30 March 2007

Hair do

It's all very well having 'adventures' in a foreign land, but most of us are not so keen when it comes to someone messing with our hair. An Australian friend of ours in China went in for a haircut and came out with an embarrassing mullet - which ended up with her having to have her hair cut really short. I had my own haircut hassles in China, as you can read here.

All of the Turkish women I've seen - those who don't have their heads covered - have beautiful hair, they are obviously very particular about what happens to their hair, so that should give me a great deal of confidence about getting my hair done.

The one slightly odd thing here in Turkey is that all services are pretty much men's domain. For instance, there are no waitresses - only waiters - and the hairdressers are all men. There is a large hairdresser's opposite one of the classrooms where I teach, and I have spent many bored moments watching 2 or 3 men gathered around each female customer playing with her hair endlessly ... I guess I could get used to that.

All the same, I found myself very nervous about going to a hairdresser here. I pulled out my phrase book and mastered the words for cut and perm, and I can tell the difference between a men's hairdresser (erkek kuaför) and a women's one. And there are certainly lots to choose from - yeah, maybe that's the real problem, choosing ...

So, finally, yesterday I asked our Turkish colleague, the delightful Alvin, to take me to a hairdresser's and help me make an appointment, check on the price, and make sure it was clear what I wanted. We went into a little shop that's almost the closest hairdresser to our apartment - there is another one a mere ten metres away, but this one is about thirty metres away (the closest of two that are right next door to each other.)

We went in and Alvin started talking to a thin, slightly sickly-looking guy. I caught my breath - someone nearby was badly in need of a shower, the odour was overpowering despite all the other smells in a salon. Alvin talked with him, and arrangements were made. He wanted to know if I wanted a cheap Turkish perm (about 70 lira) or a more expensive longer-lasting European perm. I opted for the European one, but staggered a bit when I was told it would be 150 lira - that's even more expensive than in Australia! He immediately knocked it down to 100 lira, supposedly on the promise of cash payment. So it was agreed, and I nervously set myself to return at about 11am.

When I walked in there this morning at eleven, Mr Stinky was nowhere in sight, nor anyone else who had been in the shop yesterday when arrangements were made. I hesitated - there was a young lady looking at me quizzically ... was this my Chinese experience revisited? A moment later a young man came running in the door, and I thought I recognised him from yesterday. He motioned to a chair, so I sat - but I wasn't at all sure that he knew why I was there.

[Now maybe I should explain: I have had half a dozen perms before (in Oz), so I had certain expectations. They always wash your hair thoroughly first, to make sure there are no chemicals there which might interfere with the perm chemicals. Then they do the cut. Then the rollers are put in, and the perm stuff trickled over. A timer is set and left ticking while the stuff works, and you get a coffee and a magazine to look at. When the timer rings they run over and check your curls, and then you go to the sink for a rinse and some perm stopper liquid. Then there is some thorough rinsing and finally some styling and maybe a blow-dry ... ]

An older guy showed up and started putting my hair up in clips. He had a small plastic container of perm rods - not the quantity they usually use in Oz. I was a little worried, so I phoned Alvin and asked her to talk with the man and check that he knew what I wanted. All was apparently in order. So it was time to just relax and let him get on with it his way.

He didn't wash my hair, nor cut it. He just started putting in the rods, and drizzling the perm liquid on as he went. As time passed he got more and more enthusiastic with the liquid - maybe he was afraid he wouldn't be able to use up the whole bottle. He would grab a hank of hair, drizzle some stuff on, and then mix it around with his hands before winding it onto the rod. With my long thick hair it took him a whole hour to get the rods in.

Suddenly Mr Stinky turned up - wearing a fresh, clean shirt and with no bad smell. He came over and checked on the progress of my treatment, and seemed very pleased. But I still sat there for a whole hour before they decided I was done. By this time, in the absence of any magazines to read or anything else to do, I had pulled my little phrasebook out of my pocket and was deeply engrossed in trying to learn a few phrases. I just about leapt out of my skin when Mr no-longer-Stinky suddenly said "Come here, please." I have no idea how long he and the other guys had been working out together what to say to me in English. He looked suitably pleased when I jumped up and went across to the sink.

