Saturday, October 23, 2010

PF Flyers Make a Kid Run Faster and Jump Higher...

As I washed my dishes a few days ago, I realized the sponge with which I was scrubbing was getting worn. In a moment of MacGyver-esque resourcefulness I opened the cabinet and pulled out a package of new sponges. I unsheathed the dish-cleaning weaponry from the plastic scabbard and absent-mindedly read the packaging. In shock I let go of the British-made sponges. Time stood still as they careened towards the floor. They dramatically bounced of the tile floor and then pretty much just lay there. (The ordeal wasn’t quite as dramatic as when the cop drops the coffee mug at the end of The Usual Suspects.)

The words: “Sponges: Cleans, No Added Promises,” loomed at me from the plastic packaging .

I could not believe it. “Cleans, No Added Promises!!!” That’s it?! I stomped on the sponges in disgust and stormed back to my bedroom to clear my head.

American products change your life. It doesn’t matter what they are. I do not know how society functioned before advent of the Sham-Wow or the Snuggie. Advertisements for products in America promise to not only fulfill their intended purpose, they practically guarantee your life will never be the same after using them.

As far back as I can remember American products were bettering my life. My Trapper Keeper not only conveniently stored my papers and pencils, it made me popular and helped me achieve my wildest dreams. My new shoes not only provided arch support they increased my agility and quickness twenty-fold!

American advertisements portray their products delivering an unlimited supply of happiness and satisfaction. So you can imagine my disgust with these British sponges that only "Cleaned."

Most things in the United Kingdom only do what they say they are going to do. A bike will only get you from point A to point B, a coat will only keep you warm and dry, and sponges will only clean.

British people need to realize their lives are a gaping void and the only thing that can fill the hole is awesome-products that awesomely revolutionize their lives and provide awesome amounts of happiness. Dish sponges in America promise better families and home-lives, make you handsomer, wealthier, and better at sports. British sponges just clean. (Although to be fair, the sponges did clean fairly well.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Speak Amurican

It never occurred to me that I was speaking English. People speak Spanish. They speak Chinese. They speak Turkish. They may speak English with an English accent (which as I have been lovingly informed, apparently they are not the ones speaking with an accent (the language, I am told is called English after all not American)). You are probably sitting there thinking; “Geez Chris, what an amazing revelation! I didn’t know that I was speaking English! Thank you for bestowing this nugget of knowledge on me! You are my best friend… and incredibly handsome… and awesome…”
Okay… I may have known that I spoke English. I just wasn’t always conscious of the fact that the words I spoke or the thoughts I thought were in a language. To me it seemed like the world just worked in English. We know that a tree is a tree, it may be called an ağaç in Turkish or a árbol in Spanish but we can be certain that the tree-shaped structure I see out my window is, in fact, a tree.
I didn’t start thinking these thoughts until I lived in a country that functioned in another language. In Istanbul, those tree-shaped things actually are ağaçs they are merely called trees in English. Mind-blowing, I know. I could grasp the fact that I did not understand the secret code language that everyone around me was speaking, but surely they could understand me when I spoke the language that the universe works in. If they could not understand it, I would simply speak louder and slower.
Being an American, I think in the back of my mind I just assumed that I spoke a meta-language, a sort of way of talking that I assumed must even be the way God speaks. The place I grew up did not have a culture or a language (actually rural Arkansas has a very distinct culture and language). It was just simply they way the world worked. In America, I live in the real world and in other places they have funny things like culture and customs and languages. The way I interact with other people in my hometown is not a part of culture it is just the way people act. Central Asian people do things like take their shoes off before they enter a house, Russians won’t shake hands over the threshold of a door, or British people drive on the wrong side of the road and mispronounce lieutenant because they have a ‘culture.’ In America, the customs we have and even the way we think are not part of a culture; it is just the way the world works.
I was shocked to hear someone in the little English village I live in tell me that they could hear my accent. “Why no, you foolish Brit,” I wanted to inform them, “You are the one speaking with an accent, I am speaking the way people actually talk.”
Now I realize that I am breaking new ground here with the discovery that we are speaking English and that there is an American culture. You can send your royalty checks my way. I just think it was an interesting self-revelation. Like when you hear your voice on an answering machine, but on a grander scale. ‘Wow, that is the way I sound to the rest of the world, and it is kind of weird and unique.’
Now that I have blown your mind, (or you may have already known that you speak English), I will leave you with this. In Cappadocia, Turkey we had an old Turkish tour guide who was showing us around the underground cities and caves. He had a very thick mustache. (That is not part of it, it was just a very nice mustache.) At one point he started imitating tourists from different countries. Japanese people waddle out of the buses like penguins, say ‘oooh and aaah’ take a picture and then waddle back onto the bus. Italians apparently sing all of their observations. When asked what American tourists are like, he stuck out his chest and strutted around saying “Show me this. Show me that. I own everything!” It was like we are looking at the rest of the world like fish in an aquarium. (Actually he was very offensive and quite rascist.)
We have a place, as Americans, in this world and in history. And I typed this entire blog post in the English language, with an American accent.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wimbledon: The Real Story

