Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Something About Uskudar

Quick, tell me everything you know about Uskudar.

I bet the first word that came to mind is conservative. 

adjective: conservative
 averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.

Assuming this meaning, all I can say to you is no. Uskudar is a changing, evolving, lively and culturally diverse neighborhood on the increasingly interesting half of Istanbul known as Asia. It is home to Marmary, the world's first intercontinental underwater metro line (sounds more impressive than it actually is, but hey) and the site of continuous new development, including a large public parks and recreation complex, the restoration of historical buildings, and Asia's second metro line. It boasts the lovely neighborhood of Kuzguncuk, beautiful walks, and the kind of atmosphere one would expect from an old and well-established residential neighborhood. It has a surprising amount of nature and green, complete with a beautiful view. as it is central with relatively cheap housing, it is not surprise that students are starting to spill over into Uskudar, especially now that Kadikoy has become so expensive.

Assuming you refer to its people, I would classify this as a very outdated perspective. Today's Uskudar boasts a healthy selection of Turks and other Istanbul inhabitants of all types. This has contributed to a culture of "to each his own" here, with no sign of judgement based on lifestyle, appearance, or taste. Lacking prejudice, Uskudar dwellers are friendly, helpful, and open-minded. Unlike the shopkeepers of more "liberal" neighborhoods, those of Uskudar don't try to speak in poor English with you or hassle you in the street based on the language you speak or your appearance. They treat everyone as a local and have no reason not to do so. This contributes to the charm and familiarity of life in Uskudar, and it makes for a very comfortable life.

If referring to Uskudar's politics, yes, it is no secret that the AKP are headquartered here and many of their conservative followers are not far away. However, considering the controversial election results of March 30 and the fact that some sources even suggest the CHP won the neighborhood (the results were finalized at a narrow win for the AKP), one must not be so quick to judge. Put aside thoughts that  Uskudar is a god-fearing, mosque-attending, religious epicenter - those days are in the past. Note that the affluent and often secular neighborhoods of Acibadem, Kosuyolu, and Kuzguncuk are all within its limits.

I am so tired of people asking why I live here or why I bought a house here. I loathe to hear the words, "why Uskudar?" Honestly? Why not Uskudar? I can't find anything wrong with this neighborhood. Those who think it's some terrible place to live, frankly, I think there's something wrong with you.

Why perpetrate a stereotype that simply isn't true?

With connections to Kadikoy of no more than 10 minutes, a 15-minute walk to the ferries for Eminonu, Besiktas, Kabatas, and Karakoy, and a frequent and late bus to Taksim, my neighborhood couldn't be better connected. I feel very privileged to live in this historically relevant and largely safe place, albeit it is not walking distance from a bar. Is that its horrible weakness? Well, if that's all, I'm happy to take it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

20/20 Experience World Tour: Istanbul Edition

This is a brief review of Justin Timberlake's show in Istanbul on May 26th, 2014. Most memorable bits underlined.

Pusher Love Girl
Gimme What I Don't Know (I Want)/Don't Hold the Wall (Snippet)
Rock Your Body
Like I Love You
My Love
Summer Love
Until the End of Time (dedicated to the miners who deceased in Soma)
Holy Grail (JAY Z cover)
Cry Me a River
Take Back the Night
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) (The Jacksons cover)
Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley cover)
Not a Bad Thing
Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
What Goes Around... Comes Around
Suit & Tie

Okay, let met start with this: Justin is the most talented male performer on the planet right now. I am positive of this fact. His voice = flawless. His dancing = epic. His simultaneously dance/singing = unmatched. The man is a pop star. I think he has every right to follow in the footsteps of MJ. Without, of course, the drug use. I also want to emphasize that this man is a true role model for me; he was a childhood star, but he didn't let it mess him up. He was part of a boy band, but he didn't end up as an alcoholic. The man has drive, motivation, and honor. He is also a hopeless romantic and judging by the massive difference between his FutureSex/LoveShow tour (which I also saw) and this 20/20 Experience World Tour shows, the man is a loyal and dedicated husband. I don't think there is anyone I respect more in the music business.

It is very hard for me to review this show! I'll tell you why.

I want to rave about it and scream with joy and exclaim to everyone that it is one of the best shows ever! It was massive fun! I danced (and sang) my head off and screamed at basically every moment. He played all the radio-friendly songs and left probably no one in the stadium disappointed. For the average Justin fan, there was nothing "missing."

I want to dwell on the good things, which included a fantastic re-take on "My Love," (which included a fucking great build up). "What Goes Around...Comes Around" got awesome in its last 30 seconds, which the crowd was so eagerly anticipating it was basically like an orgasm. Another great moment was when he did a tribute to the SOMA mining victims, it was a considerate gesture and got an amazing reaction from the audience. Mirrors was an epic finale. Justin's interaction with the audience was funny and charming as usual, he seemed surprised that the Istanbul fans were that enthusiastic, and it was endearing. Always a gentleman, Justin really engaged with us and it felt oddly personal. I loved the moment when he first came onstage, and just let the crowd cheer. It made us feel appreciated. All of the songs were sung perfectly, in a great order. Everyone onstage and in the audience was pouring with sweat by the third song because it started out so great and dance-y. Choreography was great; some moments were damn sexy and others were extremely fun, such as the shovel dance and the 3-step, 2-step, 1-step move. It was just. So. Fun.

