Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Religion in Istanbul

Turns out, although religion is a big part of the Turks' lives, for a whole lot of them it’s a personal matter as in, internally they may have a lot of faith, but just like many Christians they are not devout and vocal about their beliefs.

Maybe it is old news to everybody, but it’s a bit new to me. I don’t really watch TV, but I do follow several liberal and independent (at least I like to think they’re independent) media and even from them the impression that I had was that all Muslims pray 5 times a day, basically go on and on about religion all the time and are adamant about Islam being the world’s “best” religion.

Nobody I know here has gone to a Mosque at least once since my arrival. I was surprised to find out people don’t know the times for the 5 calls to prayer. I can tell time by four of them now. Alcohol is not uncommon (although acknowledged as a sin) and every one has their own stance on premarital sex and sex in general.[At the same time, if you're interested, pork is nowhere in sight, tampons are hard to come by.]

Nobody really asks what your religion is and people only talk about their faith when I bring it up (I have tons of questions). I wonder if I come across some atheists with a Turkish passport during my stay here and what their stance is.

I’ve been told Turkey is the most liberal country whose population practices Islam. I guess that makes sense to me now, although I have no evidence to back this opinion up as I have not yet to visit another country with a high density of Muslim population. Iran is the most conservative country.

In the process of writing this post, I was also browsing my Google Reader and stumbled upon this article, The rise of Islam and the future of secularism. In the first half of the article the author expands on the same thing I was just on about and in the second half she states the number of devout Muslims is on the rise, mostly as part of some statement. Curious.

At the same time, I don’t know how I feel about Eid al-Adha I believe it is too cruel a custom. I don’t know if it’s widespread or not, but something tells me it is. Makes me wonder what vegans think of this practice. I find it admirable that the main purpose of this is sharing with the poor, but killing animals and sort of making a show about it is too much for my liking.

And before I forget, two more articles from columnist Charlotte McPherson

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sev Sen, Istanbul (should translate as: I love you, Istanbul)*

Some more observations from the land that is in different sources listed as a country located in Europe, Middle East and Asia. Which, coincidentally, translates to the country’s self-identification. Meaning that the country is having a hard time in identifying itself.

On my first trip to Istanbul, I did not realize how liberal it was. In some ways even more liberal than several bona fide European cities that I’ve been to. E.g. headscarfs are actually banned in higher institutions nationwide. However, some neighborhoods do remain conservative and  apparently things like killing your daughter/sister for losing her virginity before marriage is not unseen even in the present day and time. Although it appears the attitude to sex in general is pretty relaxed and everyone decides for themselves what rules to follow.

So far I have met incredibly generous and hospitable people and at the same time, in the street somebody will push you hard whilst trying to squeeze in between you and the wall and will not care to apologize. I have also made friends with several local vendors and supermarket employees. Most don’t speak a word of English and I can’t force myself to say those few words that I can master in Turkish and yet we somehow understand each other and they’re being genuinely sweet to me. [I know the numbers though, helps if you can’t see your total on the display.] And yet I’m absolutely stressed out by the yelling and hassling of sellers in some touristic places or at rush hour when you leave the ferry. This is why I’ll probably never go to the Grand Bazaar again after my November experience.

It’s an old and sad expression, “city/land of contrast(s)”. I make a face every time I see it on somebody’s blog and yet I can’t find a better phrase to describe this place. It’s unique. And what makes it even more unique are all the neighborhoods that this humungous city is comprised of (e.g. Bebek, the rich neighborhood between the two bridges connecting Europe and Asia, home to the best fruit and chocolate waffle in the city, Ortaköy with its kumpir, pictured below, the fancy Bagdat street in Kadiköy and so on).

Some food-related observations from the last two weeks:

  • Turks eat yogurt with meat. Also with a variety of vegetable dishes like deep-fried paprika. It’s not a desert and seems not to be a breakfast thing.
  • Tea is more of a breakfast drink, coffee is more of an afternoon beverage.
  • Olives are mainly preserved in olive oil and thus outside the fridge. 
  • Chain supermarkets in residential neighborhoods have self-imposed lunch breaks sometimes. They just close the door for half an hour, pretend they're not there and sometimes leave a note on the door. 


  • I said it before, but… traffic in Istanbul is really, really bad. Better walk between 7-10am and 5-8pm. Also it's pretty bad throughout Saturday. They are currently building a tunnel under the Bosphorus (my brain just collapsed) and a new subway connecting the two sides will launch in 2013.
  • On my first stay I had the illusion you could not only drive, but also walk on the Bosphorus bridge. Nuh-uh, missy. But they do close the bridge for traffic once a year for a marathon or a race and last time it happened, the bridge was swaying uncontrollably. But people kept on running.
  • Each crossing of the bridge by car costs 3 Lira.
  • Turkish MTV airs clips literally at least 20 hours a day. And many are watchable. In addition, I have become a fan of Sertab Erener and Atiye.
  • Tarkan is still very much a celebrity here and a very prolific one, too.
  • The world is small in Istanbul, just like in Berlin. At a recent couchsurfing event, I met an American I’d previously met in Berlin when I was living there and she first arrived. We met at another CS party. Umm… yeah.

