Sunday, December 28, 2008

Malatya Day 7

I got really excited when I flipped on the TV the last morning in Malatya. On the kids’ channel, Looney Tunes was on! I was really excited, because Looney Tunes hasn’t been on TV for several years. I watched for two hours straight, until Mert came to get me for breakfast. After breakfast, we packed up as we had to check out of the guesthouse by 10am. We left our bags near the front desk and went to waste time downtown. Mert, Canan, and I just wandered around downtown. We met up with Beril and her husband. Beril is another grad student from METU. I sat next to her and her husband on the bus ride to and from Mt. Nemrut. Her husband was really interesting to talk to. As he and Beril are slightly older than everyone else, they were great to talk to about more socio-economic issues in Turkey.

He explained to me that Turkey’s largest problem was their refusal to dissolve the class-based society. To become a politician or businessman, you need to know be a part of the upper class, or be closely associate with someone who is. Another problem is that men will own large areas of land, becoming self-appointed governors of small areas, probably about the size of counties in the US.

We all got lunch at the same restaurant. By this point, they had recognized me, not only as an American but also as the guy who only eats baked potatoes. I knew I couldn’t eat for a while because of our flight at 6pm, so I ordered too. They were kind enough to scoop out the potatoes and arrange them on a plate for me. It is just another example of the kindness displayed by the Turkish people.

After lunch, we walked over to the tourist information booth, so I could get a Tourist Ministry poster from Malatya. The tourist information office was located inside a beautiful garden lush with palm trees and fountains. It was very much an oasis in a broiling and dry city. We sat down and enjoyed cool drinks for a few hours until we had to grba our bags and head to the airport.

Beril’s husband had negotiated with a taxi driver to take us to the airport for the amount it would cost us to take the Havas bus. We picked up our bags and all crammed into the taxi. I had forgotten how far the airport was from the city, but I guess they can’t position air force bases too close to city centers.

After getting into Ankara airport, we took a Havas to the Asti, or Ankara bus station. They dropped me off at my dormitory at around midnight. I was completely exhausted, but it was a spectacular trip. I wish I could have visited Urfa, a city near the Syrian border, but at least I got back safely.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Malatya Day 6

The next morning at 6am, Canan, Mert, and I got up to catch the tour bus to Urfa. After waiting at the designated spot for 30 minutes, the owner of the tour company came by and told us that due to the accident the day before; everyone else had pulled out of the trip. She offered to allow us to accompany the two-day trip and have a car bring us back that night. We would be leaving for the return trip to Malatya at around midnight and getting in around 3am. We all decided that this was not a very safe plan, as we could be stranded by an unreliable car. We told the woman that we would not be taking the tour, and that we wanted our money back. She said that we should come by her office later in the day to claim it. So, we went back to the guesthouse and slept for a few more hours.

When I finally woke up, Mert turned on the TV in our room. There were military parades on most of the channels. August 30th is Victory Day in Turkey. It signifies the Ataturk’s victory in the Battle of Dumlupinar, which signified Turkey’s independence from Greece, who was supported by the allies in World War I. It is celebrated by several hours of military parades at Ataturk’s Mausoleum in Ankara and televised throughout the country on government TV channels.

We, finally, woke up and ate breakfast. As Canan and Mert had not seen the museum in town yet, so we decided to go see that. The streets were lined with red and white streamers and balloons in celebration of Victory Day. Lots of street vendors were around from the parade that happened earlier that day. Although we never witnessed the parade, the decorations were evidence of the importance of this day to the Turks.

There was a vendor selling these white pods from a plant, which are a naturally type of chewing gum. Mert bought a small bag, so they could try it. It was apparently good that I didn’t want to try them, as they were apparently somewhat awful.

When we got to the museum, the security guard recognized me from the other two visits. He asked Mert if I was a journalist as I had carried my camera with me all three visits. He told Mert that he could arrange for me to meet with the archeologists who work at the museum if I come back in two days, or Monday. Mert told him that I was an American who was visiting, and the guard laughed. He told us that we could take pictures of whatever we wanted, as long as I didn’t use my flash. This was the third set of rules regarding my camera in as many visits. By this point, I had seen everything; so I focused on taking pictures of the more intricate pieces, particularly glass vessels and gold coins.

