I’m still wondering when someone’s going to offer me a magic carpet, though.


By the time I’ve done all this, I’m exhausted and grateful to sit back down on the tram, and look out the window at all of the cool things I saw today. I’m refreshed to be by the sea, and I can make it another week or so before I am dying to come back!

WTA hollaaaa


The WTA championships came to Istanbul! And I got to see SERENA WILLIAMS play!!!!! That’s a childhood dream come true right there.


I just wanna say that Serena played beautifully. I can’t fault any move she made on the court during that game. She’s so powerful, it’s almost scary to be in the same room with her. And she absolutely dominated Azarenka. (Who, by the way, is super annoying… she made shrill noises every time she hit the ball… like the noise a little kid makes when firing an imaginary gun, “piu piu!”)


The picture above cracks me up because that guy from LMFAO was at the match. And by the way he was behaving, he seemed to believe that a lot of people came to see him (or even cared that he was there). Truth is, no one really knew who he was. Nevertheless, he kept coming onto the court and dancing whenever there was a break. It was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe he was still there by the end of the day, dancing and trying to attract some attention to himself. And then he gave a speech about how he likes tennis.


A nice moment for the day was when Na Li had her match. Everyone rooted for her. I don’t think it was because the crowd was particularly made up of her fans. I think it was a demonstration of the Turks’ support of the new or different. I think they saw an Asian female tennis player, thought it was unusual and interesting, and chose to side with her. It’s part of a spirit that I admire in Turkey.


Yaaaay WTA!

Hibernation Mode

So, I’m pretty settled in Istanbul, finally. The first bits of teaching were a struggle, but now my students and I have come to an understanding. They don’t always have to pay attention, but they can’t be disruptive to the rest of the class. Now, the first group of classes is over, and I am about to start teaching the advanced students… the “pre-professional” English course. I hope these new kids will have themselves a bit more together in the classroom.


As far as life, it’s starting to get pretty normal. I’m not like, “oh my gosh, I’m in Turkeyyyy woohoo!!!” anymore. Instead I’m like, “It’s cold, I’m gonna snuggle into my bed and maybe never come back out…” It was a big, exciting process to get from being fresh off the boat to where I am now. I really burnt a lot of energy the past few months, constantly meeting people and going places, my mouth constantly hung open in awe (metaphorically, mostly.) It was a lot of fun at first, but there was definitely a crash when I realized that most of my social efforts had amounted to nothing. It’s just not easy to find a genuine group of friends here. There are plenty of people to meet all the time, people who are interesting, curious, and intelligent, but most of them are already busy enough and not willing to take on another person in their lives. These quickly made connections die quicker than they began. And I guess I got a bit discouraged.


So now I am mostly in hibernation, trying to spend a lot of me time and tighten up areas of my life that I let fall by the wayside when I was busier. Saving money, learning, getting healthy. On the weekends, I still go on solo adventures, to discover some more of this city’s secrets. But for now…



Eşiniz nerede oturuyor?

I’ve been giving it the ol’ college try on learning Turkish. Let’s be honest– the language looks cool, and it sounds cool, so who wouldn’t want to learn it.


I can’t stand by Pimsleur language courses enough. I use them for every language I learn. They are so good because you learn only through listening and speaking. I’m primarily a visual learner. But I find that when I learn a language through reading, I learn a lot more language but I can’t spit it back out quickly enough when I actually have to speak or listen to a native. Pimsleur tapes don’t give yhou any time to pull those vocab words out of some ancient drawer in the back of your memory. You have to learn to understand and speak reflexively. I think they give excellent preparation to actually communicating in a language and not hesitating.


Olmaz! “Impossible!” It’s fun to say in a dramatic way, and I break this out in the classroom sometimes. Not in a discouraging way, just when students do annoying things, like ask “can we leave early?” “can we listen to our ipods?” or say “teacher, finished!” after spending 1 minute on a 15-minute project. I’ll yell, “Olmaz!” and they get slightly terrified and behave.


Görüşürüz. “See you later.” This one I like just for its sheer impossibility. It was one of the first words I learned, and I thought I’d never learn it. Now I say it as much as I can, just because I’m pleased that I can say it.


Eşiniz nerede oturuyor? “Where does your spouse live?” This is one of the bizarre phrases that I learned in Pimsleur’s Turkish. Sometimes they come up with some really wacky target language. I thought I’d never use this one, but I’m glad I didn’t bet myself on that. Everyone got a kick out of me saying it when I first got here, since at the time I could barely even tell my name in Turkish, but then I would bust out that phrase.


Pahalı “Expensive”. I consider myself to be the world’s leading expert on this word. I say it with such accuracy, such grace. If I were on a commercial, just saying just this word, I could sound like a native speaker. It would be my face, saying “Pahalı! Pahalı! Pahalı!”


I’m glad I’m not an alcoholic. For many reasons.

But the most prominent one right now is that alcohol is craaaaazy expensive. Go figure under a government that’s trying to nudge people into a more religious, vice-free lifestyle.

The only booze I can afford is Efes (beer) or Migros (grocery store) brand of wine. With either one, it is so full of nasty chemicals (mmm formaldehyde) that I can literally feel the headache creeping in as I take my first sip. There’s nothing like a night of drinking stuff that will slowly petrify your brain.


Today I had a really bad problem. I have known for a while that my roommate is crazy, hyperactive, and aggressive, but today that all finally came to a boil. He really loves to argue, and will fight with anyone who will listen. Today, we were having a roommate “discussion” because I had friends over last night who woke him up. When he started to call me names, I told him to shove it and I went to my room and tried to lock the door. He forces his way through the door while I’m trying to lock it, and throws me across the room and into a wall.


It’s an unfortunate situation, but when I told some of my friends about it, they mentioned several other expats they knew who had had similar problems. Really, my rooming choice was probably not the smartest in a country where quick aggression and conflict escalation is the norm. The other day, my driver pulled out into the oncoming lane because he was tired of waiting in the line of honking cars at the traffic light. He almost hit a motorcyclist (who was coming down the correct, oncoming lane) while trying to zoom ahead of the line, and we all came to a screeching halt. My driver’s reaction was to get out of the car and get in the motorcyclist’s face, even though he was the one who was completely and singularly wrong in that situation. This is only one example, not to even go into the many fights, outcries, and general temper tantrums I see in my classes on a daily basis. I have to lovingly remind my students all the time that everything is going to be ok, and x small problem is not worth screaming about.


The point is, I should have predicted that something like this might happen. I will move out as soon as possible, and find some nice, sane expat ladies to live with. And I will be more careful about igniting the rage of anyone else here.