A friend of mine and I went to Wimbledon last Friday. We planned ahead and decided to get there an hour and a half early. After all we did not want tickets on Centre court, we just wanted to sit on the hill in the grounds and watch. We had no idea what we were in for. What follows is what we made of the day...
Wimbledon, 2010: Would the practice and dedication pay off? People from all over the world converge on this posh corner of London. This quiet residential area is transformed into a place where the best come to prove themselves once a year. You can see the looks of concentration on their faces. Many have been working for this since childhood. Hopes and dreams ride on their performance…
Across the street from this showcase of monumental prowess, another tournament is played: the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. But is this game for women and children where the real talent actually lies? (Yeah, it probably is.) Or is it back across the street to what I was talking about earlier: the Queue for the Wimbledon Tennis Championship?!
British love to stand in line. They love it so much that they created a term for it; “queuing.” At first an explanation of the queue itself may seem as needless as the last four letters of the word ‘queue.’ However upon deeper investigation, one discovers an entire subculture; chock full of a gritty dose of patience and politeness.
“We have been coming to this queue to wait for the past ten years,” proudly exclaims one queuing supporter. “I have been queuing ever since I was a little boy!” exclaimed a pensioner who chooses to spend his free-time queuing. The diligence has paid off for him, because at 10 a.m. on Friday, he was the first person in queue for Saturday’s tennis matches. With a look of triumph, he goes back to perusing his manual on proper queue etiquette.
Over 7,000 queue enthusiasts form different sections of the queue in a field a half mile from the tennis grounds. Older queue attendants, called stewards, patrol the area and direct the slow plod of the queue. They solemnly warn stragglers that “the Wimbledon queue waits for no man.” The queue participants continue their march past posted signs that give the queue code of conduct such as: “Queue jumping is not acceptable and will not be tolerated” and “You may not reserve a place in the queue for somebody else, other than in their short term absence (eg: toilet break, purchase of refreshments etc.). If you have to leave the queue, you should negotiate your position with those around you and/or a steward.” These and other Spartan-esque guidelines are engrained into British progeny at an early age.
“We British will queue for anything,” says one waiting woman. “If we see a queue, we jump in it, afraid that we are going to miss something.”
As impressive as this display of queuemanship is, an even more elite group of queuesmiths position themselves to the side of the field in rows of tents. Not content to merely wait several hours to get into Wimbledon, these titans of timeliness are willing to wait for days. Entrenched in their nylon fortresses, the elite pass the time with conversation, tea, and a healthy helping of Pimm’s coupled with strawberries and cream (a Wimbledon tradition.) “We could have gotten tickets online, but waiting in the queue is what makes the experience what it is,” said a couple who were setting up their tent and digging in for the long haul.
The throngs of those waiting grow more and more patient as the queue snakes its way to the tennis grounds. Fueled into a frenzy of civility and politeness, the crowd patiently waits their turn for the chance… the chance to get tickets into Wimbledon grounds. As the fields are slowly evacuated, the wreckage from this proliferation of patience is all that remains; a few trash bags that the patrons have kindly stuffed their waste into. Sheer chaos…
After the smoke clears (metaphorically, of course, because the queue guidelines state that barbequing and camp fires of any type are strictly prohibited) fans make their way into the tennis grounds. They have earned a well-deserved respite of calm games of tennis after the excitement they faced outside in the queuing fields. Until next year’s showdown, Britons will be in training. One does not have to look far to see British politely queuing at restaurants, grocery stores, checkout counters, or any chance they get to display their waiting prowess. “To be British is to queue.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Tale From My Childhood: The Plight of Mr. Jenkins

The Lord of the Flies is a disturbing book. Boys on an island without adult supervision turn on each other and their tropical paradise descends into chaos. This book is a metaphor for the nature of man, society, the dangers of talking pig heads, and that glasses can be powerful tools. This book is a work of fiction. However, in my experience, the basic premise of the book is true; kids are crazy. The small English town I live in is overrun by kids (literally no older than fourteen) walking around the main street with bottles of alcohol, cigarettes, and babies in tow. I wish I could say that I was taken aback to witness this spectacle in the quaint English countryside where cottages abound, the tea flows like wine, and beautiful British accents instinctively flock like the Salmon of Capastrano, however I am not surprised. You see, since a young age I have witnessed mayhem wrought by children who have been left unsupervised.

