Is this what it means to be beautiful in Turkey?

A light-hearted reading from Istanbul’s Spoken Word on April 12, 2016.balik etli

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This is a story about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with beauty in the eyes of the Turks.

Well, the truth be known it’s actually my own struggle.

I just spent three months in Australia where I performed in a dancing show. With a month of intensive rehearsals in the heat of an Australian summer I naturally lost weight – about three kilograms.

Though, when the curtains came down on the show, “weight” was definitely not on my mind.  I was, “get in my belly” with chocolate, burgers and biscuits for a few weeks as my dancing feet rested. Binge, binge, binge. Nom, nom, nom. I no longer had to watch my waist line because I am happy with my curves – and I enjoy food!

That said, about a week before flying back to Istanbul I began to feel apprehensive about my weight. Because, I knew I had to face my Turkish friends. And, I knew EVERY TIME I land in Turkey I’d get an honest opinion about my weight:

“Hello my friend? How are you? ………..Have you put on a little bit of weight?”

In Australia, you would NEVER, EVER say: “Have you put on weight?” To say such a thing would be highly insensitive, perhaps even insulting to anyone insecure about their extra kilograms.

But no, no, no – not in Turkey. Apparently to say: “Have you put on a little bit of weight?” could actually be a compliment. (But, more on that later).

I bet there’s a few people right now sizing me up as they read this. Maybe thinking…”it sounds like she’s carrying a few extra kilograms”…is she balık etli!?

What does that mean? Some of you may ask. Well let me tell you.

I was introduced to this term six years ago when I came to Istanbul.

I met a Turkish guy at bar in Taksim. He was in his mid-30s. Had dark long locks and kept himself fit. We exchanged pleasantries – all in English, because my Turkish was terrible. He was kind of cute and charming. I was enjoying the conversation – right up until he started looking me up and down, and said, “You look like…”

He gazes at me with “sexy eyes”.

Sexy eyes (2)

I hold on for a compliment that will make me swoon for this dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty.

Perhaps he will say I look like Reece Witherspoon. Because I used to get that all the time – when I was thinner. Or may be he thinks I look like Ginger Spice – the mid-1990’s, curvier, union jack sporting version of “Ginger Spice” – because I used to get that too.

He repeats himself and pauses, contemplating his words: “You look like….

……balık etli.”

My eyebrows raise. I’m speechleess. I’m stunned as I interpret those two words in my mind to:

Fish meat!

“I look like fish meat!?” Ne! (What!?) I shifted uncomfortably with the anger resonating in my body. My western brain that would never compare a woman to fish concluded this guy was rude and insensitive.

Although, to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps I did not hear right, or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought. I asked him, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

What does that mean?? My mind went berserk as I searched for words to respond. I mean, what fish could I possibly be?

Am I hamsi (anchovies)? Short and slender. I do have pale skin. Maybe I was shining under the lights of the bar?

Hamsi

Am I hamsi (European anchovies)?

 

Am I çupra (sea bream)? Chubby in the face and mid-section. Skinny  in the “legs”.

Seabream

Maybe I’m like cupra (sea bream)?

 

Or perhaps levrek (sea bass)? Sleek and in proportion.

Seabass

Perhaps I’m like levrek (sea bass)?

 

Oh my! Am I turbot!? Flat, round, bumpy and rather unattractive to look at (but pleasant to devour).

turbot.jpg

Turbot, with a face only a mother could love.

 

Seeing the disgust on my face, my new friend at the bar was quick to explain what balık etli meant to him.

Apparently, in Turkey, to be “balık etli” is to be voluptuous. To have curves in the right places, and Turkish men do love curves (he reassured me several times).

His confident explanation soon had me believing that I had indeed just heard the most oddest compliment ever received.

But since then, many people have said otherwise. That perhaps when people say: “You’re like balık etli” it’s actually a warning to avoid that next chocolate, burger or biscuit!

Regardless, given this experience and many others I’ve had in my travels, I do feel beauty is defined by the culture and society we live in.

Do you like your ladies lean, voluptuous or lumpy and bumpy? Like your preference in fish – beauty comes down to personal taste – largely shaped by the society you live in. What’s attractive in one society may not be in another. And, as long as I enjoy my food, and I enjoy my curves, and Turkish men find balık etli  “tasty” I guess I’m not moving to another country anytime soon!!!

…..So….. who’s up for a spot of fishing? <insert cheeky bream grin here>

Skinny-Mirror

(Balık etli kadını sonunda bulduk = Finally we found the balık etli woman)

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Am I safe in Turkey?

It’s a question I get askeTerrorism in Turkeyd often and right now I’m inclined to say:

I’m not safe in Turkey.

I’m not.

What I mean is, I’m not safe from other people’s fears and what they create around me.

The atrocities and struggles we see today – acts of terrorism, restricted freedoms of expression, divisions in society, hatred towards others – they’re products of fear.

People’s fear of losing power, or not gaining power.

People’s fear of the truth being told.

People’s fear of cultures they’ve never experienced, or countries they’ve never visited.

People’s fear of other people they’ve never met, or the religions they’ve never understood.

The truth is, if I ignore the fears of others, and focus on my pleasant day-to-day life in Turkey, I do feel safe – especially in Istanbul. In the very city that just yesterday was devastated by a bomb in the heart of the city’s tourism district of Sultanahmet.

You see, Sultanahmet is a place I call home. It’s where I spend most of my time. It’s one place in the world where I’ve always felt at peace, because it’s where East meets West every day and many friendships are formed.

My favourite thing to do in Istanbul is sit in a cafe in Sultanahmet, savouring a Turkish tea, whilst talking to tourists and locals. I’m always amazed with how easy conversations with strangers start here with anyone from Australia, Canada and America to Algeria, Syria and Saudi Arabia. We instantly have a common topic to discuss – Istanbul and all the magnificent historical attractions of Sultanahmet.

