Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Karaoke to Rihanna

Recently I've gotten pretty used to living in Turkey and many things that used to catch my attention now seem quite ordinary. But this afternoon I was reminded that either I'm in a foreign country or I've been away from American teenagers so long that I don't know their musical tastes or dance preferences...

To set the scene, this afternoon is club day at school. I'm kind of the "helper" adviser for the Model United Nations club so I'm not really responsible for lesson plans, thank goodness, but I do help with writing, speaking, comprehension, research, etc. of difficult United Nations topics. It can be pretty heavy stuff, so when the "real" adviser suggested we use this afternoon for team building and fun, I didn't object. I even offered to give up one cup of my Jiffy peanut butter to make "American" peanut butter cookies. (The students love it when I make cookies...probably because they taste different -hummm- better ----with brown sugar and real vanilla --- the impossible-to-find-over-here-secret ingredients---- unless, of course, I have connections with NATO, which I don't so I carefully dole out bits from my stash)

Besides eating cookies and drinking fruity drinks, the club adviser also asked one of the responsible male students to download Youtube videos of Gangnam Style, the top 10 versions of the Harlem Shake, lyrics and music to Rihanna's "Shine Bright Like a Diamond" and a Taylor Swift song...I don't remember which one. Today we were going to dance and sing karaoke. I was fine with all of it. I like to sing and dance. The students were having fun dancing Gangnam style,The Turkish girls added their own flair with belly dancing to it. Those girls CAN dance. The boys joined in with the Gangnam arms and the more reserved jumping from foot to foot style minus the belly dancing. Watching the Harlem Shake brought lots of laughs although I cringed at some of the dance moves especially when the unicorn was dancing with what looks like imitation Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders...(I know there's a hidden message with this whole unicorn thing but I never wanted to get the details.) I just kept quiet as I'm the "helper' adviser.

The part that shook me out of my reverie was that all the boys and girls were singing Rihanna's Shine Bright Like a Diamond and Taylor Swift. It's kind of like when all the boys and girls were  singing Justin Bieber.  It just felt like I was in a foreign country.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

First Signs of Spring

Today was a beautiful day! The best way to share it is with pictures.
First I got on the car ferry and headed towards the mountains in the distance. It's the first time I've sat outside on the upper deck since last year.
The little black dots behind the boat are men either diving or fishing for something. They had wooden crates and spears but I have no idea what they were trying to get.
 The spring pansies were everywhere. Cherry trees are starting to bloom and forsythia are just starting to pop open. I guess this is fascinating to me because it's only February.

This is the start of my bike ride. Far across the blue water is my home. This picture is taken from behind the Thermal Hotel which is a famous Izmir spa/resort.
This picture is taken from the mountain biking/hiking trail I found today. I don't know why the water is so green.
Looking down today's trail.
 Another view towards the Aegean Sea from the ridge of the mountain.

This is the first day the water fountains have been running.
 Waiting for the ferry back to my side of the bay. In the distance are lots of kids sailing..a regatta maybe?

Every picnic table in this very large park was filled with picnickers.

Anyway, it was a glorious, spring day and a good way to start the week!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

No, I haven't invented anything, although I would like to invent something really great like a hula hoop. But I was thinking a lot about the above phrase. I even considered rewriting it to read "Necessity is the Mother of all Learning." It certainly applies to my life in Turkey. I've had to rely on myself to learn lots of things. Take computer use, for example. Before I lived on another continent, I used to call my son whenever I had a computer question. After about five years, he finally admitted that he didn't know how to do everything and he'd just been "Googleing" my questions and walking me through the solutions. His response was a real "eye-opener" to me. And, it embarrassed me into more independent learning especially with regards to my computer.

But, I'm also human and can be a bit lazy. For example, at my current school, I find short video clips can be really effective at engaging students in a lesson. But, they are a pain to find and even harder to make play on our school computer system. Luckily, my young, Canadian, male colleague is a video-conversion guru. So, usually, I say something like, "It sure would nice nice to have a little video about...." and then several days later he comes to school and says, "I've got something for you," as he loads some video files onto my flash drive. I'm so happy he helps me out but I'm also embarrassed that I can't do it myself.

