Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A wide-eyed look at an Uzbek bazaar

In late March 2004, two suicide bombings tore through the Chorsu bazaar area in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, killing 15. I found it hard not to think about this while touring the sprawling market eight months later, but if the vendors and other shoppers felt any nervousness about a potential recurrence -- or tension due to a then-ongoing dispute over selling licenses and regulations -- there were no obvious signs of it amid the bustling trade on a crisp November afternoon.

The outer rims of the bazaar were filled with rickety stands and itinerant vendors selling staple items of modern life -- watches, belts, sunglasses, clothing, cassettes -- while the covered area at the core of the market held foodstuffs of all sorts. Squash and pomegranates were splayed open to display their colorful interiors. A rainbow assortment of candies for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Ramadan fasting period spilled out of their sellers' stalls.

We dipped our fingers to taste honey dripping from a knife and spices sold out of canvas sacks as nearby vendors sat and churned huge vats of a marshmallow-like substance and offered tastes to passers-by. From another stand, we sampled what looked like balls of dough, but turned out to be tart rounds of cheese.

(From a Nov. 8, 2004, journal entry.)

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NOTE: Other Lonely Planet bloggers share their experiences -- wide-eyed like my early encounter, savvy, or quizzical -- with market cultures around the world in the Blogsherpa Blog Carnival: The Marketplace, hosted by Kiran Keswani of Indian Bazaars.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pieces of a whole

"23 countries, 23 nations, millions of radically different people, united by a water mirror..." That's how the artists behind the Mediterranean Quilt project defined the Mediterranean Sea in their call for photographers living in those nearly two dozen countries to submit a set quartet of images to be "stitched" together into a photo quilt showing the variety of places and people who share this one body of water.

When Antalya-based blogger (and excellent photographer) Melissa Maples wrote about the project earlier in the spring, I thought for sure I'd find time to submit some images of my own. Neyse... Not only did I miss the deadline, it turns out I haven't spent enough time on the Med to have the required four images of sea, coast, city, and people from its actual shores. The four photos below thus share the project's spirit but come from Istanbul and elsewhere in this country too multi-faceted to be defined purely as Mediterranean while having too many common traits with its neighbors to ignore that symbolic sea.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The more things change...

It would be a lie to say that traveling and living abroad hasn't changed me at all. Instead of walking around lost until my feet hurt, too embarrassed to ask for help, I now readily make inquiries – in a language I speak only bumblingly, no less. I chat up complete strangers just because they happen to be speaking Turkish in France, or English in Turkey. I like to think I have a broader perspective on world events and increased empathy, but know that working in a foreign culture has also forced me to develop a more stern and assertive side. My elbows have become sharper from fighting to get onto buses or hold a place in line. Desperate and otherwise-unsatisfied desires for tamales and Thai curry have turned me into a cook. Perhaps strangest of all, I've become a runner in a country a fellow American expat once dubbed "the land the YMCA forgot."


There's always a “but,” isn't there? When I moved to Istanbul, I fantasized about making a fresh start, about trying something totally new, about shedding my responsible skin and becoming the heedless, adventurous kid I never really was. Instead, like a homing pigeon flying unerringly back to its coop, I've wound up with a desk job, a reputation for earnestness, the same bad habits, the same fear of flying, and all the same worries that I’m not doing enough with my life. I left many things 7,000 miles away, but for better or worse, I can't seem to run away from myself.

NOTE: Has travel made you a better person, a worse one, or not changed you at all? Check out other Lonely Planet travel bloggers' answers to this question in the Blogsherpa Blog Carnival: Has Traveling Changed You?, hosted by Nina Fuentes at Just Wandering.