To hear of the bombing yesterday that killed and injured people in “my home” is something that is too difficult to comprehend – as it is for many with an affection for the city.

The fear now is that this dreadful event may tarnish tourism and many businesses may flounder. Inshallah (god willing), it will not be this way. Like New York, Bali, Madrid, Paris – any tourism hotspot that has overcome terrorist attacks and continues to attract world travellers – I intend Istanbul will too.

But, just how can we overcome this?

I believe, you become what you think. You become what you create. However, influencing this are the thoughts and act of others. What other people think and what other people create can shape our reality and collective thoughts are powerful. Another way of looking at this is, positive thoughts bring positive results. Negativity breeds negativity. Fears can breed negativity.

I’m in Australia at the moment and it’s been somewhat trying when the topic of “my home” comes up in conversation. I’m constantly asked to respond to other people’s fears about Turkey with the question: “Do you feel safe Turkey?” Instead of asking about the good things happening in my life in Turkey or what I enjoy about the country, people “auto-reject” within seconds to focus on the negative.

I’m growing frustrated because Istanbul is my home and I believe inflicting negative views, essentially invites further negativity. I don’t want that for my friends in Turkey or Turkey itself. Like a sensitive vampire lifting their cape to doom, I hiss back: “Do you feel safe in your hometown?”

The counter question is always met with silence or a stutter of random comments. “Well, do you?” I poke with my words, hoping they might come to the same conclusion I have. That is, a reality distilled from fears. The reality that threats to our personal safety and lives occur every day, everywhere in the world. We have perhaps become desensitised to many of them, because sadly, they have become to norm.

Alcohol and drug related violence, car accidents, homicides, drownings, falls, electrocutions, deaths by exotic animals and gun violence in America. Scan the morbidity and mortality statistics on these around the world and realise that the chance of succumbing to these issues are far greater than terrorism, but like terrorism, we cannot always predict when these afflictions will strike.

So, what can we do?

Be aware of your fears and how they may impact on you and others.

Question the sources of information around you – are they reliable and unbiased?

Choose positivity over negativity and put the right intentions out to the world for you, for others and the places affected by terrorism.

Mourn those who have lost lives and livelihoods in the terrorist attacks around the world, and remain defiant – never to let another person’s fears stand in the way of your life goals and happiness. (Waleed Aly says it best here)

And, for Istanbul’s sake, be positive. Be like a good friend going through hard times, come visit to help her heal.

Please don’t feed the fears.

Instead….

Love Life Istanbul is it safe in Turkey

My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed and injured in Sultanahmet on January 12, 2016. 

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Other articles on this topic by fellow bloggers and writers:

Don’t hide from Istanbul by  (January 12, 2016)

The New Normal by Janey in Mersin (January 13, 2016)

This isn’t chaos this is my home by Life in Istanbul (January 13, 2016)

Is Turkey Safe from Isis and Terrorism by Turkish Travel Blog (June 2015)

 

 

 

 

5 events you can’t miss this winter in Istanbul

The outdoor events on warm summer nights have come to an end, and the evenings are getting colder and longer. The temptation to stay at home, cooped up in your onesie to binge watch HBO TV shows…is… well…tempting. But alas:

Winter is coming!

And, there’s some fantastic events  in Istanbul that you must check out to warm the cockles of your heart.

Ladies and gentlemen,  I present the five events you can’t miss this winter in Istanbul.

1. Spoken Word

SpokenWord

Spoken Word‘s promotional image for the November 11 event.

 

Spoken Word is where words happen. It’s where writers, poets, stand-up comedians, musicians, actors, activists – anybody and everybody – can take to the stage to recite creative works of their own, or of others.

The rustic setting at Arsen Lupen (Miss Sokak, 15/4, Taksim) provides an intimate setting for people to perform for up to eight minutes, in any language, to an uber supportive crowd.

The open-mic format kicks off around 8pm and promises a few laughs, some intrigue and thought provoking performances by Istanbul’s bravest souls (a.k.a. public speakers).

The last two events were graced by some impressive orations. One of which was by Mariah K. Hamang, a poet with an enormous talent for crafting words that touch the heart. She, like so many of the performers, captured our interest and fascinated the crowd from the get go.

I won’t publish all her work here because it’s worthy of publishing in a medium far greater than my little blog! But, here’s a few lines from one poem – an example of the talent at Spoken Word, and a snippet of Mariah’s touching work that sticks with me even today.  To read more of Mariah’s poems visit BlazeVOX or Otoliths.

Screenshot (115)

For details of the next event, follow Spoken Word on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SpokenWordIstanbul

(Get there early for a good seat!)

 

2. Take Me Up The Bosphorus

Take me Up the Bosphorus

Asli Akbay, stand-up comedian and creator of Take Me Up the Bosphorus

 

“Take me where?” you may ask inquisitively.  Yes, this quirky, mischievous and somewhat suggestive title offers a tease of what’s to come at Istanbul’s newest stand-up comedy night.

There’s plenty of fun and frivolity to be had and the good news is (for us expats who are yet to master Turkish) – it’s in English. And, if the stand-up acts at Spoken Word by creator, Aslı Akbay are anything to go by, the comedy nights will certainly tickle your fancy!!!

Aslı started doing stand-up comedy when she lived in London and thankfully, for us comedy-cravers of Istanbul, she continues to tread the stage here.

Take me up the Bosphorus brings Aslı, and fellow rib-tickling Turkish and international comedians together in venues around the city. As Aslı confesses: “Stand-up really is something that you cannot shake off when you start.” On reflection, I think that statement goes for the crowd and performers alike!

