TURKEY : ISTANBUL
Being geographically part of two continents, Asia and Europe, Turkey is a country that I want to visit since years. Besides this reason, I also curious what is the meaning of secularity in the country which more than 90% is moslem. Grown up in the country which the majority is moslem, I am really interested to see the differences.
At the moment, I live in Germany where Turkish is the biggest immigrant. Most of them work in kebab (Turkish food) restaurant or Turkish shop. Shame on me that I don’t know how the assimilation between Turkish immigrants and local people works. I don’t understand German very well to find out this thing. Once, my previous land lord said to me “We, German, should thank to Turkish people. They (the Turkish immigrant) have helped us to build the country after the Second World War.” I don’t know if her opinion represents all German’s opinion. The fact is, I never met a Turkish-German who works as a scientist. There are lots of Turkish scientists in the research centre where I work, but so far I never have chance to meet Turkish-German. All Turkish scientists I know come from Turkey. Assimilation issue takes me personally. Having almost half Chinese-Indonesian blood, I know that assimilation is a long process. Accepting other people, other culture without prejudice or stigma requires more than just fair law, it needs open heart from all people involved.
Finally I found quite cheap return ticket to Istanbul, previous capital of Ottoman emperor. I tried to contact some friends to come with me. Unfortunately we could not agree about the time. So I decided to go by myself. I designed my journey as a kind of adventure. I knew nothing about Turkey. I read nothing about Turkey before. I flew to Turkey by only having return ticket and two phone numbers of friends. No hotel reservation, no exact plan, no map, nothing….
Day 0 : flew to Istanbul
I left my office at 30th July 2009 after lunch. Warm hugs from my three colleagues: Bojan, Edwin and Marcus gave me strength to conquer my anxiety. The truth was… I, my self was not so sure that I would be able to travel alone in Turkey.
In my way to Frankfurt airport, I made some rules of journey:
- Maximal budget (flight ticket is excluded): 300 EURO including hotel, transportation inside Turkey, food, souvenir, communication, train ticket from Karlsruhe – Frankfurt and vice versa.
- The information about the place that I will visit in Turkey should come from the people in the street, except that previously Bojan asked me to visit Blue Mosque and Hagya Sophia. Asking people is the only accepted ‘tool’ to survive. Information from internet is prohibited.
- Basic values: I want to believe that people basically are kind creatures. In case of troubles, I will just ask people I met to help. Communication can be done in many ways: verbal language, eye’s contact, body language, pictures. I said to my self, don’t be afraid that I don’t know any Turkish’s word. These basic values may give me lots of trouble, but it also opens possibility for great experiences to be happened. In any cases, I hope nothing.
- This journey is done to give chance to my soul to accept surprise, uncertainty of life in the small scale. It is training to my soul to accept something can be out of my control; to accept the differences in positive way, to let my fear exists merely to be solved.
And only Universe (with capital ‘U’, religious people will call it God) will know how this journey will be ended…
Day 1, 2, 6 : Istanbul
I finished immigration process about 00.30 of 31st July 2009
First problem that I should solve was: where did I should sleep now? I was really tired at that time to wait in the airport until sun rise. I could not really sleep few days before I went to Turkey. Then I just called a hotel reservation office in the airport.
Before entering the office, I said to my self, let’s try if ‘Indonesian way’ works also here. It means, price negotiation works in some cases. Firmly I said to the guy there that I need cheap hotel.
“I have a room for you. It is 69 EUR”
“It is not possible. I have no money.”
“How much do you have?”
“My budget is 30 EUR (Well… youth hostel in Europe is about 20-30 EUR)”
“No way. The price is including taxi transfer to the hotel and breakfast. Ok, for you I will give discount: 55 EUR. Where are you from?”
“Indonesia. No, give me 40 EUR.”
“Not possible. What will you do then?”
“Well, I will just stay in airport until morning” (In fact, I really hoped to stay at least in the clean room to take some rest. I was not so sure about the idea of resting in the airport”
“45 EUR. How long you will stay?”
