Sonia Su

Student. Journalist. Explorer.

Writing Therapy

by Sonia Su

I’d like to apologize to my readers who have not seen an update from me in what seems like ages.

As I finished up my piece for my class with Professor Ta-Nehisi Coates, I was reminded of just how therapeutic writing can be. I’d like to share it with you first. The experiences I share are quite personal, but I needed to write about them. I am so grateful for this assignment in allowing me to finally do so.

Please enjoy.

Turkey Recall

by Sonia Su

Trying to remember the exact order of events from a trip that happened two weeks ago is being increasingly difficult. Thank God for my addiction to check-in app Swarm…

Sure, I have plenty of photos to help, but thanks to editing and exporting from photo editing app VSCO, they’re mostly out of order, rendering them next to useless. Anyway, I can’t let this trip summary drag on any longer.

I forgot to mention that we dined at the Reina restaurant while recalling the day I left off on the last post. All the days seem to blur so easily together. The views from this upscale restaurant were incredible.

The next morning, we were on our own again. With the first two days led by such a kind new local friend, it still felt weird to be let go so freely to explore on our own. Honestly, I hadn’t prepared much for this trip. In fact, uncharacteristically of me, I did zero planning, partly because I knew that we were staying with my friend’s friends, lessening the necessity of personal research (to a degree) and partly because I just didn’t have the time. I literally packed up and left, as if I were not about to embark on a weeklong trip. My mind was too cluttered with school, and the only thing I really was prepared for was to let go completely.

We found an incredible breakfast spot. Hidden down a small alley inside a space tinier than my apartment now, we entered what could pass for someone’s actual home kitchen, complete with homey decorations, photographs, and writing on the walls. The food was even better than expected. Seriously, best breakfast I have ever had. So much bread, so many toppings, spreads, etc. I wish I could go back. I wish I had a personal chef. He prepared everything behind the counter by himself. We were the only customers, and—if you couldn’t tell—I loved it.

Soon enough, we managed to leave this magical place back into the hustle of Taksim Square, taking the tram to the part of town where the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Basilica Cistern were all conveniently located.

When trying to find the Basilica Cistern, however, we met a man who had helped us point literally just meters (LOL, look at me trying to sound un-American) away from where we were at the entrance of the Hagia Sophia. Of course, our interaction didn’t just end there. After briefly mentioning how he wants to go to Boston to study English, he led us to his family-owned carpet shop next to the Cistern. We felt bad for not following him, despite knowing with complete certainty we would never buy rugs, let alone rugs that we would have to ship back home somehow. When we saw that his “shop” was a house down an alley and that he wanted us to go inside for tea, we drew the line. Alright, thanks. Let’s go. I believed he was a good guy, and he hilariously acknowledged how dangerous the situation may have seemed to three young girls visiting a foreign country, but I don’t think we missed out on anything by rejecting his request, albeit one that I could tell had a high likelihood of being completely innocent.

After the Basilica, where we saw the two Medusa heads, we made our way to the Grand Bazaar, passing by colorful buildings and experiencing more of the streets of Istanbul.

Then on our final day in Istanbul, we enjoyed another lovely brunch near the Bosphorus at Lokma restaurant. Although not nearly as heavenly as the day before, I enjoyed having a pan of meneman all to myself :)

With the main touristy attractions out of the way, we spent today largely re-walking the routes we were on over the weekend with our “tour guide,” stopping occasionally for food. A lot of food.

I managed to slip in one last sahlep, because man, I can’t get enough of that stuff.

At the airport, we had lunch at the food court, where I again tried to slip in one last Turkish meal, a weird square slice of meat, veggies, and cheese that the server insisted I get. It wasn’t until I was waiting in line and saw someone get two gyro wraps that I realized my grave mistake. I mean, it tasted good, but as a last meal? In an airport?

Luckily, Turkish Airlines serves some pretty fantastic food. I feel weird admitting it, but that gyro over rice? Better than expected.

PHEW. RECALL OVER. Also, how clever is the title of this post?

All Things Turkish

by Sonia Su

I have taken too many great photos for me to not post here. I have not posted a substantial photo album to Facebook since last summer. Everyone knows how much of a pain it is to upload photos already, and if I’m uploading them to WordPress anyway, where I can actually get stats on how many people look at them, I find it useless to entertain my bored Facebook friends who probably couldn’t care less. Instead, I choose to reward readers of my blog with these amazing photos ;)

Because I like to think you care more.

