Friday, 31 October 2003

Rain, very nearly November Rain

I wake up this morning and it is raining and has been raining for a while. For the next 6 months Mersin will be puddles and mud.
At least the tap water quality should improve. For the past 3 weeks 3 basil cuttings have been shooting new leaves and growing roots at a merry rate - all in a glass of Mersin tap water! The mineral content of the water is very high - I guess. The tea pot and tap also show evidence of mineral solidification from the local water!


Yesterday, after work, I walked into the city centre. There were lots of people around and all the shops were open even though it was supposed to be a holiday. On the way back from the city centre I went into the local bookshop/newsagent, Kitapsan. The only Turkish Daily News newspaper in stock was Sunday's. I decided to pass on it. I then walked around to the music section of the shop. There, in the discount bin, was Bridge School Concert cassette for 4.5 million. My music collection just became larger.

On the way back home, I stopped at the local, weekly bazaar, a couple of streets east of my flat to buy some fruit and vegetables. I stocked up on cauliflower, 700,000 TL/kg, pomegranites, 500,000 TL/kg, carrots, 200,000/TL kg and possibly the odd other thing.

The evening
At 6:30pm I arrived at the port to meet 2 Aussies, Kylie and Bronwyn from the ship 'Poulos'. Orhan, my Turkish friend, also came. Whilst waiting for the girls I chatted to a German, Lizzie. She was was from Chemnitz, Germany, and was shocked when she heard that I had visited the 'ZV Bunker' nightclub there! I was there in 1999 as the roadie for Ronnie.

Kylie, Bronwyn, Orhan and I then walked along the coast until Pozcu, talking about Turkey and everything else. I guess I was doing the most talking!
On the way, at the river outlet near the military base, there was a parade of military sailors with a military band. They were followed by young people in uniform, probably scouts. This parade was another event commemorating the Republic's 80th birthday.
In Pozcu we stopped for a hot drink at the 'Shangri La' cafe. My hot chocolate-coffee drink was very tasty. After the cafe, I visited Mado to buy a piece of their awesome raspberry cake, 1,750,000 TL. Mado is famous for its icecream, which originates in Maras. We then walked all the way back to the port where Kylie and Bronwyn made it back on the ship before the 11 pm curfew.

It's winter time
Yesterday was the start of the blanket using, winter pyjamas and jumper-wearing, blind-lowering, window and door-shutting period. Yes, I believe winter has arrived. I guess the temperature ranges from 12-22 degrees C. I don't keep my eye on any weather forecast, so I don't know the temperature exactly.
The weather in Mersin changes so fast, but, really only changes 3 or 4 times a year, when the season changes!

Wednesday, 29 October 2003

Signs it is Republic Day....

The local automatically-programmed non-Turkish music station, Mix FM, has just played the Turkish national anthem for the third time since I arrived at work.

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic

Modern Turkey is a young country, established in 1923.

Today is an official public holiday in Turkey, 'Republic Day'. There are thousands of Turkish flags flying from houses, lamp posts, boats, buses, businesses and everywhere else. Before work this morning, I walked to the yacht harbour and the Republic Square. On the square they were getting ready for some formalities.

After some discussion this morning, work will finish at 1 pm. In previous years I have worked all day on Republic Day.

In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the Turkish Republic. This is one of the many changes he helped bring about. Ataturk, the changes he made and the legend he is in Turkey today is a massive subject, something I may attempt to detail later.

The weather has got cooler

Yesterday there was wind and and some scattered showers. Last night in bed, I was cold for the first time this autumn. I guess, from now on I require more than a single sheet on my bed!

Also, this morning I did not here the drummer and yesterday morning I only heard him once.

Tuesday, 28 October 2003

Heaven Fruit

In the last 2 days I have eaten 2 kilograms of persimmons. One name for these fruit in Turkey is 'cennet meyvesi' or 'heaven fruit'. I can vouch for this name - these fruit are simply delicious.

Similar looking to an orange tomato, persimmons are eaten when over ripe with the flesh extremely soft and skin very fragile. Upon first sight of ripe persimmons in Mersin, 2001, I wondered why there was so much rotten fruit!

It's all happening

The last few days were out of the ordinary.
That sentence brings up the question: What is the ordinary? I hope I don't discover the ordinary too soon...
Anyway, enough random self analysis.

Back to the future
Sunday morning, at 2 am, the clocks in Turkey, like much of the northern hemisphere, were changed back one hour to 1 am; back to normal time. This is the only time in 2003 for Turkey that time goes backwards whilst continuing forwards...
For certain timezones in Australia and other southern hemisphere countries the time went forward one hour to summer time. Previously, Mersinwas 6+1/2 hours behind Adelaide. Now Mersin is 8+1/2 hours behind.

