Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dogs are from Mars, I am from Venus

I must say that I'm not really terrified of dogs. I used to be, but that was because Malaysian dogs commonly had very bad temper. Or at least those in my neighbourhood were- I even have a permanent scar on my right hip as a keepsake of our acrimonious affair (that from falling down, not being bitten, mind). But the dogs here have never bothered me other than the fact that they are fond of breaching into my personal space, which I wouldn't mind if not for another fact that i have to clean myself with water and soil afterwards, especially not when I'm on the way to class on a lousy- whoops, I mean lovely- Wednesday, no thank you.

So this morning Sin Ye and I were waiting for the bus as usual, when this cute stray fella came by to say hello. It's one of those silly misconceptions you often have, but still, I've never seen a Chinese so terrified of dogs before. Her terror reaches a whole different level- even by my standard, or even my sister's, which is saying something. Once, we got back from class and were chatting happily when this hairy stranger approached from the front. I saw him from the corner of my eye but since he didn't radiate any harmful aura, I just ignored it. But Sin Ye suddenly caught hold of him and instantly shrieked at the top of her lungs. I tell you, the poor dog jumped in fright. Literally. Such formidable presence, my friend was. Hehe.

Anyway today, the same drama resumed, with me playing the role of reluctant hero (read: she hid behind my back, using me as a shield). Both of us kind of wiggled around, panicking, though for different reasons. Luckily, several juniors were there helping us out. And then the bus came. Phew... saved by the bus!

Not quite. As soon as the door closed, someone pointed at the dog- he got onto the bus! Blistering barnacles! I told myself not to lose my calm, but when he started to push in between people's legs in a direction which seemed to be ours, my survival instinct took over. For a second there, i was reminded of my ugly previous encounters with dogs. The morning sardine condition of the bus did not allow room for almost any movement, so I jumped to the edge of the doorstep, the only place I could go to widen the gap between me and Lassie. No chance. He went for cowards, I suppose, as he made his way towards my direction. My instinct said jump, so I jumped. And missed a step, and fell down in the most humiliating way ever. Ever ever. (Mental note: never trust my instinct)

However I had no time to dig a hole and sink myself in the dungeon of nothingness but dust (and shame), I had a life to save. Sin Ye pulled me and some juniors kind of blocked the dog from coming our way. But then he went to the corner where a Malay guy junior stood, and I guess the guy's survival instinct sparked to the roof too, for he immediately jumped onto the waist-level circumscribed plane at the back of the bus. Amazing reflex, I must say.

At the next stop, the terrorist went down, we all sighed in relief and then realised the humour in the whole situation. More reasons for Russians to stare at us alien creatures with sardonic looks.

So did my view towards dogs change again? I don't know, I still think they're cute. Haha.

On another different note, I nicked this (below) from Azleen. She had been challenged to write a 150-word short essay including the words patience, dinosaur, and Kaka with love as the bridging theme. And look at her beautiful composition.

in absentia

Having patience to endure absence. Perhaps that’s the birthday wish, the nightly prayer, the new year’s resolution, the whatever. Its without an expiry date. It has to be renewed, day after day after day. A prayer for this feeling of isolation to suddenly get struck by a catastrophic climate change of sorts: and chase the dinasours of disbelongness into extinction. For ever and ever.

Some say the weather will never blow the snow to this shore. Absence tests love, and the heart must learn to be tough enough to brave the tide. And sometimes bringing back memories work in a weird way to slow it down. Creating a sense of familiarity? Perhaps. We do try. Even if its just exchanging letters. Even if its just watching Kaka and Gerrard battle it out. Even if its just watching old pictures. Even if.. anything.

