Thursday, December 31, 2009

New blog

Hello my blog friends and readers,

I have started a new blog and am going to be transferring my current blog over to that site too, as soon as I figure out how to do it.

Anyway, this is the new site, if you want to check it out.

Okay, see you over there!

And happy new year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thinking of a fresh start to a fresh year...

Well, only a couple more days left in this old year. The mighty 2009 is coming to a close, and 2010 is about to come bursting onto the scene.

As you know, if you've been following my blog for the past few months, I've been going through difficult/interesting/crazy times. I am really trying to keep things in perspective as much as possible, riding the rather ferocious wave of change and adaptation sweeping through my life. I realize that times of hardship, suffering and change are the stuff that life is made of, and that the challenges in life are what shape us into the people we are and the people we become. Even though I'm in the thick of it all now, and its hard to see where all of this is leading, I am holding onto the belief that the ability to live more fully, with greater love, compassion and wisdom for oneself and others, can only come out of learning how to deal with these internal and external difficulties when they are dropped on your doorstep. Or when you're fool enough to jump right into them by moving to a foreign country! Haha!

Anyway, new year, fresh start. Here's what I'm thinking. I'm trying to think of all kinds of life-affirming, energizing, encouraging little (or big) things that I can do to turn my mind away from dwelling on my own difficulties and all the hard stuff that life entails, and to focus more on the positive things in life. I'm going to make a big list that I can go back to again and again, when I feel all worn out by the world.

So, to all of you reading this blog, this is me asking for your help.

If you have the time and the inspiration, I'd love to hear your suggestion for what I, or anyone for that matter, can do to help focus on the good, the beautiful, the inspiring, the life-affirming stuff that the world is full of. I know its there, I just need a bit of help to get back in the moment and see it all again.

So, if you have any words of wisdom, any inspiring stories from your own life or someone you know, anything positive that you've done this year to improve your life or someone else's, any ideas for turning down the pessimism and turning up the optimism, poems you've read, songs you've heard, lessons from people who have inspired you, big dreams you have for the new year, little daily practices that you've found to be tried and true for helping you to live well and in the moment, etc. I think you know what I mean.

Throughout the years, so many people have helped me in both good times and tough times, have given me just the encouragement or inspiration that was needed at the right time, have spurred me on, challenged me to think and live in new ways, have shown me that the world is full of interesting, beautiful and amazing people. Now you're all very far away, but I want to thank you all for your past help and inspiration and I hope you'll spare a minute or two to help me again now. I think I'll compile a list of whatever ideas you send my way and publish them on the blog so they can benefit more people!

Please leave a comment here, or on Facebook or you can email me.

Thanks and enjoy the ending of this year, and the beginning of the new one.

Lots of love.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I just finished another great weekend of teaching. It was hard to work the day after Christmas, and at just about any other job it would be unbearable. But, lucky for me, I have great students. It was a pleasure to be there.

I love my new job!!!!!!

Well, I'm just brewing some relaxing chamomile tea now, and then we're going to finish the biscuits that one of my students gave me yesterday in class, while watching The (American) Office, which we've downloaded off the internet. I'm planning to go to bed early tonight, to catch up on some much needed rest. Then tomorrow morning I have yoga. Can't wait.

Okay, I'll put up some Christmas photos soon, but right now, I just want my tea.

Hope you all are enjoying the holiday weekend, and I am so happy I got to talk to so many people for Christmas! I love you all!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why Turkish students are the best...

1. They are friendly, full of life and have a good sense of humour.

Even though my job isn't ideal in a number of ways, one thing I have to say is that my students are very lively and they make my life more interesting. It seems that Turkish people are very chatty in general (which often means they aren't listening to my terribly interesting and important English lesson), are always laughing and joking, and being in a room full of 24 of them is never boring.

During breaks they occasionally break into song and do a little dance. Sometimes when I come in the room, they chant Mc-Wa-ters, Mc-Wa-ters, which I think is meant to be a good thing. They get great entertainment out of me attempting to say things in Turkish. They laugh because I can't roll my 'r's, or properly pronounce various different Turkish vowels, but they seem to think its great fun whenever someone tries to speak Turkish at all.

Also, a few of them have started trying to imitate American gangster rappers. Just today I was called emcee(MC) Waters, and there's the occasional 'yo Yo', or 'keep it real'.

2. They get really attached to you, and, in my opinion, you can't help but get attached to them too. They are very endearing.

In Turkish, teachers are called Hocam (not sure about the spelling), but it translates to 'my teacher'. They really form a bond with you, and they are really upset of you are sick for a day or if schedules change and they get a new teacher. Its like they adopt you and want to keep you for life.

Last week I was sick for a day, and when I came back the following day, everyone was distressed about having a new teacher. They wondered if I was okay, and said they had missed me. It was a nice welcome back!

3. They are generous and very kind.

Sometimes they bring me a cup of tea during break time. They hold the door open for me and always let me enter the classroom first.

And tonight, as a treat after their mid-term exams, most of the class and I went out for dinner and a drink in Beyoglu. I was not allowed to help pay for the taxi, or pay for my dinner, or to give any money toward the drinks. I tried to argue but they said they would be very sad if I gave any money. I protested that I'm the teacher, and they are the poor college students, but they wouldn't have it. They insisted that I was the guest.

