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
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:
– 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