Because ; absence tests patience, and patience tests love.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It doesn't take much to make one happy

I have many reasons to be happy today, despite the fact that it's not snowing (yesterday it was!) and my 2-week MC for Physical Training has come to an end. No, nothing life-changing happened, just those seemingly boring little things that welled up to make one's day a little bit brighter =) I slept again in Physiology lecture (tried not to, really did) which left deep sketches of abstract art on my numb right arm, but I also had a most wonderful dream. Then we played badminton with a dinged shuttlecock that flew an extra mile from our targets, but jeez I haven't sweated so much in a while my endorphins went racing from having creamed our overconfident guy classmates. Ok, actually it was the other way round. Whatever. Afterwards I had to take the funless ride back to hostel alone (it has been a while too), but then I noticed the very blue sky was completely cloudless, everywhere I turned, which somehow made me happy.

When I got back, a certain kind graduating senior cum neighbour offered to cook for me (though I kind of strongly hinted) and I requested for ayam masak merah. Who would expect that a little while later, a very good friend four floors below would come up with a bowl of ayam masak merah. I feel so blessed. Hehe.

Finally, I got to chat with an old, old friend whom I haven't talked to in a while, my brother and father. Thank you all for making my day. *big hug*

Friday, March 23, 2007

Day 2

To Abah, mak, Boogey, P5, Red and whomever it may concern- I greatly apologise for the holdup in my travelogue’s progress. I had been alternately sick, lazy, uninspired, preoccupied, and a few other terms of excuses people won’t bother to care anyway. Basically, when I sit down and write, I tend to babble and rant incessantly and over some time it seems like the piece will never get done so I stop and take a sip of tea whilst watching anime. Then a friend/neighbour will pay a visit- we will chat until late, after which my creative mood pleads no more. The next day I have classes. That’s roughly how the delaying process goes, and it’s totally my bad…

Anyway, for the record, I have never been good in doing summaries (my least favourite section in language subjects’ paper 2 zaman sekolah dulu), and well, below is my account for only the 2nd day of my trip. I’ve got 8 more days to go, so, er, pray for me…?? Hehehe.

Turkey, Day 2.

Waking up in the morning is often a tricky process for many. With me, the marvels of irony come aboard for the kicks. Meaning, my subconscious mind will jovially choose to have the most extraordinary, heart-thumping dreams guaranteed to make you sleep like a log on the days that you cannot handily afford to do so. Like, waking up late the morning of your PMR exams for instance. Or the morning of raya. Or the day of your travel.

And the most stinking part of it is you can’t blame anyone else for it. ;)

25th January 2007.

The alarm must have blared its kernel out when I finally stirred. 8.45 a.m. We were supposed to get ready for our first outing by… 9 a.m. The fact slowly sank in: we were L-A-T-E. Hence pandemonium ensued as we took on panic turns for the bathroom, trying to verge upon time. Fortunately, our hosts were preparing breakfast at that time so we wouldn’t have left early anyway.

After breakfast the four of us took off with our local guide- an international student from Myanmar whom we called Shaynaz (not sure of the spelling, sorry). A kind-looking, bespectacled girl about our age (perhaps younger), she exuded warmth, and as she pulled each one of us to her arms in a tight embrace upon introduction, I knew we were in good hands. ;)

As we marched up the hill along which our flat was situated, to the tram station, Shaynaz filled us in our agenda for the day. Naturally, our first choice of destination would be the Sultanahmet Square- the former site of the ancient Roman Hippodrome that housed fragments of illustrious olden structures, albeit being dwarfed by the majestic presence of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Hagia Sophia flanking its proximity. Within walking distance stood the resplendent Topkapi Palace, royal abode of the Ottoman Sultans for centuries.

The sunless sky bedecked with silvery wisps of cloud did not make for good photography, though was not enough to stifle my enthusiasm. I was an enthusiastic traveler alright. I took every breath with earnest calculation, anticipating a beautiful experience ahead of all of us. It might be that over-sentimentality of my character taking over again- my brain worked hard to store every little detail of encounter whilst my senses enjoyed the cool breeze of winter morning in the highest of spirits. We walked to Findikzade tram station, seven stops away from Sultanahmet. I hope not to sound crude, but having been accustomed to our outmoded tramvai, I was quite in awe when the first tram clocked in. The design, the speed, the comfort… talk about rusa masuk kampung. Hehe.

