I got up this morning and piddled around, checking my email and showing Mr. M how to use Firefox. I had a nice breakfast of tea, fried eggs, goat’s cheese and bread. I wrote some mails and tried to catch up on my journal. I also wrote up this blog post:
I have put together a small list of my impressions since I have been in Tehran:
Deathrace 1384 Tehran is a HUGE mess of a city. The traffic is insane... imagine Cambodian traffic in 10 years when their population explodes and everyone has a car. It is bumper to bumper from morning till night. I was stuck in traffic at 1PM on a weekday... there were only 5 lanes but cars were lined up 8 abreast! It is not uncommon to see someone back up right in the middle of the street, and stop lights are rare. Tehran is full of traffic lights: the top and bottom lights blink alternatively with the middle light, and all three lights are yellow!! Gas costs only 9 cents a liter due to heavy government subsidies. And then of course there are the pedestrians, standing in the middle of traffic with their hand out playing a deadly game of chicken. Insane.
Viva the revolution! HACK ... Cough ... Here’s a tip: when going out into the streets try not to breathe. Due to all the traffic (see above), air quality is extremely terrible, especially in southern Tehran, in the Hood where I am staying. Oh, by the way, this tip is not just for when you are walking around, it is also applicable for when riding in vehicles too. Since most taxis are ancient Paykans and have no aircon the drivers keep the windows rolled down the whole time. Spending half the day outside gives me a pollution-induced headache. It also doesn’t help that the air is filled with dust either.
Plastic Palm Trees and Fiber-optic Fireworks Sounds like a Phillip K. Dick novel right? I wonder what it is about opressive regimes and town squares filled with really ugly fiber-optic fireworks and neon palm trees that light up at night. I saw this phenomenon throughout China as well. Well, at least now I can be sure that they don’t need that Bushehr reactor for nuclear weapons, they need to light up their town squares!
Don’t go for the eyes! Iranian women are HOTT!! I am sorry, but they are too fine. Since they cover up pretty much everything they spend a lot of time on the face. And they are beautiful! The best though is their eyes, dark and powerful than can bore through you like a laser. Don’t get caught in their gaze! I’m warning you! By they way, did I mention I think Iranian chicks are hot?
The palace, the market and the mosque
I was sitting in the office checking the news etc when August walked in. He brought with him a travel itinerary for the upcoming week. Starting on Saturday we would fly to Shiraz, see Persepolis and the sights; drive to Cyrus’s Tomb, then onto Yazd to see the sights; then to Isfahan for two days, then up to Kashan for some desert camping. All this for $800USD. I declined saying that I only brought $900USD and could not afford such a trip. He seemed kind of vexed, like all foreigners should have way more than that. I told him I would be willing to spend $500-600, and to please come up with a tour for that. He made a few phone calls and we waited.
In the meantime we decided to go to the bazaar. August was looking really tired and worn out, probably due to all the fasting, so I suggested just taking it easy and going only to the mosque. He declined and we got into a taxi for the bazaar.
As we were driving August pointed out Golestan Palace, an 19th C structure built up by Nasser al-Din Shah (1848-96) on the site of a much older Safavid citadel. August told the taxi driver to stop. We were stopped at the gates of the palace by an old caretaker. It seemed that the palace was closed today, but with a 500 toman tip (50 cents) the old guy let us walk around the grounds.
The Shah was very impressed by his visits to Europe, thus the grounds house many different European-style art galleries. The gate opens up to a long and narrow pool (now empty) leading up to the square-faced, symmetrical palace. To the left and right of the building are art galleries, old offices and living quarters. The palace is much smaller than it once was, as the Pahlavi’s tore down many of the surrounding structures.
The main attraction of this palace is the open-faced audience hall in the center of the building, overlooking the pool and the gate straight down the road to the bazaar. The alcove’s walls are covered with mirrors, and houses a throne made of 65 pieces of alabaster, with carved humans acting as supports. The throne was made in 1801 for Fath Ali Shah who fathered 170 children with more than 200 wives. Directly in front of the throne, just before the long pool begins is a small oval pool where 3 huge swans were swimming. One walked up to us looking for a bite to eat.
We walked around the right side of the building and came to three little alcoves, one containing another throne-like object, one a small fountain and the last housing the tomb of Nasser al-Din Shah.
Tomb of the Qajar King
We wandered around for a bit then left the palace grounds and headed to the bazaar.
The bazaar was even more chaotic than the rest of Tehran. It was separated into different goods such as jewels, watches, home appliances, clothing, fabric, tools, etc. It was much more permanent than the bazaars I saw in Chinese Turkestan. Each little kiosk had its own hole in the wall with garage door-style shutter for closing time. The bazaar sprawled in many directions, was mostly covered, and housed many banks, and smaller trading squares and caravanserais (a way-station for camel caravans consisting of guest rooms facing inward to a courtyard).
While in the carpet market we got into a conversation with a dealer who was moving to Canada. He asked what would be the best city to move to and what kind of clothing he should pack. He showed me a pamphlet for the 2004 Carpet Convention in Los Angeles that had a big picture of Arnie and Maria on the cover.
We wandered through the narrow alleys and finally made our way out to a large street where we got into a packed shared taxi. The traffic was terrible, and we were at a standstill. August and the other passengers closed their eyes to catch some sleep.
We got out of the taxi somewhere far in the south of Tehran. Walking along the streets we could see people lining up at holes in the wall waiting for fresh bread. It was less than an hour until today’s fast ended. I could see August was starving. I was feeling pretty drained, but I had breakfast at 10AM so was in much better shape than August.
We stopped in front of a herbal medicine store on the corner of some street, and August explained to me that this store had been standing for almost 100 years. It was owned by his friend who he went to school and the military with.
We walked in
Once back at the hotel I sat down in the lounge and got to meet some of the other travelers.
Maso A Hue from Xinjiang who speaks Chinese, English, Thai and Arabic. A clothing trader looking for business opportunities primarily on the duty-free island of Kish. Spent a year trading in Thailand. He conversed with the Nigerian fellows in Arabic.
Jan A Swedish traveller. Only met him for like 5 minutes. He was kind enough to invite me to go with him to the mountains. I had plans and couldn’t go.
Swiss Backpacker Dude This guy and his girlfriend are driving across Iran to Pakistan. They came from Switzerland through Italy, ferried to Greece, drove through Turkey and came to Iran just yesterday. They want to stay in their car so the manager made a deal so they could use the showers here and park in the Khayyam Hotel’s lot. Typical backpacker. I didn’t even ask his name.
Majid An automobile electrician. He was a local, worked part time as a driver for the hotel to pay off his car. Twin brother of the hotel manager. Spoke English quite well and was computer literate. He is recently married and has a 15 month old baby. We went for a walk to the convenience store and ended up standing by his car in front of his relatives home talking for an hour. He told me much about normal Iranians. He makes about $150USD/month, which isn’t enough to pay off the 4 year old Paykan he bought. I asked him about the problem of so many dangerous old polluting cars on the streets and he told me that the the government had made a new law starting next year that will keep cars over 30 years old off the road. That means every year thousands of cars will be off Iranian streets. Also, by the end of the year Paykans will no longer be produced.
I asked him if it would be difficult for people to buy new cars to replace there old Paykans. Apparently it is hard for a normal Iranian to pay in installments, which is a must when you are buying a $7000 car on a $150/mo. salary. On the black market you can get payment plans, but end up paying much more. Majid is lucky because his wife works at a bank and has government connections. Government employees have no problems getting a payment plan.