(The omission was too glaring and that simply add to the unfairness of the whole affair. Image source: http://www.slate.com)
Well, it finally happened – that “The Apprentice” guy, Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States of America on 20th January 2017.
So it was not a big surprise when Trump decided to “shake” things down once he had officially taken office – Trump have been talking about throughout his election campaign. And that includes his promise to build the wall against Mexico (funding aside) and stopping people from certain countries entering the country.
The mornings here can be cold – too cold to be standing by the window and see the motion that is taking place at the clean lonely streets below.
(This shot was taken at about 6.30 am – I had just came out from a warm shower and decided to check out the horizon – there is always interesting to see the sunrise. Sometimes on different days, there different colour and pattern)
(The sun is almost up but was gladly blocked by a building – the mountain at far looks spectacular)
(The same photo as the first with some changes to the photo temperature and added vignetting effect, thanks to pointers from Visithra from V-Eyez Imagery)
But it is one of the best spot to be standing for a beautiful sunrise over the horizon (sunsets are on the other side of the apartment).
I have plenty of high resolution photos taken for my photoblog which will be promptly updated in due time.
I first learned about bazaars when I watched the Travel series on the Discovery Channel and I first experienced a real bazaar when I was in Bangkok couple of years ago. Basically it was a modernised flea market and much updated for foreign tourists. Not exactly a traditional kind of bazaar that one was looking for.
(Tightly packed shops on the left and right but the items on sales not necessarily old and ancient)
But we heard that there is a traditional bazaar in the Iran and it is just a metro-travel away, we decided to check it out on one of the weekends. The nearest metro station was almost a kilometre walk away from our house. So one fine cold morning, we got dressed in thick clothes, packed water and camera and started to walk to towards the nearest metro station.
The thing about the general rule about photographing in Iran is that you can take photo if it is expressly allowed so. I have lost count of the times when we were asked not to take photographs (very politely and with a smile) by the authorities. So photography becomes the exception rather than the general rule (a far cry compared to Malaysia where we loved to be photographed).
So, since we do not want to run into any problems, we usually opt out from photographing anything and everything that we see (missing a lot of unique photo opportunities) and we only do it if it is safe to do so or we have gotten the necessary permission. So, photographing the inside of the metro station was out of the question but we were highly impressed with the metro system in Iran here.
(Metro ticket – fast and efficient)
At first, the layout of the station is simple and easy even for foreigners like us. We went to the ticket counter, mentioned the station that we wanted to go (to get the station name, we just googled the metro’s website and the names are laid out clearly in English), mention whether we wanted a one way or two way ticket, paid the cash, get the ticket, swipe it over the electronic gate and walk on to the platform.
Iranian metro trains are super efficient – there are plenty of cabins and trains arrives and departs on time. Most of the time, the cabins are full but when we went on that particular date, we found enough space to stand at one corner (or perhaps we were foreigners and the locals were kind enough to squeeze some space for us). After almost 6 stations, we arrived at the station that we wanted to go.
As we walk out from the metro station which is located underground, we can feel the strong cold breeze flushing in from the outside. We walked out and make a couple of turns, we arrived at the bazaar.
(The entrance to the bazaar – nothing strange from the outside. Note the crowd at the entrance)
There is one main entrance at the bazaar and there a big different it makes when one moves from the outside to the inside. On the outside, it is covered by a rather modern building but in the inside, one is transformed to an old looking bazaar. The walkway moves from the outside and moves along a huge tunnel. On the left and the right of the walkway, there is nothing but shops. The bazaar as whole is huge and somehow divided into different area of produce – carpets on one side, lamps on another side, electrical goods and souvenirs and so on.
But the problem here in the bazaar which becomes self evident is that it is not so friendly to foreign tourists – no sign boards in English, photographers is looked rather suspiciously and there was no indication whatsoever as to where the bathrooms is!. My friend actually had to go one of the carpet shops to use the bathrooms (we had to walk along some deserted lanes to reach this shop – we were expecting to be jumped by a gang of bandits, waiting for the unexpected foreigners at the corner of the alley but luckily it ended as nothing but our wildest imagination) .
