1.2 Train from Colombo to Ella

​The only thing I wrote for the trip:

We walked hastily to the station, with the help of lights from the stalls along the streets, past the chaos of the traffic and the tuk tuks that seemed to come far too close to my feet.

On board the train. The large red carriages with bold numbers were crowded with activity. The train guard directed us ahead. Carriages after carriages were just as full. Finally we got into one, stood by the doorway for a moment. It dawned on me that this was my spot to stand, possibly for a very long journey ahead. At this time, the train was crowded and we were perspiring quite a bit, sticky bodies occasionally pressed next to each other in this crowded space. I took out the exam paper I brought (lol) to act as a makeshift fan. Admittedly I was expecting a seat on this second-class train I suppose, but no matter, I quietly appreciated the fact that I wouldn’t have an experience like this back home.

​Our humble abode for the last 10 hours on the floor.

The train set off at 8pm. The comforting wind filled the stifling air of the carriages, along with the chorus of a group of boys behind us and their drumming beats. Mr J makes conversation – he shares that he travels ‘2.5 hours a day to Colombo, 2.5 hours back home, 8 hours working, that’s 13 hours gone.’ I tell him Singapore is a small country, it takes maybe about 2 hours to get from one end to the other. We spend the next 40 minutes yelling over the roaring engine of the train.

Cz tells me to get in to the carriage. Here, it’s slightly different. A group of girls are seated at the front, some sharing seats in camaraderie. As the train’s engine roars louder, the girls started to scream, and my mind flashes to a rollercoaster seat pulled by gravity. Slowly amidst their laughters and the drumming of the boys, they broke into a chorus that merged with the beats of the long carriage ride.

​(Finally) emerging from our humble abode for the night, where we spent 10 hours standing and sitting on the floor of a full train carriage. A local makes conversation – he shares that he travels ‘2.5 hours a day to Colombo, 2.5 hours back home, 8 hours working, that’s 13 hours gone.’ I tell him Singapore is a small country, it takes maybe about 2 hours to get from one end to the other. We spent the next 40 minutes yelling over the roaring engine of the train.

Advertisements

6.3 Isfahan with Fatima

​ Fati told me about a French guy who thought Iran was a place ‘with many camels on the streets and only chadors and things like that’. She wants me to tell everyone COME TO IRAN!! IRAN HAS MALLS AND CARS and your m&ms and sushi and Coca Cola and your favourite cereal, just sometimes in different names ~~ And cool things like carpets of course.
We went into the shopping mall with glass-paned windows and doors, and M.A.C.
With a car inside.

 

 

 

‘Take pictures of these and show your friends!’

 

 

Sushi in the Iranian supermarket

On my way home that day, this kind lady helped me find my way to my host. She got off the bus and walked with me / waited with me for 15 minutes. I gave her a chocolate bar, the only gift-able gift I had with me.

6.1 Isfahan, Iran

​ My favourite days. Making chicken rice and milo and drawing connections – my host and the family I crashed.

One of my favourite cities, for sure. I had the most meaningful memory in Isfahan. But not really, Shiraz and Qazvin and Tehran were so special too, because of all the people I’ve met. Sigh.

Outside the Shah Mosque,  I think.

 
I was thinking and rewriting my favourite part about Isfahan. As I sat in the living room watching my host, and the girl whose next-door apartment I incidentally crashed the first day, with their deep excited chatter in Farsi and their occasional eruption of laughter, I knew it was that. 
 

 

Imagine all the little incidents and coincidences that had to happen for their (neighbourly) paths to cross; the date and time I chose, the driver I flagged, the wrong buzzer we pressed – the chances are almost once in a million. I imagine these events sowing a tiny seed, and the possibilities that take root from here. I think everything happens for a reason. I hope they stay friends for a long time. 

In the evening we ate saffron ice cream and cruised down the streets blasting Persian pop with the windows wound down, driving past watermelons

 

 

 

female drivers whee!

 

 

 

 

 

 

along the streets

Azar shared with me that sanctions against Iran have led to the closure of many factories and resulting unemployment; once she received 1 month’s salary only after 6 months. ‘But my father told me once that when you are in the sea and you feel you may be drowning you should not feel hopeless. You should try to reach out for a float or a stone, and you should not feel hopeless.’ I wish you all the best in your dreams, Azar.

 

6. Isfahan, Iran

​I arrived from Kashan to Isfahan in 2 – 3hours. The bus gave a banana bread and orange juice, which I gobbled down.
From the bus terminal I took a cab to Azar’s house. I showed the driver my address and despite the seeming initial agreement of 80k he insisted it was 100k rials when I got off…. Fine, except he dropped me off and rang the doorbell of a home I didn’t know. Well blessing in disguise!

What unravelled was a series of unexpected events.
So the doorbell rang and the door was opened, and I stepped in. Someone came down the stairs – it was a girl, quite a young girl. I showed her my message and she said it was the wrong address. I caught a glimpse of the house and it was lovely. She tried to call my host, but it could not get through. She invited me to her home and we laughed and I shamelessly accepted her offer (or rather she insisted).