As they were rinsing and undoing the rods, the main guy kept smiling and looking really pleased. He did that thing they do here to indicate something is really tasty or beautiful - putting all the fingertips together and then shaking the hand up and down.

Finally it was time for the hair cut. I had wanted to have six months worth of growth removed, but I could only persuade them to take off less than an inch despite all my finger-waving. Women are supposed to wear their hair long anyway, and he was right in that the perm had shortened it up a bit.

Of course its all stiff now with the styling gel they put in it. I'll wait and see how it is when I get up tomorrow.

World Cup Cricket

We (especially Peter) have been enjoying watching the World Cup Cricket - on our (new) big TV and with the coverage provided by Fox Sports on Digiturk - Digiturk is worth it if just for the cricket!

The other night there was a very exciting match between the Top-Dog Aussies and fairly worthy rivals South Africa.

But at the same time, on another channel, there was a football (well, soccer) match between Turkey and arch-rivals Greece. Knowing that this would be a hot conversation topic in the classrooms in the weeks to come, we wanted to keep up with that one too.

Gotta love the inventor of the remote control ... !

Every time we switched across to the football match, they seemed to be going crazy over another goal - it was a brilliant match: Turkey smashed Greece 4-0 ... remarkably lively for a game of soccer! Our students - and everyone here - are delighted of course.

But what about the cricket - what do our students think about the cricket?

Do they even play cricket in Turkey?

Until the other day we would have said 'no' - they don't even seem to know what it is.

Then we saw THIS!

Maybe they are just waiting for their wickets to grow ...

26 March 2007

Fixer Upper

I have no idea how old our apartment block is, or any of the buildings around here. They look pretty old to me, but then we did see buildings in China that looked old and derelict from the moment the builders completed their work, so who can tell?

I am not sure that our apartment block is sound. I'm fairly sure that we are leaning just slightly. Whenever Peter uses his weights and then puts them down, they straightaway roll to one side of the room. None of the doors can be closed properly, and when we pull the bedroom door almost closed and then let it go, it swings back and forth about five times of its own accord - I'm guessing it just doesn't hang straight.

We often found that there was a bad smell, especially in wet weather, and we suspected that it had something to do with the trapdoor and duct in the bathroom. Since we installed an extractor fan and the weather has been dry for ages we haven't had trouble with that.

But now it's Spring. Time to fix things. We came home one day to find the workmen in our foyer.

They had ripped out the electrical metre boxes and were apparently planning to install new ones, part of Spring necessities.

Unfortunately, these renovations required that the power be turned off, and yet at the same time they needed electricity to complete their work.

So while the apartment residents went without power for a few hours, young Waldo there held the bare wires together to run his mate's power tools.

We suspected that the bad smells may have something to do with (what Charlotte calls) "the Down" in the apartment block. Its always been too dark and cluttered with junked for us to peek down there or venture down to explore. But now, they fixed the electrics in the building there was a light shining down there.

Now we can see ( and we still haven't been down there!) that there are at least two below ground floors ... oooh dungeon! And dank! Bleh!

So the renovators and workmen got to work down there. They have been dragging out mouldy wooden doors - which they they smashed into small pieces and carried away in rubbish bags - and huge broken up fibreglass tanky things (wonder what was in those?) ... and broken up brick walls. I hope they weren't supporting walls.

Then there was a long day when the whole building stank of creosote, or some such. We guessed they were doing some kind of waterproofing, sealing. And then they poured in gallons of sand. Lots and lots, and apparently some cement in there somewhere. They have made a new floor down there, several feet thick, flat and smooth and odour-blocking.

Bells and Whistles

We had a doorbell that made an annoying twittering-birds sound. So when someone was downstairs and they wanted to get into the building for whatever reason, they would press our bell more often than not. Apparently our bell button was at just the right height for anyone and everyone to press - including people visiting the accountancy business on our floor. There was no intercom, we were just expected to drag ourselves to our door every time and press the downstairs door button. So we disconnected our bell - we figured our real friends could phone us.

