Istanbul: Beyond Looks | 看不見的伊斯坦堡

I am amazed at how much is the quality of diverse cultures when I took my first trip to Istanbul, the fascinating city which is home to the traditional Byzantine and Ottoman cultures along with modern Turkish culture. The trip offered me a good opportunity to observe the phenomenon of travelers like myself being unable to stop taking photos. From whose perspective do we actually take photos? Our own or that of others? Do our curious viewpoints, formed by our own senses and experiences, make us look naïve and like outsiders in a foreign country? Would following the well-worn paths of others’ experiences by taking photos of landmarks, monuments and streetscapes satisfy more, if only because it may save us time, money, and energy? As soon as I arrived, I found that my life experiences and historical background knowledge seemed not enough to interpret the look of this unique city. There was an invisible stirring in my mind and a mysterious force in the environment that drove me to constantly switch perspectives so I would not fall into the self-centered trap of stereotyping those around me.

Thus, even after tasting authentic Turkish coffee, the most unforgettable cup was still the first one I had upon arrival at the airport: instant coffee served in a paper cup and found by my white-haired driver, who could speak no English, after having diligently searched three separate gas stations. The ceaseless whirling of devotees in long dresses and caps made me feel holy and calm at the Sufi devotional praying ceremony I attended, but what touched me most was the sight of a different group of uncontrollable whirling dervishes: a couple of primary school kids outside the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii). Inside the swaying mass of the Spice Bazaar, I avoided the eloquent shop owners seeking to draw in crowds except for one named Mr. Tuna (‘Tuna’ being a common Turkish unisex name), an architect who studied in Italy and chose chatting with customers in the spice shop left by his grandfather over sketching and drawing his buildings.

Since I live in New York, I consider myself accustomed to the public alert surrounding so-called ‘terrorists’ and I feel immune to the paranoia surrounding “exotic” turbans and hijabs. On the streets of Turkey, if I had ignored all the Muslim women wearing black burqas and niqabs I would never have had the chance to take pleasure in moments of eye contact or conversation with them. While most modern Turkish women living in Istanbul don’t have to cover their heads, faces and bodies if they wish, those Muslim women I encountered inside the museums or interacted with on the streets were tourists from other Muslim regions that have stricter regulations regarding women’s covering. They asked help from fellow tourists in taking photos of themselves and took selfies as well. In reality, they are tourists who are eager to keep some private memories by themselves, just like us. Islamic traditions regarding the covering of Muslim women’s bodies and faces have not only regulated the ways of their daily life but also created perceptions that can easily lead to stereotyping. Encumbered with enormous religious and cultural obligations, though, many Muslim women appear to be just women shrouded in black Burqas in the eyes of outsiders, they might hope to reveal their true identity by lifting up the Niqab even slightly when taking selfies.

In what way should we keep our travel memories? The ancients often looked at the scenery and made metaphors out of the objects they saw, offering different perspectives to themselves and for posterity through words, drawings and paintings. With the widespread use of digital cameras and mobile phones, taking photos seems to have become the most convenient and ubiquitous way to record memories in the modern era. In addition to location-enabled “check-ins” at restaurants and shops through social media, where any individual experience can easily be made public, can we really keep our exclusive memories to ourselves? Or have they merely become data points in our larger collective memory as a species? Whether we become individuals by overcoming anonymity and searching for inspirations alone across cultures, or whether we struggle to seek acceptance and avoid alienation by following the steps of our predecessors, our peculiar behaviors in life will nevertheless become a part of the record in the hands of future historians.

My impression of this captivating city might be evolving inevitably, but my own unforgettable memories during my first trip to Istanbul did make me feel watching a “Pas de Deux” between my feeling and thinking.

Background Music: Pas de Deux (by Bird Creek) in YouTube Audio Library.


於是,即使是嚐過正統土耳其咖啡,最難忘的還是我們在土耳其的第一杯咖啡,接機的白髮司機不通英語卻滿懷熱情地跑遍三個加油站只為了找紙杯,招待我們現沖的即溶咖啡;欣賞過蘇菲宗教靈修祈禱儀式,身著長裝戴著長帽的教徒無止盡的旋轉看起來神聖而平靜,最感動的卻是在藍色清真寺 (Sultanahmet Camii)外,一群旋轉舞的小實習生,欲罷不能地隨心起舞;在萬頭鑽動的香料市集裡,只顧著防備巧舌如簧的拉攏客人的店家,卻巧遇Mr. “Tuna” (原來這是個普遍的土耳其男女通用名)—―那位留學義大利卻不喜歡畫圖的建築師寧願回到祖父留下的香料店與客人閒聊家常。

最驚訝的是,自覺久居在族群多元化的紐約,習慣了大眾視線中所謂“恐怖份子”的警訊,可以免疫於滿街難以捉摸穆斯林頭巾的“危險魅力”。 在這異國的街頭,假如盲目地疏離所有蒙面頭巾(Niqab )黑衣罩袍的穆斯林女子,就不會有那樣眼神交會和言語交流的一刻,發現她們其實也像我們一樣是極力想要留下自己記憶的觀光客。頭巾不僅規範了穆斯林婦女日常生活的方式,也承載太多宗教文化上的重擔,儘管在外人眼裡,她們看起來都只是一個蒙面的黑衣女子,她們內心裡也許都像在自拍時,想要把頭蓋稍稍揭起,顯露一下真正屬於自己的身份。


我對這個迷人城市的印象也許終究會改變。但這段首訪伊斯坦堡的私房記憶對我來說就像是看了一場我的感覺和觀點之間難忘的雙人舞(Pas de Deux)。配樂用的是YouTube Audio Library提供的 Pas de Deux (by Bird Creek)。

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