4.2 CSing near Sibayak, Medan, Indonesia

Another CS experience to remember. 

The family members were gathered on the mat on the floor after dinner, chewing on their bethel nuts. She showed me how to wrap it up for the final product.




leaves, first. all ingredients obtainable from the nearby small shops / the market.

dinner!

married couple.

host

looking through wedding photos.


it’s funny, but they had multiple copies (10?) of their wedding photoshoot, this one. they insisted on giving this to us.
past vs present. happiness is simple?
just sitting. eating. chilling.
huddled in the living room.
we slept on the mats in the living room. it reminded me of the time in kampong luong.

 

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2. Pematang Raya, Lake Toba, Medan, Indonesia (Couchsurfing with Mery)

It was a memorable stay, and meeting Mery made a difference. We first contacted on CS, and while we were uncertain about going over to Pematang Raya (not a particularly strong part of the touristy trail hence the location was a little bit of an uncertainty) – but we managed to follow her instructions and made our way to this little town.
Mery’s an English teacher, and here the kids of the town come over for enrichment classes, as well as computer classes. It was really nice contributing, to be a part of the kids’ real-world application. They would learn some English vocab for the day, and at the end of their lesson I stepped in, for them to ask me those questions they learnt in English.
I remember sitting down in a chair while they crowded around me, and while some were shy, they managed to ask me their questions. Their look of absolute delight and giggles when I answered their questions – memorable. It was sweet, while briefly reminding me of my p-school teacher thing I had.
ew fringe

 

We went on a ‘field trip’ around the neighbourhood, led by the older kids who were supposedly more experienced / higher level. They were rather shy, but tried their best.

We looked at different types of plants /fruits in the neighbourhood.

We played some orientation games. lolll

 

aww

 

me being teacher-ly

 

 

dinner.
it was lovely. speaking to mery, too. she’s a strong woman, who clearly has a strong sense of drive and will. not dependent on a man, but clearly wanting to impact the world as a better place, and strive for a better life for herself in the process. i hope i can strive to be like that.

 

7. Johannesburg, South Africa

It’s been almost 5 months since my first step into Southern Africa. It’s so different from Morocco though, and at the same time many of my conceptions towards the continent has been challenged. It wasn’t as… frightening as I thought it would be. I didn’t see starving children, malnourished, mud cookies, which were part of my Geographical Imagination of the continent. It almost surprised me to see those huge supermarkets with shiny floors and rows of fresh fruits, french fries and meat and cakes and SUSHI behind the glass counters, tall air-conditioned malls, inter-city buses that were just like all the others – air-conditioned, sometimes promising wifi, with music occasionally blasting in the trip. Was I that ignorant, to feel this surprised? I suppose so. Nonetheless I do acknowledge that as a tourist, I saw the shiny bit of things.

Some things poignant to me was how my notion of animals have changed. Wild animals, not the ones I’m accustomed and largely exposed to, locked in the zoo. My notion of fearing wild animals, and the idea that I do not have to worry about HIV in my home country, and the large network of land transport services in my homeland, these were great.

​ Summing up my first evening in Johannesburg – emerged unscathed, had a Joburger, and listened to the various stories about getting and avoiding attacks/carjacks (18 times, he counted). Despite these, the driver and Peter both shared the sentiment that they enjoyed the energy of the city, and loved the city in ways – a ‘un-boring’ place amidst the ‘chaos’, they found a place for themselves.
Free education, free healthcare (even the HIV pills are provided by the government) unemployment benefits, pensions. 11 official languages.
Observing blacks speaking English, or Zulu (the next most common?) language to each other. Medium in schools dependent on which schools you go to.
So many cars, seemed like everyone had a car because of a lack of public transport systems. Didn’t see any bus stops around (although there were those mini-buses), nor motorbikes (too unsafe, Peter suggests).

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.

6.4 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 🙂

1. Tehran, Iran (Route)

How I spent my 2 weeks in Iran:

A circular route, of sorts.
Overnight bus from Shiraz, back to Tehran.

reach tehran 2030 -> tehran -> qom -> kashan -> isfahan -> yazd -> shiraz -> persepolis -> tehran -> qazvin -> alamut valley (gazor khan) -> qazvin -> tehran 2200
The day I flew off to Tehran

I watched Argo on the plane. It annoyed me a little, in the ways in which it portrayed the Iranian state and its people. It felt to me like yet another recurring Hollywood narrative that served to celebrate its nationalistic heroism and achievements. Some scenes were so deliberate in portraying the Iranians as, I would say, even barbaric. E.g. There was a scene where an Iranian man at the Grand Bazaar was portrayed to be so worked up about having his picture taken, causing a great scene and pushing against a huge crowd while aggressively speaking in Persian – with no English translation of subtitles. The scene of him in rage, raising his fist and shouting relentlessly in a language the majority of the movie’s audience wouldn’t understand, inevitably reflects his seemingly unreasonable stance (‘just a photo’ may be the first thought). An English translation of what he was raging about would have shed a more objective light as to the reason for his anger. It’s about cultural understanding and acknowledgement, and such a portrayal, I felt, was somewhat unfair.
 