Let me tell you a story…

I was maybe seven, no more than eight years old, and my family had moved to a new town in rural Arkansas. Going to a new school can be a scary thing for a child, but my parents reassured me that I was going to quickly make friends. On the first day of school, my mom dressed me in my best purple and green wind-suit and my dad drove me to school. We walked down the hall to my classroom past cardboard cutouts of the Berenstein Bears teaching us math and a poster of a pirate talking about the essential vitamins found in dairy products. (How a swashbuckling pirate had the time to become an expert on dietetics and nutrition I will never know.) We entered the classroom and my dad introduced me to the teacher and some of the kids. My fellow first graders all seemed nice enough. Little did I know that beneath the thin veneer of civility lurked an evil so insidious I cringe to recall it.
Things went well for a while. I made some friends on the playground and at the cafeteria, yet in the classroom I decided to busy myself on developing my artistic prowess. At the time I was dabbling in Impressionism (having not yet ventured into the more modern pointillism or cubism). I was mastering this craft through a practice which all of the Great Masters from Monet to Manet had employed; taking a piece of paper and tracing pictures out of a coloring book. I had Donald Duck down pat.
One fateful day I was at the back of the classroom working on a picture of a bear giving a badger a high five. Mrs. Vaughn had stepped out to the office for a few minutes. My fellow first graders were milling about at the front of the classroom, when in walked Mr. Jenkins carrying a stepladder and a spare fluorescent light. Mr. Jenkins* was a kindly old man who worked as the janitor in his spare time. He walked into the room, set up his stepladder and began to work on replacing the faulty light. The first graders walked forward, their curious glances turning into menacing glares. Apparently Mr. Jenkins had done something to upset the first grade crime family. I set my pencil down and looked up when I heard the yells.
“Okay children… take it easy… easy now,” said Mr. Jenkins as the kids moved closer. They began to grab him and the stepladder. (In reality, I honestly do not know what exactly they were trying to do.) I watched in shock as Mr. Jenkins let out a yell and fell to the floor. The children screamed in triumph. “That’ll teach him to come onto our turf and try to fix our lights!” yelled Kevin. (Kevin did not actually say that. That part is not true.)
The next thing I remember is Mrs. Vaughn coming back into the room and telling all of us that she was very disappointed in us and that Mr. Jenkins had broken his arm. From then on Mr. Jenkins walked around with a sling and gave Mrs. Vaughn’s classroom a wide berth.

-Kevin is now in a state penitentiary doing hard time for hate crimes against the service industry. (Not true)
-Mr. Jenkins entered the witness protection program and now lives in _______ working as a ______ under the name _________. (Not true)
-Mrs. Vaughn went on to teach us about how baby chicks hatch in an incubator. (True)
-Due to a shortage of coloring books, my foray into fine arts was cut short. (It is true that I did not pursue a career in the fine arts.)

The moral of this story is that whether kids have country accents or Cockney accents they will go crazy without adult supervision.

*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Requiem for a Dream, and other adventures

My apologies for the lapse in blogging activity as of late. I would like to blame this inactivity on a series of Indiana Jones-esque adventures that I have been in, however the real culprit is tavla. Tavla (or backgammon) is the Turkish national pastime. Some Turkish friends of mine taught me how to play and I was hooked. I began seeing tavla boards everywhere. Literally every street in Istanbul has about 20 or more tea/coffee shops and each of those have tavla boards on every table. I found a board behind our sofa in the apartment and my roommates and I could not stop playing. Every morning when we woke up we played. On the commute to work, we might stop at a teashop and play a game or seven. We would play before we went to bed. When a group of us would go out on the weekends, we would always end up sitting in a side street restaurant playing with any Turkish people who would happen by. We played the guys in the grocery store across the street. I won one Turkish lira off a guy in a heated match. Some of our deepest conversations and worst arguments happened across that board with the dice flying. I have never been addicted to illegal drugs or prescription nasal spray but I can’t imagine that hunger being more intense than the tavla-fueled frenzy that my friends and I found ourselves in.
And then I moved to England. It is just like Sandra Bullock in 28 Days (or 28 Days Later (one is a comedy about a drug and alcohol rehab and the other is about a zombie apocalypse I can’t remember which one is which.)) England is like a tavla rehab without the support groups. At night I wake up in a cold sweats wondering which pieces I will move around the board with my 5/2 dice combo. Trembling I struggle to go back to sleep. These are the dark times but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. A light that is shining on a big tavla board. I bought a set in the Grand Bazaar right before I left, it is just a matter of time before I can find people here who know how to play.
Apart from tavla, I will give a brief summary of what has gone on since I last blogged.

