A Travellerspoint blog

Money, money, money


View 2005 Iran on alexchan's travel map.

large_5550_11661283402238.jpgThat's about 100 US dollars. This is the largest commonly available note, the 10,000 Rials (about USD1.10). Some people call it "one Khomeini", but that's not very practical as other denominations also carry his portrait.

My two complete weeks in Iran cost me USD450 excluding international and domestic airfares. Half of that was accommodation as I wasn’t exactly roughing it … I involuntarily had 3 nights in a 4-star establishment including breakfast!

Domestic airfares are quite cheap at less than USD30 per flight. So I had six of those!

Iran is very much a cash society despite having ATMs and credit cards now, foreign-issued cards are totally useless. When cashing USD100 one gets 90 x IRR10,000 notes. That’s quite a stack and once I didn’t bother counting it … terrible I know! But fortunately they’re mostly machine-counted with the read-out facing the customer. Close to the end of my trip I realised that IRR20,000 notes existed but are rare.

Petrol has gone up 25% since our last visit 2.5 years ago. It is now a whopping USD0.10 per litre, subsidised by the government. Very benevolent … also, no tax on salaries I was told.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

Mak1ng L0ve in the Park; Man Eats Dog!


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large_5550_11661284976033.jpgView of Tehran from its northern suburbs, on my outing with my med student friend.
Let me tell you about my outing with the medical student I met on the flight to Iran … He took me out to one of the typical hill-parks in the north of Tehran, ie. teahouses dotted amongst green wooded parks which extend up into the barren slopes which will soon snow-bound.

Naturally we drank tea, people-watched and chatted:

· As we walked close to a pretty duck-pond, he said “This is where people come to make l0ve in the park”. Before I could blush, I realised couples were only holding hands and gazing into each others eyes.

· On the sight of the only dog I saw in Iran I said “Because you’re Muslim you won’t know that Dog is hot food” (refer Yin and Yang blog). To my surprise, he told me that he had tried dog once! I couldn’t resist asking if it was halal slaughtered! Do two wrongs make a right? ie. non-halal slaughter of a prohibited food.

· However, he had never eaten pork (unclean like dogs in Islam) because there are no pigs in Iran. I explained that pork is so-so but he must try bacon.

· Inflation in Iran is very high and “interest” (sic) at the bank is around 20%. Of course it isn’t really interest (prohibited in Islam) but dividend or profit-share. Interestingly (no pun intended), I had learned from a traveller that interest is a no-no for Christians too (in Exodus and Deuteronomy). Oh, how we have strayed!

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

Ramblings on Iran


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large_5550_11661356227289.jpgSean Connery.

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Sean Connery and the great leader. Tell me ... are there similarities between these two faces? ... Sean Connery [http://img.stopklatka.pl/filmowcy/00200/00245/0.jpg] and this [http://www.iran-daily.com/1384/2288/html/023805.jpg].

Personal Choices and Dress Code

Due to its less than benevolent (or fair) government, Iran seems synonymous with oppression.large_5550_11661356274233.jpgThe great leader. See the similarity? However, the look and feel of the country isn’t too different from others in the region … many prohibitions parallel social norms but the key difference is that people don’t have a choice, eg. the prohibition of alcohol and dress codes for both men and women.

Choice is a tricky thing … Where I grew up, it was traditional for unmarried Dayak women to be topless in the longhouses. With globalisation, few (if any) would do this now but nevertheless the choice is no longer there due to legal and decency considerations. Choices now appear limited to what’s considered acceptable from a Western (or Islamic) view.

In Yazd, I went out one evening in calf-length shorts after consulting some locals at my hotel. Well, I certainly drew some stares! I incrementally lowered the waist down to my hips to cover my lower legs. Sitting down further enhanced my exposure! Fortunately I didn’t require a second visit to the police station.

The Iranian dress-code for women is falling victim to the success of the Islamic Revolution! The Revolution (and dress code) boosted the female literacy rate because rural parents were no longer apprehensive about sending their girls to schools and universities (whereas the Shah prohibited the headscarf … talk about choice or lack thereof). The highly-literate young are now pushing the boundaries in all facets of life, including dress code.