After leaving the museum, we went and got lunch. Still eating bread, I started to find mealtime being the least favorite part of my day. Afterwards, we went to go get some dondurma, Turkish ice cream, so they could have some before we left the next day. We were meeting up with everyone else for dinner, after they all returned from a trip to a waterfall nearby, so we had lots of time to kill. At this point, we went to go pick up our refund at the tour agency office. Mert and Canan were surprised that we got a refund at all. Apparently, refunds are a rare occurrence in Turkey. I was rather happy that we received one as the trip cost over 100 lira.

We ended up walking around the bazaar again. I ended up buying a few hand made copper dishes to act as sugar dishes for my tea sets that I had purchased earlier. We went for dinner at the same restaurant we had been going to for the past few days, so I could have more potatoes. I really have to say how much I appreciate everyone for accommodating to me to such a degree. I know that everyone felt somewhat guilty that I got so sick in their country, but everyone really went above and beyond to make me as comfortable as possible.

Since we had gotten up so early, we turned in early. Although it had been a relaxing day, it still was quite tiring with the extreme heat.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Malatya Day 5

I have to apologize again for the lapse in posting. Between research, school, and the holidays, I have been hard pressed to find time to update. It’s probably a good thing as my advisor has been using that as part of the metric to determine if I’m actually busy or not. ;-) Anyways, I have some free time over the next few days, as I am finally taking a break from work. Happy Holidays to everyone.

So the fifth day, or Friday, was an exciting day. It was the day we took the first conference sponsored day trip. Leaving at 3pm, we took buses up to Mount Nemrut. For an in-depth description of you should definitely read the Wikipedia article, the sites’s website, or see the APOD picture. As I don’t want to blatantly copy the description from Wikipedia onto the blog, I highly recommend you go read the four short paragraphs which are posted.

Since I planned on hot weather the whole trip, I did not bring a sweatshirt at all. When we arrived in Malatya, Damla inquired to check that I had brought a sweatshirt. As I had not, everyone was worried that I would freeze on the trip to the summit of Mt. Nemrut. That morning, I decided to quell their worries and buy a sweater. I decided to go down to the bazaar to purchase one from one of the street vendors, as I thought that would be the cheapest solution.
I went downtown with everyone, but split off when they waited for the dolmus to take them to the university. I walked down the street, which was lined with clothing merchants. One seemed to feature tops and sweaters. I walked in and through hand motions and the Turkish word for sweatshirt, he started to pull down lots of types of sweaters. I chose two of them and he told me that it would cost 150 lira, which I knew was outrageous. I as I said that I didn’t want the second sweater, which was more expensive, we started bargaining the price of the second sweater. I eventually got sick of it and was adamant that I did not want the sweater. I paid what he quoted me for the first sweater, which was 70 lira.

The thing about the whole situation is I got worn down enough where I just wanted to get out. I didn’t keep in mind that I could leave at any time, which I knew full well was an option before I walked in there. I guess I hope that this serves as a reminder for someone to not forget that you are meant to bargain for anything not sold in a store while abroad, especially in the Middle East. Anyways, I thought I would point that out, so someone else might benefit from my mistake. The worst part about this is that the summit of Mt. Nemrut wasn’t even cold!

After buying the sweater, I went to go stock up on bread before the trip. The trip advertised that dinner would be served at the summit, but I knew that whatever it ended up being would not be something I could eat. I grabbed a loaf from one of the bakeries, and stocked up on pretzel sticks at a convenience store around the corner. I, accurately, hoped that my system would be able to handle the pretzel sticks, as I was getting really sick of bread after eating it for nearly two weeks and almost exclusively for the past week. I made my way to the university to meet back up with everyone at the conference before boarding the buses.

I chilled out in the lounge while the conference wrapped up and everyone was fed lunch. The buses started arriving at 2pm. We stood out front waiting for the buses, and tried to board one but I wasn’t able to find a seat, so all 8 of us piled back off. This small fact will be extremely important later. Meanwhile, another bus pulled in, and we were able to take over the whole back of the bus. At this point, I think I should point out these buses were in the style of dolmus, so they seated about 14 people with an aisle on the passenger side of the bus. To get to Mt. Nemrut from Malatya is a 4 hour drive on a dirt road with the last few miles consisting of steep and narrow switchbacks. This dirt road is a non-descript turn off from the main highway, so it would be very hard to find it without prior knowledge that it takes you to the top of the mountain.

We made two stops along the way. The first was about an hour into the trip at a small convenience store, at which people could buy water and snacks. There was a natural spring there as well that some people took an interest in. Everyone in our group bought a few snacks and rested in the shade. A small cat came to nuzzle us and beg for food. After about ten minutes, we boarded the buses again and continued on. After about another hour, we passed through a small town, which was incredibly cute. All the town consisted of was a small mosque encircled by a few even smaller houses.

