Category Archives: Istanbul move

Expat lesson learned: you don’t have to go home but you can’t bank here

Another bit of frustration I’ve experienced here has been financial, and not just the exorbitant prices I’m willing to pay for wine and pork products. While banking and international transactions can be tricky whenever you travel, it gets more complicated when you are traveling long-term and don’t know when you’ll next be home or near your local bank branch.

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Expat lesson: the concern of Turks

I’m hardly the first to point out how nice, hospitable, and gracious Turkish people are, and beyond the typical tourist interactions of waiters, guides, and hotel staff, I’m finding out how deeply their concern runs for foreigners. Each Turk that I’ve met and asked for recommendations on restaurants or help on getting errands done has offered to make calls for me or accompany me to the cell phone store, which I often happily accept. In a few situations, I’ve found the concern of strangers to be a little much, albeit well-meaning and thoughtful.

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Expat lesson learned: say okay and pay

After six weeks, four visitors, and two trips out of the country, I’m beginning to settle into expat life in Turkey. It’s a bit like being a retarded child: you speak in stilted and monosyllabic sentences, simple tasks take hours or even days, and you can get away with things regular folk can’t because they know that you don’t know any better. Occasionally or even daily if you try hard enough, you will have a small victory and learn something new about your new city.

One of my favorite (and few) Turkish words is tamam, which means okay, all right, perfect, etc. Most of my transactions here begin with me asking for something in broken Turkish (“Shoe. Fix. Please. Yes?”), them giving me a lengthy response I don’t understand, me smiling and saying tamam, offering what I think the price is, and eventually leaving with more or less what I needed. Once I realized that there is little chance of agreeing to something serious in another language when you are in a shoe shine shop, I figured it was okay to just smile and nod. Additionally, every business that I have had even a mildly successful transaction with has earned my full loyalty. The first time in my local cobbler, I left one shoe to have the sole repaired with no idea how I would claim it or when it would be ready, and returned an hour later to find it fixed, shined to a blinding sheen, and paid about a dollar. I’ve been back several times since with similar results. And maybe eventually the old man’s words will sink in through osmosis and I’ll actually understand the long stream of comments he is making about my shoes.

Istanbul apartment: a tour!

I’ve started to upload my photos of Istanbul including some pix of our temporary apartment in Osmanbey/Nişantaşı, so I thought I’d give a little tour.

Our street is lined with wholesale fabric shops, making me think of Tim Gunn saying, “Teşekkür ederim, Mood!” every time I walk by. Each afternoon, the fabric salesmen stand outside smoking and drinking tea intensely, and staring at me as I walk home like I’m the Queen of England.

Apartment view

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Discovering Istanbul as a tourist

Just another day at the office

Thanks all for reading and commenting on my pity-party post, I wanted to dispell the myth that I’m sitting languidly at a cafe and having charming shopping expeditions to local fish markets.  After two weeks in the city (first at the airport and now in an apartment), I’m starting to adjust to living in limbo a foreign country. A week in an airport hotel made me a crackerjack Istanbul transit user, well-acquainted with all of the hotel staff, and adept at running across highways, and now we’ve been moved to an apartment in Nisantasi for at least the rest of the month. I went to Milan for a few days and returned to Turkey with my mother to play tourist for much of last week, along with running the many errands that come along with settling into a new place. Unfortunately, the internet in the apartment building was down for much of last week, making any updates infrequent and my “to look up when I have internet” list a mile long. Every day as a new expat is a series of major and minor fails, a few satisfying wins, all in a constant state of bafflement and very different from just visiting a city.  More on life as a new expat to come, but first a few observations/discoveries from my time as a tourist here.

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Abandon all expat fantasies, all ye who enter here

My current view of Istanbul

If you’ve been following my tweets or Facebook updates, you might know that since arriving in Istanbul, I’ve been living in an airport hotel. I wouldn’t say life here is hell (the hotel is nice and new, I don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning), it’s more like purgatory. The current situation is that H is working at a client site near the airport and after spending his first week in the business district of Levent over in the new city and taking $50 cabs to and from work, he was moved out here until more suitable accommodations can be found. There was a possibility of moving to an apartment in swish Nisantasi (sort of the Soho of Istanbul, full of designer shops and upmarket restaurants), but it would mean a killer commute for H who is clocking 12 hour days for the foreseeable future and more outrageous cab fares. Finding an apartment in a more convenient neighborhood could take awhile, as Big Company has to handle dealing with multiple vendors to set us up somewhere; I can’t just go on Craig’s List and find something. We did discover a few viable neighborhoods this weekend in seaside Yesilkoy and Florya, but we are stuck at an airport hotel for what could be days or weeks, in the middle of nowhere Istanbul, relegated to the inconvenient hotel shuttle bus and taxis. Life right now is sort of like Lost in Translation meets Up in the Air, in a foreign language without subtitles.

Since I’ve visited Istanbul before in December 2008, I’ve seen the major tourist attractions already, and with my mother visiting next week and more friends coming at the end of May, I’m holding off on seeing them again or checking out any I missed on my first visit. Given that I’m so unsettled (I don’t even want to unpack until I know where I’ll be for at least a week) and without a permanent address, I can’t really do any of the neighborhood/moving in type of things like find my local grocery store, dry cleaner, cafe, etc (not that those things exist out here). Nor do I want to buy anything that I have to repack and remove. Basically, this leaves me with wandering around the city (once I can get into it), riding the transit system all over the place, and hanging out at the hotel. The hardest part of expatriation is realizing you can’t recreate your former life. Last Monday, I had lunch at Peter Luger’s, hung out with some of my favorite NYC writers, went to a few fun bars, and got all around New York easily and independently. Today I ate some questionable “veal” bacon at the breakfast buffet, wandered around an industrial neighborhood by the hotel in search of civilization (epic fail, just office parks and Turkish truckers gawking at me), watched Glee on a crappy internet connection that costs 8 euro a day, and pondered which alternate airport-area hotels would be slightly less grim. But it’s not all bad, this weekend I walked along the Bosphorus beaches, ate Turkish ice cream with a knife and fork, and found a park with lambs frolicking. In a few weeks, I’ll look back at this time and laugh, but right now I just want to cry into my çay.

More on my first few days to come (I have gotten out, I swear!), along with some pix.

Lessons learned from preparing for move/bed bugs redux

All my worldly goods

I arrived Wednesday in Istanbul, carrying only two suitcases to live out of for the next five months or so. I took off last week from work in order to pack, clean, and try to purge some of the stuff we’ve accumulated in the last five years in the same apartment. But to make matters more difficult, I had another run in with bed bugs. You can read all about the first nightmare here, but in a nutshell, I went through the bed bug extermination in the bedroom last June when H was in Tokyo, involving umpteen loads of laundry and an apartment full of plastic bags. Our building has had some infestations again and they brought back the dog to inspect all apartments and our living room sofa and chair tested positive, though we had no bites or evidence of the bugs. So I spent the last week in packing and purging hell, having to clear out every item in the living room, including the hall closet and dining area. As a horrible housekeeper and sentimental packrat, this nearly led to the loss of sanity but I’ve emerged a little stronger and a lot leaner in possessions. The process for prepping for a bed bug extermination, moving to another part of town or another country, and packing for a long trip have a lot in common and I have essentially done all three simultaneously, and learned a few things along the way that could benefit others in the same situation.

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