Thursday 27 September 2007

Rude Nan #2

I'm heading back to the UK tomorrow morning and I went to see my nan to say goodbye. The conversation went as follows:

Me : Nan, I'm going back to the UK tomorrow. I'll see mum, then I'll go and see dad.
Nan : Ata? (the name of my uncle)
Suzanna (remember? Her Turkmen carer) : Come on, that's not his father. Who's his father? Come on! Who's his father?
Nan : Your mother's cunt

I kissed her hand and headed home.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Won't 'aggle?

I've just been to the barbers. I always look forward to that. A shave, a haircut and a wonderful massage all for about £5.

While I was in there a tourist came in and asked how much for the full works. I winced in anticipation for the response. I was completely shocked. The barber quoted the guy only a little over what he charges me. He actually gave a fair price!

As I walked back through the busy shopping streets lined with souvenirs and fake watches, I noticed the tourists milling about like sheep whilst the sun glass wearing suited wolves leaned against shop doors trying to spot a loose fool.

Any tourist in Kusadasi right now has a problem. The season was bad this year and it's meant that the salesman have got to make up for lost time and money. This means that current tourists are getting royally shafted. I don't blame anyone; this money has to see these guys through the winter. But I thought I'd try and put together a 'how to' on getting the best price in a shop in Turkey (or anywhere for that matter).

I say 'best price' and not bargain because, ultimately, if you're foreign you're simply not going to get the same price as a Turk and so:

Rule 1. Try and make friends with a Turk and get them to buy it. This is unlikely on a 2 week holiday because, the chances are, they're going to take you to a friend who's going to give him commission anyway.

Rule 2. Think about how much you would be happy to spend on this product and keep it in mind at all times.

Rule 3. On asking the price, offer low (even half). Usually you wont insult the seller.

Rule 4. Shop around. Get as many prices as you can from different shops. You will need this later. Make sure you ask for their final price and then walk away.

Rule 5. Realise that some things are a fixed price nationally. Don't haggle for a pack of cigarettes.

Rule 6. Don't haggle for things that just aren't worth it. Don't haggle for a pack of cigarettes.

Rule 7. Don't seem too bothered whether you want to buy or not. If your girlfriend is chomping for a particular Versace handbag, tell her to control her emotions or leave her in a cafe somewhere. This is poker face time. I got a £120 robe down to £5 in Morocco because I genuinely wasn't interested in it but for £5 it was a nice memento.

Rule 8. Don't let on that this is the product you've been searching for all day.

Rule 9. Show you are capable of buying. A common mistake is to look poor. This will just mean you don't get good service. Be confident that you can afford this product but that you have money because you're no mug. Be authoritative but not aggressive or arrogant.

Rule 10. Don't be scared to walk away. If you've got down to his 'lowest' price then politely thank him and tell him you'll think about it and walk away. One of two things are going to happen: 1. He'll let you walk 2. He'll offer you more off.

Rule 11. If he lets you walk, you may have reached his lowest price or he is still playing the game. After some time, walk past the shop. Make sure he can see you but say no more than 'hello, how are you?' but keep walking. See if he offers you some more off (it's also good if you have some new shopping bags in your hands to prove that you've been splashing the cash). This has happened to me before.

Rule 12. Play one shop off against the other. Claim that the other shop has some advantage, either financial or quality. Make the seller think you'd be happier going to the other shop.

Rule 13. Show him the money! Get the cash out and show him the money. Cash. Ready. No problem. This can sometimes push it down a little. Especially if you tell him something like "well this is all I have, otherwise it will have to wait until I can get to the bank tomorrow". Oh you mean bugger! He knows he needs to get your deal there and then or you'll get cold feet.

Rule 14. The most important rule. If you're happy with the price, buy it and don't look back. After you've bought it don't check any other prices again. Move onto something else. Don't beat yourself up wondering whether you were ripped off. If you like it and you thought the price was fair, it was. Enjoy your new purchase.

Happy haggling!

Tuesday 24 July 2007

We have internet

My internet connection has been up and down like a whore's drawers. After three weeks of telephone calls to Superonline (my ISP), Turkish Telecom and US Robotics (the modem people) (I wont bore you with the bureaucracy, just read the posts below and you'll get the picture), I finally had to find the source of the problem myself.

"It's definitely not the cable" said Turkish Telecom.

My discovery? It definitely was the cable. So I called them and asked them to come over. After a fight saying that it wasn't their business to fix problems with telephone cables (go figure), they realised that it was almost solely their business to fix problems with telephone cables and they sent 3 blokes over with some gaffer tape.