Later, the second stop was slightly more exciting. We stopped at a small waterfall on which was built a fishery and restaurant. They had a fishpond within the building, from which one could choose a fish to be prepared. Tijen, Damla, and the Canans found berry bushes below the restaurant and picked several fist fulls of blackberries. I didn’t have any as I was still cautious about what I was eating while on such a long bus ride. We loaded up into buses and drove for another 90 minutes. After the waterfall, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the drive until we came to the switchbacks during the last 2-3 miles. Instead, I was actually trying to update my blog as best as possible. Apparently, it is hard to type at the bus rocks back and forth. Who knew?!?

As we crossed the tree line, we could see for miles. The road at this point became barely a one-lane trail. It switchbacked steeply up the side of the mountain with very tight turns. The road, as well as the rest of the top of the mountain, was made up of a reddish limestone. Upon arriving, we disembarked from the buses, and walked about 1000 ft before we reached a shack. Thinking that we had already paid for the park entrance fee as part of the tour price, I continued to walk up the hill before getting yelled at. Apparently, visiting the site cost an additional 5 lira. I found this slightly irritating but paid it nonetheless. There are two sides of the summit to the site, the eastern and western sides. As the tour was intended to get us there around sunset, the colors of the setting sun on the rocks was stunning. Unfortunately, there weren’t any tour guides to explain the history of the site. I would have even settled for an explanation in Turkish to none at all. As it turned out, once again, my guidebook saved the day. After seeing the statues of Zeus, Herculues, Tyche, Apollo, and King I Theos Antiochus on the eastern side, we moved to the western side to watch the sunset. Both sides have the same statues but the surroundings are slightly different. Both sets of statues are supposed to be on throwns, but all of them have been moved over the ages. There was an formation of rocks that all the METU students sat down on. We all broke out snacks and waited for the sun to set. At this point, I broke out my guidebook to read the description of Mt. Nemrut to everyone as no one really had any idea what the significance of the monument was. As you can see in all the pictures, there is a reddish light cast on everything. The reddish limestone reflected brightly in the light. As the sunset faded, we all walked towards the buses. The little shack that served as the visitors’ center was selling little plaster figurines of the statues. Since there were only 3 lira apiece, I ended up buying 5 of them, one of each statue.

Upon reaching the buses, we were given a cheese, pepper, and tomato sandwich with an apple and bottle of water. We all hoped back into the buses and started the long ride home. I noticed the bus driver was driving rather fast for it being pitch black outside and a one lane, dirt road. I tried to write as much about the Malatya trip on my laptop as possible before I finally couldn’t take the rocking any more. I tried to sleep as best I could with the rocking. About 45 minutes from home, we suddenly pulled over. The driver was frantically calling someone, and someone else on our bus received a text message from someone on another bus saying that another bus had gone off the road and rolled down a steep embankment. Someone else received a call, from which we learned that no one had died but several people had broken arms and/or suffered from cuts from the broken glass as the van had rolled down the embankment. The creepiest part about this whole experience was that the bus, which overturned, was the one we were originally going to ride in. It only happened to be dumb luck that I couldn’t get a seat on it that we didn’t get seriously hurt along with everyone else on that bus.

The driver determined that there was nothing for us to do other than continue on returning back to Inonu University. Apparently, several ambulances had been called to carry people to the university’s hospital. We all sat there silent and stunned for the rest of the trip. The driver was nice enough to drive us all the way to the guesthouse from the university. We turned in as soon as we got back, as we were supposed to get up at 6am the next morning for our day trip to Urfa, a city near the Syrian border.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Malatya Day 4

I want to apologize for the month long hiatus, which I have taken from updating this blog. I am no doubt back from Turkey, but instead of giving an update at this time, I will leave that until later to keep the events in the order in which they happened.

The fourth day in Malatya left me wondering what I should do with myself for the 3 whole days, which I had to left to explore the city. Wanting to see ancient Malatya, currently called Battalgazi , I read in Lonely Planet that after a 15 minute bus ride to reach the town square. Once again, I joined everyone in walking to the dolmus otogar, from where I continued another few blocks to the otogar at which the Battalgazi bus was located. The bus itself was much older than the ones operated in Ankara, but they were still very comfortable and spacious. It cost me 40YKR or .4 YTL each way, which ended up being quite a deal for a 2.5 hour trip.