However. I made the terrible mistake of looking at the NYC setlist before going to the show. UGHHHH why did I do that! It led to nothing but disappointment and high expectations!

I should have known not to expect a 2.5+ hour show with a bunch of songs off his latest (not very high-performing in Turkey) album. Why did I think he would play "True Blood," "Let the Groove Get in," "Tunnel Vision," and "Drink You Away," "Only When I Walk Away," "That Girl," and and and and...oh god, do I even go on?

Am I spoiled? I really feel spoiled! I feel like Justin loved me more when I was in Manchester, NH, and Istanbul is a city of 16 million! I'm sure this has everything to do with ticket sales, saving one's energy for 70 shows worldwide, record sales, and the like. But I just want to be treated fairly and have the same mind-blowing experience as I did back in 2007! I guess the mind can only really be blown once. During the FutureSex/LoveShow I literally developed a whole new layer of love for Justin (after years of crushing on him in N*SYNC). This time around, I yearn to say the same thing, but on the whole I basically felt like I was watching a different person perform different songs in a generally less incredible way. I don't know why! Disappointment is the first word that comes to mind, but I honestly wasn't disappointed! I don't think that's the right word.

I so desperately wanted to hear how Justin interpreted his newest songs, but he just did less cool versions of his old songs. When I say "less cool," I mean "less mind-blowing" than in 2007. God now I'm really stressed out about the mind being blown once thing. Since he has a new album, it was fair to expect interesting and improvised versions of new songs* (in an effort to get the crowd to go out and buy the new album). It was like he's already given up on selling it! Is that even possible?

And, you know how JT songs usually have these like...awesome outros? None of that. Everything was the abridged version! It was such a tease. The only outro I really remember was that from Lovestoned, but it paled in comparison to the awesome keyboard playing and light show we got at FutureSex/LoveShow.

The other shockingly disappointing thing was the lack of energy(?) in the crowd. Or energy isn't exactly right, either. It was just, people don't know the words (when Justin gives us the mic) and the crowd is kind of silent in terms of singing along. This was something that happened at Madonna, too, and I can't blame the Turks. It's not their native language and the songs are usually not the easiest to sing. But still, poor Justin was counting on us. THEN, the ultimate faux pas from the Turkish audience: after the encore (SexyBack & Mirrors) everyone literally ran out of the stadium. Immediately. Husso was even shocked; it looked as if the kids on the floor had been tortured for 2 hours and were finally being let out of some kind of hell chamber. Granted, it was nightmarish getting home and I understand the idea of leaving the show early, but in American culture, we clap and cheer when a show is over. Because we want to show our appreciation, and maybe, just maybe, get an encore. It doesn't always happen (actually it usually doesn't with big stars like JT), but at least show how much you liked it. Yikes. I have never seen a stadium empty so fast. Was someone tasering those people?

Sigh, anyway. The show was absolutely worth the $100 I ended up paying for it (after selling tickets). Just wish I hadn't sent my expectations so damn high. Lesson learned: American-style expectations at a show in Istanbul? HA, HA. Yeah right!!

I almost wish I had flown back to NYC for this damn show. No, just kidding. But seriously! Cry me a river, right?

Overall score: 7.5/10

*Note. I have a newfound love for FutureSex/LoveSounds (not a new song, but one I did not have) and Not a Bad Thing since the concert. I had no interest in these songs before the show. So bravo on that point.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Have Bought a House

I think I've bought a house.

That is to say, Husso has bought a house that I am paying the mortgage of and contributed a large amount of down payment for.

How does one buy a house in Turkey, anyway? Well, it's simple, really. Here's the recipe:


1 crazy landlord
1 real estate-obsessed boyfriend
1 family willing to help
4-5 friends who can offer a second opinion
4-5 of the same friends who can also contribute some money
1 roommate willing to help
1 very old house (established in 1964 of before is preferable)
1 very old neighborhood (usually on the Asian side)
2-3 annoying owners
1 student tenant
2 weird real estate agents

Directions: First, acquire 1 real-estate obsessed boyfriend with 1 family willing to help. Have a fight with 1 crazy landlord. Seek out 1 very old house in 1 very old neighborhood using 2 weird real estate agents. Make arrangements with 2-3 annoying owners to kick out 1 student tenant. Find 4-5 friends who can offer a second opinion and/or contribute some money and 1 roommate willing to help, and bam, you've purchased a house.

This house cost 207,000TL. We did approximately 10,000TL of renovations before moving in. That brings the cost of purchasing it to about $103,000.

