27th November
written by Hope

Ask any traveler about their experiences abroad and you’ll invariably get responses citing the opening of eyes, hearts, or minds. Travel IS the process of opening—exposing yourself to the influence of The Other, seeing great beauty through the eyes of another, and allowing yourself to be altered irreversibly by it.

an attempt to capture the vastness of the interior space in the haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Talk about great beauty! The humbling interior of the Aya Sophia (Haghia Sophia).

Less frequently do you hear about the process of closing. I imagine it happens to most travelers at one time or another…take any open-minded person and subject them to constant touting and the less frequent but ever-threatening possibility of getting scammed or robbed, and most would end up with at least a bit of a shell—at best a wary eye, at worst a complete shut-down towards all interactions.

the grand bazaar, istanbul
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. As a tourist, going to a market always opens you up to the possibility of an unpleasant interaction as all parties try to adhere to the old adage: buy low, sell high.   

I’ll admit it: Jeremy and I grew a shell. After six months in Asia, we expected that any local who approached us on the street was trying to sell us something. We were most skeptical of those who didn’t lead with a sales pitch, but instead opened by asking where we were from or how long we had been in the country. We recognized the tactic for what it usually was—a lead to make us feel comfortable before the hard sell.

A week in Istanbul broke through that shell and smashed it into a million little pieces. Sure, there were people of the “Hello my friend, come into my carpet shop” variety, but the vast majority of our interactions with the locals here were surprisingly, I dunno, personal. If someone tried to sell us something and we politely declined, they still wanted to know where we were from, how long we would be in Turkey, and whether or not we were having a good time. It seemed like the Turkish people wanted to know all about us—even after we rejected their sales advance!

it's my turn to be the movie star, istanbul
After months of Asians asking to take photos with Jeremy, in Istanbul, *I* was the celebrity. I guess they don’t see many 6 foot Chinese girls around here…

a mini-sultan and his proud dad, istanbul
We were walking on the same sidewalk as these two when Dad proudly asked if we would like to take a picture of his mini-Sultan. Adorable!

Even in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s most famous tourist market, it seemed like the selling was secondary to the bantering. To be fair, we met another traveler (who has been to Istanbul 8 times) who swears that the salesmen used to hassle you a lot more at the Grand Bazaar (he thinks that they government has instructed the sellers to back off). And, even though it’s off topic, it’s worth mentioning that we weren’t too impressed with the goods on display there (J and I walked through about 3 aisles before turning to each other and saying, “How much of this stuff do you think was made in China?”). But despite stall after stall of identical souvenirs for sale, our wanderings through this 500-year-old market were fascinating. Again, it was because of the people. One Turkish vendor in the spice market even engaged me in competent (though heavily accented) conversational Mandarin.

spice bazaar, istanbul
Spices in the (surprise!) spice bazaar.

Turkey is a stunning country. The landscape is incredible and the architecture can knock you off your feet. But despite all of this physical beauty, it’s the people—so full of love and graciousness that they could pierce through a 12FOOT3 shell—that will really get to you.  

the washing ritual, istanbul
Turkish men washing before entering the mosque.


  1. Laurie Hermann

    Thank you for your sharing…I love reading this…happy day to you two..xo me

  2. 06/02/2010

    I am sorry that you didn’t find the ‘authentic’ shops in the Grand Bazaar. I agree that it is overwhelmingly ‘made in China’ but there are some of us who labor lovingly to create traditional Turkish inspired gifts for you. Unfortunately, with 4000+ shops clamoring for your attention, it is hard to find those little jewels that aren’t shouting at you.

    …and your friend is right, the powers that be have been trying to curb the touts and make the bazaar a friendlier, less intimidating place for the tourists.

    I hope you will come back to Istanbul and take the time to find the unusual shops in the bazaar.

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