BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Friday, June 25, 2010

Planes, boats, trains and taxis

Our trip started and ended with two days in Istanbul (for a total of 4 days). The only touristy thing we did while there was to take a cruise up the Bosphorus Strait, the rest of the time was spent simply walking around the neighbourhoods. As we had been there before (and the weather was soo soo soo hot) we just weren't interested in cruising the major sights.

From Istanbul we took the overnight train into Izmir (if you ever want to train around Turkey, or even Europe for that fact, check out The Man in Seat 61, as he is a bit obsessive about training and can give you the details on nearly all trains and routes!). Nikolai seemed right at home in our little sleeper cabin, and christened the place by pooping in the potty about 5 minutes after we hoped on the train. The squat toilets for adults were a bit more tricky on the moving train. The sleeping was also hard for us, though I'm certain that we would have gotten used to it by the 2nd night. Nikolai slept fine, as I imagine the train's bumping and rocking would be much more soothing than trying to nap in the stroller; something he successfully manages to do for hours at a time.

A hot and harrowing ride in a dolmus bus to Selcuk where we spent two days, primarily hiding from the sun in one of the big outdoor tea shops that were also a favorite on our first trip to Turkey. The sights seen included Ephesus and all that surrounds that well preserved Greek/Roman ruins (they were willing to abide by whomever had the power), and Sirince, the embodiment of rural living... only slightly tainted by the endless tourist shops.

From there we went to Cesme to stay at Umid's very lovely apartment and swim in the salty-sandy waters of the Aegean sea. Umid proved to be a host with endless bounty, feeding us up in a way that was highly reminiscent of other nurturing parental types that I know of... Phew we ate so much meze, and saw all the sights guided by Umid's endless energy and joi de vivre. We even got a complete walk through of Serhat and Gozde's wedding ceremony, which I assure you will be absolutely breath-taking. Nikolai took an instant love to Serhat's 78 year old Grandmother. Even though she spoke not a word of English and Nikolai not a word of Turkish the two of them got along together like two peas in a pod.

A night was spent in Izmir... definitely not on the tourist path, but I loved the city for its vibrancy. Istanbul's heart is a venerable old man, but the population of 12.8 million has made the weight of the city so great that it is sinking in decay even as the new developments arise. With a population of around 2.6 million, Izmir is a city that is only just coming into it's prime, with its arts and culture, waterfront promande and vibrant bazaars. Perhaps even more freeing was the realization that we were not just one of the many badly behaving tourists. (We wittnessed the most badly behaving tourists ever... unfortunately they were staying in our hotel Selcuk, in the room right next to ours! But we didn't realize it when we first witnessed them berating the waiter at the restaurant we were both eating in, for not serving the wine properly. They honestly gave the poor man a 15 minute lecture on the subject, and the restaurant was decently busy, so it's not like he had free time to stand there and listen to a speech on the subject. The couple was cross everytime we ran into them so I don't expect they were enjoying their holiday very much. Perhaps they were also conisours of Alan de Bottom's Art of Travel.).

The return trip to Istanbul featured the train and ferry route as recommended by Seat 61. It was very long... even though I didn't sleep that well on the overnight train... I would probably recommend that route for traveling with small children, because, well, at least they're asleep.

The picture is of Nikolai and Brad partaking in the Roman latrines in Ephesus.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Serhat 2.0

Our trip started out with Serhat arriving late to the airport. Which was perfectly ok with us, since our plane had also arrived late, so we had no idea that he was behind schedule. The problem was that Gözde's cat, Kömür, had basically committed suicide by jumping off of the 5th story balcony of her downtown apartment. Serhat heard the thump of the cat hitting the pavement on the street below, but did not realize that anything was amiss until his neighbours, recognizing the cat, started to shout at him. He quickly ran down the five flights of stairs (it's an old apartment, no elevator, but lots of potential for physical fitness!) to discover the cat with no obvious external injuries, was willing to mew when Serhat gave him a pat. A trip to the vet later, with full body scans and various other tests and the cat was pronounced fit to return home. Thus proving that cats really do have 9 lives (or 8 lives in Kömür's case).

This story of Kömür may have a more difficult ending though... Serhat and Gözde have recently rented an apartment on the 12th floor of an apartment in the "burbs" of Istanbul. According to the vet, once a cat starts jumping off of high balconies, they are likely to continue.

