Thursday, June 17, 2004
I'm short on time, but thought I would post to say that I am now in Esfahan, in my opinion the most beautiful city in Iran.
I'll post more when I can.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
In my last post I wrote about a guy I met in Kermanshah who had excellent English thanks to his studying a ferocious amount. One of the areas that he spent a good deal of time was on learing slang as used in movies. He tended to use too much slang and I tried to correct him on using it too much but said it is very good to know what it means. As I have found elsewhere, some English students who watch lots of movies tend to swear quite a lot...this too I told him is not normal and while one might in some situations, when you are with people you don't know well it is always a bad idea.
Anyway, I just stumbled across this interesting article about slang and ESL students in the US.
One of the murals painted on the wall of the old US Embassy in Central Tehran
Kurdish men in Sanandaj
The museum here in Sanandaj -- he building is quite beautiful but unfortunately what is inside isn't worth much time.
Everything sounds so wonderful!
Guidebooks always make the mundane and normal sound good. It seems to me that when looking for the writers they look for people who like absolutely type of ‘attraction’ to be seen. It is practically incomprehensible for me that the same person would view such a wide array of different things with the same enthusiasm. Because of this, things are often made to sound just wonderful when in reality while they may be quite unique, they do not really do much for me. Such was the case at Taq-e Bostan (“one of the highlights of any visit to western Iran”), a set of carved alcoves.
More to my liking in Kermanshah was the Takieh Mo’aven ol-Molk – a building that commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein. It had that sort of characteristic Iranian look to it, covered with turquoise tiles, one room with stained glass windows that cast an array of colours on the floor and in the back, a courtyard garden in front of a few massive pillars and typical Islamic arches. The guard there, who served double-duty as a kind of groundskeeper, both jobs his tasking for his twenty-month compulsory military service, spoke excellent English. He said he had been learning English for only three years but for the first year spent six or seven hours a day practicing and now spends about two or three. After several days of not being able to speak to anyone, it was good to be able to spend a few hours speaking English without having to simplify my speech or slow down. I don’t mind simplifying my speech, speaking clearly and slowing down in order to make myself understood, but it is very trying to continue a conversation for any length of time while doing this. At the English language school where I was taken, the advanced students told me how it is practically impossible to get any new books in English and they must instead rely on reading only the classics which are permitted by the government here. Given that Iran is a great trademark and copyright infringer, I would have thought that someone would have managed to cater to this market.
Hollywood in Iran
The same students asked me if I had seen about a million different Hollywood films. I’m not a great movie-watcher, so I had not seen most of them. Many of the titles they mentioned were the kind that I sincerely believe are tailor made for markets outside North America and Europe...like Vertical Limit. Having spent some time in this part of the world before, I am aware of the way that some people here see America because of the movies they watch, and it is quite disturbing. For these guys at the English school, for example, they thought America is full of “dancing girls” and is “perfect and wonderful” but that everyone carries a gun and kids kill one another all the time. The conversation then turned to Bowling for Columbine. I assured them that Canadians do lock their doors most of the time and the oft-cited comparison between US and Canadian gun ownership statistics per capital being roughly equal is incorrect. Some Western women who I have talked to on my last trip to Iran and last year in Pakistan in particular said the not by any means universal but dangerously frequent feeling towards western women is that they are all like Christina Aguilera and Brittney Spears are in their latest music videos. I must emphasize that none of these attitudes I have reported here I suggest to be universal, but I have encountered them all enough times that it suggests they are common enough attitudes that they are cause for a bit of concern.
While I think of it, they all thought that it is wonderful that Arnold Schwarzenegger is now Governor of California.
The following day, Monday, I headed up here to Sanandaj. There is nothing really of interest as in some of the more popular places in the country. Perhaps this is why I have not seen another foreigner since I left Tehran. Not one. Generally I prefer places that aren’t overrun, but usually when there are no foreigners around at all, it is for good reason. For me though, after spending that brief period in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sanandaj is fairly interesting. And, despite there being no other foreigners in town and there not being any evidence of many coming through here at all, the people are quite friendly. In my experience, in places like this the fear of outsiders can often override the sense of curiosity among local people, but thankfully that is not the case here.
The Iranian Mullet
I got another haircut yesterday. The barber was blind. Maybe not actually blind, but my head sure looks as though he was. As was the case in Suli, the barber left too much on top – and after asking three times to trim it further, he finally tamed the beast and gave me a coif I can live with. Thankfully he didn’t give me a mullet, as they seem to be quite common here in Iran – and not the mini-mullet kind that unfortunately seemed to be putting the reputation of Montreal as a fashion/image-conscious city in jeopardy just before I left there in April. Somehow, some Iranian men get the same haircuts that some would have sported at home when Wayne Gretzky won his first Stanley Cup. It is quite funny to see a group of Iranian men standing on a street corner all dressed like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and with mullets like Mel Gibson had in Lethal Weapon One eyeing chador-wearing girls. I find it hard not to laugh when I see them comb out their wonderful mullets in the mirrors that line the walls of all the restaurants here in Iran. Seeing it just makes me want to sign them up for the Kiss Army.
