Original Chinese text: KK Li
Translation and English editing: Raymond Lam
I have joined the Intercultural Dialogue Trip to Turkey organized by the Centre of Buddhist Studies Alumni Association (CBSAA) of the Hong Kong University (HKU) and today was the fourth day. We left Istanbul early in the morning to fly to Izmir, and then went to the ancient city Ephesus by car to visit the historical remains of the Roman period. In addition to rich historical remains of the ancient Roman Empire, there are also those of ancient Greece, the ancient Turkic empire, the ancient Seljuq Empire as well as other cultures. This more or less reflects the multi-variant and complex side of Turkish history, culture and ethnicity.
We returned to Izmir in the afternoon. We stay in the college guesthouse on a small hill far away from the city center. The sun was very hot. The group was really tired after a few hours of travelling and everyone wanted to take a rest after getting his room. So the scheduled visit had to be cancelled. I am a restless person, and dinner was more than three hours ahead. So when I saw through the window that Lauri, the little Dharma brother from Estonia, walking downhill from the hotel, I quickly rushed out in the hope of catching up with him. Unfortunately he had disappeared by the time I reached the ground floor. So the only thing I could do was to walk slowly to the seaside alone, hoping that I could take a look at the famous Mediterranean Sea. Not too far from the guest house there was white mosque. Despite the typical minarets, it was much smaller than the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and the Hagia Sophia that I had seen in Istanbul, and was probably for community use only. A crowd of Muslims was coming out from the mosque. Most of them were men, and there were only a couple of women. The Muslims have to pray five times a day, and that demands much devotion.
As I walked on, the sun above me pierced through my hat to warm my head like barbequing it, which made me wonder why Turkish houses do not have canopies. Apart from dust, hot breeze and occasionally one or two cars passing by, there were few people and shops on the street. To make my walk worthwhile, I kept on walking in order to get a glimpse of the city even though I may not reach the seaside.
My effort was rewarded. After walking for half an hour, I saw more and more pedestrians, and shops gradually appeared one by one. At a street corner there was a hamburger restaurant, but I found not a single person in it when I went closer to have a look. Perhaps it was due to the Ramadan? Throughout the entire Ramadan, Muslims are not supposed to eat anything or drink water between sunrise and sunset. We were tourists, and were exempted from the tradition. In fact, every time when we enjoyed the delicious authentic Turkish lunch, we had not the heart to see our hosting friends and our group member John, who joined the fast in order to show respect for the local religious customs, not eating anything. We admired their persistence silently. When dinnertime came, it was the
turn for the Venerables to observe their tradition of no eating after midday. People say everyone practices in his own way while eating at the same table, whereas we practiced together but eat our meals in different ways. That was really interesting.
I reckoned it was time to go back. When I was about to turn around, unexpectedly I saw a junction seemingly leading to a market. I was thrilled, and quickly went towards the market. It would be really nice if I could get a Turkish ice cream, as I was sweating wildly due to the walking. It was a small market, made up by a street. Most of the goods were articles for daily use, such as clothing and footwear. I walked on for about fifty meters, and suddenly found a fruit stall. I saw various kinds of fruit on display, some I could name and some not. There was my favorite fruit, peaches. They were so mouth-watering! The stall keeper was an old lady with headscarf. I could not speak Turkish, nor did she appear to know English. Since I did not know the price, I took out a note that was worth five TL, and then picked up a peach to show my intention. It worked. The stall keeper, with a broad smile on her face, took my money and gave me a pack of peaches. I opened the pack and saw six large peaches with a rich sweet smell. I reckoned that I would not be able to consume all the peaches, so I would eat one first and share the rest with other group members. So hastily I picked a peach to peel its thin skin. I bit a mouthful of the yellowish pulp. It was fragrant and sweet, and its juice splashed in all directions. I kept eating when I was on my way, despite the juice had splashed all over my T-shirt.
While I was indulging myself in the aroma of the peaches, two heavily bearded men in white gowns blocked my way after I had walked for about a dozen steps. I could not understand their words, but could sense that they wanted me to turn back. Without knowing their intentions, I chose to do what they wanted, since it is said that: “a wise man does not fight when the odds are against him”. At the same time, I had a fright inside me. Perhaps I had encountered bad people? There was not much I could do, except looking for opportunities to call for help. Very soon I returned to fruit stall, and saw the old lady who sold the peaches to me. She waved at me, and then put a coin on my palm. Suddenly I realized that I had left the stall hastily without getting my change, and the stall keeper had asked the two men to help get me back so that she could give me the change. So it was merely a false alarm, and I felt a bit ashamed. I had been in Turkey for a number of days, and the receptionists had become my friends. Yet I held suspicions against people in typical Islamic costumes. I really need to do self-reflection. Izmir is a famous tourist city, but my feeling was that its hucksters were very honest, and were much better than the deceitful taxi drivers in Istanbul, who had cheated our group member Frank.
Given such a scare, and since it was late, I decided to make my way back to the guesthouse. At the guesthouse entrance, I saw the two guards working in the lobby, which had no air-conditioning. So I gave each of them a peach as a token of my gratitude. When I went past the Venerable’s room and did not see him there, I placed a peach on his table. When I was in my room finally, I realized that there were only two peaches left. So how could they be shared with nine group members? In the end, I decided to eat them up all by myself before anyone saw them.
For some unknown reason, a few group members and I had to move to another hotel after dinner. After much confusion, I managed to check-in my new room late in the night. On the desk against a big window facing the sea, there was a metal plate wrapped in a colorful cotton cloth. On the plate there was a small card with the words “Welcoming Fruits”. After unwrapping the cloth, I saw bananas, brown kiwifruit, golden apricots, purple plums and peaches fill up the plate. The peaches were exactly the same as those I bought from the market. That night, my stomach was all the time very busy.