Turkish Delights: Eloping in Istanbul

February 26, 2014
Last weekend I dashed off, on the spur of the moment, to Istanbul for my cousin's Turkish elopement.
Even as the dust settled on the last day of London Fashion Week, I got an email from cousin LY asking It's a little short notice, but our registration of marriage is this weekend and do you think you could make it? I blinked once, and then twice, to be sure I wasn't hallucinating, stared at my ever-growing pile of work, assessed my deadlines and thought How often does the one cousin you are close to and practically raised you as a child runs away from Malaysia to Turkey after the romantic, whirlwind courtship of her dreams and gets married in a traditional Turkish ceremony? 

So without further delay I booked the first flight out on Saturday, threw a few things into my le pliage, read up on Turkish etiquette (never point the soles of your feet at anyone) and spirited myself away for possibly the whimsiest (is that a word) weekend I've had this year.

I learnt a lot of lessons about the ways of the Turks (my little nuggets of Turkish delights) which I shall of course impart along the way. But first, the mandatory and absolutely clichéd flight photos that comes with the territory of any travel-related post...

...justified in this case because a) it's the first time I've flown Turkish Airlines, b) the Swiss Alps are far too pretty to go unsnapped, c) it's the first cheesy 'airplane wing over the clouds' photo I've taken on this new camera.

Chicken kebab on rice...was a tad dry. Food wasn't much to write home about but then again it was just a four hour flight in economy class.

Turkish Lesson #0:

Did you know that 75% of the world's hazelnuts come from Turkey? That's Turkish economy in a nutshell.

Turkish Lesson #1:

The Turks are incredibly hospitable and will go out of their way to make you feel like even the shortest weekend stay is of the importance of that of a visiting foreign dignitary. The guest is king, heaven help you if you try to do anything for yourself because it is not happening. They are incredibly gracious! It goes without saying that when visiting you should bring a gift for the host (the value of which is to be played down Oh this is nothing! Just a small token of my appreciation). This was especially important because I knew that M (cousin LY's husband) would not let me pay for any souvenirs I would try to buy under his watch, so to pre-empt his generosity I brought gifts of a similar nature to what I was going to get for myself in Istanbul.

I wanted to bring something quite English, so I brought Fortnum & Mason Piccadilly biscuits and a London edition of Godiva chocolates. I did consider a selection of F&M teas but read that the Turkish love their teas and didn't want to risk offending or alienating them with strange earl grey leaves.

Turkish Lesson #2:

The Turks must have very strong skin on their hands, because they are immune to heat and can hold boiling hot glasses of sweet tea like it is nothing. I had to wrap my jumper sleeves around the glass and even so could only hold it for a few seconds at a time. And their tea is essentially 10% hot water, 10% rose (or some flowery essence), and 80%  sugar.

I got scalded...Just gonna stand there and watch me buuuuuurn

Turkish Lesson #3:

The Turks do not do 'simple, quick, and easy' when it comes to beautifying.

LY asked for soft, natural waves that could be easily achieved with half an hour of hair tongs (I would know, I do it all the time) but instead was treated to an hour of tight ringlets, which were later pinned up for a good half hour, and then released, loosened with fingers, before the hairstylist finally flattened them with a hair straightener. The final look was what she asked for but it was like going from A to Z back to B instead of A to B.

You may insist you don't want much of a fuss, just a simple white dress, but you will get a meringue confection worthy of a European princess, a tiara, and a veil decked in roses heavy enough to drown you. Also if you like having your makeup done in a way to flatter Chinese features you might want to stay clear of Turkish make up artist. Lining the waterline with black eyeliner, thinning out the eyebrows, and making the lips look smaller is all very well, but not quite how we Orientals (I can say it because I'm one) do it.

Anyway with a bit of hurried adjustment behind a screen (so as to not provoke the ire of the stylist) LY emerged every bit the radiant, beautiful, runaway bride she is.