Upon arrival, my friends and I took a taxi to Taksim Square, where we would go the Hafiz Mustafa café to wait for my friend’s local friend to pick us up. Except the taxi driver decided to drop us off at some unknown location (as we now know as the Golden Horn), where we could not have looked more like lost tourists with our luggage, as we were led by two kind strangers to take some van-bus contraption crammed in with a bunch of strangers. Yes, the taxi driver claimed we could have walked, and yes, as we now know, it is possible to walk from where we were to Taksim Square, but it was at least a few miles…up a hill…and with our luggage…and no idea in which direction. It is safe to say that taxi driver was a dick.

Well, we eventually made it. And the servers at the café were impossible not to like! Seeing that we were carrying such heavy luggage around, they took us to the back where we could have more room. We tried asking the servers for their recommendations, but their poor English made it difficult for them to understand that no, we did not want another menu in English, but what did they like? We found it hard not to laugh and thoroughly enjoy their efforts to understand and accommodate us.

At first, the server told me to get apple tea, so I went with apple tea. But then he said to try to pomegranate, but I still preferred apple, so I said that my friend would try that while I have apple. It wasn’t until the end when he asked how our teas were that I realized he had slight yet playful resentment at my choice of apple over pomegranate. He seemed to say that I had not chosen pomegranate, and therefore, I had missed out.

The tables were small, only fit for one or two people, so I sat at the table beside the ones my friends sat, with an awkward distance. Noticing this, the adorable server pushed the two tables together after taking our orders. I say adorable in the most platonic way, by the way. He was young, yes, but it was more that I found his efforts endearing.

Eventually, the local friend met up with us, and after taking a brief break at the surprisingly spacious apartment, we headed back to Taksim for our first authentic Turkish meal. Of course, the only pictures I took were of the desserts, which included chicken breast pudding. Yes, you read that correctly. Turkey has a sweet pudding that is made from chicken breast, topped with cinnamon. It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly good.

The next morning, we took a taxi—this time with a much better driver—to breakfast near the Bosphorus Bridge at Café Nar. We enjoyed a thoroughly delicious and beautiful breakfast, after which we took another taxi to the Dolmabahçe Palace, where we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, and the only picture I managed to get inside is blurry. The palace was very impressive. Take my word for it.

Afterward, we headed to the Spice Market, or the Egyptian Bazaar. I have more about this day in a previous post, but here are some more photos, including a trip to the most famous baklava shop and walking down a popular street from Galata toward Taksim. That night, we took a long journey to the “Asian side” of Turkey to check out Incir Pub and meet up with some more local friends. No pictures from this experience unfortunately, but maybe it is better this way, since I ended up terribly bored by the end of it. With 10 days left of being 21, I hate admitting that I rarely have good times at bars and clubs anymore. Those few months in Shanghai were the Golden Period. Do I long for this Golden Period—one that essentially is going out several times a week yet still managing a full course load and interning? Not in Boston. It worked very well in Shanghai, but I would much rather stay in or do really anything else back here.

Compared to the previous day, the next day was quite hilarious in that it was Recovery Sunday. Instead of waking up early for a long day of tourism ending in late-night drinking, we didn’t leave the house until it was time for lunch. We walked to the closest mall to eat unhealthy burgers at the food court, walked to the biggest Starbucks we’ve ever seen (two stories, its own building, and a heated outdoor patio)—only for the WiFi that didn’t work for me, walked back inside to buy tickets to see “Chappie,” then actually buy Starbucks before going to see what ended up being a hilarious and entertaining film. It was an incredibly lazy day. We even ordered delivery for dinner. It could not have been a more amusingly chill day. Hey, we figured we still had so many days left. We could afford not doing much today.

“We should figure out what to do these next few days,” a statement we repeated that Sunday night. We made the unfortunate realization that a fantastic deal for a two-day tour at the Cappadocia hot air balloon attraction was sold out. We could have ridden in hot air balloons! Instead, with our local tour guide (my friend’s friend) at work, we explored Istanbul on our own.

The next morning, we headed to Taksim Square to try what we had wanted the night we were out and had the drunchies—the Turkish wet burger. Unfortunately, these are better eaten while drunk. We got a simit (Turkish bagel) immediately after and then took the subway to Topkapi. Amateur tourists, we took it all the way to the city of Topkapi, not the palace. But we didn’t make it so far without trying some Turkish ice cream and what ended up becoming my favorite drink next to boba—sahlep, or what I like to call schlep because it sounds funnier.

