Friday, August 12, 2011

Long walk down the European shore

After finally getting my visa to teach in Korea (after 6 months!) BH and I took a long walk in Istanbul. We started out at Boğaziçi Üniversitesi and made our way down to Bebek, which is south of the second bridge spanning the Bosphorus. The houses on the waterfront were gorgeous and we continued walking for some two hours before getting to Ortakoy and then Beskitas to get back to Asia and Katy's apartment. A long journey but worth it!
Bogazici University

Mansion in Bebek

These mansions in Arnavutkoy were gorgeous. The ones on the right were on this tiny island surrounded by a highway on both sides, yet still had an envious position on the waterfront.

What a huge ship!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Princes' Islands: Heybeliada

Katy recommended Heybeliada as the best of the Princes' Islands and I have to agree it was beautiful. One problem: I hate paying for beaches. The cheapest one was 10 lira, but it was gross. I ended up not going swimming, but just wandered around the island.
Anna would have loved these horse-drawn carriages

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


One of the main side streets lined with restaurants and bars
Bostanci is one of the nicer areas in Istanbul. Located on the Asian side, I would say it is kind of like the Kangnam of Istanbul; although there are nice shops, restaurants and coffee shops, there really isn't that much cultural capital. Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time mostly because some of our new Turkish friends.

Everyone with their iPhones near the coast
As I mentioned before, it is Ramadan right now in Istanbul, and although it doesn't look like it has effected the life of the city very much, there are Turks who are fasting during the daylight hours. Out of the eight new friends we met, only one was abstaining from fasting. While BH and I were snacking throughout the day, our friends couldn't even have a glass of water! I felt a little guilty, but it was hot! Around 7 pm, we headed over to a restaurant so everyone could break their fast when the sun set. We ended up at Pizza Hut because they had a ten lira all you can eat pizza buffet with free tea, soup, and dessert. We were there maybe a half an hour before it was time to eat, so our friends grabbed food and had everything ready for the opportune moment. Finally it was time to eat! The buffet line was swamped as every person observing Ramadan rushed to get more food. The pizza was not very great, but I love pizza so I might have eaten just as much as our friends who hadn't eaten since five in the morning. Even though BH and I were not fasting, it was still great to see a glimpse of this interesting holiday.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lost in Kağıthane

On Friday morning, I took the Metro Bus (first time!) from Kadikoy to Perpa in order to apply for my E-2 Visa to teach English in Korea. After filling out some paperwork, I had plenty of time left in the day to do some exploring. Walking away from the sun, I figured I was heading westward toward my eventual goal; once I got to the Bosphorus I could take a ferry back to Asia. (Un)fortunately, I got very lost in the huge district of Kagithane.
A neighborhood in Kagithane
From no vantage point could I see the water and I couldn't really figure out my cardinal directions. I knew it was going to be a long walk, Istanbul is a gigantic city, but I figured I'd be able to find my way. Instead, I spent two or three hours walking around in a huge spiral looking for signs that would lead me to a part of the city I actually knew. At one point, I stopped for a drink. I love how different countries have very similar products, but with slightly different names. I don't know if Le' Cola is a French product or what, but the green soda that I chose tasted a lot like cream soda. With my can of Fer Gazoza in one hand and a delicious doner kebab in the other, I hoped I would have enough energy to continue hiking up and down these hills searching for the sea, but I slowly became more and more worried. What if I was walking in the wrong direction? The sun was around noon, so I couldn't positively know if I was going east or west. Kagithane is definitely not a tourist destination, so I didn't expect anyone to speak English and the only thing I can do in Turkish is ask for two beers. I was starting to freak out when I finally spotted a minibus that said 'Metro Bus'. After deciphering which bus would bring me to the Metro Bus and not closer to Bulgaria, I paid a lira and a half for a 'seat' on the minibus. Katy warned me about these minibuses and I see why; in a vehicle the size of a minivan, twenty-five or thirty people were packed in. Even though the driver couldn't shut the door, he would stop and pick up some more commuters. The dolmus are comfortable and convenient, the minibus has neither of these features. I was just excited to get back on the Metro Bus and back to Katy's apartment.
Kagithane is pretty residential: broken down cars and kids doing laundry

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fenerbahçe, Istanbul

BH and I decided to make a trip to Uskudar, but on our walk from Katy's apartment to Kadikoy, we got a little befuddled. You'd think it would be easy to find the coast (it is quite clear from the apartment!) but we kept choosing the wrong rights and making erroneous lefts. We did end up, however, in a very nice neighborhood. Fenerbahce is the home to one of Istanbul's most popular sports club and is right next to the Sea of Marmara. Pride is displayed with all of the navy/yellow striped flags with an oak leaf in the center. The colors reminded me of polo shirts, and the neighborhood had almost a New England feel. When I saw the nice houses throughout the neighborhood and interesting looking restaurants, I decided we had to explore Fenerbahce and leave Uskudar for another day. One restaurant near the marina, the Bow Bells, had a particularly east coast feel. We stopped in for a beer— 10 TL for an Efes— and browsed the menu. I swear, they took this menu straight out of Maine! Other than lobster, I felt like this could be any seaside restaurant in the US. Delicious.
After our beer, we wandered around the beer. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and there was hardly a person on the hundreds of docked boats. The harbor wind whistled through the ships, blowing at bells that owners had set up next to their Turkish flags. It was the first time I have ever felt melancholic in Istanbul and I immediately thought of writer Orhan Pamuk. In his tribute to this city, Istanbul: Memories and the City, he used the word melancholy on every page. I had never thought that Istanbul had this feel to it, but I stumbled upon this moment next to the marina where I connected to his experience of Istanbul as a place of melancholy. I think this candid reflects that feeling.

