Thursday, May 28, 2009


Living in Istanbul is like having an in-depth case-study of Turkish anthropology. I have noticed common "quirks" that people use here, discovered what the "quirks" mean, and I, ever keen to be as "local" as possible, have even adopted some of these quirks into my own mannerisms. Yeah, I can say that I can act like a local here (ha ha), though I'm pretty sure no one will ever mistake me for one!

Some Turk-isms:
  • The hard blink - It's very common for people to greet you with a hard or exaggerated blink (think I Dream of Jeannie without the arms and head nod). It's usually accompanied with a smile. It can also be used as a sign of agreement or any other gesture of general pleasantness.
  • The lip smirk - Instead of saying no, most people will just smirk their lips. Take note that this action must produce some sort of noise. It's like blowing someone a kiss but with a hint of disgust. Sometimes the lip motion is subtle, but you can still hear the smirk.
  • The over-dressing - There seems to be a collective fear of cold in Turkey and people dress to ensure that they won't get cold in case a sudden chill occurs. As it's now warm here in Istanbul, I am usually wearing a tank top, shorts or a skirt and flip flops. I walk around in the sun and I'm sweating, wishing I had worn less. Everybody else? Long sleeve shirts, sometimes even sweaters and sports jackets, always socks/stockings and covered shoes. Even on the hot, crowded buses no one moves to take off their extra layers. I can't understand it.
  • The no-lines policy - The people here do not line up for anything really, unless there are specifically designated lines (such as in a grocery store). In places like bus stops, ferries and such, people just crowd together until everyone is onboard said transportation. "Cutting" in front of people occurs frequently as well. It's not really rude, it's just not very efficient.
Are there any other Turk-isms that you know of that I haven't noticed? If I notice any more, I'll be sure to let you know!

© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Büyükada: The Big Island of Istanbul

This past Saturday, I spent the day in Büyükada, the largest of a chain of islands just seven miles southeast of Istanbul. I had heard of the islands and how nice the change of pace was from the hustle of Istanbul as no cars are allowed on the islands. People get around on foot, bicycles or horse-drawn carriages. The islands are now places of elaborate summer homes for Istanbul's wealthy families, but it was once a place of exile where members of the royal family and public figures were banished.

I took the 25 minute ferry from Bostancı to Büyükada, enjoying the cool sea breeze, and met my friends Assiye and Alex. We hopped on a phaeton (horse-drawn carriage) that would take us up to the hill where Büyükada's only main site is, a 20th-century monastery built on Byzantine foundations. It was small, quite a disappointment after walking up a steep hill in the blazing sun, but the views were well worth it.

We spent the afternoon strolling back down to the main square in Büyükada, admiring the mansions that lined the streets. We even saw an old mansion for sale and started coming up with ideas on what we would do if we bought it. Assiye is currently working on negotiating with the realtor... =)

I also took the opportunity to take photos with my Diana F camera, the results of which we'll have to wait and see (most likely once I get back to NYC as it's hard to find a place in Istanbul that will develop 120 mm film). We ended our afternoon with dondurma and Efes beer by the pool of their hotel.

Büyükada was certainly a nice retreat from Istanbul, but there really wasn't anything spectacular about it. For those that are coming to visit Istanbul and have a limited time, I wouldn't recommend making the trip out to the islands as there are far more interesting places to go to in Istanbul proper.

© Connie Hum 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Eurovision 2009

I hope everyone in the States is enjoying their 3-day Memorial Day weekend! And congratulations to Jon (a good friend since sophomore French class) and Yvette for getting married today! Sorry I couldn't be there to celebrate your big day with you! Consider my planning your honeymoon as gift enough!
On Saturday, May 16th, I had the incredible experience of attending a Eurovision song contest party. For those who have not heard of Eurovision, it's a yearly song contest where each European country (plus other countries in the somewhat surrounding area) submits a song to compete against all the other countries. The final competition is held in the country that won the previous year. Each country performs their song and after all the performances, all the countries vote by giving points. The country with the most points after the voting wins the contest. The contest is wildly popular for some reason even though the songs are notoriously cheesy. It was a blast to watch it though.