Upon finalizing my arrangements for my flight to Malatya, I had looked up what there was to do in Malatya. From the description in Lonely Planet, I envisioned a cute village that was basically abandoned with lush green grass growing everywhere. What it ended up being was nothing of the sort. The village itself seemed to be inhabited by many families who commuted into Malatya via the bus system to go to work. There were small groups of children roaming the streets while mothers performed chores at home. Instead of the lush green path ways, the streets were dusty and lined my houses coated in concrete. Down most of the street were empty lots containing the rubble left from whatever structure had previous stood there with knee high weeds growing through out. In almost every direction, you can see the evidence of the 29 towers that protected the city during medieval times. Upon arriving in Battalgazi, I walked over to the newly refurbished park in the center of the town square and sat down in the shade to consult Lonely Planet. Finally figuring out the directions to the three mosques of interest in this itty bitty town, I headed south of the square. A small group of boys scoped me out and started to follow me, presumably because I looked like a tourist with my camera.

I first visited the Alacakapi mosque, which is located no more than 100 ft south of the square. It was constructed early on during the Ottoman empire with an inscription dating back to 1592* or 100 years after Columbus. Just past the mosque is an old caravan stop along the silk road constructed in 1637*. There is a small market located in the building these days. Trying the find the mosque of Ulu Camii , I started to roam the streets while picking up a larger pose of children. They quickly became disinterested as soon as I took their picture and assured them that I would not be giving them any money. This is all with the exception of one cute little boy. He didn't say a word while the other were begging and just tagged along. As soon as the rest of the boys peeled off, he asked me to follow him. While I had finally gotten back on track towards the mosque, it was still nice to have a little tour guide. He led me further down the main street leading south from the square and turned down a narrow street that was marked with an arrow towards the mosque. I would like to say that this was the first time in Turkey that I actually witnessed street signs of any form on an actual city street.

When we arrived at the Ulu Camii, I found the ruins of an old theological school by way of a sign giving it's history. It was constructed starting in 1303 and continued to operate through the 18th century. Turning around, the Ulu Camii is a more conservative looking mosque without the immense spires and stained glass windows. The conservatism of the architecture of the Ulu Camii and Alacakapi surprised me as the other mosques I had come across have intricate stone carvings and metal work covering their structures. With my little friend, I walked around the mosque taking pictures of the different architectural aspects, especially the alcoves that contained the doorways.

My little friend motioned for me to follow him again, so I tagged along. He took me to what Lonely Planet refers to as Ak Minare Camii, or the White Minaret Mosque. Where as Ulu Camii seemed deserted, Ak Minare Camii was more tranquil and seemed to be better taken care of. The architecture is much more similar to that of most other mosques you'll see in Turkey, especially with the minarets and stone work screens covering the windows. My little friend went to go drink water out one of the faucets about the courtyard. Not wanting to trespass, I decided to wait outside the gate. I would like to add that at no time during the trip did I ever get the feeling that visitors were not welcome in or around any of the mosques. In fact, I have read in Lonely Planet and elsewhere that visitng mosques is encouraged with the clerics being very accomidating even if they don't speak english. After seeing everything there was to see, my friend and I headed back towards the town square. He did try to get me to head towards one of the towers, but I was tired and just wanted to get back to the conference hall. Reaching the town square, I decided to pay my little tour guide with some cookies, so I visited the grocery store that's housed in the old caravan stop and bought a few cookies. Many of the kids started to surround me hoping that I would start handing them out, but I didn't make any motion to do so until he was the only one left around. As it so happened, he wouldn't take any of them, even though he had watched me buy them. I boarded the bus back to Malatya and saw out the window that my little friend was there to watch me leave. I started waving to him, and the bus finally pulled out of the station.

Upon reaching Malatya, I boarded a dolmus for the conference. After hanging out for a while, we decided to head downtown to see the museum. Since I had already seen it, I wasn't too thrilled but it was nice to get away from the conference center with my friends. We arrived at about 4:30pm and were informed that the museum closed in about 5 minutes. They convinced the guard to let us roam without charging us. We quickly checked out the exhibits, and everyone was happy that I had already photographed the whole museum. Upon leaving, we decided to check out the park adjacent to the museum. One of the many improvements made to Malatya was the recent addition of this park which doubled as a thoroughfare to a neighborhood to the south. Water was pumped to the top of a hill and flowed down stone block lined canals. We were standing at the foot of this hill where several fountains and water falls were located. It was a very relaxing place to be, especially on a hot day in August.