Tram yang diwar-warkan

Istanbul was a mosaic of blended cultures throughout the course of its long and colourful history, transparent in the many historical palaces, mosques, churches and houses reflecting the different faces of the city from different eras. The old European Istanbul (the Historic Peninsula) was separated from the new European Istanbul by the natural harbour of Golden Horn; European Istanbul, meanwhile, was separated from the Asian Istanbul by the Bosphorus. We stayed in the Old European side and our destination that morning was the central hubbub of the ancient Constantinople itself. Along the way, traces of the Ottoman period were prominent in each mosque we passed by every couple of kilometers or so (or less). I wished we could steal one and bring back to Russia. Hehe.

Blue Mosque- front court

Even under the gloomy grey of a sky, the towering splendour of the Blue Mosque stood out and had my heart swelled with pride. It had a subtle quality to its beauty; remarkable without being ostentatious. As we neared the entrance, a guy with thick moustache selling ring-shaped bread planted with sesame seeds on top caught our eye. A second later, the guy next to him who seemed like a customer suddenly offered us one, which we gladly took. This type of bread was called simit, and they appeared to be sold plentifully everywhere.

Pak Cik 'simit' and his generous friend

The travelers. From left: Me, my sis Sarah, Kak Nadiyah, Fatin.

We then stepped into the mosque compound and immediately bumped into a huge bunch of elementary school kids on a field trip on their way out. They were having their picture taken on the front steps, and upon seeing us wanting to take their pictures as well, invited us to join in. They were such lovely and extremely friendly kids, quite a contrast to most Malaysian kids. Malaysian kids were generally shy, and wouldn’t have the guts to talk to strangers, let alone put their arms around them and wave merrily, like these kids did. Haha.

Kanak-kanak dan kami

We must have looked very foreign for as soon as we entered the front court, another bunch of school kids, this time a little older, swarmed us with questions in English. After another round of taking pictures and having small talks, we bid goodbye and went in.

The interior of the mosque was a picture of serene beauty. Lined with blue Iznik tiles from which it got its name (though I didn’t really think they were that blue to be distinctive), added with the multihued stained glass windows and low-slung chandeliers emitting soft yellow light, the interior was almost as exquisite as the exterior; one couldn’t help but feel contented at the sight. As history went, the mosque was constructed to surpass the Hagia Sophia in every respect and become the most beautiful place of worship in the world. Now, I knew close to zero about architecture, but I knew beauty when I see it. And this place was. A beauty.

Next, we paid a visit to the Turkish and Islamic Arts museum, a stone’s throw away from the Blue Mosque. In the past, the building was the mansion of Ibrahim Pasha, the Grand Vizier of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. During its time, it was purportedly the grandest residence in all of Istanbul. As we went through the extensive collection of various artifacts including rugs, tiles, Arabic calligraphy, maps and figurines from different periods in time, we came across yet another bunch of jolly school kids, some of which were slightly pumped up than the rest and flocked to us almost to the point of harassment. No kidding. Of course they meant no harm, they were simply… overexcited. Hehe.

The aforementioned kids (some of)

A friendly girl wanting her picture taken

At the entrance of the museum. From left: Kak Nadiyah, me, Shaynaz.

Blue Mosque from the balcony of the museum. You can see the obelisk of Thutmosis III at the foreground (under restoration when we came). This obelisk was brought from Egypt in 390 by Roman emperor Theodosius the Great.

The German Fountain, on site of the ancient Hippodrome. A gift from a German Emperor.

After a short trip to the adjoined souvenir shop, we continued our way across the park to see the famous Hagia Sophia- once a church, then a mosque, and presently a museum. On the contrary (to the Blue Mosque), I found the interior of Hagia Sophia more impressive than the exterior. The intricate designs were massive. I especially liked the corkscrew-like passageway leading to the upper gallery- with the dim lighting, it felt just like being in one of those period movies. The funniest thing about this place was, since it posed as the melting pot of religions and cultures, some very conflicting elements could be seen adorning its entire existence. Imagine a portrayed image of Jesus Christ placed in between medallions engraved with the words ‘Allah’ and ‘Muhammad’ in Arabic calligraphy. During the Ottoman period, all the Christian iconographic mosaics in Hagia Sophia were covered with plasters, only to be gradually unearthed after its establishment as a museum. To restore the much-revered icons in Christianity however, required that some of celebrated Islamic arts of calligraphy be torn down in the process. Such irony.