(The tunnel and the crowd and somewhere in between “speedy” Gonzales! Noticed the many strange look as I was taking this shot)
Compared to “bazaar” in Bangkok, there are more people here in the Bazaar here and everyone seems to be on the move to somewhere. If we stop to snap some photos or to look at the produce sold in the shops, we find ourselves being pushed around by this large human traffic. If that is not enough, we also have to confront the goods handlers who busy with sending the goods from the outside and to the shops. We almost got run over by these goods handlers on a number of times and thankfully we were quick enough to move out from the way in time. With an uneven walkway (seems to be made from big rough tiles), the act of avoiding “speedy” Gonzales on goods carts makes it even more tricky.
(We loved the interior decorations on the wall and ceiling. The clock reminded of the clock that we used to see in the old train stations)
One of the things that we noticed immediately when we are in the inside of the bazaar is the architecture – something on the wall and ceiling spelt ancient architecture and history. And we managed to find some quiet spot where there was less people to allow us to snap some photos on a more leisurely pace.
We must have walked about in the bazaar for almost an hour (we managed to buy some things in the process) before realising that we were both hungry and tired. We walked out, only to be greeted by small children begging and people trying to sell small items – we decided to have our lunch at one of the nearest “sandwich” (what else?) shop. The good thing was the “chief” waiter spoke some English which made it easier to confirm and order our lunch (the menu was all in local language).
By the time we came back home tired, it was almost time for dinner time.
Whenever I am on an overseas assignment, I have always stayed in a hotel.
(The service apartment that I stayed in Bangkok, overseeing the Chao Praya river – so far one of the best of all the ‘hotels’ that I have stayed)
I have stayed in 4 star hotels and I have also stayed in “rumah tumpangan” alike cheap hotels. It all depends on the country, budget and time frame of my stay.
Staying in a hotel has its perks – security, room service, regular house keeping, in-house laundry service, cable TV and concierge services. Nothing beats the comfort of having someone to do some work for you with a smile after a long day at work. For some hotels which have restaurant and pubs, it is blessing in disguise – we don’t have to walk far for food or beer and if we get so drunk, bed is just couple of steps away.
However Iran proved to be a challenge on itself – they do have good hotels (so I was made to believe) but we decided to rent an apartment instead. It was cheaper and big enough to accommodate all of us. Besides, it is a good place to stay in especially on cold nights and we have a fully furnished kitchen to do our cooking when it is just too cold to venture out especially for dinner.
However, staying in an apartment proved to be a challenge and the main three ones are:-
1. Own Housekeeping
That’s right – no room service to turn up your bed or to vacuum the carpet or to clean the bathroom. We have to do it ourselves.
We could always hire someone to do the cleaning for us. It cost about R200,000 but after looking at the quality of cleaning (the cleaner just do ‘touch and go’ kind of cleaning and asks us to provide meals for them), we decided to do it ourselves. It is cheaper and much cleaner if we do it ourselves. However for all the guys in the apartment, doing housework is something alien to them. Some of us have not lifted a finger to do housework when we are back in Malaysia.
But here in Iran, we not only have to vacuum the carpet but we also have to mop the floor, wash the bathroom, clean the table tops and chairs, clean the windows and kitchen. That itself takes at least 3 – 4 hours to complete and by the time we finished, we are almost dropping death from tiredness (salute our wives and moms to be doing the housework on daily basis!). Of course, we wished to have cold beers after a hard day house work but this is Iran where the only beer that we get is the non-alcoholic beer.
So house cleaning is one chore that we wish to put off for next week or the week thereafter.
(Here is another room from my stay in Bangkok – 2 separate beds for one person and this even nearer to a large supermarket and a famous red light area)
2. Own washing
Thankfully we have laundrette nearby so that it was a big relieve when it comes to washing our clothes. It is not cheap but we rather get our shirts and pants washed at the laundrette than trying to do it on our own and get crumpled shirts and pants (not mentioning, not properly washed clothes – sorry but we simply don’t have the patience).