But now, with the renovations, we have a new doorbell!

It took them three days of work, power off, door kept open while people came and went and smoked in and out of the apartment ...

And we have an intercom on the inside, so if you want us to open the security door you'll have to tell us who you are.

In English please.

24 March 2007

Turkish Birthday Celebrations

We are a very mixed bunch from many different backgrounds, but we have become good friends. So when the lovely Alvin had a birthday, we were all together in the Teachers' Office to celebrate with her.

Alvin was sure that everyone liked chocolate, so she ordered a cake that was chocolate, with chocolate cream, and chocolate icing, and chocolate chips inside too.

A few sparklers and a candle or two, along with plastic cups full of coke, and we were in full celebration mode.

All the chaps were there.

There was (Jordanian) Ali, our guide and protector.

Tony, the new boy from Oz.

Michael the Brit.

There's my Peter.

And Steven, our müdür - director of education - from America.

And young Charlotte from Brighton (England).

And here are our other young ladies: Shannon, and Stephanie too.

Star Studded Cast.

23 March 2007

Spicy Cockroach

Nearly lunchtime, so I was on the prowl for something to eat. I opened the fridge door.
Hmmm. A tub of margarine, half a tub of yoghurt .... that was all, if you ignore the almost empty mayonnaise jar in the door.

Peter was standing at the kitchen bench, killing ants one by one. These are our first Turkish ants and there aren't very many of them - not like when you get ants in the kitchen in Australia!

So, as usual, we put on our coats and shoes and headed down the street for something to eat. Looking for something different, something we haven't tried yet.

At each restaurant door a man was calling "Buyurun! Buyurun!" trying to draw us in. So we wandered slowly past keeping just out of their reach. Many restaurants have one or two meaty kebabs turning in the window near the door, and an attendant slicing off slivers with a huge knife. The one near the railway station has vegetables embedded with the meat and a strong aroma of curry which is almost impossible to resist.

In another window there is a man who seems to be cooking mince - like dry-frying fine mince on a large shiny hot-plate, constantly mixing it with two metal spatulas. Just inside the door there is a hot pan full of mussels in their shells. We have often seen roadside sellers with pans full of mussels and lemon wedges - it seems like a very doubtful indulgence, a good way to get food poisoning. But when we thought about that it seems very unlikely, Turkish people are very fussy about cleanliness and health. So then someone has told us that these things are not just mussels, but cooked and seasoned mussels mixed with rice and returned to their shells for presentation. So here's something we haven't tried yet.

It was obviously time to try the mussels, and maybe that squishy mince stuff too. We wandered in - the restaurant is very narrow, just a table on each side and an aisle in the middle, but very long. Down the back there are tables with soft comfy bench chairs. We asked the 'buyurun' (welcome) man about the squishy stuff - "Bu ne?" (what's this?) and he told us "cockroach".

Well, that's what it sounded like. Of course, if we were still in China it really would be cockroaches, probably on a stick. But this was actually kokoreç.

So we tried some of the mussels - they were really delicious, stuffed back into the shell with seasoned cooked rice, and drizzled with fresh lemon juice.

And then we also had some of the cockroach stuff. It was really spicy. I had to drink some ayran - salty yoghurt drink - to stop my mouth burning too much. It was served with fresh bread - like everything - and there was a bowl of pickled peppers on the table to add to it ... but I had enough spice.

And then, today, I decided to look it up on the internet. As it says in Wikipedia:
"Kokoreç is a Turkish dish made of seasoned, skewered lamb intestines."

Oh. OK.

11 March 2007

"Please Remove"

They say "Life's pretty straight without Twisties".

Life can be pretty straight without TV too.

I grew up without TV, but it was no big deal - I didn't miss it because I had never had it, and besides we had heaps of cardboard boxes, some scissors and sticky-tape to keep us occupied.