I was always planning to clear the drains at home. The Sunday morning overflow of the washing machine outlet onto the kitchen bench turned the planning into instant action. After taking apart the sink plumbing a few times I eventually solved the problem, although not entirely satisfactorily. Next time I will think twice about allowing friends with long hair (Alicia*, not mentioning any names :-) to wash their hair in the kitchen sink.

*Alicia is a Canadian friend who very recently (just before the blog started) visited me in Mersin for two weeks. She is currently teaching English teachers in Poland.

The Spam
Following a lovely, warm bath, I walked down the six flights of stairs and along the 3 streets from my apartment to work. I came to the office not for work work, but for other work: to complete my tax, consolidate my personal email addresses from 3 accounts into one and send a spam, alerting everyone of my new email address and Joe's Ramblings blog. As I was about to submit my tax a technical fault stopped me from sending it. Very annoying.

The Meeting
Following the computer stuff I hot-footed it across to the Mersin Tennis Club for a late lunch/marketing/work discussion with every other employee from both the Adana and Mersin branches. The marketing ideas and frank discussions were well supported by the mixed grill, salad and kunefe. I enjoyed meeting everyone outside of the office setting, particularly the Adana workers, Buket and Sebiha.

My Neighbours and their Guests
After the meeting closed I wandered back most of the way home with Asli and Iklim. They caught the bus and I jogged back up the 6 flight of stairs.
My neighbours, Hanifi Amca*, Medine Teze* and Handan Abli* wondered where I had been. They had expected me for dinner. I went up the final set of stairs to the rooftop, where they were entertaining some guests with Gaziantep pistachios and mixed orange-green colour mandarins. The guests were a Kurdish family of Father, Mother, primary-school aged son and toddler daughter. The Father was shot whilst serving as a soldier with the Turkish army seven years ago in the conflict between the army and the PKK. His right arm was limp and he had a large scar running straight from the top left side of his head to the back left. He was talking about going on a holiday with me to Australia where he could get medical treatment. It is very hard not to feel sorry for the plight of him and his family.

*In the Turkish language, Amca (Uncle-Father's brother), Teze (Aunty-Mother's sister) and Abli (older sister) are terms of endearment and/or respect used towards people one is not necesarily related with.

The beginning of Ramazan
Monday marked the beginning of Ramazan. Very EARLY Monday.
My previous prediction of the morning drummer proved correct. In my interrupted sleep I heard the banging of the drums 7 TIMES. Not 7 hits, but 7 separate periods of hitting whilst the drummer(s) walked along the nearby streets. In Australia, that drummer would not live long!!!

Tax, Part 79484.49
I made it to work early so I could complete my tax. I needed to call the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to fix this annoying submission problem. The Sydney office, whom I called previously, was not open as it was past 5pm. Before the time change, the office would have been open and answered my call.

I spoke to the technician at the ATO and he instructed me to change the computer language setting to Australian English.

Change the lingo to dinky-di Aussie? I said you got to be jokin'. I told him he's dreamin'. Bingo! She'll be right. And it was. The ATO tech was now me mate and a great bloke too. In fact, he's up there with Boonie! Nahhh. Almost though. I think I'll change the language back now...

After restarting the computer with the Australian English, my tax return did infact submit successfully.

Straight after I submitted the tax return I did notice one slight mistake, which, if not corrected, would make almost $1000 difference against me. I then anxiously made another phone call to the ATO to find out the remedy. To rectify the situation I now need to snail mail the deputy commissioner Mr. Mark Konza.

I haven't even mentioned scouring the world for sesame seeds to import into Turkey as part of work. As they say in the classics...It's all happening...

Sunday, 26 October 2003

Stranger things have happened...

The condensed version
I have just come from chatting with another Aussie, Kylie, and several other foreigners who are part of a crew of about 250 cruising around the world on a boat selling books. It sounds too good to be true, especially for Mersin, a city it seems nobody knows or visits.

The long version:
Today I was very kindly taken to lunch by my manager, Ahmet. We went to a small fish restaurant in the suburb of Pozcu. In the middle of eating the delicious fried fish and fresh salad, I receive a SMS message from Cigdem, a friend of Gizem whom I had met during a school visit for work, IES-Intervega Education Services, in early 2002. Cigdem wanted me to come to the Port "for a new ship which is library". I was not sure what she meant.
However, as lunch and work required my attention, I could not go to the ship then and there.

