Sunday, November 29, 2009
I'm Standing at the Crossroads, I believe I'm Sinking Down...
We stopped by Greece. Literally. Did you know it's possible to treat a country like a fast food restaurant? Cause it definitely is. We landed, got on a tour bus, drove to the Acropolis, said hi, got back on the bus, drove around, got off the bus, and hopped on another flight.
You were pretty darn cool. Athens looks like a lot of fun. And thanks for everything, like democracy, geometry, and philosophy. We appreciate it.
Love, Westmont College Europe Semester '09
After our little Greece tour (which really was cool albeit short. I mean, we stood on Mars Hill for Gentiles' sake), we were on our way to Istanbul. Welp... goodbye Western world, hello... um... well... something else?
On the flight, I got giddy. So did Sam, Lizzy MacRae, and Megan Woods. See, we have been waiting all semester to give our city presentation, on Istanbul. Lizzy and I were in rows across from each other (Side Note: Olympic Air? Very nice. Westmont basically had a plane to ourselves. I mean, I had a whole row to myself, as did about 10 other students. They also served a meal on a one hour flight, complete with a cookie run, and two drink runs. Gotta love government subsidized airlines. Take note, America), and our eyes were glued to the windows. When Istanbul became visible through the darkness and fog, we both turned to each other. We smiled, and then simultaneously mouthed the words: "Istanbul! What the...?"
We landed in a pretty darn modern airport, and I was already taken aback. Despite reading it various times over the semester, I had somehow forgotten that Turks use a Latin alphabet. I was expecting to see Arabic calligraphy everywhere, and I wasn't. My paradigm wanted something to be there that just was not... It was weird. We took a coach to our hotel. Yes... we have hotels while we're in Turkey. As in: room-service-bringing-turn-down-service-comfortable-bed-nice-shower-in-room-TV hotel rooms. Wow... what a welcome change. I mean, don't get me wrong, the hostel thing was fun while it lasted, but Merci Dieu for hotels.
The next morning we gave our presentation. You know those dreams you have where you wake up five minutes before you have to give a big speech and you're totally unprepared? Yeah, that actually happens. I forgot that we gained an hour from Italy, and so my alarm was set to go off fifteen minutes into my presentation. Thankfully, my roommate came in 5 minutes before class and woke me up. Let's just say that I gave my parts of the speech in Kent Hotel - Istanbul slippers. Definitely bringing those things home as a souvenir.
Then, we went out to the Crossroads. See, Turkey's not quite the West... but it's definitely not the East either. It's unique. I get woken up often to the Islamic Call to Prayer (which is absolutely beautiful, by the way.), but the streets and shops here feel totally Western. It is just blatantly obvious that this is a Middle Eastern culture (as in an honor/shame paradigm, mixed with some nomadic traditions) that has fallen in love with Western culture. I have been treated SO well by the Turkish locals. Everyone wants to know where I'm from, and they will come right out and talk to you, even if English is far from natural for them. This was most evident in the Grand Bazaar.
Which has a perfect name. It's grand (it makes the Mall of America look small), and it is bizarre. The shop owners all stand outside and lure you into their shops. But they're not pushy. Italians were pushy, they'd almost guilt you into eating at their restaurant. Turks are just nice. They've got a sense of humor too. I walked by a carpet shop, and the owner looked at me and said "Let me sell you something you don't need!". I gave him a thumbs up as I walked away belly laughing. I met a really kind Macedonian who let me custom build a hookah. I'm thoroughly pleased with it. The best story comes from the jewelry shop owner though. I was hanging out with Joy in the Bazaar, partially because I didn't want her to be alone in there. It is unbelievably easy to get lost in a place that has no readable signs and where every shop looks identical. Anyway, I was just hanging with the owner ("Your name is Kurt? Like Kurt Cobain? Oh, I like Nirvana. I listen to them in high school"), while Joy shopped ("Here, sir, you sit while lady shops. It's hard when woman shops for hours. I know"). We talked for probably a half-hour about quite a bit of things, including my major ("Politics? really? Well, then maybe you can be Kurt Bush. No! Wait...Kurt Obama, that's much better."). The funniest part of the conversation went like this though:
Shop-owner (I believe his name was Ashmet, but I could be wrong, he will be referred to as "A" from now on)
A: So... how long?
Me: ... (thinking) how long? what the..? ... What do you mean?
A: How long have you been married *pointing towards Joy*?
Me: hahahaha... oh! Well, actually we're not married.
A: Oh oh, boyfriend and girlfriend?
Me: No, no... we're just friends.
A: ... Really? *looks blankly at her. Looks back at me* ... *Looks at her again. Then to me again* Just friends?
Me: Heh heh, yup just friends...
So, now the running joke is that Joy and I are married (It was really fast, I know. Heck, we can't even remember the ceremony... or the engagement, for that matter).
Anyways, back to Turkey. We have done a good amount of touring. First of all, Mosques are beautiful. Seriously beautiful. The Blue Mosque is jaw-dropping. The Haghia Sofia is a breed of it's own. It's gorgeous as a church, it's impressive as a mosque, and as both it defines the history of this place so well. The Ottoman palace was greatly impressive, but it's blatantly obvious that you have been on Europe Semester when you're in the middle of a palace and you think Eh...I've seen better. Yikes. Just yikes.
The last little anecdote begins with a pun. We were in Turkey for Thanksgiving. It was perfect cause we got a little bit of Hungary as we flew over, just got a little bit of Greece, and then had our Turkey. Thanksgiving was interesting. Our dinner was a nice attempt. We had chicken shish kabob and french fries. Almost turkey and mashed potatoes, right? The real feast was after, when 12 of us went to a hookah/tea garden. We were all around tables, just sitting, laughing, talking, and enjoying each other. I got thankful there. A little culture shock made me grateful, that's cool. If you want some more info on this event, I ended up writing an essay on it. I'm not sure it's quite what the profs want, but even if it tanks in the grade category, it's one of the best essays I've ever written.
That's been Byzantium so far... er, I mean Constantinople... ummm... Istanbul. Yeah, Istanbul, that's it. That's been Istanbul so far.