So, next time a news program shows a street scene of Iran when and on account of the numerous mullets you think it must be file footage, think again.
And all those mullets just make me wonder if there are any mullettes lurking beneath those chadors.
I plan on leaving here Wednesday morning and making my way to Esfahan, perhaps with a stop on the way. After that I plan on heading back up to Tehran.
A Breath of Fresh Air
I wrote this post this past Saturday evening
My throat feels clearer and cleaner after having left Tehran. When you are in the city the pollution does not seem to be as oppressive as it certainly seems now that I am away from it.
I spent a week in Tehran – for me, quite a long time to spend in one place while traveling. The city doesn’t seem to have had any real plan for development and it seems as though the transportation infrastructure in particular has been organized by scores of people, none of them talking to one another. The metro system is great in the places it goes to, but doesn’t really cover much ground, and the areas it does cover are adequately covered by surface busses which run most of the way in their own lanes. In fact, just about where the metro ends, above ground the bus lanes end as well, getting anywhere outside the real core of the city via public transport a real chore. One day in the process of navigating my way around somewhere in the sprawl of north-east Tehran, I fell into a deep whole left by road works. Thankfully I wasn’t seriously injured and could have inflicted some serious injuries on myself if it weren’t for the wooden pallet which I had stepped on to cross the hole grabbing my torso after the rest of my body went through. The scrapes are still visible, but thankfully I didn’t end up at the bottom of the ten or twelve foot deep hole. I will be returning to Tehran before too long, though.
I decided to leave such danger behind and make my way to Hamadan, about five hours from Tehran by bus. I had not been out this way last time in Iran and had the impression it was a bit of a hidden gem. Hardly. The site has a good history, but most of it is buried beneath the present city. The central square, predictably called Imam Khomeini square is ringed by some nice buildings and was covered in picnickers when I arrived Friday evening, making it feel quite welcoming. But, once most were back to business on Saturday morning, the city was left to stand on its own and with only a few unremarkable monuments, had little to keep me interested. Ibn Sina, commonly known in the West as Avicenna, and a man whose work I do my best to respect and admire despite being subjected to torturous ‘lectures’ (cough…make that reading from notes) this past winter, has a monument close to the centre of the city.
The traditional male Kurdish clothing I saw in Iraqi Kurdistan is visible on some men in Hamadan. They became more and more visible as I moved Saturday afternoon from Hamadan to Kermanshah, another three hours or so away from Tehran, moving towards Iraq. The signs on the highway marking the distance to Karbala begin between Kermanshah and Hamadan, as Iranians routinely make the pilgrimage to the shrine there. Kermanshah is a much larger city than Hamadan, but with the same sort of atmosphere I found in Hamadan. This evening a Kurdish man was very impressed that I knew all of two words in Kurdish (‘zhor’ [very] and ‘spass’ [thanks]) and couldn’t believe that I knew what the sole of his typical Kurdish canvas shoes were made of. His friendliness was much appreciated as I have not yet been struck by Iranian hospitality on this trip as I was on the last. Of course, to characterize the people I’ve talked to and dealt with as unfriendly would be unfair, but while I was in awe of the overwhelming sense of hospitality and welcoming atmosphere amongst Iranians on my last trip here, so far I wouldn’t have as positive comments.
Off the ‘trail’?
Perhaps this can be explained by my different route this time around, as both in Hamadan and Kermanshah the people seem to be deeply suspicious of foreigners and I have not yet seen any other foreigners in either city. The vast majority of tourists in Iran take a tour of the cities and sights I saw last time around, a good number of them transiting between Turkey and Pakistan. Hamadan and Kermanshah are off that main trail which goes directly south from Tehran to Esfahan, and many avoid Tehran altogether or spend just a short time there as I did last time. I certainly hope that it is an unfamiliarity with foreigners in these cities off that trail that is the cause of my different impression on this visit.
Monday, June 14, 2004
Back in Kurdistan!
...Iranian Kurdistan that is, in a city called Sanandaj.
I was pleased to leave Tehran for Hamadan last Friday morning. I noticed quie a difference when climbing stairs once I got to Hamadan -- the air is quite polluted in Tehran but hadn't really been too bothered by it while there.
Hamadan was largely disappointing. There is a monument to Ibn Sina (Avicenna) who I learned to despise thanks to a course I took this past semester. From Hamadan I moved on to Kermanshah, further to the West. On the road to Kermanshah the signs begin marking the distance to Karbala, but thankfully given the situation there at the moment, the sign just outside of Kermanshah said Karbala was another 500km away.
Kermanshah has a significant Kurdish population and on the way there from Hamadan the traditional dress of the men and women became more and more visible.
I've now come up to Sanandaj, north of Kermanshah. This city is almost completely Kurdish and quite obviously so when one walks through the streets. All the shopkeepers I've dealt with do are quite surprised when I thank them in Kurdish.
There should be some photos posted below. I tried to get more up but for some reason, internet explorer keeps on crashing on me. Damn PCs.
Hamadan's Jameh (Friday) Mosque
Hamadan's Imam Khomeini Square
The Martyr's Museum in Tehran