i land in amsterdam. it was about a 6 hour flight from boston, arriving at 7am local time (1am boston time). this was a historical moment for me because it was my first time actually setting foot in europe. in all my other travels, on all my other vacations, it's either to asia (china/taiwan/japan) or north and south of the border (canada/mexico). so this is europe! at the schiphol airport i had a few hours to kill, but not enough to leave and explore the city. besides, it was too early in the morning, and the city was probably still sleeping. so i went to my gate early and watched television, continuous cnn international coverage on terrorism. it was kind of surreal, i was sitting in an area where a lot of the other planes had middle eastern departure destinations. right across the moving sidewalk i saw a muslim man with his wife dressed in a full islamic coverage and their children. from our gate we could also see our plane, and everyone stood and watch as they slowly loaded the luggages, everyone wanting to be sure that their bags get placed on the plane. i'll be honest, once we left boston, once we cleared american airspace, my next biggest worry was my luggage. i was so afraid they'd get lost during the transit. i wouldn't know the outcome until i got to istanbul.

at 9am everyone boarded the plane. my flight from amsterdam to istanbul was uneventful. the metal utensils returned. when i sat down this middle eastern looking man sitting next to me said something to me in japanese. i told him in english i didn't understand. that's how i met khalil, whom i thought was turkish but turned out to be morrocan, from paris, currently living and working in the midwest, usa, a mechanical engineer no less, a fellow engineering brother of similar disciple, a polyglot with spoke not only a few romance languages but japanese as well. he was a real operator, flirting with the stewardesses, telling me stories of his travels. he was a real photography buff as well, and gave me tips as to where to go to find the best subjects. after the flight i gave him my business card as well, hoping to hear from him again.

i land in istanbul.it is 2pm local turkish time, 1pm amsterdam time, and 7am boston time. i haven't really slept since leaving home however many hours ago. i am tired, i am confused, i am a little bit scared being in a foreign country by myself. the secret is to concentrate on the things i have to do. first, i needed to buy an entry visa, US$40. after that little transaction, i headed for the custom gate. it took forever and i'm not sure what the agent was looking at that got him all confused as to what to do. maybe my previous china visa? who knows, but i finally got stamped and went through the gate to pick up my luggage. i helped a middle aged french woman (she spoke french to me, that's how i know) pull her heavy bag off of the carousel. she left without saying thank you and i looked down to see i had painfully bent back one of fingernails. this is what happens when you help others! when will i learn my lesson? i stood there waiting for my bags and i started to get worried because most everyone else had already claimed their bags and i was still waiting around. i had horrible images of my suitcases sitting somewhere in amsterdam. so imagine my relief when i finally saw my luggage creep out of the carousel hole. with my two suitcases at hand, i exited the airport and into the pickup zone.

the pickup zone was a throng of people behind a metal barrier, everyone staring at you as you exit, people holding signs with names, the look of disappointment on their faces that you are not who they're here to pick up. i wheeled my bags off to the side and found some seats to camp out at. 3 hours. that's how long i had to wait before ayse and the san francisco crew arrived at the airport. i am super cautious. alone, traveling with so many bags, i can't afford to have anything stolen. so when i sit down, i have everything all tied together with a bag strap. the first order of business was to convert some american money into turkish cash. i had US$300 exchanged into turkish liras. culture shock 101. i got back about $438 million turkish liras. i didn't even know how to count it, but i pretended to count it anyway, just to make the cashier woman behind the counter happy. i pocketed the large wad of cash and sat down, my bags entwined together, waiting for everyone to arrive. i switched from either reading my book, inside the seraglio by john freely, or writing in my journal. there were several times when i felt very sleepy, but i desperately tried to stay awake because i was afraid that if i did fall asleep, i'd be robbed, since i stuck out like a sore thumb in the airport being the only person of asian descent. everyone else looks turkish.

what does turkish people look like? it's hard to figure that one out. there's definitely a look, but it's kind of difficult to describe it. they look middle eastern, but their skin aren't dark like middle eastern people. i like to say they're a mixture of european and asian genes. most have dark hair but not dark eyes. as for the way they dress, most people wear modern european clothing. occasionally you see women with head scarves. men either sport a moustache or are clean-shaven, no beards. the people there are fascinating to look at, because they are so hard to define physically.

after about 2 hours of waiting, ayse's parents and sister ayca showed up at the airport. her mother had a sign with my name on it in case they weren't able to locate me (i found it hard to believe that i could easily blend into the turkish crowd). ayse's mother spoke a little english, her father spoke none, and her sister spoke perfect english. a hired driver took my bags and brought it to the car while we went to an airport cafe to get something to drink and waited for ayse and the crew. it was kind of awkward since we were all sort of brought together by circumstances, but i felt reassured being with friendly faces, even though i didn't really know them (not yet anyway).

when the rendezvous time came around, we went to the pickup zone to meet up with ayse, dave, and heidi as they came out of customs. they all looked groggy as everyone was wisked away to the parking lot. i followed behind them, my 3 hours wait at the airport finally coming to a close.

ayse's parents came in two cars, one just for luggage, the other for passengers. the hired driver drove the luggage car while ayse's father drove the rest of us in his suv. minutes later we were traveling the istanbul highway on our way to their home. despite the fact that i was tired, to be suddenly thrown into this strange city with everything new and unique snapped me awake. i wanted to soak up everything, wanted to see everything, wanted to permanently etch this moment into my brain. seeing instabul from the highway, it looked like a lot of other cities, with sprawls of residential and commercial areas, punctuated by skyscrapers here and there. the thing i noticed right away were the numerous minarets of the mosques that dotted the landscape. i guess living in boston, in america, i don't really notice the steeples of churches. they're very common, everyday architecture. but in istanbul, instead of christian churches with their archetypical steeple and cross, you have minarets and the dome structure of the mosques. they came in all shapes and sizes, large ones and small ones, those with just one minarets, others with many. if you didn't know where you were, the minarets at least gave it away that you're not in kansas anymore.

less than an hour later, with traffic, we arrived at asye's house. her parents live in a very posh gated community, with four swimming pools, a water fountain, duck feeding zoo, jungle gym, and tennis/soccer courts. ayse took us on a tour of the premise, and when we came back we had dinner on the balcony. this was also my first time hearing the call to prayer from the mosque nearby. this is turkey! after dinner we all went to bed, ayca going back to her apartment (she had to work the next day). heidi and i shared a room, she got the bed, i got a cozy cot.