My Side of Paradise

Defining Paradise is always an odd past time. What makes a paradise? Is paradise flawless, or do we revel in a few certain carnal or characteristic flaws – a grunge bar, an eccentric local, a too-crooked street? What do we value, and how do we want that reflected in the spaces around us? Do we want them to resemble us, comfort us, challenge us, or always offer up that air of mystique? Do we care about the weather, the people, the architecture, the layout of a town, the access we have to certain things, the social community, the proximity to cheap Thai food and quirky cafes, the amount of luxury or lifestyle we can afford within our budgets? Is paradise people-created, or is it a place we can find?
I spent a good chunk of my high school years searching for the perfect college – it seems to be an American pastime. And though I went to the perfect-fit college (for me) I was still overworked, poor, stressed, and tired of the annual winter gloom (with weather I likened to the neverending drizzle of Dante’s sixth circle of hell, if I remember my literature correctly).
My first year out of China I lived in Yunnan, that corner of the country most people call paradise. Picture-wise it was perfect: stunning purple mountains rising above the mist glad green fields against a sky stretched with red so brilliant it could make you cry. But I was also working with an NGO and sad children stuck in poverty no matter how hard they tried, and a trying local education system and teachers who didn’t care and parents who often weren’t there. Not to mention that it rained from November to March so our solar heater produced no hot water for showers while temperatures outside regularly dipped below freezing, and the electricity (that powered our space heaters…) in our bedrooms regularly went out despite our house being located across from the local power supply facility. Yunnan was still beautiful – I think the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived – but it certainly was no paradise.
After Yunnan I worked at an international high school as a college guidance counselor, helping upper middle class Chinese kids find their perfect-fit American college. Most of them had watched too many episodes of Gossip Girl and couldn’t really comprehend just how far away Kansas was from Midtown Manhattan. I’m not sure how many of them found paradise, or the cultural and commercial America they expected.
Chicago was my first choice university for grad school, and yet I’ve never been more miserable (academically or otherwise) than the two terms I spent buried in blizzard (though retrospectively I could have paid more attention to those ironic t-shirts proudly proclaiming it as the place “where fun goes to die”).
Kyrgyzstan, where I currently live is often described as a “backpackers’ paradise” and while, like Yunnan, it possesses a lot of natural beauty, the country is rife with social, economic and political problems, along with a lot of broken sidewalks.
After E’s project is finished, we’re probably going to leave Bishkek. Turkey is a likely option (Europe’s economy seems to be in shambles, I’d rather not live in the US, pretty much everywhere else seems to be experiencing either wars, insurgencies or political instability, and Oceania is still off our maps), and so part of our trip has been evaluating different cities as potential places to live, finding the perfect place to balance work, living and proximity to family. So far none of them seem ‘perfect’ – Ankara too stressful and too much traffic, Istanbul too crowded, some cities too far, other cities are too crowded with tourists or too small to have good jobs or don’t provide very good salaries or too politically conservative, or this or that.
And while we’re here in Didim were staying with E’sMy Side of Paradise

