Incapacitated in İstanbul, Day 1

I haven’t posted in nearly two weeks not because I’m preoccuppied with having awesome fun and traveling and haven’t internet (which caused my other lapses) but rather because I’ve been deathly ill. I’m still unsure as to what the illness is as I decided to skip on lab tests (i don’t like needles). To give a quick picture without being self-indulgent and incurring pity: my symptoms, while morphing quite often and every few days, generally conform to that of malaria, without the fever (which is odd) and thus I didn’t quite have the wherewithal to write. I took a last minute flight home, halving my bank account in the process, from where I am writing this post. My brothers managed to convince me that saving money < being alive.

To the date at hand, 9.2.10. My stomach woes may have their source in my last meal in Edirne. I wrote out a list of phrases I wanted translated and brought them to the restaurant where Himmet worked in the morning. I was unwilling to spend nine lira on a small meal so I headed towards the cheap chicken döner place. Halfway down Salaçlar Caddesi, however, one of the hotel guests stopped to chat with me, and then took it upon himself to find me something good/cheap to eat. I rather would have preferred eating the tavuk döner quickly and then getting a bus, but he wouldn’t have it, and so led me on quite the unmerry chase around Edirne. I’d checked out of the little hotel already so I was carrying my things about in his wake, which got heavier and heavier as the search progressed.

We first checked a fish place, which was closed for Ramadan. The owner referred us to a side street where we talked to a fish merchant. Every person (and their co-workers) we talked to stopped working to contemplate our dilemma very seriously, thinking a while, then having long conversations about possible solutions. From the fish merchant we walked almost to the end of Salaçlar Cadessi to an empty restaurant where the owner explained it was a specialty and thus would cost 20 lira, which was unacceptable to either of us. My companion led me to a few stores to get advice before telling me to drop my things off in the hotel and leading me afterwards to a small cafeteria style restaurant right next door, about an hour or so after I’d met him on the street. Annoyed at the whole thing and at my duty to keep up our conversation (he was a Turkish man who’d moved to the Netherlands) I accepted whatever the worker recommended and ate the Köfta and rice despite the meat looking quite uncooked.

My Dutch friend shepherded me to his favorite bus company and waited with me for the serwis (minibus) to the main bus station at the outskirts of town. Though I certainly felt grateful for his kindness and concern, I was quite glad to be quit of him – the attention was smothering.

Then again, this is what I love about Turkey – how helpful everyone is, and how kind. I’m still noticed for looking different, and I still get gestures and comments that would seem racist in the States but one can tell it’s innocent and simply curiosity. Kids will do kung-fu moves in front of me and adults will ask me about Jackie Chan or Jet Li or Bruce Lee. Young adults will compliment me by smilingly pulling at the corners of their eyes to make them slanty – one even told me he likes Asians “because they have small eyes” – a weird reason, to be sure. They’ll ask me if I eat rice with every meal, etc… and while it can be tiring I don’t get offended in the slightest. Which is strange.

Finding my way to where I was to meet my host turned out to be rather an adventure, because İstanbul is HUGE. I knew, going in, that it boasted some twenty million people but I didn’t quite grasp the sprawl. Again people everywhere insisted on assisting me and I probably would have arrived faster and spending less money had I gone alone. But it was quite nice to be taken care of. After leaving the bus it turned out there was no serwis to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of İstanbul, and I was eventually directed to the Metro and then to the Metro Bus, a brilliant idea where the central lanes of the highway are reserved for busses – creating another traffic free network above ground.

Kadıköy. İstanbul is biiig.

I asked the man beside me for assistance and he took it as his mission to help me. This is all happening in Turkish, by the way. Himmet’s phrases were instantly useful and though I’m sure I could have found an English speaking helper I preferred it this way. This wonderful middle aged man accompanied me out of his way to change busses twice and spoke with the minibus driver to assure I’d arrive. Another middle-aged man gave us advice and chatted with my benefactor for the first half, but the real wonderful experience came from a pair of wonderful young deaf guys.

Because sign language, obviously, transcends much of the language barrier. I communicated with them with absolutely no problem. They made jokes about my guitar being a gun. Wanted to take photographs with me because I’m Asian (the pulling eyes thing). As I remember we filled the half hour ride with “conversation” and my helper seemed to be inspired and used hand gestures and no words for the rest of his assistance. It was a strange, enlightening feeling, like suddenly becoming aware of the superfluousness of words. How they get in the way or actually cause additional confusion.

Friendly deaf guy #1.

Friendly deaf guy #2.

When I arrived at Kadıköy, after a merry one and a half hour tour through İstanbul’s various public transport options, I still wasn’t terribly sure if I was in the right place. So I drew a cartoon for a passerby, who helped me find the flag. I had an hour and a half to kill and the boat station was extremely busy – a small group played classical Turkish music right at one end of the hub so I figured it could be a good pitch. I waited for the gypsies in the grass by the flagpole to finish drumming before setting up across from the flagpole, with my back to the Bosphorus and a ferry station to either side. Every few minutes a ferry would arrive and people flooded the walkway before me – most looked, many slowed, two tipped.

I though it was a bus station. This caused some confusion.

It’s hard to imagine a less grateful crowd. The benches near my chosen spot were previously empty but soon filled so that people began to take seats on the raised stone before the grass. Young gypsy men shining shoes harassed me, gypsy children danced around me in a mocking way (miming a guitar) or screeched loudly over me. Older gypsy women darted around my case, looking for a quick grab. Most disappointing of all, however, was the Chinese man, very friendly, who struck up a conversation with me, then passed many times to keep listening but never made eye contact again, even when I sang him Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin. I sang nearly a full set, determined that my host would discover me in action, but my voice simply broke after forty minutes. During the rise into the falsetto chorus of Falling Slowly the sound just ceased mid note…. not a good sign.

Luckily, the night was a bit nicer – I spent an exorbitant 12 lira on pide, a Turkish pizza like affair, to avoid being rude to my host, and ate the thing despite the egg on top being rather translucent (salmonella, anyone?) – which may also have contributed to my stomach woes later on. Whatever the cause was – the pide, the köfta, or the fleas/mosquitoes from Burgas, after this day, the trip quickly derailed with my health.

Earnings: 1,80 TRY, 40 minutes
Song of the Day: Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

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