However, we decided to wash smaller items like our undies, handkerchiefs and socks on our own (perhaps to save some money or to get some exercise or to avoid the lady at the local laundrette from freaking out seeing our “rainbow” coloured undies, I don’t really know).
For that very reason, I brought extra, extra undies, socks and handkerchiefs for this trip but there is always a day in the week where I need to soak them in soap water and wash them (we don’t have a washing machine since we have laundry service). Washing is the difficult part but drying is not. The air in Iran is so dry that a fully wet towel will be bone dry within several hours.
3. Own cooking
We have a fully furnished kitchen so we do try our hands on some bachelor alike messy cooking (in other words, plenty of frying foodstuffs like eggs, sausages, nuggets, etc). As much as possible, we try to eat out but eating out is a big problem here – 1. There is not much choice (almost every restaurants has the same menu – sandwich, pizza, fried chicken, sandwich, pizza, sandwich, pizza…you get the idea) and 2. Sometimes it is too cold to venture out – we can hardly walk out couple of meters without freezing our “…toot…” off.
If it has been a hotel, we just need to pick up the phone and call for room service but in this apartment, we need to pick up the frying pan and decide what to fry for dinner. Once in a while we try to be creative and quite often the taste becomes unbearable. We have to swallow our pride and eat as if it is very tasty when fellow colleagues comes over, look at our messed up creation and asked “how’s the taste?” in a “fear factor” look in their eyes.
Staying in a hotel is good but so does staying in an apartment when one needs to do their own washing, cooking and cleaning. Damn, what I am saying here? I miss hotel life….sob
It looks like beer, it smells like beer and the people are drinking as it is beer but certainly it is not beer.
(Great stuff from Holland!)
Iran, I guess is the second country that I have been to without any drop of cold beer. Brunei was the other country although I could have brought a crate of beer after declaring to the customs. Interestingly there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks from local and European breweries to choose from here. And the drinks which come in many colourful can also come in many flavours – plain, lemon, apple, etc. And here is one part of the drinking “style” that I found very peculiar in a country who not only allows anyone to beer in the open but also bans the sales of beer – that the non-alcoholic drink is served in the same nature of serving alcoholic beer – in a iced beer mug.
Malaysia certainly is the best to be drinking beer although these times beer is not cheap. I say it is the best because very rarely I drink alone – there are always friends, colleagues or cousins who are more than willing to be my beer drinking buddies. The thing is I have cut down a lot on drinking beer – one is for slowing down the ever growing tummy and another is due to the fact that beer in Malaysia is not cheap. The day when I can say that “beer is cheaper than water” to my Aussie friend is a far, far away.
(You may have mistaken this for some beer drinking session in some coffee shop in Malaysia)
Ghana is one country where beer was kind of free-flow. It is cheaper but was more diluted as well. One needs to drink 2 large bottle of lager before one can feel the drunkenness a distance away. Perhaps we Malaysians are so used of having heavier content alcohol in our beers that when we are in Ghana, the local beers almost tasted like water. It was indeed diluted. But the locals usually can get drunk with just one small bottle – one of those unexplained funny paradoxes that I encountered when I travelled abroad.
For now, I had to do with non alcoholic lemon flavour drink as my nearest replacement for a good old mug of cold beer, at least until the next round of beer drinking session with friends and cousins.
(One good sign is red lights and tang-lungs on the inside and on the outside)
From day 1 after we had arrived here, we have been looking for cheap Chinese restaurant and thus far, we have been unsuccessful.
Some of our colleagues who have been in this part of the world had recommended us to visit one restaurant which is located about 2 kilometres walk from our apartment. But once we reached the place, we found the gates to the front doors was locked and no one on sight. At first, we thought we came on the wrong day or the wrong time (perhaps it was still too early). So we went to the same restaurant on different days and time and yet it was still closed.
