Category Archives: Expat life

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What am I doing here? Manisa, Turkey

I live in a small Turkish city called Manisa and while it is an interesting place with lots of interesting stories to tell, I don’t really want to be here all the time.

One thing I’ve learned in years of wandering around is that if you don’t take the time to appreciate and enjoy the time when you don’t really have anything to do, you end up looking back on it with some regret. Sure, I’m bored now, but that could change at any time and so I need to just let myself fall into the zen-like state of slack. I have almost done that. And while I still find myself wishing that my life were more exciting, I’m actually enjoying the sensation of boredom.

the Street in Manisa Turkey
I had kind of expected that I would have friends here that would be willing to show me around, share insider knowledge, and maybe teach me some things about Turkish life, but that hasn’t really happened. The teachers I work with are either busy teaching or just disinterested. The students are busy with work and classes. And the expats, well, as soon as I arrived the one I was going to share a house with split.

So, here I am. In Manisa and my days are fairly simple. I wake up, try to force myself to do some yoga and go running (about 50% successful) and then I head to work. I teach for a few hours and then I have a few hours during the hot part of the day so I come home, make lunch and study a little Turkish, check my email, and perhaps do some online work. Then I go back to work and at around 10:30 I come back home, make some dinner, watch some TV on the computer, and maybe read a bit before going to bed. I usually talk with Hanane a little bit either in the afternoon or before I go to bed and we sometimes play battleship on Skype. That’s my life, six days a week.

Since I haven’t had a camera and since I sort of want to save most of my sight-seeing for when Hanane gets here, I’ve sort of avoided checking out the old mosques or doing the other sight-seeing kind of things.

But, now, since I got my Samsung Star semi-smart phone, I have a camera and today was my one day a week off. Sunday. So, without further ado…I introduce a new feature here at Vagobond. Each Sunday, I will try to do a little exploring or will just document my rather humdrum day. If I go somewhere else it will be Sunday in…wherever but since I am in Manisa, Turkey, here it is.

Sunday in …. Manisa.
My roommate left the house with no gas for hot water and no light bulbs aside from one or two in the room he was in.

I told the school and they told me they would have gas delivered. They didn’t tell me I would have to pay the toothless boy who brought it. In addition, he couldn’t make the gas water heater work and neither could I. I’ve been with nothing but cold showers for my time here, which isn’t awful since it’s warm and Hanane isn’t here.

When the boy arrived, I didn’t have money but luckily the guys who run the little market across the street loaned me 20 lira. Natural gas here is expensive. 54 lira for a canister. This all happened last week. I told the school about my cold showers but nothing happened, so I told them again and they told me that the landlord would come either Sunday or Monday. They didn’t tell me which.

So, I woke up on my day off not knowing if I really could go and do anything at all or whether I had to stay at the house. I called the school and they told me ‘Oh yeah’ the landlord will come on Monday. It didn’t make much difference to me.

Since I had the camera and the day off though, I decided to walk around and take random pictures. This is the little store that loaned me 20 lira.
 Manisa, Turkey

Here is the view up the street.