Well they fixed my problem with that precise Turkish finish.

The results are in...

...and, once again, Ak Parti wins the general elections.

The result was a landslide. This is a little worrying for most people living around the coastal regions of Turkey who are more 'open' in their thinking. The Turkish AK Parti, from what I understand, is a step towards Islam. The Prime Minister's wife covers her head and any government run restaurants do not serve alcohol.

The voting was confused. With so many political parties to choose from (over 30, I hear) most people were trying to vote tactically. To try and second guess the results, voters were trying to get as many non-AK parti ministers into parliament as possible.

The problem is that by splitting the vote across a number of parties, AK Parti became a clear winner.

What does this mean for Turkey? Well, I think it's a step in the wrong direction. Everyone around is fearing a move towards becoming another Iran. Time will tell.

(I should be a political correspondent for the BBC, don't you think?)

Random Turkish Fact #1

Almost without exception, Turkish women are fans of the Hollywood style.

If you don't know what the Hollywood style is, ask a friend. If you do know then you're probably too busy high-fiving the person next to you to read the end of this paragraph.

Thursday 28 June 2007

Not a chance of making it in England

Racist? These take the biscuit!

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Holy mother of fuck, Spidey!

Last night I was just surfing YouTube when I saw something in the corner of my eye strolling across the wall. Something not dissimilar in size to a young camel.

Sometimes living on the edge of a forest can bring unwelcome guests. This little beauty decided to escape the bonkers heatwave and chill out in my air conditioned lounge for a while.

Now I have a terrible fear of spiders. I tried to conquer it by going to a course provided by London Zoo in which we were treated to hypnosis and flooding techniques to help us to become friends with these 8 legged bastards.

At the end of the day I had managed the following:

Not bad, but I'm not actually scared of tarantulas. They don't really fall into the spider category in my book. They're more of a rodent. What really makes my skin scrawl are those big old house spiders you get in England. The ones you find sitting in the bath.

So imagine my joy when I saw this mofo perched in the corner of my room last night...

Now, being a vegetarian and all round animal lover, I didn't want to give it a shoeing but rather do what we were taught on the course and to put a glass over it and remove it safely. Unfortunately there wasn't a glass big enough for this beast. It was also situated in the corner of the ceiling, meaning that it was almost impossible to perform my practiced maneuver. So I sat and watched and waited.

After 15 minutes I decided to be proactive and use the broom to nudge it to a more reasonable location. Well, one centimetre from it's body, it sprinted across the wall and I lost my mind.

I took a baseball-like swing at it with the broom but it caused no obvious injury. After two swings and a thorough spraying with mosquito repellent, there was no change to this monster's determination to scare the crap out of me. But luckily, by this time, it was scuttling along the floor.

Got it! A we had a picture for posterity. The next task was to heave it over the balcony where I clearly heard a thud as it hit the ground two storeys below.

Turns out, this is a fantastically poisonous little critter. One I hope has no homing instinct. But I now sleep with a gun under my pillow.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Word up!

So what do you reckon these are all about? I saw them in the supermarket the other day and did a double take.

I'll give you a clue. They're to be worn after a certain ceremony. Something most little boys have here and something most people ask me about and try to convince me to have done. Not a fucking hope.

Yes, you've guessed it, they're to be worn after circumcision. Like a bizarre, crying Larry Blackmon the child dons these beauties to protect the newly shelled acorn. Then he's sat on a donkey and paraded through town. Personally I think a donkey ride would be the last thing on my mind if someone had just taken a knife to my Charlie.

Another dodgy brand

Monday 25 June 2007

Rude nan

I have to share something that made my laugh the other morning. My nan is 82 years old and lives in the next apartment. I go and visit her regularly though her memory loss means she doesn't believe that and chastises me for never visiting.

She has a live-in carer as she can no longer walk. A middle-aged woman from Turkmenistan called Suzanna with Turkish similar to mine but with a Russian accent.

A few days ago Suzanna's son came to visit her after almost 2 years of being apart. She asked him to bring a number of things from home that she's missed over the years.

To welcome him, I was invited to breakfast. After we had eaten, Suzanna grabs a can of something I can only compare to a thick, sweet condensed milk. She dips a spoon into the Turkmenistan gloop and proudly offer it to my nan to taste.

"We call this ........ Can I find this here?" Suzanna asks nan.

"Of course, we have everything in Turkey". A classic response from an aged Turk.

"Where can I find it?" Suzanna continued.

"In your mother's cunt" came the understated reply from the frail octogenarian. I dropped an olive.

