Sunday, August 15, 2010

Urfa Kebab, Two Museums, Climbing the Mountain, Hawking the Hawker, Buying a Hat

Today there are sweat salt and sunscreen deposits on my shirt, my dogs are barking, and I learned how to use the metro in Izmir. It was a very, very good day that started out with on simple mission: to eat Eskender Kebabs on the Kordon with a big glass of beer. That was the simple Sunday task I set before myself to complete my day. I didn't manage it, but I managed much, much more.

First off, I didn't find Eskender Kebabs on the Kordon. There are a lot of good looking places to eat, but at one point I took a quick right away from the water and had an Urfa Kebab sandwich. It did the trick, but because there was no beer on the menu, I had a glass of ayran (the frothy kind), and it was heavenly. So far, so good.

In addition to failing to find an Eskender Kebab, I also failed at a game of 'capture the flag', although I played a pretty good game.

At the top of the hill overlooking Alsancak, there is a Turkish fort with a giant flag planted at its highest point. Today's mission was to get that flag. OK, the mission was to stand next to it and look like a tourist, take pictures, buy a bottle of water, then find my way back down.

I love walking (fancy people call it 'hiking'), old architecture, and strange, dodgey neighborhoods, so I trekked up the mountain through the streets of Kubilay, finding all of that and more in its maze of narrow roads and old women sitting on stoopes in front of colorful little houses. It was beautiful, but I spent most of the time wondering how all of those thousands of people llived up there where there was no industry, no work; There were only little bakkal stores that sold things like bottled water and ice cream bars. Traffic-wise, it was living in the narrowest point of a bottleneck in the messiest maze in the nastiest traffic in the world. Going to work would be so much work that (guess what?) no one would ever go to work.

Once or twice I saw some daring person driving (and Turks are all daring behind the wheel), some trucks that were too large for those streets, which forced them to slow down. I even saw a small delivery truck intentionally bust its plastic bumper on someone's front steps in order to get around another truck, with the person inside pretending to stare lazily at the sky with plenty of room to move (another thing I've learned in Turkey is that the people here are always "on". They don't miss anything. If it looks like they don't see something, they're only pretending).

It was hectic, it was heaven. I walked uphill for a long, long time, then downhill... my leg muscles actually shaking from the workout. The reward for me was finding something in the form of an old building, and there were quite a few of those, as well as some good views of Izmir down below, hugging the Aegean (It's about time I learned how to spell "Aegean"!)

In the end, I got pretty close to that flag... but not close enough to score a point at horseshoes. Only close enough to say that that particular road had taken me as far as it was going to. To the right was a short cliff, not visible from below. To the left there may or may not have been another way up, but heading away from the flag. All around, there were people eyeing my suspiciously, since no one had a reason to be in this neighborhood unless they lived there. I smiled and said, "hello" in English. They sometimes smiled, sometimes looked at me like I was retarded. Somehow, being retarded gave me the courage I needed to take pictures. I took out my camera and grabbed a few choice shots.

One person spoke to me, a man named Mehmet. He was sitting in his doorway with hsi wife, watching his three children play. He told me ruefully that he used to date an American for seven years, but ended up marrying his wife. His wife looked sad and he dismissively ordered her to a bakkal to get me a bottle of water. I didn't like it. I told him that I had water in my bag. I'll also add here that Mehmet's wife, a covered woman, was smoking hot and that he was a bit of an ugger.

So it goes.

After I got down from the hill near Basmane, I took a left and headed towards Konak, where some street children hassled me (my Turkish wasn't even good enough to get rid of them, but I didn't give them any money), had a coffee at Konak Pier, and then went into the bazaar to find a new straw hat. With all of the sun here, it's really surprising that Turkish men don't wear hats for protection. When Turks did wear hats, it was fez!

After walking through the stalls for an hour or so, I found only one that sold straw hats, and they only had three types for men. One was kind of a costume cowboy hat, one was too flimsy, and one looked exactly like the one I already have. I guess I'm stuck with it.

On my way to the main street to catch the tramway back, a guy stopped me and started speaking English with me, saying "Where you from?"

The hawkers are so friendly and so natural that when they speak English to a foreigner, it's both soothing and threatening. It's nice to hear your own language, and they speak it well. It also means that unless you immediately do something rude, you're in for a long, unwanted sales pitch. When the young guy acosted me, I was not in the mood to be rude, and I wasn't even particulary adverse to a long sales pitch. I had ideas of my own.

First I told him to help me to understand how he knew I was a foreigner. He hedged and said I looked like a tourist without saying why. I didn't like that.

He told me that he had a shop, and I was honestly interested in seeing it. The shop was even worth seeing; lots of nice wood and high-quality merchandise; all of it very "ethnic" and potentially attractive to if you wanted to export it to people in the States. I tried to talk turkey with him, telling him that I wasn't a normal buyer, but an aspiring businessman (and potential burden to him). He got tired quickly and ali-ooped me to his cousin, who showed me some lamps. I told him immediately that I didn't want to buy lamps today, but I wanted to start a company with him and export lamps to America. It became kind of a game. He sent me upstairs to another cousin, who wanted to sell me leather jackets, carpets, and counterfeit bags. The cousin was the hardest seller they had, but he used the word, "gavur," which I didn't care for. He asked if he could sell me a carpet, saying that they could send it to the United States. I said "no," several times and he responded with a very sharp "WHY NOT?"

In the middle of all of those counterfeit goods, I told him that he needed to have a catalogue to show customers overseas and that I could find customers. He was excited, the giant dope, but I don't know why. He said he was going to help me find suppliers for soap and spices, but kept pushing carpets. I started to describe a convoluted business plan that had no real benefit for him (probably not me, either... ). His eyes glassed over until he looked like a fish. I told him that carpets were too expensive, that we needed something smaller and cheaper than carpets, and not fragile, like waterpipes or lamps. He asked if i was going to open a shop like his. I said no. I was going to open a website. Suddenly, he didn't want me in his store anymore.

From that little bit of anti-sales experience, I think I actually got a little bit of sales experience. I also found a new way to deal with obnoxious Turkish salesmen.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Permission to live and work in Turkey

The cost of the yearly Turkish residence permit is the only barrier to living here - about $600, and marriage to a Turkish citizen or proof of being able to support yourself with about 2,000 Euro in a Turkish bank.

For some foreigners (like the enraged American I saw stomping up and down the halls), the cost is prohibitive, so you'd better have a good plan and a reason to stay here. Employers will hopefully pay the cost of your work permit application (if they care to - luckily mine does), but they won't pay for the residence permit.

A lot of people, like someone who will never leave and just wants to do a simple job, probably won't pay for residence or bother with work permits.