Plomin Family Bragablog

May 10, 2009

Istanbul Update #3

Filed under: Uncategorized — mplomin @ 9:28 pm
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Dispatch from Turkey 3

So far, I’ve been able to post whenever we get a break in the trip schedule. It’s a little past midnight here, and I wanted to get one more quick post in for the day. Tomorrow, we start visiting clients and presenting our research findings and recommendations, so I may not be able to get so much posting done from here on out.

We’ll be in Istanbul for a few more days, and then it’s off to Bursa. Bursa is the fabric center of Turkey, is smaller and less touristic than Istanbul, and probably has better prices tourist-type gifty things.  It’s the end of the old “silk road” trading route from the “east” to Europe.  It became a large silk producing region when some priests smuggled back silkworms from China, and they’ve been top of the world in silk production ever since.  I have identified a few places that I can get a suit tailored, but I’m thinking Bursa may be a better place to get a suit, and a better value too (since it’s off the beaten path).  I’ll talk to some of the Turkish people who came with us and see what they think.

As for Turkish hospitality, it’s legendary, almost to a fault.  The people in the shops here are very nice, but they’ve got that middle-eastern hustle to them.  Both last night and tonight, a large group of us went out to a nearby street – Istaklil Street (Independence Street) – and we did a little tourism.  The street was awesome – closed to cars and pedestrian-only, it was completely packed with people.  It seemed like Mardi Gras, but without the debauchery.  We must have been the biggest “marks” because in front of every store and restaurant, a guy was standing in the street trying to usher our big group into their place.

Initially, we were broken into a few groups of 6 or 7 each, and then we met up later.  Off of the main street, there were bunches of alleys with outdoor dining. My small group ducked down one of these alleys and sat down for a beer and some people watching.  We did the same thing tonight, but this time we shared a hookah and played a few games of backgammon.  I’m interested in trying the Turkish coffee, but I haven’t been able to yet.  It was pretty cool just being a part of the landscape here.

So, after the on-street dining, we met up and as a large group we found a restaurant.  We went up to an upper room, and we did something kinda foolish.  Instead of ordering off the menu, the owner said that he’d just bring us a selection of traditional Turkish foods.  We got some great stuff – three courses and some local beer, but we didn’t talk about price.  Then we got the bill – TL40, abut $27, each.  From a street vendor, we could have gotten a similar meal for about $10, I’m guessing.  We won’t make that mistake twice.

I’m headed off to bed now.  I’ll try and post again tomorrow night, but we’ll be on the road all day and I’m not sure how much time I’m going to have.  Until next time . . .

Istanbul Update 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — mplomin @ 3:20 pm
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Dispatch from Istanbul 2

When we left the airport and took a bus to the hotel, we were able to see a variety of sights.  Initially, we drove through some of the rougher neighborhoods (maybe it’s harder to sell real estate near the airport).  But pretty soon, we were on the main coastal road in Istanbul.  Traffic here is unbelievable.  There’s some degree of order, but it’s mostly organized chaos.  We have a couple of Indians on the trip and they observed that driving in Istanbul traffic is nothing close to driving in India.  I’d say it is more like Sao Paulo or New York traffic than anything else.  Like in Sao Paulo, there are only a few roads to get from one side of the city to another in Istanbul.  So, it’s the only street that everyone is taking, and it’s not a real highway.  Bicycles, motorbikes, cars, buses, heavy machinery, and semis all share the same road.  Thankfully, there are a few pedestrian overpasses to get from one side of the street to the other.

On the one side of the street, there were those 6-story buildings I mentioned earlier.  On the other, was the ocean.  Between the street and the ocean, though, there were lots of public parks.  And it seemed that under every tree there was a picnic.  No – more than a picnic, it was more like a football tailgate.  Like in the US, it’s Mother’s Day weekend here.  So perhaps there were more people than normal enjoying family time in the park, but there were many more people at the park here than you would ever expect to see at the park in the US.  Even in park-happy Chicago, rarely is every tree occupied.

The families were multi-generational, too.  So many times, I saw a mother, father, kids, and grandparents all together in the same picnic.  Often, there were a few families sharing the tree’s shade, and I assume these were aunts and uncles and cousins.  More than being a geographic crossroads between modern Europe and tradition-rich Middle East, Turkey combines modern and traditional elements in interesting ways. Multi-generational family outings is another interesting take on this Turkish crossroads.  The people here are on average wealthy enough to move out from their parents’ homes and set up shop on their own when they get married.  However, I can see that the family is a very important part of life in Turkey.

Of course, the kids were kicking around soccer balls.  But I also saw a few people throwing rugby balls, frisbees, and even someone playing volleyball.  There were fenced-in basketball courts like you see in the US parks, too.  In some of them, the basketball rims had been ripped down and the kids were playing soccer inside them instead.  I guess this fenced-in soccer uses a smaller ball and has rules similar to indoor soccer, and it’s wildly popular in places with limited outdoor space (like Japan).