This new apartment is sort of an experiment for them. They both have previously been downtown living sorts of people. But with the advent of their marriage they decided to look for something slightly nicer than a rundown old apartment on the 5th floor of a building without an elevator. Their new apartment is actually cheaper than the old one... and it is best described as a real-life representation of a sim-city. They live in Avrupa. This is a fully gated community, complete with 9 feet tall fences with barbed wire and 24/7 manned security gates. So in the tumbled down disarray of Istanbul's breathing, bloated mantle of history, Avrupa is a fairly surreal experience.

Every morning a team of staff dressed in bright yellow shirts come in to groom the gardens, hose down the patios of the 7 identical swimming pools (each pool has a big pool for adults and a small Nikolai depth pool, a refreshment stand, loungers, sun umbrellas, you get the very pristine idea), sweep up the 5 identical playgrounds (creepily identical, right down to the exact orientation of the play equipment, gazebo and benches) and feed beautiful geese that were clearly imported just to ornament the clear pebble pond that surrounds the complex's only restaurant. The complex also has two whole strips of shopping (including a gym, grocery store, sweet shop, "organic" dry cleaners, lamp shop) and street vendors that only service people living in the complex, as no one can get in without the express permission of a resident. The architect definitely played Simcity as all the 32 apartment buildings are identical. The Avrupa brand permeates through out the complex in a way that is slightly too 1984 for my taste. Even their toilet paper dispenser was Avrupa branded, and Avrupa has 3 television stations, two that feature a shot of the playgrounds and pools (so you can watch your kids from home) and one that actually features Avrupa content. Apparently the Avrupa team won some sort of sports competition as the clip I watched featured them accepting a trophy.

Serhat and Gözde are definitely still undecided about the new digs... living out of the city has required them to buy a car for the 20-30 minute commute, and the restaurant in the complex definitely leaves something to be desired... even more so when compared to the plethora of delicious food choices available in their old "hood" of Nişantaşı. But saying that Avrupa is definitely more family friendly (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) than the crowded streets of downtown Istanbul.

Serhat's work place is also as pristine, and as secure. He is an Assistant Professor at the Kadir Has University, which is a non-profit, private University that likes to have an international flare. In fact Serhat is required to teach in English! So it was his Canadian education rather than his Turkish background that got him the job.

To get in to the campus, we were required to go through a metal detector and submit our passports in exchange for a temporary visitor pass (to be fair 6 of the 7 Universities in Istanbul have similar policies). It's located in an old tobacco factory, and has been beautifully restored. As a planner, I can honestly say that the campus is lovely, well-designed and has a plethora of zenful spaces. For a campus of around 4000 students, (Serhat, if you read this please correct me if my memory is faulty!) the school boasts of an archaeological museum (in an Byzantine cistern), 2 coffee shops, 2 restaurant style cafeterias and a sprinkling of art galleries and lush gardens. The best part about the campus is... like UNBC, you can get between all the buildings using passageways... though in Istnabul that's more for the air conditioning, than the -30 C weather.

The picture is the view from Serhat's balcony, with a zoom in to playground number 1.

***The Turkish characters look fine on my computer, so please tell me if they do messy things on your computer!***

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stories of Serhat

Brad met Serhat (Sir Hat) when he started his Masters at SFU. Over the years it takes to complete a Masters and PhD, we have become good friends with Serhat (although he's the sort of guy that is friends with EVERYONE he meets. I think it runs in his family, as his mother has always proved equally as friendly, and I can now say for certain that his grandmother is too!). Anyways, we have travelled a few times with Serhat (a few memorable trips include one to the Kootenay's, which has resulted in the jars from Betty's raspberry jam being re-purposed for storing hot red pepper flakes, our trip to Seattle to "help" him with some Canadian immigration documents at the embassy there (subbracket- I think any help pervided was mainly detrimental, as I distinctly remember goofing around in the Canadian Embassy), and of course he toured us around Istanbul on our first trip to Turkey.). To provide a rough friendship timeline, the Nikolai was born the day after Serhat's going away party, but Serhat returned 3 months later for a conference and a visit, so he has met the little Sultan.