“Deal. Only one day.” (my budget didn’t allow me to stay more then one day in this hotel)
Well… Indonesian way works well in this case…
As I was really tired, I didn’t care how the condition of the room was. For me, it was enough that it was clean and equipped with air conditioner. Woke up at 9.30, as quick as possible I went for breakfast (well…I couldn’t miss the ‘free’ meal, right?). To my surprise, the breakfast was on the top of the hotel so that I can enjoy Istanbul’s view. The view was quite impressing though.
I believe in intuition. Since years I practice my self to distinguish the emotions of my heart: whether it is fear, happiness, hope, intuition. In many cases, what I call as intuition lead me to good judgments. My intuition let me know whether one thing is good or not. Many times I can guess correctly character of someone just by observing the gesture, the expressions, the way he/she talks, and the most important information comes from the eyes. As many people say, eyes never lie. In many cases, I can understand clearly the invisible reasons behind one’s decision/behavior. It doesn’t mean that I always respond things in the good way. After all, I have my own ego, my own fear, my own insecurity.
After taking my heavy breakfast, I looked around and decided to sit beside a middle-age man. I can not explain precisely why I decided so. I just knew that I would have such kind of a new experience. There was something in this man’s eyes. My intuition said that something wrong with this man and I needed to proof it! I started to eat calmly when he opened the conversation with typical question such as where I come from (he is Iranian), what my name is ( I forget his name), then the interesting part began:
“How long you will stay here?”
“Well, only today. This hotel is too expensive for me. I will look for a cheaper one”
“I am a gentleman. You can stay with me. I will cover your expense.”
“No, thank you”
“We can go to the beach together.I am a gentleman”
“No, thank you.”
Yes, it was me who decided to sit beside him. I took full responsible of this new experience. But no..i didn’t responsible for his bad behavior.
Suddenly, I saw my savior, a Philippine woman which later I knew that her name is Manda. Guessing that I am a Philippine, she waved her hand to me. I replied her and gently I left the Iranian without any word. From her information, I knew that I made a good deal regarding my room in this hotel. She paid 10 EUR more for comparable room. I am really sure that price negotiation is part of culture in Turkey.
Later on I knew that Manda had bad experiences in Turkey just because she is a woman who travels alone. She asked me to be careful. Listening Manda’s experiences, I asked my self to be more careful, but not to be afraid. I believe fear may close the possibility of good things to be happened. In any case, I need to take risk by trusting someone that we don’t know. Sometimes it works, sometimes it is not.
Manda offered a help for me. I could put my luggage in her room while I was looking for a cheaper hotel. In the case of problem, I know I can count on Asian(s) which usually give help to other Asians. There is a kind of invisible solidarity amongst Asian in the journey. In the simplest way, the solidarity can take form as a smile. I decided to trust Manda.
It was about 11.30 when I went out of the hotel with hotel address in my hand. I was a bit confused with the situation. I didn’t know anything about this town. There were lots of people in the street. I realized that the hotel is located in the traditional market. Later on I knew that this hotel probably included in the Grand Bazaar, the name which is mentioned in the tourist information leaflet. I just walked without knowing where to go. The decision of turning left, turning right or go straight was completely depending on whether I felt conveniences to do so or not.
I called my friend, Mehmet when I saw telephone shop. Mehmet was my previous neighbor in Karlsruhe for about 1 year. He introduced me to Turkish tea ( a very refreshing tea in my opinion). He now lives in Sakarya, a city nearby Istanbul, about 2 hours by bus. He said that he would come to Istanbul on Saturday. Great… at least I would be with someone. In front of this shop I saw a hotel Elena. I came in and asked for the price. It was 30 Turkish Lira (about 15 EUR) per night. I checked the room. It was just a bit worse than my previous hotel. But for 30 EUR difference, I would take this hotel. First good thing happens at my first day in Istanbul.
At the cash machine, I asked one man the direction to the Blue Mosque. He replied me in Turkish so I just followed the direction of his hand. Istanbul is very hot and the road was up and down since it locates in the hilly area. It was really tired to walk around, but I didn’t want to spend so much money for tram or metro. Anyway Mehmet, the owner of the hotel (Mehmet is common name in Turkey) told me that the hotel is quite in the city centre. For me, it is always better to buy a drink than spend money for tram’s ticket. It is healthier to take a walk and hopefully I will lose some kilos. J
I forget the name of my lunch’s meal. It was mixing of potatoes, chicken, bean, tomato and cheese. It was O.K. Including a can of Coke, the meals cost me 11 Lira. Hm… I didn’t want to spend so much money. L Next time I should find cheaper restaurant. With full stomach, I continued my walk.
