34. It’s great to be alive. This is the oldest I have ever been. I stole that line from a Threadless t-shirt. I haven’t celebrated my birthday in Singapore since… 2010. Flashback to my 30th where I crashed a  Fantastic  French wedding in Bordeaux, 31st with my host, Mariam, in Gurjaani, Georgiawith a huge white glittery birthday cake that almost looks like a wedding one. 32nd in Halkali, Istanbul and 33rd when my new Le Manfriend forgot about it and rushed from a work do.

I am grateful to be alive and breathing. There’s so much more stuff I want to do and accomplish before my time is up and never would I thought that at34, I’d be based in Istanbul, on holiday in Singapore. Unemployed by choice. About to go on holiday to Batam with my mum and later in the week, explore China on my own and put my hard-earned Mandarin skills to test.

There’s plenty more travelling to be done before this year is up and I will be back in school as a student. Here’s to new frontiers and experiences!

Went to the library near my aunt’s flat today. Haven’t been to the library or borrowed a book in ages. Realized all those years I lived in Sembawang, since we had our own little library in Sun Plaza, I’ve never set foot in the Woodlands one that’s like two MRT stations away. I love the smell of the shelves and it immediately brought me to a happy place. I remember spending a lot of time at the Sembawang Library when I was unemployed and when I was chucking a sickie. I haven’t been to the library so long that when I tried to borrow my books, they wouldn’t accept my IC and I had to get it verified at a counter. Also, the machine is now a miraculous one where u just place your books on the plate and select the number of books you are borrowing and it scans it all in one go! Gone were the days when you had to scan it one by one. Even further gone were the good old days when the librarian stamps your book with a datestamper and apply glue to stick another piece of DUE DATE paper in your book.

Gv?nn Gv?nn Gv?nn Gv?nn Gv?nn
Le Manfriend’s visit to Singapore and Tioman. Le Manfriend’s visit to Singapore and Tioman. Le Manfriend’s visit to Singapore and Tioman. Le Manfriend’s visit to Singapore and Tioman.

Tales from Two Cities

The following is a first draft of an article I wrote for a website about Singaporeans living overseas.

Sometime late last May, I received a surprising message in my facebook inbox that will change the course of my summer holiday. It was from a producer for a television production company in Singapore that has been commissioned by the national broadcaster to embark on a new arts infotainment series called “Tale of Two Cities”. Themed by countries, each episode intercuts between a foreigner living in Singapore and a Singaporean living abroad. Across nations, the show is about discovering fresh perspectives and exploring global cultures and lifestyles. They are planning to feature Singaporeans living in Iceland, Peru, Turkey, Brazil, Ghana and asked if I would be interested to be featured on the program?
A television program featuring little old me? Why, of course! This appealed greatly to the attention-seeker in me. Oh, imagine the immense pleasure I will derive from seeing my own face on television! Having started my adult working life as an assistant TV producer, this was right up my alley.

I replied immediately and set about giving them a link to my blog (marianaahmad.tumblr.com), a short write- up on how I came to live in Istanbul and a little bit more about myself. They revealed that they found me just by the sheer force of a Facebook search, much like how I found some of the few Singaporeans I know who live in Istanbul.
Armed with my background in television production, I thought immediately of what would look great on television. I wanted to steer clear of the Turkish clichés of bazaars and Turkish baths but after a few discussions, perhaps that was the very thing that viewers in Singapore liked to see as it was considered exotic and very different to what we know as a “pasar” in Singapore.

We exchanged more emails and chats on whatsapp and after a Skype session with the director while I was on holiday in Warsaw, it was agreed that they will swing by Istanbul during my summer holiday for four days after their first filming in Accra.
I wanted them to feature the gentrified neighbourhood that I live in. Rent is very cheap and people are friendly but the families living there are going to be uprooted as the land that their properties are built on have been sold to hungry developers. In the far background, there is a massive shopping mall with a towering residential block. Soon, most of the old, dilapidated buildings around my area will give way to flourishing housing and grand office developments with ambitious names like Brooklyn Park.

We agreed on several locations and I put them in touch with a Turkish production crew friend of mine who then introduced them to a fixer, a local who is in-charge of getting locations, filming permits, talents and places to feature.

On the morning of the first day of filming, I crossed continents from where I live on the Asian side of Istanbul to Sişhane on the European side to meet up with the crew from Singapore and Turkey. In the quirky lobby of the boutique hotel where they were putting up for the four days, I met the director Kok Hong and cameraman Jay from Singapore. I was also introduced to Ilkin, an audio guy from Istanbul. Başak was our fixer for the filming and she also acted as my local guide.

