Friday, July 18, 2014

Antalya and the Turkish Riviera

No photo from Turkey is complete without Ataturk
We return to Turkey for this post. After a year away, I am feeling incredibly homesick. With all of my travels this summer to Southeast and East Asia, I cannot seem to shake Turkey fever. Merhaba (hello) is the first word that pops into my head as I walk into a coffee shop in Lhasa. I constantly need to stop myself from asking nasılsınız (how are you?) as I walk down the streets of Chiang Mai. I miss looking out at the towering Taurus Mountains from either of my balconies in Alanya. I yearn for that fresh smelling combination of mountain and Mediterranean that buffeted from all directions. Most of all I miss Alanya Kalesi. When this castle was all lit up at night, it was the beacon that signified home. Driving along the Mediterranean Coast as the Alanya peninsula slowly grew into view, the golden fortress wound like a glittering snake atop the dramatic cliffs.

Sunbeams in Alanya on the Kale
With all this in mind, I wanted to go over some of the highlights from the Antalya, Side, Perge, and Alanya areas. Between beaches, caves, ruins, markets, turquoise water, pirate boats, waterfalls, food, and countless other sights and activities, you will never lack for an adventure no matter what kind of traveler you are. The best part of this area is that it is a gem amongst Europeans, specifically UKers and Scandinavians, but virtually unknown to the rest of the world.

Here is a quick overview of the highlights from each of the main areas in the Antalya region:

Antalya

I want to lead with my favorite piece of trivia from this area: Santa Claus was born in Antalya! Nicholas of Myra, who later became St. Nicholas who even later morphed into a jolly large man who likes to dress in red, was born in Demre within the district of Antalya.

Not quite Santa Claus in Antalya
Your first stop in Antalya should be the Kaleiçi, the Old City. The winding streets are filled with restaurants, shops, and hidden mosques. Take the time to walk down to the harbor and eat plenty of seafood.

Mosque in Kaleici in Antalya
Do not forget to pick up some freshly blown bright blue nazar (evil eyes) for good luck!

Firing up some nazar in Antalya
Perge

Sign into Perge outside of Antalya
These are gorgeous ruins that are located on the outskirts of Antalya. Not as touristy as most places, so you will have plenty of photo ops free from random people walking by. The best way to get here is to rent a car (and maybe a driver) since not many buses stop in this area.

Deserted and perfect for photos: Perge
Fairly intact ruins in Perge
If you rent a car for the day, you might want to also make a trek up to Termessos, an ancient city set amidst a forest, or go over to Aspendos, which houses an impressive Roman theatre.

Side

Directions in Side
On the way from Antalya to Alanya, you cannot help but pass by Side. While a bit more touristy, it has breathtaking ruins right on the coast. There is a fun shopping center that you have to walk through to get to the Temple of Apollo. Keep your camera in hand as you wander around the magnificently preserved ruins all around the city.

Theatre in Side, though not as large as in Aspendos
Market on the way to the Temple of Apollo in Side
Temple of Apollo
Temple of Apollo by the sea
Make sure to order some dondurma from a street vendor. Shoot a video or at least snap a few pictures as the vendors show you the full elastic power of this delicious Turkish ice cream.

Dondurma in Side
Alanya

View from the lookout point over Alanya
My home for a year; where to start? First thing is to head up to the Kale (Castle). You can either get a cab or take a bus. After you have taken panoramic views of Cleopatra Beach, head down and stop by Dizdar Garden for the best kahvaltı (Turkish breakfast) in town. An assortment of cheeses, breads, olives, fruit preserves, and a whole host of other delicious dishes await you in a meal that can be eaten any time of the day.

Cherry blossoms in Alanya
Looking out over Cleopatra Beach from the top of the Kale
The great spread of kahvalti at Dizdar Garden
Close up of some of the variety of dishes including fruit preserves

Afterwards, you should walk all the way down to the harbor as you admire the shifting views of the city. This is a great opportunity to book a boat tour. Either go for the smaller boats that concentrate on dolphin sightings or opt for the gigantic pirate boats that feature some form of Viking/Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Both will give you the chance to go cliff diving and swimming with sea turtles, as well as provide phenomenal seafood for lunch. Do not forget to haggle!

