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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Escape from America: Istanbul, Turkey

How long have you lived overseas?

6.5 years.

What made you decide to leave the US?

We retired from our jobs working on Boston's commuter rail system and wanted to have a special adventure for a year. We moved to Istanbul, Turkey and after a very short time, it became clear that we didn't want to leave.

What do you miss about not being in the US?

Really, not much. We meet expats who tell us about how homesick they get from time to time. But we've never felt that way.

What are the challenges of living where you are as a foreigner?

Learning the difficult language (Turkish) was challenging but not insurmountable and always interesting. Also attaining the required agility to avoid vehicles coming at us the wrong way down a one way street and which have no intention of stopping for pedestrians.

What are some of the pleasant surprises you've encountered in your new home?

Turks (along with the country's minority residents) are very warm, welcoming people. We pinch ourselves every day that we've been able to join the Turkish national health insurance system, for a modest monthly fee. The long, convoluted history of this part of the world is fascinating and forever engages us. We are living in a city that feels like it is the center of world political developments. It's actually quite exciting. We can definitely say that living here is never boring.

What are some of the unanticipated problems?

Being able to get things done as fast as we are used to is sometimes frustrating. Living as the only foreigners in an apartment building in a bustling city like Istanbul after years of living in a house on a quiet side street in Cambridge, MA also has its challenges, but, at the same time, has its very real rewards.

What are some advices you have for Americans who also want to get out?

Do it sooner rather than later. You won't regret it.

--Mark and Jolee Zola


Mark and Jolee's balcony (with flowers) and just inside. Photos are lifted from their excellent blog, Senior Dogs Abroad.



Linh Dinh said...

Hi Mark and Jolee,

I have three follow-up questions:

-What is the minimum monthly budget it takes to survive in Istanbul?

-What jobs are Americans able to get in Turkey?

-You say that Istanbul "feels like it is the center of world political developments," but do you worry about this situation becoming too hot, what with war next door and Turkey becoming closer to Russia. Recently, the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu even accused the French of staging the Charlie Hebdo incident! What I'm trying to get at is, do you worry about having to leave Turkey because of any potential turmoil?

Thanks again for giving us your insights. Many of us Americans still stranded on this sinking ship truly envy you!


Ian Keenan said...

Turkey and France both had Hayat Boumeddiene under surveillence, but she of course crossed from Turkey to ISIS-land a day before the murders. "We told them: 'The person you are looking for was here, stayed here and crossed into Syria illegally'," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

"Interior Minister Efkan Ala also said Turkey did not refuse Boumeddiene entry because French authorities had made no such request and that they hadn't warned Ankara that she was "dangerous."

So they had enough on her to place her under surveillance, and not enough to hold her at the airport or at the border, because they didn't have a warning from France? Of course both countries are trying to undermine the Syrian gov't. Better for the Turkish pols to play to the Islamist flank with the Cui bono theories.

Senior Dogs Abroad said...

Dear Linh,

We would have to say that living in Istanbul is not at all cheap. A minimum monthly rent would probably run $1,000/month in one of the central neighborhoods where most expats prefer to live. There's been a lot of inflation in food prices and utilities are high too. That said, the strong U.S. dollar gives a big advantage to foreigners who have them.

Many expats teach English here in either private language schools or private universities. Others, work free lance as editors and writers. With a minimum of language teaching training, one can work here and make a decent living.

Well, the subject of the attacks in Paris is on everyone's mind in the expat community as, of course, are the wars in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian refugees that live miserably on the streets of Istanbul are a constant reminder of the times we are living in. But bad things could happen whether we lived in Istanbul, Paris or Boston. This is our world today. And we have to put things in perspective. Yes, Turkey has its own particular problems. But we can never forget that Washington, Paris and London are up to their necks in wars and that racism is on the rise throughout Europe. We are living through a very important historical period and to be able to see from the perspective of a country that is 98% Muslim is something that we consider a privilege.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Linh, Mark, Jolee, and Danielle.

Chuck was asking in the other post about leaving the country and so on. You know, I think it is awful perverse that a large number of us can be made "useless" and can be made to want to flee to another country.

There are so many of us disenfranchised. Take all the inner cities for example, and all these small town folks like Chuck. There are a lot of us. We have creative powers, we have knowledge and expertise and the ability to put our hands to use. If we so desired, we can build for each other, rather than giving the system and the people who run it, like the Walton family, and kind of respect.

Listen, look a the mafia for example. The Don has a lot of power, right? But why does he have a lot of power? He is just yet another living, breathing person, in maybe a suit. Why is he commanding all that power? Well, it's because the people around him decided to give him that power.

All these elite corporate types have power not because they deserve it, but through a political process that gave them the power, and now we continue giving them the power.

Can we not consciously choose to opt out of their shit? Let's build for each other, let's farm for each other, let's look after each other's backs. Let's cook for each other. Let's go through a process of making our own community, let's make a currency system that works for us, rather than little green pieces of paper that are sustained by make-believe.

This will, to be sure, put us out of sync with the rest of society. It will not be easy to get things that are made only in the system. But you know what, as people in the system, we never really had access to these other things anyway. And even if it did, it came at too high a cost. Some sacrifices might be needed to live outside of the system but at least we can do it for each of us here, instead of fleeing to another country where we don't have that guarantee anyway.

Is this too much to ask? Is this all a crazy fantasy?

Ian Keenan said...

Anonymous, Want to throw some old ideas at you that you may be aware of along the lines of what you're suggesting..

..the Ithaca Hours of Ithaca NY..

..reminds me of CH Douglas' Social Credit system..

