Monday, 21 November 2011

Myths, modernity, and hot springs

In some countries and places, hot springs evoke such mythical beliefs and stories. In the mountains of Badakshan in Tajikistan, for instance, the Bibi Fatima Chushma hot springs are where women go to bathe to increase fertility or have their prayers answered. A prayer is said, and the spirit of Fatima is meant to be present and will hear the prayers of the pilgrims.

In contrast, in the U.S. there are also beautiful hot springs. And as lovely as they are, they are just that: hot springs. There may have been mythical beliefs to explain their existence but now that wonder has gone and all that remains is the scientific explanation.

Does being western or modern mean we no longer are left to be amazed by the world in a spiritual or superstitious sense? Has science replaced all other forms of reasoning?

In Turkey, Pamukkale was one of these magnificent sites: hot springs, calcium deposit plateaus. I can attempt to give the mythical and scientific explanation for this uniquely beautiful place but I’ll leave you to wonder about it in amazement :)

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Walking through the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, it was amazing to me how the civilization dating to some millennia B.C. was so sophisticated and yet, how in so many ways, we as humankind have not changed so much at all.

First of all, it was incredible to see the way they built so that their built environment could withstand earthquakes. This knowledge exists and has existed and yet cities like Istanbul, which sit on a major fault line and are highly vulnerable to earthquake damage do not build appropriately to mitigate disastrous earthquake impacts. What was known to a city in antiquity (and is now in the same country as a city like Istanbul) is not being applied today.

Secondly, their drainage and water systems were at a standard that many cities in the world today do not have. Additionally, the amphitheatre really interests me. They built it in such a way to accommodate large crowds and knew how to ensure acoustics carried.

While it was all very fascinating to explore, one cannot romanticize ancient cultures too much. There were clear distinctions between the elite and the rest of society. The elite had their homes decorated with mosaics, shopped in certain areas and had a separate odeon to which they went. In many ways, class disparities persist today in much of the same ways they always have.

The rich also had slaves; babies and women were sold at markets. In a sense, we’ve formally abolished slavery though it still exists largely through many industries.

And finally, an anecdote relayed by the guide concerning men and women and relationships: Men would go to the library, sending their wives to go spend time at the markets. What was later discovered was a secret tunnel that led from the library to what were presumably brothels. The stories relayed could have been any society throughout history. It’s interesting to explore the past and see so much of it still resonates today.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


A series of intricate trenches were dug by the Anzacs hoping to capture the highest point of the peninsula, Chunuk Bair. Not even 8 meters away are trenches dug by Turkish soldiers hoping to protect Chunuk Bair. The trenches were dug so close to make camaraderie and killing easier.
Wars are fought not between people. People fighting are just pawns in the game controlled by a few figures and constructed ideologies that cause pawns to follow orders and shoot friends (as the Turks and Anzacs were). They sang together, shared food and cigarettes, and even helped bury each other’s dead. But, when orders came to shoot, they did. Strange. Thousands died. 500,000. The numbers don’t even include the injured or those taken away to be hospitalized. 86,000 Turks died in 8 months for their homeland and the other side in vain?
Both the Turks and Australians use Gallipoli as a marker of their countries’ formation. It was as the tour guide said, “the last gentlemen’s war”.
It was also here at Gallipoli that Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” became a known and respected figure in Turkist nationalist history.