01 September 2009

Moving on, and on

This blog came to an end when we moved to the UK - The British Job and Torquay Talkie and Porridge in Norwich ...

In Torquay we had our own website for our EnglishTorq homestay / language school.

But then we moved on to Norwich, and on again to Saudi Arabia - Howdi Saudi .

Now (September 09) we have returned to Australia to do some further training at Edith Cowan University - Not Riyadh.

Where next - don't know yet.

08 November 2007


So here we are in England, and we have a new website to advertise our new jobs.

It's called English Torq.

That's because we are living in TORQuay, in Devon, and you TALK English, and we are ENGLISH teachers.

Go on over and have a look.

14 September 2007

Not here any more

Hey, we're not here any more, we're there.

I mean, we are not there (in Turkey) any more we are here (in the UK).

Look at my new blog here.

31 July 2007

The longest seven hours

The 31st of July. Time for Peter's interview at the British Consulate in Taksim.

Travel to Taksim is best by dolmus (shared taxi), and usually this involves a few minutes of queuing as vehicles arrive, fill, and leave, until there is a space. We thought maybe it would be different early in the day, so we went down on Monday morning to have a look. This was different, at 7am there were ten or so dolmuses queuing, waiting for passengers. And there was hardly any traffic. Catching a dolmus early would mean a short trip, maybe half an hour, but catching one a few minutes later after the traffic started to build would mean a long trip, over an hour.

So this morning we were up bright and early and we went there soon after seven - too soon. We were in Taksim in half an hour ... and the interview wouldn't be till nine.

We wandered around the (fairly) quiet streets, walking slowly, enjoying the cool (though humid) air. By 8.45am we were tired of walking and we showed up at the consulate anyway.

The British Consulate is not a very obvious place - no signs at all, just a crest on the wall to give the clue. But there is heavy security (after a bombing a few years ago) and we have been there a few times now so we know where it is. We went to the guardroom window, and were quite surprised when they said I could not enter, only Peter. So I sat on the stone wall outside and waited. He was finished and back out before 9.00, even before his interview appointment time ... but the rest of our day didn't follow this pattern.

He had good news, and bad news. Yes, he was granted the visa, and would get it today, but he had to come back at 4pm to pick up his passport with the visa in it. (Good thing we didn't book our flights for today!)

What to do? An hour back to Bakirkoy, and then returning later - another hour in the dolmus - and then another hour in the dolmus home again. Or hang around Taksim for 7 hours?

We decided to hang around, after all it seemed fairly cool. We wandered slowly up to one of the three Starbucks in the main street, and sat in big comfy chairs in the third floor lounge for about two hours. That was pleasant, but slow moving - its not like we could grab an (English) newspaper to read or something.

Then we went out and wandered some more. We went for a ride down the hill on the little tram. Then we walked back up, and decided to look for a cinema showing English movies - most of the movies here are in English with Turkish sub-titles. We found a cinema, with several bad choices of movies, and chose to go in to watch one that had just started.

It was called "28 weeks later". If you ever get the chance to see it ... go to the dentist and have some teeth pulled instead, it will definitely be more worthwhile.

We counted off the minutes and hours we had managed to waste already, and decided to go give the Consulate a try - who knows, maybe they will be running early.

The man in the glassed-in air-conditioned guardroom repeated the four o'clock starting time. We noted there were already a few people sitting in a patch of shade on the ground under a tree near the Consulate, so we wandered off looking for a cool shady place to perch and wait for two more hours. The day had heated up considerably, but the Consulate is on a steep hill and there are places you can catch a cool breeze off the Golden Horn.

At 3.30 we were back, and waiting in the shade across the road from the Consulate. We watched as various people came and asked at the window and then joined the growing group crowded into the shade under the tiny tree. A few noticed us, and came across to join us.

By four o'clock there were more than 20 anxious people. The traffic had reached a crescendo, and the sun had developed quite a sting. Everyone started queing at the window, which made the guards nervous, so they erected a metal barrier over against the wall that was receiving full sun, and got everyone to queue behind that. Instructions were given in Turkish, which was a bit discouraging for English people wanting to get into the British Consulate.