So yes, I guess I just bought a house in Istanbul for about $100,000. Funny that my college loan is half of that. Funny that I would never in 1,000,000 years be able to buy a house in the US for this kind of money with that kind of student loan already on the books. Jeez. Life, sometimes.

This makes my commitment to life in Istanbul extend naturally by 8 years. What a decision! Would you have done it?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Disney is Sexier in Turkish, or Love = Disney

Oh my goodness. I have really restrained myself from making a post like this, but I knew that one day it would have to happen.

Thanks to the new addition to our household (a 1 Terabyte hard drive), I have been downloading movies non-stop. I don't feel even a little guilt about the ways in which I take advantage of technology. Most of the movies I've downloading are Disney (and Anastasia). That's because as kids, it was the collection I was most proud of, and the one that took up the most space. (God we loved our VHS tapes). No amount of DVDs could ever fill that space, honestly. But perhaps piracy something else can.

Anyway. Since seeing Frozen in January, something interesting has occurred to me. Disney movies are equally as fun, if not more fun, in other languages, even if you barely understand them. Don't get me started on the emotional turmoil. I cried my eyes out during Frozen. In Turkish. Wtf? I'm almost 100% sure I wouldn't have cried if it were English. (I take it back. I probably would have cried. Maybe less).

It has dawned on me that how much one enjoys Disney characters singing in a foreign language is extremely tied to how deeply in love you are with someone who speaks that language. And how much your ideals about love are related to those Disney movies to begin with. Yeah, I'll throw that in, too.

Okay, okay, let me backtrack. I went through phases where I downloaded every Disney song in Spain Spanish. If you had asked me why I was doing it then, I'd have said, "Oh, I'm learning Spanish, so it's helpful." I then did the same for Japanese. And Arabic. But which ones have I kept all these years? which are still on my playlist? The Spain Spanish ones. Hmm. I wonder why.

It never dawned on me to listen to Disney in Turkish until last night. And let me tell you, it was a shitshow. Aladdin is INFINITELY sexier in Turkish. Why does "söyle, prenses" suddenly sound so much better than both "tell me, princess" and "ven, princesa"?

Hell, I'm even attracted to Hercules now, and he was one of my least favorites. It's not normal. Dude, even Hercules' adoptive Dad is hot sounding in this. NUTS.

And whoa. Roll your "R"s one more time, Li Shang.

So, basically, what I'm trying to say here, is my heart is so connected to songs in Disney movies that I now found the Turkish more pleasant than the English, basically because it's more likely that my boyfriend would sing like these guys than the original guys? Wtf?

Mind = blown.

Omg this just killed me. I'm going to be doing this ALL NIGHT LONG.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Reviews

Honestly people, if you hate the movie that much, why do you even review it? Why do you even spend one more ounce of energy on this "complete train wreck of a film" if you think it's that bad?

Phew. Glad to get that off my chest.

Just kidding. No aliens.

So let's get started with THE GOOD:

