This just in…

Here’s the latest from China.  I’d been trying to get a hold of a friend who was going to hook me up with a teaching job in Nanjing but she wasn’t responding to my facebook messages.  Well I finally got a response back and here’s what she said,

China’s been cracking down on the VPNs and throttling the internet speeds for people trying to access foreign websites so I’ve not been able to actually access facebook (or gmail for that matter) for quite a while.

She’s giving me two different emails so there’s more of a chance we’ll be able to communicate – sheesh!  Well, at least I know there still might be a job available for me in the fall.  Here’s a link if you want to read more about China cracking down on VPNs, it’s dated pretty recently too.

Looks like need to start researching how to be a cyber-spy since I won’t have U-M’s VPN client to use anymore while I’m in China (U-M uniqnames expire after graduation).  I wouldn’t want to be stuck blogless/facebookless, gasp!  But seriously, I wouldn’t.

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Lamb Tripe and TakaTuka

I was tricked!  I love lamb, as long as I’m not eating it in the U.S. (for whatever reason it never seems to taste good there).  I went out on the town with a Turkish friend from U-M and he was showing me all the best bars and eats on İstiklal.  He asked, “Do you like lamb?” and I said “aw hell yeah!” (the conversation may or may not be slightly paraphrased) and took me to a restaurant that’s famous for it’s kokoreç called Şampiyon.

Little did I know...

Later his friends asked me if I knew what was in kokoreç and were laughing a little to each other… oh no, probably nothing I’m going to be happy about.  Sure enough, after I said to go ahead and tell me (I’d already eaten it, after all) they said it was lamb intestines in there, not lamb meat.  Hahaha, well, no stomach problems ensued and it actually tasted good so no harm done.  My host dad tells me that the place I went to has the best kokoreç and that they clean them out very well there (so don’t worry mom)… though he said afterward that he’s heard the dirtier inside it is the tastier it is.  Um, no thanks (still not sure if he was joking).

I'm positive I'll be eating this one again!

After the kokoreç we had midye dolma (aromatic rice-stuffed mussels).  Just, SO GOOD.  You squeeze a little lemon on then scoop out the rice with the other shell and pop it all into your mouth.  The rice tasted a little sweet… not sure what spice it was though.

Through couchsurfing (a website for meeting fellow travelors, you can also find a free place to stay for a few days) I heard about a free concert being held last night on Istiklal.   Umut, the guitarist and one of the singers of the band TakaTuka invited me to a club(?) called Araf.  You walk down Istiklal from Taksim for a while then turn left on Balo street and walk almost to the end.  It’s a ramshackle  building and you have to climb up another 7 flights of stairs to get to the club/bar – I felt like I was going on a quest trying to find this place.  Dark and smoky atmosphere – perfect for the music I was about the hear.

Umut said what they play is mostly Balkan music with Turkish, Spanish, and other influences.  It was my first time hearing Balkan music and I reeeeaaaallllyyy liked it.  Mom, you would have loved to listen too, there were so many different instruments and the beat was just infectious! There were bongos, a guitar, mandolin, bass, accordion, irish flutes, bass drum, a Turkish clarinet (which he said was in G rather than B flat… I think I got the keys right), and lots of cool percussion.  There was a trombone too, Davey!  They play every Monday at this club so I plan on going to see them again – maybe I could bring the au pairs with me next time.

The videos are taking a looooong time to upload so eventually I’ll have three uploaded into this post so keep checking back if you’re interested in hearing TakaTuka’s music.  I didn’t realize that when I zoomed in the sound would cut off so sorry about the random silences.  I also tried to awkwardly zoom in on the clarinet but it looks like I just zoomed in on Umut’s legs (this is the second video, I think).  Enjoy! (eventually)

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İstiklal Caddesi

İstiklal Caddesi (caddesi = street/avenue) is a pedestrian street in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul.  It’s almost 2 miles long and on weekends it can get around 3 million visitors on average each day (courtesy of wikipedia).  It’s lined completely with shops, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants.  There are side alleys all along it too that are filled with bars, taverns, music clubs, pubs, and fish restaurants selling that famous Turkish devil’s brew called rakı.  It tastes like ouzo – yuck.  My host dad sips on a glass every night much like an American dad would sit down with a beer at the end of the day.  That black licorice smell is just too much for me though

