Monday, 10 November 2014

Istanbul, Turkey: Kindness is Key

Istanbul, the ancient city straddling two continents, is arresting. It may not be as aseptic nor as outwardly wealthy as the rest of Europe,  but its people´s warmth is extraordinary.

                                           Monument of the Republic, Taksim Square

The experience began as I got off, bleary-eyed from the airport bus  in Taksim, Istanbul´s modern city center. As per all my trips, I have mapped the apartment´s location on the iPad but sadly GPS was not working.  Armed with an offline google map, I asked a taxi driver for directions to the AirBnB flat
I´ve rented,  more than willing to take the taxi but the honest driver waves me off,  You walk, only seven minutes from here.   And so I walked trying hard to follow his directions and found myself in the middle of  Taksim Square.

At twenty past six in the morning, the square was largely deserted, with only a few taxis and a handful of youths on the street.  The square, it turned out, radiates outward to at least five streets. I tried to remember what the taxi driver told me, Turn right at the square. Huh, which right? I tried calling my friends, who arrived an hour earlier from Holland and who are now at the flat, so they could meet me at Taksim Square, but they were not answering.

                                     The ancient tram to Taksim Tunnel

So off I went and harangued a youth to ask for directions.  Now, of course, I had to admit, I got a bit scared when the youth offered to walk with me to find the apartment.  My skeptical mind was working,  Oh man, here I am a bumbling oriental woman, an easy target for mischief.  But the boy seemed kind and so for the ten minutes we walked looking for the flat, we chatted a bit.  He was 19 and a university student. Oh, you are so young!  I complement him on his good english,  he laughs.  It turned out that almost like in the Philippines,  people around here are conversant in English. There was not much of a language barrier here. He asks, How old are you?  I am in my thirties, I tell him.  He kept looking at his iPhone, I was suspicious, is he texting his cohorts? And then he tells me, I am meeting a friend at 7 AM in Taksim Square.  Oooh,  sorry.  Instead of waiting in peace for his friend, I dragged this young man around in search of a flat on top of a gastrobar.  And then as we turned the corner,I saw them, my two friends from Holland off to go to Taksim Square to meet me. I tell the young man, Those are my friends!  I think I am okay now!  Thank you very much!  He looked at me, smiled, and stepped back.  Looking back, I should have expressed my gratitude better. Kindness in the morning to a somewhat scared yet demanding stranger is not easily found in the world these days. Perhaps I should have given him something as a token of thanks, perhaps five liras for a cup of coffee but he waved off  as I looked back and smiled in thanks.  In my excitement seeing my two friends, I dismissed his kindness so easily.

Perhaps I have done a disservice, not having thanked  him enough for his help, but  I found in the three days I spent roaming around Istanbul that the Turkish people are preternaturally kind and helpful.  They do not have the kind of practiced and breezy hola, buenos dias, how are you? charm of the Spanish people but when approached, they are more than willing to help.

           A kid selling sweets. People do not shy away and get offended if you take pictures in Istanbul

At the bazaars, vendors would offer us turkish delights, halvas, dried fruits and all kinds of sweets to try.  They tell us, Just try! No need to buy!  They seemed to be offended when, having tried so many free sweets, we´d regretfully resist their offers. They´re proud that way,  standing by the quality of their goods.  Perhaps because we too, as Pinoys, are naturally cheerful,  we chatted a lot with the sellers at the bazaars.  One vendor showed a beautiful and expensive carpet,  I uttered, Oh but I am poor!  Ah but you are rich in spirit,  he says and taps me on the shoulder,  being kind despite not having gained any commission for his efforts.

                 These kids saw us and shouted, Selfie, Selfie!  So and here they are happily posing for us.

There is a certain understated natural joy among these people which connects with our own happy spirits.  One time, as one of the friends, the bagaholic, was choosing which bags to buy at his shop, the seller remarked,  You Filipinos and us, we have similar cultures,  that is why it is easy for us to connect.  Unlike the _____(some European countries whom we shall not name)  who thinks so highly of themselves and too low of us that they feel we are always out to cheat them.  It was touching really, how halfway across the world, even if partly, it was  to sort of stroke our ego, something in his words rang true.  In Istanbul, how nice it was to be struck by reality, how in everything, it is kindness that binds us closely.


  1. Turkey is definitelly on mine and my boyfriend's must-visit list! It's great to hear that the people are so nice and friendly, I have to admit that Turkey is usually portrayed as potentially dangerous country, especially for women travelling alone - which I think is mainly a relict of the past and exagerration of a couple of kidnappings, which sadly happen everywhere - so it's unfair to see the country in a bad light because of that.
    It's interesting that many coutnries in Asia connect so easily with Turkey, my Korean co-worker told me that Turkey became Korea's partner country and that he is happy about it, because they're both friendly and hospitable nations.

  2. Hello Vita! Yes, I think the Turkish being between continents, have that distinctly Asian friendliness! I lived in Seoul for five years before coming to Europe and haha, and I even think that the Turkish are outgoing than Koreans! :-) Istanbul is beautiful, more so because of its people. :-)


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