Peter and I got our first little black and white TV in the '70s, soon after we were married. I was off work with a streaming head-cold at the time, and after a few days of staring at the walls of our tiny flat until I was ready to climb them, we decided it was time to become TV owners.

We spent most of the '80s on Mer in the Torres Strait -no electricity, no running water, no newspapers/magazines, minimal radio reception, and of course no TV. In the evenings we surrounded ourselves with hurricane lanterns to read books, but mostly we went to bed early. When our four babies were a little older, videos were invented and we gathered around our solar-powered 12volt TV to watch "The Man from Snowy River" on our 5 inch screen.

Returning to mainland Australia, we gleefully purchased a (larger!) colour TV, and the gaps in our children's cultural education caused by years of island isolation were quickly filled.

In China for the last two years, TV viewing took on a whole new meaning. We could only stomach so much of the one English channel CCTV9 with its propaganda-ised programs, and we bought (and watched) several hundred DVDs.

Here in Turkey we found DigiTurk satellite TV is quite reasonably priced, and so we have access to a good number of English channels with movies, documentaries, news, and sports.

But the TV itself is horrible. Its the sound. If you turn it up loud enough to hear, the music (and especially adverts) is burry and rattles the whole place.

Impulsively Peter dropped into the local supermarket (its hardly what you'd call a department store) and bought a really big TV. It was only 289YTL - about $269 AU. No problem.

But then - how do you get something like that home? He had to ring Ali to get someone interpreting, and was told that Migros don't have a delivery service, but a couple of young employees would help him out. Peter stood there for a moment wondering what form of transport they would produce - a van? a car? a big-wheeled trolley?

Oh, no! A shopping trolley?

So these two young guys hoisted the huge box onto the top of a shopping trolley, and set off ... up the escalator with the whole contraption tipping perilously, then out the wrong door (despite Peter's protestations) around the back of the shopping centre, considerably lengthening the trip home.

On a good day its about a ten-minute walk down the narrow streets from the supermarket to our apartment block.
But this was late Saturday afternoon, pretty much peak hour.
Besides being always crowded, and very narrow (barely a car's width, with metal rails or cement mushrooms to protect the sidewalk) the streets are laid with ancient bricks or cobbles.
So it was "fun" trundling through the crowd, "Pardon! Pardon!" (like the French "parrrrdon", not English), with the two young chaps following faithfully and the big box rattling itself to pieces.

When I came home from teaching he had it all set up. Only one thing left to do.

Well, someone has to remove that sticker!

I have NO idea what the sticker is there for. It seems to serve no purpose whatsoever. We have seen several of these big TVs on sale in the supermarkets, and they always have the "Please Remove" sticker.

I suppose it would be more worrying if it said "Please do NOT remove" because then it would be really hard to decide what to do about it.

Oh but it is nice to watch my favourite shows without the TV blurring all the sounds.

So then Peter had to have Ali around to show off the new TV. A few moments later they rushed out to buy a DVD player.


And some plug in speakers.

So now I am sitting here watching some of my favourite musical movies while Peter plays with the speakers trying to get them just right.

Now maybe we can drown out the noise from the people upstairs.

08 March 2007

Being on Elastic

Now that we have found our way to Zeytinburnu on the train right by our apartment, we seem to keep going back there.

Peter has been trying (in vain) to find a decent gym to go to. In Australia we were both gym members, and in China he belonged to the very impressive (and very popular) "Sky Gym" that looked like a giant glass ball above the street. Here the only gyms we have found are not only incredibly expensive, but also spooky little underground places with no one at all using the sparse equipment at the time when we happened to visit.

So he went back to just going for walks. The other morning he got a little over-ambitious and was striding along (while I was teaching) ... and found himself at Zeytinburnu. He was so far from home that he had to catch the train back again.

So today we had no classes, and when it came to lunch time we couldn't decide where to eat. SO we got on the train and went to Zeytinburnu again.

We wandered up the wide open mall, but couldn't decide on a restaurant or bufe to stop at.

Finally we impulsively stepped into a 'pide' shop - pide is a bit like pizza, Turkish style.

