Turks and Their Rugs

Imagine a Sultan from your history classes, with the poufy clothes and that large headpiece, seated in a domed throne room. Amongst the huge marble pillars that hold up the chamber, just how many rugs and how many colors have you imagined rolled out along the floor and covering the walls? That elegance transcends the Ottoman Empire to daily life in Turkey, and there isn’t a single craft that Turks take more pride in than their rugs. Turkish apartments are adorned with rugs that have been passed down generations, and the quality of Turkish rugs is unmatched when it comes to the intricacy of their patterned weaves and the level of effort put into producing each one.

The modern day version

When I’d moved into my first apartment in Izmir, I’d needed to wait an extra day for the rugs to be properly cleaned and ready. While they weren’t the Hereke rugs that foreign leaders are given when they first visit Turkey, it’d still been worth the wait as I’d watched my landlord decorate the bare apartment with rugs of every shape and color. Over a year later, I’ve gotten lucky enough to tour one of the government subsidized rug Corps in Cappadocia, and to even buy one of my own! Well, my family had bought it, but a major and awkward part of the sales pitch had been that it would eventually become mine… morbid implications intended.

The finest

The Turkish rug industry is still very much a cottage industry in that rugs of all kinds are made in villages at the homes of families dedicated to the craft. These rugs make their way to major cities to be sold by either middle man, or what’s called a Corp (we’ll get to that later). Those middle men are the carpet sellers on the streets of downtown Istanbul who will try lead you to one of their shops. They line the corridors of the Grand Bazaar, approach you outside of whichever monument you’re near, and heckle you as you pass by their small shops in the tourist area of Sultanahmet. You can count on at least several approaching you every day, and don’t be surprised if they’re pushy as hell.

Death of a carpet salesman

When a carpet seller approaches you as you’re sightseeing, it’s all so obvious from the get-go that they’re only out to make a sale. They’ll try to break down your defensiveness with small talk or compliments, and some will even offer to give you a free tour of whichever museum or mosque you’re nearby. Expect them to chide you if you’re not being open enough to a casual conversation, because damn are they persistent. They’ll say or offer just about anything to eventually get you into one of their shops. Carpet sellers are essentially the used car salesmen of the rug industry, and with that comes lemons and suckers. It’s not that their rugs aren’t necessarily good, it’s just that that who knows what you’re actually buying, or how much it had originally been purchased for. It’s for this reason that carpet sellers are listed among the common tourist scams of Turkey.

Wanna make a rug look old and ornate? Lay it out in the harsh sun and let tourists walk over it before one eventually buys it for quadruple its worth

This is where the aforementioned Corps come in. Corps are the rug wholesaler institutions which the Turkish government have subsidized in an effort to curb the migration of village people to major cities in Turkey. This migration is fueled by the desire for better jobs and the comforts of city life, but more often than not results in poverty and struggle for the villagers that move. As the refugee crisis continues to worsen and further stretch the Turkish welfare networks thin, Ankara has begun to take a financial interest in the rug industry. Weaving co-ops have been established in villages with modern looms and equipment, and master weavers have been employed to provide vocational training and ensure quality. Wages are subsidized and materials are provided for the production of these rugs. The Corps are the outlets at which these village rugs get sold, and overall this social welfare program has created artisan opportunities for village people that allow them a chance at prosperity without ever having to move. And for the savvy buyer, they offer trustworthy and quality rugs at an equitable price. It’s the crop sharing of textiles, sans carpet-baggers (heh).

The master weavers

The Corps

And the subsidized silk

Silk, wool, or cotton, it’s the material as well as the level of stitching that affect a rug’s price. One that could cover your living room floor might be a fraction of the price of one that could only barely cover your laptop, and it all comes down to the intricacy of the patterns and how many knots are in each square inch. They’re graded from level 1 to level 10, and a level 10 the size of your table could take several years to complete by a master weaver. A level 4 is your standard village quality, while anything finer than a level 7 must have been knitted by hand. You very much get what you pay for, and if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir from Turkey, then a rug will be well worth your money and carry-on room. Just remember to haggle no matter where you’re shopping! And be patient, if one of your parents is purchasing it…

A Grand Bazaar rug merchant; “Half the price? Still a 500% profit”

Moving in with a Bang

When some people buy a house, they open a bottle of champagne and celebrate. Others aggravate everybody within a one mile radius with way more than just a pop.

Get ’em while they’re hot

In 2016, I’d been living in a ghost town that had barely had enough residents to fill 10% of its available apartments. Huangmei’s Jurong Country Garden was 20 miles from the outskirts of Nanjing city, and had been built in anticipation of a subway line that’s still over 5 years away from being completed. Speculation has been rapidly on the rise despite the lack of current infrastructure, and real estate development companies have already built acres of apartment complexes that have yet to be inhabited. There were 1000’s of apartments in this small town, but barely enough residents to even warrant a fully stocked supermarket. Among the empty store fronts and plazas, down the highway from a desolate 6 floor shopping mall waiting for a community to shop at it, was the massive boarding school that had brought me to this barren wasteland.

It would’ve otherwise been silent if it weren’t for the fireworks

Cookie cutter communities

Coming up

Ghost towns like this aren’t exactly new in China, and cities of anticipation have made world news before with the famous example of Ordos Kangbashi. Some turn out to be huge mistakes and financial sinkholes, but Huangmei had seemed to be catching on. I could hear it loud and fucking clear. Lighting off a salvo of fireworks after purchasing a home is something of a custom in China, and new residents were announcing their prosperity at all hours of the day. Who needs a deed when you have a box mortars.

A typical evening

And a typical day

Jurong Country Garden

Sometimes I’d been in class when I’d heard what sounded like demolition, and other times I’d just crawled into bed when some brand new home-owner had decided to make everybody aware of it. Convenient stores in the area had been sparse and not even close to convenient, but if there was one business that you could count on in Huangmei’s vacant streets, it had been fireworks retailers. Burnt mortar boxes were mixed into the construction debris along the streets, and the booming could be heard from wherever you were in the area. It was like Mad Max meets the Beverly Hillbillies. Let’s just say, I’m not regretting my recent move to Shanghai. But hey, the more you see, right?

Give it a couple more years of explosions first though