Here we go: I got caught in a communist parade, I nearly died falling down a very steep stair tunnel in a mountain fortress in eastern Turkey, I lead a scooter gang around a desert, I got yelled at by a Romanian hostel owner for not ‘properly’ flushing the toilet, I spent over a month battling mold in an underground soundproof booth we built (if you are ever in Central Asia and order lumber make sure to specify that you want it to be dry), I ate sheep intestines, I nearly got in a fight with a taxi driver when he accosted the driver of the car I was in, I went to a foreign soccer game, I nearly got caught in a riot when the soccer fans realized that their team had not won the championship after thinking they had, I nearly got beat up by guys in a store because I had another team’s soccer jersey in my hand, I ate 8 Krispy Kreme donuts, I grew a mustache, I had to escape out the back door of a restaurant in Istanbul after being accosted by some very forward Turkish women, I introduced a Ukrainian pastor to a movie called Everything Is Illuminated (it is a funny American movie set in the Ukraine,) I got my supervisor from London lost in Istanbul and found out four hours later via Twitter that he was lost, I watched from the backseat of a taxi as my driver got in 30 man brawl around the cab, I commandeered a paddle boat and swashbuckled around an island in the Marmara Sea with my friends, I learned a lot of Turkish cuss words from my friends on a Turkish football team, I successfully made it through a Turkish bath without flashing any of the guys who work there, I introduced a friend to the wonders of the American tradition of free refills at a Chili’s in Istanbul, I moved to England, I found out that the grocery store near my flat sells Dr. Pepper, I watched as a teenage British boy stumbled down the aisle in a movie theater and threw up vodka everywhere, I saw three British girls with nothing but bras on walking around main street in broad daylight, I had a group of British girls ask my roommate and I if they could have our babies, I am realizing that a British accent does not automatically make a person sophisticated, I got lost in London and then realized that unlike in Istanbul people here speak English and you can simply ask for directions, I think the English countryside is beautiful, I am quickly finding out what all those comedians were talking about when they made jokes about airline food.

That, in a nutshell, is what I have been doing the past few months. I will be more proactive in updating the blog from here on now that tavla is a non-factor. That is unless the USA team beats England in the World Cup in a few days and I get murdered.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Flowers Steal Oxygen!

I nearly made a bus crash a few days ago. How was I supposed to know that using a cell phone on a bus would make the brakes fail? Luckily, the bus driver was savvier than Sandra Bullock in Speed (or maybe the brakes didn’t really fail) but we made it out just fine. I am also sorry to say that I may have inadvertently caused several businesses to go under while I have been here. I am a pretty good whistler. I like to whistle in public to regale those around me with my whistling prowess. Apparently whistling in public makes people lose money in Central Asia. I apologize for being so inconsiderate.
Here are a few other things to know if you ever visit Central Asia. Knowing these things may help you avoid the chaos that I have rained down on the people since I have been here. Knowledge is power:

Open windows cause illnesses.
If your blanket comes off of you in your sleep you will get kidney stones.
Flowers are not allowed in hospital rooms because they steal the patient’s oxygen.
If you see bread on the ground, you must pick it up and put it on a table.
Air conditioners come with warning stickers that tell people not to lie under them, because they also cause illnesses.
If you compliment something, evil will get jealous and try to destroy it.
Pregnant women cannot use the internet or cell phones.
A woman cannot sit on the ground. She will become infertile because her ovaries will freeze. (This is solved by simply putting paper down and sitting on it.)

Here are some more knowledge bombs that I will lob your way:
Peach, sick or seek, and um are all (very) bad words in Turkish.

Please learn from my mistakes.

Thankfully, we are not plagued by these hardships in America, but before we start getting all ‘hoity-toity’ about how educated we are…
Do you know who the president of Turkey is? All of my Turkish friends know who the U.S president is. Do you know who the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is? My Turkish friends do. Many of my Turkish friends have been to parts of the U.S. that I have never been to.
One of my Turkish friends said that an American college student he met in Holland did not know that Washington D.C. was the capitol of the United States. He also said that most Americans believe him when he tells them that there are no cars in Turkey and that everyone rides camels. (I saw a Ferrari in my neighborhood here a few weeks ago.) It is a bit embarrassing talking with people overseas and finding out how little we Americans know about the rest of the world. (Myself included.)

I met a Turkish guy the other day that believed that all Texans carry six-shooters and ride horses everywhere. He told me that Texas must be a “very bad-a” place. Messing with people is cross-cultural.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Right... Now!

Most days in Istanbul are amazing. There are times when riding through the streets I glance out the bus window and can catch glimpses of the dome of Ayya Sofya or the Blue Mosque’s six minarets (there is an interesting story behind the six minarets of the Blue Mosque) glistening in the sun across the Bosphorus Strait. I walk through the fashionable streets of Moda or stand in places where human civilizations have risen and fallen for thousands of years and am overwhelmed by the opportunity I have been provided. I live in the fifth largest city in the world and am surrounded by wonderful people, fascinating culture, breathtaking cityscapes, and emerald mountain islands glistening not too far off in the Marmara Sea. Still there are moments (mostly just moments mind you) when I get restless.
I think about the sweet taste of Dr. Pepper, about sitting down in a Mexican restaurant with an endless supply of chips and cheese dip, about getting in my Jeep and driving ten minutes out to the woods where I can just be alone, about being able to talk to any person that I see and know that they will be able to understand what I am saying. I think about how great things were at Ouachita, or in Waco, or at War Eagle. I let my imagination wander about how much fun it will be when I get to the UK, later this spring and start traveling more. Here I sit in one of the most fascinating places on the planet doing something I love and sometimes I wish that I was somewhere else just drinking a Dr. Pepper (which, to be honest, is really just an okay drink) or eating chips and cheese dip (which, to be honest, are more often than not stale) or driving my in my Jeep (which, to be honest, never really ran that great.)