Flash forward a half of today(Saturday), and I've now successfully taught myself to convert a YouTube file to a format that I can play at school. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending upon how one rates a clean house) the "free converter" was very slow (I mopped all the floors and cleaned the bathrooms during the conversion). However, the advertising promised me the service would be better if I upgraded...Should I pay to upgrade?  Any comments or suggestions from my readers? Oh, I just remembered ..I can probably Google "product comments and comparisons" and answer the question myself so.... never mind. It's necessary that I learn this on my own.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Adjusting to a New Traffic Pattern

I think I mentioned several weeks ago that the road in front of my house was finally paved. In addition, several new intersections were completed and one old traffic light was adjusted to accommodate the new road and a pedestrian crosswalk. Unfortunately, I've(or at least the drivers - if you can call them that) had huge problems with the traffic not doing what its supposed to. It's bad enough that a red light doesn't actually mean stop to large percentage of the population. But, I think about 98% of the drivers haven't even noticed that there IS a new light there. I'm very aware that I, as a biker and/or pedestrian, don't have the right-of-way here in Turkey. And, I ALWAYS make eye-contact with drivers and make sure they are slowing down or stopped before I enter a crosswalk or cross a road.

Tonight was no exception. I waited patiently for the green crosswalk man on the walk signal. He finally appeared but I still waited and sure enough a school bus driver was barreling through the red light like a bat out of hell. I even waved my arms and pointed at the red light to show him his error. Without even a tap of the break he waved back (was he saying hello?!) and continued at break-neck speed to deliver his little treasures home safely. After a few more seconds the intersection was finally clear as far as I could see in both directions. Still having a green cross walk man beckoning me, I cautiously entered the intersection. About half-way across, I saw two cars coming at full speed with no intention of slowing down. I started yelling the most unbecoming profanities that I'd ever spit out. (Son of God, that's a flippn' red light, what the fudge are you doing?) The man screeched to a halt, while I continued my rant in English. The traffic on the other side of the road was stopped (as they should have been because they, too, had a red) and by now had rolled down their windows to enjoy the show. It's not every day you see a 50 plus year old woman sporting a neon yellow reflector jacket and biking pants, walking across a road and shouting in a funny language. Come to think of it, I've never ever heard a Turkish woman shout or raise her voice.

Well, I think my shouting made an impression. Only time will tell if it was the impression I intended. (You idiots...look for red lights and stop when you see them) My wish is that they have a nightmares of an American witch on a broom---opps, bicycle----every time they cross that intersection or run a red light.

The thing is...if I could write in Turkish, my concerns about this intersection are worthy of a letter to the city traffic engineer. I'm not sure if the lights and crosswalks are synchronized. For example,  maybe the crosswalk gets a green while the drivers still have a green. Or maybe there just wasn't enough warning about the traffic change so the drivers really are not used to the new light. In any event, this new intersection is not working.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cultivating New Friendships

I had decided, after collecting several new business cards and phone numbers at a gathering on Thursday night, that rather just saying the usual,  "We should get together sometime" but never do,  I would make a concerted effort to try and connect with several of the people I had met. My first goal was to take a bike ride to Urla (about 40 km from my house) and say "hello" to the German woman I'd met. My second goal was to text the American I'd met and also try to set a date. Not only was I able to connect with both of them, but I also met a new biking friend along the way. Here's a brief run-down of the day:

1) I took a ferry from my house across Izmir bay. A ferry ride is always a mini-vacation to me. Add to that a good book on my Kindle and the time passes very quickly and peacefully.

First signs of spring - Cherry Blossoms
2) I was about 10 minutes into my ride when a biker on a blue road Bianci pedaled up beside me. He said the customary hello, inquired as to my destination, (I said Urla and he replied Guzelbache which is one town before my destination). He then proceeded to bike alongside me. I was never scared and I don't want to use the analogy of being followed by a stray dog because that sounds too negative, but it was kind of like being followed by a stray dog except he didn't bark. He just kept biking along beside me and occasionally asking  a question or two, and then biking some more, etc. As with everything in my life in Turkey, I've learned to just "go with the flow" and realized that I probably was not going to shake him and he would ride as far as Guzelbache with me.

