Tuesday: In the morning, I stop at an outdoor cafe near the Hippodrome to have some mango juice and Turkish coffee. A girl is “on display” there making some kind of bread. I “take a rest,” as they say in Korea, gathering energy, of which I have absolutely none remaining. I linger and enjoy the quiet street and my drinks, watching as the tourist area bustles to life around me. I wonder if I will catch a glimpse of long-lost Genghis, since this is close to where I met him two days ago, but he is nowhere in sight. He probably wouldn’t speak to me anyway, since I never showed up last night.
I head up, finally, for my long-awaited shopping trip in the world’s oldest shopping mall, the Grand Bazaar, or in Turkish, Kapalı çarşı, meaning Covered Bazaar. It sprawls over a huge area in the center of Istanbul and was a thriving market even in Byzantine times; when the Ottomans arrived, it became even bigger. It has over 58 covered streets and 1,200 shops, many of which are grouped by goods, such as jewelry, pottery, spice or carpets. A shopper’s paradise… 🙂
After buying my carpet, which was totally above and beyond my budget, I don’t have much money to shop, but I do have specific things in mind that I have determined to buy. One is a colorful lamp. The other is a ceramic plate or two. Lastly, I want to buy some copper earrings that have colorful designs on the fronts and are shaped like either rectangles, diamonds, or teardrops. I pass through a huge street brimming with gold jewelry, but I can only look longingly at the goods that are way out of my price range. Apparently Turks love gold because it’s an investment in something tangible other than the constantly fluctuating currency.
By this time in my trip, I am utterly exhausted and don’t have the energy and enthusiasm for shopping that I usually have. I know what I want to buy and I am on a quest for those particular items. Usually I could spend an entire day, and many lira, shopping in a place such as this, but sadly, I am just too tired. When I first find the Bazaar, it is totally overwhelming. There are countless shops and a seemingly infinite number of beautiful things. I enter through the gold and silver markets; jewelry gleams in every shop window but I don’t see the simple copper earrings I want. These are very expensive pieces. I can’t help but look, but I do so quietly; I don’t dare ask anyone about prices because I do not want to get involved in any haggling over something that is clearly out of my range. So I unobtrusively walk through, just looking.
As the bazaar is covered and lit by thousands of light bulbs, it is quite warm and stifling. I meander and wander through the maze of streets, knowing that I will never exit this place in the same place I entered. I realize within a brief time that I am hopelessly lost. Oh well, wherever I end up, I will just take a taxi back to my hotel, so it doesn’t really matter.
I find a ceramic shop that has similar plates to what I have seen at the ceramic factory and at Harun’s shop. So I buy 3 beautiful and very different plates, which the shopkeeper wraps carefully in bubble wrap. I take them away and continue my journey.
I stop at several lamp shops. I had been ready to pay 65 lira for a Turkish lamp at Harun’s shop, so I believe here I should be able to find one cheaper. I find a shop where the lamps I like are around 55 lira and determine I will settle on one here. I find one in rainbow colors of red, royal blue, yellow and green and make the purchase, having them wrap it carefully in bubble wrap. Of course, as I am waiting, they serve me Turkish apple tea and chat with me about where I am from, how I like Istanbul. The young guy who has lured me in keeps looking at me and smiling. He asks if I am married, if I have children, if I have a boyfriend. And then very earnestly, he tells me: I wish I were older. Honestly, I am not kidding, you have such a beautiful face…. I really do. I wish so much I was older. I say, Thank you, that is so sweet. How old are you? He says 19. But honestly, again he repeats, I really do wish I was older.
This is one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me. For the first time, a young Turkish guy doesn’t compliment me in order to get me to buy something. The sale is already done; I am just waiting for the merchandise to be wrapped. He is very sweet and just goes on his merry way, back to the business of luring. He doesn’t try to convince me to meet him later; he just said what he thinks and goes back to business. I am taken aback by this compliment out of nowhere.
After this I wander around a bit longer looking for the copper earrings, but I can’t find any here. I know exactly where I can get some close to the Blue Mosque and I am hot in this place, so I leave. I find an exit and when I come out, I have no idea where I am. I see Istanbul University and another mosque-like building. I am hauling the rather heavy lamp and ceramic plates so I flag down the nearest taxi and take quite a long ride to the Blue Mosque.
Back at the Emma Saray, Mehmet is nowhere in sight. I am relieved. I gather up my carpet, lamp and ceramic plates, as well as some other items from the shipment Mike sent to me that I need him to return to anthropologie; I head catty-corner across the street to the UPS store, where it costs me $200 (USD!) to send everything I have bought back to the U.S. I have determined that there’s no point in taking it to Korea as I will eventually have to get it back to the U.S. anyway in 6 months.
After all that is taken care of, it is 3:00; my plane takes off this evening at 7:30 pm. I leave my bags at the hotel and head back to Sebahattin’s restaurant, where I order a late lunch of doner kebab and chat with him while he works until around 4:30. He is exhausted as am I. He’s busy working but he comes to chat with me when he can. I enjoy his company for the last time. He says, when will you come back? I say, I don’t know. If I can get a job here, I will be back in August of 2011. Possibly I could stop back here on my way home in March. He says, I really want to see you again. I tell him I would love that as well.
He tells me he called someone he knows about a hotel he wants to buy; he thinks it would be great if we went into business together, if I invested in this hotel and he could run it. I tell him I have no money and even if I did, I have no desire to go into the hotel business. I know it is an endless & thankless job running a small hotel or bed & breakfast; the work never stops. That’s not the life I want for myself. He says, well you have to live somewhere if you come here. I say, yes, but it won’t be a hotel that I have to run as a business.
Sebahattin and I like each other, but as is the usual Turkish circumstance, he wants me for something I can give him in the way of money or employment or a means to get ahead. It’s sad to me. I also know he has this girlfriend in Spain who he is conflicted about. And of course he is so young. I like him despite all of this, and when I leave at 4:30 I am sad to go. I hate to say goodbye to someone I enjoy so much. But I leave, I walk away, looking back and waving one last time as I round the corner. I walk down the cobblestone streets back to my hotel, feeling sad and just as alone as when I came to Turkey. At the hotel, I have them call me a taxi. I am kind of hoping to see Mehmet to apologize to him one more time, but he is not there and probably wants to hear nothing more from me anyway. I get into the taxi and ride away, looking out the window at a colorful and complicated city I have come to know, just a little, and to love quite a lot. The Bosphorus & the terra-cotta houses fly by out the window, and I am dropped at the airport, where I return again to Dubai (for only a short layover this time) and then home to far, far away Korea, where I am back to being isolated from the rest of the world.
I love you, Turkey. Fare thee well. I hope with all my heart to see you again and soon…. 🙂