Then there’s the riots, the starving women, the fearful family (of their state), the public hangings, the armies and tanks and guns. It’s not to say that these didn’t happen and that it’s a complete fabrication by the movie, but no wonder the world has such a perception of Iran! The barbaric laws, the violence and aggression, the chaos and lack of structure, and the successful and celebratory escape of the Americans against the security of the Iranian state. Once again, America is great! 
 
(I have to admit, part of this annoyance at the US stems from them pulling out from the Paris climate deal – another self-serving scheme)
 
I acknowledge that all films have a purpose and a message that they want to bring across, and it’s not fair of me to claim that it’s ‘unfair’. Nonetheless I couldn’t help drawing this to the responsibility of the media, in both portraying / reflecting reality, while at the same time reinforcing certain stereotypes and messages (think: recent ‘Indian accent’, Jack Neo racial spate). Such scenes skewed to a limited portrayal certainly has an influence on the audiences’ geographical imaginations, and the dominance of the US in the media scene has its ways of strengthening their power by influencing people all over the world on their views of certain countries, to justify their policies and strengthen their political stance. Dominance and power comes not just in policies and leadership, but media is one of the political tools as well. 

 

from the first metro station i entered in Tehran

​Within the span of a single train ride from Fadak to Imam Khomeini, I’ve seen at least 4 different people selling a range of products from balloons to toothbrushes, headlights to earpiece and portable chargers, socks and fortune telling birds, rubber bands and Super glue.

One of my favourite places in Tehran was the Park-e Shahr. Here, I walked around the bird garden, watching families feed the little animals (not only birds but also rabbits, goats) with their plastic bags of food.

In Shahr Park, I saw a range of delightful bird species, including flamingos, peacocks and even the ostrich. I saw the children feeding the rabbits and turtles with bread pieces, and the man throwing food at the cats. I saw men playing dominos and Table Tennis, and using the exercise corner. I saw children playing at the playground, swaying comfortably on the flying-saucer swings.

 

 

 

Some men playing dominoes to pass time.

It was my first time seeing that in real life. I played dominoes on computer games, but never saw anyone actually using those small tiles/playing chips.

a typical view in the Iranian architecture, these rectangular pools/fountains that stretched across a distance, conveying some form of elegance and tranquility

A random stall along the street

Spices
My host, Sad, and his family were the first Iranians I had a conversation with in the country. I landed late at night, and by the time I had applied for my insurance and collected my visa, it was 10+pm. I tried using the apps that Sad recommended (Tap30 and Snapp, which work like Uber) but everything was in Farsi, and my internet wasn’t working (even though I’d gotten the simcard for half an hour) so I stuck with the cab from the airport.

I was slightly appalled that 140usd was gone just on this first day (insurance, visa) on the preparatory elements. That’s really quite a lot of money, my heart ached a little. I tried telling myself at least I wasn’t working during the June holidays.

It was nice to have someone to turn to in this foreign land, a number to call. A person that could speak to my taxi driver, that provided an assurance to me that someone, in this land, knows I’m here. And so would my taxi driver. I’m not completely alone, and I have someone to turn to, to receive me upon my arrival. I love how embracing the global community is.

My taxi driver continues speeding down at 110km per hour.

By the time I had reached his home, it was 11.30pm. He wasn’t home yet – apparently he had gone for a walk with his family. I was worried it was because of my late arrival, but over the course of the 2 weeks I slowly learnt that Iranians seem to have a pretty late bedtime (i could be overgeneralizing, but most times they were fine being out past 11pm and staying up chatting till midnight! I would be yawning and wondering if it’s time to sleep and they’d still seem pretty chirpy)

Sad and his family gave me a warm welcome, made me some tea (persimmon tea, if i’m not wrong.  i often see it being brewed on the streets, with their floating seeds) and we chatted for awhile before I went to bed, taking over his son’s bedroom (hahah!)

The next day:





​ Lavizan forest park – Sad’s family invites me to join them for iftar, where they ended their Ramadan fast at sunset for the day. With 8 of us (3 little ones) squeezed in a single car, we weaved our way uphill as the golden rays that spilled across our vision dissipated into brush strokes of pastel pink. As the coolness of dusk sets in, around us the sparklers and the coal of barbecue pits glowed gently. Coupled with the scurried footsteps of children and their shrieks, the scent of shisha, and the 11 of us crowded on on 2 huge, colourful patterned mats, these family chatters lit up the night.

