Category Archives: culture

My Top 3 Photos of the Turkish Protest

I’ve seen a lot of news here, and have seen countless photographs.  Pictures from the very start, controversial pictures, ones highlighting what is happening in my city here, and I’ve come across some pictures of my university students getting hosed by the police.

If I may, I would like to share my top three.  I believe they speak for themselves.




The Need to be Known…


Why do you think people are obsessed with fame? What does that say about our culture?
Tony Hale (Buster Bluth): I do think that, honestly it is grounded in the fact that everybody desperately wants to be known, and they think that fame is kind of the ultimate of being known. ‘If that many people know me, if that many people know who I am, then its going to satisfy that.’ The thing is, if you get to that place you are only going to find true satisfaction if you are known in an eternal, spiritual sense by somebody greater than yourself.”

Author Donald Miller interviews Tony Hale, known as Buster Bluth in the fabulous TV show “Arrested Development.  I love that guy, and one of my favorite shows.

Holy War

This is something i meant to post a while ago.

Here is a brief summarized quote from an absolutely beautiful novel I’m reading, called “Birds Without Wings” by Louis DeBerniers.  The context is a man named Rustem Bey, who is considering joining the military.  The date is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is calling upon and enlisting all the able bodied Muslims available.  Not all in this town where the novel takes place are Muslim, there are Jews and Christians, such as was common in the empire.


“Another thing,” continued Rustem Bey, “I have seen battlefields strewn with the bodies of young men, and old ones too.  I have smelled the corpses when there wasn’t enough time to bury them before they began to rot.  I’ve seen what happens to the women and the children.  The Sultan Padishah has declared it a holy war.”

Rustem Bey paused and Leyla [his wife] wondered what it signified.  “A holy war?”

“Yes a holy war.  The sultam Padishah has never been on a burial party when the corpses have been left too long.  I will say this to you, my tulip, but I would not say it to anyone else because of what it would do to my reputation….do you promise never to repeat this?”

“Repeat what?”

“What I’m about to say.”

“But what is it that I am not to repeat?  And I promise I won’t repeat it to them or even to Pamuk.”

“I have an opinion about holy war, which in general I must keep to myself.  I have no wish to be known as a heretic.  It is….that if a war can be holy, then God cannot.  At best a war can only be necessary.”

A soldiers bravery

If I could quote this entire book, I would.  I’ve loved it so much!  An old man is reminiscing about his time as a soldier in the war as a Turk against the “Franks”.

But I will tell you a secret, which is that almost no soldier believes he will be killed. This is because it is impossible for the human being to imagine that he is dead, and this is because he is always alive and present in the act of imagining. He sees his comrades die, but he thinks himself immune, and this fatal lack in his nature makes him a good fighter. Even a man who has decided to die on purpose and become a martyr does not really believe in his own death.

Birds Without Wings, by Louis Bernieres

Top 5 New Year Resolutions for Realists

Your guide to making the perfect “New Years Realist’s Resolution” list.

Lists are stupid, just improv!  Think of all the coolest people you know.  Really, do it!  Now picture them in front of a microphone on TV.  Are you picturing them?  Do they have a list in front of them?  No, they don’t, because they’re cool, and they don’t need them.  But they prepared notes ahead of time, you might say.  “Prepared” belongs in the category of other “pre-“ words like prefix, nerdy, predecessor, also nerdy, or premeditated, murder!  Just wing it…wing it all.  You’ll look cool!

Put down the pen, pick up the Oreos.  We live in a hedonistic society, therefore you are a hedonistic boy, or girl.  Face it, this is the age of self-gratification, so do what makes you “feel” good.  Ultimately it will make you happier, right?  Stop causing yourself needless pain by thinking about the gym, or jotting other “helpful” resolutions down, and just go for the classic; Oreos.

You owe it to yourself to be honest with everyone.  That’s right, be honest….brutally honest.  Want to know why you keep shrinking from the world in your apartment or your parents basement every year, you haven’t cracked your shell yet.  You’re scared of what people will think of you, so go ahead and say it, “You look fat, Mom…sorry!”, or “go ahead, keep gawking at that girl you jerk, you know what, actually go MARRY her, it’s not like you didn’t just think about it,” kind of stuff, and when they give you that “look”, just think “water off a ducks back”.

Hop on the bandwagon, for the ride.  Let’s be honest here, bandwagons are just one thing…trendy.  People hop on bandwagons to be trendy.  When two trendy people meet in the street, they almost always have a “yeah, I see you, do you see me?  Yeah, were trendy, let’s keep walking past each other coolly but trendily,” kind of moment.  Though I don’t recommend partaking in any of the hipster trends, the movement has one redeeming trend; their gaudy framed eyeglasses.  Nothing says, “I’m trying something different,” than those thickly framed glasses (black ones are the best).  The tree-hugging bandwagon is kind of fun, but with those people remember that a bandwagon experience should be short-lived.  They’re oh so welcoming, but that’s not a cigarette they’re offering you.  Also, if you’re stressed, why not try some stress-relieving shouting at some political rally, or better yet, join a “human rights” group and partake in some demonstrations.  The key in all of this, the more participatory you are, the more you yell, the more you act like those crazy Arab Spring people, the more fulfilled you’ll feel (this point ties back to number 2, being hedonistic).

