Bowling Gangnam Style

On many occasions since living in Turkey, I have had to pause in whatever I was doing to ask myself, “is this real life?”

A couple times it’s been because of supernatural surprises. Other times it’s been for the sake of measuring how far I’ve come in culminating to cultural normalcies. But then, there are the times that I am hit completely out of the blue with something I never in my wildest dreams could have conjured up.

The most recent occasion was a trip to Mars (metaphorically speaking).

I’m still in a state of subliminal shock that it actually happened. Really, it was so jaw-dropping unbelievable that I don’t think it ever fully sunk-in.

Wanna know what the fuss is all about? Well, picture yours truly in a cosmic bowling alley, co-hosting the 2013 Open International Bowling Tournament. Oh yes, somehow I was chosen to MC this spectacular event.

First things first: the parade of teams. Nine different teams marched around the bowling alley, strutting their colorful jersey-knit uniforms and mentally preparing for the games ahead of them. Intensity was in the air. It was obvious that each team noted the seriousness of how their lives could change once they won the coveted Championship Trophy… Each team but one.

In lane number 7 resided Team Gutterballs. Very much resembling their name and lacking both official jerseys as well as skill, the Gutterballs stood out like a tall American in the Philippines. Oh wait, we were tall Americans. From the sheer ethnic make-up of the other teams, it felt like we had transcended geographical barriers and were indeed bowling on an island in Asia…

Complete with the Filipino National Anthem as well as a live intermission performance of “Baby Baby,” the finishing touch that best capped the tournament’s overall dynamic was when “Gangnam Style” came over the loud speaker; not a single person was left standing still.

After a special thanks to the sponsors and announcing the highest scores (Gutterballs strongly coming in last- although might I add that my last two bowles were strikes…), I was dismissed of my MC duties and handed in my bowling shoes. Leaning back against the counter, it was as if I saw my surroundings for the first time; the pause was inevitable.

Consequently, that pause brought forth that most familiar question: “is this real life?”

Mundane, ridiculously fun, and humanly uncharted… Yupp, looks like real life to me.

Advertisements

What IS This?!

“What IS this?!”  Just as soon I finished chewing what I had put in my mouth, these three words came out of it. What I had innocently assumed to be a mushroom was definitely not a mushroom.

I looked closer at my plate. Their appearance really threw me off. Mixed in with the carrots and peas, why wouldn’t this stemmed, cone-shaped chunk be anything other than a mushroom?

It’s totally a mushroom. One of the stringy, chewy, hallow kinds. They grow those here, right?

I wish.

How does that saying go? Ignorance is bliss?

Well, ignorance is short-lived. And bliss can be deceiving. With even the slightest prick of a pin, a bubble can pop, quickly sucking one out of oblivion. Exposure to fact is inevitable. Even if you don’t ask for it, someone else will.

Someone like me.

Today, I was the pin popping blissful ignorance. My sincerest regrets to all. How I would love to have remained in the dark about the mysterious mouthful I dared to swallow.

Oh giblets.
That just might become my substitute swear-word, because Lord knows, I wanted to swear after hearing what I had just forced down my throat.

Giblets. AKA chicken organs. Apparently the once vital heart, gizzard, and liver still serve postpartum purpose after the birthing of its principal juicy roast. How was I supposed to know that the life of a chicken isn’t over until every visceral offal is consumed? The cavity’s contents must not be forgotten!

I’d rather they were.

Some find them a delicacy; I’m sure many in the room delighted over this royal treat.
But as for me, I felt almost violated. A warning would have been nice. At least then I would have been able to mentally prepare/ it would have been my intentional choice to eat or not eat what I ate.

However, that is not what happened. What did happen is I deceivingly ate several little chicken hearts.

Valves and all.

Outage Outbursts

Remember how common power outages are here in Turkey? In case you’ve forgotten, the correct answer is: VERY. Lately, these power outages have provided an excuse for silliness and Adele concerts.

With nothing but candles for light, we decided that evening power outages are meant to be an intermission from studying Turkish…

We have time.

We have passion yearning to be unleashed.

So, we sing.

The bed transforms into a stage.

We whip out the air guitars. And beat the rhythm on our legs until they’re bruised. And pound on our imaginary keyboards.

Now I understand how Adele injured her vocal chords…
Seriously, have you ever belted out one of her songs? How about all of them? It’s a workout!

Even more reason to thank God for every power outage and the carefree musical outburst that it creates.

(power outages provoke some serious silliness)

Komik

The other night we went out to brave the Taksim crowd. That’s literally what Taksim is: a crowd. Well, it’s a district of Istanbul, but you won’t see much of it because of all the people. Taksim square hosts numerous events throughout the year -New Years being one of which to AVOID if you have any smart genes whatsoever- and its surface area consists entirely of shopping, restaurants, and clubs.

Nightlife. Happens. Here.

So when 9pm rolls around I think to myself, hey, I should catch a bus to Taksim… not. Not unless there’s a good reason. And last week, we had one. A good reason. A reason every nerve in my body wanted to dismiss. I mean, I’d rather be curling up with a bedtime book when moonlight’s at full beam through my window. But this was too good. Too risky. Too curious. Too uncomfortable.

Before I could change my mind, I forced my arms into my winter jacket, pulled on the boots, and locked the door behind me.

Taksim was, as predicted, crowded. We followed scrawled directions, heads on a swivel, and linked together against the masses as we searched street signs. Trusting the sign above a door, we climbed the narrow swirling staircase to the top.