Getting ready to drive out to Lavizan Forest Park!



I love, love staying with families. I remember lying trying some of the food (specially prepared in light of Ramadan) and drinking tea in the cool breeze. I remember many of the women and men praying, facing a particular direction, taking turns before they came back to eat.

I remember feeling the fatigue of the time difference and wanting to sleep (4.5 hours later in SG. By 11am I was feeling woozy with a 3.30am SG body clock and I couldn’t participate in conversation anymore, just lay down and slept until they woke me up to pack up HAHAHAH)

I looked briefly at the things I packed, as I repacked my bag and I shook my head and inwardly chuckled. Only a day and I’m asking myself, what was I thinking when I packed those clothes in? I had the notion that long-sleeved may have been fine, but it seems like beyond being covered to your ankles and wrists, tight-fitting clothes were also disapproved of. I did read about loose-fitting clothes, but I think it only occurred to me now that everyone had a long cloth that draped over their bodies. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised because I read about it. Fine, I’m a bad traveller who didn’t register thoroughly the cultural customs.
 
But basically, my short sleeves with cardigan idea wouldn’t work out. 
 
Things to check: 
– loose-fitting
– shawl that draped up to thigh-length to cover body
– sheerness of clothing
– shawl/hijab to cover hair 
 
So what happens if your clothing doesn’t meet the cut?
 
Well I think they’re kinder to foreigners, I don’t know.

 

But apparently there’s a ‘fashion police’ – they come around in white vans and if they see that your hair is out of place or something 


Iran 2017 – At a Glance

​Finally! My heart flutters with anticipation at stepping into a dense unknown. But I love how each uncertain experience eventually bursts open to bear a wealth of memories, lovingly tagged with cultural curiosities I never knew before.

– 4 June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 
These are some of my favourite pictures of Iran.
  • Other than CS hosts I had three random families that invited me in, two ice cream treats, a full day excursion, many chai and watermelon offers, a woman who got off at MY bus stop to walk and wait with me 15 minutes for my host. And did I mention a shopkeeper who called out ‘Welcome to Iran!’ and gifted me a pair of slippers my size? I had some concerns as a woman travelling Iran alone but seriously, I’ve really never been so loved as a tourist like I have been here ❤️ merci مرسی Ancient land of Persia 🇮🇷
As I write this and look back on these pictures in October, I do feel that I have returned home with a deeper understanding of the Middle East, the Muslim culture and hospitality, and a greater confidence in embarking on trips to unfamiliar places. It was a wonderful trip, from the beginning to the end, and probably my favourite solo trip, with all the people I met. I also returned with a greater inclination to explore the Caspian region. Thank you for broadening my world view. 🙂 I am tremendously blessed.

USD 121 = 167 sgd
+
Rials 8705k = 268usd = 371 sgd 
+ souvenirs 1000k = 31usd = 42 sgd
= about  420usd = 538sgd + 42 = 580 sgd
i used about 299usd out of my 220usd. means i used CZ about 79 usd.
leftover: 176k + 1000k + 1000k = 67usd = 93sgdAbout 1000$sgd in total, including return flight (Thai Airways)

At a glance:

reach tehran 2030
tehran
qom
kashan
isfahan
isfahan
yazd
shiraz
persepolis
tehran -> alamut
alamut
alamut
alamut – tehran 2200

 

                                                                                      

 

9. Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is this
Tel Aviv is this
Tel Aviv is this!
 
For me, Tel Aviv is Buzi swooping us away on an unexpected night of being high on cheers, and edible bbq sausages
rooftop bbq at 2am.
Oh right, and as Oren had pointed out, this.
Vastly different from Jerusalem indeed, I picture Oren shaking his head briefly.
Tel Aviv is clean, structured. Developed, I find myself thinking. Like Singapore. There is something familiar about Tel Aviv in that some parts of it were highly reminiscent of Singapore.
 
But of course there were other parts I liked about Tel Aviv that Singapore didn’t have. I liked the fact that the beach was so near to them – it was in the city! It felt like people could just come here to chill, they had so many places to take quiet walks with their friends. The beach was at their doorstep. I mean we have ECP etc but it’s so far, it feels so far. The beach here is like an hour away or something. So many people were hanging out there, not in beach clothes you know, just, hanging out. I am so envious, I would love this. People walking their dogs, taking slow walks. Slow dips perhaps in the summer. The sea breeze.
 
 
These pictures were taken along Jaffa Port, where many people simply stood and enjoyed the breeze
I was envious, I would love to have something like that (climate)
 
And the bicycle lanes, loved it. Such a great idea. We need to move towards this, we do!!!!! More bicycle lanes for us please.
 
And of course pretty graffiti, and flea markets. Very Europe. 
 
