Earlier this week Danielle, Fabio and myself set out on what we assumed would be a short excursion to Sultansuyu Harası on our university rep’s suggestion. What seemed like it would start off as a few hours outside the university quickly spiraled into a long, drawn out day of confusion, and eventually picture taking and fish.
The first sign that things could get tricky was our reps insistence on giving us scavenger hunt directions: i.e. go to Malatya Park Mall, and then call me and receive further instructions. From the mall, we were told to catch a mini-bus to Akçadağ, a good 20 kilometers outside of the city proper – no problem. Getting off the bus is always the hardest part, and we were told to get off the bus once we started seeing horses close to Harra… or something. After that we would be met by his sister-in-law. It’s around here that things get a little hazy.
As rough a day as I had on Friday – my Turkish completely failed me, my bank account got closed out, and my internet ceased to function (compounding the other two problems) – Saturday was the exact opposite.
There is a type of a mini-bus/taxi hybrid, that functions like a subway, in Turkey called a dolmuş. These buses always look extremely sketchy – small white vans, sliding side doors, tinted windows and clusters of people huddled in the back – and stop when someone waves them down on their route. As Danielle, Fabio and myself were on the way to the univerity’s main gate to ask whether any buses were going into the city center on Saturday’s, we saw a dolmuş and hailed it.
Ankara is a hilly city – seriously, you can’t go anywhere here without hiking up some hill or mountain. This was precisely why Ankara was chosen as the capital of Turkey during the War of Independence: the mountains it is built upon, and it’s overall remoteness, provided an ideal defensible position.
Today Ankara, luckily, does not face threat of attack so its hills have been put to a variety of uses. In the center of the city, on the highest hill, sits Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the revered Attatürk, founder of modern Turkey. I went to the mausoleum when I was in Ankara last summer too, but this time the tour was in English and I gained a new appreciation for the building. Each segment of the structure was constructed and planned as a synthesis of all the cultures that have inhabited Turkey – from the Phrygians of ancient times up through the Byzantines, Ottomans, and Muslim influence. As I heard someone once say, “If you like the Lincoln Memorial, Anıtkabir will blow you away.”
Yesterday evening, after a long day of orientation, my fellow Fulbrighters and myself were invited to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corp in Turkey at a diplomat’s house. Honestly, nothing really puts you in the mind set of feeling like a boss – at least from my own limited experience – like attending an official State Department garden party, complete with the press chief for the embassy, whiskey and wine on the rocks following freely, bountiful appetizers, and a podium that actually had the U.S. seal on the front of it.
Procrastination has always been my weak point, especially now. Although I’m now in Turkey, attending my 10 day orientation in Ankara, I didn’t finish describing my weekend in the Poconos with Jen.
After spending Friday night at the best dive bar in the world, we spent Saturday kayaking down the Delaware. After kayaking in the East River for 20 minutes for my birthday, we assumed going for a 10 mile kayaking session down the Delaware would be no big thing….we sincerely misjudged.
Around the 2 hour mark, which was only halfway, both of our arms felt like they were on fire with no choice but to continue going on. Good thing we werent in a canoe, otherwise I would have felt like we were in deliverance, just without the red-neck rape, the rapids, or the danger. Still, the Delaware was absolutely beautiful and it was full of areas where you could pull your vessel out of the river and camp for the night. We’ve already decided to do a two day canoe trip once I return from turkey next summer.
On Sunday, the two of us went two hours further west into the poconos to hike along the Falls Trail in Ricket’s Glen on my dads advice. I’m incredibly grateful ge mentioned the area to us – it was one of the most amazing trails I’ve seen. First we had to drive up steep mountain roads to reach the state park. At the summit was a gigantic lake.
Parking, the two of us were raring for the waterfall hike until we saw the numerous warnings of people who had fallen off the trail due to being underprepared; we were both wearing skater shoes. After slowly gathering up our courage, we hiked along to the first fall where we again almost turned back, if not for one crazy lady.
She was hiking up along the falls trail with an infant strapped to the front of her. No way would we let ourselves be bested by an infant. Good thing that baby was there, too! Thanks to it, we got some amazing photos of the falls.