In related news, my mother will visit me next weekend. She'll stay in a hotel in Sultanahmet and I, of course, will have to assume the role of a guide, listener and hand-holder. I'm already a damsel in distress about it as I have already received many a special request concerning the program. Which include but are not limited to: no long walks, preferably a guided bus tour, a lot of fish, fresh strawberry. And she needs to buy a new bed cover.

We'll see if I make it...

* - of course I had it wrong. :) I love you should read as -> seni seviyorum

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Musings from Istanbul

A few observations from my first days in Istanbul:

  • Despite the general notion, that all Turkish women are covered from head to toe, this myth is easily debunked if you turn the TV on. Half-naked female singers and presenters just like everywhere else I’ve been to. Frankly, maybe even more so than everywhere else. And no one seems to blink an eye. 
  • The thumbs up sign that supposedly symbolizes sexual desire (according to the Internet)… does not symbolize it. It means great/ok, like everywhere else.
  • Rush hour is impossible to tolerate. I was in a real traffic jam once so far and that was one time too much. A trip from the European to the Asian side during the evening rush hour will leave you with a couple of new grey hairs. 
  • Passengers are to enter the bus at the front door only; entrance from the middle or back door is allowed when it’s impossible to enter at the front (stuffed bus), in which case they pass payment/transport cards to the driver all the way through the bus. This is new to me as even in Berlin the Turks loved getting on the bus from the back and thud avoiding payment. Also, I’ve never seen buses fit in so many people. Good thing I normally score a seat, otherwise I’d prefer to walk and then swim across the Bosphorus Strait.
  • It’s uncommon to walk to get somewhere. Anything over a 20-minute walking distance will be a bus/minibus/taxi ride. I think people consider me a bit odd for taking so many walks.
  • Turkish men only pester women in touristic areas (as if that was expected from them) and they will leave you alone right away if you should no emotions and don’t pay any attention to them. In all other areas, you’ll be getting looks from people now and then because you look a bit different, but generally no one will really approach you in the street.
  • Love, love, LOVE simit.
  • Some Turkish women are quite breathtaking. A lot of women in Istanbul are very westernized, blond hair, typical European and American dressing style. Some also appear to be quite emancipated and yet they do enjoy being “led” by men and seem to submit to them upon their own wish. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Coming home

Coming home is a weird experience. I’m not a fan. On a regular day, I tend to think the grass is greener on the other side. Depending on the length of the trip, my coming home blues kick in a month to 2 days before I’m about to depart for the country that I have to call motherland.

Blues means something different every other time. Can be anything from quiet hysteria to moody swings and mild aggression.

Between Berlin and Istanbul I made a 20-day stop at home (Krasnodar, Russia)  and although initially I was not at all happy about having to come back, it turned out to be a nice stop. The main reason I decided to spend some time home, was the fact that my grandmother turned 90 on March 25. I think it was a good reason, I’m truly glad I was there on this day, it was important for both her and me.

I also met most of my friends, some I met every other day as we couldn’t get enough of each other and just had to make up for some of the time that we were apart.

I didn’t mention here previously that I had a surprise prepared for my immediate family. I’d told them I had return tickets for March 25 but came back a week earlier. I like doing things like that for the sheer excitement of this for every party.

I met a friend’s baby for the first time. The kid is only 4.5 months old. I was glad to find both the mother and the daughter in a good place and in a happy state of mind and yet I once again saw for myself that I probably am not the type to have babies. Maybe adoption one day if it feels right, but in general I do not feel am a motherly type although my relatives think I will come back to my senses and my maternal instinct will kick in. Time will tell, I suppose.

All in all, I had a good time with my friends and family, recuperated from all the travel experiences of the last three months… and now, Merhaba, Istanbul!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Russia Loves Innovation - Part 2

This is a continuation from the Monday post on the same subject. Just some pictures from my homeland.

23. Just some pretty balconies.

24. Pretty roads and manholes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Russia Loves Innovation - Part 1

Russia (or rather the government in Russia and all state organs as well as all state-owned mass media) claims it is rapidly developing, we put innovations to the forefront, take care of our people, build a better country. And so on.

The pictures below were taken at the end of March '11. The city in question is Krasnodar. For an unknown to me reason, some people refer to it as our little Paris. See for yourself exactly how much resemblance to Paris it bears.

1. Russian people love innovation of all sorts. Especially what concerns renovation and electricity works. FYI, pictured is the capital of the region that is going to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

2. This ain't the 70's or the 80's, more like 2011.

3. Fancy living in downtown in Krasnodar?

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