I went for a walk to Ozgurluk Park yesterday. Trees and fields make a last stand here in the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul. Walking-trails meander through the park past benches and soccer fields and even a stream flows through it all. In the middle of the park is a little café where I eventually made my way and sat down to some hot chai and kasarli tost. As I sat there (forced to eat a cheese sandwich because I could not remember the word for meat) I thought and I listened.
I remember sitting in my dorm room at Ouachita counting down the days when I would graduate and could ‘start life.’ When I got to Waco and started seminary I remember thinking, ‘Man, things sure were great at OBU and I can’t wait until I am married.’ Then came, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get started traveling overseas.’ And on and on the list goes; one dream replacing another, always either longing for things to come or yearning for days past.
C.S. Lewis says that this present moment is the most like eternity. It is in the present moment that we really live. By longing for the past or for the future we not only rob ourselves of the joy that comes from being alive in Him now, but we also hinder the work that He can do through us in this present moment. Sometimes I think, ‘I can’t wait to really get started doing His work,’ or ‘Man, when I grow up I will really be something special.’ The time to work is now, there may be no tomorrow and if I am not content then that tomorrow will be filled with wishing for the past. How much time have I wasted by wishing I was somewhere else? I have been promised nothing other than this present moment and I intend to make full use of it.
So whether I am standing in the middle of Taksim Square in Istanbul, or playing with kids at Camp War Eagle, or riding bikes with Jake and Josh in Waco, or running around being an idiot with the Beta’s at OBU, I am where I am and nowhere else. By being content I allow myself not only to be happy, but also to be used by Him. So I am going to live life in Istanbul (and drink chai instead of Dr. Pepper), for I am blessed to be here and I wish to be a blessing to those I encounter. Life is life wherever you are, so live it well.

Kofte! Okay I just remembered ‘kofte’ is the word for meat! No more just cheese sandwiches for me!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Gift and a Curse

Every few centuries, throughout the course of human history, a man is born who shakes the foundations of the world. For better or for worse, these men leave a unique mark on mankind and forever alter the course of our collective fates. Names like Moses, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Martin Luther, George Washington, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela can be heard resounding through the hallowed halls of our past.
In the 1880’s such a man fearlessly lunged into the annals of history. The man was Charles Alderton, and on a clear day in 1885, from his basement in Waco, Texas, Mr. Alderton changed the world…
Charles Alderton was a Brooklyn-born pharmacist who moved to Waco to seek his fortune in the cutthroat arena of medicinal goods and down home pharmaceuticals. Not long after his foray into vittles and cure-alls, did he begin to face adversity. After a gang of rival pharmacists ransacked his drug store, (not literally, but this story isn’t really that interesting so I decided to throw in a little pizzazz and make some things up) Alderton decided it was time to get out of the dangerous world of legal drug selling. On a stormy night in Waco, Texas, Alderton found himself at his wit’s end, posititioned precariously on the edge of the walking bridge across the Brazos River, with an empty licorice jar, a half drunken bottle of vanilla extract, and some other old-fashioned drugstore wares strewn about his feet. These were all evidence of Alderton’s futile attempts to numb the pain, a pain that can only be known by pharmacists who work in cozy little drugstores that also have delicious ice cream and soda fountains in them, and sometimes sell precious little antiques on the side. Anyways! Alderton was about to fling himself into the swollen mouth of the Brazos and let the muddy water wash his cares away when all of a sudden a light shone so brightly on Alderton, it illuminated all of his depravity for the world to see. In that blinding light a voice called out to him through the storm.
It said: “Hey Chuck, it would be really cool if you could make some sort of carbonated beverage that would rival Coke and Pepsi, but mostly just in the South. Make it have 23 flavors (but don’t tell anybody what those flavors are) it will taste really good and make lots of people very happy (and possibly diabetic). Oh yeah, you will have some adversity in the form of Mr. Pibb and Dr. Thunder, but don’t worry about it too much. See ya later!”*
The next day, Alderton concocted a formula that became known as Dr. Pepper (it was originally called ‘a Waco’. Nobody knows why it was called ‘a Waco.’) With that drink, he forever changed Waco, then Texas, and the entire world…
Except apparently for Turkey…
I have been in this place for over a month. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. The people are wonderful, the food is great, the architecture is astounding, however, Dr. Pepper (or the Lord’s Nectar as I call it) has yet to grace this place with its presence. Sometimes I will lay awake at night and dream that I am swimming in a Scrooge McDuck vault filled with liquid gold, i.e. Dr. Pepper. My old home was a veritable Dr. Pepper kingdom in Waco, Texas, what with its shrine to the good Dr. and the original Dublin Dr. Pepper on tap in the restaurants there. I even remember the good folks at Baylor giving away… giving away!... Dr. Pepper floats on campus. I moved from that to a barren wasteland with not a drop of the caramel colored liquid goodness in sight. Or so I thought…
Today I went to play basketball with a friend. Afterwards, he invited me to his home for lunch. We had a delicious platter of sandwiches and enjoyed some great conversations. However, my heart leapt in my throat when his 5-year-old daughter walked out drinking none other than a can of heavenly, God-ordained Dr. Pepper. Apparently my friend had brought back a few cans for his family while he was out of the country. As I watched this girl carelessly slurping away at the drink, obviously not savoring each of the 23 flavors as she should (and as Dr. Julius Erving recommended in his commercial) strange thoughts flashed through my head. I wondered momentarily how wrong it would be for me to just yoink the can from the girl and bolt for the door, snagging the other fews cans as I ran out. I was fairly certain that I could physically best the child and in my adrenaline fueled frenzy I thought dealing with my friend and his two teenage sons would also not be a problem… I am ashamed to say that I entertained these thoughts a little longer than I should have. Yet I stayed my hand. You have no idea the physical anguish that kind of restraint has on a man.
I left the apartment without the sweet taste of Dr. Pepper on my lips. I left in shame. However, a friend of mine here says that she knows of a small store that sells imported goods and sometimes they carry Dr. Pepper. I intend to find that place and I fully intend to down every last red can I see there.
In 1885, Charles Alderton gave the world a gift, and I intend to make that gift known to the good people of Turkey.
You’re welcome.