Investigating further up the hill, we discovered an ice cream shop. The ice cream made in Turkey is very different than that served in the western world. Dondurma, Turkish ice cream, is made with Salep and Mastic resin, which give it a more elastic and tougher texture than western ice cream. According to wikipedia, Salep is made from the ground tubers of an orchid, and is also used to make the drink of the same name (which I ended up having once I got back to Ankara). These ingredients also allow for higher melting temperatures which allows for easier vending on the streets. Dondurma vendors are easily recognized as they use paddles on long metal rods to churn the ice cream to keep it easily workable. In our case, the dondurma was made with a mold and cut off into cubes, which were then served on a plate with a fork and knife. With the temperature at around 90F that day, I was really surprised to see the ice cream stay solid while they were consuming it. Still being cautious, I only had a small taste of the dondurma. The taste was sweet and slightly milky but nothing extraordinary. I would definitely say that if you ever have the chance to eat dondurma you should. The texture and experience of eating it alone make it worth it even if the flavor isn’t necessarily memorable.

As Sertan and I were the only guys in our group of 6, we were persuaded to go stroll through the bazaar in search of shopping opportunities. I directed everyone to the section where I had encountered the coppersmiths the day before. We spent about 30 minutes in one of the shops where I ended up buying several copper pieces for my mother, two of my friends who were recently married, and myself. I had to be very careful to make sure everything was handmade as several of the pieces had manufacturer markings on the bottom. When asked, the shopkeepers were honest about which pieces were handmade (or at least to the best of my ability to tell).

Wandering further through the bazaar, one could see the stalls, which sold freshly slaughtered meats, aged sausages, and chickens that have been rotisseried. One whole square block was dedicated to butcher shops. Other blocks contained other food related stores, including a large number of shops that sold a large array of spices. I think this is the one aspect of Turkey that I will greatly miss and regret not being able to take advantage of. With the sun starting to set, Tijen decided to head back to the university for the night. As the Canans had an extra bed in their room, Damla decided to stay out with us that night and crash at our guesthouse. Damla, Sertan, and I walked over to the mosque located in the center of the town to wait for Mert and Canan who had stayed at the conference to see a few talks. In the mean time, I decided that I wanted to learn how to properly wash myself outside the mosque to prepare for Muslim prayers. Even though Sertan had no clue how to do it, he offered to watch what other were doing and tell me what order to wash myself in. I will describe this later as I feel like it deserves proper attention in a more detailed fashion. During my attempt at learning how to properly washing myself, Mert and Canan arrived and Mert took a few pictures of me.

Everyone decided that dinner sounded like a good idea. Mert and Sertan had been craving Kokorich(sp?), a dish involving chicken intestines. I had this dish about a month and a half earlier and found it really good. Because all ther restaurants selling it smelled too much like raw meat for Canan to handle, we ended up eating at a semi-upscale place on the main street. Upon walking in, I got really excited because they advertised that they served kumpir, or baked potatoes.

After dinner, everyone wanted beer, so we ended up going back to the bar we found the first night. Once again after ordering drinks, we were served large plates of cantaloupe, honey dew melon, and grapes and nuts. After a few drinks, we all dragged ourselves back to the guest house where we all crashed. It had been a really long day…

* It occurs to me that the years posted on the signs, which I read and am heavily basing the posting on, are not based on the Christian calendar, which we use here in the US. (If I'm wrong about that, please correct me!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Malatya Day 3

I decided that I needed to start venturing out. Lonely Planet told me that the only real destination in all of Malatya was an archeology museum with artifacts on display from an excavation nearby. Everyone had decided that we would wake up later that morning and catch the dolmus to the university. Since the dolmus otogar (bus station) was somewhat on my way, I tagged along to see which one I needed to take to get to the university. Once that was all figured out, I proceeded to meander my way towards the center of town through the edge of the bazaar. Needing to keep my bread supply stocked, I stopped in a bakery that had just pulled some brown bread out of the oven. After purchasing a loaf, they kindly sliced it for me. For the rest of the week, I lived on nothing but bread and kumpir (baked potatoes). In some ways, this made everything incredibly easy because I never really had to worry about where I was going to eat because I always had food with me. Continuing towards the museum, I stopped in a store that specialized in Muslim clothing for women, particularly head scarves. The patterns on the headscarves can be quite intricate and beautiful. I kept wandering down the street looking up the side streets that lead deeper into the bazaar.