"Moreover, the early British trade union movement "developed, stage by stage, a theory of syndicalism" 40 years before Bakunin and the libertarian wing of the First International did. [E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, p. 912] Noel Thompson's The Real Rights of Man is a good summary of all these thinkers and movements, as is E.P. Thompson's classic social history of working class life (and politics) of this period, The Making of the English Working Class.

"Libertarian ideas did not die out in Britain in the 1840s. There was also the quasi-syndicalists of the Guild Socialists of the 1910s and 1920s who advocated a decentralised communal system with workers' control of industry."

Anonymous said...

We should also reconsider the whole concept of interest:

Chuck Olroski said...

Dear Anonymous:

In late-1990s, I took a beautiful walking tour of Amish farms, in vicinity of Blue Bell, not far from Lancaster, PA. Astonishing how their way of life fits well with your recommended ideals of people "farming for each other, looking after each others backs." However, Americans out & out reject their worldview (old European belief system), which could lend to slave escape- hatches from our materialistic prisons, development of "goodwill among men." In summary, I point to a life without the brilliant and alluring technology, for example, on the P.C. where I now write, and at day's end, having just a little homemade hootch and someone to relate to with.

Did you ever hear of the Russian Tolstoyan movement? After death of Tolstoy, and his rocky legacy of problems with Russian orthodoxy, a group of followers began to develop and dwell in Tolstoyan communes where secular dedication was made to live exactly as described in your comment.

Soon convulsive October 1917, Russian Revolution, the Tolstoyans, small in numbers, naturally petered out, and Lenin tried to set a Marxist path where the proletariat set the divided nation's standard of goodness and well-being, and resulted in a quite brutal Civil war.

Had I time, I really like to explore both yours and Ian Keenan's web links, but my life is too harried due to my full participation in the American Rat Race. Of course I dream about one day getting away to a better place, mayebe even Istanbul, where one might be less depressed and not hooked on "Lexapro."

I am very glad Linh Dinh is giving voice to the growing Expatriate Movement. The MSM and T.V. likes to feature stories about discontented Amish youth who leave family farms for a better life and "adventure' in cities like Philly. Indeed, I suppose many Amish expatriates got to toss away their simple clothes, get mod haircuts, listen to "Devil Music" and cell phones, but once they get socialized into the American Rat Race, they too will seek help from depression, request "Lexapro" from their new secular Medicine Man.

Expatriates Away! That is before forced U.S. population dislocations start.

Enjoyed "Senior Dogs Abroad" very much, thank you. Am wondering if there's any adventure seekers presently domiciled in Damascus, Syria?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Chuck!

I do need to learn what happened in the past with the kind of movements I described, and to learn from the lessons then. There is no point in trying to redo the same exact thing without learning from previous lessons, and then fail inevitably.

But that aside, the base underlying thought for me is with how people like us, people with skills, creative potential, and heart, can be made so destitute and be forced to subscribe to some idiotic system that does not serve us any longer. That is what I find perverse. I am not necessarily anti-government, nor am I necessarily against any kind of a hierarchical structure. It's just we are cogs in a system that was originally meant to serve us.

It makes no sense to me. I do not like magical thinking and I will not want to claim "X" will solve all our problems. But I can't help but feel outraged at how fucked up things are.

For example, many of us here in the States are already so destitute. Many of us are getting there or as Linh as described several times, a few missed paychecks from getting there. Yet we are so misled by a consumerist-capitalist culture that to buy newer and better things is the best way, or the only way, to live the good life. So we buy our new iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones and so on, and we end up in further material debt, no closer to a good life.

But in the hierarchy of victims of this system, we might be at the peak. Below us are those who manufacture the things we use. Here are some excerpts from an investigative report on labor conditions in factory that supplies Samsung by the group, China Labor Watch:

* The factory does not pay workers at least $84,000 in overtime pay every month, more than $1 million per year unpaid wages.

* Workers do anywhere from 86 to 148 hours of monthly overtime, two to four times in excess of the 36-hour statutory limit.

* Workers must work at an intense rate for 10 to 11 hours per day, assembling one Samsung cell phone case every four seconds.

* Overcrowded and poorly maintained dormitories with eight to 10 people per room.

* Underage workers (from 16 to 18 years old) and student workers complete the same work and working hours as adults. Student workers' schools take students’ wages and only return a few hundred RMB in pocket money.

Obviously this does not apply to just tech products. It's everything else too. You brought up Tolstoy. Let me end with Tolstoy:

“I sit on a man's back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that i am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible....except by getting off his back.”

Ian Keenan said...

Every great idea is simple. Here is mine. If evil men can work together to get what they want, so can good men work together to get what they want. (Tolstoy, War and Peace)

In Brecht's world, badness is active, goodness is passive. (Eric Bentley)

Chuck Olroski said...

Dear Anonymous:

If possible, try and watch the 2009 film on DVD) titled "The Last Station," starring Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy?

It's very educational, depicts maddening material pressures bearing down upon Tolstoy, and after 50-years of marriage to Sofia, he could not take stressful life any longer, and dramatically departed home... first stop a Russian monastery! In the meantime, the leader of Tolstoyans and Sophia argued bitterly over who would get the right$ to Tolstoy's literary.

Once Josef Stalin took over the Proletariat revolution, he found Tolstyans insufficiently worker-oriented, not contributing enough production to the WW II effort, and had NKVD crackdowns upon leaders.

However, to this day, I heard Tolstoyan societies continue to exist in global pockets, and that resiliency 'kinda supports Ian's point about peaceful & good living's capability to comeback, and ENDURE.

Thanks a lot for the Tolstoy quote, must imbed that in memory!


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.