Unaccompanied and unnacustomed in Customs

So after 5 years my Minolta camera finally gives up the ghost and decides it doesn't want to take pictures in sunshine anymore. Not much use to me living in a country that sees little else. So I began my search last year for a replacement.

I'm a research maniac and spent months looking for the right camera for the job. Finally I settled on a Canon Ixus 850IS. A small, handy piece of work that was raved about in all the forums I came across.

So the I embarked upon the next stage of the research process; where to buy and how much to pay. I found a great company called DigitalRev based in Hong Kong. They promise swift delivery and no Customs headaches... well, at least, to the UK.

The package arrived swiftly, but unfortunately not to me. Customs in Istanbul (the only gateway for cargo into Turkey) took a fancy to the package and informed DHL to write me a letter about it. DHL did indeed send me a letter but my Turkish isn't quite up to scratch yet. I called DHL and asked what I had to do.

They informed me that in order to get my hands on my camera I would have to clear Istanbul Customs then forward the package to Izmir Customs where I could then collect. Unfortunately no one could give me a clear answer on how much this would cost. After a host of other calls, pulling in contacts and friends who might have an answer, I soon realised that no one could give me a clear answer. Well, actually there was one clear unanimous answer "why the hell did you buy from overseas?"

I called DHL Kusadasi and a very nice lady invited me to go down and she would read the letter and tell me what I needed to do. That I did.

The answer? 130YTL (about £45) to DHL to clear and send to Izmir plus 10% of the declared value to Customs. I could just about swallow that and went to make the bank transfer (everything is paid in bank transfers here, even ecommerce).

After giving DHL a few days to send the camera I made my way to Izmir. On arrival at the Customs Head Office in Izmir Airport I was met by a crowded reception of men generally hanging around and reading newspapers. I approached one and pointed at the letter from DHL and asked what I need to do. Suddenly all the other men got interested in my plight and I was taken by the hand and lead into the Customs Offices.

After a few minutes pinballing from one clerk to another, I was told that we had to go to see DHL.

"Have you got a car?" asked the man holding my hand. "Come on, let's go together."

OK I was now starting to get suspicious of this man's intentions. Nothing sexual, but after a year in Turkey you learn that you don't have to drop your trousers to get royally fucked. Usually in the wallet. Anyway, I was completely lost and needed the help.

When we arrived at DHL I was told that I needed to pay DHL another 130YTL for 'documentation'. I then spat the dummy and insisted that DHL Kusadasi had told me that all I had to pay was 130YTL lus 10%, nothing more. I had asked several times and they had made several phone calls to confirm.

"I'm sorry Sir but there's nothing we can do, you have to pay this money". I called Kusadasi and asked what the hell was going on. It would have been cheaper to go to Istanbul to collect this package. DHL had actually charged me the price of a return air fare for sending this parcel to Izmir.

Izmir DHL told me that it was getting late and that I would have to make a decision or it would have to wait until the next day. This wasn't an option as I had only hired a car for a day. I called Kusadasi again and was welcomed by a man screaming at me telling me that I had to pay or forget the parcel. That it was my stupid fault for buying a cheap camera from Hong Kong. OK, I may have been stupid but that's not his business.

People have certain weaknesses, things that send them crazy. I have only a few.

  1. People pinching my nose. This comes from being a child in Turkey where adoring bystanders love to squeeze the noses of children. Unfortunately my had a sensitive nose that would gush with blood at the first sign of a curl thumb and index finger.
  2. People that eat with their mouth open.
  3. Being made to look a fool.
  4. Being shouted at.
I was visually shaking after the telephone call and the guys in the Izmir office offered me water and a place to sit down. What made matters worse, was that I was recovering from a cold and had lost my voice. The only voice I could muster made Joe Pasquale sound like Barry White. This didn't help my 'disgruntled customer' approach.

The man who had taken me to DHL had admitted that he was a broker and I realised that all the men hanging around the Custom's reception were all brokers looking for tourists to prey on. They would help you and take a commission. Which is fine but I wish they would tell these things up front rather than appear to be something they're not. Anyway, my work was proving lengthy and possibly fruitless so my broker friend headed back to Customs alone.

I realised that this battle wasn't going to won today and that at least I wanted to go home with my camera. So out came the wallet. I had no more Turkish money and had to start paying in Dollars. I made and headed back to Customs.

I decided to try and shake off this broker and deal with everything myself. I went from one clerk to another and finally found a middle aged, stony faced woman in a small room. This woman had a face that had seen action. That ex-prostitute numbness. The kind of woman you would meet on the prom at Southend and would greet you with "ello darlin".