*(what Charles Alderton thought was a divine appointment actually turned out to be the flashlight of a local policeman who had found him after he lapsed into a sugar-induced coma from all the licorice and vanilla extract in his system. The voice was just his imagination)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Risky Business

His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church Bartholomew I, the First Among Equals, has as his seat the Church of St. George. The cathedral has an unassuming location in the Fener district of Istanbul (or Constantinople as many of Greeks still controversially refer to it) and the compound is relatively small and unimpressive from the exterior. This seems odd, considering the church’s worldwide importance in Orthodox Christianity, but local laws demand that all non-Islamic buildings be more unimpressive than their Islamic counterparts. The inside of the building is very ornately decorated and is filled with icons and relics of saints. The front wall of the chapel is a glittering array of gold and bronze sculpting and iconoclasts. Orthodox Christians from all over the world sojourn here to worship and pray in this holy place. My own experience in this place was much more risqué…
One often hears of the potential dangerous of international travel. Stories of unaware Americans getting mugged by vicious street thugs, scammed by treacherous con-artists, or harassed by the local police fill the ear of any person stepping outside of the safety of the Land of the Free. It is easy to become paranoid that every dark corner harbors a bloodthirsty for’ner out to mess you up or that in every unlit alley lurks a mob of savages who want to beat you up and steal your passport so that they can go back to the U.S. and take your place in American society, with your unknowing family and friends simply thinking that you got a tan and picked up an accent on your travels, while you are left in a ditch to live in squalor in a foreign land.
I prepared myself to combat these evils (I did this by replaying in my mind every fight scene I had seen in the Bourne movies and mentally prepping myself to use these moves on anybody who tried to accost me… oh they would be sorry when I used a rolled-up Southern Living magazine to best them in hand to hand combat (all the while sharing the Good News with them (of course))) as I stepped alone onto a ferry that would take me to the European side of Istanbul earlier this week.
Once I made it safely to the other side of the Bosphorus, I bought a city map and set off walking to try to find the Church of St. George, all the while keeping a vigilante eye out for lurkers, keeping one hand on the rolled-up magazine holster at my hip, and going over in my mind how I was going to arrange a meeting with His All Holiness and single-handedly rectify Protestant and Orthodox relations throughout the world.
After quite a long walk, I found the church and approached the guard in the booth to ask him in a mix of English, broken-Turkish, grunts, and whistles if this was, in fact the Church of St. George. He said it was and pointed me to the door to the compound, I was still a little befuddled about which way to go. Sensing my confusion, a couple of Muslim girls with their heads covered helped to assist me in which way to go. Sensing that I was in the safety of the church walls, I finally let my guard down. That was a mistake. ..
As I walked into the cathedral the Muslim girls kept giggling and spouting off things to me in Turkish as they winked at me and rubbed my arm. It was clear that they didn’t intend to give their assistance away for free and I had a sneaking suspicion of how they wanted me to repay them. I doubted they took traveler’s checks.
They followed me around the cathedral for close to half an hour as I tried my best to elude them by stopping at places and pretending to read the Greek signs. That wasn’t working so I tried to tell them no just like the public service announcements say … ‘No means no!’ They just laughed at me. I was quickly running out of escape plans and I thought slapping them with a rolled up magazine was probably not the best course of action. Just as I was about to resort to using tears (manly tears, of course) a couple of Orthodox women walked in to pray. I used the momentary distraction to make my escape and hopped on the nearest bus to the safety of the more touristy areas.
I was prepared to wrestle a 300lb. knife-wielding thug but nobody had warned me that covered Muslim girls would also be lurking to pounce on unsuspecting American guys, even within the safety of the walls of one of the most important churches in the world one cannot find escape from their clutches. Needless to say the Church of St. George was very beautiful and if you ever travel there, I hope that you will have a more peaceful (and G-rated) time there.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Turkey Gets a Cold Hard Look at Me.

