Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

I've been back in the United States for about three weeks and can definitely confirm that I've been experiencing some "reverse culture shock." I'd read about this condition and knew that it could occur but wasn't sure what to expect. Culture shock isn't necessarily good or just "is." So here are some snippets of my experiences over the past few weeks....

1. Lining up - Having lived in Turkey for almost 2 years I'd gotten used to the pushing, shoving and lack of making a queue. As a matter of fact, I missed the predictability of lines and the respect of body space while I was in Turkey. But nothing prepared me for the Southwest Airlines numbering system outside the gate for efficiency in boarding planes. Don't get me wrong. I liked the organization and I couldn't help but peek over my shoulder to make I "understood" the process and was in the correct position.
2. Crosswalks - I'm still adjusting to crossing the street. After 2 years of waiting until I could see no cars in any direction and then sprinting across a road or highway, I'm still not trusting of walk lights or the laws where the cars "must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks."  Many times, I've been standing at the curb while cars stop and then honk or wave to prompt me to take my "right-of-way" to cross the street.
3. Driving - I get a little bored and tired during long distance drives here  in the US. Traffic is predictable, roads are wide and generally smooth, and cars keep their distance. I'd kind of gotten used to unpredictable, white-knuckle driving.
4. Bluetooth and Google Maps with voice commands - I'm enjoying both here in the US especially because they are in English. I used Google Maps in Turkey but often ended up in the wrong location, probably because I didn't use the correct Turkish characters while typing.
5. Satellite Radio - I know this isn't new but I've never had it. Thank goodness for the radio to solve problem #3 above.
6. Grocery Stores - They are overwhelmingly large and exhausting to enter. The walk to find healthy foods seems so great that I can see why obesity is such a problem. It's just easier to grab the first packaged food product one can find and then head on out the door.
7. Obesity - Never believed it, but yes, we seem much fatter than I remember two years ago. Is it the grocery store design, the frequency of driving or our general laziness.
8. Bicycles - The number of trails, bikes and riders has increased. I've even seen a new design of bicycle that will hold 3 kids or a week's worth of groceries on the back. 200 miles of bike trails conveniently located 2 minutes from our daughter's front door was pretty cool. Unfortunately, I don't see any of the people in #7 riding bikes.
9. Streets - They are soooooo wide, so straight (especially here in the West), and so smooth.
10.Taste of food - I'm not used to the richness of butter not the sweetness of sugar. However, I feel like everything needs salt.
11. Grass - It's green and there is lots of it. Grass was kind of sparse and rare.
12. Quiet - I can hear birds chirping and nights are so quiet. I've been sleeping really well.
13. Tattoos and body piercings - Although there were tattoo parlors in Turkey and many young people had small tattoos and tiny nose rings, I'm seeing whole bodies including faces covered in art. I'm seeing quarter sized holes in earlobes and lips, eyes, noses etc. covered with piercings.
14. Cars and trucks  - They are huge, newer, and fast. Gas stations are plentiful and easy to find.
15. Emergency vehicles - Red lights flash and cars pull over.
16. Gadgets - A trip to REI yields things that I never knew were made and yet now can't imagine living without.
17. Leisure time - We work hard at playing and planning our free time.

In spite of all the things I'm enjoying about being back in the United States, I'm also conscious of the things I  miss about Turkey. I miss the kind, hospitable people. I miss the fresh produce including vine-ripe tomatoes, small-crunchy cucumbers, and bags of delicious lemons. I loved the olives and olive oil. The warm pita bread was delicious. Eating healthy was much less expensive than eating fast food or packaged food. The pace of life was slower. The seaside was beautiful.

Although I know I have a lot more to process, reflect and write about Turkey, time dictates that I get ready for the next adventure. Be watching for the first installment in the new blog pjinmalaysia coming soon. Güle Güle.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Savoring Santorini

After one all-night ferry ride, another baking-hot-in-the-sun ferry ride, a hot coach (big bus), and an even hotter mini-bus ride, I returned from Santorini to my sweltering/stuffy apartment, five loads of laundry(including sheets and bedding) in my tiny washing machine and tons of cancelling-utility-errands-in-a-foreign-language drudgery. On top of that, I have to cancel my wi-fi tomorrow which means I'll be going "cold turkey" for four days. (I'm a bit panicked about that and have started scouting air-conditioned free-wifi hotspots.) Anyway, I never had a chance to write about one of the most beautiful touristic places (Colorado mountains excluded) that I've had the opportunity to visit so here's my last opportunity for several days.

