Thursday, 30 September 2004

Hindmarsh: An Aussie Election Post

Hindmarsh, South Australia, is the federal electorate I lived in prior to Mersin and where my electoral address is. It is for the candidates from Hindmarsh (and the Australian Senate) that I will be voting this weekend. What? Isn't the Australian election is on the following weekend (the 9th)? Ah, but I'm sending a postal vote.

Yesterday I received my postal voting form from the Australian Embassy in Ankara. This weekend I will send the completed postal vote form back to Ankara to ensure my vote is counted in the most important Federal election for many years. The current Australian government has lied and misled the Australian public and downgraded the institution of government for long enough. A few examples:

*Lying to the Australian public by providing a false reason to send Australian off to an unnecessary war on the other side of the world.

*Politicising the Australian Public Service far more than any government previously.

*Kowtowing to the current US government at the expense of Australian autonomy, Iraq and the free trade agreement being two examples.

*Not holding their parliamentary members accountable for their actions.

*Throwing money everywhere during this election campaign instead of providing good policy.

I don't know yet who I will be putting first on the ballot but I do know that it won't be the candidate representing the current conservative Liberal/National coalition government. The incumbent Liberal member, Christine Gallus, is retiring so instead, Simon BIRMINGHAM, the Liberal candidate hoping to replace Gallus, will be fighting the loonies from One Nation and Family First for last place on my slip.

In the 1996 federal election, my first election after gaining the right to vote (by turning 18 in 1995), I actually voted for the Liberal candidate as I was sick of the then long-term Labor government. How times have changed. Since 1996 I don't recall voting for either of the major parties and I don't think I will this time although I want Labor to win by default, as they are the only conceivable alternative for government and they have focused on policies and not abusing their opposition.

I am probably more interested in this election than any other election previously. It is difficult to follow the action properly from Turkey but I am still reasonably informed, at least on the national level. A few websites I have been following the election are Crikey, Back Pages and John Quiggin. The latter two links are left-leaning blogs. This is the first Australian election where blogs (weblogs - web diaries like mine) are an issue, albeit not a major one. For future elections the blogging influence can only get larger.

This is also the first federal election for Family First, a God-bothering party closely associated with the Assembly of God church. This party was established in South Australia and ran in the previous state election. Read this and this for some thought-provoking commentary on Family First.

As there is little information on the Internet regarding the Hindmarsh candidates could anyone provide a summary for me? I would like to be informed at least a little about the candidates before I exercise my right to vote.


UPDATE [30/09/2004]: Some more links:

*A long, detailed and interesting opinion piece on why the media has presented the current government with a free ride: The shape of the argument

*2 fun links: Fishty Cuffs and Throw Howard Overboard. Go on, click on them for a laugh!

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Odds and Ends

Today an earthquake hit the Mersin province. I didn't consciously feel anything but the other staff members did and they, as people are told to do when an earthquake hits, walked to the front door whilst I kept working. Thankfully, no injuries or damage have been reported.

The biggest news in Turkey of the past month has been the new penal code brought in to help satisfy the requirements to start EU accession talks. The original bill tabled in parliament included criminalising adultery. Thankfully, the EU and many different people and groups in Turkey saw this as ridiculous and the bill was withdrawn. In an emergency sitting of parliament on Sunday, a new bill, free of the adultery clause, was passed.
An interesting related story is on the BBC website.
Another article on Turkey's potential EU accession was in The Australian. This article includes the thoughts of a person from Silifke and one from Mersin.

A few good Google search rankings for this website recently:

a) 1st out 1,410,000 results for 'how' 'many' 'people' 'live' 'in' 'Turkey'

b) 2nd out of 2,600,000 results for 'brother' 'joe'

Sunday Night

I had previously visited newly-weds, Efkan and Devrim's place several times for dinner but they had not visited mine once. I'm not sure of the exact logic but it is a cultural thing in Turkey to for couples and families not to visit/have dinner at single people's places. Can any Turks elaborate?

Last night, to break the drought, I invited Efkan and Devrim over for stir-fry with chicken, broccoli, peanuts, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, capsicums, soy sauce, oil, chilli flakes, Iranian spice mix, fresh ginger, garlic, spring onion and onion. The meal worked out well but I was a bit late preparing it and I received some valuable cutting assistance from Devrim. If this were a Turkish meal, bread and yoghurt would definitely accompany it!

Afterwards was baklava (thank you D+E) and Iranian Turkish coffee. The Iranian version is lighter roasted and has slightly 'chocolaty' flavour compared to 'Turkish' Turkish coffee but every Turk so far has enjoyed the flavour.

Devrim's Mother comes from Iran and Devrim would like to go with her family back there for a holiday one day, particularly after hearing me rave on about the country. It would also be funny seeing Devrim and Asli (her sister) wearing headscarves!