Istanbul is a complex and wonderful tapestry. History has intertwined threads containing the old and the new, the West and the Near-Orient in a dizzying array of colors, designs, and heritages. Ancient mosques are juxtaposed next to Krispy Kremes and Burger Kings. The famed Orient Express Train station is now situated behind the big yellow sign of a Shell gas station. The imagery of a tapestry seems to fall short in describing this city of many names… perhaps one of those Magic Eye pictures would be a more fitting metaphor. Remember those pictures with all those colors and shapes where if you looked hard enough you were privileged to spy a T-Rex. flying a fighter jet or a unicorn getting beat up by a bunch of leprechauns (if you were one of the lucky ones and could actually make out the shapes you had the distinct pleasure of rubbing this fact in the faces of your friends who were not enlightened enough to cross their eyes and see the images.)? I guess in the case of Istanbul the image of the pilot t-rex would be a thin (in some cases) veil of Islamic culture covering people who are inherently post-modern.
Anyways, in my quest to cross my eyes and see the t-rex of Istanbul, I thought it would be a good idea to visit a hamam. A hamam is a Turkish bathhouse. These things have been a part of Turkish culture for ages. The particular one that I visited was over 400 years old. A bathhouse that is older than the United States of America! Jana, a friend of mine who can speak Turkish took my friend Paul and I to the hamam one Sunday afternoon. We knocked on the door and Jana explained to a very embarrassed older man in a towel that Paul and I were there to enjoy a relaxing Turkish bath. She then left us in the hands of a bunch of half-naked Turkish guys who probably weren’t too happy that we had brought a girl to their all-guy hamam.
After some hand signals and directions in Turkish, we followed a mustached-man back to the dressing rooms, were given some towels and a key to our personal dressing booth. Paul and I looked at each other, walked into our separate changing rooms, took off our clothes and in a bold move that we hoped was culturally acceptable, walked out clad only in towels. (Perhaps ‘hand towel’ would be a more fitting description of the size of the cloth that separated me from the rest of the world.)
Paul and I then walked into the steam room. We sat on the marble floor by a hot faucet and looked uncomfortably at other men in the room who were lounging around with their mustaches curling in the steamy air. All the while I was trying my best to position myself in such a way that my skimpy loin cloth would do its job. We sat in the steam for an uncomfortably long amount of time not knowing what to do until one of the older men who worked there came in and explained to me in a mix of Turkish and English that he was going to give me a bath and a massage. I followed him into one of the backrooms. (Let me just say that normally I would not follow a man in a towel to a backroom when he had just offered to give me a bath, but in this case one of the workers in Istanbul had explained to me and Paul in our home group about the wonderful tradition of Turkish baths. (in retrospect, he did mention that it would involve a lot of touching, though)).
I sat down on the marble floor and the man put on what I can only compare to a brillo pad glove and began scrubbing my arms and back. It actually felt pretty good given the circumstances, and I was interested (and a little startled) to see the amount of dead skin that came off of me. His scrubbing took him down to my right foot and up my calf. I was confused and scared. The last thing that I wanted to do was offend these people of a different culture who were hosting me in their country, none the less I was beginning to feel a bit disconcerted. He began pointing at my towel in a way that concerned me. I gave him a bewildered look and he just kept talking and pointing. So in what I can only blame on a lack of judgment due to steam poisoning and not wanting to seem like a rude American I removed my towel and looked up at the man. He emphatically shook his head and said ‘no’… obviously he had meant something else by his pointing and talking. What it was I guess I will never know. I hastily put my towel back on and shamefully endured the rest of the experience.
After the ordeal was over we paid and walked out. (side note: everyone here has heard of Texas and when I told one of the guys who could speak English that I was from close to Texas he asked if I was a cowboy and then made some shooting motions with his hands and kept saying howdy.) Upon later reflection of the ordeal (and reading in a tourist handbook that no one ever gets entirely naked in a hamam) it dawned on me that my first real encounter with a Turk during my work here had involved me flashing him. I will say that since then I have had better (and more PG rated) encounters with Turkish people, who are really nice and hospitable people.
So here is the moral of the story, whether you are exploring a new place such as Istanbul or trying to figure out a Magic Eye picture, the best advice that I can give from experience is that you should keep your clothes on…

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Well... I survived.