Those interested in English stand-up comedy in Istanbul can follow the event page at: www.facebook.com/takemeupthebosphorus

 

3. IWI Christmas Charity Festival

Christmas Charity Festival

The International Women of Istanbul (IWI) have once again prepared a Christmas extravaganza of activities that will take place on November 29, 2015 at the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus, Harbiye. The festival is open from 10am to 5pm to anyone and everyone seeking some pre-Christmas cheer.

Go along and do a spot of shopping, keep the kids amused with children’s entertainment, and indulge in the international food court, raffles, and other activities. There’s even caroling, gifts for kids from Father Christmas, and a mistletoe to tug your Christmas heartstrings right in the centre of Istanbul.

Christmas Charity Program

The  loveliest gift of all is, the IWI Charity Christmas Festival raises money for those in need. All net proceeds go to the IWI supported charities. For more details and to buy tickets for the event visit:  www.facebook.com/events/1655445834731049/

 

4. Cheese & Cheers

It’s back! The Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet have recommenced their popular Cheese & Cheers wine tasting night every Friday, from 7pm to 10pm.

Hotel guests, Istanbul visitors and residents are all welcome to chill out in this five-star hotel’s elegant lounge that’s set against a lush winter garden.

Over several hours, you can gastro-travel through a selection of Turkey’s best local and imported wines accompanied with a buffet of cheeses produced from the far reaches of Anatolia.

A different winery is featured every week, and a wine expert is on stand-by to explain the wines you’re drinking and the regions they’re grown in. And, for a very reasonable price of 65TL per person, it’s the ideal setting to enjoy a little indoor luxury on those cold wintry nights.

For more information visit: www.fourseasons.com/istanbul

 

5. Internations

Expat only

The next Expat-only Internations event is at The Raffles Hotel Istanbul, Zorlu Centre on December 8, 2015

 

An old faithful, and responsible for creating many new friendships, Internations has a plethora of socialising opportunities – all advertised on their website. The free-for-all Internations party is a huge gathering for all nationalities and walks of life, though if you’re an expat, the expat-only Internations events offers a quieter vibe.

Internations also has a range of special interests groups you can connect and mingle with. Groups for bowling, running, eating, partying, travelling and more are available. Take a look. There will be a group just for you to discover more of this amazing city and the people in it.

Visit www.internations.org for more information.

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Don’t forget events around town are also published on reliable websites such as The Guide Istanbul, Timeout Istanbul, MyMerhaba and my personal favourite, Yabangee.com. Biletex is also a great site to browse and buy tickets for major events in the city.

If you have an event you think the expat community need to hear about in Istanbul this winter (or next year) then do drop me a line:  expatinistanbul@gmail.com

 

2 ways to love in Turkey

Love Life Istanbul 3I recently caught up with an ex-boyfriend. A Turkish guy I had an on-again / off-again relationship with over four years. Whilst we couldn’t make it work as lovers, he remains one of my closest friends and confidants. We have a mutual respect and support one another in times of need.  He’s my go–to guy to help interpret the Turkish world around me. He’s been excellent at this role. That was, up until now.

You see, our last meeting at his house  slid into a conversation about our former relationship, which broke up over a year ago.  We questioned what went wrong and what went right. He eventually asked me, “Do you think we would have made a good couple?”

“Do you?” I replied encouraging him to dive in to the topic first.

“Well,” he paused, “I guess, I really, really liked you. I didn’t love you.”

My Western-made heart dropped. A heart that understood love as everything we had experienced in our relationship. It plunged into a pool of anger deep in my gut that could have splashed him with a wave of expletives.

Love to me was this: 10 lessons about love. That’s what we had.

Nonetheless, I snapped, “What do you mean you didn’t love me?”

“I really liked you.” He responded.

“No, that’s not possible. What do you mean exactly?” I snapped again, never satisfied with his brief answers whilst my heart was furious. I started to roll off the names our mutual male friends from my spiteful tongue. “I like Serkan. I like Erhan. But, I don’t love them like I loved you.” We both paused, with him looking as though he realised our difference of opinion.  I added, “So are you telling me that for four years I was I just a friend?”

He cut in trying to save himself. “No, no, no. That’s not what I mean. You don’t understand. Like is better than love. Love is really romantic. Love is where you don’t see each other’s errors.  Where you’re passionate all the time. You’re not confused.” He even closed his eyes mimicking the words, “Love is when you’re blind to each other’s errors.” He then added, “We saw each other’s errors. We weren’t romantic all the time.” Now sensing my growing resentment, he cut himself off and concluded. “Trust me like is just better than love in a relationship.”

“I still don’t understand. Isn’t romance and passion, part of being in love? To me, we were in love because we did see each other errors and we worked to overcome them. That is love to me.”

I sat in silence, sulking, for a long time trying to think of the words to bring this topic to an end. I was facing a reality that after all this time – he just “liked” me! The feeling stirred in me for a while, but I noticed his body language was trying to reach out to me – probably in an effort to break my silence.  His forwardness and eventual assertion to invite me to stay to watch a movie confused me. I was now curious about these mixed messages. As he started the film and I contemplated leaving, a thought dawned on me. Was our conversation lost in translation?

I asked, with new-found hope, “Ok, so let’s just clarify. What is the Turkish word for like …for you?”

“Sevmek.” He replied.

“And what, is love?” I continued – although I knew the answer.

“Aşk.”

I decided to leave it at that. Knowing that later, as an avid researcher, I would seek out the difference. After all, I had seen loving words and phrases with sev and aşk used interchangeably in relationships, and to be honest, I never questioned their difference.

Seni seviyorum = I love you

Sevgilim = my love

Aşkım  = my love

Didn’t they all refer to, “love”? Now I was curious about the difference.

Later, when I got home, I did what any normal person would do lost in the language of a foreign world. I consulted Google translate.

I typed: Sevmek 

Like appeared on the screen.