Saturday Night

After work Saturday night I met Orhan in the centre and caught a dolmus to Karaduvar, the village the opposite side of the Mersin Free Trade Zone. There, near the main road we ate a great dinner of icli kofte, lahmacun and sarma with fellow Aussie Jane, her husband Kemal, their daughter Alisa and Kemal's relatives. I still wore my Port scarf and jumper but Jane, as a non-sport follower from Sydney, did not even know that the AFL grand final had already been played.

To accompany the dinner and conversation I brought a few beers and a wine. The wine was a Turkish 2001 cabernet sauvignon I had bought at Huseyin abi's shop for 13 million. Unlike many (most?) Turkish wines, this one was quite drinkable. I can't remember the brand but Huseyin abi has a merlot of the same mark that I may have to sample next time.

I wish Turkish wines were of better quality and value!

Like almost all mixed couples, Jane and Kemal had some very interesting stories about their time in Sydney and waiting for Kemal's visa in Turkey. Kemal's family have a herb (mainly parsley) production and distribution business and it was in one of the delivery trucks that Orhan and I were returned to our homes by Dogan, Kemal's brother.

I enjoyed rambling on to another Aussie and I hope to see Jane and Kemal upon their return to Mersin after a jaunt down the coast.

Sunday, 26 September 2004

SAMPIYON! ('Champion' in Turkish)

Yesterday, in a great game, Port defeated Brisbane by 40 points to win the 2004 AFL Premiership.

My telephone’s alarm woke me up at 7am and I chucked my clothes on. Although late summer, it still wasn't too hot to wear my Port jumper and scarf. It is impossible to be too hot to wear them on grand final day!

At Sirinler Fast Food Center I had to wake up the worker. Sleeping outside, just in from a noisy street, it took me several attempts to wake him up. Once awake, he set up the TV to Fox Sports and I was away!

Fox took Channel 10's coverage and commentators. Anthony 'Baby face' Hudson, Tim Lane and Robert Walls were in the box at the 'G. For the first 3 quarters the game was close and hard-fought but Port won convincingly at the end by 40 points, to my great delight. I had the TV to myself except for a few times when the odd restaurant worker watched briefly and asked me some questions about the game.

During the game I didn't feel like eating and settled for a carrot juice and a cup of tea. In the after-match presentations I enjoyed a bowl of lentil soup.

BBC News almost never have AFL coverage on their website and it showed when they wrote about the game. See the screen capture below:



Adelaide?????????

For those who don't know, "Adelaide" is the name of a completely separate team to "Port Adelaide" - a major faux pas!

Later, BBC News modified the title and story, changing all the mentions of "Adelaide" to "Port Adelaide". See:





After the game I went to work. In the afternoon, I bought a cream fruit cake to celebrate. Here are some photos:



Saturday, 25 September 2004

The Footy Will Soon Be On And I'll Be Watching! (Eat at SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER)

As I wrote in my previous post, Port Adelaide is in the AFL grand final this Saturday (beginning in 12 hours). They will play Brisbane, winner of the past 3 premierships and undisputed favourites. Port are going for their 1st AFL premiership whilst Brisbane are trying to extend their AFL record of 3 consecutive premierships. The game will be played in the neutral city of Melbourne.

I was hoping to watch the game, particularly after I found out Fox Sports Middle East was showing it and Turkey received this channel.

On Wednesday night I bribed Orhan with a few beers so I could check for Fox Sports upstairs at his currently abroad Indian neighbour's place. Via satellite, there were hundreds of channels to choose from. Unfortunately, Fox Sports was not one of these. I was not after several dozen Italian channels, although the ladies on a soccer show were drop-dead gorgeous.

Today, as suspected, I confirmed Fox Sports was part of Digiturk, the leading subscriber television service in Turkey. Nobody I knew had Digiturk and I needed to know someone well if I was to arrive at their place 7am on a Saturday morning to use their lounge room for 4 hours!

My last resort was to call the local Hilton Hotel and ask the Australian manager if I could watch the game there. If I knew the manager was a footy fanatic she would have been my choice.

However, the last resort was not necessary. After eating my lovely leftover vegetables for lunch, I walked the short distance to SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER on Silifke Caddesi. SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER is a largely outdoors restaurant selling fast food (!), including chicken doner, tantuni, hamburgers and lovely fresh fruit juices. I particularly like the tavuk doner at SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER as it includes hot chips and a fair amount of salad in the bread with the chicken.

In the last fortnight SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER installed Digiturk, largely for the Turkish soccer games. After confirming Fox Sports was on Digiturk before lunch, I went to SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER and asked the worker with the best English. He confirmed SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER:
1) Do have Fox Sports
2) Will let me watch the game; and
3) They normally open very early and 7/7.30 am should be no problems!
This last point was my main concern.