Hagia Sophia from the steps of the Blue Mosque

Fatin, Kak Sarah, me, and Kak Nadiyah in front of Hagia Sophia

Front door of Hagia Sophia

The entrance hallway

The main hall

Two of the medallions hung around the hall

The mihrab and stained glass windows

Washing hands at one of the many, er, wash basins (?) on the street

Roadside stalls near Hagia Sophia

The Topkapi beckoned us for a visit next. A huge area of its land was apparently under restoration (it seemed like almost everything was under restoration the whole time of our trip. Hehe.) upon stepping in the main entrance. Compared to its more opulent counterparts around the world, this former centre of administration as well as the Sultan’s and his family’s residence displayed a discreet manner of elegance, with several medium-sized buildings converging together rather than one outlandishly gargantuan structure, as per norm. Apparently, it consisted of four courts but unfortunately, we did not manage to cover them all. The halls held numerous artifacts of immense value- jewels, garments, thrones, portraits… my concluding thought was, wow, these people sure knew how to spend their money.

On the way to Topkapi

The showcase of the arm and skull of John the Baptist caught my eye. Were those really that of the prophet Yahya a.s.? And if so, wouldn’t it be inappropriate to put them in such a showy display? Funny how some people’s minds worked.

At the front wall of the palace

We walked further to the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, where relics of Rasulullah S.A.W. and his closest companions were stored. Looking at the huge swords of Abu Bakr r.a., Umar Al-Khattab r.a., Uthman ibn Affan r.a., and Ali ibn Abi Talib r.a., I was reminded of the sacrifices made by these believers to safeguard the religion- the battles they had fearlessly fought, the tortures they had endured, the wealth they had relinquished, all in the name of Islam… they made all of us who had been living in the comfort of this self-indulgent world very small in comparison. Time to hit the pause button; a moment spent vowing to strive for the better each and every day, to contribute to the cause of ad-din in every way possible, to maintain faith and perseverance even in the utmost adversity…

The quiet allure of Topkapi gardens

The idea to have a quiet walk about the garden afterwards was clearly not feasible, as we had ourselves barraged by the same kids from the museum earlier. They appeared to be suffering from some kind of short-term memory loss a la Dory too (or they were just plain naughty) for they kept asking us the same questions over and over again. And making quite a scene at that. Luckily, I was too absorbed in holiday mood to be annoyed. Ha!

A short rest before the 'attack'

This tree's perfect for playing hide-and-seek!

We then made our way to the Basilica Cistern, our final place of visit for the day. The cistern, which lay beneath the grounds of Istanbul, was one of the few early architectural examples that had survived until today. It was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century and could store up to 80000 cubic metres of water. High marble columns, the bases of two of which were etched with the head of a Medusa, anchored the underground chamber, lending mystical appeal to the entire facade. Upon knowing that this was used as a location in the famous Bond film, From Russia with Love, I could simply imagine Sean Connery running around the forest of columns whilst exchanging fires with some Russian baddies (heck, how should I know, I’ve never even watched the film).