Five Americans entered a Turkish comedy club.

I mean, come on, that sounds like a joke in itself!

We were here by invitation of a friend my roommate met in the next door action figurine shop. Ah. Of course he would be part of a comedy club. Would we like to come see him perform? Sure- I’d love to subject myself to Turkish humor I can’t understand a word of.

It turned out to be much like a “Who’s line is it anyway?” and for 2 hours I was entertained by unpracticed theatrical skits using ideas shouted out by the audience. Whatever I understood I laughed at. They were hilarious.

Like most comedy shows, audience interaction and involvement was huge, so volunteers were used for several of their stunts. I caught this hint and purposefully never made eye contact, slouching low and praying not to be chosen. My comrade, however, was not so lucky; they literally pulled her out of her seat and unto the stage. Using language barriers to their full advantage, the American on stage added a whole new level of hilarity…

Some words in English– ones that are best not to be said because they have an unpleasant meaning in Turkish– she said. I laughed until I cried. Feeling awful for my friend but, not unlike the chairs filled with Turks around me, appreciating the belly aching laughter created at her expense. She was a great sport.

Still laughing, the five Americans filed out of the row and down the winding stairs, heads spinning from rapid shotfires of Turkish and the sea of people they just re-entered, but what should have been overwhelming was not, for their hearty spirit hangovers outweighed it all.

Weirdly Expectant

My Turkish friends got a kick out of this, so perhaps you will too…

It all started yesterday morning. I woke up and felt something different about my day. Something was going to happen. I just knew it. Now, as to what or who or when I had no clue. The air was simply filled with an unexplainable anticipation for the day’s events. So I was expectant.

I was expectant when I walked down Taksim’s Beyoglu Istiklal. Then, like so many times before, it happened: a turkish girl doing a survey stepped in front of me asking if I had a minute. I checked my watch- yeah, I had time. Usually I would have responded with a “I’m so sorry but I’m learning turkish and can’t speak very much yet.” But today was different.

Five minutes into the conversation and I realized I understood everything she was saying and participated in the survey.

I wish.

Actually it wasn’t like that at all. Five minutes into the conversation and I was totally and completely lost. Not a single word was making sense. Apologetic I stop her and recite my usual excuse. I offer her a smile and a good day, and then walk away. Frustrated. But hey, at least I tried. Plus it was early, and I hadn’t had coffee yet… Forced self-talk to justify my failed attempt. C’mon girl- chin up.

But then I enter a room where at least 5 languages are being spoken- none of them English. Overwhelmed, I wanted to cry. I thought today was going to be different. A mad breakthrough. Something!!!

Seven hours later, I’ve nearly arrived at my street corner and it happens again: I’m stopped mid-stride, nearly colliding with the girl who stepped in my path. She tries to get me to take a brochure. No. No thanks. But she wouldn’t let up. So I eventually take it. Whereupon she grabs my arm and pulls me towards a building’s entrance. I try and politely loosen her grasp. But she persists and before I can even think “oh no- I’m being taken!” she somehow pushes me through the door, up 2 flights of stairs, and lands me in an office. I give a desk clerk a fake phone number and am told to sit, so I sit. I look around and plan my emergency escape route.

The room is brilliantly white. Mirrors of all sizes adorn the entire back wall. A chandelier sparkles from the ceiling. Across from me double-doors swing open and my name is called. I pick myself up and transition into the next room, as brilliant as the one I had left. The perfectly primped woman behind the desk begins to speak rapidly. I ask her to slow down. She does so graciously, and before I know it I’ve been there an hour.

Her intentions to persuade me to sign-up for a laser hair removal package were quickly dropped when I explained that I like my arm hair, so we instead had a lovely cultural exchange. We chatted about fashion. Comparing Americans and Turks. And why in the world would I color my hair brown? A knock on the door signaled her time with me was up. As I left, she commended me on my Turkish and invited me back for Turkish coffee. It was delightful.

Unable to contain myself, I giggled the entire way home.

Maybe it wasn’t what I was expecting to expect, but it was exactly what I needed after my defeat that morning and then after a day of trying to figure out peoples’ needs that I couldn’t even communicate with.

I went to bed last night reflecting on the day’s comic turn of events, thankful for Turkish breakthroughs, but more-so relieved that I didn’t get taken.

Under Construction

Nrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
BAM BAM BAM
BZZZZZZZZCKCKCKCHCH

These are the housewarming sounds which welcomed us into our apartment our first day.

These are also the sounds which have continued to welcome us into the neighborhood. Never missing a beat, every day they persistently remind us we live in Turkey, where walls are paper thin and everybody can hear everything.

A fussy cat, a public dispute -where they shamelessly stand inches apart yelling at each others’ faces- a meat delivery boy roaring his bike engine into gear, a Simit Seller’s mumbled cry advertising his pastries resembling rings of soft doughy pretzels…
we hear it all.

I don’t mind the sounds of life. No. In fact, I love our neighborhood noises. They remind me of my current surroundings and that I’m where I’m meant to be doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing.

But….
Nrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
BAM BAM BAM
BZZZZZZZZCKCKCKCHCH

Well. At first I smiled. Day two, I sorta laughed it off.  Week 4??? I groaned. The construction has not only continued from the project next door, but in addition the ENTIRE building across the street is now being totally remodeled as well. We are literally living in a construction zone. If asked to give some thoughts on what Turkish home-life is like so far, my very reflective comment would be: “DRILLS. Lots and lots of drills.”