He said – You, Friend, Free.

葉兆中/Chiao-Chung Yeh

換日線 Crossing 

In Istanbul, a common scenery is beautiful sunshine, bright greenery, and traces of trams traveling through the small alleys in residential areas.  There are also mixtures of European and Ottoman architectures, and majestic Mosque on mountains top.  Who would have thought that Istanbul, could be such a vibrant and unique Islamic city with so much diversity?

Istanbul was once the great capital of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire for over a century.  Here, as you explore the city, you’ll find countless historic landmarks around the corner.

Istanbul is indeed full of historical wonders and, definitely, a perfect city for history enthusiast like me.

Standing at the Golden Horn, my mind travelled back in time to the Byzantine era, a time when this harbor protected the city from harm.


Hagia Sophia was another landmark worth noting.  This great basilica represented the peaceful coexistence of Christian mosaics and Arabic calligraphy despite the turbulence it had caused in history.


Walked further down to Walls of Constantinople and be freshened up with great views.  These were the defense walls that once withstood several sieges in centuries.

I had already confirmed my visit in Europe, and reserved very limited time in Turkey, as I had to adjust my schedule with my girlfriend’s. However, during the trip, I still rearranged my itinerary again and again, as I couldn’t get enough of this intriguing city Istanbul.

Solely visiting a tourist attraction was not my type of traveling.  I always believed that the resident of a city was as visit-worthy as those famous tourist attractions. Thus, I spared some time and went on an adventure in the residential areas in Istanbul.

This day I stumbled into a traditional market hidden inside of an alley.

What I saw was piles of delicious peaches, plums, apples and cherries. Their vivid color miraculously formed a beautiful picture along with the vendors and shoppers here.  I took out my camera, as I wanted to remember this very moment.  Suddenly, a vendor shouted at me in Turkish.  That instant made me recall the experience I had in Africa when I was being told not to take pictures.  I was a bit surprised that the same happened in Turkey as well.  I quickly put away my camera, and replied with an apologetic smile.  Afterall, it’s important to respect the locals and their culture.

“Pictures! Pictures!” the vendor shouted in English instead, with a sudden realization that I did not understand Turkish.  There was no blaming in his tone.  He even posed at his own fruit stand.  I finally understood that he wanted me to take pictures of him.

This vendor was truly friendly and interesting.  I burst into laughter, took some pictures, and showed them to him on my camera.  After viewing, he nodded with great satisfaction and gave me a handful of yellow cherries.


At first, I was hesitant to take his generous offer.  My curiosity got the best of me, as I was really curious about the taste of this foreign fruit.  So, I accepted the offer and enjoyed them with great satisfaction.


Just when I was about to turn around and continue on exploring this market, I saw many, if not all, vendors waving at me and shouting “pictures, pictures”. 


All of the sudden, I had bags of fruits presented in front of my face.  At the beginning, I tended to only accept fruits that I had never tasted before.  For fruits like peaches, apples, or the ones that I was familiar with, I’d politely refuse.  Then, I realized that none of these vendors took “no” for an answer.  They’d only smile until I accepted their token of friendship.  As a result, I ended up with bags of fruits in my hands.

As I keep discovering the city, I noticed a sweet shop that sells “Baklava”, a sweet dessert pastry recommended by many of my friends.  “Baklava” had always been on my to-try-list. Unfortunately, the price of it in Old Town area was too high.  With no surprise, the price here, a residential area, is much reasonable at only about half of what I asked before.

I immediately devoured two Baklavas into my mouth.  The thick syrup gushed out from the pastry. I knew that Turkish desserts are sweet, but I did not expect them to be sweeter than sugar syrups. That over-the-top sweetness had really numbed all my taste buds.

Then, the poker-faced shop owner served me hot tea in a beautiful Turkish cup, and gestured me to have the tea together with the baklava.  I did as he instructed. The baklava and the hot tea blended amazingly together. What used to be the greasy sweetness expanded into a smooth, milky and nutty flavour in the end.

I finished this sweet and pleasant teatime with great satisfaction. As I took out my wallet and was ready to pay, the shop owner shook his head and replied with three English words “you, friend, free”

These three words reminded me a time when I discussed Islamic beliefs with a friend in Cappadocia.  I remembered him telling me that the Quran said people who come from afar are our friends. We ought to do our very best to host them.  This echoed well with my experience in the market earlier today and now in this sweet shop.  My heart was filled with warmth and joy.  It brought a big smile to my face.  Finally, the shop owner was no longer poker-faced and smiled.

* This article was originally published in Chinese on Crossing on this page.  thatcontinent has been authorized to edit and republish this article.

** Photo credit: Chiao-Chung Yeh, etl@freeimages

Storyteller's Bio:  


Crossing is a global opinion platform based in Taiwan with more than 250 contributors worldwide, ranging from college students to industry professionals in various sectors. The contributors having been sharing their overseas expenditures, insights and observations of global issues, and other life experiences through articles as well as ongoing dialogues amongst each other and the readers.

Reflecting the interests of our contributors, our core readers share the same passion for an open debate on these matters. Having mainly youngsters with strong desires to explore the unknowns and to express themselves, our readers age span from 20-30, 50 % male and 50% female. We find that the rapid development of Crossing marks the uprising of this excitingly new generation. Our everyday mission is to ensure the voices of this generation can be perfectly expressed and conveyed to the greater society.

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葉兆中 / Chiao-Chung Yeh



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