Dolphin boat in Alanya
Pirate boat in Alanya
Getting a different view of the Kale and ship docks 
Lit up at night, Alanya twinkles
The winding snake begins at the Red Tower
Finally, spend plenty of time on Cleopatra Beach and explore Damlataş Cave. Cleopatra allegedly sunbathed here once upon a time, hence the name. As for Damlataş Cave, it is famous for maintaining the same humidity throughout the year and is great for healing people with breathing issues.

Cleopatra Beach sunset
Damlatas Cave
This is only the tip of the iceberg for Alanya, so have fun exploring and discovering your own little hidey holes.

I traveled around the region completely on my own which gave me the flexibility of not being tied to a tour group, but it left me to my own devices whenever anything went wrong. If you are interested in an ideal mixture of personalized experience tailored to your interests but with all the hassles of travel already taken care of, you might want to consider going with a tour agency like First Choice. This company can arrange everything from an all-inclusive resort (which Turkey is famous for) to a more local-style apartment. Aside from the Antalya region, travel agencies also operate around Izmir, Bodrum, as well as Dalaman, and most other areas of Turkey. You can even book a tour to Cappadocia, one of my personal favorites, and live it up in a Mars-like landscape with fairy chimneys and hot air balloon rides.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed my walk down memory lane and that this post will inspire you to take the leap into Turkey. 

This post has been contributed by First Choice.

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Freelancing Adventures: HelpGoAbroad


My "professional" photo that I took in Chiang Mai, Thailand in the hotel room for HelpGoAbroad

Making a living as a freelance writer is not always easy and I often have to take what comes my way. However, sometimes I get lucky and I end up working for an interesting company that encourages travel. Enter HelpGoAbroad

HelpGoAbroad is a website that provides a platform linking travel programs, such as study abroad, teach abroad, volunteer abroad, and intern abroad, with people who are interested in going overseas. Websites, non-profits, schools, universities, and any other organizations that promote travel programs and courses are encouraged to post on the website. These programs are then reviewed and rated by past participants so that people who are interested have an accurate picture of what to expect and which programs will suit their needs. You can find everything on the site from volunteering with sea turtles to interning abroad in top businesses in China. 

HelpGoAbroad also has a section for overseas and international positions in a wide variety of fields, including nursing, teaching, business, and journalism. If you are ready to make the leap to becoming an expat, then that would be a great section for you to explore. There is also a community section which allows people to create profiles, swap stories, and make friends, almost like a travel Facebook. You can even create discussions by asking questions in a communal forum on any subject related to going abroad. 

There is a blog section where current travelers (including me!) post articles on various aspects of moving, living, traveling, studying, and working abroad. This is a way for readers to get a sense of what they have to look forward to and which pitfalls to avoid, like not getting food poisoning. You might want to even consider becoming a blogger for HelpGoAbroad. Just pitch some articles and if your first couple of contributions receive a lot of traffic, then you could become a paid contributor. 

I am currently both a contributing writer as well as a web moderator, so I am familiar with the website’s inner workings. HelpGoAbroad endeavors to provide only quality listings so that applicants will have access to legitimate programs, and so that companies are assured that they will receive serious inquiries and applications. 

This is a new project, but it is one that I am extremely excited about. Follow me here for more of my blog posts and be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed so you do not miss any new ones. 

Check out HelpGoAbroad and work to build a successful and collaborative community!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Director Interview: The Road Home



Like two peas in a TCK pod, my interview with director Rahul Gandotra felt more like a conversation between old friends. He began by insisting that I detail my laundry list of homes while he then attempted (mostly in vain) to memorize every city that I have ever lived in. It was a remarkable gesture and it set the tone for the rest of the inter/sation. I did not even get a chance to glance at my prepared questions as we flowed from topic to topic. Gandotra is a gregarious person, and our two hour discussion covered everything from cultural issues and societal constructions to romance, jet lag, and food.

