Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ideas and Jellyfish: An Interview with Askin Ozcan

Category: Conversations

Askin OzcanArchitect and author Askin Ozcan is a widely traveled man. Hailing from Turkey, he has been to many countries and carries fond memories of his stay and experiences in various places and cultures. Previously, I interviewed him for his humorous novel The Second Venice. His most recent book is Ideas & Jellyfish, a collection of stories and musings published in India. In the following e-conversation, he talks about travel, adapting to a foreign culture, and of course, ideas that he considers are slippery as jellyfish. 

Ernest: Hello Askin, it’s a pleasure to have you for a chat after a long time. Please tell a little about the publication of Ideas & Jellyfish with an Indian publisher.

Askin: Ideas & Jellyfish is actually a compilation of two of my previous books: Wisdom in Smile and Small Miracles, which were published in the USA. Prakash Books of India, which is a leading publisher and book distributor in India, liked these two books and wanted to select the best stories from both of the books and publish them under the title IDEAS & JELLYFISH. They made a beautiful edition and the book is selling now at more than 500 bookstores and at all major internet bookshops in India. It is 192 pages full of wit and humor and exciting stories.

Ernest: The most prominent topic in this book is travel and its related, interesting observations. What are some of your most exciting and boring real-life travel experiences?

Askin: Ideas & Jellyfish has some travel related stories, but it also has other stories based on the true happenings or imagination and it has some true-to-the-last word stories of small miracles which happened to me. As for an interesting travel story, I can perhaps mention my spending a week on the beach on Nice (on the deck chairs) during a hot summer month, and had a lovely time. I used to go to the train station where I kept my luggage, to change clothes, and to a luxury hotel’s toilets to shave in the morning. I cannot do this again, as I am too old for such an experience and there are no more deck chairs placed at the beach in Nice either. I used 13 interrail tickets and 12 Eurail tickets of one month each, so I have had actually very many interesting travel experience and of course many unpleasant travel experiences too. Some of these I mentioned in the book. Most boring travel experiences were perhaps when my belongings were stolen at several occasions in my train trips.

Ernest: You lived in different countries and cultures at different times in your life. What culture did you find most appealing and for what reason(s)?

Askin: I lived in Turkey (my home country), in the USA, Germany, UK , Netherlands, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, where I am resident now, and travelled extensively in Western and Eastern Europe, Turkey, and North America. I would like to live in the USA as it was during 1957, as it was a paradise economically and socially then. Now, there are too many problems in the USA and it is not attractive anymore for me. Europe too was more interesting, safer, and attractive before. France and Italy are perhaps two countries whose cultures suited me fine, but I neither speak fluent French nor Italian, so it is only a dream to hope to live in a country whose language one doesn’t excel in. Language is the key to life everywhere. There are of course interesting ingredients in the life of any country and many problems which keep changing over time. That is why one travels to taste what is on the other side of the fence.

Ernest: Did you ever find it difficult to adjust to life in another part of the world than your homeland?

Askin: Of course, living in a new country and culture has always its difficulties in getting adjusted. As I lived in nine countries, it is difficult to list all the difficulties I experienced in each country. I am originally from Turkey. The first foreign country I lived in was the USA, where everybody has a car. It is impossible to imagine a life without a car, in the USA. I had no car, no driving license. Thank God, the family I lived with always drove me to the school every day, and my friends gave me a lift when I dated a girl and wanted to go to a movie or a dance. Later in my life, when I lived in London as the manager of a small travel agency, mostly sending tourists to Turkey, the hectic living tempo of London, difficulty of meeting people to make friends (unlike in the USA), and a different kind of English than the one spoken in the USA (the real English) were the main problems. In Sweden, I also experienced loneliness. In Istanbul, Turkey, I had many friends. In Sweden, where I have resided for thirty-five years now, my phone book has only the numbers of the doctor, the social office, the fire department, the dentist, and a few foreign friends. Swedes are very lonely people and though many things are good here, the social life is poor compared with Turkey, USA, Eastern Europe, or Italy, for example, even though my Swedish is rather good.