We were unable to eat Chinese food but what the heck, we got plenty of exercise – just imagine 4 kilometres walk to and fro. One day we saw someone coming out from the restaurant – we asked and were informed that the restaurant was undergoing renovation and will be opening in 2 weeks time. Unfortunately the 2 weeks was almost a month ago and the renovation is still undergoing. I guess it take another 2 weeks from the time of writing this post for the ‘official’ reopening.
(It looks big on photo but in reality the servings are small and expensive)
So, we dropped our hopes for Chinese restaurant until one of the taxi drivers mentioned another in the city. But once again we had to abort the trip to that Chinese restaurant as we found that it will cost us at least USD35 for meals for each of us.
Last week, however, we got a breakthrough. One of our colleagues had found another ‘chilly’ restaurant and after a long tele conversation, it was found that the price was very reasonable – about 20,000 Rial for a plate of fried rice. With 4 of us who have decided to go and share out the cost, there were plenty of dishes that we were able to order. The restaurant was not easy to find for it was tucked away from the usual busy roads and given the roads were jammed, the taxi driver took some time to locate the restaurant and that too, after getting lost several times and had to stop and ask people.
(A close-up of all the dishes in one plate…my plate)
The restaurant, when we walked in, was empty with no one in sight except for the lonely restaurant manager. Later we found that we came too early to the restaurant for the crowd only came in when we about to leave after spending almost one hour in the restaurant. The manager remarked that the foreigners would usually come in early before the locals come in. Coming in early was also a blessing in disguise as the chef was not busy with other orders and had time to cook our dishes without any necessary rush (no half cooked dishes were found).
Admittedly at the end of the day, the price of the dishes and the taste can never come close to what we have back home in Malaysia but it was a relieve to see something that were very familiar such as ‘taugeh’, ‘onion leave’, ‘noodles’ and etc.
At the end of the day, 3 bowls of different types of soup, 2 bowl of fried rice (with different ingredients), 2 plate of mixed vegetables, 2 plate of noodles with different ingredients and a free flow of green tea, cost us about 500,000 Rial for 4 of us.
(Cooked chicken cocktail with fried eggs and good dose of Maggi sauce)
Lately we have been finding harder to get by without having a good dose of vegetables – going for the ‘big job’ has not been as smooth as it used to be.
Unlike Malaysia where vegetables are abundant, in Iran, there is nothing much other than plain onion (to be eaten with a thin slice of bread) or salad (a mixture of minced carrot, cucumbers and salad leaves). No doubt that the Persian diet consists of a lot of yoghurts and yoghurt drinks which is good for digestions (although it takes some time to acquire the plain yoghurt taste) but nothing beats having a good dose of green vegetables.
We have noticed that some of the shops here do sell vegetables but it is not easy to cook them as we do not have other ingredients to go along with the vegetables. I guess this is why the vegetables in the Persian diet in restaurants consist nothing but fresh salads (perhaps we did not ask about this).
On other days, we eat a lot of fruits namely red apples but we soon get tired of eating just apples. Another alternative is of course, to take in high fibre tablets which does the ‘job’ the same.
When it comes to cooking our self, other than cooking the good old Maggi Mee, we managed to cook eggs (another easy one to do), sausages, nuggets, chicken and vegetables (Chinese style). Buying processed meat can be tricky here. What looks like processed chicken meat can turn out to processed red meat.
(Boiling is one good way to de-ice the meat and ensure the inside is cooked well)
Recently I just found out that ‘Chicken Cocktail’ is really made of chicken so it has been my ‘main’ choice when looking for items to cook at home – DIY style. It comes handy to just boil it and added the sliced chicken cocktails into the pot and has it together with instant noodles or fry it until it is well done and have it with scramble eggs.
Talking about eggs, we have been shopping around and found onions in one of the shops, so now we can also cook onion with eggs (instead of just plain eggs). Yesterday we found fresh gingers but we have to determine how best to cook something with ginger in it (we are goggling for easy ideas).