One older balding man in the queue (not Peter!) was holding his hands on his head trying to protect himself from the sun. He became distressed, so the nice man in the guard room gave him a glass of water to pour over his head - well, maybe it was for him to drink, but his head was so hot it was all he could think of to do. I nipped into a little supermarket I noticed just down the road and grabbed some cold cans of iced tea for my man - who was glad to be wearing his codger hat!

At 4.30 it finally all happened. They took people through the gates five at a time, and a few minutes later Peter had his shiny new "Settlement Husband" visa.

We are going to England!!

29 July 2007

Hot Summer Evenings

They said Istanbul has 'miserable' winters. Well, it hardly rained, it didn't snow, we didn't see any fog, there was barely any wind, and it didn't really get cold.

But summer in Istanbul? Now that is miserable!

At the moment the middle east is in the grips of a heatwave - temperatures pushing the high forties day after day - and we are just on the edge of that. It's hot, and the place isn't geared for heat. Many places do not have air conditioning. And there is a water shortage and electricity shortage, so they turn off water or power to whole suburbs for up to a day at a time.

End of Time

Our contract ended precipitously somewhat sooner than we had originally intended, but we can't go anywhere until we get Peter's passport back from the British Consulate after our visa interview there on July 31st. We still had test writing to finish for Dilko, so that kept us inside and at the computer (by turns) for a while. We finished that, and then we packed our stuff, and weighed it, and re-packed ... and still there are days left.

Going for Walks

Walking is good - healthy, cheap.

Walking in Istanbul can be a wee bit hazardous. The sidewalks are narrow, and even the walking streets are unbelievably crowded. It's like always pushing through a fair-ground crowd. You can't just walk in a straight line, you are always dodging and weaving, watching out for bikes, motorbikes, and sometimes even cars or trucks that have chosen the pedestrian way. People do not specifically walk on the right, or the left, they come in from the side and they meander, and many of them seem fairly unaware of the presence of others - wearing a scarf or a burka would be a bit like wearing blinkers.

And you don't see many prams or pushers, these old Istanbul streets are incredibly rough with a variety of cobbles and brick paving, pot-holes, bumps and dips, drains, broken off metal pipes sticking inches out of the ground, rubbish in piles and scattered - there's definitely no room for power walking.

The Promenade

That's what the path along the sea-front was called in England, I remember. Great place for a walk. We went there quite a few times during the "winter" and were puzzled by the emptiness and desolation, the only other people were a few exercise enthusiasts.

But now it's the summer holidays. The kids are at home and everyone is hot and bored.

Its obviously the place to be. Someone even provides little tiny tables and stools under the trees.

Great place to snuggle with your girlfriend, or do a spot of fishing. People catch tiny hamsi - like sardines - we have seen one guy catch seven at one time.

There's even enough space for a kid to kick a football.

Then if you think you are really clever at kicking footballs, there is some kind of little competition here - I'm sorry, we haven't really worked out what the idea is.

Actually there are a few ways you can throw a few coins and have a go at something.

You can shoot a pellet to pop a balloon, or break a glass bottle into the sea. There is also a man with two or three cute white bunnies sitting on top of a wooden box, very tame. People come and play with them and stroke them, and then they buy a ticket to try and win one. What a racket!

And what a great opportunity for all the little people to set up stalls and make a bit of extra money.

You can feast on fairy floss,

or sweet corn - steamed and/or barbecued.

Then there are lots of varieties of seeds and nuts, and the ubiquitous simits (bread with a hole that is very popular here).

Some chaps are cooking fish or kofte (varieties of meatballs) on a portable barbecue, and selling it in bread with tomatoes and peppers.

You can buy various evil-looking things in jars,

or even just a cooled bottle of water.

These photos were taken about 6.30 pm while it was still bright and sunny. But we are often down there at 9pm - when it is just starting to get dark. By ten o'clock we have pushed our way back up the crowded streets to our soggy bed and humming fan, but we have no idea how long everyone else stays - maybe all night. Some of them are just lighting little fires and settling babies into prams at that time.

In less than a week we will be in England. Cool, wet, green England.

23 July 2007

Turkish Girls

This Sunday was the big General Election in Turkey. For weeks before we had put up with political rallies, vans driving around with blaring election speeches and rousing patriotic songs. There were fireworks at night, and huge "vote for me" advertising posters replaced the football team banners.