Overall, I think they are lovely, and I would recommend coming to Turkey if you want to teach English and meet some really lovely students. Its hard to imagine meeting nicer people anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas shopping in Istanbul

Richie and I spent most of the day doing some shopping in cool places along Istiklal Caddesi. We explored some interesting hidden shops and markets. Its amazing what you can find if you just have a wander around!

We found some cool shops with souvenir type stuff, as well as really interesting antique shops, all hidden away in a beautiful covered market with ornate architecture and statues to decorate.

We also found a sort of market that just seems to have second hand book shops. There were tons of them! Sadly, they all seemed to have just Turkish books. This second-hand book area once again confirmed an Istanbul trend that we have observed: all the shops of a certain kind seem to flock together, if you will. There is a light district, which is streets with just lamp shops. Lamps of all kinds, chandeliers, ornate lamps, trendy lights, etc. Pretty cool. Then there's the musical instrument district. Tons of shops with drums, stringed instruments, you name it; all on a few streets clustered together.

After our shopping we stopped to refresh ourselves with a warm cup of sahlep, a traditional Turkish winter drink made from ground tapioca or orchid root. Its served hot, and its white, and has a sort of milky texture with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Lovely.

Anyway, it was a good day. Unfortunately, I developed a headache, which is decidedly un-festive, so I stayed in while Richie went to meet friends for some holiday cheer. I think he's treating himself to a Guinness at the Irish pub.

And now I'm off to bed.

A small mosque on Istiklal Caddesi

The ornate gates to one of Istanbul's most elite high schools, Galatasaray Lisesi. About two seconds before I took this photo there were about 30 police officers standing outside the school, because just to the right of the school a Turkish Communist Party gathering/protest had just finished. There are always large groups of riot police on Istiklal when ever any sort of protest or march is taking place.

A small part of the second-hand bookstore 'mall'

Some beautiful antique silver Turkish coffee serving sets

Lots of really interesting and beautiful antiques

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Antioch/Hatay/Antakya... a place where Christians, Muslims and Jews all live together peacefully!

I had an interesting talk with one of my students today. Her name is Polyana and she's very sweet. I was talking with a few students on our break about Christmas, and she mentioned that she's Christian too, which I had guessed before, but I didn't think it was appropriate to ask.

So, anyway, I asked if she was going home for Christmas, but she said her hometown is too far away to go, so she was just staying in Istanbul. She drew me a map of Turkey on the board and told me that her town is called Hatay, also known as Antakya, which, for all you Christian-history-savvy readers out there, is called Antioch in English. This is the ancient city where the term 'Christian' was first used and both Sts. Peter and Paul preached there at one time.

She explained to me that Hatay won the Nobel Prize because there is such a mix of religions in the town/city all living together peacefully, which hasn't always been the norm in the last hundred years of Turkish history, nor I suppose in many regions of the world. There are five different types of Christianity to be found there: Syrian Catholic, Maronite, Greco-Melchite, Greek Orthodox and Syrian-Tacobite. I don't even know what all of those are. There are also obviously Muslims, including the Turkish Muslim minority the Alevi, as well as a Jewish population.

According to my guide book, Hatay/Antakya was Arabic in culture and language until 1939 when it was unified with the Turkish Republic, although it says that a number of the locals still speak Arabic. It sounds very remarkable for this one city to have such a mix of different varieties of Christianity and Islam, plus Judaism.

So, I told this student that I would research more about her hometown and in the summer on our big trip, I'm going to go and visit her at her parents house! Who knows if that will happen, but it would be pretty cool.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Early, early stages of summer travel plans...

Well, I know it may seem a bit premature, but I've decided to start doing some research for our GREAT SUMMER ADVENTURE around Eastern Turkey. I am planning to research different cities and towns, as well as general regions that we might like to visit during our travels, and find out as much information as I can about transportation, accommodation and interesting things to see. So, then we should have a decent idea of where to go and where to skip, etc.

So, a possible start for your journey is the city of Trabzon, on the Black Sea coast.

Well, Trabzon, founded about 756 BC, began its life as an ancient Greek city. Since it was on the route of the Silk Road, it was a place where people of different religions, languages and cultures met and mixed. It was a focal point for trade from Russia, Iran, the Caucasus and India at various times in history. Trabzon was first a Greek city, then part of the Roman Empire, and was the capital of the Empire of Trebizond and eventually became part of the Ottoman Empire. The city still has a small population of Muslim Pontic Greek-speakers. And the Laz people, who also live in neighboring Georgia, are the native people of this region. It sounds like traditional rural life is alive and kicking in the Trabzon region, apart from the rather modern urban center of Trabzon city.

Modern Trabzon's major exports (it is a port city) are its famous anchovies and hazelnuts, as well as tea. Yummy.

Apparently it has warm, humid summers and winters are cool and damp.

There seem to be a number of sites to visit in the city itself, but I think it is more important as a starting point for seeing some amazing places nearby, like the Kackar Mountains, some impressive old monasteries, and that sort of thing.

I really think travelling around Turkey is going to be so interesting. Turkey seems to be made up of a number of different minorities, and there are distinct variations in culture between different regions of the country. And this part of the world has been traversed by so many different peoples over the course of history. Greeks, Romans, Mongols, Persians, Ottomans; those are just the bigger groups, and more recognizable to people like me, I guess. But there's a lot more going on over in that corner of the world and I can't wait to see it for myself! Yeah for travel!

The city walls of Trabzon. Licensed by Creative Commons.

Hagia Sophia, Trabzon. Licensed by Creative Commons.