The bazaar is laid out in a pretty simple fashion, with different regions specializing in different types of goods. Vendors selling food related items are located closer to the highway where the dolmus stations are locations, hence the bakery where I bought my bread. Heading towards the town center, the vendors become more related to apparel. Tailors are intermixed with ordinary clothing merchants, vying for your attention and money. The apparel that they are selling is consists mainly of cheap dress shirts and major European and American brand knock offs. Some of the merchants were selling t-shirt with various art and writing on them. What caught my attention was that many referenced San Francisco. Most of them didn't make an sense really. I remember one saying "Intrigue" with San Francisco, CA written underneath it.

While in the bazaar, it is really important to keep in mind that you have to haggle on every price they give you, especially if you don't speak Turkish. This will be important for day 5. There is a street here that is lined with gold merchants, displaying their ornate pieces in large windows that in turn glow when the sunlight hits them. I decided to meander through the clothing area for a little bit before reaching the mosque that sits at the center of town.

I crossed the main street of Malatya, which predictably is named Ataturk Caddesi (Blvd). Heading south, I walked along a side street lined with shops. I came upon two men sitting along the sidewalk who waved me over. One of them was an owner of one of the stores, and he wanted me to take a picture of him and his friend. After snapping a few photos, he wanted to make sure I knew his name and to remember where he met me. He gave me his card on which he added Malatya, Türkiye. The other man offered me cay which I graciously declined. Smiling from ear to ear at this super-friendly encounter, I continued on my way to the museum. I think what makes me so happy about things like this is because they were genuinely interested in talking to me and finding out my story. If this had happened in Istanbul, it would probably have been to get an angle with which to sell me something, but here and in Ankara, that hasn't been the case. It is just really pleasant finding other people that are as excited and interested to meet new people as I am.

Upon arriving at the museum, I paid the 3 YTL entrance fee and was pleasantly surprised by the air conditioned interior. The museum itself was rather small consisting of only 4 rooms, but it was laid out and documented rather well. As with every other museum I have visited, I photographed everything. The artifacts were all excavated from a site north of town at a location called Arslantepe from which some of the artifacts dated back a few thousand years before Christ. These artifacts mainly consisted of every day items such as arrow heads, swords, clay and stone pots, glass containers, coins, and various tools. One of the rooms was dedicated to illustrating how various activities in day to day life worked, such as milling grain, making arrow heads, and making clay pots. Outside the museum, there was a small garden which contained various stone carvings and head stones, particularly from the era of Roman occupation. After finishing at the museum, I headed back to the catch the dolmus along the route on which I came.

Right outside the museum is a small park that sits between a small canal and several man-made waterfalls. As with the university and other aspects of Malatya, this park was made possible by large amounts of funding from the government. I enjoyed the plumes of mist created by the churning water to rejuvenate myself before my walk back. The streets were more crowded as it was close to lunch time. I got back to the dolmus station in time to hop on the one that took me to the university. Not knowing exactly where to get off, the dolmus stopped at the university hospital, so I decided to hop off since the hospital is attached to the conference center. I walked into the hospital hoping to find directions, but I couldn't find any. I walked around the hospital complex. Just before giving up, I saw two women who were carrying the bags that they conference had given out. I ended up following them (while feeling slightly creepy) to see if they knew where they were going. They ended up striking out as well, but they were able to ask for directions. By this time, I had introduced myself and we were able to weave our way through the hospital to the conference center. The signs pointing the way to the conference center were all located in the back hallway, far from where anyone would see them entering from the main entrance. It is things like this that make me laugh and shake my head about Turkey.

I arrived just in time for lunch, or more precisely give my lunch to everyone else and eat bread. For the rest of the day at the conference, I basically just hung out and tried to get a little work done. I found out long ago that it is close to impossible for me to get work done in places that have lots of distractions. It's safe to say that I didn't get much done. At 4pm, the poster session started, and everyone but Damla, Mert, and Sertan had to present their posters. I walked around and snapped everyone's photo.

Afterwards, we all boarded buses and were taken to a denim factory. For some reason, the conference organizers decided that this would be an exciting event. The factory was a little interesting bceause there wasn't a guide of any sort, so we had to figure out what everything did on our own. After the tour, we were loaded up into buses and taken to some random place with a garden for dinner. No one seemed to know where we were, but apparently the denim factory had paid for the dinner for us. With it getting late, we decided to just have the bus drop us off at the guesthouse on its way back to campus.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Malatya Day 2

I decided to stick with everyone the first day, so we all got up early to catch the free bus that the Inonu University had sent to pick up conference members not staying on campus. We first stopped by the guesthouses restaurant to eat breakfast, which was the typical Turksih fare: bread, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, and cay. We took a taxi to the bus stop. Not knowing what the bus was supposed to look to look like, the rest of the group recognized that a few professors from our department were sitting on the front patio of the hotel that was directly behind us. They were taking the bus too, so we just followed them when they boarded a ordinary looking bus that didn't have any markings on it. Thankfully, it got us to the convention center, or the Kũltũr ve Kongre Merkezi.