Then I typed: Aşk

Love.

Dam! He was right. In defiance I concluded that Google Translate for Turkish and English was rarely accurate. I had to delve deeper. I Googled the corresponding nouns.

Love life Istanbul 1

Scanning through the results, I read things about sevgi being an affectionate love between friends or between parents and children, whilst aşk was a romantic love. My heart didn’t lift. So, I kept surfing in my quest to define love in Turkey.

Finally, TurkishClass.com had a forum where someone was equally confused:

Love Life Istanbul 2

My point exactly. “What?” I was struggling with Turkish, let alone Greek! So now, I’m more curious. I Google: “eros and agape” and I have a little breakthrough with this page:

Four Kinds of Love; Eros, Agape, Phileo & Storge on the blog, Eros to Agape: Moving more deeply into loving relationships.

On this page, eros (aşk) was defined as:

“A love felt particularly within the body (trembling excitement, elation, joy), coloured and underpinned by deep and beautiful procreative urges.”

“….Eros is a state of the heart and while it is intimately related to sex, sex can exist, and often does exist, without Eros enlivening it. It leads to children, family, joy and laughter. It is good and right, but it is usually not enough to sustain a relationship long term.”

Well that started off sounding nice but ended badly. So I read agape (sevgi):

“Agape – Is more of a parental, mature, sacrificial kind of love. The Thayer Lexicon describes agape beautifully when it says “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” In a way it is as idealistic as Eros, in that it is a crazy love that will not let go. Agape loves, usually at cost to the bearer. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved.”

Oh! The penny drops. Agape does sound more like the relationship my ex and I had, and probably still have in that apparently we can’t do without each other. Our love was mature. It wasn’t fleeting. It wasn’t unfulfilling as the Eros to Agape blog defined eros. I knew that eros doesn’t last and that’s what made him different to other relationships I had.

I kept searching to validate this research, and saw sevgi referred to a love between lovers. Then these quotes sealed my new-found understanding:

Sevgi last forever even if aşk ends.”

And, my favourite:

“A man who says aşkım may be talking about his love for a pretty blonde, but not the blonde herself.”

Now, I get it. In Turkish, like (sevgi) is better than love (aşk). Aşk is more about lust. It’s an erotic love that ends – like a fleeting romance. Sevgi is a higher love. It’s unconditional and lasting. Whilst English doesn’t seem to have two words to differentiate between the types of love we experience, Turkish does.

My ex and I were lost in translation. Whilst he failed beautifully in his attempt to label our relationship using English words, the words in Turkish made complete sense – and were actually quite sweet. I completely saw his point.

With my research closed, I rang my ex. He re-confirmed the difference and how he felt. I joked, “Google Translate has a lot of explaining to do!” I apologised for my anger and, instead, thanked him for his honesty and kind “words”.

Hanging up the phone, I joked to myself:

Remind me never to aşk about love again!

Registering a foreign phone in Istanbul

Register phone in TurkeyChances are whenever the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy are released you’ll want to get your hands on one as soon as possible. But, when you’re living in Turkey, the cost of an unlocked handset for these state-of-the-art babies is likely to blow the budget. Chances are you’ll be buying them duty-free or asking a friend to bring one back from America where the prices are considerably less.

However you procure the phone, you’ll find the unlocked device becomes locked and unusable within days or weeks of putting a Turkish sim card in it and switching it on. Turning it on and off again, won’t solve the problem this time.

To avoid this inconvenience, you’ll need to register the mobile phone within 120 days (as of October 2015) of entering the realm of Turkish telecommunications. It will cost you approximately 165 – 205TL to do so depending on your telecom provider.

So what do you need to do to register a phone? Read on to find out..

1. Decide which telecom provider is for you

Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea are the dealers to choose from to get a pre-paid sim card for your unlocked foreign mobile phone (CEP) in Turkey. They all offer promotional packages (kampanyalar) throughout the year with calls, sms and 3G for as low as 35TL per month. Just shop around to get the best deal. Make sure you get a package with 3G – you’ll need it to GPS your way through the maze of Istanbul streets and to keep in contact with friends when you’re stuck in Istanbul traffic!

I use Avea and for 28TL a month I get 2GB of internet use, 5000 sms and 500 minutes of calls. I got it on a promotional deal three years ago and never use up the credit. Other friends have Vodafone or Turkcell and pay more per month so shop around to find the right package for you.

Know that, whilst the telecom provider websites are not in English, most stores have English speakers. So you don’t need to use their websites to add credit to your pre-paid sim card. After you buy your sim you can top-up credit at stores, or buy “top-up” (kontrol) cards at confectionery kiosks around the city, add credit via your Turkish bank account through internet banking and even (my favourite) add credit to your phone at Garanti Bank ATM/cash machines around the city without needing a TC number (Turkish citizen identification number).

2. Ask the telecom provider for the price to process the registration of your phone

When deciding your telecom provider, ask them how much they charge to process the registration of your foreign phone. In 2014, when I went through this process, Avea charged 35TL, whereas Turkcell has been reported to charge up to 70TL. You don’t pay this until after a trip to the Tax Office. This fee is in addition to the actual registration fee charged by a Tax Office.

3. Visit a Tax Office to register your phone

To register your new foreign phone you need to go to a Vergi Dairesi (Tax Offıce) with your passport and pay 135TL (price as of May 2015) over the counter. If you have an ikamet take that with you. I believe you can also visit Ziraat Bank to register your phone too.  Four things to be aware of at this stage:
1. Your date of entry to Turkey in your passport must be within the last 120 days to be able to register a cell phone bought overseas. If your arrival date is beyond 120 days you cannot register your phone and will have to wait to re-enter Turkey again to complete the registration process.
2. You can only register one foreign mobile phone every two years.
3. If you’re a tourist (i.e. you have no ikamet/resident permit) registering your phone will keep the sim/phone unlocked for six months. If you’re a resident or citizen registering gives you access indefinitely on that handset and sim.
4. The handset is registered to that sim. You can’t easily change telecom providers/sim cards after registration.

