"After staying 10 minutes on a homepage…"
HIGHRISE is a documentary project about human lives in diverse cultures and countries. There are 13 regions available to travel on the HIGHRISE homepage. Among them I chose Durdan who lives in Istanbul, Turkey. The story of Durdan in HIGHRISE gave not only information about her personal life, but also about the history of her society. Through the four things out of her window, which are letters, a front stoop, copper plates and a squat she explained hidden stories about herself and the life of women in Turkey. Especially about squat, there are some similarities with Korea, because of the historical background after the Second World War. On the other hand, some things were slightly dissimilar with me based on cultural difference.
In Istanbul, 65 percent of the whole population lived in self-built squatter homes. During the “gecekondu” ear, people started to build homes by themselves, then as apartmentization started people built apartment by floors from their hands. Durdan also built her house by herself after she bought one floor of the building. She started from raw concrete. The 1970s was a similar ear in Korea. Korean people started to change the traditional house styles: tile-roofed and thatched-roof houses to western style, brick houses. It was called the Sameaeul Movement to make a new village. This is quite different from Durdan’s experience. However, what I found these two countries had in common at that time was facing westernization. Turkey and Korea both found necessity to adopt western technologies to develop economically, militarily and politically after the Second World War. Therefore, they tried several ways to achieve that goal and the consequences of the change were quite successful, considering current GDP rankings of both countries. However, problems still remain. Most of the self-built squatter homes remain in an unstable condition in Istanbul, similar to the poor hillside villages in Seoul. They maintain an unfinished situation with rebars ready for building new floors, although there are no possible owners who have enough money to buy the floors. Moreover, most of the city’s self-built buildings are not earthquake-proof; Istanbul even sits on an active earthquake fault line.
Four million people of Turkish descent live in Germany. In Durdan’s case, Durdan’s parents died there, five of Durdan’s siblings live there and her son lives there. Letters on her table are from her son about his life in Germany. The reason for that isn’t specifically mentioned in the HIGHRISE. It might be because of the economy policy as it was in Korea. After the Second World War, Germany needed people to work for the miracle of the Rhine River. Because of the cheap prices, they used foreign workers. Generally they were Koreans; I suppose there were some Turks. Nowadays there are not many Koreans who remain in Germany compared to the past, but according to the last texts of Durdan’s letter story, there are some Turks who still remain in Germany.
Copper plates in Durdan’s house have a quite different story from the letters and the squats. If stories behind her letters and her self-built squatter homes are about the historical background of Turkey, then the story behind her copper plates is about personal experience. At first, copper plates in her cabinet look like these are for display, so I didn’t expect her story relates with the plates. Actually, the plates were shared with all her family members in her early years because of the economic hardship. They are kind of a trace of the past to her, similar to how paintings and plaster casts in my house are to my mother. Different from Durdan’s house, there are not many factors in my house which represents me, my family, my hometown, or Korean history and society. If there is one thing that could represent those things that could be the paintings and plaster casts as the trace of my mother.
Before I was born, my mother was an artist. She was not as famous as the names that usually cross one’s mind when we hear the word “artist,” but she had several exhibitions and continued her work. Although, after me and my sister were born and something happened to my father, she couldn’t continue her work until recently. Therefore, a lot of books about arts, easels, watercolors, oil paints, brushes, and plaster casts are left in my house, still dreaming of revival.
The front stoop is the thing that shows a cultural difference between Turkey and Korea. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the difference is the structure of the apartment. In Durdan’s self-built squatter house, there is a place between her floor and stairs. She uses this place for meeting neighbors with tea. She said that this is a tradition of Turkey, to make a place for greeting neighbors in front of the house. In Korea, there is no place for meeting in the apartment. People enter straight to their house after they ride the elevator or climb stairs. Comparatively, that is a desolate landscape.
Through Durdan’s story in the HIGHRISE, I learned a lot about Turkey, more than my first expectations. I also recognized that the stories of me, my family, my hometown and my country are hidden somewhere in my house and out of my window, although I couldn’t find much even after watching HIGHRISE. It was surprise to me to recognize the facts only through the model of the house that Turkey had quite a similar historical background for Korea, and yet very different cultures.