As you have probably guessed I did make it out alive. I went back to my apartment in defeat and scrounged for something there to eat. I grabbed a can of Ranch style beans from the shelf with a solemn promise to repay the beans to the owner. I later found out that the beans were given to my roommate by his parents to make a family recipe soup on a special occasion. Also those beans are not available in Turkey. Day one… success.
I was able to get an ATM to work later and am now reveling in the small victories. I am able to get on a bus (if someone shows me specifically which bus) and actually bought a bag of chips from a gas station with no help whatsoever. I am all that is man.
Since I have been here I have been able to go see the Aya Sofya (or Hagia Sophia) which was a Byzantine Orthodox cathedral until 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul and turned it into a mosque. Ataturk opened it to the public as a museum in the 20th century. One enters through massive doors that were reserved for the Ottoman sultan to enter through. The interior is filled with a mixture of Christian and Islamic frescoes, mosaics, and paintings. You can see the outline of crosses underneath the Arabic script and designs. The original altar was built at the back of the church under a gigantic mosaic of Mary and Jesus. The altar was positioned so that it faces Jerusalem. After the building was turned into a mosque, the altar was repositioned slightly to the right of its original position so that it now faces towards Mecca. If you love history this place is fascinating!
Later that day, we went to the beautiful Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, and the Cisterns that sprawl underneath the city. We finished the night with dinner in the Taksim section of town (which is what I would compare to Istanbul’s version of Beale Street) and then stopped by an outdoor Turkish concert. We then crossed back across the Bosphorus Strait from Europe into Asia.
This city is a pretty amazing one. I finally have a working phone so I will be able to actually venture out into the city by myself without having to worry about getting lost and showing up several months later with amnesia and no kidneys.
In my next blog I will discuss my first real encounter with a Turk… let’s just say that it was an uncomfortable experience for both parties.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day One...

My first day in the city was an eye-opening one. The apartment I live in is in one of the boroughs of a city of close to 16 million people. (I am no mathematician, but if my calculations are correct I think that is slightly bigger than the small Arkansas town I grew up in (I could be wrong though, somebody can double check me on that math (and also check the recent censuses of Glenwood (I have not been there in some time and it could have grown.))))
I woke up in my apartment still jet-lagged and decided that I was going to hang around the place that day instead of going out with my other roommates. I told them that I might do some exploring around the neighborhood and possibly visit an ATM. My roommate gave me a solemn warning not to get lost and explained to me the perils that the confusing infrastructure of this place provided. (Turkish fact number one: Did you know that over here entire city blocks spontaneously rise out of the earth and replant themselves in other sections of town of their own volition?) He pointed out on a map for me where the nearest ‘safe’ ATM was from our apartment (Turkish fact number two: Some ATMs are not safe to use because they will steal your identity and take all your money… and then beat you up) and then gave me his cell phone number (I did not have a phone) and wrote out a phrase in Turkish that I could show people if I got lost and they could help me find my way back (I am reminded of a collar we put on our dog if she ever got lost.)
Shortly after they left I bundled up, wrote out a last will and testament and headed out the door, clutching the piece of paper my roommate had given me as if my life depended on it, because it surely did. I walked down the street away from the safety of our apartment making meticulous notes of every step that I took so that I could make a hasty retreat if I saw a gang of ‘unsafe’ Turkish ATMs roaming the streets.
I followed the route to the bank trying to my best to blend in and act like I knew what I was doing (I am sure that my red-headed 6’4 self did not stand out at all). After some time of walking and giving a wide berth to anyone I came in contact with knowing that if I made a wrong move one of them would hit me with their sword (Turkish fact number three: All Turks carry scimitars, and I believe in some parts of the city they still fly around on magic carpets (I think recent city-zoning regulations have restricted carpet flights across the entire city however)) I made it to the corner where the bank was. I turned around to make sure my bread-crumb trail to the apartment was still intact and then did my best Frogger impersonation (for a visual representation watch the Seinfeld episode in which George tries to cross the street with his newly purchased Frogger arcade game) as I crossed the busy street to the ATM. I made it to the ATM inserted my card and selected ‘English’ I entered my pin and waited eagerly to be rewarded with a handful of Turkish Lira so that I could buy some lunch. The screen flashed “Sorry I am unable to complete your request….”

Will Chris be able to eat a delicious Turkish lunch?! Will he be able to find his way back to the apartment?! Do ATMs really roam around in gangs?!

Find out on the next exciting installment of my blog…