I’ve certainly been a slacker during this rainy, humid month of June. Well, only a slacker when it comes to blogging. In other areas of life, I’ve been busy — as in two weeks of traveling busy. I know some of you are thinking “la vida es no justo!” and you would be right. But traveling is one of the perks that sold me on moving to China. The whole career thing for Iggy is obviously the main reason we’re here, but the very close runner-up is travel for this housewife.
I plan to see a lot of what this huge continent has to offer over the next several years. However, our most recent trip took us to middle ground: Istanbul. For those of you hopping on Google maps — meaning everyone other than my mother — we technically spent our week in European Istanbul, but made it to the Asian side one day by visiting Anadolu Kavagi. It probably was a quaint fishing village in its past lifetime like my guidebook described, but now it is little more than a tourist trap, complete with cheaply made souvenirs and not so delicious seafood.
Maybe you never thought twice about Istanbul, but it’s probably fresh on your mind these days, given the Taksim Square protests making headlines around the world. And, yes, we were there for them. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of the protests. The supposed reason for the unrest was the planned destruction of Gezi park — a green space, something that is few and far between in Istanbul, according to the media. Really? I thought to myself as I stared at my huge foldable city map during our week-long stay. There were several huge parks illustrated on the map. One even had a “teleferik” (aka lift)…something I’ve only seen at ski resorts back home. Just saying. But what did I know? I was just a tourist and a not very well-informed one when it came to Turkish politics and current events. My guidebooks had armed me with tidbits of Turkish history but only up to 1923 with the founding of modern-day Turkey. I knew more about Ataturk and the Ottomans and the Byzantines than I did about Prime Minister Erdogan (I will never be able to accurately pronounce his name…woshuodebuhao!) and Turkey’s EU hopes (now dashed).
I corrected this deficiency once back in China where my internet is surprisingly reliable lately. While the protests began in response to plans for Gezi Park, there is a lot more going on in Turkey than that. I won’t go into it here, but I was pretty shocked to learn some of the facts. Ahem…did you know Turkey currently has more jailed journalists than China? China certainly lacks a stellar reputation when it comes to freedom of the press, but I would’ve thought Turkey was light years ahead of our adopted home country. By strange coincidence, just yesterday China made world headlines with its own major protest involving the Turkic-speaking Uighur minority and Chinese authorities. The cause and actual happenings of the incident weren’t totally clear from what I read, but the articles inspired me to finally write about Istanbul.
Never could I have imagined that a city long dominated by cultural clashes would be in the full midst of one while we were there. The media had our families and friends a little hyped up, but the truth was that the protest action primarily occurred in one tiny part of a huge city. That’s not to say the protests weren’t felt in other parts. One night as I was paying for my Starbuck’s iced chai tea latte (don’t judge — these don’t exist in China!), my barista ran away from her register at the sound of loud chanting coming from the street, Divan Yolu. She and her fellow coffee makers — all young women who were probably students at the nearby Istanbul University — stood on the sidewalk, clapping their hands and chanting in unison with a small group of peaceful protestors marching by, waving the Turkish flag. Other than this incident, you would never know the protests were happening if you weren’t near Taksim. For the majority of the week we weren’t, since all the historic stuff we were there to see was located elsewhere. We were glad about this because we didn’t want to be part of the action, god forbid something were to happen. Not that it was the protestors we had to be wary of. It was the police, who spent the week hanging out around the tourist hot spot of Dolmabahce Palace, conveniently located at the bottom of a windy, steep hill leading up to Taksim. Talk about an intimidating sight: hundreds of youngish dudes with their shields, batons, and water hose trucks at the ready if their services were called upon.
As you can see below, we could have spent the whole week photographing protestors, graffiti, and police, but we didn’t. I’ll share more touristy photos later this week with you, so check back again in a day or two.