Soon, we made our way to the Grand Bazaar. Again, more about this experience in another post. Driven by hunger afterward, we made our way across the street and found ourselves being talked into getting free bread and tea at a restaurant. On our way out, the guy who had convinced us to enter talked to us some more. He couldn’t help but tell us that he has a British accent because he has worked with British people for a while. Oh, you do have a British accent. Great. He asked what we were doing that night and suggested he come along. He went so far as to ask for our WhatsApp but we ended up leaving with a lot of laughs about how my friends were taken except for me and how he had an eye on me from the beginning. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Alright, since this is getting to be so long, and I need to stop spending all the time I have left tonight blogging before school begins again tomorrow, I’ll continue another day.

Stop Worrying

by Sonia Su

Sorry, folks. This won’t be a post about my Turkey travels—that’s coming soon (along with plenty of photos, the only reason you—ahem, Mom—really visit my blog). Instead, I need to vent about worrying about scenarios that may or frankly may not happen. Scenarios of problems that I know many people only wish they had. But such is life.

Upon landing in Boston after the 10-hour flight from Istanbul yesterday evening, I saw that I had 85 emails—up from the 34 that I had only 12 or so hours prior. Less than 24 hours later, and I’ve made it to inbox zero, not without sacrificing, you know, a life on a Friday morning after returning from a weeklong international trip.

Anyway, only one email out of those 51 really mattered.

Atlantic Media Fellowship email

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How. Freaking. Awesome. I could hardly contain my excitement in row 34, seat K on this Turkish Airline flight. Immediately, I took a screenshot and sent it to my friend who I could see was also in the only stance you can be in while still in your seat waiting to deplane—head bent down from the too-low ceilings, waiting for people to pull their baggage down from the overhead compartments.

My first thought when I saw I had received an email from The Atlantic was that I was rejected. After all, I’ve gotten quite a few rejections from other publications over the years, and the subject line and first few lines of this email followed a format frighteningly similar to those rejections. That is, until I read, “…and we’re delighted to let you know that your application has passed the first step in the screening process!”

Wait, what?! OH, MY GOD. *Scrolls down*

Atlantic Media Fellowship email

Yeah, I keep on saying “but it’s PLUS BENEFITS.”

Oh, my God. But I’m supposed to hear back from the Princeton in Asia fellowship in a matter of days. This fellowship that I have been privately and publicly cursing out of sheer impatience for not knowing exactly what I’ll be doing and where after graduating.

I just want to know, the mantra I’ve been repeating relentlessly for months.

Now, I don’t want to know. Now, it seems like I would do anything to delay receiving that email that could tell me I’ll be placed in Hong Kong or South Korea for a year and that I only have four days to accept or reject and if I accept I have to withdraw all my other applications and I would have to be fully satisfied with my decision but that would be impossible knowing that I could have chosen The Atlantic‘s fellowship which is something I never thought I would even have the pleasure of making it through the first round and…and…and yet, I guess I still just want to know.

What if I reject PiA? The fellowship on which I have had my mind set 100 percent since I found out about it last fall. The fellowship I knew was the one for me. The only position I really wanted after graduation.

Now I actually have a chance to work in NYC for a media organization I admire so much and one that could jumpstart my career. But it’s not in Asia. And there’s a very real chance I might not even receive an offer, meaning if I reject PiA, I could lose everything—except for my “back-up” which I will not mention for obvious reasons.

I’m taking a deep breath and resolving to do what the title of this posts tells me: Stop worrying. In two days, I will know if I even need to worry about choosing between Asia and New York. Until then, honestly, why worry myself sick over a hypothetical dilemma?

I am truly grateful for having these opportunities, and I am excited to see where they take me. I am confident in my abilities, and I know that no matter what happens, I just need to keep telling myself to stop worrying. After all, there is only so much you can do to control the uncontrollable.

Follow the Herd

by Sonia Su

Most tourists like to think they’re different. I like to think I’m one of those tourists, even though I clearly carry the characteristics of a typical tourist (on that alliteration game)—not excluding taking too many pictures and overpaying for just about everything—I’ll get to this soon.

If I’m not traveling with my mom, who loves to book tours as if they’re the only way to get around a foreign city, then I refuse to follow the crowds of tourists who somehow don’t mind the idea of being dragged around for hours by a washed-up tour guide waving a metal stick attached to some semblance of a flag, while we all strain to hear whatever history you could learn with a simple Google search.

No, I like to think I don’t possess that kind of herd-like mentality. Especially when it comes to bargaining, if you know that you can bargain and maybe have even had experience elsewhere, you’ll try to do it.

