Better a tourist

On perhaps our third/fourth day, time befuddles me in retrospect, Christie and I decided to head over to the Asian side of Istanbul. Had we (I) woken up at a regular hour, perhaps the next series of events wouldn’t have occurred, and thus, I thank myself for waking up at the early hour of 2PM. At the Kabata? ferryboat station, while confusedly searching for the ferry schedule to Üsküdar, a middle-aged, weather worn, tourist-looking man approached us and suggested we visit the Prince’s Islands, where he has a summer home. What started as a suspicious introduction turned into a sun-filled afternoon listening to a tragically autobiographical tale.

He was a carpet and goods dealer, buying and reselling overseas. He had spent the last twenty years in New Zealand, opening up shop with his wife and kids. Then, after a brutal, unexpected divorce, he found himself exiled to the country of his origin, a tourist in his native country. He kindly invited us into his home, a cute and small apartment nestled in the hills: private, just enough, and real. We sat on the shore line watching the sun sneak past its peak, drinking island tea. Afterwards, we supplanted the freshest seasonal fruits: black cherries, overripe and seedy grapes, and cold melon, to his home, and ate under the fleeting twilight sun. He sent us home with fresh bread.

Location: Princes’ Islands (not sure which one), Istanbul, Turkey


It is strange to always have to avoid looking people in the eyes, but down those narrow tourist-geared alleys, it was the only way to escape being hassled. Ni hao, an nyoung ha seh yo, konichi wa, hello, I’m here, we have rice here, flood us from all directions, menus thrust into eyesight, perhaps-desperate restaurant owners stand in our ways. This was the difficult part, escaping these death traps and finding those places with more suave and native pull. We managed, and when we did, it was wonderful. In an economy largely supported by tourism, it makes sense that Istanbul natives, especially men, feel the necessity to sell you not only with their wares, but their friendship and companionship. When faced with such friendship, one which both parties expect to terminate in hours or days, false sincerity and false promises are exchanged…or perhaps, not false, but simply cheap.

Beginning with such a bleak view of the personages of this city, I was surprised by the number of truly valuable interactions Christie and I found. On the evening of the second day, exhausted, we spent the better part of an hour wandering Ishtiklal searching for a suitable hookah bar. Most of the ones we passed were either filled with thumping Europop music and screaming, or fully-opiated patrons. On a quieter street, we settled on a cute place situated on a hilly street with a non-English-speaking owner and a number of friendly looking locals. Aside from some of the best, longest-lasting hookah I’ve ever smoked, we also managed to learn the basics of backgammon from the nice Kurdish owner, Osman. Backgammon, tawula in Turkish, was taught to us completely in Turkish (which explains why I only managed to learn the numbers up to six). It became our one consistent obsession over the next few days, and we managed to sneak in a few games every time we sat down to tea.

At one point during the night, Osman was sitting next to me studying Christie’s guide book, Just Enough Turkish. He leaned over and had me read from it. Are you married, the page read. I shook my head no, and motioned to Christie and myself. He then pointed to the next line in the book, I am married, shook his head, and said, Prob-lem. A problem indeed. I suppose religious and cultural stipulations make it difficult for Turkish men to interact with women, single or otherwise, outside of their own immediate family. Foreign women who come to Turkey on vacation or for business provide some of the only opportunities for such interactions. As such, these interactions are often a bit strange, or awkward, perhaps due to lack of practice or normalcy. The cute, shy waiter guided me to the restroom at one point in the night (the toilet was in a neighboring restaurant), and when I had finished, he told me his name, shook my hand, and clasped it for the better part of a minute, unwilling to let go.


Location: Istanbul, Turkey