The other direction are the train tracks. Crossing them, I saw this little ruin and thought it worth a picture.
 Manisa, Turkey
Then I found this beautiful old locomotive. I climbed up in the engineers cabin, but someone had taken a big dump in it, so I didn’t stay.
 Manisa, Turkey
I walked around a big stadium and one of these horse drawn wagons built on an auto chassis that I love in both Turkey and Morocco came down the street. My camera was out too late though to capture the big peasant ladies who were driving it.
 Manisa, Turkey
Back across the tracks, I encountered what I think was a wedding since there were lots of women waving scarves out the window. The wedding procession is led by a big traditional band playing in the back of a flatbed truck. This is the same as the circumcision parade for young boys but since I didn’t see any horse and carriage with little boys dressed up like fairy tale princes, I knew this wasn’t one of those.
 Manisa, Turkey
I walked up to the Manisa museum which is under construction so I couldn’t go in but I did get to see lots of marble columns and architectural pieces that are probably around 2000 years old through this gate.
 Manisa, Turkey
I took a couple of pictures of the mosques. I didn’t go in though. Not today.
 Manisa, Turkey
The statue in the roundabout is Merkez Effendi who was an ancient doctor who created the famous candy/medicine of Manisa which is called Mesir and which I will write about in detail in a future post.
 Manisa, Turkey
From there, I went to Fatih Park and took a few pictures of the Monument of National Sovereignty which was decorated with wreaths today and since I saw a lot of military guys in dress uniforms as I wandered around, I figured it must be a holiday of some sort.
 Manisa, Turkey
The Monument of National Sovereignty was built in 1985 by the sculptur Tankut Oktern. It symbolizes the public, army, and youth working together with the founder of modern Turkey, Kamal Ataturk. To me, it looked like a statue of Daniel Boone in shorts and the world’s tallest man with his normal sized family.
 Manisa, Turkey
In fact though, the Daniel Boone figure and the two warriors are ‘Zeybek’, an ancient Turkish word, meaning a wise person. The zeybek were like the samurai of Turkey.
 Manisa, Turkey
After that I bought some mesir and went to the Hollywood Cinema where I watched “The Expendables” which was in English with Turkish subtitles. It was an incredibly bad film. Bad writing, bad acting, bad everything. Awful. The mesir on the other hand was delicious spicy stickiness.

Then I walked around taking pictures of Tarzan who I will detail tomorrow in Manisa Monday. Yes, I figure one day a week devoted to the town I live in for the next year is a decent amount of time to spend…after all, what else am I going to do with all my time here?

best phone for travel

Technomad Tools – #1 – Smart phone – Mine and yours?

Let’s talk about smartphones. I just got one and following is my review. What smartphone do you use? Is it better or worse? What features do you love? What features could you do without?

This term technomad is coming up more and more these days. To a certain extent, I fall within the category since I do a lot of my paid (and unpaid) work online and for that I don’t have a boss, an office, or a need to be in any one place.

As such, my office for the past year or so has been my netbook. An Acer Aspire One which has been by far the best $300 I’ve ever spent. I’ve used it for everything a full on laptop or desktop can be used for and it has never let me down. I recommend it 100% as the ultimate travel machine. Below is an affiliate link from Amazon for one.

Still, I’m always trying to make my possessions smaller, faster, and better and I’ve been looking at people with smartphones for a while now and wondering if I would be able to make the leap and perhaps the next time I travel I would be able to leave the netbook at home.

best phone for travel

Does your phone travel well?

I’m a cheap bastard. I don’t like to replace things while other things still work, so when my camera went kaput during our wedding in the Sahara, I thought that maybe if my phone would die too, I could replace the phone and the camera with a smart phone. So, I’ve been keeping my eyes open.

Unfortunately, in both Turkey and Morocco the cost of electronics is about 500% more than in the USA or Europe. Even in Europe the cost of an iPhone or Blackberry is at a premium. Another thing is that I don’t like contracts since I’m never 100% certain I’ll be staying in a country. And, I’m pretty poor in terms of money that I can spend.

An iPhone in Morocco runs about $1700 U.S. A Blackberry is a little less, but the truth is that I’ve used Blackberries and I don’t particularly like them. In Turkey and iPhone is about $1500. I thought about ordering one from Ebay or Amazon, but friends here confirmed that customs (as in Morocco) would rake me over the coals and I would end up paying more. I don’t want to make any bones about it, I’ve looked around and despite the problems, it looks to me like an iPhone 4 is the best thing going.

The other day when my old Motorola Razor V1 once again started dying with a full charge, I decided it was time to make the leap to something. One of my colleagues showed me his phone and told me that I could get one for right around 350 Turkish Lira which works out to about $225 US.

I did a little homework and decided that while it didn’t have all the options I wanted, it would be a pretty decent way to break into having a smart phone. Here is what I wanted:

- a decent camera
- wifi so that I could check email, use voice services on Skype, GTalk, and Yahoo messenger to make calls with no charge when wifi was available
- video capability – playing and recording
- blue tooth
- good sound quality/ call quality
- a good quality touchscreen
- fm radio
- good battery life
- and some games/ability for java apps

samsung star wifi

The reviews I read of the phone seemed to indicate that I was going to get what I was looking for with the Samsung Star Wifi which is marketed in India, Pakistan, Turkey, and other Arab countries under various names such as Samsung Avila.