Religious Freedom

On another issue of choice … religious freedom. It is hard to know who to believe:

· I met a Zoroastrian who described South African styled discrimination about 20 years ago, eg. separate buses and drinking fountains for Zoroastrians in his town.

· I then met some Bahais (breakaway from Islam) who are discriminated in all walks of life, eg. denied public tertiary education, government employment and their traditional burial. They are the most oppressed group and dispute the severity of the discrimination against groups like Zoroastrians.

· The medical student I met explained that Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians (but not Sunni Muslims or Bahais) are represented in the Majlis or legislative assembly (3, 1 and 1 reserved seats respectively). Their representation exceeds their proportion in the population but I suspect it achieves little in practice.

· And on my first visit to Tehran, I noticed more churches than mosques while on the highway. This trip, I dined at the Armenian Club which as a Christian establishment did not have to comply with the dress code. Of course the government bars Muslims from entering these premises.

· Fortunately for the minorities, there isn’t a requirement for Muslims to adopt Muslim (Arab-derived) names. So many Iranians regardless of religion use traditional Persian (secular) names … a very pretty name “Mozhgan” means eyelashes (but in practice sometimes accompanied by very strong eyebrow …yes, one big one with two indistinguishable halves)

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

Near the Caspian Sea


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large_5550_11661285223917.jpgCity of Rasht.
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Rasht, near the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea, is the home of caviar. This is a very green and wet part of Iran ... the scenery is like a mix of England, Sri Lanka and Bali rolled up together with wooded areas, tea plantations and rice paddies (respectively).

Using Rasht [Rasht-travel-guide-850328] as a base, I went to Masouleh [http://www.mojesafar.com/IMAGES/places/masouleh-descr.jpg](a pretty mountain town) and Bandar Anzali (Caspian sea port). I must say the Caspian looks pretty awful and black ... maybe that's how caviar gets its colour. But I understand it gets worse in Azerbaijan (the country, rather than the Iranian province of the same name).

While it is nice here, I don't like the humidity and I haven't been struck with the rich cultural experience that I've had in Mashhad [Mashhad-travel-guide-1309103] and Yazd. So I'm moving on one day earlier to Tehran. Iranians think I'm mad because they all love the rain and humidity in Rasht.

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Aerobics, camel for lunch and Yin-Yang


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large_5550_11661279917687.jpgThe zurkhaneh is the most unusual sight ... a blend of chanting, exercise, bell, drums ... gym meets religion. Stranger still letting paying spectators in!
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Aerobics Iran Style

The weirdest sight I witnessed in Iran is the Zurkhaneh [http://www.jolyonpatten.com/main/images/Iran/zurkhaneh_1.jpg]

. It is like aerobics and weights done with Islamic chanting (complete with drums and bells). Weirder still is that they allow tourists to watch for a small fee ... now imagine if your gym sold tickets for people to watch you work out! Hhmm ... perhaps if it subsidised the membership fee it would be OK. Anyway, the men wear leather pants and the audience interject with occasional murmurs to to God, Mohammad or Ali (the Prophet)

Camel for lunch

I missed the slaughter of some camels for Imam Mahdi's birthday.large_5550_11661284683419.jpgCamels outside the butcher shop.It would NOT have been something I would have enjoyed but I still wouldn't mind seeing it as it was for food rather than for fun (eg. like bull-fighting).

* Women, children and tourists were herded onto rooftops to avoid the spray!
* The Irish lawyer said the animal died a slow painful death with the noise being worse than the spray of blood everywhere.
* However, two Dutch vegetarians said the two jugular slits did the job quite quickly … the way it was meant to be with the Halal requirements. Halal slaughter also means that all blood should be drained off the meat before consumption.

I did try some camel meatballs (mixed with beef) in a delicious walnut and pomegranate sauce (fesenjan). Yumm!

"Yin & Yang"

Here's a blog specially for Chinese readers ...

I was told that my kebab was a mix of beef and camel; pure camel would be too "hot". Further discussions revealed that Persians believe in "hot" and "cold" food just like the Chinese. Eg. Mangoes, meat and especially chocolate are hot but tea and beer are cold.

This one is so subtle but so precisely the same between both cultures ... sugar is hot but rock-sugar is cold. The more obvious ones are similar too ... chocolates are so hot they'll cause pimples and give you sore throat; drinking ice water is bad for you.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

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