Outgoing and inquisitive, like many Third Culture Kids, Gandotra focused as equally on my background as he did on his film "The Road Home". The film was shortlisted for the 2012 Academy Awards and was directed by Gandotra as his thesis presentation for a Master's Degree from the London Film School. Similar to Pico, Gandotra was born and partly raised in the UK before being sent to a boarding school in India. The same boarding school from this film. He continued to bounce around and is now (temporarily) settled(ish) in London.

This is a particularly poignant film for international students, military brats, diplobrats, and other TCKs. Gandotra channeled his own experiences into creating a film that explored the issues of identity, nationality, and racism. There are not many films that so accurately depict what many TCKs go through; namely the removal of our ability to identify ourselves. Whatever we may appear ethnically or whatever our passports might say, we grew up in a multitude of cultures that put together still do not fully encompass where we are from.

Pico, the protagonist: credit "The Road Home" website
The opening of the film is particularly striking as the protagonist, who is ethnically Indian, appears on screen in white face. It was a perfect way to express how the little boy feels internally and how this self-perception is challenged by his appearance. This was actually a continuation of a cut scene but it definitely had the strength to stand alone. The director also wrote some of his own quirks into the main character such as a discomfort with Indian food and a lack of understanding the local language. He added some wicked commentary on foreigners assimilating into the Indian identity despite having no ethnic, national, or cultural ties.

In "The Road Home" Gandotra addresses the issue of being an invisible immigrant. This is Pico's internal primary conflict and one he struggles with during the entire length of the film. This is a struggle that many TCKs experience when they return to their passport or heritage countries. When you look like you belong, locals tend to judge you more harshly when you fall short because you did not meet their expectations. This was an issue that Gandotra struggled with even when he returned to India as an adult to shoot this movie.

Making his escape: credit "The Road Home" website
"The Road Home" is a film about a little boy named Pico who has been shipped off to a boarding school in the Himalayas. Having grown up in England and being culturally British, he is teased and bullied by other students who do not understand why he does not accept his Indian heritage. They insist on labelling him while removing his ability to self-identify. Pico eventually decides to run away and return to his family in the U.K. Along the way, he encounters various groups of people from all backgrounds who continue to resist his perception of himself as British. Follow Pico to find out whether he makes it to New Delhi and if he learns to ignore all of the voices clamoring to label him. Find the trailer above and if you go to the official website, you can watch the whole short film for free

Gandotra plans on directing a full length feature that hazily centers around the same premise but with lots more chase scenes, action, and intrigue.


*SPOILER ALERT*



*STOP SCROLLING IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE END*



Some people who saw the end of the film thought that Pico's return to the school and his brushing off of the bullies was due to the fact that he accepted his Indian heritage. In the interests of full disclosure, Gandotra did express that this was not what he intended by the ending. His directorial intention was to show that Pico no longer cared how others perceived him because he had gained confidence in himself. Pico knows who he is and where he is actually from so it does not matter what other people think or believe.

The ending was supposed to be a commentary on how while we cannot stop someone from making snap judgements, we can stay true to who we know we are and the identity that we claim ourselves. That was for you Gandotra! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Shock of Being Grounded

I miss Turkey. Happier times in Cappadocia. Photo credit: SC
This is the third time I have tried to complete this post. I have color coordinated the entries for easier convenience. It is now 2014 and, thankfully, I am not in the same state of mind I was when I last touched this piece. I am in a better place and I do not feel quite so despondent. I will not write about the shattering event that took place at the end of September and through mid-October, nor some of the other more personal blows that continued to rain through until early December. I am reentering the world, and it seems the internet world is no less daunting than the real. More so in some ways. But, that is why I am finally publishing this weight off my chest. A post that has mocked me for months will finally see the light of the interwebs. So be kind. Please. 

(Try #2) October has been one of the most difficult months of my life. A combination of reverse culture shock, loss, disappointment, exhaustion, computer troubles, sickness, feeling trapped and overwhelmed has led me to just want to run away from life. Have you ever gotten that tightness in your chest, your stomach in knots, and tears about to course down your face at the slightest provocation? That is how I feel daily. I just cannot quite seem to catch a break. If something can go wrong, it has and I am just waiting for the wheel to turn so that I can come up on the other side. I do not usually write posts that are so personal but if I do not get all of this off my chest, I feel like I will burst. I started this post a month ago and nothing has resolved, everything has only gotten worse. Here's hoping November does not frighten me quite so much as October has.