The columns

One of the two heads of Medusa

A restaurant by the roadside

Sunset was on the horizon, and we decided to call it a day. But wait… those kebabs looked enticing. Perhaps… a bite? Shaynaz was rather a prim and serious lass so we went for quite some time ‘ngee’-ing around, nudging each other to bring up the idea ;) Finally, it was done and we went to this nice restaurant overlooking the Square. My first time in a Turkish restaurant had my mind all at sea- the alien-sounding names of food and beverages spooked my rational thinking so I decided to be safe and chose to have doner kebap. Hehe. Two of us had kebabs and the other three opted for kofte- meatballs mixed with spices, bread and eggs. My verdict was definitely positive, having been kind of deprived from halal meat all this while ;)

Hungry wolves waiting (im)patiently for food


The street of Sultanahmet, where we had our dinner

Some time before or after dinner, we stopped by a postcard stall and I bought a number of them, inspired to do the thing I have always wanted to do- sending postcards while on the travel. Haha. But yeah, you guessed it, I never did. I had even written a couple few that very day- imagine the embarrassment.

The tram ride back and the day was eventually over- a beautiful day.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Psychopaths, come to me.

Got this from Neemo. Why am I not surprised...? After very honest answers too. Tsk2.

The medical specialty for you is.... Psychiatry

Psychiatry is the best of all specialties. As a psychiatrist, people may claim that you went into the field because you yourself are crazy. But only you know the truth, which is that you are crazy. Enjoy the ride.

To find out what specialty best fits your unique personality, go to:

What Medical Specialty Is For You?

Monday, March 12, 2007

spring fever

"The word 'shams' (sun) is feminine, and 'qamar' (moon) is masculine. The sun burns itself out to give light and life to everything around, and the moon is muneer, meaning it reflects the light. Within itself it has no light; it radiates the brilliance of the sun. So when we shine as men, the implication is that we are reflecting the glorious light of our women. May Allah swt be pleased with them."

-Sheikh Abdullah Adhami-

Thanks to Afie for the source (actually permission is still pending. err..) ;) Women’s Day was on 8 March, and though late as it is, I’d still like to wish all women out there a very Happy Women’s Day! This year I received a rabbit plushie, a bouquet of dried flowers, a rose and marshmallow hand and body lotion, a few chocolates, and a nasty nasty flu bug. McNasty. Super nasty. It included one of the hardest nights I’ve ever had to go through in Russia.

Anyway, I’ve recovered, though not fully yet. ;) Yesterday we had our Malaysian Indoor and Recreational Competition (MIRC) and it was a lot of fun! There were games like chess, scrabble, monopoly, pyramida, dam ular (snake & ladder), congkak, batu seremban, pintar pintas (teams answering trivias and perform some sort of awkward running and stuff), and some PC games (CS and I’m not sure what else). I filled in for scrabble, as our batch did not send in any contestant, and bagged 2nd place. ;) Our batch won the CS competition but overall we did not achieve an honourable ranking. Never mind, we’ve got many more years to shine! Haha.

Now I’ve got better, I‘ll work hard on my travelogue *dangerously guilty*. But first I need to slog for a test I missed last week. Missing 4 days of school is making me pay. And today I’m going to the doctor to conclude my case. Can’t wait to breathe the novelty of spring in the air.

Ps: I wanted to put up pictures, but realised I didn’t even have a camera. Ape ntah.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Thank you for tagging me, Neemo and Azleen. Now I have an excuse for an entry. =p

Ok, ok, bad joke. The reason for dawdling with the progress of my Turkey travelogue is accredited to a string of internal conflicts occurring lately, associated with the communal search towards one’s greater understanding of oneself. Whilst it sounds rather fishy when you consider me as the subject here, it does make for plausible defence, doesn’t it? Ok, duh all you want already. Nevertheless, something has been bothering me lately, and whenever I thought I had finally figured out what it was, the feeling came back. It’s hindering my creative process, triggering a mild case of writer’s block. But since the stuff I need to write about now are Six Weird Things About Myself and my Five Favourite Food, well, they’ll survive my menial flair for writing. Hehe.

Six Weird Things About Me

1. My knees. haha.

2. I often perform tawaf around the house (I still do now, but the room’s quite small it’s a little inconvenient- I usually stand still instead. Haha.)- my mind having its little exercise in tandem, accompanied by a stoic look on my face. I could be in deep philosophical thought, or one of my make-believe adventures, or plain brooding. Family members wondered about it at first but I believe they have grown accustomed over time.