You can find the address for your nearest tax office by Googling, ‘Vergi Dairesi adres’ and your district.  Avoid visiting them at lunchtime as they close usually from noon to 1pm.

When you pay the tax office the 135TL they will also take the IMEI number of your phone. Dial *#06# to get this. The Tax Office will give you a receipt / Certificate of Registration to present to your telecom provider. Keep this somewhere safe.

4. Go back to your telecom provider

Once paid up at the Tax Office, go to a store of your telecom provider. It doesn’t need to be the same one you bought your sim card from. The store may say they can’t process the registration for you, but ask for the address of their nearest store that has the authority to do so.

When you find yourself in the authorised store, give them your receipt from the Tax Office or PPT or Ziraat Bank and your passport so they can take a copy of your last entry stamp. Finally, pay the fee they charge for processing the registration for you.

5. Use your phone

The telecom provider will process the registration and usually within a few days your Turkish sim is activated so you’ll be whatsapping and Facebooking again from your new handheld device.

Please note, there’s rumors that the system is changing. If I get any confirmed reports on this I will update the information above which leads to the final point…

6. Know the process can change!

Like any country in the world – bureaucratic systems are prone to change, but in Turkey it can mean a process that works for one person might not work for the other. So please use this information as a guide only. Anyone with a different experience is welcome to leave comments below.

JUNE 2015 UPDATE (WORTH READING):  Many people (who have resident permits) can go directly to PTT and obtain an e-devlet password (cost is 2TL). With this password you can log on to https://www.turkiye.gov.tr pay the tax fee online with a credit card and register the phone as easy as a click. Take your residence permit and passport to the PTT to do this. This also avoids any extra service fees the provider might require.

June update provided by the wonderful and knowledgeable people at oitheblog.com

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR TOURISTS:

Those travelling to Turkey as a short-term tourist need not worry about this process if they keep your foreign phone and foreign sim card on international roaming. It however becomes a problem the moment you put a Turkish sim card in a handset bought outside Turkey. My advice to tourists here on a short stay visas is soak up the free wifi everywhere and communicate for free with people back home via wifi-based apps like Skype, What’sApp, Viber, Voxer and FaceTime. Facebook also now allows you to call friends too via their app or send a voice recording to more than one person. Go to your Facebook inbox and send a voice recording to friends by selecting the friends you wish to message and press the microphone icon at the bottom of the message screen.

Readings from the other inbox

Valentine’s Han SoloIt’s the evening of Valentine’s Day. The temperature outside hangs around eight degrees Celsius and I’m cooped up in the warmth of my own blanket and being at home. I’m sulking slightly with no Valentines in sight to shower with chocolates, a candle light dinner and all the romance that goes along with February 14.

It’s just your average Saturday night in – in lambswool lined pink UGG boots, an oversized woollen jumper and fleecy purple “pazar pantaloons” (pants for the local Friday market) – they offer the ultimate level of comfort thanks to their soft material and low-lying crutch.

(I know! How did I not get a date tonight!?)

Like a little kitten teasing a piece of string, I reach out to my emails and Facebook page poking around for people to play with. There’s not much happening there.  Nothing but photos of loved up couples, red roses and single women professing quotes and statements akin to “girl power”.

I, on the other hand, have a power ballad spooling in my head as I sip from my second glass of wine.

All by myself,” by Jamie O’Neal. It’s a single-dom anthem from a favourite movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary.

A sense of fear creeps over me as I reminisce about the details of the movie. Bridget’s look, her age, her living situation! Seems all quite familiar…had I become Bridget Jones?

When the movie was released I was early 20s and never imagined myself to be Hans Solo on Valentines Day beyond 2005. But here I am. Mid 30’s, blond-ish hair to my shoulders, slightly podgy, a couple of “hello mummy” knickers in my drawers and with, “Absolutely no messages. Not a single one,” not even from my mother!

The illogical urge to Google, “How old is Bridget Jones,” to compare our ages and somehow determine the success of my life is disrupted when I spot messages in my ”other inbox”. The kitten strikes as I open to read what awaits.

You see there’s a reason why I hide my identity on this blog. I like to protect my  “other inbox” on Facebook from unwanted prying eyes. Messages in the other inbox are typically from would-be-if-they-could-be keyboard Romeos of the cyber-world. Fellow bloggers report how publishing their names to posts attract these tragic star crossed “lovers”. Men who believe their cutesy messages will have foreign women swooning to their Facebook page and more. It doesn’t work, it just infuriates many. It does however, somewhat entertain me this evening – or at least give me fodder for this week’s post!

Peering into the box I note the friendly messages discretely disguised as bait to gain a reply. Ismail writes:

“Hello, do you live in Istanbul? I live in Istanbul. We should meet up.”

I consider responding with: Tebrikler (congratulations) Ismail. Look hard no feelings but I lived in the same city as Hugh Jackman and Heath Ledger once…and neither of them wanted to meet me either. Take a lesson from my experience – it’s you, not me. Goodbye and good luck.

Stalker

Then there’s the overly curious Daryoush, who asks:

“What did send you to Turkey? Courage !?”

And inquisitive Yalcin who probes:

“How are u :))) can l ask u something? :)”

No, Yalcin, no you cannot ask me something..no matter how many smiley faces you purge. I fear contact with you would only end up with endless text messages and tears – your tears as I block you from my life forever.

And then there’s the voyeuristic, Ahmed:

“Oooooooo pretty, do u have any videos??”

Yes I doooooooooo, Ahmed. Lots of them. Of cats mainly. Can I send you more than one…daily?