I didn't have my camera, this photo (obviously taken at night) is on the little wet-wipes pack restaurants give you when you dine there.

Once inside we ordered some soup and some pide. There were only a couple of tables, but like most places there was obviously a bigger room upstairs. However when we indicated that we would like to go upstairs, the waiter shook his head and indicated a table near the door.

The food was nice enough, and as we sat there we started to look around a bit.

In the first few minutes a couple of men walked past us repeatedly from a small (non-refrigerated) van outside carrying (one by one) about six whole (but headless) sheep's carcasses past us and up the stairs. I guess health regulations and practices are a little different here! At first I thought they were pigs ... silly me - we soon realised we were in a very Muslim restaurant.

The waiter went upstairs several times carrying a tray loaded with about twenty tulip-shaped cups of çay (tea), and a steady stream of Muslim clerics in their little hats and long coats came into the restaurant one by one, each one greeted the restaurateur in his big baggy Turkish-style pants, and went on upstairs. I guess we wouldn't have fitted in up there.

The walls inside the restaurant were covered with brightly-coloured tiles, some with large Arabic words. And in the middle of the restaurant was the enormous oven where they were cooking the pide.

We were a bit disappointed with the price of our meal - I guess they decided its fair to charge extra to foreigners, because locals certainly wouldn't be paying the prices we paid. But with our limited Turkish-speaking skills we just paid and left.

Yeah, we might still go back to Zeytnburnu sometime, but not to that restaurant.

04 March 2007


I was walking down one of the narrow streets of Bakırköy when I noticed this:

Well, I don't know.
Rocket ship?
Some kind of missile?
A heating unit?
Art - a sculpture?

I was surprised that no one else had stopped to look. A gypsy lady took advantage of my inactivity to try to sell me some "Evil Eye" trinkets. As I fumbled for my camera I told her several times (in Turkish) that I didn't understand and only spoke English, and she finally wandered off in disgust muttering to herself.

That was when I started thinking about "mosquiality", or maybe it should be "mosqueness".

Do you know what a mosque looks like? There are a few mosques in Australia - you can mostly notice them by their dome shape.
We saw quite a few in China, too. Again, they all had domes.

There are lots of mosques with domes in Turkey. Lots.

And I mean LOTS.

Some of them are really impressive, huge structures. Some are shiny, some old and a bit crumbly. This one in Selcuk (near Ephesus where we went on holiday) is really ancient.

Our ears told us that there is a mosque very close to where we live - we hear the "Call to Prayer" loud and clear five times a day. But its not obvious where the mosque is.

In the narrow street next to ours I looked up one day and saw the Minaret - when you are bustling along a narrow, crowded street you don't always get a chance to look up.

I don't remember noticing minarets before, nor hearing the call to prayer before we came to Turkey.

Most people - like, for instance our students - seem to pay no attention to the Call to Prayer, but we have heard (Jordanian) Ali singing along to it - which was when we realised it is actually in Arabic, not Turkish.

So not all mosques are big, and neither do they all have domes.

BUT they ALL have minarets.

When I realised that I noticed this one when I was on the train.

Can you see the little minaret stuck up on top, like a tiny rocket ready to be launched ... ?

So what about the little "rocket" in the Bakırköy street?

This has to be the smallest mosque I have ever seen.

I know it is a mosque because it says "Camii",
which means mosque.

And it is right next to the "mini pasaj",
so I guess everything is small around here.

03 March 2007

Day Off

Another week, another (one) day off - what to do? Its not enough time to go anywhere, and mental exhaustion makes it hard to be creative about filling the day with fun (part of the brain is just asking for bed...)

So we got on the train again, because that doesn't require much thought, and Charlotte came with us to have a look at Olivium shopping centre. We didn't bother with accidentally getting off at the wrong station this time.

All the big shopping centres have some fun activity in the middle. (Galeria has an ice-skating rink, Carousel has a merry-go-round / carousel.) This one has a climbing wall.

Charlotte and I thought about it - but not for very long.