150 Year Old Pine Tree
3) About 30 minutes into my ride he led me on to a new road winding through olive gardens and lemon orchards which was decidedly more enjoyable than my "normal" route. He even stopped and pointed out a historical 150 year old pine tree and some blossoming cherry trees (first signs of spring). He then may a telephone called and indicated that his friend owns a fish shop in Guzelbache and we would stop there for tea. 

4) His friend's fish shop had some beautiful fish from both the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea.  I decided I would buy some fish later and carry it in my backpack on the way home. I was also thinking that we would part ways at this point and I would continue on my journey. But, I was wrong. After telephoning my German friend and ascertaining that she, indeed, was home, I started pedaling. And, my new Turkish friend pedaled right along beside me.
Fish from The Black Sea

5) Another 10 kilometers down the road and we located her beautiful villa right on the Aegean Sea. (I want a job with the Defense department or NATO. They definitely pay better and help locate awesome housing!)

6) She was non-plussed by my tag-along-friend and invited us both in for coffee and delicious German cookies and English shortbread. We had a delightful get-to-know each other conversation. Stashed in her spare bedroom was a fantastic cruiser motorcycle that she'd ridden across the USA on many parts of Route 66. I can't wait to learn more about her...

7) By this time the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping so it was time to hit the road. At this rate I'd be back in the city center in time to grab a bite to eat and meet up with the new American friend at 6:20.

8) I'd had my eye on a new sushi/Japanese restaurant that had just opened on Thursday and decided that would be my restaurant of choice. There I enjoyed my first sushi in Turkey...delicious...I'd also thought I'd heard French being spoken in the restaurant but I couldn't be sure because it was mixed with Turkish. Sure enough, just as I was getting ready to leave a woman about my age came over and asked, in French, where I was from. Eureka! Someone I could talk to...She and her husband had been living in Paris for 34 years and had just returned to Turkey and opened this restaurant. We had a delightful conversation for over 30 minutes (in much easier for me than Turkish). And, we're neighbors..she lives only several blocks away. Bingo! New friend.
Sushi in Turkey - Not so common

9) After saying "au revoir" I met up with the new American acquaintance and enjoyed getting to know her while speaking in good old, American Western (she's from Washington State and Las Vegas) English. You have no idea what a vacation it is to speak with someone who is shares the same general geographical heritage.

So my international day spanned four countries and enriched my life with new friends. My cup is full and I feel energized and happy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Karşiyaka/Izmir - Kudos for the Improvements

Since I moved here in June 2012,  there have been some noticeable, albeit gradual, improvements and changes to improve the quality of life especially in my neck of the woods. If I could write in Turkish I would even send a note to the City and thank them for the changes, but as my written Turkish is even worse than my spoken Turkish, I'll give a English "shout out" on my blog.

The first positive improvement is the installation of city bike rental areas complete with automated bike check-out systems similar to the automated systems I've used in Washington DC and London. This is very modern for Turkey and very optimistic considering the low percentage of people who actually bikes and/or participate in physical activity and the lack of safe places in which to bike. But, these bikes are a great first step and they really are being used - kind of following the adage "if you  Maybe with bikes will come the addition of bike lanes and driver education...Baby steps...

The second noticeable change is the Karşiyaka PR campaign (at least that's what I think it is.) The city has installed these giant cartoon-type birds statues in front of Karşiyaka city landmarks eg: the entrance to the city, the basketball stadium, the wedding salon, to name the ones I saw today. These birds are kind of cute. Perhaps they represent a giant pelican or an African flamingo or a white seagull, or a combination of all three because there are lots of these birds swimming in the bay every day and this statue has features of all three.

