At The Crossroads

Istanbul, Turkey
June 27, 2001

We arrived late last night and checked into Hotel Lamartin, just steps down the street from the China Restaurant. This morning we meet the Wang family at the restaurant. There’s apparently a big family reunion converging from France, Mexico and Taiwan.

I’m having trouble keeping track of who’s who and all the names in this big family. But I get a lot of great footage from the gathering. It’s great having them all under one roof. Saves Cheuk a lot of coordinating. After lunch, I follow some of the family members home on the subway with a stop over at McDonalds for ice cream.

Kwoi and CK at Golden Horn
Kwoi and CK at Golden Horn

My only preconceived notions of Istanbul are from “Midnight Express”, a horrifying film but a true story about a young American who got busted for possession while travelling here in the 60’s. I’m not planning to see any Turkish prisons fast.

But contrary to “Midnight Express”, I’m finding the sights and sounds of this crossroad between Europe and Asia truly magical. The gorgeous light… the architecture… the history… the music… the uninhibited way people express their affections in public. I can see that it was worth the walk from China for the Wang’s.

Cheuk takes us to his old hippie hangout, the Pudding Shoppe, for dinner tonight. After hearing all the nostalgia about this joint, I was disappointed to find its present day transformation. It has been turned into a yuppie bistro. But we make up for the evening along the plentiful outdoor patios by the Hippodrome where we ended up entertained by live traditional Turkish music while smoking water pipes.

I’m fascinated by the Wangs’ history. They are probably the farthest removed from my identity connections in this diaspora series so far. It’s probably because I haven’t been in contact with too many Chinese of Muslim decent. But at the same time, I can relate to many of their common struggles and survivals in the diaspora.

Like Feride, I didn’t feel I belong in the place I had immigrated to and I was the first and only offspring to marry outside our culture against our family wishes. However, she now regrets it but didn’t elaborate. I’m curious why she has regrets now… I think she’s still married to the Turk who walked across the room when she made the comment in Chinese during her interview. She still feels lost about her identity. Sometimes she feels like a Turk and she feels Chinese amongst other Chinese. I, on the other hand, feel Western amongst other Chinese and Asian when I’m amongst Westerners.