Somehow I had feeling that I took not so straight forward way to Blue Mosque. Well… without a map of the city that you never been, what you could expect, right? Then… let’s try to learn photography. With my NIKON 40, I just walked to the direction I wanted and took the pictures. I need to sharpen the sense of beauties. I learnt that Istanbul is a city for welding and shoes home made industry. I found lots of home made industry takes place in the basement of the building, a slightly below the road level.
I like to take pictures of children’s expression. For me, their expression is always pure, without mask or make up. While taking pictures of two children I met, a man called me from the window.
“Hi…what kind of NIKON do you use?”
“D40. Well, I am not the experience one. I am still learning. Are you a good photographer?”
“Sometimes I took pictures in the wedding”
“Hm… may I take your picture?”
“Sure… May I invite you for a coffee?”
“Yes, why not?”
Then I entered the building that later I was informed that it is an office. His name is Al and his colleague is Cűneyt. They are working in export-import business. Al said the he travels a lot in the Asian region but never been in Indonesia. He said that the majority of Turkish is moslem, but it is not so strict. He asked me how about Indonesia. I answered that between people, we are fine even though we have different religion. Cűneyt just came back from Dusseldorf to see das Fest there. He has a plan to take this festival to Istanbul. When Cűneyt asked my age, I said to him… I am quite sure that I am older than him (and it is true), he just replied how could you look so young? Well… I am Asian who hates make up and keep the positive energy with me.
I saw the picture of Ataturk in Al’s office. Al and Cűneyt said that Atatürk is their hero who brought Turkey to be the secular country. If you talk to any Turkish, you will inform your self soon that Turkish adores so much this man. At this point, I didn’t know why.
I said to them that I would go to Eskisehir by bus or train on Saturday (August 1st) night or Sunday morning. They kindly made several call to find out the best way to go there. It turned out that the best way was Saturday night (at 23.30) by train. It was a cheapest solution, 18 Lira. It takes five and half hours from Istanbul to Eskisehir. Al drew a map for me how to go to the office for buying the ticket from his office. They said sorry that they could not accompany me to go to the train station because they were not in Istanbul on that Saturday. Well Al and Cűneyt…., you helped me a lot by what you did so far. I said good bye and good luck to both of them before continuing my walk.
With my gesture, I said to some people in one shop close to Al’s office that I want to take their pictures. I promised them to send the pictures I took to them. Even though they don’t speak English, I think they understood what I said because then they gave me their address on the piece of used paper. Unfortunately by the time I write this story, I lost their address…. I am really sorry, my friends. I really hope that I could fulfill my promise but I don’t know how.
In my way to the Blue Mosque, I found a play ground in the park. I took some pictures of some children and their mother. Using our own languages, they understood that my name is Susan from Indonesia and I wanted their address so that I can send the pictures I took. This time, I was smarter. I wrote the address in my book. Well…
By ‘accident’ (I believe that nothing happens just by accident) I visited hero’s grave complex. Inside there is an office where the decision has been made during Ottoman’s emperor (or in the time of Atatürk? I am not so sure about it). I met a general manager of some company (I lost his business card) who explains me a little bit about the history of Turkish. I found some books in the bookshelves without any key. I asked him whether they don’t afraid that someone will steal the books (as it is the case in Indonesia). Without any intention, his answer gives me strength, “We need to trust on people so that we can communicate each other” Yes, you are right, but in human’s history, there were so many betrayals that stop people to trust each other. Anyway, thanks to remind me about it.
After 3 hours of talking and chatting with people in between, finally I arrived at Blue Mosque. If Europe has a reason to proud of their old, huge and glorious churches, Turkey has a reason to proud of their mosques. If churches are almost everywhere in Europe (what I mean by Europe is European Union countries); mosques are everywhere in Istanbul. Blue Mosque was built in the 17th centuries by Sultan Ahmed I.