The party was mainly foreign expats living in Istanbul so we were all rooting for Turkey. After each performance we would make notes on the song and performance. As the songs and performances usually entailed pretty awful music and costumes, it was fun to share comments with one another. This was probably what made watching Eurovision so fun. Otherwise, it may have just been a form of torture.

When the winner was announced at the end of the night, I have to admit, I was a bit mortified. I was in complete disbelief that Norway won with this song. It's so bad!!! Check out the dancers in the background.

All in all, I had a fun time watching Eurovision in Istanbul and I'm sure I'd be up for another Eurovision song contest party if I'm in Europe the next time it's on. On the other hand, if this happens to be the ONLY Eurovision song contest I ever get to experience, I'm okay with that too.

© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Summertime: Refresh!

This past weekend gave me a sneak peek at Istanbul's summer season. The weather went from mild and temperate in the low seventies to hot, hot, hot, hitting the mid-eighties before noon.

Now when I walk around, I'm almost always drinking a cold ayran, a Turkish yogurt drink that most people grew up drinking, and then for some reason, wouldn't be caught dead drinking anymore once they were older. My Turkish friends think I'm silly for liking it so much to drink it almost everyday but I think it's very refreshing, the perfect thing for a walking around on a hot Istanbul day. The best part, it's completely easy to make!

Just whisk equal parts plain yogurt and water with a bit of salt (optional) until smooth and frothy. They say a sign of a good ayran depends on how frothy it is, though I haven't noticed a significant difference in the taste. You can serve over ice or keep cool in the refrigerator.


Although plain yogurt is the standard for ayran, think of all the possibilities! I'd like to try adding some bananas (without salt) into my next batch. Maybe even strawberries another time? Better yet, both!

Yum...I think I'm going to pour myself a glass of ayran right now!

© Connie Hum 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Travel Challenge

By now, you realize that I love to travel and that nothing else makes my heart sing as much as being on the road. Although I firmly believe that traveling randomly around the world is really the only way to allow life's adventures to unfold itself before you, I wanted to set a travel goal for myself. My friend Andi gave me an inspiration. She's embarking on an ambitious travel challenge of traveling to 26 countries, each starting with the letters of the alphabet, to be completed in the next four years. Although my ultimate goal is to travel to EVERY country in the world, this is a fun start! Since I like to travel for long periods of time in a given place, I'm going to give myself four years (instead of five as I originally intended to make it more challenging) to complete the alphabet. Wish me luck!

Here's a list of all the countries I've been to. Those listed with an asterisk * indicate places that I have tickets already purchased to travel. Bold indicate trips I'm seriously considering.

A - Austria
B - Belgium, Bulgaria
C - Canada (Quebec), Costa Rica, Czech Republic
D - Denmark* (Copenhagen, May/June 2009)
E - Egypt (September 2009), England (London, October 2009)
F - France, Fiji (2011)
G - Germany, Greece, Grenada
H - Hungary
I - Iceland, Italy
J - Jordan (September 2009)
K -
L -
M - Mexico, Myanmar (Burma)
N - Netherlands
O -
P - Peru, Poland, Portugal
Q -
R - Romania
S - Slovenia, Spain, Sweden* (Stockholm, June 2009)
T - Turkey, Thailand (2010)
U - United States
V - Vatican City
W -
X - NO countries start with X...Perhaps this should be a city instead?
Y -
Z -

As you can see, I've still got quite a way to go! Anyone want to join me on any travel (mis)adventures between now and May 8, 2013? Let me know!

© Connie Hum 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cooking with İkbal: Turkish Tavuk and Pilav

This chicken dish is the equivalent to chicken noodle soup (just without the soup). İkbal showed me how to make it on a cold and rainy day, which was just the perfect day for some comfort food.

Again, there are no measurements so use your best judgement for how much food you think you will eat.

