Mickey Ashmore is a well-traveled American from Texas who made Istanbul home for two years. We get to chat with him about his experiences in Istanbul just as he is about to make the move to New York. The Texan gentleman, who has made it through mountains without maps, tells us what it is like living in Istanbul.
You've traveled all around the world. How did you end up living in Istanbul?
I was working for Microsoft in a program where we rotated around the company – it was four six-month rotations over two years. It was a leadership program focused on finance and strategy within the company. I graduated from university, I was there for a year in Seattle, and I wanted to go abroad; I had been to Istanbul before and I had a great time. So I came here on a six-month rotation with Microsoft.
Did you know anybody when you first came here?
I didn’t know anyone in Istanbul. I just liked to travel a lot – I was traveling a lot in university. I wrote myself an email saying I wanted to live in Istanbul someday… And then a couple of years later, I had this opportunity with Microsoft. We have two offices here – we have a Middle East-Africa headquarters and then a Turkey office. And the Turkey office is actually much bigger, but I was working in the ME-A headquarters. I was supposed to stay in Istanbul for six months – and I really pushed, and eventually I stayed, and I moved to the Turkey business.
Where have you traveled to or lived in before coming to Istanbul?
I lived in Hong Kong, for study abroad. Before I went to Microsoft, and after university, I was in Philadelphia, and I moved to Seattle. For the summer I was in Ghana, in Africa – I was teaching math and science to elementary school kids – living in a crazy house with an old man, who every night would bring out the bottle of local whiskey, and he’d say “it makes you hungry and horny,” so he’d have a shot before dinner to be hungry, and then a shot after to be horny. I studied abroad in Italy for one summer, just for a couple of months. I spent a lot of time in India – I love India, that’s my favorite country to travel to.
Tell me more about India.
India was my first exposure to a developing country; that’s also when I started writing – like really, really writing. Travel writing really started in India; I started up my blog then, I was writing every day. India was great, I visited a friend there, stayed with his family who lived on a mango farm, and we were catching fresh fish, eating fresh mangos every day.
When you were in India and the mountains, you said learned how to be home and balanced. What about in Istanbul – you’ve been here for two years, the city must have changed you in some way.
My patience has grown here, I mean the city tests you a lot – sitting in traffic, trying to accomplish things as a foreigner – setting up a bank account…I wouldn’t say that’s something I got from the culture – it’s just something that the city has tested in me. I’m sure in New York you would get a similar reaction. But also, one thing – Texans are very warm people, and very good to each other . . . But one thing that I’ve been so appreciative of is how much people do for me here. Everyone is so ready to help – I moved once, I had like three people helping me find a new place. I wouldn’t even have to ask, it was like the natural reaction of the Turk – the hospitality is so strong here. An example would be, too, I’d be with someone who has a car, and we’re going in different directions – and I’ll be like “Oh I’ll just take a taxi” – and they’ll be like “No, I’m driving you!” And I’m like no, I’m going American style, I’m taking a taxi – but people still really out of their way for you. And I think it’s a good thing, I think it’s wonderful.
In which neighborhoods have you lived in?
I live in Arnavutköy now. I started in Nişantaşı; I quickly realized that this wasn’t where I wanted to live. I wanted to be somewhere a bit more interesting, so I moved to Rumeli Hisarı. And then I moved to a cool apartment in Galata.
Which neighborhood was your favorite and why?
Arnavutköy, for a few reasons. Number one, I loved my apartment itself. Istanbul is a pretty hectic city, as you know, and it’s hard to find solitude and peace, and a space for yourself. And my apartment is very open and nice, and there’s sun all the time. And the Bosphorus is so full of activity that you can watch it for hours. Tanker ship, little boat, party boat, dolphins, a submarine comes sometimes – you’ve got so much stuff, I could just sit for hours. I think also that Arnavutköy is really a proper neighborhood. I like that it’s close to Bebek and Ortaköy and all these kind of active places . . . and Arnavutköy, it’s very wealthy and a nice place, but it’s also maintained its charm and tradition.
What do you love about Istanbul?
Many things. Something I love about Istanbul: I was asked to write an article for Forbes, an introduction about Istanbul. And I said that it’s a hard city to define. It’s tough to do, because you speak in antithetical phrases. You use a lot of like contrasting words, a lot of clichés – East and West, old and new, frustrating and exciting, conservative and progressive... But I think it’s true, it’s very true, and I think it’s what makes living here interesting – if you can embrace both sides. You can visit a mosque during the day and witness the call to prayer, and at night go dance and listen to the latest electronic music, and leave the club at five and hear the call to prayer from the same mosque.
What do you think you’ll miss about living in Istanbul?
I’ve met some of the most amazing people here, locals and expats. I’ll miss them all. I’ll also miss being a foreigner – the mentality and all that. Personally, I like living outside of my comfort zone. I’m very comfortable here now – this is my reality now – and hearing Turkish everywhere, reading it, is my reality, and I like it. But I still have a lot of challenges – going to the dry cleaner, and trying to explain how I want my shirts to be done. Or going to cook – going to the grocery store and trying to explain to the guy the way I want my meat cut. It’s very hard, but it’s also very fun. I like these kinds of challenges, and I can very quickly get myself into an adventure here. I’m sure I could do that in any city, but here, as a foreigner, it’s even quicker. I really like that, and I’ll miss those things.
When did you first drink rakı, do you remember?
I think it was in Bodrum that time. I think my friend Ollie introduced it to me. I like it, I love it. When it’s with the fish and the melon and the cheese, it’s wonderful.
Any last words about Istanbul?
The last thing I’ll say is that I like Turkey because I can have a very comfortable, modern lifestyle – I can go out and party, I can eat all types of food, but my point is that I can do anything I want to do in the U.S. – but at the same time, there’s this history, this juxtaposition, this blend, and there’s not a lot of cities like that. I like Istanbul. A lot. I’m very sad to leave. But it’s a positive thing. This is a great place, a great spirit, and I’m leaving on a high note.
Favorite place for dinner: Suna’nın Yeri
Favorite all-rounder: Lucca (especially on weeknights and Sunday afternoons)
Favorite bar: Banyan and Balkon
Favorite brunch spot: Mama in Rumeli
Favorite home-cooking: Open Kitchen
Favorite neighborhoods: Kadıköy, Karaköy, Arnavutköy
Favorite club: Nuteras
Favorite Turkish food: Midye dolma (stuffed mussels), yoğurt, mücver (crunchy vegetable patties)