Finally, the road in front of my apartment building has just been paved: 4 lanes, plus a landscaped median and handicapped depressions for entering the sidewalk (this is VERY modern for Turkey) It's been over 6 months of construction including paving one lane, digging it back up, paving a different lane, digging it back up, digging trenches, pulling out the sidewalk, putting the sidewalk back in, pulling out the landscaping, putting it back in, etc. Plus, imagine all of this construction with no street lights, no safety tape or markers, no warning signs, etc,  just a kind of "travel at your own risk" environment. You get the picture. It's been both a walking and biking nightmare, not to mention the dirt and dust in the house. But, it's finished (hopefully) and it looks and rides great.

So, it's a big "Thank you!" to Karşiyaka/Izmir for making this a better place to live. I, for one, appreciate your effort. Keep up the good work.

(Just in case I thank the wrong group, here's my understanding of where I live. I think I live in the neighborhood of Mavesehir, in the suburb of Karşiyaka which is in the City of Izmir. I think each suburb has it's own government and builds things like a city recreation center (bird statue holding a basketball) or installs things like bike rental stations (located near various Karşiyaka-city owned- event places like wedding salons and fish restaurants  complete with bird statues in front of them, too) 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To Change or not to Change...a Lightbulb

This evening I flicked the light switch in my kitchen and was greeted with mostly darkness. Sure, there are a couple of tiny under cabinet lights to give mood and atmosphere, but mostly I can't see at all.

 Here are the thoughts that went through my head:
1) I don't have a ladder to climb up and remove the light fixture.
2) Even though I don't have a ladder, I could use a chair to reach the light fixture but I probably wouldn't be able to figure out how to remove the fixture.
3) Even if the chair were tall enough and I could figure out how to remove the fixture, I don't have a light bulb.
4) If I could remove the fixture and get to the light bulb, I probably couldn't read the size or kind of bulb because it's been my experience that the print on Turkish light bulbs is so small that I can't read it.
5) If I could read the number on the light bulb, I would still have to walk to the hardware store and walk through 2 aisles of light bulbs trying to match the fine print on the boxes to the fine print on the bulb and hope they matched.
6) If I found the correct bulb and box, I would still have to walk home, climb the chair, screw in the bulb and replace the fixture.
7) Or....I could do nothing for two weeks so Eric would have a little project next time he's in town.

I chose #7.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ellen's Stardust Diner

Over the semester break a group of my students traveled to NYC and Boston for Model United Nations conferences at Harvard and Yale. The teacher accompanying them had asked for restaurant and sightseeing recommendations. I love both cities and have some "favorites" so I passed along my ideas. Today I ran into several of my students at different times during the day and asked the "obvious" question: "What was your favorite part of the trip?"

Here are the answers:
1. Ellen's Restaurant!
2. The restaurant with the super cute/super handsome waiters called Ellen's.
3. Ellen's Diner. I can see myself singing there one day.
4. That great restaurant with the singing waiters, Ellen's. It was perfect. I loved it!

I had a smile on my face remembering how we discovered Ellen's Stardust Diner by accident. About 10 years ago we took our daughter Ellen to New York City and just happened to walk by her "namesake" restaurant. We have many photos and memories of the great experience. I was happy to hear that both the restaurant and the great dining experience were still there!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Coming "Home"

Coming home from a really enjoyable vacation is never easy but it's even harder when my feelings about "home" are ambivalent. Yesterday was no exception and was actually compounded by the fact that I knew I was coming down with something...(maybe the flu?) and had just spent a really long day traveling: one taxi, three planes, and one bus for a total of 14 hours of travel. (I could have gotten to DC for that amount of time) To add insult to injury it was raining.

But there is usually a silver lining to everything if you look hard enough and the final leg of last night's bus ride was that silver lining. Let me backtrack a little. I know from experience that the airport bus (Havas) has two routes: one goes to the central bus station and then my neighborhood and the other goes to directly to my neighborhood, Mavesehir. The former takes about 1 1/2 hours thus making the subway a better option. The latter is a nice ride and much better than the metro, especially with luggage. I also know that you have to ask the bus driver where he is going because the signs on the buses all say Mavesehir. Unfortunately, the bus driver said "yes" to Mavesehir but failed to mention that it would take a detour to the Otogar and drop off some friends along the way and be delayed due to terrible traffic. So, I wasn't really paying any attention when the bus finally stopped after 90 minutes, I was nowhere near home, and almost everyone got off the bus.

