Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 21: I-Stay-Bul

Entering my third week in Istanbul I feel myself changing. I was blown here by the excited winds of tourism, overwhelmed by a strange land. While adjusting to my new surroundings I've been considering my life and what I'm doing with it and the use of my return ticket is becoming less and less appealing.

The Blue Mosque, seen from the apartment of someone found on Freecycle.

Returning to the States after my backpacking trip was a wonderful feeling. I was homesick and returning to my family and friends who I hadn't seen in nearly a year. I was also immediately swept up in a promising new job so I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn, started renting it, and I felt satisfied.

Everything changed on January 29th. Simultaneously Banu arrived from France and my landlord called and warned me to stop having guests. Since my job hadn't blossomed as I hoped I couldn't afford the rent without renting, staying in NYC suddenly soured, and I soon found myself back living at home trying to figure out how introduce Lola to Ginger.

The floor of Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom).
Apparently the light in this mosque is legendary.
I bet no other mosque in the world has imagery this diverse.

Now that I'm in Istanbul, looking at my life from across the Atlantic has given me new vision.

If I return home at the end of this month I will be living with Dad and will need to find some sort of job to support myself. I feel cautious of getting a design job because I want to be location independent.

I've been saying "I want to be location independent" ever since I returned from Europe. Only now I'm realizing what good is being location independent if I'm not traveling?

As I am young, have healthcare until I'm 26, and have no location-anchored responsibilities, I see this as a prime opportunity.

Chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Too bad they weren't still gas.
A lifetime's worth of ornaments on the ceiling.
Inside the dome.
Everything ornate.

If I stay here in Istanbul I have not only the opportunity to experience a new country and culture but I can easily get a job teaching English while continuing freelance design work. To compound that, Turkey's favorable currency exchange rate and relatively cheap expenses allows me even more flexibility.

But I just see this as a first step. I'm getting my training wheels before I take off for real. My heart tells me that I would like to live like this for the next few years. Istanbul is a great sandbox because it's foreign for me but I have Banu to rely on if I need help.

Ultimately I'm realizing that I can take what I will learn while living here and apply it to living many other places.

Galata tower seen from the Bosphorus bridge.
People fishing for fun or for dinner.
The epitome of Turkish humor–mashed potato sculpture

But everyone isn't as excited about this idea as I am. Understandably both of my parents were surprised when I shared my new intentions and expressed their concerns–thankfully mixed with their support.

Nearly all of my relatives are concerned for my safety. Given their degree of knowledge of Turkish culture, what they see about Muslims on the news, and rising tensions between Iran and Israel, I understand their anxiety. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by people who care for me and support me even though they wouldn't want to be in the same situation. I will take some precautionary measures, like getting in touch with the US embassy and staying in closer contact. Additionally I hope that my blog serves as a window into my life and Turkish culture.

In addition to concerns for my safety, Dad thinks I'm running away from responsibility. To some degree he is correct, though I would phrase it as "meandering away from the rat race." Ultimately I see no need to rush into a career where I will likely work the rest of my life without experiencing the world first. I'm 23 and carefree but that doesn't mean that I'm shying away from responsibilities–I just don't to be controlled by them.

I think I have the best parents in the world. Just remember, it's your fault I am this way.

Salespeople at Banu's sister's local market asked me to take their photo.
They must have felt satisfied by their produce.
Basket rides 20TL.

Overall I am feeling safe, relaxed, and open to this new experience.

Good news for today is that Banu and I found an apartment and we're moving in tomorrow.

I suppose that means I will be updating again soon.

Güle güle!

PS: Rather than update you on my Turkish vocabulary, I've started free lessons at Live Mocha.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Day 7: Exploring Istanbul

Throughout the past week I've spent in Istanbul I've learned a lot. I now speak more Turkish than French. I've accepted that I cannot navigate the streets no matter how hard I try. My ukulele skills have improved. I've read about King Suleiman's conquests and love affairs, and then visited the mosque he built. Attended a yoga class in Turkish. Learned how to make Turkish tea. I've eaten a lot of Turkish treats and attempting to conquer the rest. I've also learned not to order whisky in touristy restaurants without checking the price first. I can even count to 40 in Turkish.

The famous Blue Mosque.

I've spent a lot of time with Banu. It's been an incredible experience having her show me around the city where she grew up and experiencing this environment with that awareness.