Eat at SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER!

I'm excited to be able to watch the footy. Assuming there is no electricity blackout or other disruption, this will be my first game of footy in Turkey and my first I've seen either at the ground or on TV since I left Adelaide in June 2003.

Eat at SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER!

What does Sirinler mean in English? Sirinler is the plural of sirin.
Sirin is 'cute', 'sweet' and 'pretty'. SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER definitely fit the definition of Sirin!

Eat at SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER!


In other news, tomorrow evening I will travel to the coastal village of Karaduvar for a BBQ with Sydney Jane, her Turkish husband and co. This will be the first meeting with Jane of whom I first came into contact via Joe's Ramblings several months ago. At the BBQ I will either celebrate Port's victory or drown my sorrows after the loss. I hope it is the former!


Eat at SIRINLER FAST FOOD CENTER! ;-)

Wednesday, 22 September 2004

(Was) Bomb-Free News From Mersin

I was going to write about bomb-free news but I just read a Kurdish group thought to be linked to the PKK claimed responsibility for the bombing in Mersin on Sunday night.

-My favourite footy team, Port Adelaide, have made their first AFL grand final to be played on Saturday. Today I discovered the game will be shown live on Fox Sports Middle East which covers Turkey. Is there anyone in Mersin with Fox Sports who doesn't mind me arriving early on Saturday morning (coverage begins 7am)?

-On Friday night I walked to Republic Square (Cumhuriyet Meydani - the same location as the bombing) for the end of Petek Dincoz's concert. I saw the final song and the impressive fireworks display. Petek Dincoz probably would not be signed to a record company if she did not look like a model.




..........what was I writing about?



-This week I received my first UniSA (the University of South Australia - my former university) Newsletter in Turkey. Although the newsletter content could be seen as less relevant for someone living in Turkey versus living in Adelaide, I actually found the articles more interesting than I have previously.

-The postcards I sent from Tehran arrived in Mersin 10 days later! Australia will probably take a month or two at this rate...

-Saturday night (18 September or 18/9) first division lotto was worth 8 trillion little ones, equivalent to almost 8 million big Aussie ones and a huge amount more than normal. On 18/9 the numbers were 9, 18, 33, 34, 35 and 36 - an unusual sequence. 14 ticketholders became lucky - I didn't.

-The weather these evenings is stunning - early 20's and calm. Weather to be enjoyed before the onset of rain and cool days in November.

-On Sunday afternoon I travelled to Adana to meet some trainees I had never met before. Well, I thought I hadn't...about half way through the visit I realised I had met Barbara, the Polish trainee, in 2002 when she was a CEEDer (a kind of trainee but working for AIESEC instead of a third party) based in Istanbul. Funny!

Tuesday, 21 September 2004

A Bomb in Mersin

I have a lot of other things I could write about...


Last night, near the Candan Ercetin concert (part of Mersin Festivali) on Cumhuriyet Meydani, a bomb exploded under a police vehicle, injuring several people. I was in Adana at the time and didn't find out about the bomb until this morning. At the moment, police don't know who undertook the bombing. The money is on either leftist, Kurdish or Islamist militant groups.

Following are a few news links. Some have graphic photos of the injured, so be warned.

BBC News (no photos)
Reuters (small photo)
Xinhuanet (graphic photos)
AFP via TurkishPress.com (graphic photo)
Ledge-Enquirer via AP (no photos, post-incident analysis)

Sunday, 19 September 2004

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

Sunday, 12 September 2004

Tehran

Tehran is one of the world’s great cities and a metropolis of 12 million people. A peculiar motivation for coming here was to experience some of the world’s craziest traffic (thanks Uran for the tip). More about that later…


For some time we waited inside the Tehran train station. 5 am was too early to go and look for a hotel room. Besides, train stations are a great place to observe society, particularly in a country like Iran where the train stations we saw (only Yazd and Tehran) were new and not sleazy.

Upon leaving the train station we were directed to the official taxi booth. For Mashhad Hotel the fare was 25 rials, expensive when compared to other cities in Iran but this is Tehran. The taxi driver ended up taking us to the Hotel Mashhad, the wrong place. He then insisted on an extra 10 rials to drive us to Amir Kabir Avenue, the vicinity of the Mashhad Hotel. He didn’t know where the Mashhad Hotel was and ended up pointing us in the wrong direction for Amir Kabir after saying he could not drive further because it was a one-way street. When he asked for extra payment I should have asked for and written down his details. He then probably would have lifted his game!

In the early morning I could already notice Tehran’s pollution. Tehran also has bus-only lanes. These lanes are most likely to promote public transport and combat the pollution and traffic of private vehicles.