İnönü University is named after Turkey's second president who was originally from Malatya. As the current president is also from Malatya, a lot of money has been put into the campus. This improvement money went towards a new state of the art hospital and conference center. The campus itself is very large, in fact it might rival the size of UC Davis even including our farm land. While everyone checked in, I scouted out the place. The ground floor (the zeroth floor in Turkey) contained 3 small small conference room and the lower entrance to the main conference hall. The conference started with an opening session where a tribute was made of a prominent chemical engineer that had died that year, the Turkish national anthem, and a Mozart performance by one of Inonu's students. I don't remember if I commented on the Turkish national anthem before in my post about METU's graduation but, I find it really interesting. When it is played, everyone is expected to sing. I think that they should made a custom in the United States. I have never been one for making senseless rules, but I think customs of this sort are always nice. I guess it also helps that I like to sing.

After the first session, I just hung out in the reception area on the second floor. Unlike a lot of American conference, coffee, tea, and snacks were offered throughout the day. I found out that wifi was available throughout the conference center, so I planned on bringing my laptop the next day. While I was sitting there, Damla rushed up to me and told me that the talk going on at the moment was in English, so I decided to check it out. It turns out that the presenter was a Turkish native that attended MIT. Apparently very arrogant, he presented in English even though the conference was officially in Turkish. With Global Warming as his topic, he was deginitely looking to push some buttons. I felt that his talk was a little lacking on exact details and more propaganda, but it was interesting to see what he had to say. Several times throughout the talk, he said that the main problem with curbing global warming emmision was that the United States had not yet signed the Kyoto Protocol. At the end, he mentioned fuel cell technology as being part of the solution. As this was his research area, I felt that it was a conflict of interest to only mention this possible solition and not other such as solar, tidal, ethanol/methol, and nuclear energy solutions. What I was waiting for was the Q&A period. As I guessed someone immediately asked in English if he wanted questions in Turkish and English. When the speaker said it didn't matter, the man asking the question said he would ask his question in Turkish so more than a few people in the audience could understand. Afterward, another man raised his hand to supposedly ask a question. He ended up going on a rant for 5 minutes. I asked Damla afterward what it was all about. She said his rant was based on that increased CO2 levels was great for plant life, hence global warming was a great thing that should not be worried about. I found this rather amusing as one of the causes of this increase in CO2 levels is the reduced number of plants to convert it back into oxygen.

Afterwards, there was another talk on Nuclear power, but since it was in Turkish, I decided to go back to the reception area. I hung out until lunch was served. Because Mert had the extra tickets, I tagged along mostly to see if it was something I could eat. Predictably it wasn't, but I was able to give my food to everyone else. This actually happened at every lunch for the rest of the week. Lunch was lamb that was roasted in a bag along with rice. I tasted a sliver of it, and it was quite good. After lunch, I ended up passing out on a couch for about an hour. At that point, I went to watch Damla's talk on synthesizing polymethylsilane for use as a flame retardent in polypropylene. Her talk went really well, and she only got one question. Afterwards, I went back to napping until about 6. Because there was a cocktail party at 8pm, we decided to go get dinner. Once again, I ordered Tuvuk Sis hoping that I could get plain chicken. Unfortunately, this is when the server told us that all restaurants around here marinade their chicken in oil and chilies to preserve it throughout the day. More unfortunately, this was after I had taken a few bites that I thought were chili free. Well, even thought my stomach hurt for about 24 hours, everything turned out fine, and I learned about how they prepare chicken in Malatya.