An oddly self-proclaimed, Endoplasmic Reticulum emails:

“A writer could be so beautiful?”

That message left me feeling a little insecure. Is there a stigma that I don’t know about – that writers are unattractive creatures hit by the ugly stick? (I confess, I may have just googled, “good looking female writers,” to prove the stigma wrong …)

There’s even a doctor in the house who writes:

“Hello beautiful lady, How are you doing? I am doctor Sawyer Braschi. I will like to be your friend and come over to your country to set up a clinic. I hope to hear from you soon, Thanks.”

Doctor

Dear doctor, do you say that to all the ladies? I may be inclined to change my country if you are to follow.

But some keyboard Romeos seem to go to a lot of trouble to gain a lady’s attention. Take, for example, poet Semih who confesses:

“I have seen angels in the sky, I saw the snow fall in July. I’ve seen things you only imagine to see or do, but I still have not seen anything sweeter than you. hello. How did you … you have to be an angel.”

If I had consumed more wine by now I may have replied with some poetry of my own:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

What drugs are you taking?

Because I’ll have some too!

But I don’t reply. I never do. In fact – newsflash other inbox traffickers – I doubt anyone ever does!

Satisfied I’m not as lonely and desperate as those in my inbox, I log off from Facebook, pour my third glass wine, adjust the crutch of my pazar pants, stretch my UGG boots towards the TV and wonder when the next Bridget Jones movie will be out. I look out to the night sky and ponder this Valentines. I thank my lucky stars. Thank god I’m single and happy (girl power). Thank god I have a home and comfortable clothes…and thank god I’m not dating a man from my other inbox!!

Got some keyboard Romeos of your own? Feel free to share your other inbox below!

10 things I miss about you…Istanbul

As an expat, no doubt you’ve been there. When you set up a new life in a new city, you seek out your hometown comforts in your newtown surrounds. Maybe it’s going on a mission to find the best coffee in your new neighbourhood, or seeking friends who connect with your nationality, or posting pleas online to find the products, the food, or the experiences that once made you hum in your hometown.

Perhaps you seek these things to close the gap between what you know and what you don’t know. Assimilation is simply gentler on the soul when your creature comforts are close by. They provide a steady platform, a familiar base, to dive head first into discovering a new and wondrous culture and its peculiar ways.

As time passes, the gap between the known and the unknown lessens. Your list of creature comforts grows to include the offerings of your newtown. You gain a sense of belonging, and with it, a new lifestyle and perspective emerges. You no longer feel like you’re drowning in the tides of cultural change. Instead, your wading, maybe even riding the waves, and your struggle with the oddities of your newtown, that once left you perplexed, have washed away.

You’re a local now (of the expat kind at least). You know where to find this and that, or how to get from point A to point B with ease. The language, the culture – all start to make sense. You respect it. In fact you no longer judge it, you indulge in it. Your two worlds, once awkward and creating friction, finally get along. Your newtown isn’t new anymore – it’s a place you call home.

I hadn’t realised how much Istanbul felt like home until last year. I packed away my work from home freelancing threads and suited up to return to my former corporate life in Australia. (Note: Hence my absence from this blog). I was immersed back into my old lifestyle and my hometown culture and after living in Istanbul, Australia didn’t feel like the home it once was.

I was perplexed. Had Australia changed? Had I changed? Had I really been that Turkified!?  I had to rediscover my hometown like a newtown to re-create my sense of belonging. I had to reassimilate.

I initially struggled to adapt to the oddities of Australia such as the abundance of space, the swearing, the drinking, the huge houses and other material values. I struggled with the need to be on time, to plan, to drive within the white lines, even to drive! All the things that once seemed familiar were somewhat awkward for me. I began to miss Istanbul. I began to miss…

1. Spontaneity

The traffic, complicated streets, the weather, the “rules aren’t for all” bureaucracy of a city of over 14 million people were factors that taught me I wouldn’t get what I wanted, when I wanted in Istanbul. My inner control freak died years ago as I embraced the city’s manic spontaneous ways which offered a more satisfying alternative to my initial plans.  It became a part of my lifestyle to “go with the flow” and embrace spontaneity.

One evening in Sydney, I was spontaneous. I ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to break-up the predictability of my working day. I gazed down to the peach-hued sails of the Sydney Opera House illuminated by sunset. A pearly patriotic smile flashed across my face and I sighed. I thought, this is beautiful, this is unique, this is just…

just…

not…

2. The Bosphorus

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Not to “diss” my country’s beloved iconic landmark. Sydney Harbour is an unmissable destination. But a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I peered down on the waters of Sydney Harbour. I missed the energy and the busyness of the Bosphorus – a waterway that divides Europe and Asia – that had fed my senses daily.  I longed to sit on a rickety wooden bench or a rocky outcrop on the cusp of a continent and feel the Bosphorus breeze on my cheek, watch a sunset silhouette the old city skyline, hear the caw of seagulls hoover overhead and taste the bitter-sweet flavour of a crimson glass of …

3. Çay (Turkish tea)

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A brewed English breakfast could not fill the void in Australia. Neither did an Earl Grey self-served in a shapely glass. I joined the corporate coffee culture instead where the day could not start without the jolt of a barista-style skinny cap, flat white or double espresso. Drinking them glued to the computer in the vortex of consumerism where deadlines were “by yesterday”, I yearned for a tulip-shaped glass of çay served with plenty of…

4. Keyif

Keyif, the art of idle relaxation. An art that brings pleasure, joy and contentment in the company of friends or strangers – without the deeds of deadlines – was lacking from my life.  I missed keyif on a Sunday morning or late into the evening where conversations jumped from global news, to family news, from gossip about the neighbours to truths about friendships and from telling jokes to stories of meaningful matters.  I missed the friends who were masters of this art and the banter associated with such gatherings. I wanted to engage again with people and say…