My travel companions and I arrived at the Santorini ferry port about 1:00 am and were met by our shuttle driver who then drove us up a narrow, steep, windy road switch-backing up the steep cliff of the famous lost-city-of Atlantis-mythical volcano. I wasn't scared but I was American-judgmental watching our driver talk on a cell phone with his left hand, shift gears with his right hand and swing wide on all the switch backs to avoid making 3 point turns. Luckily, I didn't  have to see him back up to one of only several wide points in the road because we never met oncoming traffic. After driving for about 20 minutes the van left us at the top of a hill where we were met by a porter who hefted our over-weight bags on his shoulders and led us down a city block's worth of curvy, steep cobblestone steps and into our hotel room where were promptly dropped onto our beds and fell fast asleep.

The next morning I awoke early (what's new?) and quietly tiptoed out of our hotel room door and onto our balcony. Our room was nestled into the steep, rocky cliffs of the volcano's caldera and overlooking the sea and nearby Greek islands. To the right, hundreds of crisp white hotel rooms dotted the curved edge of the caldera making it appear as if we were all modern-day cliff dwellers. Birds were gracefully floating at the exact height of our balcony and occasional song birds would chat with each other on the grape vines filled with plump, green grapes that were shading our balcony. Church bells from the surrounding hillsides chimed on the hour reminding me we were in a new country. Soon a steaming cup of coffee magically appeared via last night's smiling porter. I soaked up the beauty, pinched myself several times, and relaxed in the peacefulness of my favorite time of day in such a beautiful location.

After my companions awoke, a delicious breakfast including eggs and bacon, fresh Greek yogurt and fruit, breads, honey, fresh squeeze OJ, and more coffee was delivered to the table on our balcony. Sitting in the slice of heaven was just the peaceful interlude needed after a the crowds and noise of Fethiye and Rhodes.

After a day of relaxing by the pool, exploring the tiny cobblestone paths, climbing and descending stairs countless stairs, and eating our fill of delicious Greek food, we returned to our hotel room, raised our glasses of white wine to Santorini's world famous sunset.

For the next two days, we hiked the trail from Fira to Oia, drove the island's scenic, roads, swam at the island's many different colored beaches, and walked through many ancient historical places. We even managed to stumble upon a "local" hangout complete with live music and a California woman who fell in love with Santorini 25 years ago and never left. A short conversation yielded the fact that she currently leads tours of Santorini's many wineries, but she really got our attention after the Greek musicians coaxed her into singing "Summertime". At this point one of my travel companions created the story that she must have jumped off a cruise ship all those years ago and never got back on. She was  really good!

After a final, delicious meal and another beautiful, yet cloud-covered sunset, we parted ways. My companions liked it so much they decided to stay an extra couple of days on the island, but I needed to get home and pack for my departure. Sitting here among half-packed boxes, trash bags, dusty floors, and over-sized suitcases, I needed to take a break to remember where I was only two days ago before the memories fade away.

View from our hotel patio/balcony.

Watching the sunset from our balcony.

The Red Beach

The ropes tempted me so I rang the bells.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Ferry Good Surprise

I was sitting in café waiting for our Blue Star Ferry to depart Rhodes, Greece  for Santorini. We’d “settled in” to a café style table and three comfy chairs in preparation for the nine hour journey. We were wondering if there would be a snack bar or should we take food. Would we have enough entertainment to keep us busy for the ride. Would there be wi-fi? We were surprised and delighted by the size of the ferry along with its amenities including four levels, sleeping cabins, pool, numerous bars, restaurants, a casino and.....wi-fi! I had been expecting something like the ferry I took 30 years ago with only a bottle of Ouzo, my sleeping bag, a couple of fellow backpackers, for company. This ferry was somewhere between a Royal Caribbean cruise and a Washington State Ferry with the amenities leaning towards Royal Caribbean. Very Cool!
We were even confronted with  the usual cruise dilemma…Should we eat, drink, nap, read, stroll or type a blog? I can't speak for my travel companions but blogging came first followed by an ice-cappuccino and happy hour on the upper deck while watching the magnificent sunset. Several high lights of the trip were dinner on linen table cloths in the dining room and watching the unloading and loading process of people, cars, motorbikes and 18-wheelers. It would make sense that Greece has a very efficient ferry system since most islands are dependent upon goods being delivered.
The best part of this ride was the cost - It seemed to be a heck of a deal for 39 Euros (about $50).

My travel companions.

Sailing into the sunset.