(Try #1) It starts with the little things. The air ceases to smell of sea and sand and mountain. People walk farther apart and with more care to personal space. Language suddenly becomes familiar and it is unnerving to be able to understand the surrounding conversations. Roads and shops are cleaner, more sterile. Plugging back into the Matrix with television, media, high(er)-speed internet, advertisements everywhere all forming a cacophony cocoon of white noise. Most of all, actively having to check the time because the daily Call to Prayer no longer acts as a universal  grandfather clock. 

(Reverse) Culture Shock crept up slowly, stealthily. It camouflaged itself in the excitement of returning to what I thought was familiar. I gorged myself on all the food previously unavailable to me (I'm looking at you, Pork Products), franchises that stoked my nostalgia (Chipotle with an ice-cold Corona), and the markedly cheaper alcohol variety. What a novelty not to have to translate every ingredient in the store and convert pesky measurements. Such a relief to no longer need a VPN to use Netflix or Hulu. I shopped, I visited, but mostly I lost myself in the stress of moving. Apartment hunting, flights, moving vans, packing: all of the millions of little tasks that add up to fill up two months. You forget to think about what you left behind when you are so concentrated on where you are going.

Then came the beginnings of unease. For the first time in my life, I actually had to furnish an entire apartment with furniture. Really think about that. I have never had to buy or own furniture in my entire life. Either my parents picked up odds and ends from wherever we happened to be for that year or four or the State Department provided the basics. Barring an odd table here or there, I just used what was already there or given to me. I had to think about matching furniture and making sure that what I bought was both with budgetary bounds (read: cheap) and of a good enough quality that it could last years. YEARS, maybe even a decade. I have boxes full of useless ticket stubs, stuffed animals, books, and clothes that I may not (definitely won't) wear again. Somehow all of those boxes hidden away in storage/symbolic-room-in-the-parental-nest seemed to weigh less than the heavy, grounding elements of a couch, two mattresses, two bed frames, five bookcases, three side tables, one coffee table, one dining table and four chairs, lamps, fancy paintings, two dressers, and one cocktail cabinet. 

After that it became harder and harder to ignore feeling displaced. The portions are so big here. I forget which language to say thank you in. And most of all, the religion. In spite of having been surrounded by mosques, headscarves, and before that prayer flags, incense, temples, nothing quite matches the judgmental fervor of certain religious sects around this area. I see people standing around with signs calmly stating that I will burn in Hell. 

In most other areas of the world, I am considered an outsider and therefore exempt from local religious practices. As long as I am respectful and considerate, people are pretty much content to worship or celebrate in their own way and I am welcome to participate or not as I choose. Here I find the choice removed from me. By virtue of my lifestyle and (lack of) belief I am thrust into the position of opposition rather than just an outsider minding my own morals. It is exhausting treading in this world that is so different from the exclusive-but-welcome-to-awkwardly-participate world of most other religions and cultures. 

It is easy, really easy, to feel overwhelmed in a place that is both familiar and unexpectedly alien. Finding a routine that works around the frustrating closing of shops at 5PM and on Sundays. Trying to explain that my small town in Turkey had a larger population during their off-season than the entire year-round population of this "city". Finding that the wildlife population has a vendetta against humans and have concocted nightmarish creatures that sting, bite, infest, and devour unwitting victims. The South, I have found, is a daunting place.

Isolation is an issue for me. I am an extrovert to the point that I find constant proximity to people comforting. I don't necessarily need to be engaging in conversation the whole time but I do like being in an environment where I can ease in and out of interaction at will. The lack of a comprehensive and reliable public transportation system puts a damper on being able to move around in complete autonomy. You need a car to get anywhere and I resent feeling dependent on/chained to a machine. Plus, everything is so spread out, in spite of the tiny population, that walking is out of the question and the humidity removes the option of a bicycle unless you want to look like you took a shower en route.  

I miss feeling weightless. From two suitcases to one to usually a backpack, for the last three years it has been so easy to drop everything and go.

