Tehran Continued

Across the road from the old American Embassy are a number of souvenir shops. We entered several of them, looking for a present for Devrim and Efkan for the occasion of their wedding that we both missed. We decided on a copper vase coated in white porcelain with a traditional blue pattern. This handicraft is famous in Isfahan.

We took a modern taxi (most taxis are old) ride back to Khomeini Square. On the way we passed a church. At a pharmacy we couldn’t find an Iranian brand of condoms for Karin’s boyfriend in Istanbul. Surprisingly, condoms are openly on display in Iranian pharmacies. We felt embarrassed leaving the pharmacy after only gawking at the condoms, all of which were international brands.

At a nearby juice shop we drank fresh mango, pineapple and banana juice. Next to us was an Indian who lived and worked in Tehran. Unlike most foreigners in Iran, it was not so easy to pick him out. On another occasion in Tehran we saw a Sikh man and woman – they were easy to spot!

To get to Cafe Naderi, next to the hotel of the same name, we walked past the British Embassy again. According to the Lonely Planet, the local intellectuals come to this cafe. Althought the seats and tables did remind us of a school cafeteria, the cafe did exert a certain element of coolness. I enjoyed the Turkish coffee, cake and just sitting, relaxing in such a ‘wow’ city and location. Karin did not find her filter coffee to her liking although the addition of a substantial amount of milk made the flavour quite palatable in my opinion. The cafe has a restaurant next door although we did not venture there to try their meals. In the male toilet, outside, at the back and right side of the cafe, I used something I never witnessed anywhere else in Iran – a pisser. For those not in the know, a pisser is the individual porcelain bowl anchored to the wall for males to urinate into. I was 10 or 11 when I first remember seeing one of these in the local Catholic church toilets. I don’t know why pissers are not common in Iran.

The cafe was closing and we left to walk back to the hostel. On the way we walked past a transvestite! I did not get a good look at him/her/it but Karin saw the lipstick, make-up, the whole lot. Doesn’t quite fit the stereotypes of Iran, does it?

This is what I love about large cities – there is a large variety of people and styles. ‘Different’ people can fit in, in such cities.

We stopped at a newspaper stand to look at some local publications. As well as the daily English-language newspapers, we bought some Farsi newspapers and several Farsi magazines. The most interesting magazine was a women’s sewing magazine. All the models wore hats or similar covering their heads. For evening dresses and other clothes that would normally expose their shoulders, arms and lower legs, the models wore a skin-tight layer of tops and bottoms that covered these parts. Visible on one of the dresses the model’s left nipple indentation. Iranian porn!

Another interesting fact, in my opinion, is all the women featured were ‘old’ compared to equivalent western magazines. I guess mid-30’s. The cultural inference with having an older woman is, I believe, she is married and she is not ‘selling herself’ like could be seen with a younger model as used in western magazines. What I just mentioned could also be rubbish and the women models were mid-30’s because this was the same age as the target group of the magazine. Like in western magazines, the women were thin. This sewing magazine was rather expensive for Iran, at 25,000 rials (USD$3).

Back at the hostel I used the Internet before going to bed. Microsoft Word on the hostel computer was very frustrating as it was the Farsi version. Of course I could write in Latin script, but the line breaks were on the left of the page and the script kept reverting back to Farsi.

Some general points I had written down in my diary at this stage of my trip

-All the lemons were uniformly small (like a giant olive) and most were light green in colour.

-Ice is still delivered to many businesses. Large, long and square in circumference pieces of ice were common on the city streets in Iran, especially in the morning.

-Several (most?) TV’s still retained their stickers on the screens like when they were new. Even the in train stations. It must be of some imortance or status to keep the sticker there as it impedes the view of the top of the screen.

-As expected, Tehran is more sophisticated than the rest of the country. A greater variety of people and shops and a more liberal dress were displayed. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit Northern Tehran where the rich and liberal elite live. I would have liked to spend a few hours in the cafes and parks there on a summer evening.

-Many aspects of the India<->Turkey influence are visible from the food, spices, fruit, people, culture, etcetera. I find fascinating the variations and shared influences between the countries across this part of the world.

-Almost all police cars are new shape, white Mercedes-Benz sedans. I find this an outrageous expenditure for a poor country. I’m sure the government received a good deal from MB but I can’t imagine how many jobs could be created with the money in lieu of these cars. One local said the cars were bought because they would be faster than the criminals.

-In the heat of the early afternoon many shops and people take a ‘siesta’ and close for 3, 4 or 5 hours before opening again in the late afternoon. Eminently sensible, particularly in desert places like Yazd.

-Small water channels were located on the roadsides in all the cities visited. I’m not sure of the exact purpose(s) of such channels. If somebody said they were sewers I would believe based solely on the smell although I did not see any physical evidence of sewerage.

-The largest note in Iranian money is the 20,000 rial, also known as 2,000 tomans and 2 Khomeinis. Its value is about USD$2.30. This note was only introduced in the past year or so and is uncommon. In fact, we only saw the note once in the whole trip when a money-changer was going to give us a few 20,000’s. Instead, we accepted 10,000’s. Given the low value, large bundles of 10,000’s are common.

-Even though we were both from Australia (During the last half of the trip Karin said she was from Australia as it fitted with our ‘marriage’) not one person mentioned anything about Australia’s involvement in ‘TWAT’ (the war against terror). People, men in particular, were far more likely to mention the final qualifying game for the 1998 soccer world cup between Australia and Iran. The winner of the 2 match home and away series would win entry to the world cup. The first game in Tehran was a 1-1 draw – a satisfactory result for a Australia as the team may not have survived if they had won in Tehran 😉

At the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the second game, Iran came from 0-2 down to draw 2-2 and win the series on the away-goals rule. I laughed and shared the joke when Iranians mentioned this game. As an aside, Australia was the only undefeated side in the 1998 world cup yet they did not qualify for the finals.

-No smoking areas are common, including cafes and other businesses. I hardly recall seeing one such area in Turkey.

-The tap water is drinkable everywhere. Public water stations are provided on virtually every street. I’m sure many of them are provided by people and businesses out of their generosity.

Stay tuned for Tehran 3