Some cats on the campus of Banu's college.
An authentic Turkish breakfast with Banu and her sister.

In comparison to backpacking Europe solo, being lead by her is a different experience. Especially throughout the first few days I was completely reliant on her to show me how to get where we were going and how to get home. I joked with her numerous times that if she disappeared I would just die. If you look at the street map, perhaps you will understand. I didn't mind this feeling of reliance but exploring on my own was also enjoyable.

Istanbul is pretty crowded.
The view from Galata Tower, best with Banu.

Eventually I got the hang of it and ventured out by myself to Istanbul's historic district. Without my prior traveling experience I admit I would have been totally overwhelmed. Thankfully I was able to use my skill of semi-aimless meandering so I didn't feel frustrated and lost. Walking through streets packed with shops who's exotic goods overflow into the street, happy that I'm not being hassled by salesmen, I was glad this aspect was different than Morocco. Eventually I stumbled upon King Suleiman's mosque, where I spent a long time trying to absorb every detail.

The front entrance to the mosque.
A unique view of the city from the courtyard of Suleiman's mosque.
Graveyard cat.
Taking sneaky photos in mosques is probably bad.

I spent the rest of my day wandering around the same way taking pictures of this and that, exploring and reading Huck Finn without seeing anything in particular.

Stray dog and at the port.
I don't think a lot of tourists go here.

It felt great to wander around a new city, taking photographs, paying attention to details, and soaking it all in. It's nice to confirm traveling is my favorite way of spending my time at this point in my life.

I ended my walk around Istanbul's historic district by sitting at the water watching the boats and people, drinking sahlep until it got too cold.

Ending the day the tranquil way.

I've also been plagued by jet lag until I slept for 12 hours the other day, passing out at 7.

Big plans in the works, but that's for another entry...

New words:
Su = water
Sağ ol = thank you
Sağ olun = thank you (mo' proppa)
nefes = breath
Saçmalama = don't be ridiculous
Afiyet olsun = bon appetite
sol = left
sağ = right
tuz = salt
istiyorum = I would like
lokum = turkish delight
sıcak = hot
bebek = baby!
hayır = no
çay = tea
emlak = real estate
süt = milk
okul = school
özel = special
simit = sesame bagelesque treat
simitçi = sesame bagelesque treat man
gözülkçü = glasses man
dişçi = tooth man (dentist)
cell-o-can = Turkcell logo friend
giriş = entrance
çıkış = exit
canım = my dear
nar = pomegranate
sen = you
ben = I
bir = one
iki = two
üç = three
dört = four
beş = five
altı = six
yedi = seven
sekiz= eight
dokuz= nine
on = ten
yirmi = twenty
otuz = thirty
kırk = forty

*Banu laughed at me the whole time she helped me correct these spellings *


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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 1: Merhaba Istanbul!

I'm alive and well in Istanbul.

Sometime during the 11 hour flight the two girls sitting next to me were looking through their guidebook and asked me if I had been to Istanbul before because I wasn't using the time to plan. I told them my girlfriend lives here and they reminded me how lucky I was. The trip from the airport to Banu's sister's apartment involved changing from subway to more crowded subway to ferry boat to mini-bus so when she picked me up at the airport I was never so happy to see Banu.

A giant mosque seen from the ferry port.

I've only gotten a glimpse of the city from my trip from the airport to the apartment but it has made me more excited to explore than ever. From the dense mass of buildings beautiful spires burst out all over the city. Banu told me that they are mosques. We took a ferry over the straight of Bosphorous, and setting foot in Asia didn't feel a whole lot different than anywhere else. The ride was beautiful and continued to give me a glimpse of how big Istanbul is.

Unfortunately I couldn't bring Lola–I miss her already.

Our transportation adventure was rewarded with a delicious dish called çiğ köfte, which traditionally made with meat, due to health concerns is now vegetarian. Banu failed to warn me about these super hot peppers served with it. To be honest I think she enjoyed watching me suffer as I sucked down my turnip juice. Now that I've caught up on some sleep and written this blog entry eating more is all I can think about...

Fortunately Banu says there are lot of stray cats here.

Here are some Turkish words that I've learned today:
teşekkürler = thank you
bişey değil = you're welcome
evet = yes
harika = amazing!
nefis = delicious
çok nefis = very delicious
salak = idiot


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