The Mashhad Guesthouse (also called Mashhad Hotel) cost 50,000 rials per night for a double room. Karin and I dropped our bags in the room and went for a walk to Khomeini Square. At a café we drank pre-packaged juices and bought alcohol-free Efes Pilsen beers imported from Turkey. I haven’t seen the alcohol-free version in Turkey and imagine it is possibly an export only product. We also purchased a copy of each of the 3 English daily newspapers: Tehran Times, Iran Daily and Iran News.

We walked in a random direction and ended up in the embassy district. On one side of the street were the German and Turkish Embassies. On the other side, with concrete barriers surrounding it, was the British Embassy. The UK and Iranian governments have not experienced the best relationship over the past year. The embassy was attacked a few times and the heavy security presence is a reflection of this. One of the embassy buildings visible from the outside displayed windows with holes from bullets and or explosives.

Back at Khomeini Square we caught the metro west to Azadi. A woman was kind enough to help us with any questions we had. The first 2 or 3 carriages on every metro train are reserved for women although I once saw a man in one of these carriages. Karin stayed with me in the men’s though, like some other women. One ticket on the metro is 650 rials. Tehran’s system is modern and the carriages were built in China.

A short, shared taxi ride (1,000 Rials) and we were at the Azadi Tower. This is possibly the most prominent landmark in Tehran. The Azadi Tower was built in 1971 to celebrate 2,500 years of Persian civilisation. The tower is 45 metres tall and provides welcome shade from the summer sun. It is situated on a roundabout, moonlighting as a park with lawn and trees. A policeman/man in uniform took great delight to blowing his whistle to get people off the lawn. A family was moved twice after they tried to picnic under the shade of two different trees. In the distance to the west several air force jets took off, one after another. Before and after these flights, commercial passenger jets took to the sky. Tehran’s main airport is west of Azadi.

After some confusion and with the help of a boy (who received some Turkish delight for his efforts) we found the Azadi bus terminal. Buses to the north and west depart from Azadi, a large terminal, even by Turkish standards. We were looking for a bus to the Caspian Sea for a day trip between Tehran and Tabriz. Karin particularly wanted to visit this part of Iran. As there were no convenient buses for our schedule, we bought tickets direct to Tabriz. Karin was tempted to go direct to Istanbul to meet her special ‘Turkish delight’.

One very interesting thing I observed at Azadi bus terminal was a young girl, aged 7 or 8 I guess, wearing a headscarf AND a shoulder less dress. The irony!

The bus terminal (I always write ‘terminal’ because it is called this in Farsi, only with a French accent) also contained the first supermarket we had seen in Iran. Although it wasn’t a big supermarket, it was a supermarket nevertheless.

A ride in an unmarked taxi to a metro station (not Azadi, but one stop east) and a metro journey later, we were back at Khomeini Square. Near the square I bought fresh mangos! After a lunch of tuna, jambon (not made from pork) and salad sandwiches sleep was calling.

In the afternoon a second taxi brought (the first one demanded too much money) us to the sight of the old American Embassy. This was one of my reasons to visit Tehran. The outside wall of the form embassy block is decorated with anti-American propaganda. Of course I don’t support the propaganda but I had heard of its notoriety and I didn’t want to miss it. We continued snapping away taking photos until Karin spotted a soldier looking at us unpleasantly from above. The cameras were put back in their bags and we decided we had seen enough of the embassy, happy to have not had our film/digital media taken. I will include a picture or two of the propaganda when I post some photos of the trip.



I will add the next Tehran update soon

Yazd to Tehran

Back at the Silk Road Guesthouse Karin and I packed our gear and I paid the account. The accommodation and meals for the 2 days came close to 200,000 rials. All but 40,000 was for the lovely Indian and Iranian meals and accompanying rose and mint waters.

A taxi ride later and we were at the train station. For a city so old, Yazd is surprisingly spread out and distances are relatively large.

At the train station entrances we were both waived through our respective luggage checks. As promised, the gorgeous lady and the man at Information had come up with the tickets to Tehran (35,950 rials each for 2nd class).

The train was a long, all-sleeper train completely full of Iranians. In the 2nd class compartments 3 beds fold out from each side, making 6 beds in total. Prior to dinner in the dining car, there were 5 young Iranian men in our compartment.

For dinner we were recommended the chicken. We ended up with the mixed chicken/lamb shish covered in rice with half a lemon, an onion wedge and a butter portion on the side. Vegetables? If I remember correctly, the diner cost more than the train ticket!
A man and his son asked if they could sit next to us. The man was kind of weird so we were happy when they left.

When we returned to the compartment an old, friendly couple had replaced the 5 men. The compartment was hot. Do train compartment come in anything but hot or cold?