  • Thranduil is beautiful and majestic. I love everything about his character anyway, but Lee Pace brings it all to life in a crazy excellent new way. Some people seem a bit upset by the "scar" thing. Well, let me tell you what it's all about: it's cool. It adds some depth and spookiness to his whole thing he's got going on up in his cave. He suffers and he doesn't want to deal with the outside world any more. The scar thing kinda gives evidence for that. I think that the scar was an unnecessary bit but it didn't bother me. 
  • Thranduil is awesome, so he gets two bullet points. He is both terrified and terrifying, and I have never witnessed a character like that on screen, really. The actor manages to make him powerful and douchey, but pretty, all at the same time. It's the best. I love it. This is what elves are about. "I am patient. I can wait." Is the single most haunting thing I've ever had the pleasuring of hearing/watching a character say.
  • Legolas being a kind of whiny, annoying little bitch. THIS I saw as completely consistent with Jackson's portrayal of the character in the Lord of the Rings. There were times when Legolas was onscreen and I was like now that is just like his conversation with Aragorn at Helm's Deep! Brilliant work, Orlando! And other times I was gleefully exposed to this whole new side of his character when he started acting possessive of Tauriel. I was like "Oh yeah....he's a Prince." We rarely saw hints of his princeliness in Lord of the Rings (at least in terms of attitude, not appearance of course)! The other good bit with him was when he got bloody at the end of his fight with Bolg. It's obvious that Peter Jackson is trying to help the (at least mildly obsessed) LotR audience understand why Legolas would have joined the Fellowship. He is getting really pissed off with orcs and other evil nonsense, at this point. I like it.
  • Bilbo Baggins' transformation and the quiet moments he has. There are a few key scenes with Bilbo that I really think make this movie more than "A good watch, but a bad adaptation" or a "movie based loosely on Tolkien's works." Those scenes are Bilbo's. When he peeks his head above the trees and awkwardly tries to call down to the dwarves, I was so pleased. The combination of music, scenery, and acting there really screamed "Tolkien" to me, and I couldn't be happier. Another instance when Bilbo is killing the baby spider during the scene where he almost loses the ring...the heavy breathing, the echo-y silence...that also struck me as well done, however little the situation relates to the written work. Yep, the ring's got a hold on him. Yep, he's not sure how to handle it. That was very Bilbo and I loved it. Martin Freeman's acting during the exchange with Smaug was also spot-on. I really loved the way he gave Bilbo a nonchalant, don't-worry-about-little-old-me feel. Excellent work.
  • Bard the Bowman. What a great portrayal of this character. He was so believable and easy to relate to, I felt myself almost rooting for him. His segments in Laketown were some of the most beautiful in my opinion, simply because he made Laketown feel so lived in and similar to Hobbiton, in a way. I didn't know much about the character (neither did Tolkien, apparently), but he was truly great in this film. A lot of fun to watch, and damn handsome as well.
  • Bombur's barrel of death scene. I feel kind of ashamed to admit this, but I loved that scene. I laughed so hard. It reminded me of Gollum's argument with himself in The Two Towers, and it was a very welcome comic relief. Whoever designed that scene deserves to be commended, because it actually was funny. At both viewings the audience laughed at that, me included!
  • Radagast the Brown. I didn't really like him in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and that was because he seemed a bit kitchy. In this edition he is a little more cautious and complements Gandalf well; he puts Gandalf's plans into perspective and seems genuinely creeped out by the goings-on. Also, he's funnier this time around. Great work by his actor and the right direction for this character, I think.
  • Gandalf the Grey vs. the Necromancer & his hordes. I really loved the way we got to see Gandalf's magic in this movie (I remember as a kid eagerly looking for him to use magic and not really seeing much in LotR), especially when fighting against the orcs and the Necromancer (Sauron). The effects with the shadow vs. light were really cool, sound included. I was sucked into that, and surprised by it. I remember not being all that impressed with the Balrog sequence in the Fellowship of the Ring, but this time around I felt Gandalf's power and was truly stunned with Sauron melted his staff like that. Heavy stuff.
  • Character development of the dwarves. I now understand that Bofur is a bit lazy/likes to oversleep but eager to help friends, Fili and Kili are brothers and nephews of Thorin (with a worrywort Mom), Dwalin is a tank, Ori is the helpless young dude, Gloin is a money hoarder, and Dori and Ori are medically inclined. Bombur is rather fat and slow but runs when scared. That is of course not all the dwarves, but at least I got some idea of their characters. I and many others could not distinguish the dwarves by the end of the first film, and I'm really psyched that they are starting to feel fleshed out this time around. (By the way, I already knew Balin was the elder, guide character type...that was the only dwarf development we got last time).
  • Mirkwood. A lot of people were disappointed about the compacted-ness of the Mirkwood scenes. I liked how the effects actually made me feel sick and lost, too, like the dwarves and the hallucinating thing. I also loved the spiders, every bit of it. I actually hate and fear spiders but for some reason I was fixated on the fight. When they started speaking when Bilbo had the ring on, I was really really really excited. That was done beautifully.


  • Tauriel. I don't like her. She's like an Eowyn with super human healing powers. So basically, I don't think she makes a good elf. This is meant with no offense to the actress, however -- I think she did the best she could with what she was given. I'm just mad that Jackson decided to make her so upbeat. It's not congruent with all the other elves we've seen in his Middle Earth and she doesn't seem like she should be that good in battle or healing. It would almost make more sense to have Legolas do the things she did, including, but not limited to, falling in love with Kili.
  • Galadriel's telepathic Gandalf moment. I don't get it. Why did that happen. What is she doing in Mirkwood. That's not her forest. I would have liked it better if Thranduil had done a bit of telepathy there and been like "yo Gandy, shit's messed up in this wood. Get yo' ass to somewhere else and figure out why. I'll take care of the dwarves, don't worry...;)"
  • Bolg touching and manhandling Legolas. While I understand why it happens, I still don't like it. It really makes me uncomfortable to see Legolas being...touched. This may seem weird, but no orcs ever touched him before, and it didn't seem natural to see him doing hand-to-hand like that. I guess it's okay, but I was so unsettled during that scene it was distracting and made me question everything I knew to be true. Anyway.
  • CGI orcs. I really really do not understand why the production team chose to go with this. They had no issues with real people as orcs. It was amazing in the LotR trilogy and something that separated the film from a lot of the fake shit that was coming out around the same time. I'm massively disappointed by it, just as I was in the first film. I just don't CARE about animations. I want to see actors, with real teeth and eyes. Why!
  • The final 30 minutes of the fim. Considering all other possibilities, I don't know why the film ended the way it did. The gold melting and the Smaug fighting and the craziness was all so out of line, I'm not sure who let who get away with it. It didn't even make sense to me the first time...I had to watch it again to figure out what happened exactly. This is nothing like the chase scene out of Moria, which was wonderfully done. It's an entirely different beast. I'm not happy with any of it starting with the second the dwarves arrive in Smaug's hall. Very awkward and poorly done.