There is something about dive bars that just seems so friendly and inviting and warm – a sense of camaraderie, almost. As opposed to clubs or more swanky drinking establishments, dive bars – and the people inside them – seem especially honest about their intentions. Most often the people frequenting a dive bar are just looking to relax with friends or forget, however briefly, about whatever weight they have hanging around their shoulders. In short, I love dive bars and I am always on the lookout for a new favorite. This was how, by complete chance, I found the best dive bar in the world with Jen last weekend in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
To celebrate turning the ripe old age of 22, my girlfriend Jen planned a surprise action packed NYC Brooklyn birthday celebration for the both of us this past Saturday. The day itself was fantastic, and was made all the better since I had plenty of opportunities to act as a camera whore with my new Canon. Jen was happy to oblige my taking pictures of everything – partially from guilt, I’m sure, of asking me to ‘endure’ as her occasional photographer for her blog.
The day started off with a visit to one of our favorite Dim Sum places in Chinatown, Nom Wah Tea Parlor – the first Dim Sum restaurant in NYC, since 1920. Usually we make the mistake of over-ordering by several magnitudes, so we ate light this time: only beef rice rolls, turnip cake, and shrimp dumplings. It was still too much for us…
The next stop was a hike across the Brooklyn Bridge. I haven’t walked the bridge since I was much younger, so I barely remembered how amazing the views of Manhattan were. Once in Brooklyn, Jen led the way to a small bay where there was free kayaking in the East River – what?! Dual kayaking has long been on our joint bucket list which we’ve been attempting to work our way through before I head to Turkey in September. I even managed to slightly tan while on the river, although it didn’t last much longer than two days…
After kayaking, the two of us walked over to the Housing Works thrift store in Brooklyn Heights, all the while admiring the neighborhood. Housing Works is especially cool since it is staffed by HIV positive people and is dedicated to raising awareness about, and fighting, AIDs. It also had some great items, all for super cheap.
Dinner came next at Tutt Cafe, a very chill Middle Eastern cafe. The food was good, but somehow neither of us was particularly hungry. The pita was fresh baked, though, and was definitely some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever eaten.
After dinner, we then headed to downtown Manhattan for the grand finale. Jen had played the final portion of the night extremely close to her chest, so I was beyond surprised – maybe more like dumbfounded – when I realized our last stop was an off-off-Broadway Play; Terminator Two: Judgement Play. The show was hysterical, and the role of the terminator was cast with a volunteer from the crowd. Although my Arnold impersonation is no good, I wish I had had the courage to at least try out… Oh well. You can’t have it all, I suppose.
[quote style=”3″]“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain[/quote]
There is only so much time we all have in this world. Depending upon your mindset, the human capability to know our own death is either the cruelest joke ever played or the greatest blessing. Being an optimist, and a procrastinator, I instead view our final deadline as an incentive to take all we want from life. So, without further ado, is a list of 100+ things everyone should try to complete.
If you think I missed anything important, please don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below!
Mount Nemrut is an amazing series of burial tombs located in South East Turkey, from the 1st century BC. The tombs are best known for the giant stone heads littering the mountainside that once belonged to statues flanking the tombs.
2. Become Published
Being published is becoming easier and easier, thanks to a surge in self publishing and electronic publishing options, such as through Amazon. For the slightly less ambitious, there are multitudes of newspapers and websites looking for contributors. Time’s a wastin, let loose the writer within!
3. Live in Another Country
Embrace a challenge and move to a country you have always dreamed of going to. The experience of living somewhere radically different will both open your horizons, as well as helping you to appreciate the small things about your home country you may not have originally realized. Who knows, you may not ever want to leave your adopted home.
The Aurora Borealis is a natural light show that takes place at far northern latitudes, caused by the collision of charged particles in the atmosphere – far out, dude! Depending upon how far north or south you go, the Aurora takes on different hues – greens and yellows further north, pinks and purples further south.