Shortly after her mother offered me melon tea and some candied nuts which tasted awesome.
Her brother and father came home, and before long the living room was lively with conversations and the strums of the guitar. So kind of them to perform for me, really!
My host came after the brother of the family went over to the address to call her. They were engaged in deep conversation and laughter in lively Persian as I sat and watched, trying to guess (and clearly failing) what they were discussing about.
Shortly after (they invited us to stay for lunch!) we went back.

It was such a lively atmosphere.

the living room that came alive with the sounds of the guitar and their singing – how surreal it seems, now. stumbling into a stranger’s home.

my very first taste of those delicious candied almonds! I had to remind myself to stop eating so much. i really wanted to buy some back, but with SG’s humidity they’d turn into a sticky mess.

​ My beautiful company the past days – my host and the girl whose wrong apartment I crashed. Imagine all the little incidents and coincidences that had to happen for our / their (neighbourly) paths to cross; the date and time I chose, the driver I flagged, the wrong buzzer we pressed – the chances are almost one in a million. And there they sat now in the living room past midnight, like they’ve known each other forever.
(Although they’re already so beautiful(!!), nose surgery is not an uncommon status symbol in Iran.)

Before I left they put a jewellery in a gift box (with a ribbon!!) and gave it to me as a present, luckily I brought some SG magnets and Milo packets to spare. Such hospitality :’)

 

5.1 Persepolis, Iran (Day trip from Shiraz)

I took a cab to Persepolis (500k rials, + 50k for him to send me to my address beyond the city centre) in the evening. Around 3+ or 4pm, with less than an hour drive away, I could still catch the site before the sun set.



Persepolis exemplifies the Achaemenid style of architecture, and archaeological evidence shows that the earliest remains of Persepolis date back to 515 BC. My appreciation of historical monuments and sites has increased with age. When you consider how many generations these sites witness in comparison to your minute lifespan, these are precious timekeepers, records of mankind from another age, an age I can only witness through these remnants.



I enjoyed the intricate carvings. There, I remember feeling so HOT (my lips and mouth dries up in this climate, really. First time feeling this for real. I am so thankful I didn’t visited Israel/Jordan in summer. After this trip, I’m not gonna complain about the cold in winter of the Middle East; hot weather isn’t comfortable either. Ok but then again I get hot showers all the time! And I hated showering in winter, and I was shivering quite bit. Hmm maybe this hot and dry weather is preferable…)

 
How they get on FASTING in this dry heat, I really don’t know. I am thoroughly impressed. 

My tongue feels incredibly dry and my mouth gets smelly (saliva). 



Spamming pictures from my phone. My camera died at this point.
Before that, though, I recall another incident which left a deep impression of Persepolis.
I walked to the Visitors Centre, and was dismayed when I found out that the water cooler had ran out of water, because it was the evening time. My water bottle was empty, and my mouth was so thirsty and dry my saliva was turning bitter (I know! How I’ve taken water for granted)
As I was about to walk away, a shopkeeper took out a cup (that he was selling from the souvenirs shop!) and the most glorious coke ever – cold, a saving grace in this heat) and he poured the fizzling coke into the cup, handed it to me and smiled. I was incredibly touched, and delighted.
He even offered me a refill, a second cup, but I politely resisted, though it would have been amazing.
That was, seriously, THE best taste of coke, EVER. EVER ever ever. I might have bought that coke for $10.
I wonder if he knew how much he made my day. Best Persepolis moment ever!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Shiraz, Iran (Nasir al-Mulk / Pink Mosque + Hosseini)

Hello to one of my favourite cities.



My photographer. He was really funny. Typical Chinese camwhore Millennial who went trigger-happy with poses, even brought a Lonely Planet book for a prop, and I was of course a happy Chinese recipient.

8am – I reached Shiraz after slightly over 6 hours, at 2.30pm or so. 

 

Shiraz. 
 
My first day in Shiraz, I took the metro (the guy just handed me a coin – and didn’t expect me to pay) and took to the metro stop near the bazaar. The metro of Shiraz is so clean and amazing, I was absolutely impressed, I wouldn’t have minded sitting there for another half an hour. It was new and clean and had good air conditioning that I was thankful for in this heat. It was like our MRTs, except it was completely empty and very, very clean. 


A memory of Shiraz: 

As I walked along the streets towards the bazaar, a man (shoe shop stall) said ‘welcome to Iran’ and another said ‘oh my god’ with a smile. As I turned towards the latter while continuing forward, the shoe shop’s worker handed me a pair of slippers. ‘For me??’ I asked in disbelief, he nodded and I waved thank you and walked on. I initially said ‘it’s ok i don’t need’, I wonder if that was rude.