To say the least, we have been friends for long enough that when Serhat announced his intentions to marry the lovely Gözde (Gyoz Dey) in the fall, just as we were planning our move to Eire, we naturally promised to come. Well, the practicality of good intentions won out, and I am sad to say that we will not be attending Serhat's wedding. Confused dear reader? Well read on, our reasons were as follows:

- children are generally not allowed at Turkish weddings, so Nikolai would be an exception,

- flights are very expensive over the July 31st weekend and 2-year old Nikolai would need his own ticket (free before 2!),

- and most importantly, with 250 guests at his wedding, how would Serhat have time to visit with us? How would we get to know his sweet bride?

So, instead we have come to Turkey in June. I have so much to blog about our trip, but I promise not to provide a simple itinerary of where we've been, as you can easily research travel information for yourself!

Anyways, blogging on a Turkish keyboard has ıts hazards, so I think I will stop here for today and hope that the characters all come out the way I(İ?) expect!

--Pic added after we got home... it's from a road trip to Castlegar in 2004. Yes, we all managed to fit in my parents' little car for that 8 hour drive. The cat wasn't on the trip. Boy, is it me, or do we look like grad students?!--

Friday, June 11, 2010

In defense of public health care

This week I went to a La Leche league meeting; yes, the world-wide lactivist organization. The meetings I went to in Victoria were basically a social time for Nikolai and myself. In Ireland, the La Leche league seems to be providing the same role as doctors, nurses and midwives in Canada... giving postnatal support and advice to breastfeeding mothers. For example, one new mother was finding that her 15 day old infant was feeding a lot (I kept track one day early on and realised that I spent a full 8 hours in 24 nursing Nikolai. Thank god for the side-laying position!). Anyways this poor Irish mum was told by her doctor to spend only 10 minutes nursing on each side, then give the baby a bottle if it was still hungry! Hum... a fairly different view of breastfeeding is provided in Canada. And in case you're expecting and on the fence about your breastfeeding superpower, check out what Dr. Sears has to say.

Anyways, this leads into the topic that has been niggling at my brain, providing the only stain on my otherwise idyllic time in Ireland... Health Care....

Well I know that the Health Care Debate of late has been a topic at the forefront of American politics this spring... but I won't comment on it at all because I definitely know less about the topic than most of my followers from the USA. I can; however, use my experience in the Canadian health care system (as a patient and a health care planner) and the Irish health care system as a strong defense of the public health care system in Canada.

In general, Canada primarily has a publicly funded health care system, where everyone gets equal access to health care, doctors, hospitals etc. The general Canadian public has the nagging sensation that our health care system is "broken". Likely because we're always being told that it's "broken" by the media following a story about someone who didn't get the care they wanted/needed.

However, providing good health care is very, very difficult. It requires a blending of the physical and mental sides of an illness. The provision of health care also needs to take into account everyones individuality (eg. whether someone will access the system for very minor problems, versus someone who has to be practically dying before they go to see a doctor... ahem...). Canada has a huge geography with a low population density and yet most people from rural centres do not suffer greatly from the lack of access to care. Probably the number 1 complaint would be long waiting lists for surgery, or to see a specialist. I think the problem is not the length of the waiting list, but rather that people expect to see a specialist right away for something that is not life threatening. (You show up into the ER with a life threatening condition they will kick people out of beds in order to see you.) I could go into the tedious details about programming hospital space and workloads... but suffice it to say that in general hospitals are designed to fit normal workloads, so if you show up to the hospital with a ruptured appendix (ahem) and there's been a massive car accident require all 7 operating rooms to be in use you may have to wait a few hours to be operated on.

As a programmer, I quickly learned to be disgruntled with people bitching about the state of the health care system (we're all trying our hardest!!! and you want to fund the arts too???). As an Irish resident I have learned to love the Canadian health care system.

Ireland basically has a private health care system (though I believe that they would say that they have public health care system). Everyone pays to see a doctor, to see a specialist etc., and if you have a low enough income you get a medical card entitling you to free care. If you need to see a specialist or go to the hospital, etc. you can go through the private system (speedy delivery - though stories of wait times and quality of care sound worse than Canada despite the private expense), or the public system (apparently even prenatal check ups could require hours of waiting). Last time I went to see Dr. John he went off on a tirade about the wait times in the public system, as an example he had a patient with a worrisome mole who would have to wait 6 months to see dermatologist (for comparison, Brad waited 4 months to see a dermatologist about his relatively minor eczema).