 

 

some proper food on the last days (lol)


 
And well, Israel flag hanging all around. I see it so often, I can’t help but think that they do have a strong sense of national pride. We hang our flags, but particularly during national day. This was like.. at the shops, on the cars, at the front of their houses, even part of the housing decor. Though I have to say the design of their flag and the soothing blue and white makes for a pretty decor. ‘Well when all the surrounding countries hate us, we only have ourselves.’ 

still my strongest memory of Tel Aviv:

 

 




Other notes that emerged in our conversations: Startups in Israel. Waze, etc. Einstein. More startups than Silicon Valley? Education system where they believe in their views. 

 

bread factory excursion. Hot and yummy bread (challah) is AWESOME!

 

 

huuuuge oven

 

 

 

8.1. Mar Saba Monastery, Bethlehem, Palestine

It’s been more than half a year since Bethlehem, Palestine. As I look at these pictures again, I am sometimes slightly surprised at how time flies, and these remain fresh in my memories, yet somewhat foreign. Sometimes I catch myself thinking – wow I was really there?

We met Khader, whom I contacted the night before, and arranged to meet outside of the Church of the Nativity. We split the petrol cost and he drove us to one of his favourite places – Mar Saba Monastery! I had read about it somewhere, and was open to any place anyway. It was lovely to have been there, we likely wouldn’t have visited it if we were on our own.

driving along the Judean desert

Tada – the desert monastery

We didn’t enter though, but took a short hike around the area.

‘Saba was further influential in reshaping the customs and living habits of the monks, and the monks of Mar Saba are reputed to live an especially strictly regulated life. Until today women are not allowed to enter the main compound and have only access to one building, referred to as the Women’s Tower.’



^ Hmm. Khader might have explained this, so we didn’t enter.


As I revisit these photos and look at this long empty stretch of road ahead, I think to myself: what if? What if we had been driven to a deserted land? In this vast and foreign space, calling out wouldn’t save us. But I left the contact with my sister, so I did have a backup plan. Of sorts.

But I’d say we were in good hands. If we had more time, we’d probably head to Jericho with Khader and his family. Someday, perhaps – you really never know.

The word Sumud ( in Arabic: ‫صمود‬‎‎) means “steadfast perseverance” and resilience. Our Palestinian friend from CS shows us around. He hopes we spread the word about the beauty Palestine has to offer to its visitors. ‘What do you think is one thing special about Palestine?’ I ask. He thinks for awhile. ‘The thing about Palestinians is that we never give up. We never give up.’
 

 

2. Dead Sea

An Iraqi mother and her 2 children were floating in the Dead Sea. The sun had set and it was raining, and the children were eventually lost. The civil defence forces arrived for rescue and one managed to grab hold of the 2 children; unfortunately the waves were too strong and they swept out of sight. The next morning they were found at the Israeli side of a resort, alive. They had drifted along with the current through the night. (Source: 2015 news – stories from our Jordanian host) 

Well I lost the photos from the first two days from my camera for some reason, sadly. 

I landed in Amman airport, lyn a day before. I waited for Mohammad at the airport. I was a little nervous, because of my text the night before, and also perhaps I carried with me a certain… impression of Arab men. I’m sorry, but let me acknowledge it here. I do. But Mohammad is definitely one person that helped me to reshape or rather broaden my perspective a bit. Of course he’s not like the other Jordanians, he’s a… generally more open-minded, more connected, able and willing to discuss issues. (I say this also because he’s the main Jordanian we hung out with, thus I may be mistaken when i say ‘more’).
I remember asking questions after questions (ahahahaha) and I’m trying to put into words now what were some things I learnt – i asked about honour killing (young members of the family to escape harsh jurisdiction), education, Amman as a medical hub, Israel (and his inability to get the visa despite applying 3 times + skewed (IHO) ‘peace’ agreement), complexities of dating a Jordanian woman (family, pressure, marriage, uncertainty in how to behave in a way that does not bring shame to her), gender issues (observable + haircut, etc), arranged marriage.
I saw the ‘religion’ channel on TV, in the hospital. 



Come to think of it, he’s the first Jordanian I’ve met in my life. 

Dead Sea – we managed to come up with a cost-free solution. Is it that Asians really love taking photos? What I mean is – is it fair for me to say it’s an Asian (cultural) thing? I do think so, but I’m not sure if i can necessarily pinpoint as that. It could be a social-media-generation thing. But then see Thailand, Russell (Philippines), …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On hindsight, what an honour to have visited this site. I count myself tremendously lucky. The dead sea! Afew years ago I’d never thought I’d get the chance to visit. I am tremendously lucky. I was bursting with excitement months before my trip, during my planning. It was more beautiful than i pictured it to be, more tranquil. We had the place to ourselves, the quiet. The mud, and the cool texture of it. Natural mud. The misty horizon. The smooth surface that a single stroke broke into a tremble of ripples.