At about 4:30 pm, near the end of work, Cigdem and Gizem turn up at IES. They explain they had visited a ship with lots of English language books and met a guy named Eric who I should meet. I was much more excited about looking at the English books.

They went on their way home and I began walking to the port, slightly the other side of Mersin's city centre. There, in the distance I see a white ship called 'Doulos'. I made my way to through the port entry, to the ship's stairway. There, lo and behold, I was welcomed by Kylie, another Aussie! Now, when a person is one of only two Aussies (the other is the Hilton manager) in a city of 500,000 people I have a right to be excited when I cross another one!

I began chatting to Kylie. It turns out that she is one of over 250 multi-racial inter-denominational Christians that go around the world on the 'Doulos' selling books, as an example of tolerance and harmony. She has been on the boat for 2+1/2 years! Kylie gave me a guest pass and shouted me dinner in the dining room. Over dinner I chatted to some other Aussies (from Salisbury, Adelaide!) and a Japanese lady. Afterwards, Kylie showed me around the ship - the engine room, kitchen, bakery, medical room, fire fighting room and, finally, the top-level bookshop. I have never, ever seen so many foreigners in Mersin!

The bookshop features many lifestyle books, Christian-themed books, cookbooks, children's books and, you guessed it, other books! As Mersin has next to zero English books, I spent a while gazing at all the titles. I ended up with two cookbooks - 'Quick & Easy' and 'One Pot', both with recipes possible to cook in a single bachelor house containing one saucepan!

'Doulos' means 'servant' in Greek. Previously, the boat had come from Odessa, Ukraine, via Constanta, Romania, Istanbul and Antalya. The next stop is Izmir.

The ship is in Mersin until the 2nd of November. I plan to visit the ship again and also guide a few of its inhabitants around Mersin, well, at least the city centre.

Saturday, 25 October 2003

Ramazan Starts on Monday

This Monday, the Muslim holy month of Ramazan (Ramadan) begins. At least it begins in Turkey. The start of Ramazan is determined by the moon, and countries that are more exacting in their intrepretation will wait until they specifically know which day the moon is correct for the start of Ramazan.

Millions of Muslims around the world will not eat, drink, smoke or make love during daylight hours. In Turkey, fasting is a personal decision and is not as widespread as in the more conservative Muslim countries.

The Ramazan changes I will personally notice in Mersin:

-My boss, Ahmet, and fellow employee, Serkan, will consistently fast; other workers may fast on the odd day. Every late afternoon, all office staff will share in the fast-breaking bread and soup (normally lentil - yummy), even those who are not fasting.

-At about 5am, or some other ridiculous time, a drummer will walk past the street below belting his drum. Last year, I could hear the BOOM of the drummer twice or even three times in the same early morning!
The purpose of the drummer is to wake everyone up for their pre-fast meal before the sun rises.
In modern times, with the advent of alarm clocks, this drumming is not a practical necessity. However, what keeps it going is tradition.
At saner times of the day, the drummer knocks on doors requesting donations for his work. The only positive I can see from the drumming, is that it gives unemployed work.

-People will give more to charities and the poor. The supermarkets have special packages of basic foods (flour, spaghetti, oil, tomato paste, etcetera) at special prices for people to either buy for themselves or buy and give to less fortunate people.

-Some restaurants will be closed for the whole of Ramazan.

-Ramazan pide, a style of flat bread, will be produced by the bakeries in the afternoon, traditionally to be eaten with the fast-breaking soup. This is the only time of the year that this bread is widely produced. I like the bread and wish it was produced more often!

-From the evening of the 24th to the 27th of November is the Ramazan feast. I will write more about this later.

Friday, 24 October 2003

At this moment...

...I could be partying at an African night in Aleppo, Syria.

A month ago, I ventured to Aleppo via Antakya, to pick up my Turkish work visa from the Consulate-General. At a fruit juice stall in the centre of town I met a wonderful couple, Bengali and Celine. Celine is French whilst Bengali is a mixture: Ivory Coast origin, lived 7 years in Cairo and later, moved to France where he met Celine. They now work for The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, based 30 km from Aleppo.

Tonight Bengali was to be DJ at ICARDA's African night and I could have been there...except for work. As the Muslim holy day begins Thursday evening, Syria, like many other Muslim countries, has Friday and Saturday for its weekend. That is why the party is on tonight, the last weeknight. By the way, Ataturk adopted the western Saturday-Sunday weekend for Turkey when he founded the secular Turkish Republic, almost 80 years ago to the day.

Wednesday, 22 October 2003

Then and Now

On 26 July 2001, shortly after I arrived in Mersin the first time, I took note of prices for certain goods and services. Below are the price comparisons between then and today, 22 October 2003. All prices are quoted in Turkish Lira.