The phone lives up to most of what I read about it. I’ve had no problems with the wifi though I haven’t yet figured out how to change the default for most java apps so that I don’t get charged for usage.

samsung star wifi - phone for vagabond
It’s small, light, and fits easily in my hand or my pocket.

For me, the camera takes acceptable pictures but the lack of a zoom and flash probably means I’m going to have to get a camera anyway. The video quality seems pretty decent.

Call sound is good and the music player works well but doesn’t seem to have much flexibility in the way playlists work. Definitely would prefer i-tunes.

One big issue at the beginning was that the proprietary browser kind of sucks. Only allows one window at a time. I solved this by downloading the Opera Mini 5 browser which allows for multiple windows but the cost is that with Opera when I turn my phone sideways, it doesn’t automatically change to landscape screen

Another issue is that since it is proprietary, Skype and other voice chat services (VOIP) have not bothered to (or not been able to) make software that allows free calls. So even with the wifi and a browser, I’m not able to make the free VOIP calls I wanted. I was able to download a java app called Nimbuzz, but can only access it through the browser and engage in text chat only. Big disappointment on this one.

Also, I think because of the firmware and proprietary Samsung crap, I can only run one app at a time, although there is a setting which allows music to run in the background while I do other things. So what this means is that if I am using the Opera browser and want to make a note, I have to close the browser and open up the note. Again, big disappointment and not ideal at all.

The initial data storage size is reasonable, but not huge. I’ll have to buy a data card. I want to have the space for videos and music on it, not to mention pictures, and hopefully an ebook or two.

The word processing (notepad) function is fairly primitive and when I have put pdf or .doc files on it, I have to scroll left and right in addition to down. Not really very good for reading something which I was hoping would be an option.

The battery life is good. About 10 hours with heavy usage or from what I’ve read, if it isn’t being used much, a week or more.

The touchscreen seems to work great. It’s fun and the stylus which comes inside is easy to use and stores in the corner safely.

As to videos, I’m afraid that this phone is set up to mostly play youtube videos and since I’m in Turkey, where youtube is banned, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to watch any video but the one I recorded to test out the video camera function. I’m hoping to find an alternative source so that I can watch tv shows and news.

The phone has a couple of kind of goofy features. One is that if you choose you can set up the phone to automatically email two contacts if the SIM is replaced. Ideally this will tell you the number of any thief who steals your phone.

Another one is a fake call function where you can press a button and the phone will call you and play a conversation you’ve pre-recorded so that you can get out of class, meetings, or other uncomfortable situations. It’s a phone with built in lies.

One last thing I do like about this phone is that it comes unlocked and is quad band so I can go anywhere and use it in any country on the planet.

Overall, I like the phone. It’s a definite upgrade from the razor v1, but it is definitely not a replacement for the netbook. That will have to come later. Although, I’m quite happy to lug the netbook with me since it is light and awesome.

Now, how about you- what smart phone do you use? Does it kick ass? Or does it blow?

living in Turkey, working in Turkey, Manisa

Living in Turkey – Working in Turkey

[ad#Link share in post google replacement]Getting a job in Turkey and living the expat life in Turkey will certainly present some challenges.

Once again, I feel like things are moving up. As I mentioned on facebook (what? you didn’t see me on facebook? here http://www.facebook.com/vagodamitio ), I felt like a returning son coming to Turkey. I had new friends cheering my arrival, friends offering to help me figure life out, and best of all – when I arrived in Manisa I already had an apartment waiting for me!

That’s one of the advantages of taking a job. The apartment and utilities are all paid for. Of course, time will tell how things go. At the moment, I’m sharing the apartment with just one other teacher. If they load it up like the staff room at a hostel as time goes on, then it might be an issue.
living in Turkey, working in Turkey, Manisa

I didn’t come here with much, but teachers who have already gone left plenty in the way of clothing and even a couple of books. My roommate told me that I could take what clothes I wanted and surprisingly, I found quite a few things that fit me and looked like they’d never been worn. On top of that, I actually liked the clothes! So, my wardrobe has nearly doubled just by arriving.