American TESOL Institute Review

My friend, Katy, did a review of ATI Special Thailand project, and I thought I should do the same. There is not enough substantial information on the website, so I think it is important for would-be teachers to know what they are getting into.
Truthfully, I don't know why I did the program. The information on the website, at least back in 2009, makes it look like a scam, and I was really worried when I arrived at the airport that this was an elaborate scheme to get my organs or sell me into sex slavery. Luckily, though, this program is legitimate.
My program started with being certified as an English teacher in Chiang Mai and then placed me in a Korean public school. The organization was pretty poor; I would wait for e-mails, and then all of a sudden three different people (one from ATI, one from Thailand, and one from Korea) would be hounding me on all these documents that they needed, which they only now told me about. By the time I got to Thailand, I still didn't have a visa for Korea and wasn't sure if I was going to get a job. Luckily, I eventually got my interview for Korea, sent in my documents and got my visa the Friday before flying to Seoul... that's a different story.
For now, I want to focus on the ATI classes. Everyday, we would have lessons on pedagogy, classroom management, grammar, or language acquisition. While these were interesting, three weeks probably didn't give us enough time to be truly comfortable in a classroom. That said, learning pedagogy for four years also doesn't prepare someone for the mania of thirty-five young Koreans in a small English classroom.
There were some aspects, however, that were truly helpful. We had some useful practice in lesson planning, without which I would have been lost in the classroom. The first day we had to sit through Thai language acquisition completely in the Thai language; by being forced to learn as our students would learn, we were able to grasp the importance of word choice and repetition. Finally, we went to actual Thai classes and taught lessons two or three times. This practice gave me confidence for my first classes in Korea and gave us the chance to meet some adorable Thai students.
The one problem with the Thai-Korea special project was preparing us for Korea. While it was fun to draw pictures of elephants and superman to use as classroom aids, I never did that while teaching abroad in Seoul. In Thailand, you use chalkboards and whatever aids you can draw yourself. In Korea, this was definitely not the case. My classroom had projectors, computers for the students and white boards, and I usually used powerpoint to teach; the ATI program did not prepare us for a technology-rich classrooms. Also, while we learned about Thai culture and its effect on the classroom, we didn't learn anything about what our life was going to be like when we moved to Korea.
Overall, I had a positive experience. I met some AMAZING friends, who continued to be my friends when we moved on to Korea. I ate a ton of cheap and delicious pad thai. I got over some of my pre-teaching jitters by practicing on some Thai students. I got my TESOL degree, which increased my salary in Korea. When my friends ask for information about teaching abroad, I usually recommend this course. It is a great way to see two countries and a great way to get your TESOL certificate. Just don't expect the classes themselves to make you a great teacher. That takes times and experience.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Since BH and I will be in Istanbul for around twenty days, we have decided that everyday we are going to try to explore a different neighborhood in this huge city. While a lot of tourists only see Sultanahmet, and maybe Taksim, we have so much time and a nice list of places we want to see. Kadikoy was a very easy destination. From Katy's house, it is only a ten-minute dolmus, shared taxi, but most people would be getting to Kadikoy from the European port of Eminonu. 
The must-eat at Kadikoy is balik ekmek. These fish sandwiches are amazing, and you can buy one for three or four Turkish lira. Simple to make, they are extra tasty with the added spice of the pickled peppers. As Rachel Ray would say, 'yummo!' Not far from the port is a semi-pedestrian zone with fish and vegetable markets, clothes shopping, coffee shops with nargile and backgammon, and an entire street devoted to wedding dresses. While it lacks the beauty and architectural grandness of some of the other areas we have visited in Istanbul, it feels more real. Sultanahmet is teeming with tourists, but most of the people in Kadikoy were Turks enjoying their Sundays. The waterfront is also a great place to just sit, relax, and watch the sunset over the European side of Istanbul. In one of the Kadikoy grocery stores, they had Ramadan packets. Starting today, some Istanbullers will be fasting while the sun is up for the next 29 days. For the busy ones, though, they can buy these packets to save some time in the evening. Pretty cool.

Our last stop in Kadikoy was the fish market. We wanted some mackerel to make our own balik ekmek, and we were able to get two fish for five lira. After the man behind the counter cleaned the fish, he threw it to the salesman.

Don't worry, he caught the fish
When we got back to Katy's apartment, this time on foot, we were ravenous. BH cooked up the mackerel, we placed it on a french loaf, and then added lettuce, tomato, raw onion, pickled hot peppers, and lemon juice. So good.