Defining Paradise is always an odd past time. What is perfect? Is paradise flawless, or do we revel in a few certain carnal or characteristic flaws – a grunge bar, an eccentric local, a too-crooked street? What do we value, and how do we want that reflected in the spaces around us? Do we want them to resemble us, comfort us, challenge us, or always offer up that air of mystique? Do we care about the weather, the people, the architecture, the layout of a town, the access we have to certain things, the social community, the proximity to cheap Thai food and quirky cafes, the amount of luxury or lifestyle we can afford within our budgets? Is paradise people-created, or is it a place we can find?
I spent a good chunk of my high school years searching for the perfect college – it seems to be an American pastime. And though I went to the perfect-fit college (for me) I was still overworked, poor, stressed, and tired of the annual winter gloom (with weather I likened to the neverending drizzle of Dante’s sixth circle of hell, if I remember correctly). My first year out of China I lived in Yunnan, that corner of the country most people call paradise. Picture-wise it was perfect: stunning purple mountains rising above the mist glad green fields against a sky stretched with red so brilliant it could make you cry. But I was also working with an NGO and sad children stuck in poverty no matter how hard they tried, and a trying local education system and teachers who didn’t care and parents who often weren’t there. Not to mention that it rained from November to March so our solar heater produced no hot water for showers while temperatures outside regularly dipped below freezing, and the heat in our bedrooms regularly went out despite our house being located across from the local power supply facility. Yunnan was still beautiful – I think the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived – but it certainly was no paradise. After Yunnan I worked at an international high school as a college guidance counselor, helping upper middle class Chinese kids find *their* perfect-fit American college. Most of them had watched too many episodes of gossip girl, and couldn’t really comprehend just how far away Kansas was from Midtown Manhattan. Chicago was my first choice university for grad school, and yet I’ve never been more miserable (academically or otherwise) than the two terms I spent buried in blizzard (though, retrospectively, I could have paid more attention to those ironic t-shirts that proudly proclaim it as the place “where fun goes to die”). Kyrgyzstan, where I currently live is often described as a “backpackers’ paradise” and while, like Yunnan, it possesses a lot of natural beauty, the country is rife with social, economic and political problems, along with a lot of broken sidewalks.
After E’s project is finished, we’re probably going to leave Bishkek. Turkey is a likely option (Europe’s economy seems to be in shambles, I’d rather not live in the US, pretty much everywhere else seems to be experiencing either wars, insurgencies or political instability, and Oceania is off our maps), and so part of our trip has been evaluating cities as potential places to live, finding the perfect place to balance work, living and proximity to family. So far none of them seem ‘perfect’ – Ankara too stressful and too much traffic, Istanbul too crowded, some cities too far, other cities are too crowded with tourists or too small to have good jobs or don’t provide very good salaries or too politically conservative, or this, or that.
And while we’re here in Didim we’re staying with E’s older cousin Onur who runs a real estate company here. His clients are primarily Belgian, but most sun seekers are Brits, retired couples or families on vacation. Each seaside city has it’s set of clientele – Kaş is a bit more exclusive, small and quaint; Fethiye is a terribly popular vacation and retirement destination for Brits who like living in the hills or staying at one of the mega-resorts surrounding some of Turkey’s most popular (and packed) beaches; Bodrum runs both towards the posh and those seeking crowded nightlife and discount fake brand shopping. And Didim is a paradise for working middle-class Brits. There’s sun; there’s a kilometer-long boardwalk of restaurants, ice cream stands, stuffed mussel carts and shops full of inexpensive brand name fakes; there’s a public sand beach stretching along the boardwalk and a dozen more around the peninsula; the weather is hot but the sea breezes cool; there are daily boat trips and a brand new marina; there’s a cafe or restaurant with a British-inclined menu on almost every corner; brand new apartment buildings and duplexes in secure complexes are plenty, and for sale at a fraction of the market rate in the UK; grocery stores stocked with fresh produce and baskets of biscuits abound; locals are generally friendly and English is somewhat widely (if weakly) spoken; there’s even a weekly English newspaper and an Indian Restaurant proclaiming that their cook was trained “by a chef from Bradford”. There generally aren’t any impediments to life. The town is bent to make life easy for the new arrivals. And in general the Brits seem pretty happy, retired couple consulting each other in the supermarkets and walking down the streets with steps of relaxed ease.
But it’s not my type of paradise. Today Onur took us to one of the new complexes where he’s sold a few apartments. The complex lay on the outskirts of town, surrounded by a few fields and construction projects – isolated from any local life. There was a whiteboard outside the main gate advertising Tuesday bingo nights, Thursday complex BBQ and entertainment, a weekly full Sunday British Roast. Inside perhaps two dozen residents and a few restaurant workers were playing billboards, sitting at tables scattered outside, and sunning at the ever-blue pool. The apartments – clean, predictable. A sterile, comfortable paradise.
There are parts of Didim I like better – narrow cobbled streets of older houses set among verdant gardens facing a beach across the bay from the new commercial strip, parts with still a little more character and history. But that seems to be exactly what half the foreigners want to avoid – dripping faucets, something outside their expectations or unpredictable. The paradise they seek is simply a backdrop to their beach vacation, an easy place to retire, one slice of town.

Perhaps it’s easier (perhaps it’s only possible) to define some place as paradise when you only have a short glimpse, if you only look at certain aspects of it – the weather, the natural scenery, the shopping, the art. Because I’ve yet to find a place that is, in itself, completely perfect no matter how I judge it. Places with potential – but certainly no place that’s complete and set in its perfection.

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