We folded out our beds on the top row. Despite the heat, the sleep that night was very good. At some stage the ticket inspector woke me up to check the tickets. Of course, as the man, I have the tickets and I am the one woken up!


04 September 2004

Just before 5am the old man also woke me up as the train was travelling through the suburbs of Tehran.

I was very happy to take at least 1 train journey in Iran. Next time I'd like to take more, particularly during the day.

Mersin Festivali

The peak of summer is over and I now sleep with a sheet over me (as opposed to nothing) and warm the shower water (as opposed to cold showers). The days are still hot and the nights beautiful, though. The good weather (autumn) will start soon!

Last night Orhan and Banu visited for some Iranian pistachios, Iranian Turkish coffee and a Pera beer. Pera is a reasonably new beer brand. It tastes okay.

My lotto partnership with Huseying abi didn't bring any results. Afterwards I went out for some beers with Taner, Ozge, Edge and Ali. It is funny in Turkey I often go weeks without drinking alcohol and it doesn't bother me one iota, but in Iran, where drinking alcohol is forbidden, the love of a beer was more consuming. Karen and I were going to open a beer at Dogubeyazit but then she had to catch a bus earlier than expected.


The annual Mersin Festivali began Friday night with a Sertab Erener concert. Sertab won the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest with 'Everyway That I Can'.

After dinner I walked to the Cumhuriyet Meydani (Republic Square) in time to see (in order):

-The sycophantic mayor present Sertab with a bouquet
-A good fireworks display
-The final two songs of the night: her follow up single to 'Everyway That I Can' followed by, predictably, 'Everyway That I Can'. These two songs are in English (although there are Turkish versions of 'Everyway That I Can') whereas Sertab's previous work, if I recall correctly, was in Turkish.

There were many thousands of people standing in the square. People living in the multi-storey blacks of flats nearby were lucky (or unlucky) enough to receives bird's eye views of the concert without the rush of the crowd.

Friday, 10 September 2004

Back in Mersin

Yesterday morning I arrived back to Mersin, my flat and work. I still have much, much more to write about on Iran and hope to finish it in the next week.

Today, another branch from the same tree landed on a car across from work, even though a great many branches were cut off following the previous accident. This tme, the branch was smaller and the damage less.

Monday, 6 September 2004

Yazd

This morning Karin and I arrived in Tabriz around 6am from Tehran. When we got off the bus we forgot a bag on the overhead space. Karin remembered and then chased the leaving bus to fetch the bag. Tomorrow we are back to Turkey. In the meantime, here are my belated notes from Yazd:


Yazd

We arrived at the Silk Road Guesthouse at around 10 pm. The Silk Road is located in the centre of the old town, near the Good Friday Mosque (Mesjid Jameh). The setting is great and the guesthouse courtyard is relaxing place to while away the very hot (45 degree C) afternoons. The restaurant includes a number of Iranian and Indian meals. I looking forward to sampling both cuisines, particularly the Indian, as there is no good Indian food available within a plane flight of Mersin. The vegetables on the first night were very good!

For 10,000 Rial one can sleep on the roof. The view from the roof is great and mosques, water towers and many old buildings are visible.


02 September 2004

Waking up in the hot sun, listening to some awful violin playing by an Iranian guest, I had a drippy nose.

In the morning we walked around the old city. The buildings are largely mud-covered brick. The old city streets are narrow, many too narrow for cars. Motorbikes rule in Yazd. Unfortunately they bring noise and exhaust fumes to the old city.

Did I mention motorbikes rule in Yazd? Waves and waves of the 125cc bikes roar around the old and new sections.

On one obscure corner there was a woman beggar. We gave her 2,000 rials and she was very happy. Similar to the 2,000 rials I gave to an old man in Shiraz for taking a few packets of chewing gum he was selling. The look on his face was priceless.

Many of the old buildings have cooling towers built on top of their roofs. The towers have channels for the wind to go down and cool the interior of the building.

I was absolutely delighted when I saw a juice place in Yazd with fresh mangoes. Although the mango juice contained added sugar (as is the standard for fresh juices in Iran) it still was bliss. My first fresh mango product in almost 18 months!
Mangoes are not grown in Iran and have to be imported. I don't recall seeing a mango in Turkey. If I did see any mangoes there, they were in poor quality and not worth the exhorbitant price.

That day a couple of hippies left the guesthouse for Afghanistan. I wonder how there trip will turn out...

In the afternoon we entered the Water Museum (10,000 rials - a private museum). This museum explored and detailed the way water was gained in old times through "qanats", underground channels. As Yazd is located in the desert, water was and still is very important.

My nose continually ran during the day and provided an unwelcome distraction.

Unlike the bazaars in Tabriz, Esfahan and Shiraz, Yazd's bazaar was not very large or good.