Flight comes easy, it is being grounded that is so difficult for TCKs. 





Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top Ten TCK Quirks Part 2

Due to the popularity of the Top Ten TCK Quirks, I decided to make a part 2! Enjoy:

  1. Our tolerance threshold is higher than most people

Remember that time your parents took you to see Komodo dragons on a tiny island in Indonesia and you had to sleep on the floor of a concrete building with rats running over your face? Yeah, I was seven years old. 

TCK childhoods: Dodging gigantic flesh eating insects since we were in diapers (gif credit Eric Linn)
Most adult travelers have crazy ridiculous stories of uncomfortable living conditions, but we started those when we were toddlers. As a result you can throw us anywhere and we will make do, even if we are in cockroach/rat/lice infested territory.

  2. Our willingness to experiment with peculiar foods 

We have grown up in a variety of places with a variety of very distinct culinary tastes. If you were picky, then you were rude. The last thing your parents would allow was rudeness in a foreign culture. Therefore, you learned to eat anything and everything. 

Ignore the outrageous stereotype of this gif
Most people's reactions
Ours.
  3. Our ability to pack on a moment's notice

We never knew when our parents' would decide to drag us off to go hiking or snorkeling or exploring some sort of Temple of Doom. Once you are overseas, it is easier to travel around for short weekend trips and so we learned how to pack quickly and with maximum flexibility.



  4. Being unfazed by a ridiculously convoluted flight schedule

Flights can be pretty hectic and international flights doubly so. From the time we were in diapers we could navigate the most insane flight schedule including gate changes, delays, and cancellations. We know all the tricks to sweet talk our way onto another flight ahead of the rest of the pack. 

The rest of the pack

TCKs
  5. Our rooms and apartments look like a flea market exploded

When you move around a ton, you tend to pick up a lot of stuff. It doesn't matter that your parents made you put most of your belongings in storage during each pack-up phase; you can't help having accumulated a curio shop's worth of souvenirs from every place you ever lived. We then take those once forgotten dusty objects and sprinkle them around our dorm room or apartment leaving us with no need to trouble IKEA or Pottery Barn for generic decorations.



  6. Our film and music tastes are very diverse

If you are exposed to a variety of sights, smells, and sounds from an early age, then your tastes are bound to be influenced by your upbringing. TCKs tend to have a wider knowledge of foreign language films and music, so do not be alarmed when you check out our playlists/netflix queues.

You're welcome world: YATTA youtube
  7. Comfort food

You have five or more types of comfort food, all from different countries. Depending on where you are and what you are going through, you will be craving one or more impossible dishes that only exist in one place in the world. Good luck. 

Sadly, the food never magically appears in your fridge to your great disappointment

  8. You have a pet that is more traveled than most people

At one point your parents decided that you needed some point of stability in your otherwise unstable life, so they got you a pet. This dog/cat/parrot/reptile would go on to follow you to every subsequent assignment. These animals never understood how they could go from frolicking in wine country in France to exploring cow dung in North India to creating sand angels on the beaches in the Philippines. Ignorance is bliss to the happy animal and you could not have asked for a better companion.

They approached each new assignment with the enthusiasm of this duck

 9. You have been in the care of an ayah at some point in your life

Early on your parents no doubt discovered the joys of inexpensive household help that is usually available overseas. Off you went into the loving arms of an ayah (nursemaid) who most likely taught you her/his native tongue. They were like another parent and you are still grateful for how well they cared for you.

 

  10. You have been called different terms of endearment in different countries 

Beta/Beti (Hindi), Jei Jei/Ge Ge, Mei Mei/Di Di (Mandarin), Mui Mui/Dai Dai, Jeh Jeh/Gau Gau (Cantonese), etc. At some point, either visiting a friend's house or at a social function with your parents, people have called you a term of endearment that you just learned to roll with. Just like you learned how everyone (EVERYONE) is an Auntie or an Uncle; it never mattered that they were not actually related to you or that you just met them.

Saying an awkward hi to someone you just met at an official function but your parents insist you've known for ages

I hope you enjoyed part 2. Let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments and check out my Tumblr page for some TCK and expat gifs: Unsettled TCK Tumblr