I was very tired by the time I arrived at Blue Mosque. I had no power to look inside. I just took some picture of it. In front of Blue Mosque, there is Santa Sophia, a former church before it turned to be a mosque during Ottoman emperor and nowadays it becomes a museum.
There was some funny “conversation” between I and a grandfather. In short, he told me (with my own translation) :“How could you are from Indonesia, the moslem country, don’t know what I mean by stick?” With all my respect, the religion is nothing to do with the understanding of what you want from me. You speak in Turkish. How do I know what you want?
Anyway, I met someone who insisted to accompany me to go to the place where I could buy the train ticket. Though I was not so comfortable with him (I felt that he was a bit too pushing his existence around me), I accepted his accompanying. He said he likes friendship. Oks..let’s find out what is the meaning of the friendship here. He (I forget his name) works in the jewelry shop which gave him holiday that Friday. He, again, insisted me to pay my dinner. He didn’t like the idea that I wanted to pay my own meal. When he tried to push further his plan to accompany me, I refused it. I said that I was tired. It was true in fact. I consider myself that I am open person, what he did somehow too much for me. His ‘unintentional’ touch of my shoulder was too much for me. I felt insecure which may be it was only my imagination.
I took tram in my way back to my hotel. I found that the hotel is a 3 (or 2?) stop away from the Blue Mosque. Yes, it was clear, I took strange way from the hotel to this mosque that takes me 3 hours walking.
This was my first conclusion of Istanbul: Istanbul was too crowded, too noisy for me. For people from Jakarta, just imagine that Glodok (the biggest electronic market in Indonesia) is everywhere in Jakarta. Wherever you go, you will find people at least in the radius of 1 meter. At this point, my heart said nothing whether I can trust the hospitality that Turkish people offered to me or not. Just imagine this: wherever you go, someone invites you for the tea (at some sense it includes pushing you to accept the invitation). Some owner of shops offered me a tea even though I didn’t buy anything from them. I asked myself whether they are kind just because I am a woman, open-heart and travel alone. Will I accept the same invitation if I am not alone, if I am not a woman? I don’t know.
Night in my hotel, I asked my self, do I experience a kind of cultural shock in Istanbul? Turkish is European in surface, in the style, but not in the behavior I guess. Their welcome behavior is not so Europe. It is closer to Asian way of living. Where am I now? In Asia? In Europe? The majority of habitants are Moslem, but I can find easily Turkish who drinks beer in the bar which will quite difficult in my country. That night I thought I am crazy to make this journey. If I had enough money, for sure I would just buy another flight ticket to Frankfurt. Having no money kept me stay in Istanbul. I thank to some friends who being my object of complain about Istanbul thru some of my messages.
Remembering the bad experiences of Manda, I felt really unsafe as a woman. I knew that I promised my self to be brave, not being trapped of my own fear. But..I still felt insecure. I tried to read Paolo Coelho’s book (“like the flowing rever”I took from Karlsruhe. I found a nice pray that keep me going thru my journey in Turkey. Here are the pray :
Lord, protect our doubts, because Doubts is a way of praying. It is Doubt that makes us grow because it forces us to look fearlessly at the many answers that exist to one question. And in order for this to be possible….
Lord, protect our decisions, because making Decisions is a way of praying. Give us the courage, after our doubts, to be able to choose between one road and another. May our YES always be a YES, and our NO always be a NO. Once we have chosen our road, may we never look back nor allow our soul to be eaten away by remorse. And in order for this to be possible….
Lord, protect our actions, because Action is a way of praying. May our daily bread be the result of the very best that we carry within us. May we, through work and Action, share a little of the love we receive. And in order for this to be possible….
Lord, protect our dreams, because to Dream is a way of praying. Make sure that, regardless of our age or our circumstances, we are capable of keeping alight in our heart the sacred flame of hope and perseverance. And in order for this to be possible….
Lord, give us enthusiasm, because Enthusiasm is a way of praying. It is what binds us to the Heavens and to Earth, to grown-ups and to children; it is what tells us that our desires are important and deserve our best efforts. It is Enthusiasm that reaffirms to us that everything is possible, as long as we are totally committed to what we are doing. And in order for this to be possible….