3. I’m nocturnal. Now many people share this trait (and if you include other species, well, a whole lot of Earth’s inhabitants really), I know, but the thing is, since normal human being’s custom is to begin the day early in the morning, I don’t get to sleep as much as I should. So during weekends I often wake up late (not very, though, at least it doesn’t stretch till noon =)), and somehow people often come to see me during this time, only to find me asleep. And they get this impression that I just love to sleep, whereas the truth reveals just the opposite- I sleep less than anyone in general. Ok, this isn’t really weird, is it. But I just find it funny when people label me as such when in actuality, they couldn’t be more wrong. ;)

4. I collect receipts. When people look at the thickness of my wallet, they are prone to be fooled into thinking that I’m rich and rolling in it, when the fact is that I own a couple of 10 Ruble notes, and thousands of Rubles' worth of receipts. Now you people know. Haha. The point is, I always strive to go through my expenses and reevaluate things when I find the time to be more organised. This never happens.

5. I have different pairs of slippers for different purposes- one for toilets (wet slippers), one for kitchen and other places (dry slippers), one inside the room. I also have different towels for different purposes- one for the shower, one for the loo. Also, different liquid soap for different purposes. Right. Kind of a bit anal-retentive there. Not to the point of obsession though (now I’m starting to worry).

6. I knit. Or at least I used to.

5 Favourite Food

1. Nasi lemak (with boiled eggs)

2. Nasi biryani + chicken tandoori

3. Traditional Malay dishes (can’t pick on a few, love ‘em all! Contohnya sayur rebung masak lemak, ikan keli masak sambal, telur ikan masak lemak, ikan bakar petai, rendang daging, etc.)

4. Cheesecakes

5. Japanese cuisine

As for side dishes, I dig ‘em all- sambal belacan, ulam-ulaman (petai, kacang botol top the list), budu, tempoyak, cincaluk, kuah asam… I gotta stop, my saliva’s being excessively secreted as we speak.

Yay, I’m done. And oh, I won’t tag anyone for the 1st task, though I’m violating the rule- some rules are meant to be broken, yes? =D

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Turkey, Day 1

Amongst the things that I am good at procrastinating, next to posting travel entries, is packing. My bags are usually the last ones to be loaded onto the trunk during family trips and since forgetting things is also my specialty, I get the scolding all the time whenever we are trailing behind with time and I’m still not done with all the ‘chop!’s and ‘alamak’s. As was the case on that sunny, plus-something-below-10-degree Tuesday morning- the day of our flight to Moscow prior to Istanbul the day after. (Un)Fortunately, my sister was there to do the scolding part. And somehow, I managed to hack it without spawning any tragedy- our flight was fine too.

23rd January, 2007.

Sheremetevo Airport was as arid as always, so we decided to hop on a bus to Mega, a shopping complex some 30 minutes away. I might have said this at every opportunity I had, and I will say it again- this country is expensive, even if it is sale time. Which made me wonder- Do only rich people go to shopping malls, then? You can get those designer goods at half the price during sale in Malaysia. Nonetheless, I did buy a couple of translated books by Pushkin and Bulgakov (what could I do? The choice of English books was cramped. Heh.), ones that we will learn in Russian class in the future. I tried in vain to find some English guidebooks on Turkey/Istanbul- might as well hunt for a chest of treasure for all it’s worth.

Back in hostel before we left, my roomie had helped me check the weather in Istanbul, which happened to be around 15 degrees, though reportedly it will plummet to about 5 degrees by the end of our stay. I quite merrily forgot about Moscow and its lovely wintertime, so imagine the extent of my grimace when the pilot announced before landing, “The weather in Moscow is good. The temperature outside is -16 degrees Celsius”. Was he trying to be funny? I was already a walking glacier by the time we got onto the shuttle bus, which served me right for dressing autumn-ish. My consolation was the snowfall that we did not get (only once or twice thus far) in Volgograd- Moscow was a white mantle of virgin snow that day.