I’m not going to be scammed. I’ll bargain my way to the lowest possible price.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Grand Bazaar madness.

Of course, that’s what I thought going into the Grand Bazaar yesterday. My friends buy a few things immediately and—with one exception—don’t even bother bargaining! The absurdity! Two mini mugs for 25 lira, the shopkeeper tells my friend. OK, she responds enthusiastically. WHAT?! No! It isn’t until we approach a shop that sells scarves that I mention my observation. Yeah, you guys didn’t even try to bargain. I admit, it was a bit of a rude, offhanded comment, but I get pretty passionate about bargaining, as you’ll learn in a minute.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

You can’t help but feel like a bull in a China shop.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Bowls on bowls on bowls.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Great ceilings!

Funky tea names at the Grand Bazaar

Funky tea names at the Grand Bazaar.

Soon, I spot the scarf. (I didn’t even try for that alliteration this time, I promise.)

This scarf is the second one of the wall of half-body mannequins lined along the top back shelf. I hate the murky brown color but love the style—it looks like a cashmere scarf lined with abundant lace material at the ends, instead of the annoying strands you typically see at the ends. While my friends pick out their favorites from stacks below and easily receive 10 lira off from two scarves after just asking, I inquire about the scarf.

Oh, that scarf is very special. He goes on to describe the material. 500 lira.

Keep in mind—my friend literally just bought two from this same store for 40 lira. This man now asks for 500 for one. I could feel my eyes widening as I outright refused to believe it.

WHAT?! No. No way. I can’t bargain that down to 100, which is the maximum I would pay.

Would I even pay for 100? I think to myself. He takes it out for me to see, but it’s in that murky brown—also known as poop—color.

No. I hate this color. (Hey, where else can have the freedom to be as direct?)

After I ask for more options, thinking that I clearly would not buy it anyway, he rushes to another stall (again, like in Shanghai!) to bring over a selection of more colors, including obnoxious purple and birthday party blue. Immediately, my eyes gravitate toward the subdued, classy color—beachy sand (my names are wonderful, I know).

I throw it on, checking how it drapes over my shoulders at every angle.

Oh, so beautiful. Too bad I would never spend this much on a scarf.

I put it back on top of the pile of “500 lira” scarves and resolve to forget about it as I help my other friend choose her much more reasonably priced scarves.

But I guess this inner (insane) desire to prove to myself that I could haggle to get what I want at the price I wanted provoked me to look longingly (pathetically) at the scarf before leaving.

I really like that scarf.

He insists on 500. Or maybe he went down to 450. Either way, he was being ridiculous, and I kept shaking my head. At some point, he pulls out another scarf that “normally costs 250″ but will throw it in for 600 total. He has got to be kidding me, I think. 600 lira is about $260. $260 for two scarves? I would have to be out of my mind, on drugs, drunk, and a billionaire to even consider agreeing to that. Plus, did I even have half that in cash?

After some intense bargaining, I walk out.

Sorry. I really was sorry. The second shopkeeper who had come in in the middle of all this said he was sorry, too, because this was a family shop and 450 lira would only make him 50 lira and this was a deal you couldn’t get anywhere else and especially using a credit card 450 was the best you could get and I should feel sorry.

If you’ve ever bargained before, you would know how draining the activity is. The failure you feel after not getting what you want is real. It hit me hard.

But as fate would have it (at least that’s how I like to think of it), my friend took a particular liking to some shoes outside another shop. I look up at the shopkeeper standing outside. It was the second shopkeeper from the other place!

Hi! You still want the scarves? 450 is a great price! Really! Let me get them for you!

Oh, gosh. I mean, how can I refuse? This must be fate, I tell my friends as he rushes back to his other stand for the two scarves.

We walk in to this much larger shop, and my friend picks out her shoes to try on. The shopkeeper returns, and my friend asks for 400 in cash. We end up settling on 430, and I openly groan as the shopkeeper proceeds to package the scarves.

Why ughhhhh?!

Because this is too much!!

And yet, I whip out 430 in cash, literally the exact amount I had left in cash. What the hell. So much for being a great haggler. Another day, another scam?

Post-scam smile at Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

The “I totally just got gypped but you have no idea how hard I tried to bargain for two extremely expensive scarves” smile.

In the end, I took a photo with said shopkeeper, because when you blow $164 on two scarves, you need to document the painful memory.

Next time you see me wearing a luxurious-looking, beachy sand-colored scarf (yes, both are the same color but different styles), don’t forget to compliment me, or else my scars from this experience will reopen.

I’m only half-joking.

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