5. Turkish pleasantries

“Hayırlı olsun,” (let it be with goodness) was something I could not say within the fluidity of English when friends shared good news. “Geçmiş olsun,” was in my heart when, “Hope they get well soon,” flew out of my mouth. Phrases that don’t translate well in English that once left me perplexed were constantly on the tip of my tongue. “Güle güle kullan!” (Use it with smiles), “Kolay gelsin,” (May it come easy) and…

6. Afiyet olsun!

Before dinner. during dinner, after dinner.  My way of wanting to bless everyone I dined with with, “Afiyet olsun,” (enjoy your meal) was the hardest habit to break. “Bon appetit,” would spill from my lips instead, which proved too fancy. After all, when did Westerners ever acknowledge a co-worker dining on a ham sandwich in the lunchroom so formally?  Instead, I said nothing, I put my head down between conversations and ate whilst remembering to …   

7. Appreciate my food

554477_132225386902332_1282653357_n My Turkish friends once said to me, “Why do you eat so fast? Yavaş yavaş!” (Slow down). Eating fast was a by-product of my fast-paced, do everything by yesterday lifestyle in Australia…and I was slipping back into that realm. Life is too short to eat lunch by yourself at your desk.  Turkey had taught me that. Food is to be appreciated.  I now took time to savour the flavours and the keyif served generously on the side. Come to think of it, I missed the cuisine and the fresh produce to make up those meals in Turkey! I longed to swap the long polished aisles of my Australian mega-supermarket for the chaos of my…

8. Pazarlar! (Weekly street markets)

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Twice a week the main street near my home in Istanbul transforms into a fresh food market where I stock up on locally-grown produce. Not only is buying easy on the purse, it’s always entertaining to hustle with the head scarfed housewives and their three-wheel canvas carts to bag a bargain or two from rows of fervent sellers. More importantly, I missed what the markets created – I missed…

9. Life on the streets

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Whether it’s festivities in the streets, kids playing in the lane, remnants of chalk etchings of hopscotch on the path, or seeing wooden baskets lowered from apartments to collect goods from the bakkal (market), I missed seeing all the cues of life on the streets of Istanbul.  Sure, the drone of the eskci (junk collector) that resembles, ”Bring out the dead,” is a nuisance at times but I did miss the morning call from the man peddling pogača (small baked bread) from the street,  the call of, “Buyurun abla.” (Can I help you sister) as I walked through the markets, and the call of, “Bir lira,” (one lira) from the sellers with the yellow and red carts and most of all I missed …

10. The call to prayer

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The call, made five times a day, had become part of my list of creature comforts that tell me I’m in a place I call home. I missed hearing it – reminding me to pause, to “stop and smell the roses” and be present in that moment of life. Most of all I wanted to be where I loved hearing it most; atop a rooftop terrace at dusk, on the edge of the Bosphorus, with a crimson tea in hand, after a spontaneous day out with friends and with the call of a thousand muezzinler echoing across the city.

That same sound etched in my memory eventually called me back to Istanbul. Even though I tried, I could not find the things that made me hum in Istanbul in my hometown surrounds. After all, the things I missed were intangible in Australia. I could not put my finger on them or find them in my neighbourhood. I was somewhat lost without all my creature comforts surrounding me. My soul could not settle and a wave of homesickness for Turkey washed over me. I could have given more time for the feeling to subside, to settle, to become still. But my second home was calling me.

“Be like water,” a friend said to me, and,“Su gibi git, su gibi gel,” (go like water, come back like water) flowed freely from my tongue.

6 tips for the new Istanbul expat

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

Today I read a post from a lady moving to Istanbul. She was looking for advice on arriving to Istanbul and what to look out for. It inspired me reflect in my time here and write this piece. These are a couple of my survival tips for those who are fresh off the plane bound for the expat life in Istanbul.

1. Make Turkish and Kurdish friends and accept invitations

Some of the greatest experiences I have had in Istanbul are with my Turkish and Kurdish friends. Invites to festivals, concerts, TV shows, holidays and weddings are all made possible through these networks. Through them, I have experienced the real Turkey and through their genuine hospitality and helpfulness I have become a better person.

2. Get schmoozing online

Facebook pages for Istanbul expats are good resources for asking questions, getting local news and finding new friends.  Sites include (to name a few) Expats in Istanbul,  Istanbul Expat Centre, Foreign Women of Istanbul (Women only), Expat Events in Istanbul,   Istanbul Expats & Internationals Group, Expat @Savers and Cook’s Corner for Expats in Turkey. Send a question out to the world via these sites and your life is often made a lot easier!

We’re also pretty lucky in Istanbul to have a number useful English websites and publications. These tell us what’s on, what’s hot and tell us where all the best places are to eat and drink. Check out My Merhaba.com, TimeOut Istanbul, yabangee.com,  The Guide Istanbul and Internations.org. You can register to receive updates or join their social networking pages to keep up to date with all the latest news.

3. Book your appointment for your residency permit

In 2012, the Turkish Government changed the 90-day  back-to-back tourist visa conditions which many of us loved for its easy renewal process. Now you can’t get back-to-back visas and if you want to stay long-term you need a resident permit called an Ikamet. Many expats  have gone through the Ikamet process in the last 12 months which has  bombarded the appointment system making it difficult to get an appointment when you need it most. My advice for any DIY expats (e.g. those who don’t have the support of  a large company), who wish to stay more than 90 days, is to book your appointment fast (click on the links labelled E-Randevu).

Be patient as the system is fraught with glitches. For example,  when I used it last, I couldn’t log back into my appointment to print out my appointment documents. I had to go through the process again which pushed my appointment out to a later date and I couldn’t log back into cancel my appointment.  Facebook and Internations have been filled with SOS calls from expats who were unable to get their residency permit before their visa expired. There are means and ways around this, but I have learnt, what works for one person in this process – has not worked for others. Plan ahead and book ahead.