At 8pm, we loaded onto buses for the short trip to the University's pool. Large tables has been setup in the grass area around their relatively new, olympic sized pool. Each table has several bottles of water, coke, and other sodas on it. There was a glass with sticks of carrot and cucumber in lime juice. There was a buffet table that had cheeses, sausages, veggies, yogurt dips, and bread. After finding out that there was a large amount of bread in a bin, I made a bee-line for it and stocked up for the night. I figured I might has well get my free ticket's worth of bread considering I couldn't drink any of the wine. Although, I think everyone drank enough wine to make up for the fact I wasn't drinking. Everyone has a great time. There was a 5 piece band that played more traditional sounding Turkish music. The bands members were from the University's music department. The vocalist also played the Ney. Apparently this is one of the hardest instruments to learn, necessitating around 10 years to become a competent player. It sounded like a very airy flute. We all ended up dancing to the music and having a blast. Damla got quite drunk which only made her want me to dane even more. We eventually loaded up into the buses and were driven back to the dorms. At that point, we asked the driver if he could take us back to our guesthouse, and he agreed. We arrived back at the guesthouse exhausted but happy. We ended up going for a walk to get me bread for the next day, as well as water for everyone. I ended up just collapsing on my bed and passing out. It was a long but fun day.

Malatya Day 1

Because the price of bus tickets were the same price as plane tickets, my labmates decided to fly to the chemical engineering conference here in Malatya. Not wanting to go through another 10 hour bus ride if I could fly for 30 YTL more than a bus ticket, I decided to join them. We flew aboard an Anadolu Jet Boeing 373, which is the value branch of Turkish Airlines. The flight took about 55 minutes, and we flew into Malatya's only airport. On approach, I looked out the window and noticed that I couldn't see the ground because there seemed to be something that resembled fog like smog. Well, Damla told me later that a dust storm had blown in from Egypt. In some parts of the region, the dust storm caused rain to turn into mud. Yes, it actually was raining mud. Thankfully, we didn't encounter any of it. Because the region is rather rural, a Turkish air force base allows commercial jets to fly in and out of a small airport. There is only one flight per day from Ankara, so the plane ended up being filled with chemical engineers. I ended up sitting next to one of the conference organizers, and he informed me that the conference had arranged for a professor from a university in Edinburgh to speak. As this was going to be the only talk in English, he strongly recommended that I attend.

Upon landing, we boarded a Havas bus to take us into town. Havas runs a fleet of buses with the specific purpose of shuttling people to and from Turkish airports. I took one of the their buses from the airport to a station in Ankara the day I arrived. The bus dropped us off a few blocks from out guesthouse. The guesthouse is run by the government specifically for teachers who are new to the area and need a place to stay while looking for more permanent lodging. We are able to stay because open rooms are available for professors, graduate students, and other government servants. The number of beds per room differs, but we were able to get one with three beds, one for me, Sertan, and Mert. The rooms aren't great but they all have TVs. I would have gladly traded the TV in for internet or air conditioning, but I'm not really going to complain for 25 YTL a night. We settled in and rejoined the Canans for dinner. Damla stayed with her mother on campus, since she didn't have to pay for her room.

We walked down main street trying to find a restaurant. There weren't any restarunts near the guesthouse so we walked about 10 blocks to find one. It was a very small place located in the basement of one of the shops along the main street. Because I had started eating chicken again, I thought that Tavuk Şiş (chicken on a stick) wouldn't be a problem. Everyone else got regional dishes like Iskender or dishes made in ceramic pots and placed in a wood oven. When the food arrived, I realized that my chicken was coated in chilies. Because my stomach had been uneasy, I decided that I needed to eat something, so I decided to wipe off the chicken with a napkin. Was that a bad idea! For the next two days, my stomach hurt pretty bad. I ended up sticking to bread after that.

After dinner, we walked along the main street for about 45 minutes looking for a place to drink beer. Mert was pretty determined to find a place, so we searched for 10 blocks until we finally found one. Like I said earlier, Malatya is afar more conservative city than Ankara, so it makes sense that drinking places would be few and far between. In fact, the bars are actually hidden and segregated. Most of the bars are for men only, but a few have a second room where families are allowed to drink together. We ended up finding one of these by asking around. There are not any signs for these places, so locations are shared by word of mouth. They ordered beer, and I ordered a bottle of water. Along with our drinks, they brought us two plates. The first was covered in parsely and cilantro, and it was rimmed with slices of cucumber. The second plate contained cherries, grapes, and slices of water melon and honeydew melon. I sneaked a few tastes because I figured that if my stomach was already uneasy from the chicken it couldn't hurt too much to eat some fruit. It has always striked me as interesting that the level of hospitality in this country is so high. I have always heard that Turks were very warm and giving, but it is just such a change from American restaurants that even after two months here, I am still slightly surprised every time something like this happens.

Around 11, we started to walk back. We stopped along the way to get me a loaf of bread. We finally trudged our way back to the guesthouse and called it a night.