  • The barrel scene had some very stupid shots that totally ruined the sequence. Why did someone use a handheld recorder to film underwater, and why is that in the movie? Who edited this? I hope they cut that out before it's released on DVD. Seriously that was sketchy.
  • There are some sections of the fight with Smaug that don't look "finished." The animation isn't textured, or something...I'm not sure. I wish they had WATCHED it first so we wouldn't have to! How does this stuff happen!?
  • The prologue. Other prologues to a Middle Earth film include: EPIC BATTLE SEQUENCES, BROTHERS FIGHTING TO THE DEATH, GANDALF VS. BALROG, and SMAUG DESTRYOING EVERYONE. Who's idea was it to put a quiet scene of Thorin and Gandalf chatting over a beer and creepy-looking food for a PROLOGUE? Talk about bore me to DEATH. I was beginning to expect a terrible film there, and that's not a good sign. Not to mention the ridiculous "12 months later" "6 months earlier" blah blah blah, I don't think it's necessary. Hello? We know the timeline at this point, this is not Episode 23 of a soap opera. Or is it?

THE ?:

Did Bilbo recover the arkenstone? DID HE OR WHAT!? I really wonder...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Back to the Future: Gaming Again

Well hullo e'erbuddy!

I'm happy to announce a new post after a nearly three month hiatus. I'm not altogether sure if I've simply been busy or there hasn't been much to say; no matter the reason, I've neglected my blog for too long. I have a lot to catch up on, but as promised, I'll report about my new job first.

A lot of you may find Facebook games repulsive. I was one of you, too, months ago, who would promptly turn away in disgust should the topic of social gaming arise. But in a few short months, I've become acquainted with a whole new world of weirdness, and it is just too interesting to not share with you guys.

So let's start with a question:

Q: Who do you usually get annoying Facebook game requests from?

A: My grandma. My aunt. My ex-boss. My middle-aged friend who has three kids.

Yep, that's our market. So why is it that this particular market is so excited about social gaming, anyway? I've formulated a few theories, but I can't be 100% sure, of course. My main assumption is that older people on Facebook -- the same older people who used to get by with puzzles and cards -- are now finding ways to turn their home hobbies into semi-social activities. This is, on the one, hand, great news. On the other, it's kind of sad. No more bingo for grandma, perhaps. Your ex-boss who's now retired might not start that puzzle, either. What a tragedy.

But actually, our games are not designed for the older crowd. We are trying to make them what I would call "family" friendly. That is to say, any age could find something interesting about our games. The truth is, if you're a 20-something who liked playing The Sims, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't enjoy playing the games my company is making. The problem is that the Facebook game already has a stigma, and it's much too late for our kind to ever get into Facebook games. I get that.

I'm not trying to shamelessly self-promote. I'm just munching on some food for thought. I've done a lot of research about the social/mobile gaming phenomenon, and it's really mind boggling. I had my first experience with a mobile game in June, after buying my first smartphone. I cannot believe that I found myself wanting to buy in-game credit to beat a certain level. HAD I STOOPED SO LOW?

The truth is, there's nothing "low" about it. Back in the day, a PC game ran us about $20-$30. So, considering that Facebook and mobile games are free-to-play, why shouldn't you drop a bit of cash to make the game, theoretically, more fun?

None of this is really my business, by the way -- I'm just a dialogue writer and editor. It's a rather funny twist of fate, actually. I spent most of the year wondering how to get a foot in the door of the "industry." The magical world of video games. The world I grew up in, but somehow managed to slip out of quietly.

I wouldn't say I have a foot in the door just yet. I'm working at what could more or less be considered a start-up developer in Istanbul. Sure, we have dozens of employees, and awesome office in one of the few 15+ floor buildings in the city, and a laid-back and friendly boss. But I'm still far from the action.

Where exactly is the action, you ask? Well I confess -- since starting my new job, I've broken down and bought a Playstation 3. I use the words "broken down" well because, frankly, the PS3 is already 7 years old. Up until three weeks ago, I had been playing PSone games on my PS2. And I knew I was behind the times, don't get me wrong. I just couldn't rationalize buying a PS3 when the PS2 still had so much life in it, you see.

All of that has changed. The PS3 was no longer a want. It became a need. It's for my career. I must have it. I can buy a PS4 in a couple of years anyway, right? About the time when KH3 and FFXV are released, I imagine.

So that's where the action is. I don't care how many amusing young writers try to tout the age of social gaming as the new era, the only thing that matters, a far more lucrative industry than the console giants can hope to catch up with, or whatever it is they're saying.

All of this has led to a certain vector point: me playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Prior to joining my current company, I was on the verge of forgoing my love of gaming completely. It was just about slipping away. I had one or two more games I was fiddling around with on the PS2, but I was slowly. Letting. Go.