Lord, protect us, because Life is the only way we have of making manifest Your miracle. May the earth continue to transform seeds into wheat, may we continue to transmute wheat into bread. And this is only possible if we have Love; therefore, do not leave us in solitude. Always give us Your company, and the company of men and women who have doubts, who act and dream and feel enthusiasm, and who live each day as if it were totally dedicated to Your glory. Amen.
After reading this pray, I tried to sleep. I put my luggage and one chair behind the door. I found that the key of the door was not so safe. However, I still could not sleep. My fear, my worry was stronger than my tired. Anyway, at leat i passed my first day….
I took breakfast in my second day with Mehmet (the same name as my friend , the owner of the hotel and one of his employee. We shared (from one plate) borek, a typical Turkish breakfast. Unfortunately, it used different fork for each person. I am a kind of person who difficult to say no to any acceptable invitations. I still didn’t know if it is part of Turkish hospitality or not. Looking back to my past, there was a time that I shared food from the same plate with some friends in the time we had no enough money. So I said to my self, why not now? Well..let’s just hope that every one is healthy.
My friend Mehmet arrived in my hotel in the lunch time. I said to him, just showed me another part of Istanbul which is not as crowded as here. I was enough with so many people around me. He asked me if I slept well last night. It seemed he saw the black circles around my eyes. We went to the beach and the region of Istanbul where he grew up. Again, I saw that Turkish culture has similarity with Asian’s: we like to be in the community, to talk each other.
Drinking tea is one of turkish’s culture. If you found a coffee shop in Turkish, it is not necessary that you can order a cup of coffee. But tea…is always available. You can buy a glass of tea and stay there for hours (one cup of tea is averagely 1.5 Lira). So did us. We visited several coffee shop in the beach, in the hill to drink tea and talk. We discussed about the education system, about the secularity in Turkey, the culture or news of our old friends. Besides Poland ( I believe that this country works very hard to be accepted as one of the scientific centre in Europe), I am convinced by Mehmet’s explanation that Turkey also works hard to take back their honorable position as it was during Ottoman emperor. All of my highly educated Turkish friends work really hard, harder than most European people.
I told him that in my opinion somehow Turkey’s men are too much demanding. I told him that it was quite difficult for me to say no to the almost ‘pushing way’ of tea invitation. He gave some excuse about it which for me it was not the reason at all (sorry, mehmetJ). He just said that just be careful to those kind of men.
I complaind about the ticket to Santa Sophia (10 EURO) which is more expensive comparing other museum in Europe. I told him that in Berlin, I only paid 7.5 EURO as an entering ticket including guided tour. He simply replied that what I saw in Istabul is more than 400 years artifact and Turkish gouvernment needs money to take care this artifact. Then… I had nothing to say more. Silent….
We took kebab as our dinner. Afterward, he returned to Sarkaya by bus and I waited about 1.5 hours in the train station which would bring me to Eskisehir, the city where Yasemin, my friend I met in France, lives.
I came back to Istanbul after my journey to Eskisehir and Ankara. In my last day, I found the nice place to be alone in Istanbul. I can read quietly behind the wall of historical topkapi palace. Once I thought that Istanbul is a city that wants to live in the past, when Ottoman emperor conquered Europe. I believe that this city receives lots of money from tourists, but why in the same time, many habitants suffer from clean water? I saw many women don’t have clean water in their house so that they should carry it from other place. This problem is so typical of developed countries (I have the same experience in Indonesia. The same poor sanitary environment can be found in Vietnam, Cambodia or India). The gap between poor and rich is so obvious in Istanbul (as also in Indonesia), which is less obvious in Europe.
After I felt having enough energy to continue my journey, I went to the city centre. I searched for the shop which sold the artistic lamp from the leather. I want a souvenir for my self. I got discount because I am an IndonesianJ. I put the lamps I bought in the shop. I didn’t want to carry them with me to Bosporus bridge which separate Asian and Europe continent. I promised that I would be back before the shop closed (the shop closes at 10 pm).
I went to Bosphorus strait, hoping to get sunset (which was not the case. I was too early for sunset view). A cute little African-Turkish girl sit beside me. It seemed she likes my strait hair. She touched my hair and kissed my shoulder. 🙂 We can not just refuse a friendship from children, right?