Exchange rates:

AUD$1: Then=670,000 TL; Now=1,034,000 TL
USD$1: Then=1,320,000 TL; Now=1,475,000 TL
EUR€1: Then=1,155,000 TL; Now=1,725,000

Notice the devaluation of the USD to the AUD.

Goods and services

1 tantuni (similar to kebap but largely found in Mersin) at my regular lunchtime restaurant:
-Then=500,000; Now=1,250,000

1 glass of ayran (yoghurt drink) at the same restaurant:
-Then=200,000; Now=500,000

A 45 minute haircut including shampoo, condition and ear clean!:
-Then=2,000,000; Now=4,500,000

The Turkish Daily News newspaper:
-Then=300,000; Now=1,000,000

The Turkish minimum monthly wage:
-Then=107,323,000; Now=223,749,000

1 local intra-city bus ride:
-Then=400,000; Now=750,000

1 simit (ring-shaped bread covered in sesame seeds):
-Then=150,000; Now=250,000

The above increase in prices is stark evidence of hyperinflation. Turkey has experienced hyperinflation for decades. A couple of months ago I found a Turkish coin from 1960; its value? 25 kurus, or a 1/4 of a lira or 200,000 times less valuable than today's lowest value coin, the 100,000 lira!

Believe it or not, inflation in the last 12 months has remained below 25% for the first time in many, many years!
With the reduced inflation, there has been pressure to keep wages down. However, businesses are used to increasing their prices dramatically every year. Soon, I believe, the higher prices and moderated incomes will lead to consumers spending less, forcing the businesses to level their prices.

Fantastic weather in Mersin!

The weather today in Mersin, just like the past fortnight, was wonderful; sunny, mild to warm (around 25 degrees C) and calm. I can't believe how good and enjoyable it is. Even sitting in the office all day I can still appreciate the brilliant weather - the windows and doors are open and the nearest air conditioners and heaters could be a world away for all I care.....alas, the hot, humid summer has only recently passed and the the cold, wet winter is just around the corner.....

Tuesday, 21 October 2003

Tax Time, Part 2

This morning I called the Australian Taxation Office on 61-2-6216 1111. They were kind enough to call back. A lady named Kim listened to my questions and details and then gave me the information I required. I am almost ready to finish my tax return!

I should get about AUD 70 back. Although this is not much, it still goes a fair way in Turkey. I could always treat myself and buy Pearl Jam's new album and DVD , both to be released in November.

Tax time...

I am now trying to work out my tax return for the 2002-2003 Australian financial year. It is such fun (not), particularly from the other side of the world.

Thank goodness both:
a) The Australian Taxation Office have enabled online returns; and
b) My parents are so helpful and understanding to look through my documents in Adelaide, Australia and send the requested information.

Monday, 20 October 2003

It has arrived

My blog has emerged from hiding!

All I now need to do is to change the colours, formatting, links, directory and a few other things! They will be changed in due course.

Here I will be writing random stories about whatever I see fit.

The Hamam

On Saturday evening I went to the local hamam with my boss. The hamam is just around the corner and on the same block as my apartment. The wash, massage and kese (think of someone rubbing sandpaper on yourself) were very enjoyable. I came out very clean!

This was my first visit to this hamam, although I had previously walked passed it hundreds of times. 'Mersin Hamami' has a small swimming pool, sauna, washing compartments, hot stone, massage areas, showers and restroom/foyer. In the middle of the restroom/foyer area is a pool with catfish and two very lazy tortoises. I was very surprised at how far the hamam went under the apartment block, particularly given the very innocuous entrance. One interesting aspect of the hamam was the naked (no pun intended) fluorescent light in the hot sauna! I don't think this would meet appropriate occupational health and safety guidelines!

The Restaurant

Following the hamam we ate at the Afyon Cumhuriyet Sucuk Restaurant. Sucuk is a famous Turkish sausage with a strong flavour unique to its own. For desert I ate 'ekmek kadayifi' with some of the famous Afyon cream' Adding the cream to the desert more than doubled its price!

The Nightclub

After dinner I caught a bus west down the coast to Davultepe. There I met a friend, Orhan, at a nightclub. The nightclub was supposed to be having a 'dark rock' theme that night. Entry was 5 million Turkish lira, which was pretty good, as it included 2 Efes Dark beers. Despite the theme, there was no rock, let alone, 'dark rock'. The music (house, techno, pop stuff) was okay, although it was against expectations and very few people who arrived, stayed. After the 2 'free' beers we caught a bus back into town, having an earlier than expected arrival home.

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