I think the inclusion of private health care in a public system automatically means that the system as a whole no longer meets the needs of the people (whether they are receiving medical care though the public or private systems). !!!***Here's where the Canadians need to take up their pitchforks in defense of the public system against Gordon Campbell and Stephen Harper's flirtations with a public/private system***!!!

Having a private component to the health care system means that health care becomes a commodity that is equal to any other in the corporate world. All of a sudden, doctors are getting kickbacks for referrals for expensive procedures, medications and infant formula. However, there is no incentive to provide GOOD health care that treats the person as a whole, rather than just a symptom. In a private system, people only go to see their doctor because they need a particular symptom looked at, while in a public system my doctor would worry about my stressors, my weight and how Nikolai's developing emotionally, not just my sluggish thyroid. And to tie this rant off in a nice circle... voila, the importance of breastfeeding in preventative medicine!


On that note we leave for Turkey tomorrow!!! I clearly need a vacation... however, to quote Modern Family "this is not a vacation, it's a business trip"! But at least this business trip involves beaches ;-)

Friday, June 04, 2010

The pagan solstice and other impending events

The other day I was woken up by the bright pre-dawn light and the chorus of song birds in the cemetery (what did my dad say about having quiet neighbours?). This was mainly my fault because I'd forgotten to close our bedroom door (a habit from Nikolai's babyhood) and it's impossible to close enough blinds to block out the light in our hallway. The only trick in this story is that it was 4 am, and everything going on outside of my bedroom was telling me that it was time to wake up and start foraging for food. The solstice is fast approaching, with our current sunrise at 5:01 am and the sunset at at 21:48 pm. We are pretty far north, about the same latitude as Prince George or Edmonton, so not the Northwest Territories (Brad's claim to fame).

My semi-pagan tribute to the solstice started this week at story time, when I noticed that the usually calm event had descended into a chaotic mass of children tearing about like mad and mothers desperately trying to control them. Even though there hasn't been any evidence of paganism in our Irish life, beyond our trip to Newgrange, I can tell that the summer solstice has an unconscious and considerable pull. Everyone, myself included, has a frantic energy that is nipping at their heels. Emotions are running high, and I know that I am not the only one who is influenced by the solstice dance that is pulsing in the soil and vibrating in the air.

I am in fact glad to be missing the solstice in our departure to Turkey as everyone in our house (though primarily Nikolai) is suffering from a bit of hypomania, and I think we could all use some nice relaxation time at the equator. This brings me to my second topic, as we are once again going to be witness to another historical moment, even though the protests in Istanbul will surely have ebbed off by the time we arrive.

All this thinking about the world has made me realize everyone still has a two year old lurking inside of them, and the politicians and business persons (for my mother) are no different from the rest of us in this regard. Perhaps this is the quintessential mummy-brain, but here's a parable... this is the story of Nikolai and his friend Michael (I am now looking after Michael for one afternoon a week, which does give us a lot of opportunity to learn about negotiation and sharing). My parable involves a ball, and that very common situation where both toddlers have decided they need to have THAT ball (we do have multiple balls around here). They both have their own, very valid, points of view... Nikolai owns the ball, Michael had it first, Nikolai wants to throw the ball, Michael wants to kick it... etc. What I have been trying to teach them is that playing with the ball on your own is all fine and dandy... but as most school age children know, the ball is ever so much better if you have someone to share it with.

The other exciting thing in Europe today (and other footie playing parts of the world), is the Fifa World Cup set to start on June 11th. Well, I'm not a follower of sport... to say the least. As embarrassing as it is for a Canadian to admit this, I'm not even really sure who is in the playoff for the Stanley cup, or perhaps they've already finished. I honestly have no idea. (Maybe that will stir some rousing comments???) But I do so love participating in the excitement around sporting events, and the beer drinking that is generally involved. So I do know the following about the Fifa world cup:

1. It's in South Africa

2. K'naan (loved him since his first album was played as part of the CBC Polaris prize) is singing the theme song of the event "Like a waving flag". The Fifa version is pretty much about football and team sport... the original version is more about how sh*tty it is to grow up in a war zone.

3. Ireland's team didn't get to go because of the French team, and so we're allowed to root for Anyone But France.

4. There's a crisp flavor for every football playing nation.

The photo is from the train to Dublin by Croke Park stadium, taken in January. The graffiti will make sense to anyone who really follows sport.