Everyone was wondering if the ruling AK party would get back in, because there had been some concern about this party being strongly pro-Islamist. The big deal in Turkey, for which we all love the man Atatürk, is that the government must remain secular, while the country is generally very religious. In practical terms, this means, for example, that women cannot wear religious headgear in government jobs.

Well, the AK party did get in. But they have promised to maintain the status quo, secular government. Otherwise the military have promised yet another military coup - they will just step in and take over like they did before.

So. What about the girls?

Turkish girls are beautiful. These are some of the ladies we have been privileged to teach English to.

Besides being beautiful, they are intelligent and strongly independent. In an English school like this we get a few - not many - of the covered girls.

But we see a lot of them around the streets, like this friendly group of high school students.

Of course there are also a few completely covered women in the black burkas, some showing only their eyes, some revealing their nose and even mouth. (I've never seen any completely covered with a veil as well like in some countries.)

What we've noticed about these young covered girls is that they are always slim and pretty, and they take great pride in choosing the colours and designs of their head scarves and full covering clothes.

As far as I can tell, the rules are that the hair must be fully covered as well as the neck, and the sleeves, and they must wear a coat or dress to cover the shape of their legs.

That doesn't mean they can' go all out to choose clothes that are fashionable and colour coordinated.

The thing that really bothers me is that this is all well and good in cold weather, but this was a particularly hot day.

The un-covered girl is comfortably dressed for the day, her covered friend is wearing a long-sleeved shirt, and t-shirt, and skirt and jeans, as well as her headscarf.

I couldn't do it. I don't even much like wearing a scarf in winter.

Most of these girls (covered and not) end up in arranged marriages - and are quite happy about it from what they tell us. And then the expectation is that they will stay at home, inside, doing housework and watching TV, covering appropriately when they go outside, or even stick their heads out over the balcony to hang the washing.

Eventually they all turn into sacks of onions - with inner beauty.

17 July 2007

Frustration and the Golden Rule

We have finished working with Dilko English here is Istanbul - a little earlier than we originally intended. The how and why is a story for another day.

So here is another little story that just gives a hint of what it's been like working here.

It's July now, and most of the teachers have already left or gone on holiday for the summer. Charlotte has gone back to England for a month. Dilko didn't pay her as she left what they owed for her previous month of work because "that's not how it's done" - payment is always on the 15th of the following month and she left at the end of the month. So she asked them to give her pay to her flatmate, Stephanie, on the 15th. That was ok, they said, they could do that.

However Stephanie was flying back to the States for a holiday in the early hours of the 16th ... so Charlotte gave us her bank details, and Stephanie would hand us the money and we would put it in the bank so she could access it in England.

Simple. What's so hard about that?

Well, first of all, the 15th this month happened on a Sunday. Never been a problem before - we work on Sundays, harder than any other day. We've been paid on a Sunday before. They knew well in advance that pay day was going to fall on a Sunday.

We turned up on Sunday for our pay, and were told "Yok", meaning 'there isn't any', and that we could not be paid until Monday. We graciously left (with a bit of a sigh...). Remarkably they managed to rustle up Stephanie's money, so she got paid before her early Monday morning flight. However Stephanie had no time to go to the bank - it's ok, we could bank hers at the same time as Charlotte's on Monday.

On Monday we turned up, smiling brightly, and accepted our pay for the work we had done in June ... however they told us that they couldn't pay us Charlotte's money because she had asked to have it paid to Stephanie (who was now on her way to the US and of course they had been unable to pay Charlotte's money to Stephanie before Stephanie left because it was Sunday ...)

Emails zoomed across the 'net as Charlotte sent new instructions, and we turned up again Tuesday morning, ready to get our hands on Charlotte's money. Oh, sorry! The lady who gives out the pay is not here, come back at 2pm.

Returning at 2pm. Oh, sorry! She is still at lunch. Come back later.

Returning at 3.40pm. Oh sorry! There is no money today. The owner of Dilko hasn't been to the bank yet. Try again tomorrow.

Somehow we thought that as we are now in Europe and no longer in China, we wouldn't have these problems. The second biggest language company in Istanbul with branches all over the city should be able to come up with teachers' wages on the promised date and not need to make up stupid stories. I would have thought.

Remember the Gold Rule? (The one in The Wizard of Id of course.)