4.  Get an IstanbulKart

This card will be your ticket to the tram, the metro and the bus and provides discount fares. You can buy it from magazine kiosks near bus, metro and tram stations. They cost 10TL and you add credit to the card as needed – which again can be done at any magazine kiosk.

5.  Register for Yemeksepeti.com

You’ve had a tiring day and you’re stuck on the couch unable to move. Hello YemekSepeti.com! From your smart phone (yes, they have an app) or laptop you can order food and drinks from many restaurants around town and they deliver to your door. Feel like Turkish cuisine? Ding dong – delivered to your door! In the mood for Chinese or Japanese? Knock knock! Delivered to your door! Or maybe you devoured one too many Efes the night before and need a greasy fast food fix? Hello, Big Mac at my door.

6. Register your foreign mobile phone

Within a couple of days of landing in Turkey, make sure you register your foreign mobile phone with a phone company, otherwise your phone will be locked eventually and it’s costly to unlock it. The regulations on this keep changing so it’s best to visit Avea, Vodafone or Turkcell – the main dealers in Turkey – for more information. A fee maybe payable.

There are more tips I could share but I will leave that for later posts. These are just a few key tips that have helped me assimilate to life here. Feel free to add more tips for other expats below.

Sh#t Istanbul Expats Say

Canim

We’re all guilty of saying these phrases as we navigate through the expat life of Istanbul!

  1. How do you say that in Turkish?
  2. I loooooove Istanbul!
  3. How’s your Turkish?
  4. Tea sugar lar…teasugarlar…teşekkürler – is that right?
  5. Canım, canım, canım
  6. Ne kadar?
  7. Tsk
  8. I’m never going to be fluent in Turkish! It’s sooooo hard.
  9. Hey, can you come with me to get an ikamet?
  10. How do I get the ‘@’ key to work on this keyboard?
  11. Do you know any English speaking hairdressers?
  12. Do you know anyone who speaks Turkish that can help me get an apartment?
  13. Cihangir is soooooo expensive now.
  14. Hey, have you been to…?
  15. Can anyone recommend a good…?
  16. Do you know where I can buy…?
  17. Take a Turkish friend with you – it will be cheaper.
  18. Are you a teacher too?
  19. Where do you teach?
  20. Are you going to pub quiz?
  21. Bir beer luften.
  22. Why is alcohol so expensive here?
  23. Let’s meet – is Cihangir good for you?
  24. YemekSepeti.com is awesome!
  25. Where are you going for summer break?
  26. Does this website have an English option?
  27. Ha! I forgot my English.
  28. Google translate is so baaad.
  29. Do they speak English?
  30. I wish I could wear stilettos here.
  31. How long have you been in Istanbul?
  32. Should I feed that cat?
  33. It’s hot on this bus, can someone open some windows.
  34. Bilmiyorum!
  35. I’m not sure I can ever leave Istanbul for good.

30 signs you’ve settled as an expat in Istanbul

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  1. You furnish your house entirely from an Ikea catalogue to avoid the two-tone, hard-wearing wooden Turkish furniture.
  2. You know not to plan life in advance here – the best experiences are organised last minute.
  3. Punctuality? What’s that? An hour late is fine.
  4. You accept phone calls and text messages at all hours – no problem.
  5. You don’t get out of bed before 9am, because you know not much happens before then.
  6. Your first Turkish words were,”Çok trafik ya!”
  7. You know it is possible to get motion sickness in a taxi on a straight road.
  8. You’ve learnt not to say the word, “sick” especially in a taxi.
  9. You know not to mention the social networking images called, “meme” in public (especially in a taxi).
  10. You know how to pronounce “müdürlüğu” and “ikamet” and you survived the process involving both words.
  11. 100 pages to sign to open a bank account? Sure, no problem – system inefficiencies are just a part of life here.
  12. In the company of Turkish people, you hear the word “yabancı” – you know they’re probably talking about you.
  13. In an effort to practice Turkish, you’ve ordered the “sicak erkek” instead of the “sicak ekmek” at the local bakery and you’ve said “terlikler” instead of “tebrikler “ to a bride.
  14. When your friends have good news, your immediate response is, “Hayırlı olsun!”
  15. You can’t eat a meal without saying, “Afiyet olsun” at least twice.
  16. You say things like “Allah, Allah” when things get confusing, surprising or funny.
  17. That street cat on the corner, you think it’s a good idea to take it home (Allah, Allah!)
  18. You know drinking copious amounts of tea from a tulip shaped glass is important in making new friends.
  19. You’ve had at least one Turkish lover who insisted on calling you every hour to tell you they love you and miss you after one date.
  20. You know you’re having a serious relationship with a Turk when you get a personal pair of house slippers to wear at their house.
  21. Sex outdoors is now something you can only do when you visit your hometown.
  22. You’ve learnt that an Internations party is just for Turkish girls to meet Western men, Western men to meet Turkish girls, Turkish men to hit on Western girls and Western girls to drink wine.
  23. You’ve paid 30TL for a glass of Angora wine at an Internations party.
  24. You know that 30TL can buy you two bottles of Angora and a pirated DVD to watch at home.
  25. You hold onto your glass of wine in a bar because you know the waiter will take it before you have finished.
  26. You know what a twinkle is and their association to self proclaimed Indian and Middle Eastern businessmen and pilots.
  27. You’ve watched all the seasons of True Blood and Game of Thrones in three months thanks to online streaming and cheap unlimited downloads.
  28. You know who Kerim and Fatmagül are.
  29. You don’t smoke cigarettes but you’ll occasionally smoke nargile.
  30. You could add many more crazy things about Turkey to this list!