28 February 2007

Inter-Continental Travel

We live in Europe (which is a long was away from Australia).

Today we went to Asia.

(British) Michael was giving a talk about the new TOEFL courses which will be starting soon, so Michael, Charlotte, Peter and I caught the sea bus across to the Kadıköy (in Asia) branch of our company.

This big 'cat' is one of those brilliant sea buses that runs between Europe and Asia. They are fast and quiet and smooth - just a slight roll when you get out into the sea of Marmara - and they are made in Western Australia.

When we left Europe it was almost sunny, but when we got to Asia twenty minutes later it was cloudy and gloomy. And Charlotte noticed that it smelt like fish. We wondered if all of Asia smelt like that.

There were lots of seagulls, and lots of ferries. That big building is the one donated by Germany and now used as a railway station. The ferries run back and forth there - very fast - from Kadıköy.

So we went and had our little meeting. The company wants us to teach the new TOEFL. But they don't want to buy any books for us to use. We have one, between all of us. This is one of the little hassles of marketing versus education in other countries.

Charlotte came back with us to Bakırköy, in Europe. And tonight Stephanie, Charlotte, Peter and I are all going to sit around, eat microwave popcorn, drink sahlep, and watch "Law and Order - Criminal Minds" (start of a new season) on TV together.

"Sahlep" - ? Thick, creamy, sweet, spicy, Turkish drink made from orchid roots. MmmmMmm.

24 February 2007

Rockin' Rollin' Ridin'

We live right next to the railway line. There is one building in between us and the line, and as it goes past here the line is not underground but down below the level of roads and buildings so there is not much noise. All the same it has taken us five months to actually get on one of these trains.

The carriages are very basic. Hard plastic seats, and plenty of standing space. The doors mostly close automatically, but some of them take quite a yank to get them open.

On Thursday we went west towards (and past) the airport, and discovered the little beach at Florya. Yesterday was our day off so we decided to head in the other direction, east - into the main part of the city. We went to the end of the line, but on the way we noticed one or two interesting things to get off and investigate next time.

At Sirkeci, the end of the line just before the Golden Horn, we found a litle Tourist Information office. On the window was this map of the various train systems on the European side of Istanbul.

What a good map! We dropped in to ask for a copy of it. The little man behind the desk was pleased to see us. He spoke some English, and was sitting there with his study books learning about Past Simple Passive Verbs - we gave him a brief free lesson. But he told us his office was very poor, and he could not give us a copy of the map.

"You have a digital camera ... ?" he asked. And so we collected a copy on our camera instead.

As you can see with a glance at the map, public transport in Istanbul gives a lot of options. This map shows just the trains. There are also buses - big and small usually running the same routes - and dolmus (shared taxi), and taxis.

22 February 2007


Yesterday I had a class to teach, but Peter was at a loose end, and Charlotte was going stir-crazy. So the two of them hopped on the train that runs right by our apartment - just to see where it would go. They went to the end of the line, and back, but on the way they saw a beach out of the window, so they got off and felt the sand-between-their-toes ... (Charlotte is from Brighton where the beach has pebbles.)

So today I didn't have a class, and Peter and I hopped the train and went 13 minutes down the track to be on the beach by the sea.

It was only a little bit of beach, and we weren't at all sure if it wasn't a private beach. In Australia there are no private beaches, access to the water is protected by law - but maybe here its different. We had to go through a big black gate - which was open. It appeared that the beach belonged to a hotel. And walking further along the beach was made impossible by these fences.

We thought we might go look at the pier. So we went along the road further and tried to get back onto the beach further along. But the police with guns were guarding the gate, so we guessed it was some sort of military area - there are a lot of those.

A bit further away from the beach, on the other side of the rail line, we found the Havuzlu Çay Bahçesi - Pool Tea Garden. There were two large pools with fountains - this time of year no water though. The weather was delightful and we sat outside for our lunch.

The waiter came and laid a sheet of paper over the heavy Turkish-style tablecloth - later when we finished he came and cleaned up by wrapping the paper around our dishes and everything and carried them away in one neat bundle.