For the afternoon and evening we were with Thomas, a Finnish person of Swedish ethnicity studying in Switzerland. We caught a taxi to the Zoroastrian flame. A flame sacred to Zoroastrians that has kept burning for over 1,000 years and in 3 or 4 different locations.

Another taxi and it was off to the Towers of Silence on the outskirts of Yazd, about 7km from the centre. Here, up until 40 years ago the Zoroastrians used to leave the bodies of their dead on 3 bowl-like constructions at the top of hills. The bodies would then be picked at by birds until all that was left were bones. The sunset and the mountains and city in the distance were very pretty.

A bus and a taxi ride later we were at the train station. The train station has different entrances for men and women with the women entering a curtained area to the right and the men an uncurtained section to the immediate left.

Thomas wanted to catch a train that night to Kerman and we wanted to go the following night to Tehran. Unfortunately, the gorgeous woman at the information booth said both trains were full. A short while later a man came and after some discussion they said we were able to obtain tickets. Thomas' 2am train ticket to Kerman actually started two towns prior to Yazd! He deciphered this from the ticket with his knowledge of Arabic script. Karin and I were told to return to the train station and pick up our tickets at 7.30pm the the next night prior to the 8.15pm train to Tehran. The station staff had gone way out of their way to help us!

Alighting from our taxi back at the guesthouse we heard some 'noise' coming from the Friday Mosque. It sounded different to the usual call to prayer. After some hesitation we entered the half indoor/outdoor mosque. As it is thedesert rain is rarely a problem.

The Imam was chanting, mentioning the name "Reza" (one of Shiite Islam's 12 sacred Imams) many times. The men were largely sitting at the frontal sides while the women were at the back. We were handed glasses of tea with the customary irregular-shaped 'cubes' of sugar on a plate at the side. Like in eastern Turkey, the sugar is meant to be dipped in the tea and then placed in the side of the mouth. As the tea is drunk, the sugar dissolves.

At least one of the men was very emotional and others showed signs. We were not sure of the purpose of the prayers. Thomas and I (not Karin as she is female) handed back the empty tea cups and trays and after several minutes we exited the mosque for the guesthouse.

That evening I ate camel meat balls in gravy with rice. After several discussions and debates between the 3 of us, Thomas left to catch his 2am train and we went to bed.

That night was colder than the previous one and my nose ran liberally.


03 September 2004

Waking up in the morning I had a full-blown cold and I felt miserable. After the 5 'sh': SH**, SHower, SHave, hand waSHing clothes and bruSHing my teeth I was slightly better.

The heat of the day was spent at the guesthouse chatting with Brigitte and Stefan, 2 Austrians currently cycling around the world. They started 26 April from Spitz/Danube, Austria and if all goes well they will cover 46 countries in the next couple of years. Their website is at www.heath-net.com/bikeabenteuer.

Later in the afternoon I spoke to Mum and Dad in Australia. Karin and I then drank another fresh mango juice (this time with less sugar) and bought some local Yazd sweets, one of whom was called 'baklava'.



Early tomorrow morning we are leaving for Turkey and I will be back in Mersin on Wednesday morning. From there I will write my next post: travelling to Tehran.

Sunday, 5 September 2004

Shiraz to Yazd to Tehran

I have so much to write about – my notebook contains 10 pages of reminder notes for me to expand upon. I am writing from the Mashad Hostel (not Mashad Hotel!) a shortwalk from the Emam Khomeini Square in Tehran.


Shiraz

One morning in Shiraz a reasonably old man with awful teeth approached us offering his services as a guide for no charge. As we were in Iran we went with him. In Turkey or Egypt we would have ignored or walked away from him but in less touristy Iran even the touts are genuine.

The guide showed us around the bazaar and explained the history of the buildings, religious and non-religious. We entered a Madresse. Fig, orange and persimmon trees as well as date palms and rose bushes grew in the central courtyard of the building. Tiles with Nightingales and flowers decorated some of the buildings. Think of the Garden of Eden.

At the bazaar the guide suggested we buy all sorts of stuff we neither wanted nor needed so he could obtain a commission. He also had a very funny looking hand-written business card on a piece of scrap cardboard. After we had enough of him we parted ways with both him and his requested payment of 20,000 rials.

Later at the bazaar we bought some saffron and an unusual mixture of many spices colourfly displayed in a large bowl. The spices will be great with fish, white and red meats and vegetables.

Across the road from the bazaar we bought lemons. I (as the male) asked for 'half' a kilo. When seller requested more than 10,000 rials for payment we thought this was very strange. After witnessing him shovelling the lemons into a second bag we understood the confusion. 'Haft' in Farsi means '7'. Half and haft have similar pronunciations. By the way, 'hafta' in Turkish means 'week' (7 days).