We first went out to film a few city shots from the Galata Bridge which afforded us a 360-degree view of the old city and the Bosphorus teeming with cruise ships, ferries and boats at almost any time of the day. We took a ferry from Karakoy to Kadikoy, one of my favourite things to do in Istanbul. This was the ferry I took when I decided I was going to move to the city back in February of 2011. This 20-minute ferry ride gave us the opportunity to see a panoramic view of Eminonu where the iconic Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia museum were located among other Byzantine structures and mosques dotting the horizon.

The production team decided to narrow in on three experiences that was iconic in a Turkish sense: belly-dancing, baklava and the Turkish bath called a hamam. I was then introduced and coached by Asena, a big name in Turkish belly-dancing and an amazing performer. She was also a boxer which meant her physique was immaculate. Not an inch of flab could be seen. This was very different to other belly dancers I have seen perform who almost always had a bit of a belly. She taught me some classic belly-dancing moves and twirls but sadly, my amateur self could not isolate the various parts and muscles needed and my body just wriggled whatever I could muster when I was given the task of performing on my own.
The next day, we went to the Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsi) in Eminonu and the wholesale market stalls behind it known as Tahtakale. Since Seker Bayram (what we would call Hari Raya Puasa)  that marked the end of the Muslim fasting month was just round the corner, the crowd was in full force stocking up on sweets, chocolate, candies and the famous Turkish Baklava for their visitors. Baklava is a pastry made with layers upon layers of super-thin pastry dough which is then baked and dripped in sugar syrup and left to soak for a bit. Usually, it is filled with crushed nuts; hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts etc. We filmed at one such Baklava shop and I tried my hand at dipping the sweet pastry into a bowl of finely crushed pistachios before displaying it for sale. To cater to more modern tastes, these days  there is a version of Chocolate Baklava. My favourite is the type soaked in milk and dripping with sweet, sugary goodness. Most, if not all types of baklava is saccharine sweet but this one soaked with milk seems less so. This type was impossible to pack for my family members but the crew surprised me with two big boxes of baklava that I can take back to Singapore when I went for my 2-week holiday.

After a quick car ferry ride to avoid the rush hour traffic on the Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges, we arrived in my neighbourhood Fikirtepe to film. I rounded up the children and teenagers and taught them our traditional Singaporean game of “capteh”. The boys who played football took to it like a professional and soon every child was trying his best to keep the feathered toy in the air. The experience left me known as a small celebrity and till now, the children will wave excitedly to me when I leave or arrive at my apartment block.

On the final day, we had permission to film in the Cemberlitaş Hamam. This historical turkish bath was built in 1584, more than 400 years ago by the famous Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan who was responsible for many of the famous architecture in Istanbul. My guide explained that in the past, bath houses existed as a form of communal bathing and place to cleanse oneself, a concept similar to Japanese onsens. It was hot and stifling at first in the steaming hamam and I started perspiring profusely but soon as the masseuse started the foam massage, I managed to relax a little and enjoy the strange sensation of breathing under a mountain of soap suds. After the Turkish bath, I was also given a Turkish massage with scents and oils.

During our coffee or meal breaks, our producer shared the Turkish tradition of reading coffee grounds. We laughed our heads off as she pretended to read our fortunes from the remains of the grounds in our tiny coffee cup. Turkish coffee powder is boiled with water and drank in tiny amounts with the grounds still in the cup. You can specify the amount of sugar you want in it.

The crew enjoyed the variety of Turkish food we had for our meals ranging from chicken on shish to meatball kofte served with bulgur.

On the last day, i bid goodbye to the crew as they proceeded to film more shots of the bustling city previously known as Constantinopole. As they say in Turkish, “Görüşürüz!” Till we meet again!

Tale Of Two Cities - Behind the Scenes Tale Of Two Cities - Behind the Scenes Tale Of Two Cities - Behind the Scenes Tale Of Two Cities - Behind the Scenes

Meeting the gorgeous Asena, a famous belly-dancer in Turkey.

Filming at Sultanahmet Blue Mosque for Tale Of Two Cities

Post European Holiday Blues

I came back from my two weeks of quick gallivanting around Europe last Saturday. I went to a bunch of cities with different purposes in mind and not counting Austria, (I was in for a full 13 minutes as the bus driver from Liechtenstein stopped to rest) I clocked 6 countries in total: Krakow and Warsaw in Poland, Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium, Luxembourg, Zurich in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and ended the trip in Barcelona, Spain. Oh, I went to Strasbourg, France too. That’s the beauty of Europe, countries are close by, you can pop by on a train and within two hours or so, you are speaking a different language with slight cultural differences, currencies and attitudes.

One thing that struck me on this trip was how everything was a little dejavu. I feel like I’ve been in those old towns, in the same restaurants, in similar set ups on some other trip. Every city has an old town with the ubiquitous clock tower and nicely-restored old buildings.

I also noticed how courteous the drivers are even when I was jay-walking or trying to cross in front of a moving tram. They would stop and wave me off. Amazing! Over here, some ass would always try to run me over at the pedestrian-crossing. I also appreciated how in some of the countries I visited, people didn’t think much of switching from one language to the next to help me understand them.