5. Camp Out at a Music Festival
This past June, I attended my first music festival at Bonnaroo. The experience was amazing! Never had I been around so many people, all expressing themselves so differently, yet so welcoming and friendly. Festivals actively encourage bringing out the best in everyone, and it shows! Besides, how could you not have a good time while seeing so much amazing music and art?
6. Take a Ferry Ride around the Bosphorous
The Bosphorous is the body of water that divides Istanbul – the only city on the planet to be located on two continents – in half. By riding the ferry, you can easily take in the beauty of an amazing skyline that has been developing for over two thousand years. Not to mention, the water itself is a constant beautiful turquoise.
7. Climb the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall is known as being great for a reason – all branches included, it is over 13,000 miles long! How’s that for a feat of human engineering? The best segments of the wall for climbing are located around Beijing, and they meander along beautiful mountain views.
In Northern China, it is customary to drink baijiu – extremely hard Chinese alcohol made from rice – as a sign of respect during banquets and other official functions. Unlike hard liquor in the West, though, this is not taken in shot form. Instead, you fill small glasses up which you then chug, after selecting a drinking buddy, screaming “gan bei!” – meaning, empty glass. To show you didn’t pussy foot around, you then hold the glass upside down showing that it is truly empty.
Apparently in traditional settings, it is not uncommon for all guests at a banquet to have two glasses of baijiu at the start; you know, to really kick things off. After this, the rest of the night is spent eating from dozens of small dishes brought out while simultaneously toasting – and being toasted – by everyone else at the function. Whoever said Asians can’t drink has never met someone from Northern China.
Unfortunately – or maybe luckily – I did not attend any baijiu enhanced meals while I was in China, mostly we stuck to wine. I did, however, manage to partake in some delicacies. The most interesting of which was by far the “drunken shrimp” pictured above. The shrimp, like most Chinese banqueters, are placed alive into a pot full of baijiu and spices where they are left to sit and become progressively drunker. Once they cease struggling, you eat them alive. They taste like a sort of sweetly spicy alcoholic shrimp cocktail – delicious!
What I particularly enjoyed about Chinese dining was both the variety, as well as the order. The meal began with a schmorgesborg of various dishes and entrees – some sweet, some spicy, some alive and soaked in alcohol. Variety is the spice of life, after all. This sort of eating could be best compared to tapas.
After everyone is good and full from the appetizers – as well as nicely drunk – a main course is brought out. In my experiences, this is usually some sort of noodley soup, that goes down easily enough after having gorged yourself already during the past hour and a half. Of course, you make room – both out of politness and due to how amazingly tasty everything is anyway.
Personally, I love this style of eating – even though I am aware it is only reserved for special occassions. As a friend of my brother’s in China said: “Western dining can be so tiring with just one dish. At first you may think you love it, but after eating a whole plateful you’re not too sure anymore. With Chinese dining, you eat something, you don’t like it, you can move on.”
I like this mentality. After all, with enough great food, good company, and strong alcohol, how could you not have a great night?
It was pouring rain outside, as should be expected. May through June were the monsoon months in Nanjing, and the days alternated between being hot and sticky or torrentially down-pouring. Outside, beyond these monsoon winds and rain, a family friend of my brothers was waiting to treat us all to dinner (again!). The plan was for my mother, sister-in-law, Meng, baby nephew, Adam, and myself to meet at the restaurant at seven, while my brother would join us after he finished work at 7:30.
It would be terrible to take the baby out in this rain, we all decided; however, it was already too late to cancel dinner and my mother and myself could not find the restaurant ourselves. Meng asked the grandmother of one of my brother’s students – who was waiting in the apartment living room until her grandson’s class ended – if she could guide us to the restaurant. Not knowing a word of English, she happily agreed to take my mother and myself – who in turn knew no Chinese – out in the rain. Why wouldn’t she? She had spent the last hour sitting with my mom, laughing and gesturing, not understanding a word the other said.
Two days later, my brother’s upstairs neighbor and her granddaughter – Spring – came to the apartment for a quick visit. Although Spring was only four, and again knew no English except “hello” and “bye bye!” we managed to have a wonderful time coloring on my brother’s white board.