The house is furnished and has everything that Hanane and I need in terms of a refrigerator, a stove, a washing machine, satellite TV, and wifi internet. Of course, back when we were living in the casbah we got by with no shower, no hot water, no stove, no fridge, and not much else, so in truth we don’t need much. All of this is luxury for us, but completely unessential.

The one thing that is missing is Hanane. I came as an advance scout to make sure everything is on the up and up and see if we can live here. So far, so good. I am just anxious to see her again. In truth, I’m a bit bored without her company. Last night there was a big carnival concert thing not far from the apartment, but I had no desire to wander up there on my own. If I were 25 and looking to get laid though, I think that’s exactly where I would have gone. Although, from what my new roommate has told me, it’s a celibate life for a single non-Muslim in Manisa. Sounds frustrating and I’m glad that I don’t have to experience that frustration any more. It’s funny, so much of my life was defined by that constantly looking for love, sex, or affection that I missed out on a lot in the process. Anyway, it was nice to recognize that and just know that I’m missing my wife.

As far as I can tell there are only four native English speakers in this city of 300,000. Two of those are going to be leaving. I’m not one of those, at least not as far as I know.

So, the apartment is good. The work is good so far. Manisa is also good. It’s a quiet city, the people are friendly, it feels safe. There aren’t a lot of bars or party places which means there aren’t a lot of drunks wandering around or fighting in the streets. The apartment is situated near a Turkish army base, looks like an officer housing complex to me, because these aren’t uneducated 18 year olds, nor grunts I’m seeing. Somehow the fact that I pass a bunch of sentries in helmets carrying machine guns just feels good to me as I walk to work.
I also pass by the police station where a guy in a flak jacket with a mean looking sub-machine gun paces back and forth. From our fifth floor front balcony that is what is on the left. On the right is an Imam school of some sort. I don’t really see these guys, but they practice the call to prayer and while some of them are good, man, some of them sound like two cats with their tales tied together and slung over a clothesline. They really shouldn’t let those guys use the PA system. Further down is the train station.

I love hearing the whistles and grinds of trains. It’s funny how often I end up living near train tracks. Fairhaven, Raleigh, Fes, and now Manisa.

From the back balcony which is off of our bedroom, there is an amazing view of Mt Sypil. It’s massive and as the moon rises, the sun comes up, or the sun sets the mountain exerts a pull, an attraction. In fact, I think it was the mountain that brought me here, but I’ll write about that later.

Manisa is a healthy place and it is filled with parks, outdoor workout stations, and lots of trees, green space, and scenic spots. there are no shortage of interesting statues and places to see. While I wait for Hanane, I am mostly walking around and just getting the feel of the place in my spare time. It’s easy to find a healthy meal for 1-2 lira ( about $1.50 will do it), the food is pretty cheap, and if you want to splurge, there are plenty of ways to do it. There are at least three movie theatres and I’ve already watched one film at a matinee for about $5 U.S, (8 lira).

There are libraries in Manisa. I’ve visited one of them already and found that they have a few English language books that are scattered over the shelves. When I say a few, I mean a few. I found a book about chicken embryology, a book from the 1800s about the pillars of European history, a book about ‘the Armenian question’, and a few plays. Still, it’s nice to have a public library and they provide free wi-fi as well.

I’ve done little shopping. Mostly buying food in the open air market on Thursdays and some regular groceries like pasta, milk, and rice in the supermarket. I also paid a visit to the Turkish version of Walmart, called ‘Migros’ and bought a pair of trainers so I can do some running for 25 lira (about $18). My next purchase is probably going to be a semi-smart phone with a camera since my phone is pretty shot and my camera is broken and gone.

I’ll be writing quite a lot about Manisa in the coming days. It’s a fascinating place with rich history and a lot happening. for now, I just wanted to sort of catch up with myself (and you) here at Vagobond.