Last Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of Iran’s storming of American Embassy in Tehran and taking 52 people as hostage for 444 days. Apparently this event is celebrated on yearly basis in Iran. However this year, such ‘celebration’ was also used by the oppositions here to protest against the ruling party.
Our driver told us that there will be protest when he came to pick us in the morning. He said that it is a yearly event here in Iran. Then when we were at work, news of the protest getting violent began to filter in.
Iranian protesters took to the streets today as they do every Nov. 4 to mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy takeover.
But this year, opponents of the Iranian regime used the government sanctioned day of street demonstrations to challenge the hard line administration.
We had no interest on Iranian politics but the problem was strange things began to happen.
Mobile phones began to lose its coverage. Access to certain websites like Gmail, Twitter, IM Chat sites and some news agency sites began to be denied. Somehow access to blogs was still allowed but we did not know for how long this access would be allowed.
Mobile coverage came back online sometime late in the evening (depending on which operators, of course)
Whilst we understand why certain websites are being denied access by the Government, what we don’t understand is that why access to our office mails are also being affected. Some flash based web pages are also failed to work. We had a hard time communicating with our colleagues back in Kuala Lumpur on system related issues.
I guess for now we just have to get used to the unannounced web access restrictions whilst we are in this country. We just hope that there are no future demonstrations planned for the next few weeks, otherwise it is going to have serious implications on our communications back to Malaysia.
As at today, the access to certain sites is still restricted….a dreadful thought if this is to happen in Malaysia
If there is one thing that brings the ‘best of me’ when I am abroad, it is learning to be independent in the kitchen – independent in the sense of able to cook something for dinner. As every Malaysians would know, one of the lifelines for times like this is Instant Noodles.
(One of the ‘local’ instant noodles on sale here but compared to Maggi and despite both takes the same 3 minutes to cook, it was rather bland and tasteless)
This time around, I did not packed as many instant noodles as my friends did for the Iran trip. I guessed that 15 packets would be enough for the 3 months duration. Others brought about 30 packets or more. Initially I thought even bringing 15 packets were abit too much since I have not planned to depend so much on instant noodles. However given the recent spat of rainy nights in Tehran, sometimes we have no choice but to cook at home. Instant noodles, chicken nuggets and fresh eggs make a hearty meal anytime of the day. If there is nothing much to cook with it, then we have to resort to eating just bread and fruits.
Interestingly if it has been me at home back in Malaysia, it would have been a rather rare occasion of me going to the kitchen to cook something. Kitchen would have been my wife’s department at home and I must admit that her cooking is much better than me, given any time of the day of course. On some nights when instant noodles would have been the ultimate meal, my wife usually takes care of it, often with additional ingredients added to spices up the meal.
(For one heavy dinner, we are having fried eggs, nuggets and instant noodles)
For breakfast, it is a different thing all together. My friends still take the trouble to cook something in the morning for breakfast (instant noodles is one of them, instant oats is the other) but I find it quite difficult to do the same especially when I have a hard time waking up. So I opt for bread and milk which is not exactly heavy (I miss the heavy ones back in Malaysia – fried noodles with tea or nasi lemak with teh tarik) but is sufficient until lunch break.
For lunch, the good thing is that since we will be out from the house, we will usually eat packed food – rice and kebabs (rotating between chicken and lamb). Rice once a day is more than enough for us here in Tehran. Probably that is why I felt like I am loosing weight – I hardly take plenty of rice during the night.
(Photos – Snow peaked mountains on the way to work)
I guessed I fared better this than last year…
Despite not having a firm plot for this year, I have managed to complete almost 3,600 words on the first day itself. As I keep writing, I managed to get more ideas on how to expand the the current plot.
The mountains around Tehran have already showing signs of snow fall. So if winter comes up earlier, then staying at home means more time to churn out for words for my novel. I just need to make sure I am not distracted by other activities – such as curl up in thick blanket and sleep.