As we sat and relaxed, there was something familiar in the air. I gradually realised that I could hear parrots - a familiar sound in Australia. We found that one of the trees had a man-made hollow branch, with a nest-full of small green parrots.

Actually the place was full of birds - the ubiquitous doves, sparrows (you have to realise that for us West Aussies even these are exotic), the green parrots, some jackdaws, and even the odd finch. I was always an avid birdwatcher as a kid, caught it off my dad ...

We don't see a lot of birds in Istanbul ... too many cats!

20 February 2007

Getting Engaged in Turkey

Jordanian Ali is engaged to a Turkish girl, Dilek. He got engaged soon after we arrived here, and they had an engagement party at Ali's apartment which I didn't go to because I wasn't feeling well that night. (Everything here seems to happen at night, I like to be in bed by midnight but apparently everyone else stays up all night - that's why shops etc open at 10am, but that's another story.)

I don't know whether they didn't do it right, or if its normal to have two parties - one for each of the engaged couple's families - but on Saturday they were having another party, this time at Dilek's parents' home. Dilek has a big family, but of course Ali's family is in Jordan so we (Stephanie and Peter and I) were standing in for them.

It was Saturday night, so the twenty minute trip took an hour or so, trying to extricate ourselves from the local traffic. When we got there we found the apartment was packed with dozens of happy family members of all ages. There were one or two who we recognised from previous encounters, and several spoke quite good English, so we were able to be sociable and enjoy ourselves.

The food was incredible. All salads, all served cold, a huge table-ful. We have salads in Australia, but nothing like this. The Turks are the Kings of Salad! Not a single plain "green salad" (with lettuce, tomato, carrot and cucumber...) in sight. All sorts of other tasty vegetables, grains, and meats chopped and mixed with various tasty extras like yoghurt and sauces of various kinds. If you are a fan of a good potato salad (and isn't that the one that usually goes first at a barbecue?) then you would love all of these. And then there are the little things wrapped in vine leaves, and ... well, I guess I could spend a long time talking about Turkish salads!

When everyone had eaten and a host of ladies were tidying up and washing up it was time for the rings. (Again, they had done this at the first party, but it had to be done again.) There were two rings tied together with a red ribbon, presented on a special little tray. Ali and Dilek slipped the rings onto their fingers and the appropriate family member cut the ribbon. For the rest of the evening they continued to wear their rings with the ribbons trailing.

Then it was time for lots of Turkish kissing. I love the way everyone here hugs and kisses (both cheeks, of course). Ali and Dilek went around and greeted everyone, and photos had to be taken with each family group. Some people had pure gold coins attached to little red ribbons, and they pinned these onto the happy couple.

While this was going on the cake was brought out. Now, what would you expect to be inside a cake like that?

Ali and Dilek cut the cake, and a small piece was put onto a plate, and they fed each other - to a lot of cheering and clapping. Then the cake was cut up and everyone had a piece. It was a moist, light chocolate cake with cream.

Then Ali came and told Peter he wanted him to open the champagne.

Dutifully Peter struggled with the cork - while most people cowered and waited for the 'pop'.

It just seemed to be stuck hard, so various other people tried. In the end it was pulled out without a sound - it was a still white wine, not champagne at all. Ali and Dilek linked arms and drank some wine, and everyone was pleased.

They walked around with their ribbons on their hands and a pair of scissors and snipped off tiny pieces of ribbon which various people then swallowed. Stephanie said that at the first party she had been given some ribbon to eat. Apparently its a bit like catching the bouquet - you are going to be the next one to get engaged.

We were told that later (after midnight) everyone would be moving to another venue where there was more space and there would be dancing. But we had been teaching all day, and the next day was Sunday when we have to teach all day too. So we caught a taxi and came home.

It was a lovely time - its always good to be part of family fun. And it was a curious mixture of traditions - some that are definitely Turkish and some that seem to have floated in from outside.

Climbing the (glass) wall

There are lots of famous walls around the world - the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, the Berlin Wall ... And now:

The Glass Wall

Obviously this one doesn't have the strength of those other walls, so it must be symbolic.