I’ve been to İstiklal twice now, once at around 2 and the second time after 5 and boy do things really start kicking up as the sun goes down.  The number of people walking down the street quadruples! I wish I’d taken pictures of the crowded version of the street but sadly I didn’t think to take photos the second time (I’m sure I’ll make it back there though).

the "not crowded" view of İstiklal

There are stands all over selling roasted chestnuts and other ones selling simit (like a pretzel but with sesame seeds not salt)

And in true Istanbul fashion there are even a couple churches from different faiths just off the street as well.  We saw the St. Anthony of Padua/St. Antoine Church.  It’s the largest Roman Catholic church in Istanbul.  It’s pretty crazy to see a church right by a shoe store.

St. Anthony/Antoine of Padua Roman Catholic Church

It was so pretty inside, I was convinced it was an Orthodox church until I looked it up to find out on wiki.  I’m used to the bare bones type of Roman Catholic churches, I guess.  As a pick me up before going home to the kiddies I got a Turkish coffee before catching the tram (yes, a tram I mean trolley!  I was reminded of San Fransisco) back up to Taksim Square and the bus back home.

Speaking of buses, I give myself at least an hour to get places in Istanbul, the traffic is crazy here.  Yesterday (Sunday) it took me over 2 HOURS to get home!  My host mom says Sunday traffic is always the worst.  Duly noted.  I could have probably walked home faster than that bus was moving.

I took more pictures of Turkish coffee – I just think it looks so cool!  It was a little cafe at the end of İstiklal Cadessi by the tram trolley stop.  I didn’t know how to say it in Turkish at the time but Turkish coffee sounds pretty similar to türk kahvesi and he probably gets a lot of tourists like me asking for the same thing.  Wiki says it’s made by boiling finely powdered coffee beans which is why it’s so thick.  I always get mine with sugar but you can add other things in there.  They always serve it with water.  Wiki (you gotta love wikipedia) says it’s to freshen your mouth to better taste the coffee – didn’t know that, I’ve just been using it to freshen my mouth after I was done with the coffee so I don’t walk around with coffee breath…

The setup

I'd already drank a little before remembering to take a pic

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Merhaba from Istanbul!

Merhaba means “hello” in Turkish.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to learn any Turkish before I got here so it’s been difficult to get around.  There aren’t any English signs anywhere, but interestingly enough many menus have an English translation underneath.  I’ve been lucky about getting around though, every time I stop to ask for directions someone who speaks English has been nearby and walks over to help me.

I took too long to start this blog up and now there’s too much to say!  My host family lives near Rumeli Hisarı (Rumeli Fortress), where all the well-to-do families live near Boğiziçi (Bosphorus) University.  Think: Audi in the garage, a driver and cleaning lady who live in the house, 5 stories with an elevator, gated entrance with a security guard and you get the picture.  I hardly know what to do with myself when we eat at fancy restaurants at night – try not to embarrass my host family I guess.

We live about a 5 minute (steep downhill) walk from the Bosphorus and coming back up is a bitch, pardon my French.  But this way I can walk off all the DELICIOUS FOOD available here.  I drink about 5 cups of çay (tea) a day and Mehmet (my host dad) owns olive farms… somewhere… so there’s lot’s of olive oil and olives at meals.  There’s a lot of yogurt and meat with meals too.  Not cut like a steak but in smaller pieces.

The cleaning lady, I thought, only spoke Turkish but much to our pleasant surprise we can converse in German.  Her German is better than mine since she studied there when she was young but we get by.  Turns out the driver speaks German too so I’m saved!  I can communicate with everyone in the house!

I live on the European side of Istanbul and it’s really something to be able to look across the Bosphorus at Asia.  There are mosques all over too and their minarets are poking up all across the skyline.  A few pictures to whet your whistle and I promise to update more frequently!

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