Later that night Fatin and Kak Nadiyah joined us (they took a later flight) bunking on the adamantine airport benches. Funny to be missing my hostel bed for once. But who knows if one day I’ll be in a situation where I’ll miss those benches for a change. Anyways. An airport is a place to go online for RM25 an hour and drink a cup of RM15 tea. They rarely get as good as that anywhere else. ;)

24th January, 2007.

Our flight was at 10.45 am- a 3-hour-and-a-half journey without a hitch. Alhamdulillah. Although having requested halal meals for all of us, my reservation was not registered by some mistake, leaving me no choice but to pau my sister’s share. Hehe. I haven’t quite worked out the idea, but in some dishes offered in restaurants in Russia, salmons are cheaper than even tuna. Rather a blow to my preconceived idea of salmon being the fish for the upper-class people. Regardless, smoked salmons are pure delish.

The very thing that I did not want to happen happened- I fell asleep. And upon glimpsing the blue sea besieged by land housing buildings after tall buildings, connected by a couple of imposing bridges, I scrambled for my sister’s camera. I could recall several problems concerning this trip but the camera topped the list. Since my camera had gone out of the picture for a while, all hopes were placed on my sister’s, which in fact was having a problem of its own. It operated on 4 AA batteries and lately had been on some kind of a rampage, bingeing on batteries in the same amount of time it took you to finish a meal. My only living comfort was the fact that they were disposable batteries, and you could get those practically everywhere, right? But little did I know then how much trouble we would have to go through to feed this little baby some juice.

Upon touchdown, we immediately scurried for a toilet (as if there weren’t any toilet on the plane. haha.). After screwing our watches one turn anti-clockwise, we headed out of the arrival hall, half-expecting a placard with our names emblazoned across somewhere in the crowd. Right.

First thing on our agenda was to draw out local currency cash, the New Turkish Lira. As we were making our way to the counter, a forty-something guy crept up to us, offering help. He said he was from the information board and could help us plan our entire trip, including going out of Istanbul. Now, when your mother told you not to talk to strangers, she must have had a good reason for it. Bear that in mind all the time, so that you won’t be whisked away to some tourist agency office, blown silly by some ridiculously expensive tour itinerary sketch (although they kept repeating ‘We are here to help traveling students’. They weren’t.) for half an hour and tricked into buying absurdly overpriced sim cards.

We still couldn’t get through to our contact person Mr. Pasiad after several attempts. Finally succeeded in escaping from Pak Cik Unta (because we were annoyed and he had these extra-long eyelashes), we roamed about the airport with the hope to find our rightful escort. We found him almost at once (actually it was the other way round) and he led us out to our mode of transport, a neat Volkswagen van. He was a nice guy and it turned out he could speak Russian, as he once lived in Kazakhstan for four years. Not like my Russian was of much use anyway. *cowers in shame*

We took the coastal route from the airport and my first thought was, cantiknya… the playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, all overlooking the gleaming sea. The waves were dancing passionately against the dull-coloured rocks, and, as we passed a small bridge, one giant splash of the rippling water hit our screen, effectively washing away any dirt there was.

The traffic in Istanbul was relatively smooth, nothing compared to, say, Bangkok. Hehe memang la kan. Up till then, we had no idea about who we were going to live with for the next ten days- students, that was all that we were told. At long last, we stopped at a small flat and the guy ushered us to the 2nd floor, where our host lived. A pretty Turkish girl who introduced herself as Kevser invited us in and showed us to our room. She lived with two more people, a Korean and a Vietnamese. The apartment was rather plush, consisting of a spacious living and dining room, three bedrooms, and two toilets. You could never afford that in Russia. Never.

It was only our first day and we could already discern traces of the people’s warm hospitality in the welcoming treatment we received. We ate a simple dinner prepared by our gracious host before the three of them watched a Korean movie with our Vietnamese host, whom we called Ruki. And me? In front of the laptop, of course ;)

ps: I know there aren't many pictures in this entry, but the next entry will! I haven't quite finished with it yet though, so... =D