I’ve been looking around my surroundings a little more closely these past few days. A Turkish friend who worked briefly in Singapore and loves it there reluctantly admitted that he did get bored there towards the end of his one year posting. There was no element of surprise anymore, he said, and nowhere where you could walk and stumble onto something old, unsanitised or unusual. Everything was in its place and accounted for by the town planners.
An aunt and her family are coming down to Istanbul next month and she mentioned coming over to view my apartment so she could give mum ‘all the details’ when she returned. I started really looking around my neighborhood and thought about my friend and how my aunt would really view the area.
The immediate street I’m living on is no sparkling clean Tampines St 32, that’s for sure. The closest thing the area resembles would be the town in India where some relatives of mine stay. There are crumbling buildings, uneven road surfaces where cobblestones don’t meet, empty plots of land filled with sand and rubble, derelict buildings that don’t match, and unkempt patches of so-called green spaces that have more sand dunes than grass.
And the thing is, it’s only Çukurcuma that looks like this. We’re ten minutes away from the swanky Istiklal Cad and right next to the genteel Cihangir but walk just a little further and you end up in little India, for me at least, where the street starts looking like someone forgot to develop it.
Why am I so unbothered of this poorly maintained area when the same space back home would bring about disdain? Yes, my own house is newly renovated and well maintained but the area outside looks like a war zone. I didn’t really notice until I started really looking at it with Singaporean eyes. Man, will my aunt have things to say.
What I’m almost certain they’ll wonder is why on earth did I give up living in a first world country for this? How am I tolerating this when I normally wouldn’t? And how is it that I’m actually okay with this chaos, and in fact even enjoying it?
I don’t have any answers except perhaps I’m still wearing those rose-colored glasses and maybe these same things that I find charming now will gradually wear on me. The point is though, that I’m doing something different, and I’m completely out of my comfort zone that it’s taking all of my attention to navigate the area instead of sleepwalking through life, which I was doing back home. It also goes back to what my friend noted: Istanbul always has something hidden behind some streets that has the power to surprise you, no matter how long you’ve been here.
True story: I once walked straight from the train station to the bus stop some 200m away through a crowded terminal without once looking up from my book when I was back in Singapore. I doubt it would ever happen here in Istanbul.