Ingredients for chicken:
  • chopped carrots
  • onion, quartered
  • chicken (İkbal used bone-in thighs)
  • salt
  • water
Ingredients for pilav:
  • piliç (short-grain rice)
  • tel sehrıye (short, vermicelli-type pasta, can be excluded if you can't find it)
  • butter
  • chicken stock (from above recipe)
Rinse and soak the piliç. Set aside.

Place chicken, chopped carrots, and quartered onion into a large pot. Add enough water so that it barely reaches the top of the ingredients. Add salt.

Cover, bring to a boil and allow to simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

While the chicken is simmering, add butter to a non-stock pan or pot. Please don't use butter as liberally as İkbal does (wow, no wonder I'm not losing any weight). A tablespoon or two would be more than enough in my opinion.

Add tel sehrıye (about a quarter of the piliç) and stir.

Drain piliç and add to the pot. Add chicken stock. Keep in mind that for every cup of piliç you use, you will need the same amount of chicken stock. Since İkbal is cooking for the entire family, we used three cups of piliç, which required three cups of chicken stock to cook.

Stir all the ingredients until well mixed. Cover and simmer on low heat until the liquid is absorbed into the piliç and tel sehrıye. It took us about 20-25 minutes.
Serve the chicken over the pilav. It's the perfect meal for a rainy Spring afternoon!
If you have extra chicken stock left, don't just drain it! You can reserve it for another meal.

If you'd like to add a delicious, simple and easy to make Turkish salad to complete your meal, chop up some lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and cilantro. Top with olive oil, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and salt. Toss and enjoy! It's really light and refreshing. A perfect addition to any meal!

© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Toilet Training Is Fun!

A couple weeks ago, we started toilet training Melda. I'd like to think that I helped in the process, but I can't really say that I did. I was mostly on watch, calling out to whoever, whenever the "dirty" work needed to be done, laughing all the while. It was quite fun. Really! Well, at least there were some funny stories to share.

Melda is quite the comedian and loves to just latch on to me (arms, legs, any loose limb she can find) and squeeze with her arms (sometimes nails too which can be quite painful) and legs to hold herself up. She hangs from chosen limb, saying "Melda's a monkey." Well, she did this one day after lunch, early on in the training. We laugh, I pretend to shake her off my leg and let her down. Then I notice a wet spot on my jeans. And then I notice a corresponding wet spot on Melda's pants. Boooo...

On another afternoon, Melda and I were upstairs playing. We always lock the gate leading downstairs to prevent any falls. Suddenly, Melda goes to the gate, tries to open it and with a panicked look, starts screaming. I've been trying to get Melda to "use her words" so I slowly walk over and calmly ask her what's the matter. She continues to scream at the gate. Again I calmly ask if there's something I can help her with. Then she manages to say "Toilet!" I take her downstairs to use her special potty and start laughing when I remember the panicked look on her face when she couldn't get downstairs. Poor thing. But hooray, she learned the word "toilet!"

Another night, I was playing with Mina and Melda. We were all lying on the ground, about to do something when Mina and I both sniffed something bad, looked at Melda's pants then at each other. " İKBAL!!!" Mina, İkbal and I couldn't stop laughing as Melda finished her business on the toilet. İkbal kept trying to get me to take pictures of the mess in Melda's pants but I couldn't stop laughing long enough to do it (and I didn't really want to).

All in all, the toilet training was a success and Melda is now diaper free! Congratulations Melda!

© Connie Hum 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Three Asian Girls Walk Into a Turkish Class...

And EVERYONE assumed that they were together, even though none of them had met before.

One was from New York (that's me), one was from Toronto and the other from Shanghai.

We were all interested in learning Turkish for various reasons and had come to the class out of curiosity. It just happened to be a coincidence that we were all Asian.

We kept having to explain to EVERYONE that we were not together and that we didn't know each other from before. They couldn't believe that the three random people interested in starting their next Turkish course all happened to be Asian girls. They had a harder time believing that we didn't know each other.

Completely understandable as this was probably the most condensed Asian population I have come across in Istanbul, save for the group of Japanese tourists I saw trying to cram themselves onto an already crammed Taksim/Tünel tram. Now THAT was pretty funny!

© Connie Hum 2009

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