 
It was a very warm gesture nonetheless, and it was exactly my size, I was impressed.
#iranianhospitalityHere, I spam the gorgeous pictures in the Pink Mosque, one of my greatest anticipations of the trip!

 

 

Early morning. I was the 3rd visitor to arrive.

 

trickle of sunshine



One of the many architectural gems, where sunlight trickles in through the stained-glass windows and spills rainbow puddles on the carpeted floors


 

Ah yes, > 9 am now you see the tourists.

Marieh was my host in Shiraz. I don’t have a photo with her (sadly, I regret, actually, not initiating) but we had a lovely time cooking dishes together. My bak kut teh honestly turned out to be yummy, and I loved eating/drinking some homely and familiar food too (though i haven’t been gone for that long, really).

Talking about religion:

‘So what do you do when you feel very sad?’
‘What do you think happens after we die?’
She mentioned, ‘in Iran we don’t have many close friends. We have many good friends, yes, 

but not so many close friends. There’s not much entertainment here – no parties…’

Gym is like morn to noon for women, noon to night for men
No marathon for women
Dogs / pets not really approved of
But she had a HUSKY!!! From Tabriz



She brought me to have some dessert in the evening. 

It was in Shiraz that I had my first carrot juice with ice cream – havij bastani. 

I tried to look like I enjoyed it.

Hosseini, the first driver I encountered in Shiraz. Early morning, after leaving Marieh’s apartment, I walked down and flagged a cab.

​Hosseini shares with me that he used to study English 10 years ago, and used to fluently guide many tourists. But his grandmother and father fell sick so he had to return to his hometown to take care of them. Now he’s back in Shiraz he has to work so he can’t continue his English studies. ‘But if I practice I know I will be very good.’ I sensed a certain hunger and frustration in his sharing, like stumbling upon a dusty book you once knew by heart.

When I was done with my trigger-happy friend and another Singaporean ‘travel blogger’ we met in the mosque, I was surprised to see Hosseini still outside. He asked me where I was heading to, and I said I wanted to take the bus to Qalat village. He offered to drive me to the bus station, and I accepted his offer.

We eventually drove to Qalat village (or Ghalat village), 45 minutes away.

We conversed in English. I drew mountains and rivers to illustrate the words, to remind him of these words he was once familiar with.

Hiked down a path where friends were having a picnic, as the sounds of the rushing river got louder. ​In this incredibly hot and dry weather, the cool waters of the river brought about a huge relief and felt like one of the BEST things I can ever feel in life. It feels THAT good, yes. Spent some time splashing and immersing in the coolness of the river water.

Hosseini later asked if I wanted to visit his sister, who lived along the way.

I love seeing these watermelons in the summer streets. Other than tasting incredibly amazing in this heat, watermelons remind me of the people who invited me to have some, and the interesting conversations over them. The construction workers, the hostel receptionist, the families who invite me in. These watermelons cool and warm me in ways I will always remember.

putting this picture of my first time for records. hahah memories

honestly, i can still remember her gentle fingers

as she placed the scarf over my head

tenderly fixing my cloth

over my face

helping me to fix my hair, pin it together

and she smiled.

she smiled because she felt she was blessing me. i can still recall those gentle fingers against my skin.

Shiraz is special to me. Isfahan was my favourite city because of the memories I forged, but Shiraz, thank you Hosseini. 

Imam Khomeini and his words on every textbook, I found from Hosseini’s niece



In the evening, I said goodbye to Marieh and her very active husky, went to the bus station, and left.

There, a short encounter that left me pondering. A man tried to help me clarify regarding the bus ticket, when the person at the counter told me there was none left except for the one that cost X price. The man told me in ‘English’ to follow him. He was later spoken to by some official-looking people from the bus station (security, perhaps? but men dressed in shirts). I tried to step in to say this man didn’t say anything to me; the officers (?) waved me off and said my bus was leaving. 

This was one of the more… prominent incidents I noted about my trip.


400k for my overnight bus from Shiraz to Tehran. 

 

6.4 Sofeh Mountain, Isfahan

Hello, Sofeh mountain.
selfie-ing every few steps, i recall

Our chicken rice for lunch. In my opinion, it tasted great :p I miss how Azar’s mum would prepare the SWEETEST HONEYDEW i’ve ever eaten in my life (no lie), so juicy and an absolute bliss in the heat 😥

 

Set off to Sofeh mountain!

 

 

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t complete the hike (barely started) because a man started asking me many questions about where I came from, how long I was here for, etc. Elhem got worried and decided that we shouldn’t proceed with the hike. While I was hesitant to stop, given my one-chance at Sofeh mountain and Cz’s recommendation, I could tell Elhem was growing increasingly uncomfortable as we bumped into the man again. Eventually she persuaded me again and i relented, and we went down. While I was a little disappointed about missing the hike i was looking forward to, i found consolation in spending the rest of my day with the girls.

Thank you Isfaha, it has been absolutely lovely 🙂