We have been very puzzled about its meaning and purpose. It all started ...

When we first arrived at this school, there was a partial glass wall separating off the small section of the teachers' room where the Teachers' Assistant had her desk. This was her little place - she held the keys to the various cupboards, and occasionally did photocopying, and guarded the paper ... one or two packets at the most. She still found time to do her makeup, sit on the radiator, and chat online with friends. She was a pretty girl, but her youthfulness, inexperience, and limited English made it difficult for her to actually assist us, the teachers. She did however learn a few words a
nd would check with us occasionally, "Am I beautiful?" Finally, for a variety of reasons, she resigned her job and we were left to manage without her.

Left to our own devices we entered the area behind the partial glass wall and found that the cupboards with the keys really held nothing of interest or value. We got permission from administration downstairs, and removed the glass wall - adding some extra space and a sense of freedom to our teachers' room. Morale went up, there were more laughs and less

Then one of our Turkish teachers was made teachers' assistant, along with her teaching tasks. She's a wonderful young lady - beautiful as well as intelligent and talented, a good teacher and good English speaker, and a good friend to all of us foreign teachers. Now things could begin to run efficiently.

We all work six days a week, with one day - Friday - off. We all turned up one Saturday morning to discover:

Yep. The Glass Wall. Only this time it extends all the way to the wall - we can no longer walk around the end of it, we have to go out of one door and back into the other.

Or we could climb over maybe.

It had an instant effect. Morale dropped, everyone was grumbling and muttering again.

We tried asking downstairs about why they had gone to all the trouble of building a wall that no one wants and has no useful purpose ... but they assured us that we would soon understand and be very happy about it. Its been a couple of weeks and we are still not happy, just quietly resigned. So what
does this thing represent?

Its the old battle between marketing and education - is this a school where learning is paramount, or a business that makes money hand over fist? This is marketing wanting a bit more say in the education department.

13 February 2007


February - the coldest time of year in Istanbul, they say. Right now its about 16 degrees on our balcony. The trees are fairly confused about the weather.

They are all budded up and ready to spring into life. A few of the buds have got over-excited and popped out already.

Once of the trees has been trying to get into our bedroom, poking its twigs hard up against the window. So I cut a few, and put them in a jar inside.

Its still trying to be winter outside, but its already spring in our apartment.

Birthday in Turkey

Even people who live and work in Turkey have birthdays. Life goes on.

So we can't keep with the usual time-honoured family traditions - a family get-together, and a photo taken while (looking daft and) blowing out the mandatory candles on the mandatory cake.

We thought about having a party or 'do' of some sort here in our apartment - we have plenty of space and everything. But almost everyone we know smokes heavily. To be polite they would go out onto our balcony... So I had this vision of a large crowd of people on our tiny balcony, and maybe a collapsed balcony.

A month ago, on the day when the company threatened to pay us late and we decided not to work until things were right, we all went to a little cake cafe in town, called Edo's. It was a good time together. So we decided to do that again.

We bought one of their cheesecakes - it turned out to be more of a jelly-cake - and the shop people decorated it with sparklers and a couple of those tiny umbrellas they put in drinks. And almost the whole crew came - here's Stephanie, Shannon, Charlotte, Michael, Steven, and us. Good times.

08 February 2007

Gotta play that game

The lovely weather continues. And the classes are getting less. And Stephanie has a friend staying with her for a few days. So - even though its not our day off - we went out for the day.

A dolmus (shared taxi) to Taksim, and then a bus to Ortakoy. That's the spot by the Bosphorus where Charlotte and I went when we couldn't go to the palace because of the journalist's funeral. And of course we had to have Kumpir - those huge baked baked potatoes with all sorts of tasty things piled onto them.

In Ortakoy the streets are even tinier than here in Bakirkoy, just little brick-paved lane-ways, and there are lots of little touristy shops. We mulled over jewellery displays, and tried on hats and scarves ...