Three days later, we all went out to dinner with Meng’s parents. Again, they knew no English; however, the mother-in-law could not have been happier to see my mom. The two hugged, smiled, laughed, and held hands throughout the meal. They would try to speak to each other, failing, and would then in turn laugh and gesture,
They say upwards of 70% of communication is non-verbal. At first I always shrugged off these claims – not realizing that that motion, itself, lent credence to the statistic – not truly believing them, or imagining that the percentage must be highly inflated. After all, 81.5% of statistics are made up on the spot.These experiences in China highlighted everything for me. Suddenly it all clicked, and I really understood a smile’s value. No matter where you go, at least in my experience, smiling is a universal feature. It’s just always warm, and happy, and above all communicable. I suppose that is a major reason why – on those days you feel storm clouds rolling in – a smile, even if just from a stranger in passing, can be so strong.
A smile’s value is infinitely more than I gave it credit for, because, after all, it is more than just a facial expression; it seems to say to everyone around you – consciously or not – “things are good, and you are part of it.”
That is, unless the person stops smiling when they see you…
So, these three Americans get into a rickshaw, right? Doesn’t it sound like the beginning of some bad joke?
Well, after the dinner that we had with Mrs. Wang we were in a rush to return to my brother’s apartment to help take care of the new baby – who knew that it took two people to wash a baby comfortably? Not I…
Unfortunately, hailing a cab on a Friday night in Nanjing is torturous, and we had no success. At least, that is, until a motorized rickshaw drove by. Not wanting to miss this chance, my brother, my mother and myself all pilled into the back seat as best we could. I’m glad we did! The video I managed to take gives a decent – though a tad shaky – view of what downtown Nanjing is like at night.
“Are you excited to be returning home?” I asked the man sitting next to me on my flight to China. He was a recent college graduate – my age – and we had struck up a friendly conversation during the take off of the plane.
“Very,” he said. “This is the first time in two years I’m going home. I can’t wait for the food. In my hometown, people know how to eat – not like in America. In America, people eat very fast and can barely enjoy it. In China, my father takes a few hours to eat dinner and enjoys every part of the fine Chinese dining.”
“Americans eat just to eat,” I agreed, thinking of all the times I rushed through a meal to get to class, or work, or a movie on time.
“You’ll see. In China, you will eat very well.” He had no idea how correct he would be.
I can safely say that the majority of my time in the Middle Kingdom was spent gorging myself on some delicacy at some banquet my brother’s friends, colleagues or clients were treating us to.
On my second night in Nanjing, an old professor – Mrs. Wang – of my brother from Nanjing University took us all out to a fancy and delicious Cantonese style dinner. In general, Cantonese food tends to be sweet and savory, compared to the saltier styles of cooking in Northern China. Whereas this meal may have lasted an hour or so in America, in China it carried on at its own leisurely pace. In waves all small the dishes were brought replacing ones that had been finished earlier.
Eventually a local Chinese wine was ordered to, to help supplement the tea, and then desert was added to the mix. Interestingly, desert in China does not seem to be served after the rest of the meal is finished – rather, the dishes can be served at whatever time they are ready. So, we continued to gorge on an assortment of fried pumpkin bread rolls, danta (egg custard tarts), as well as finishing up the sweetly roasted pork and the enoki mushrooms and beef.
In all the meal took about two and a half hours to complete. With a mixture of jet lag, wine, and a slight food coma setting in I felt perfectly content. Conversation picked up again, until my brother realized the time and had to end the meal so we could get back to his apartment to help his wife give his son a bath. We said our goodbyes and thanks to Mrs. Wang and headed out.
On the way back to the apartment, after we had parted from Mrs. Wang Laotzu, my brother comically noted how it was Chinese custom to order more food than your guests could possibly eat. Unfortunately, Mrs. Wang severely underestimated how much we could tuck away.
There was nothing left.
Note: I just wanted to mention how cool the enoki mushrooms and beef were cooked. The food was brought out, wrapped in silver foil. It was then placed in a bowl of baijio – Chinese hard alcohol – which was set alight. A waitress then moved the silver foil bundle around, ensuring that the contents inside were cooked thoroughly.