Ernest: Reading your book, it was apparent that you had a number of interesting ideas at different times, like those about jobs or running a business etc. But in the book, you compare ideas to jellyfish—fleeing when you try to catch them. So did you not try to catch the ideas that helped you in interesting ways?

Askin: Yes, I had many ideas in my life for business or social development. Some of these I followed, some not. Life is tough. If you are interested in business, you should always calculate that you will have many competitors and cheaters; if you are interested in ideas for social development, then many opponents. Nobody wants to work without getting paid and most ideas for social development require volunteer work. In my book, in the chapter “Ideas and jellyfish”, I described some of my business and social work engagements and how they ended. Ideas come to me sometimes spontaneously and require hard work to develop. Sometimes they are the result of time-consuming analyses and one sees them disappear either because of their difficult nature to realize or simply when someone steals them from you. Some of my ideas earned fortunes for others, without a dollar for me.

Ernest: The second part of the book, called The Invisible, has real-life stories with chance as the key element. Do you believe in divine intervention, like god helping people suddenly and unexpectedly?

Askin: Do I believe in God and miracles? Yes, without any doubt. In my book, I related nine miraculous incidents, some of which maybe coincidences or chance; but some are definitely miracles. In my book Small Miracles, I related thirty such incidents. I never forget when I sat in a beer garden in Lubeck, Germany, and I liked a waitress so much, I prayed to God to whisper her name to me so I could surprise her, and I heard a whisper in my ear telling me her full name. She was shocked to hear that I knew her name. Now if that wasn’t a miracle, what is? Also, in Boston, as my check wasn’t accepted to buy a gift for my fiancée, when I was on my way to her birthday party, how come I found a parcel on the road which had a nice dress which fit her exactly. My life is full of small and big miracles. I hear from others that many of them experience miracles as well. Our anatomy and physiology could not have developed as a result of coincidence, no matter how many millions of years have passed since our beginning. Everything works so perfectly in our brains and bodies, it is clear a divine power has shaped us through such a great span of time. Not only us human beings, but billions of other living species, be they animals or plants. Thinking otherwise is like thinking one can flip a coin a billion times and always get the same side!

Ernest: I personally find “Please, No Serious Business!” the most exciting humorous story in the book. I think you could develop it into a full-length book, just like The Second Venice. Isn’t it?

Askin: “Please No Serious Business!” is indeed a humorous story, reflecting the weak points and the comedy in our political systems today. I have no plans to make a book out of this, though it could be nice idea. However, an Indian filmmaker will make a script and film of it in future.

Ernest: Have you been in touch with any of the people mentioned in Ideas & Jellyfish? What has been the general response to the book so far?

Askin: I have been in touch with some of the people mentioned in Ideas & Jellyfish. They are thrilled that I published my stories. I receive many compliments for the book from many readers in many countries.

Ernest: So how often do you travel now, both inside and outside Sweden?

Askin: I did a lot of travelling when I was young. Now I am 71, and because of my heart disease (I had seven heart attacks), my doctor told me it would be very risky for me to fly; I don’t fly anymore. Travelling by train is too uncomfortable, especially long distance. Bus travel I hate. So, my travelling consists of going to downtown Stockholm, which is half-an-hour away. I spend my time reading newspapers, watching TV, promoting my seven books which are being sold at some 200 online bookshops, including amazon.com and uRead.com, and via 25, 000 bookstores globally. I meet a few friends now and then, spend sometime in the library, and go to different restaurants.

Ernest: Do you have plans for writing another book?

Askin: Future books? I have written a professional book Architecture and Education: An Interface and a children’s book The Story of the Ice Hockey Stick, both waiting to be published. I would like to write a book called The Chances I missed in Business and Love. But, I am too old and too tired to write it. Of course, I would have loved writing also another one called Towards a Utopia, but now I think my writing days are over.

Ernest: With this we end the chat here. Thank you Askin for taking time for this conversation! I wish you renewed energy to develop your remaining ideas into books.