That's over now. I'm head over heels in love with this MMO (massive muliplayer online, for the gaming illiterate), and I have no idea how it happened. I can only say that I wouldn't have it any other way. I feel like one lucky little cookie these days, and I can't help but stare in amazement and ask myself: how the hell did I end up here? Who am I? Is this even a career path, or some kind of weird passing phase? Childhood dreams resurfaced like a dead person everyone gave up looking for. As it were, the dream is a bit rotten and I can't recognize it anymore, anyway.

I never considered myself someone who would give up on a dream, but since graduating, I let a lot of stuff go. I'm over being a JET teaching in Japan. I'm over becoming a US Foreign Service Officer. I'm also over ever continuing my education. To what end? Why should I? What's the point?

But the way things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if a someone stepped through a wall, dragged me to Middle Earth, and presented a wedding proposal from Legolas. I mean, come on...really? What is happening?

Monday, September 30, 2013

After the Fact: My Regrets about Bard

Inspired by this article in the NY Times today, and a few other postings floating around Facebook about Bard, I thought it might be time to share with you all some of my deepest, darkest thoughts about Bard College. Actually, it's not that dramatic, but still, I don't like to admit that I have regrets that often, so take advantage.

The fabulous Blithewood of Bard, overlooking the Hudson River.

Whether you're thinking about Bard, applying to Bard, or studying at Bard....or if you're a fellow alumni...I'm sure you can relate to some of the things I think. If not, well, as many people always say, Bard is what you make it. So if you made it awesome, I congratulate you. If you made it suck, well...you know who you are.

Let me start by saying that Bard could be one of the coolest places on Earth. Where else can you find such an eclectic assortment of people, from all over the world, who are genuinely different? Students' talents and backgrounds vary wildly, the professors range from shocking to strange to simple, and the campus' look changes the more you walk around on it. Foreign languages are thrown around like knives in ninja training and witty people are as common as blades of grass. Weird, sketchy parties with tons of charm are a key part of the nightlife. Fresh air is aplenty, as are quiet places to study, which makes it a perfect space for academia and the unusual.

But this is all Bard on the surface. Underneath all the allure and exquisite detail is something truly unsettling for students coming from lower-income families and small-town backgrounds.

Regret 1: Understanding Finances

My very first Bard regret would be not properly analyzing my finances. If you are a financially independent Bard student (no, not the kind that gets monthly allowances), you need to be aware: in addition to the private loans you probably took out yourself, Bard might be taking out Federal Stafford loans for you, too. These seem small: you get messages in your Bard mailbox around the start or end of every semester, notifying you that Bard is helping you secure $2,000 extra here, $1,500 extra there, do you agree?, sign here, and so forth. This money adds up, and you will have to pay it back to the government, America's worst lender.

While Bard is very open about this process, the college makes little effort to explain the consequences to you. For a student like me on a generous scholarship, I was happy to cover the difference by going $25,000 or even $30,000 into debt. But tell me it's $55,000 in total...and I might hesitate.

And do not forget that students have other school-related expenses throughout the year. Used books are easy to come by, but it would be dishonest to say I wanted to even buy them by the end of my college days. Learning how to get by without books -- or better yet, signing them out of the library -- saved me enormous quantities of money. I also sold back all of my "new" books instantly after using them. I'm a bit ashamed about that.

Regret 2: Actual Quantity of Things Learned

My second Bard regret is the actual quantity of things learned, which more than ever seems rather low. This could be related to my first regret; due the the fact that I did not properly analyze my finances, I jumped right into a full-time job at the nearest cafe in order to fund the only thing that has motivated me since age 15: traveling. Had I known that I was going to be floundering in a pool of debt after graduation, I would have used all or most of this money to start paying my interest. Either way, I would have been working a full-time job, so this point is valid: I spent more time working at the cafe than studying at Bard. This is a solid fact.

Whether or not I would have spent that time studying is really up for debate. If I had 40 extra hours per week, would I have actually read any of those readings my Asian studies class assigned? Would I have watched the movies that went along with my Arabic text book? Would I have actually spent more time on my Senior Project?

At the end of the day, I guess I'll never know. But what I do know is that I did not learn as much as I could have learned at Bard. This is not to say I didn't learn for four years. I just learned elsewhere.

Regret 3: Friendships

My third and potentially most important regret is not forming more than one or two solid relationships. From the moment I touched down at Bard, I had the overwhelming sense of not "belonging." Not in an awkward way (i.e., all these people are smarter or prettier than me), but in a social status/class way. Everyone was immediately talking about going to the "city," whatever THAT was, and spending full years abroad volunteering. My reaction was, "how do you have the money to do that?" but I held my tongue and slowly began to realize that many of my fellow students were, well..."better off" than I was. I was happy to work hard and earn cash to join their crazy outings, but the realization that I often couldn't due to time hit me swiftly and strongly.

Hey, come to my show. Sorry, I'm working. Hey, let's go to NYC this weekend. Can't, I'm working. Emily, will you be attending the workshop on Thursday? Sorry, I'm working. 

