Perhaps it is a preconception - I prefer“伊斯坦堡”to“伊斯坦布爾”, which sounds rather odd to me ...

Istabul is the largest city in Turkey, as well as the country's economic and cultural centre. As we all know, it is also a transcontinental city in Eurasia. Named Constantinople in the past, it served as an imperial capital for the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires. Its history is revealed from various attractions in the city, namely Dolmabahçe Palace, an east-west combination of Islamic and neo-Baroque elements; Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine architecture; the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque; Topkapi Palace with the royal residence, the Tower of Justice, the Imperial Harem and Palace Kitchens under one roof; the Basilica Cistern, a water supply system for Constantinople built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I; and the Grand Bazaar opened in 1461…

Same as all the well-known historic cities all over the world, Istanbul is excessively rich in history! Compared with Ankara, the capital of modern Turkey, Istanbul apparently embodies a fusion of east and west. Having been to Istanbul, a city of such strong legendary flavour (the scenes of confrontation between intelligence agents from the east and those from the west as shown in the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love” still linger on my mind), what impressions on it and its country do I actually have?

My visit to Turkey in late August last year fell on the Muslim fasting month. It was really boisterous at the Blue Mosque in the evening. Over the past century, it was not uncommon to see people eating or drinking during the day, not observing their fasting rules, in Turkey where secularisation and Europeanisation formed the bases of its national policies, especially in cities. I believe this phenomenon was rare in other Muslim countries.

When it comes to the relatively secularised life style of Turkey, its local alcoholic drinks have left quite an impression on me. Raki is a kind of strong liquor in Mediterranean countries like Turkey and the Balkans. It became popular in the late Ottoman Empire, i.e. in the mid-19th century. It is anise-flavoured, as well as clear and transparent in its original form. It is also called lion’s milk as it turns milky when mixed with pure water. If you don’t like liquors with alcohol content up to 50%, you might as well consider Turkish beers.

All in all, Turkey, which is a Middle East/European country, is unique in various aspects. Having developed for almost a century, its democratic politics is getting more mature whereas its religion is losing influence in public affairs. Even the military that very often intervened in politics in the 20th century has embarked on the roads to nationalisation and professionalisation in the recent three decades. Besides, the activeness of the media, the protection of women’s rights and the maturity of the middle class in Turkey are obvious to all.

It is my personal impression that Turkey is a prosperous country without any traits of depression that are found in some European countries. Then a question naturally comes up: what are Turkey’s chances of joining the European Commission? To the best of my understanding, setting aside some points from the social and political perspectives as well as certain values, the Turkish society greatly diverges from the mainstream of Europe in various aspects. Generally speaking, its military is enjoying a fairly high status among its nationals even though its political function is subsiding. In addition, its implementation of a voluntary service system, which has mostly been eliminated in Europe (the Turks may argue that their security conditions are very different), and its strong national consciousness also account for its divergence from the mainstream of the contemporary Europe. Upon setting foot in Anatolia (Asia Minor) after visiting Istanbul, you may find that Turkey actually has a stronger Asian ambiance. For instance, you may still see villagers wearing traditional costumes and a lot of religiously attired females, as well as often hear the calls to prayers and scripture readings from mosques.

Over these years, its ruling party, the Justice and Development Party, is being under great pressure. In my personal opinion, the hardships that Turkey has been enduring recently are probably labour pains that are inevitable in the process of its further development. I wish Turkey all the best as it has left a really positive impression on me.