Finally, remember you are a realist.  Nobody can take that from you, ever.  You see past all the commercialization of everything, you see past peoples flatteries, you are a no fluff person.  Meat and potatoes!  So this next year, just be yourself.  Do what is you!

Christmas in Turkey; a story

The truth was I wanted to hug her for putting out the tree, but was scared.  You see, my directors assistant is an interesting woman.  She has been the subject of many conversations between my wife and me.  We just can’t seem to figure her out.  One morning she can seem warm and friendly, and that evening come across as, well, not precisely as cold as ice, but maybe melted ice.  She has a reputation among the student body.  If our students become unruly we send them to her for a verbal beating.  Her conversations are seldom adorned with niceties; she is straight-forward.  I have yet to see any color but black and white fashion her middle-aged short and skinny body.  She does her job well though; a well calculated administrator.

Rewind a month ago to a dinner Emily and I were having, over which we were discussing our plans for the holidays.  The general tone of the conversation was one of slight discouragement, because we learned that the extent of our Christmas break would simply be Saturday and Sunday, the days we usually get off for the weekend; so nothing celebratory, no time set aside to enjoy family, nothing….Christmasy!  We started to talk about how we remembered in the states how Christmas songs started playing the first clock tick into the day after Thanksgiving, and how people just began to talk and gossip about their holiday plans, favorite eggnog recipes, and what family they were going to see.  It amazes me now just how consumed with Christmas America becomes.  From the commercials, to church programs, to decorated city squares and streets greeting father Christmas on a sleigh in a parade.  It is only now, being extracted from the Yule craziness, that I realize that it’s mostly the stimulation from my environment that makes me realize its Christmas, rather than the answer to the question of why there is a holiday called Christmas.

Needless to say, we were missing Christmas.  Adjusting to Turkish culture had been quite an adjustment; tough, emotionally draining, but rewarding having finally been able to build cultural bridges to these wonderful people here.  Being our first Christmas away from a Christmas saturated culture, I was not prepared to feel so disappointed.  I can’t explain it exactly, but I just wanted everything to feel “Christmasy!”  Just throw some red and green on stuff, I don’t care what, just make it “feel” Christmasy!  We were aching to feel like we were in the spirit.

Anyways back to our lady!  Black and white!  Straight with corners!  I don’t want you to read a Scrooge character into her, but rather a Scrooge moment perhaps.  One morning, like usual, Emily and I got off the bus to school, and walked our usual route to our offices on campus.  It was a typical southern Turkey day in December; cool morning around 50 degrees, with wet pavement as it rains here and there.  Everything is still green.  Green grass, green palm trees, green foliage.  Simply by appearance you would say it looked rather like summer than winter, let alone like Christmas.

Emily and I rounded the corner towards our office and as we entered the main lobby my eyes were met with such a delightful sight!!  One that caused an unsuppressible feeling from inside me to erupt!  Flashing colors of red and green bouncing festively off shiny round objects caused a smile to bubble up that morning.  She had put up a Christmas tree!  For us!!  Well, for the foreigners I suppose, since Turkey is Muslim and don’t “officially” celebrate Christmas time.

In my joy and my surprise I walked up to the tree and its decorator, our Mrs. Administrator.  She was just finishing up her touches of tree decorations.  There was tinsel, gold and silver ornaments, and flashing lights wrapped around a 3 foot miniature pine tree, placed on a small table.  I said to her, “It’s beautiful!  You put up a Christmas tree!  It’s wonderful!”  Here was this calculated, black and white, administrator being all creative and pretty with a tree.  It first and foremost surprised me that it was her doing this.  When I complimented the tree, she looked at me with one of the biggest colorful smiles, and in the cutest Turkish accent she said, “Reeelly?  I’m glad you like it.”  That smile, that woman, that tree really put some spirit in my Christmas this year.

A Sad Contrast

A bit of context for this quote.  A manager of his employee, Bartleby, a copyist,  has just realized that, perhaps, one of the reasons why Bartleby is so reluctant not to do anything, is because of his sorry state of solitude; no friends, no family, no home, no money, nothing!

“For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized me.  Before, I had never experienced aught but a not unpleasing sadness.  The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom.  A fraternal melancholy!  For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam.  I remembered the bright silks and sparkling faces I had seen that day, in gala trim, swan-like sailing down the Mississippi of Broadway; and I contrasted them with the pallid copyist, and thought to myself, Ah happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay; but misery hids aloof, so we deem that misery there is none.”

– Herman Melville, in Bartleby the Scrivener.