Persepolis

On our 2nd and final morning in Shiraz we took a Pars Tourism Agency tour to Persepolis, the ancient city ruined by Alexander the Great all those years ago. Although I would have preferred to go by myself, the tour was only USD 7 (or equivalent rials) per person and the convenience could not be beaten.

The only other tourist on the tour was Dean. His surname is the same as a famous Australian cricketer of the 1980's. Dean is travelling onwards to Pakistan so good luck to him. Given the cricket fanaticism in Pakistan He wants to disclose his surname to as few people as possible there.

On the 50 km journey to Persepolis I witnessed a very funny sign. A business on the side of the road displayed "Rottonest Service". I do not have a clue what it means but the connotations for the business are not very good.

Speaking of signs, the guide asked us what the acronym "C.B.D." meant as this was written on some signs on the way to Shiraz. I was the only person who knew the meaning: Central Business District. Even the Englishman didn't know. I guess the Iranian who designed the signs had studied in Australia, not knowing CBD is a localised expression.

Before the actual sight of Persepolis we visited a another historical sight with a few Necropolises (graves cut into rock) and a funny square temple.

The actual sight of Persepolis is on a massive scale, covering 12 hectares if I recall correctly. The ancient reliefs were very impressive. There is also a small museum on the grounds. I am certain the Internet contains a wealth of information concerning this world heritage sight so I won't write in detail.

The guide helpfully dropped Karin and I off at the bus terminal where we waited for our 2pm 2nd class bus to Yazd.


The Ride to Yazd

There were no convenient 'Volvo' class buses to Yazd that left in the early afternoon so we took a 2nd class bus. Although the ride is slower and less comfortable, we thought it would be good to mix with another group of Iranians. We wanted an early afternoon bus so we could see the countryside.

The wind shield at the top front of the bus was written "BUTYPRINCESS". We assumed this meant "BEAUTY PRINCESS" and not "BUT Y PRINCESS?", "BUTTY PRINCESS" or "BUT PRINCESS". At a similar position near the rear window was written "NATASHA". In Turkey, 'Natasha' is a reference to a prostitute from the former Soviet Union countries.

The interior of the bus was very tackily decorated. Almost all the cliched tacky additions were there except for hanging dice and fox tails. We had seats 1 and 2 so the view through the front of the bus was good. There was nothing between us and the front window (tacky decorations aside). People paranoid about safety would not enjoy such a ride.

The scenery on the journey ranged from green valleys to jagged mountains and desert plains. In one area there were several white marble factories. I do not recall seeing one petrol station along the way. I guess fuel distribution is government-controlled as there are very few petrol stations and the price is very cheap. I have heard it is 1/8 of USD$1 per litre of petrol and 1/44 of USD$1 for diesel. This contrasts sharply with Turkey where there are fuel stations everywhere and petrol is more then USD$1!

At one point we passed a scrap metal truck on its side with some of its load on the road.

We passed through Abakouh, a town with many beautiful ancient walls and a few funny cone-shaped buildings looking wonderful in the evening light. Here the kind woman sitting across from us left the bus before we could access our bags to give her some cezerye and Turkish delight. Earlier this woman had paid some money for a koran for Karin that a boy had given on the bus. The woman also gave me a pair of 'Lee' socks and Karin a set of hosiery socks out of the kindness of her heart. Possibly the only occasion Karin will wear the hosiery socks is at a fancy dress party.

Just past Abakouh we stopped for a toilet break. This stop was much longer than planned as the bus had a flat tyre which required repairing. I took the opportunity to walk down a village street. At the end of the street I took a photo of some sunflower flowers with ancient buildings and mountains in the background. I hope it turns out. I then jumped on the back of a motorbike driven by a bespectacled boy no older than 14.

Back at the main road the boy took a photo of me with my camera and then clicked a few times in quick succession. The photos will be wasted but who cares when one has priceless experiences like this.

Another boy then grabbed me and I took a photo of him, two men and a third boy. At least two of the four were wearing 'shalvar', the baggy pants often worn in Turkish villages although from observation, less often worn in Iran. The 2nd boy also insisted on a photo with him pretending to use a mobile phone. Mobile phones are becoming more common in Iran but they still have nowhere near the penetration of Turkey or western countries.

As darkness arrived the bus eventually left. The remainder of the 8 hour journey was not very fun as the assistant kept on bumping me as he walked passed whilst I was trying to sleep. The distance between my seat and the middle front seat was very little but at least he could have been more careful. The customer service level on Turkish buses is far superior to Iranian buses.



As the hotel worker wants to sleep (it is almost 11:30 pm) I will sign off for now. I still have a huge amount to write on Yazd and Tehran. I will hopefully both continue my blog writing and reply to comments and emails tomorrow.