My heart immediately sank and I was imagining that I would have to figure out a way home from the bus station (and I was so tired that the "way" was probably going to be an expensive taxi.) By this time the bus driver was getting back on the bus and I stood to make sure he knew I was there (I didn't want to be left like the little kindergartners who fall asleep on the school bus) and I questioned "Mavesehir"?

A real friendly person at the front of the bus said, "yes" and motioned for me to join her. I grabbed my backpack and tried to put on my happy face and gear myself up for speaking Turkish after two weeks of German and English. Well, this friendly woman immediately jumped into English and told me she loves America and her son is a doctor in San Diego and she introduced me to her husband, who is a retired colonel in the Turkish Air Force and had trained in Texas and he loved Texas. There also happened to be one more man on the bus who also moved forward and joined us. He was Turkish but living in Austria as he told me in German. So we had a very pleasant ride that passed very quickly the rest of the way home. The combination of German some Turkish and English made for a pretty good conversation. And Ayten, my new friend and I exchanged numbers so I hope we will see each other again sometime soon. That was the "silver lining."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Berlin Movie Premiere

My plan for this evening was to watch the movie "Lincoln" in English. Earlier this week I'd confused the theater Cinemax with Cinestar and sat through the German dubbed version because I was too embarassed to leave, so I didn't do this academy award nominee justice. Tonight I was geared up to go to Cinestar, eat popcorn, drink a pilsner beer, and watch the film a second time.
But my plans changed. When I exited the subway, spot lights were glaring, loudspeakers blaring, crowds were cheering and packed around a star studded red carpet.
I turned to the man next to me and asked " was ist das?" He replied "Movie premier: Die Hard The new One. Bruce Willis will come in 30 minutes "
So, I joined the crowd of celebrity gawkers. I snapped over 30 pictures but didn't really capture anything. But, I DID see Bruce Willis. His bald(or shaved) glowed like a lightbulb. And he's kind of short. But it was cool to be part of a "movie premiere."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Concentration Camp, Carillon Bells, and Concert

I decided to do my "heavy" sightseeing today with a tour of Sachenhausen Concentration Camp. I joined a small walking tour of 6 others and Michael, our guide. We took the train to Oranienberg and then walked to the camp, just like the prisoners would have done. I will spare you all the details except two which were surprising to me. First, the prisoners would have ridden the same 34-40 minute comuter train that citizens would have been riding home from Berlin. Second, the prisoners would have been working in the village alongside residents living their normal lives: moms cooking dinner, children playing in their yards, etc. I'd always thought these camps were out in the middle of forests or isolated places that would be inconspicuous to residents so the proximity to Berlin of this camp really surprised me. I should note that this camp was primarily used for prisoners of war or traitors to the Nazi regime and that the relatively small number of Jews that stayed in this camp either died early on or were shipped to Poland.

After the approximately 3 1/2 hours walking around at the freezing cold camp (I would have died just having to line up for roll call 3 x per day in the winter) we headed back to Berlin.

By now it was 5:00 pm, just enough time to take in the free special exhibit to remember that 80 years ago Hitler took power. The exhibit explained the rise of Hitler's power in the early 1930's. The exhibit helped me understand the conflict between the communists and social democrats in Berlin as well as the extreme disparities between rich and poor..sounded liked the Great Depression in America..only once Hitler took power, (he supposedly won an election) he changed all the rules and became a dictator.

I exited the museum just before closing time at 5:45 pm. Bundled up for a brisk jog to the subway, I was greeted with a glorious carillon bell concert ringing from the towers of the Berlin Cathedral. This got me to thinking that possibly there would be service at 6:00 pm so I changed direction and headed over. Sure enough, just as the bells faded, I entered the very gothic, very ornate, very beautiful cathedral to the glorious sounds of an organ prelude: Andreas Sieling at the organ playing Cesar Franck's III. Chroal a-Moll 1. Teil: Allegro. It was fantastic! The service was all in German, but close enough to English that I could follow it. We sang great hymns by German composers: Johann Peter Schultz, Johann Walter, and the ancient Tyrol tune  Oh Welt, Ich muss dich lassen. The organist played 2. Teil: Adagio as a offertory and 3 Teil: Allegro as the postlude. It was magnificent.