I stood by her desk like a school boy waiting for his punishment while she looked through my papers. I smiled my best smile whenever she looked up. She said nothing. The only sound was the rustling of papers, the occasional cracking of her chewing gum and grating nails on skin as she scratched herself and uttered obscenities at the mosquito bites that freckled her person.

As I stood and waited for the verdict, my eyes wandered around the room. This room was full of mosquitoes. It was completely bizarre. Box files and mosquitoes. It was an open buffet for them, feeding on this poor aging dolly. No wonder she was pissed off.

After maybe 10 smiles, I finally broke through. She never returned a smile but she said softly "follow me". We went to another clerk and she was clearly begging him to do something to help me. He sent me off for photocopies and stamped them and we went back to her office.

"Now you've got to go and see the Head of Customs" she said and pointed me to a grand office across the hall.

I knocked and entered. There were two men sitting at desks. One was on the phone and the other clearly nodded "it's the other guy". The man on the phone (the boss) turned to look at me and to my horror, he was boss eyed. Boss eyed and even more stony faced.

"Go out and come back in 5 minutes" he said firmly. I did so swiftly.

After exactly 6 minutes I knocked and entered again. "What do you want?" he asked and I put the papers in front of him. He sighed and tutted and turned to me again. This time he launched into a frightening angry monologue. Clearly telling me something. Something I had no chance of understanding. The only thing I could understand was that he was angry, very angry. All hand gestures were being used and colourful language. I was petrified.

Then ever so softly I heard another voice to my left apologising. I hadn't noticed with all the panic but there was another man to my left. This was the real receiver of the abuse. The man who the bosses good eye was looking at. I was being stared at by the bad eye. Ah ha! Don't watch the right eye I said to myself, focus only on the left.

The boss signed and stamped the telephone directory of paperwork I had now acquired and I headed back to my old Doris.

Well this whole process took almost 4 hours. Going here and there and photocopying and paying money and back to the boss and back to Doris and avoiding Mr Broker. Finally I was clear of Customs. My last challenge was to find a depot on the out skirts of the airport to collect my prize.

After over 4 hours and a total of 390YTL I finally have my new camera. It's wonderful and I'm very happy. Although I am so protective of it. I wrap it in cloth and hold like a new born child. The fear of having to go through this process again fills me with dread.

The moral of this story is, when in Turkey, buy locally.

Saturday 24 March 2007

Doesn't time fly?

I thought that it must have been about a week since my last post so I thought I'd better bring you all up to speed. Imagine my surprise when it appears it has been over a month. Every Friday I get emails from the brilliant B3ta and Holy Moly (although it is making less sense now I'm without idiot box). It seems like these emails are coming daily as the weeks are flying by.

The weather didn't really come to anything. We had a few drops of rain but not enough to protect us from a bastard of a summer. Water cuts are going to be continuous, I fear, through the hottest months of the year. We shall see how it unfolds.

My cats are doing fine. Elsie and Ceylin are plodding along nicely. I went down to the vets yesterday to pick up some more cat food. The problem with putting out food is that you get very popular with all the local cats and so there are constant screams and hisses as soon as I close the front door when all the other cats turn up and hell breaks loose.

As I went up the stairs to the vets, there was a chameleon sitting on the top step looking at me with one eye (the other looking for an escape route). I thought it was a statue and pointed at it and laughed, to which the vet replied "oh there it is!" and picked it up. It was real and someone had brought it in from the road after it got a little lost in the middle of town. This kind of thing happens quite a lot apparently. I showed interest and the vet wrapped it and handed it to me. After a brief fantasy of keeping it as a pet, I realised that the best thing to do would be to put it in the woods behind my house.

The life of a vet is hard here. Just as I was leaving, two men came in with a puppy they just ran over. It's good that people are stopping to help. But these problems are constant and the vets are trying their best to curb the number of animals on the road. I can't remember if I said before but if you see a cat with the left ear cut then it means that it's a female and she's been spayed.

By the time I got home it was dark and so I decided to look after my new friend, Karma, until the morning. At first light I put on my boots and marched up into the mountain. Now the problem with chameleons is that they need sunshine to move at any speed. Poor Karma could bearly summon the energy to hiss at me. He did have the energy to cling to the bars of the cat basket though and it was impossible to get him to release. All I could do was bring the cage near the branch of the tree and prod him gently in the genitals (which was the only way I found to get any kind of reaction out of him (or her)).