And then we wandered around the shops and looked at all the pretty things to buy.

But in the end we didn't buy anything except a couple of bits and pieces from a stationery store - gotta love stationery, don't you?

We had lunch - kumpir, stuffed baked potatoes, but not nearly as good as the ones at Ortakoy.
Walking back to the station we saw this simit-man, and just for once we had time to get out the camera (and he even slowed his pace a little to pose for us). We see a lot of people in the streets carrying bread in huge packs on their heads, or carrying trays of food as part of a take-away food service ('paket servis'), or dangling one of those lovely little trays full of tulip-shaped glass cups of çay (tea) - but its really hard to have a camera ready.

By mid-afternoon we were back at the apartment, all tuckered out, watching TV and playing scrabble.
A new teacher arrived today, from Australia, so we gathered at a local outdoors restaurant. He was dressed Oz-style in cropped cotton pants. Its "winter" here, so we haven't seen any bare legs for a while, but he wasn't feeling cold. The temperature today was up around 18 degrees, but when the sun goes down it can drop fast. Maybe it was just the jet-lag affecting him.

This particular restaurant offers nargile - like the hookah in Alice in Wonderland. You can choose which flavour of smoke you suck through the water pipe. Some of the teachers chose apple-flavour, and I have to admit it was a lot more pleasant than the usual stench of tobacco smoke.

01 March 2007

Looking for Olivium

When we were on the train the other day we noticed an interesting looking building, and we decided we would come back later and check it out.

There it is, the big round glass building with "Olivium" on top.
I found out on the internet that Olivium is an "outlet centre", shopping mall, and has some cinemas. And it also said that this building was in Zeytinburnu.

So today, with no classes, we got on the train ... and when we got to Zeytinburnu, only two stops down, we got off again. We hadn't been able to see the shopping centre from the train, but we nevertheless headed off where we thought it would be.

Interesting area, Zeytinburnu. Nice wide mall (walking street, as they call it in China) - not as crowded or as narrow as our Bakırköy main street. We had a lovely walk around, enjoyed the sights and the shops. Then we decided we had hopped off too early, and so we got back on the train.

We are confident that we can usually blend in fairly well in this community. But not today, we seemed to be wearing "tourist / foreigner" badges. As we got onto the train we were immediately surrounded by a group of three or four very excitable teenage girls who squealed and giggled as they practised their minimal English and tried to squeeze some Turkish out of us. People on buses are generally very quiet - mobile phones are not supposed to be used and people speak in hushed tones. On trains people are a bit more talkative and speak a little louder to be heard over the rattling and rolling ... but these girls were at a pitch that was obviously embarrassing most people in the carriage, especially us. We weren't sure if it was just hormones or if they were on something, but we were very relieved (and they were disappointed) when we got off at the next stop, Kalzıçeşme (no wonder I had forgotten the name.)

And there was "Olivium", just a ten minute walk from the station. As we walked into the centre and through the usual security check the policewoman said "Welcome," (instead of the usual "Hoş geldiniz") and the man in the stationery store we browsed around asked us which country we came from. Still not blending in.

We wandered around and enjoyed a yummy Turkish lunch. Then we headed back to the station, trying to blend in and be normal.

No chance. There was a band of small boys bouncing around on the platform - yeah, why weren't they in school, ay? They were playing chicken with the train - sitting on the edge of the platform with their legs hanging over and daring the train to come - and testing the exit turnstiles - how far can you push the turnstile before it forces you to go through and you can't get back? Then they caught sight of us foreigners - more fun!

Fortunately there is not too long to wait between trains. Unfortunately the boys were, of course, waiting for the same train as us. It was one of those really old trains and you have to yank the doors open, and several doors just wouldn't give more than a crack, despite a number of passengers and would-be passengers applying themselves to the task. Being smaller than us the boys managed to get through one of those cracks, we headed further down the train and with relief squeezed ourselves into a different carriage.

Back home to our little apartment. That's our place with the Turkish flag, and our bedroom on the left behind the beautiful (peach?) tree.