In Brussels, I sat down with a bunch of European expats and they switched from French to English to Dutch and then some German with such ease that I was so envious of them. I wish I grew up in such an environment. Granted yes, back in Singapore, I thought nothing of switching from English to Malay to Mandarin to understanding my ex-boss in Cantonese and then joking in Hokkien with some crew members but it isn’t really the same, is it?

During the trip, I had a huge case of euro-envy. I defined this for Le Manfriend as a case of penis-envy sans the penis. I liked that no one was staring blatantly at me even when I was dressed normally and lot showing extra skin. Even when I was in my sun dresses, no one bat an eyelid. I can’t do that here without some men gawking. It is one of the frustrating things about living in Istanbul. I think it isn’t just because I am foreign, local women get this treatment too.

The coldest it got was 8 degrees at night in Krakow. I stayed in a hostel amidst the mountains in Liechtenstein and that was pretty cold too. I love it. This tropical girl loves the sun but only if I have easy access to air-condition like hoe we deal with the heat in Singapore - run to a mall. Now I am back in burning hot Istanbul but looking forward to a beach vacation in Belek, Antalya and probably Side where I heard temperatures get up to 50 degrees celcius. Hurrah. Not.

Don’t get me wrong. I will be indoors with the AC and chomping away at the all-inclusive buffet spread for sure.

So you want to teach English in Istanbul?

The semester is coming to an end. Barely 16 teaching days left but why does it feel like an uphill climb, even more so now than the start of the school year? It doesn’t help that they are going to close down two kindergartens and the teachers there will lose their jobs with less than a month’s notice.

Amidst rampant rumours of losing their summer salary and having to sit around till August if they want to get paid, word has it that if they manage to convince their students to enrol at the main campus located in the convenient middle-of-nowhere land, they might be able to hold on to their jobs. When did that become a core job description of a kindergarten teacher?

The private school scene for native teachers here is basically the following:

Get into a school that will pay you enough or more than enough so that it covers your rent, bills and daily expenses. Usually this is well above the local salary for someone with the same amount of experience and qualification.

Try to negotiate a return-flight or accommodation into the equation if you can.

Oh, don’t forget the SSK and Vergi deal if you want to stay in Turkey in the long run.

Add classrooms of privileged runts from high-income families into the equation and some baby-sitting. Clock an average of 25 hours of teaching per week and that’s your “career”.

Also, it really helps if they have heard of your country and the fact that you speak and have spoken English everyday since you uttered your first word.

Yup, this captures how İ feel now.


It’s been a while since I read this quote. Probably good for a reminder.

Dinner plates selection process - the start to proper adulthood and here’s to hoping you won’t have the same taste as your mum

Dinner plates selection process - the start to proper adulthood and here’s to hoping you won’t have the same taste as your mum

Adulthood and consumerism goes hand in hand

Not to sound like Renton from Trainspotting, in under two weeks, I’ve gone from owning a 160x200 mattress, a pre-loved 2-seater sofa bed and six Ikea bags of clothes to choosing a fridge, washing machine, fake rococo bedroom set and a bigger sofa bed. Not to mention, a computer table, a computer chair, a bookcase, a glass display unit, an antique wooden vanity mirror set, an ikea “lack” side table, a big square table/ottoman ikea thing and a “lack” coffee table.

To this newly acquired stash iof things, I added a set of 24-pieces of pristine white plates and bowls from Spain. They are pictured somewhere after this entry. Kerem bought a cast-iron wok for me as a house-warming present because if I had to choose one essential thing in the kitchen, this is IT. I can perform miracles with just this one item.

Since I moved in last Sunday, I’ve lost the need to decorate my new pad. The thought of the building going to be demolished in a year stopped me from wanting to paint the walls this long weekend. It is just not worth it to be spending money on painting it over. The best I can do is put up a picture or two with blu tack, my trusted friend in decorating a rented apartment.

I think back to when I started my journey with just my blue Quechua backpack in Aug 2010. Almost 4 years later, how did I end up with so much more stuff?? Stuff scares me. Stuff seems to bog me down and anchor me to a place but Kerem reassures me that you can sell off stuff or give them away. I want to hang on that.

I wonder if I will ever own my own apartment. It is such a scary thought to start a mortgage. It will mean always having to have a job to repay said mortgage. It will probably mean something to anchor you to a place. It will mean being in debt for the next how many years you signed for the loan. I aim to avoid that for as long as humanly possible.

word play

Here’s some light-hearted updates from my quiet life in Istanbul. Kerem’s sink was leaking today and he had to call in a plumber cos it isn’t the usual kind of leak. He turned to me and asked, do you know anyone who is highly recommended on dripadviser?

Kwa kwa.

The other day, I threw out some week-old guacamole from the fridge which he dubbed, GUACAMOULDY.

Kill me now.