A Few of my Favorite Things

To celebrate my recently learning how to say “my favorite” in Turkish I’m writing a post on my favorite things in Turkey.

1. Turkish Idioms – This idiom actually was mentioned to me by an American who I know here, James Giles and I owe him a huge thanks you for making me aware of this delicious idiom.  The Turkish is “çaktım köfteyi” and the literal English translation is “I slapped the meatball”.  The English equivalent is “I got it!”  or “Ah, now I understand.”  Reciprocally you can ask “Have you slapped the meatball?”  meaning “Did you get it yet?”  I love it, and like I said a delicious idiom.

2. Dolmush – I know it sounds like a cross between a dollop and Goulash, at least that’s what comes to mind sometimes.  It is my favorite way of transportation here; its the name they give their van-like shared taxis.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s a large van, that can fit about 20 passengers on bus like seats, with a forward and rear door.  The best part, and why its one of my favorite things here, is how they operate.  Forget bus stops, these guys can pick you up anywhere, and all you have to say to get off is “There’s a stop here!” and he’ll stop.  Also it’s really cheap.  To get on and go anywhere along the predetermined route, just pay the driver one and a quarter lira, which comes to about 75 cents in America.

3. Turkish Tea – As to why its one of my favorite things here in Turkey, I can’t precisely say.  I attribute it mostly to it’s rich, but light taste.  If you had English black tea, lightened it a bit, perhaps a hint of rooibos tea, and a slight aftertaste of rose-water, but OH so slight, that would give you an idea of what I mean.  The ideal cup of Turkish tea is said to be “rabbits blood” referring to the perfect ratio of the black tea and water.  Another reason why it may be on my favorite list is the ritual of meals here; its absolutely shameful if you don’t drink tea after a meal.  I’ve had waiters simply stop, stare and ask “Why”, just flabbergasted as to why you wouldn’t drink tea after a meal.  I grew tired of the looks and decided to make it a rule to accept when offered, and is now a thing I simply can’t do without in Turkey.  I need my tea!

When I learn how to say “my most favorite things” I’ll write another post of even better things, though it’ll be tough to trump these.  Until then “güle güle” which literally translated means “go smiling” or simply “bye bye”.


The Turkish Language Purification; the benefits and drawbacks

“It’s a pity, it really is,” my friend said.  “Our history is so rich, and now we are cut off from a lot of it.”  My co-worker and I were discussing the modern Turkish language reformation that happened sometime in the 1930’s under the direction of Turkey’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  It’s something I’m going to dig deeper about later, but first as background, the Turkish language went through a transformation most languages in the world don’t get….it got purified.  All during the famous Ottoman Empire the lingua franca was Turkish’s predecessor Osmanlaca (depicted above), which had similar grammar and vocabulary to the present Turkish spoken in Turkey now, but was written with Arabic characters.  Ataturk’s dream for his new country was to exist and partner with the West, but he noticed a problematic trend.  All the surrounding Muslim nations, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, were all large strides behind the West in terms of modernity, ability for communication and civilization.  His heart for Turkey was for her to keep up with the West, and the way to do that was to get rid of the extremely large communication barrier of language, or at least break down to manageable fences.  He did this by overhauling the language Osmanlaca and got rid of the Arabic characters and replaced them with Latin characters, thus the Turkish we know today.

My friend and I were talking about this reformation and how it had both great and not so great consequences on Turkey.  The terrific effect of Latinizing the language was the shortening of the language bridge of Turkish to English and vice versa.  The downside to this transformation of language was Ataturks “other” motive.  In getting rid of the Arabic characters, he also wanted to “purify” the Turkish language.  You see the Ottoman Empire was an extremely ethnically mixed empire. Christians, Muslims and Jews co-mingled peaceably, and with the various ethnicities there were many dialects of Osmanlaca.  Bulgarians, Romanians, Arabs and Persians lived in this empire, and as is the nature of two languages living side-by-side, they lend to each other.  Up to the transformation of the Turkish language, it consisted of Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and various European linguistic flavors.  Ataturk’s goal was in effect to place a language filter under Osmanlaca, so that as it dripped through only pure Turkish comes through to the other side, getting rid of “foreign” influences.

Well this succeeded for the most part, sadly.  My friend was telling me that most of the youth don’t know old Turkish, but simple modern Turkish.  Well what’s the problem with that, you might ask.  Language is inextricably linked to culture.  One defines the other.  One feeds into the other.  The presence of certain words in a culture can speak volumes to the ethnic history of a people group.  You take away one’s language, you take away their culture.

The same day my friend and I had this conversation, I saw students walking around with course-books for Osmanlaca.  To my joy and the benefit of Turkey, Universities are offering the old Ottoman language as a language you can learn.

If we forget where we came from, how can we know where we are going?

Can you think of any phrases or words we have borrowed from other languages, that make ours more rich?  For example, “cest la vie” (its the life).