I began saying that phrase so often that it came automatically, and I honestly didn't care. It never made me upset. But looking back, it does.

Is that why I was never seen as a particularly engaged student in any of my classes (was I actually disengaged? or did it just look like that?) or invited to any social gathering/event before 9pm? I simply missed out. I missed out on a lot of what Bard had to offer. And that is actually kind of painful.

Regret 4: Professor Relationships

My fourth and final regret about Bard is my absolute and atrocious failure to build relationships with professors. In my world, prior to coming to Bard, teachers were the enemy: they didn't understand your potential, held you back at times, and made you feel trapped in the disastrous grading system. Only now do I understand that Bard professors are nothing of the sort.

While I spent time avoiding my teachers and simply trying to "make the grade" at Bard, my peers were visiting their offices, discussing their lives, ideas, and dreams, and most importantly, networking. In a world where "who you know" is often the single determining factor in getting a job or not, how I missed this point is really beyond me, and embarrassing. I made not one friend among the Bard faculty, and I could not feel more stupid about that (I did make one enemy, during a conversation I am somewhat proud of). My best friend at Bard did try to tell me that I was doing it wrong, but I ignored his advice. Now I know he was right.

Talk to your Bard professors and get to know them. In the long-term, it could be the most important step you take in your career. For me, it's probably too late.

Where professors dwell.

So there you have it. Every time I see or hear about Bard in the media, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling, and I start thinking about what I miss about college. But then, a more somber feeling rises to the surface: I don't actually know what I miss, because I missed so much to begin with.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Taking (Sh)It

Hey e'erybuddy!

So, if you didn't already know, I left my previous company to pursue a new opportunity! Well, that would be the diplomatic way of putting it. What really happened is completely different. I learned a lesson in self-respect, which I now realize I could use more of.

I'm not sure at which age or in which period of my life I began to undervalue myself.

As far as I can remember, I've never been one to complain about anything. I simply hate complaining, complainers, and complaints. But I never realized I had taken it to the point where I regularly sacrifice my self-worth and/or happiness or sell myself short. Rather than say, "I am not being paid enough," "My grade is not high enough," "the people around me are not working hard enough," or "I am not getting credit for my ideas," I have always, simply, made best use of the cards I was dealt.

I also never, ever wanted to be treated unfairly. That is to say, I resented being considered "special," even to the point where I violently resisted being placed in a special class for 6-8 graders who had demonstrated excellent reading/critical thinking skills. The idea of being separated from other kids my age -- simply because of some stupid test results -- was revolting to me, even as a child.

This stems from my belief that no one person has a better shot at life than another. Although it may seem like a gross generalization, I honestly think life is fair. Life has balance. We get what we're given and it is equally bad and equally good. Although bad things happen to good people and vice versa, everything eventually pans out for everyone. So why complain about anything? The actions of other people, and the decisions they make, are of no concern to me. Even if they affect me, my life's course will go on and I will get what I deserve.

This line of reasoning, I have since understood, is flawed. People take advantage of other people. People have no morals. People want to abuse other people to get what they want. Whether or not I choose to accept such treatment is entirely my decision. And to put it frankly: I don't have to take it. I have control over the cards I am dealt.

With this in mind, I chose to change jobs because I realized that I have control over my life, even though it may seem -- at times -- like life has control over you. Words from a teacher in seventh grade,  who I loved very dearly: "You may be having a bad time, but you always have the power to change your fate." Well, okay, it seems cliché and even a bit stupid saying it again now, but really, it's true. In life, attitude is everything. I can make the best out of any situation, but it doesn't end there: I can also affect its outcome.

So, about the new job? Well, I think I'll save it for later. It's still only my first month, after all!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Inspiring Tale of a Pink Wallet Lost in Turkey

Okay, Turks can talk your head off about gypsies, dangerous-looking types, and how careful you should be on public transportation. I have been told time and time again to "be careful," "watch my bag," and "hold onto my wallet." The truth is...


Under normal circumstances, Turkey is full of thievery and gypsies just waiting for an adorable blonde American to walk by with her purse half-zipped or wallet sticking out of her back pocket. My co-worker Peter reported that his wife came home from work one day to find her bag slashed in several places by pickpockets, and luckily, nothing valuable was stolen.

So, when I opened my bag on Thursday night to take out some cash and my ID for a night out on the town with my couchsurfer from Austria, and I saw no wallet, I immediately assumed the worst. It had been stolen, and I would never see it again. All hell broke lose. I checked my bed. I checked the shoe cabinet. I checked the bathroom. I checked the freezer, for Christ's sake.

It had disappeared between the bus and my apartment door. A 100-meter walk that I generally consider safe and harmless suddenly looked like a labyrinth of razor-sharp rocks (lit. Emyn Muil).

I called my boyfriend, who was in Italy. He called the bus garage. The bus garage called the driver. The driver called....well, you get the point.