Finally he got on the branch and began to blend in with the background (literally). I then realised that he might not like pine trees and thought maybe I should put him on the ground and let him decide. I tried to get him off the branch but he had locked on again and wasnt having any of it. I took this as my cue to leave and waved goodbye to my latest friend.

Saturday 17 February 2007

Laptops Schmaptops

Seems like it's the season to update technology. Friends and family are knocking on my door looking for answers. Everyone is looking for a new toy for the new year and being vaguely technical, I'm the fount of knowledge.

The word on the street is that someone is coming over from the States soon so let's put our orders in and give him enough hand luggage to make a pack horse wince.

My uncle and his friend's laptops were both killed in the same incident. Apparently his friend was showing one of his handguns to the Prince of Thailand when it accidentally went off and put holes through the screens of both machines. Luckily the Prince was fine after a glass of tea and change of underwear. Only in Turkey.

In the meantime, I scouting through all the UK websites trying to find the right technological bargain. "What about Harold's?" I was asked. It took me a while to work out we were talking about Harrods. I think a re-brand might be in order. I quite like the name.

So what else is new? I got an email from a friend back home the other day to say that an old Uni friend was doing rather well in the charts. Turns out my old mate Jack Allsop (now known as 'Just Jack' is all over the radio these days.

I've been a little out of touch with things since moving to Turkey. I have no TV or radio as I feel my view from the balcony is more than enough to occupy my mind. So I only get to hear about things when someone from home tells me.

It's nice to be out of touch. It's amazing how life goes on just fine without the usual shit we're fed through the idiot box. I remember when I lived back in Blighty, how I would flick between the hundreds of channels of toss spewed up by Telewest and always find something to kill the time. Hours upon hours of programs about nothing much. It seemed so important at the time but the reality was, it was just a way to waste my life.

I've become something of an anti-television evangelist. I strongly recommend you switch the box off and sit and talk with your family or get a hobby. Even something as 'important' as the news, really isn't so important. Most of what they churn out is meaningless bullshit about things that will never have any impact on our lives. If I want entertainment, I always have YouTube to surf.

OK that's enough ranting for one day. Until next time...

Monday 22 January 2007

Lovely weather we're having

The other day I watched a documentary film that seems to be very successful at the moment. It's called 'An Inconvenient Truth' presented by Al Gore. It's absolutely fantastic and I recommend watching it. It will change your life.

The film focusses on global warming and what we should be doing to combat it. The effects of global warming were all too apparent yesterday.

I joined a walking group that meets evalternate Sundays to walk and hike in places of interest in the local area. Yesterday we went to a place called Karpuzlu (meaning 'with water melons') and hiked for 3 or 4 hours over 12km stopping at the top of the mountain for lunch. I find these walks are so good for the soul. It's a chance to meet interesting people and chat as you stroll through the wilderness.

On the way back a few knowledgable ones amongst us gave a brief lecture in the bus. The subject was global warming and how we are now starting to see the effects. It was clear that the weather shouldn't be this hot in January. In fact if was so hot we had to have the air conditioning on in the bus. I was walking up the mountain in a t-shirt and sweating. It was indeed strange weather. Today it's the same. The sun is out and if it weren't for the slight cold, you would think it was a summer's day.

Here are some pictures of the walk:

I had my own personal Carbon emmisions issue the other night. I was sitting working away when I started to realise I was feeling a little down. That emotion grew into deep depression in which I even began to cry. I became very tired and thought the best thing to do would be to go to bed and hope to sleep through whatever was wrong. Just at that moment, my dad called. I explained how I was feeling and he asked whether I was burning the coal burner. I said I was and he told me to immediately open the windows. I did and the change in my state was instant. Suddenly I felt fine and positive again. It seems that there was a problem with the chimney and the fumes were starting to get to work.

Thank god I didn't go to sleep. I don't think I would have woken again. Needless to say the coal burner is going in the sea at the first opportunity. Back to good old electric heaters for me.

Sunday 14 January 2007

Billy's back

Here I am, back in Kusadasi. It feels like I've been away for an age. In fact I've been away for about a month.

The big change I noticed as I headed to the market on Friday was just how busy Kusadasi has become. What happened? Is everyone starting to get ready for the summer? Surely not. We're not even through the worst of the winter yet. Whatever it is, Kusadasi is absolutely buzzing with locals.

Christmas was a wonderful break. So nice to see everyone back at home and to see how my home town has changed. The funny thing was that this time, for the first time, I felt like a stranger. Somehow I was an observer rather than part of the community.

Well time to plug in the electric blanket I treated myself in the UK and snuggle down for the night.