Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The young man is on the tram. His oversized Great Outdoors backpack, green, bumps passengers from their restricted standing room in the overcrowded carriage. He holds onto the overhead rail with both hands to take up as little space as possible. His daypack hangs from his front. He makes an ideal target for pickpockets. He has 5 million Turkish lira pickpocketed. Just half-an-hour in Istanbul and he's already blown millions. 5 million lira is worth about NZ$5.
Off the tram in the tourist suburb of Sultahnamet, Hamish is immediately accosted by a Turkish David Brent look-alike. And act-alike. "Where are you from?" says the Turkish Brent, "Australia?". "New Zealand," Hamish answers, proud to be able to name a country that hasn't really been party to the blowing up of other countries. But then again, there was that minor run-in with the Turks circa 1915. "Come and look at my hotel," smiles Turkish Brent, "I give you good price".
The naive New Zealander follows him to look at 'his' hotel. It's far too flash for Hamish, having a separate bedroom and private bathroom, so he makes the excuse that he needs to eat before deciding. Turkish Brent, in all his generosity, decides to accompany Hamish to lunch. Over soup, the burly Brent-alike keeps driving down the price for 'his' hotel. Hamish wants to look around before he decides. Brent is beside himself. "I don't understand; I give you very good price and you don't like -- why you don't like my hotel?" He slumps into a tremendous sulk, and huffs his way through the rest of his meal. Every so often he tries again, punching numbers into his calculator to offer a lower price. It's not the price (way too expensive) that is at issue. "I don't understand," he wails, "I offer you good price."
Of course, the Brenturk doesn't own the hotel. Commission is a business in Turkey.
Later the Kiwi finds a suitably cheap hostel.
It rains for the next three days.
Hamish looks at mosques. Hamish looks at a 1500-year-old underground cistern. There is a cafe at the end selling Coke. One day Hamish takes a boat across to Istanbul's Asian shore. He is disappointed not to find a China Town. The whole time Hamish is pissed off by shopkeepers stopping him on the street: "Excuse me, my friend, where you from?" It takes about 10 such encounters before Hamish realises they don't really care where he's from. Sometimes the shopkeepers simply offer: "Yes please, sir".
Oh, but Istanbul is a great city. 18 million people. The Spice Bazaar is a highlight. Here Hamish stuffs himself on free samples of delicious Turkish delights. He even accepts the offer of a tasty white tea from one shopkeeper. He rewards him by purchasing a small pack of pistachio nuts.
"Excuse me, friend, where you from?" Fuckoffistan.
Hamish's crappy package tour booked him into a hotel. He has a separate bedroom and a private bathroom. He feels like a cheat. When he arrives he's not allowed to get into his room until after he's done the day-tour.
He does the day-tour. He's in a group with 10 Japanese girls and a couple of Turks. Of course, the obligatory fat American couple is there, and they make the obligatory references to Bush being a danger to the world -- as is necessary when you're surrounded by 'foreigners'. Hamish feels lonely being the only one who really speaks English (the Americans speak American).
Hamish is duly amazed by the weird rock formations, sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity and erosion. He marvels at the ancient cave-homes built by Christians in Biblical times. In his cynical mood however, he can't help but pay more attention to the stall-holders selling statuettes and postcards, frothing at the mouth at the vision of Japanese tourists in their sleek shoes and bomber jackets.
Later the tour stops at an "underground pottery factory" so the tourists can see how pottery is made. Just in case they hadn't already done that at primary school. The pottery-making demonstrations last about 10 minutes. 30 minutes -- the same amount of time the tourists spend at any one natural attraction -- is set aside for shopping in the upstairs salesroom.
Commission is a business in Turkey.
Lunch, hooray, is just around the corner. Sadly, Hamish is in the toilet when the tour guide announces that drinks cost extra -- the food is included with the tour. Hamish orders what he thinks is a glass of red wine. Hamish is given a small bottle of red wine. After lunch Hamish is presented with a surprise 16 million lira bill. Luckily Hamish is half-sozzled, so it doesn't hurt as much.
Hamish decides to forgo the belly dancing show on offer that night, with unlimited drinks, for just US$20. Instead he stays in his room and eats a packet of chips and some pistachio nuts. He sleeps well.