Turkish Lesson #4:

If you have nightmares of children being run over by cars you may not want to in charge of the white envelopes filled with cash. The convoy of cars carrying the bride, groom, and family will honk all the way from the house to the ceremony by way of announcing their joyous occasion. Everybody on the road will honk back, people on the street will stop and cheer as though Kate Middleton herself was passing through on her way to becoming the Duchess of Cambridge, and children will run right toward your car in the middle of oncoming traffic. *cues heart attack*

They're all after these, white envelopes filled with cash that you hand out to children who stop your car on the street. The Turkish equivalent of hong baos.

Turkish Lesson #5:

There is no such thing as a simple 'non-wedding'. Turks simply don't do that.

What was suppose to be a mere signing of wedding papers, a quick registration of marriage witnessed by two of the bride & groom's nearest and dearest turned out to be:

a) 400 guests.

b) The mayor himself showing up. Whether to marry the couple or just bless the ceremony I don't remember, but he was a central figure.

LY's pained smile: "Goddamnit M! You said we were just signing papers! You've tricked me into a Turkish wedding!"
M: "This is not a wedding! A real Turkish wedding is at least 2000 guests!"
Me: "I LOVE ATTENTION! I'm getting married in Turkey!"

c) At least 20 Turkish women trying to introduce me to or set me up with their sons. But this is standard at every wedding anywhere in the world.

d) Long lines of people queueing patiently for their turn to bestow the newly weds with gifts of money, gold, jewellery, and blessings. By the end of it all there was enough to sink a small ship.

Pins, to pin cash onto the sashes of the groom (and also the bride, but mostly the groom).

Imagine a sash, running across your neck and down both sides of your chest, pinned with bank notes and practically heaving. It's all very Wu Tang Clan: Cash rules everything around me, CREAM, get the money, dollar dollar bill ya'll...

Gifts of gold.

It was all very overwhelming for me--I thought I was only witnessing a signing of wedding papers, not an event where the entire town turned up for---so I hid in a corner and tested the selfie capacity of my new camera.

Very good.

This is what I bought a camera with an articulated swivel screen for.

By early evening I realised how hungry I was (I had only a bun for breakfast) so I popped into the shops to buy some snacks. Chaos (the good kind) ensued when I saw that they had Haribo peaches.

I bought about 30 lira (£10) worth of snacks, chocolates, and candy much to the amusement and horror of many an older Turk who thought it was a bit spendthrift to spend that kind of money on sweets (wonder what they'd think of me spending £17 on American cereal that one night I was drunk at Ruskis?). They even inspected my receipt and chortled at my purchases. I'm the one laughing, I have ten bags of Haribo peaches! That should get me through the rest of the week!

Turkish Lesson #6:

Turkish people are so family-oriented and loving!

M's mum wouldn't stop kissing and hugging me, and I didn't want her to let go. The way I held on to her all weekend, she probably thought I was starved for affection. Hahaha. Relatively, we Chinese are, we don't really kiss, hug, or say I love you to our parents, at least not the way the Turks do.

I'm never letting goooooo

Turkish Lesson #7:

All the cakes have pistachios in them.

And the chocolates too.

Turkish Lesson #8:

You haven't tasted real Turkish delight of baklava until you go to Turkey.

Pomegranate, honey, and pistachio turkish delight. I used to hate turkish delight (a lifetime of accidentally biting into turkish delight chocolate will do that to a person) but the real deal (even the one Turkish Airlines hands out at the beginning of their flights) is something else entirely. Go to Turkey and have your world changed. I am now besotted.

I may have brought back a kilo of baklava, and I may have already eaten it all.

So those were the eight (nine?) lessons I learnt about Turkey during my weekend in Istanbul...I can't wait to go back in summer and properly get to know the place. Thank you cousin LY for falling in love (both with the country and one of its countrymen), getting eloped, and for having me share and witness in your happiness and joy. See you soon. x

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you had lots of fun! I hope you had time for a stroll around town and we'll see more posts! :-)
    On the subject of buying a specific camera for selfies, I saw this and thought you'd love to see :-D