So, what did I do next? I did the logical thing: called all my credit/debit card companies, in order of importance. American cards can be used like credit cards in Turkey, with no PIN or signature, so that was a priority. I ordered a new license from Maine. I ordered a new Turkish airlines club card. I was running hard. But, I didn't hesitate to go out and get iskender and beer in Kadikoy...my boyfriend left one of his credit cards, after all!

I called the police to report the theft. I accepted my fate as a victim of CRIME.

Well, fast forward a few days and it turns out that I'm actually 100% responsible for the DOUCHIEST thing ever, which was actually just LEAVING MY WALLET on the SEAT in the BUS. Instead of a thief swiping it, a nice old lady took it to the nearest Garanti bank, where a lovely teller looked up my number and called me this morning to let me know I can come pick it up before seven, please.

Wow. Sometimes I hate Turkey, but today is not one of those days.


Monday, June 17, 2013

The Similarities Between Turkey and Japan

I have said this millions of times, and I know that very few people see what I see. But today I want to outline a few points that solidify my point that Turkey and Japan have similar traditions and common linguistic themes.

Let's start with some traditions.

1. Slippers & cleanliness.
Although Turks are not as extreme as the Japanese when it comes to slipper wearing, it is striking to see that a large majority of Turkish families have 5-10 pairs of slippers in the house for family members and guests. Like the Japanese, Turks believe it is healthier and cleaner to wear slippers inside. According to my boyfriend's mom, not only would wearing your outdoor shoes track in unnecessary dirtiness, but bare feet on cold floors could cause diseases or infertility. The Japanese have several different kinds of slippers, depending on the room of the house. Especially bathroom slippers vary in comparison to slippers worn in other rooms. Although I have not seen a great discrepancy between dining room/kitchen slippers and bathroom slippers in Turkey, some homes with Turkish-style toilets (that is, holes in the floor for squatting), do have plastic flip-flops or sandals that are to be worn while relieving oneself.

The Japanese are hyper hygienic at times, a trait not truly shared with the Turks. Turkish people are content with littering and generally making a mess outside. But in the home, opened packages of food, spices, and even shoes are often stored in plastic bags. Shelves are also lined with gift-wrap paper or newspaper to prevent the dirtying of one's furnishings. So, there is evidence that cleanliness is also important in the Turkish home.

2. Toilets.
The aforementioned "Turkish-style" toilet, which I will hereafter refer to as the "squat" toilet, is not a creation of Turkey. In fact, these toilets can also be found in countries such as China, Italy, and Bulgaria, to name a few. The Western-style toilet as we know is just that: a Western creation. Of course, one can find Western-style toilets in both Japan and Turkey, but many locals believe that a squat toilet is more hygienic and the truly  healthy way to relieve oneself. While I agree with that to some extent, the comfort of sitting and reading on the toilet is preferable.

3. Writing history, as they see it.
The international community has time and time again criticized Japan for understating the damage caused during WWII and often leaving it out of textbooks completely. Nowadays, much of they "war story" has to be included in Japanese history books, but events such as the Rape of Nanjing are still left alone. At the same time, 20 countries accuse Turkey of committing a genocide against the Armenians, a charge it denies to this day. For both countries, denying that such events occurred has become a staple of nationalism.

4. Obsession with English
Learning English is the single most important career move for Turks. Although not quite as extreme in Japan (or is it)? every student must pass an English exam to get into college in either country.

Similarities in language.

1. Grammar
First and foremost, I am not being novel in my perception that Turkish and Japanese are similar languages. Linguists can tell you that the two languages have strikingly similar grammar, especially in the subject-object-verb sense. In both Japanese and English, the teacher does not write on the board. Instead, "The teacher board on writes."

2. Key word
The word "good" is the same in both Turkish and Japanese, and is pronounced "ii." In Turkish, it is written "iyi," and in Japanese, it is written いい. This can be used to describe basically anything in both languages. However, it should be noted that Japanese "ii" does not reference how a person is feeling, whereas Turkish "iyi" can describe one's state as being "good" or "fine."

3. Suffixes/particles
The suffixes (Tr.) or particles (Jp.) "de" and "e." These two grammatical tools are used to mean "in, on" and "to," respectively. Although in Turkish the pronunciation of the suffixes does change depending on the modified words vowels, the usage is the same: attach these syllables to create what we call, in English, prepositions.

4. This, that, and thaaaaaat.
Both Turkish and Japanese speakers perceive space and distance differently when it comes to demonstrative pronouns. Last night, while sitting at the table, Husso asked me to turn on "that" light in Turkish. As there are three in the room, I was completely confused. Which light did he mean? In fact, he meant "this" light -- the light closest to him. But, as Turkish has bu (this), şu (that), and o (that over there), the light was far enough away to require "şu." In Japanese, "kore," "sore," and "are" serve the same function.

So there you have it. Why not visit both countries and see for yourself! Or, do you have another point I should add? I will probably add more as I think of them. :)