Wednesday, 1 September 2004

From Tabriz to Esfahan to Shiraz (have a drink for me)

Having come from Esfahan, Karin and I are now in Shiraz, the town the famous grape is named after. Tomorrow we will take a tour to the ancient city of Persopolis before catching a bus to Yazd in the afternoon.


One thing I forgot happened at the Tabriz park Friday morning was the fortune-telling. For 2,000 rials a boy would take his small bird (canary, budgerigar, lovebird or similar) out of a portable cage and make it choose one of the envelopes in his hand. The envelope chosen contained a piece of paper detailing one's fortune. I can't remember what mine was meant to be but that is not important. The novelty factor was more interesting to me.

Also in Tabriz:

-I called work in Turkey at 1,700 rials per minute. The sound quality was excellent.

-Nasser suggested we pay 10,000 for a taxi to the Tabriz bus terminal but the driver insisted we pay only 5,000.

-At the terminal a newly-wedded couple (we guess they were such) were been farewelled by some family members. They ended up sitting next directly behind us on the bus.


The Journey to Esfahan

-On the "Volvo class" (best class) bus they showed a Bollywood movie dubbed into Farsi.

-Around 9pm we passed a truck on its side. Its cargo (probably crates of tomatoes) was on the ground.

-The bus company was "Ham Safar". The irony of the first name should be easily observed.

-The journey time was 13+1/2 hours not 16 as the Lonely Planet guide indicated.


Esfahan

Esfahan is one of the most historic and beautiful cities of the Middle East. There are a number of famous mosques, bridges and other buildings. The main square is particularly good.

In Esfahan:

-The main square is surrounded by a walled bazaar, a couple of mosques and other architectural treasures. On some concrete bollards "DOWN WITH USA" and "DOWN WITH ISRAEL" are written. These are the only overtly political statements witnessed so far.

-We saw an Iranian movie at the cinema. The theatre's lighting was bright enough to see other audience members but still dim enough to enjoy the movie. Although it was in Farsi we could understand the basis of the plot. I believe it was centred on a woman who went to Tehran to look for her younger sister. The movie was quite intriguing, gripping and violent at ocassions. At no point was a woman shown without a headscarve. We hope to see another movie before we leave Iran.

-For Karin's birthday we went to a upmarket restaurant. We both chose a local dish: I had lamb (shanks!) with barberry rice and Karin, chicken with barberry rice. Barberry is a small berry that adds a nice sharp flavour to the rice. I also tried my first Iranian alcohol-free beer. It was good but probably would not compare next the the real stuff. The "Turkish" coffee at the end was similar to Turkish Turkish coffees. All up the great meal in a fancy setting cost 88,000 rials. The remainder of the patrons were locals except for a table-full of Japanese.

-On the first morning we walked past a beautiful bridge to the Armenian Quarter. The churches looked rather interesting on the outside but we did not go in as it was too early. Many of the entry gates in this area, as well in other parts of Iran, contain door-knockers. The one on the left is for females and the right door-knocker for males. Afterwards we sat at a nargile cafe under the bridge and drank tea.

-One evening we made it to another historic bridge for the sunset. A couple of young girls were fishing and their attempts to catch a fish were very funny. Several men sang and chanted, enhancing the atmosphere.

-Monday was Iman Ali's birthday. He was a very important person for Shiites. Many shops were closed but I didn't witness any public events for this day.

-It was another Ham Safar bus ride to Shiraz. The 6+1/2 hour journey was smooth although we sat in seats 1 and 2 and had limited leg room and listened to the driver's loud Iranian music.


Shiraz

We arrived in Shiraz shortly 5.15 this morning. Shiraz is a more conservative city than Tabriz or Esfahan. Although the people are still friendly there is a slightly more hostile atmosphere and there are more beggars (although not many) here. The food is different with falafel and delicious fried triangle thingies sold on the streets.

Shiraz has a brick fort. It also contains 2 mausoleums of Imans (Ali is one I believe) very important to the Shiites. At the entrance to one of the mausoleums we were not allowed in because we were not muslims. This is the first time I ever recall being not allowed entry somewhere because of my religion.

Like Tabriz and Esfahan, Shiraz has a great bazaar. I guess every Iranian city has a great bazaar!


General Observations

-There is hardly any music in public spaces at all. The only places we heard western and Turkish music was in Tabriz "Coffee Nets". I guess playing this music is a rebellious behaviour.

-The foreigner entry fees to museums and other historic sights were reduced to the local rate 2 months ago. A museum that was 30,000 rials is now 3,000; 25,000, now 2,500; etcetera. The only exception so far is a religious architecture school in Esfahan where the religious authorities have kept the price at 30,000.

-After thick and heavy pillows at the first two hotels the hotel here in Shiraz has a 'normal' pillow and my neck and head should feel better tomorrow.

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