The memorial at the concentration camp and the music at the cathedral served as reminders to me that courage, hope and love will conquer evil.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Making a Friend and the Berlin Philharmonic

I arrived in Berlin alone this afternoon after spending a great week in the Czech Republic with Eric. He had to go back to work and I wanted to make the most of my two weeks off so I continued on a  journey to new places. Between naps on the five hour bus ride rom Prague to Berlin,  I'd tried to read most of Rick Steve's Berlin guide to prepare myself for the visit. When he said this is a "big city" and using public transportation is an "absolute must" he wasn't joking. After walking for 1 1/2 hours and not really covering much of anything I decided to postpone heavy sightseeing for tomorrow. I popped into what seemed like the 15th Starbucks on my route for an afternoon cup of joe and free wifi. Although I could probably find a better cup of coffee, the realiable wifi was really what I was seeking.

A quick internet search told my the Berlin Philharmonic was playing tonight at 8:00 p.m. It was now 5:00. I took a quick trip back to my hotel and tried my best to look a little more dressed up. Black boots and black tights are amazing for that. I hopped on the subway and found the beautiful, modern Pottsdam Plaza with the world headquarter of Sony, all the fancy 5 star hotels, and the beautiful Berlin Phil concert hall. I used my best German to find the line for the few remaining tickets and scored a seat.

By now it was less than an hour until concert time and I really needed some food so I found the cafe in the concert hall, bought a pretzel and some salami/proscuitto appetizers and a glass of wine, not very filling but it was the best I could find. I settled in empty table for a light meal and a wait for the concert to begin. I hadn't been there long before several older women approached the table and asked (in German, of course) if they could join me.

Well, you know what happens when several women sit together...we start trying to talk. One asked where I was from. When I replied America she asked if speaking "English" would be better. Yes! I replied. I then asked if she was from Berlin and here is her  (Ulta's) story:

She was born in Berlin and she is one of five children. Near the end of World War the Second (this is how she called it) children were being evacuated to villages away from Berlin. Her mother was afraid that all of her children would be separated so she decided that they would all move to Bavaria to live with a relative. They left Berlin with bascially what they could carry in a suitcase. Ulta found the schooling in Bavaria very backwards and behind in the small village. She was only 8 years old and was attending classes with the 6th - 8th graders. At the end of the war (about 4 months later) the Prussians (her term but I think she meant the people from the region of Bavaria) did not like the Berliners and so they could not stay in Bavaria. They were not given ration cards for food, nor could they attend school. (She was sad that it was Germany against Germany in this situation.) Her mother again loaded them up with one suitcase apiece and their school bags. It took 4 days walking, riding in box cars of trains, riding on the back of coal trucks, and waiting on the side of the roads for whatever rides they could find. They had not heard any word from Berlin for the past 4 months and did not know what they would find when they arrived back in Berlin. At one point there was an airplane with machine guns shooting at them. She had remembered that her father told her to lie flat on the ground so they wouldn't be targets. Luckily all five children and mom arrivedsafely back in Berlin. Unfortunately, they  find their father had not survived.

She went on to be a doctor but she said that experience never leaves her. By then it was time for the concert to begin but it was a very interesting encounter.

In case you're wondering, the concert was fantastic. The conductor looks like he is about 28 years old and has the entire concert hall eating out of his hand.From the first note of Samuel Barber's Adagio from Strings to the end it felt like every musician and audience member was breathing together. Next was Ling Ling  playing Bela Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2  I didn't know anything about Ling Ling but he, too, is a virtuoso pianist and a show man. Plus, he's young and charming so it seemed to appeal to the younger crowd. The entire orchestra played Richard Strauss' Don Juan op. 20 and Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche op. 28 for the finale. I think there were 15 minutes of clapping and a standing ovation at the end. I've never seen anything like love shown for this orchestra by its patrons. But, they really were that good.