Every time I think about the families and kids here, I wish Jillian, Karol, and Patrick could have come.  Jill and I are always a little nervous about the idea of taking the kids on trips, especially abroad, but I think Turkey is the kind of country that the kids would be safe in.  If they’d enjoy it is another matter altogether, but I think there’s not much risk of their being kidnapped or hurt.  The water here is questionable, but not like El Salvador.  And there’s no real chance of war (like Mexico).

Time to leave for our dinner reservation.  More to come . . .

Dispatch from Istanbul

Filed under: Uncategorized — mplomin @ 8:59 am
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Hi all – Matt here.

Part of my classwork here in Istanbul is a trip journal of sorts. I brought the 1080P HD video camera, others brought podcasting equipment, a few people have video blogging cameras, and everyone has digital cameras. Also, a few key people are participating in this trip – the GW MBA Association’s VP and the MBA Follies writers are here. Plus, we’re connected with a LARGE network of alumni in Turkey. (The Dean is Turkish too, so it helps.) The GW MBA Office recognized these capabilities and is making the Turkey trip the featured International Residency for PR purposes. So, each of our reflections are going to provide rich materials for their communications department. I figured all of you should be the first to read my reflections, so here they go up on wordpress!

The flights here were grueling. Luckily, I was on the same flight as a few other students. We managed to get the people on the plane to re-arrange seating so we were all close by. I had a window seat, Brendan (one of my classmates) had the aisle seat, and the 500-pound guy who would normally sit next to me never showed up, so the middle-seat was open (what luck!). Everything was fine until, during take-off, a light stream of water started pouring on me from the overhead compartment. We were already all strapped in, so there was no moving to the middle seat, and I had to just endure the light drizzle until we leveled off. The flight attendants were pretty understanding, and they helped me towel off and get more comfortable. When we came into Paris, I tried to see the Eiffel Tower or some other Parisian sights, but I couldn’t see anything. From the air at night, Paris looks exactly like every other city I’ve ever flown to.

Brendan and I bought some duty-free rum with the intention of having a few drinks and getting to sleep early. But we never got around to it; we watched movies (Frost/Nixon and James Bond – Quantum of Solace, both excellent movies) and talked until we landed in Paris at 5am (11pm Eastern). We managed to get some sleep at the airport. Brendan, being a former Americorps worker and accustomed to uncomfortable accommodations, was fine just sleeping on the airport floor. The Parisians who passed by thought he was a little odd. I explained “He was fine a couple of days ago when we left Mexico, I don’t know what’s wrong with him now . . .” and people gave us quite a bit of space.

A few other students met up with us in Paris, so nine of us flew together to Istanbul. That flight was a little more subdued, and we were able to catch up on some sleep during the second leg. Again, the middle seat was open so I had a little more space.

Flying into Istanbul, the first thing I saw was a mess of container ships in the sea. I didn’t notice at the time, but later I noticed that they were nearly all empty and anchored, nothing to ship and nowhere to go – a sign of the tough economic times worldwide. Istanbul is a very low city. I was expecting to see a city-center with skyscrapers or at least a few tall hotels and office buildings. There are maybe three or four buildings that are taller than six stories. The entire city is made of stucco buildings, six stories tall, with tile roofs. As far as you can see, it’s just these low mixed-use buildings – apartments and offices on top, retail at the street level. No single-family houses either.

And sticking out from this low, six-story city are tall Minarets, four per Mosque. These spires are like Rapunzel’s tower, tall spikes with balconies on the top floor, are where Imams sing the call to prayer from. The humans, standing and screaming from the Minarets, were long ago replaced by loudspeakers. Mosques in Istanbul are as dense as Starbucks in Chicago, and I wondered if the call to prayer would be centralized and uniform across the city. It’s not. From our hotel balcony, we can hear the call to prayer five times a day from the nearby Mosques. Each Mosque issues the call a few seconds apart from the others, and it’s a duel of sorts – a Muslim “dueling banjos” – back and forth, one trying to out-do the other. It’s quite eerie and beautiful at the same time.

We’ve been told that Turkey is a modern, moderate Muslim nation, and we’re experiencing a bit of that modernity.  Ordinarily, in a Muslim nation, when the call to prayer is issued, everything stops and people in the street pull out their prayer mats and drop to their knees in prayer.  Last night when we were out, we heard the call and nothing really stopped. It was a little odd; I could hear some people whistling (a sign of derision) and others hollering to get people to stop and pray.  But generally, people didn’t stop and pray.

It seems that modern decadence has taken its toll on religion worldwide, not just in Christian Europe.  Perhaps the fact that people didn’t stop and pray is just a result of their commitment to living a secular lifestyle, but I was a little disappointed to see that people here aren’t so rigorous in their observation.  I’m probably wrong to assume that, since people don’t observe the five daily prayers, they also aren’t devoted to God in their own way.  And who am I to equate the seeming non-observation of the call to prayer is indicative of a lack of religious fervor.  Like public prayer in the US, maybe overt public prayer here is stigmatized.  Perhaps Turkey is a Muslim nation in the same way the US is a Christian nation – founded on religious principles, very protective of the right to observe, and individualistic in religious observation.

I’ll be back with more observations from Turkey as the trip progresses.  Comment with questions, and I’ll try to get to as many as I can.

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