And then we saw an Internet Cafe and play house that advertised "Air Hockey"! Its a standing joke here at our office that we, the teachers, want an air hockey table - in the teachers' office, or somewhere. So we couldn't resist. Down the stairs we went.

Peter is very competitive. So is Charlotte. So it was a pretty spirited match.

Gotta get ourselves one of those tables. Anyone know where we can buy one? It would fit in our spare room ...

05 February 2007

The case of the reappearing rubbish

Gotta love "Wheelie-bins"! I can remember our excitement (in Western Australia) when we got rid of our old metal bin because the local council had provided us with a shiny new wheelie bin. (We were devastated shortly after when the local hoons took it in a drive-by heist, and ran it alongside their speeding car, so far and so fast that its little wheels fell off.)

In China, living in a sizable apartment complex, we were a little startled to find that a swing-top kitchen tidy bin was the receptacle provided for hundreds of apartment dwellers to deposit their household trash. (Especially as the plumbing was such that you could not flush even the tiniest amount of paper - no getting away with that at all, any mistakes and it would return to haunt you until you fished it back out or got to work with the plunger ... So there was a fair bit of rubbish from everyone's apartment every day.)

However, it hardly ever happened that there was a bag already in the little bin when we added ours. The rubbish bags barely hit the bottom of the bin before one of the little tidy-up people would shuffle up and sort through it. Everything was recycled. Different people collected different parts - some went for plastic, some for paper, some for tiny things like pop-sticks and twist-ties. The favourite was, of course, plastic bottles. In fact if we were walking the street with a half-drunk bottle of water, soft-drink or ice tea, we would soon find at least one person stalking us, waiting for us to drink up and discard the valuable bottle. The bottles could be sold for 0.1 yuan, and ten of those would buy a decent feed on the street.

So, I'm sure I hear you asking ... How is it done here in this fair city of Istanbul? "Just leave it at the edge of the street", is what we were told. And sure enough, you see piles of rubbish bags heaped in the gutters by the narrow brick street every day. Ghastly? Well, it is a bit. But there is one rule, you only put out rubbish at night.

As soon as the sun starts to go down, the rubbish starts appearing - not in bins, just untidy heaps of plastic shopping bags and the like. And shortly after that the scurrying starts, the little people with carts come by and pick it all up. They don't just come past once, if we miss the first rush we can still put out our stuff and it will magically disappear.

We have a big bin in our kitchen, with a big, tough garbage bag in it, so we only need to put out our rubbish every week or so. But years of marriage and bin disasters have taught us that you don't put food scraps in a bin that is going to sit there for a week ... especially when the food is fish! So every day we take the scraps from our daily fish, and wrap it tightly in a plastic bag, and then usually I deposit it on the edge of the street as I head out to my evening classes.

A couple of times we made a mistake, and took the bag down too early, and so we hung it in a nearby tree and returned later to move it to the street. There are no rats in Istanbul, as far as I can tell - but there are millions of cats ... so you can imagine their excitement at finding a bag of fish-scraps dangling in a tree! Only once did they succeed in shredding the bag and spreading yummy, smelly stuff all over themselves and the path. (I could tell which cat it was, he was licking himself for hours!)

We learnt! We didn't do that again.

The two young ladies, our colleagues upstairs, not being in a marriage relationship, are still learning about bin etiquette and bin strategies. They still hold to the fond belief that when you put something in the bin it is "Gone Forever"! Some chicken scraps thus disposed of came back to haunt them, until Stephanie in desperation (and I'm not sure, but I'm guessing she was in her pajamas) grabbed the bags, took them downstairs, and deposited them right outside the front door on the ground.

"Here kitty, kitty ..." We returned from a shopping outing to find a maelstrom of cats, some devouring, some washing themselves, and some just spreading the joy. It was way too late in the day to do anything about the mess, I figured one of the little clean-up people with rubber gloves and a broom would fix things.

The next morning as we opened our apartment door to go to work, there was a neat pile of rubbish bags waiting for us, pressing up against our door. Someone had, in fact, cleaned up the mess, and decided we were to blame!

We mentioned this to the girls upstairs. They have learnt too now.