# January 2013

Having stayed in Iran for a while, something changed in my mind. It's not just a country I'm visiting as a tourst anymore. There's something I really want to do in this country. Without knowing whether it's possible to make any difference, I made some effort in Bandar Abbas to learn Persian. It made a significant difference late December. Now, I can proudly say that I understand Persian, though it's still hard to talk about something really serious or deep, but I can listen to people and know what they really think. So, this month, I will show you the "real" life of Iran without speaking about anything serious though. :)

## Tehran

So, I came back to Tehran, at 6am in the morning. The taxi driver who took me back home was again really interested in talking with a foreigner.

"Are you from Afghanistan?"

I think this is the most frequent question I get in Iran...

At home there was everyone and they all told me how amazing the party of the previous night was. Hmmm, it's not like I chose not to come to the party btw...

Probably they were all tired so Shadi and Omid went to sleep just after I came back home (now I write "home" without being aware of that. I don't check whether I did it in November and December so if you find the same expression, please figure out that I wanted to say "Shadi's place"). There was just Armita who wanted to do something. This "something" would have been in my case for example to steal ethanol from school or to start a BBQ on the school building or something like that but in her case it was cleaning.

Due to air pollution the schools had been closed for 4 days. I think Germans will become crazy if they get this kind of problem but Iranians apparently do not really care. If the air is polluted, they close the schools. Easy. Therefore Armita apparently decided to learn how to enjoy a social life 20 years later. Her appearance reminds me of Kiki's delivery service

I could finally find a dictionary for foreigners on this day so I was quite happy in total.

Following day, I went to the embassy of Turkmenistan by bicycle. It was horribly far away from the city center. I think I know the intention of the people there. Anyway, I got only the application form and I came back home.

In the evening, there was a small soirée at home with some neighbors as guests. Having more people than usual, there were not enough chairs and at one end of the table, there was one chair remaining and Noshad and I standing. Having lived in Europe for a while (ladies first), I told her to take the seat. She replied:

"No, you should sit down. I'm young"

Now I'm painfully aware of the fact that I've passed all my youthful days and became so old that there are even people worried about my physical state. I think I must use Armita for the retaliation... (Armita: 5, Noshad: 13?, Sam: 24)

At the table, the grandma suddenly comes to the idea to go to eat Kale Pacche the following day. This is, simply said, broth of sheep consisting of body parts that you cannot eat. And this can be served only in the morning, like starting from 4am up to 7am, whatever the reason is. Actually I had talked about it with Ahmad in Karaj. We wanted to try it together but since it was Ashura we didn't have the chance to taste it and I wanted to do it in Tehran but completely forgot about it. Nice that she came to the idea herself!

In reality though, no one wanted to come with us. So I got up at 4 in the morning, I knocked on the door at her place and we went there.

Of course there was no one in the street. However, there were still many people in the restaurant waiting for Kale Pacche.

And if I have the priviledge to express my opinion, I would like to remind you of one scene from Lector Hannibal. The brain of sheep I had in my mouth was extremely reminiscent of that scene from the film.

The amount of oil is also something formidable in this dish. And all this at 5am in the morning. When we got back home, I knew that I was on the threshold of Nirvana. I napped for 5 hours and went to the embassy of Turkmenistan.

I knew that I cannot drive a bicycle so I took directly a taxi. In this time interval though, there was a small cease fire in my stomach. I will be forever grateful for this small gift. And I could also successfully apply for the visa, which is supposed to take 2 weeks.

At home, however, the skirmish between Kale pacche and my body boiled up again. I did not need to go to toilet so often but I definitely could not go anywhere by train. I had the plan there to go to Zahedan but in the end, I stayed at home. What a shame.

The train was to depart in the evening so I stayed at home until short after the noon. In the morning, I went to a market nearby with grandma. On the way back home, there was a street where one side was blocked. I did not clearly realize what was the reason but when I looked at it from the other side, it became clear, that in Iran, it might be quite dangerous to be near a construction zone. Can you recognize a piece of wood falling down?

So, as I mentioned, I'll go to Zahedan and I'll come back in two weeks (and I'll write everything afterwards). See you soon!

## Yazd

Did you really think that the life is so easy and I went to Zahedan? Of course not! After the lunch, I stayed at home too long and when I wanted to go to the railway station, the bus didn't move at all. I went back home in desperation. At home, Shadi told me there was still a train for Yazd later on the same day, so I decided to go to Yazd first then to other cities.

At the railway station, there was a crowd of people at the ticket counter but there was one blond girl as well. From her super high quality military-like backpack it was too clear to me that she was German (sorry). And it turned out that she was also about to buy a ticket for Yazd, which we both could fortunately buy (and for less than 5 euros...).

And we saw each other again in Yazd (What a wonder!?) and we found out that we were heading for the same hotel, silk road hotel, so we went there together.

It was 6am so we stayed at the hotel until the breakfast. Usually the checkin is in the afternoon but they didn't really care and they let us in. Besides, we could have buffet there too.

Esther, the German girl, and I decided to take a guided tour for both of us the first time. The problem of Yazd is not everything is in the city center, which means anyway we would need a taxi, as the historical sites do not have any bus connection.

I think all of you know what Zoroaster is but probably you didn't know that it originated from Yazd (or not?). The current government being not so fond of this religion, there was a temple there. Can you see the symbol of Zoroaster at the entrance?

I forgot to take the photo of the typical Zoroastrian fashion but it's kind of weird to see that at that time the Iranians wore very colorful stuff. The current style is characterized by dark colors.

Esther lives in Hanover, in the middle of Germany, which is not far away from Göttingen. Göttingen is a city where you can pretty much never see the sun. Can you see on the photo how extreme the contrast is? It was sometimes really hard to take the photo of a usual street view due to this contrast.

And in Germany it's hardly possible to not hear anything wherever you are, though most of the people do not realize it I assume, because until I came to Iran, I had never realized that it is so weird to be in an environment where there is no sound. In this village, near Yazd, there was no wind, no tree. Only sometimes cars. I experienced the same feeling when I was in Bandar Abbas. Maybe I've already written it :)

The temple was still in the city but the next destination, a fortress (I don't know anymore if it had a special name), made of mud. According to Reza, our tourist guide, who was by the way as old as I, it rains maybe two times a year in Yazd. So it doesn't matter whether it's made of mud or not. This fortress was used when there were enemies coming to the nearby village, which is interestingly not directly at this fortress.

I make the same remark probably again and again but looking at this photo, Esther does not look so German anymore with the scarf. What a magic

On the top of the fortress, it was just a little bit windy. Whenever I touched my hair, I could feel the static electricity. I have never seen that my hair was so straight...

Esther told me she didn't like guided tours. Actually, me neither. The reason is probably that, it appears sometimes too stupid to ourselves, like here, riding on a camel... We (or they) just walked around and we, stupid foreign travelers, feel much more stupid than ever.

Have you ever heard of "caravanserai"? Maybe you should first check the location of Yazd and the geography surrounding this area. Yazd seems to be not located directly on the Silk Road (though depending on source, it's a bit different), but it was a very important place for people going to Afghanistan before, mainly for trade. As the Persia was huge, the merchants needed places to sleep. The kings of each epoch created something called "caravanserai", which looks like a small amphitheater, where the rampart is consisting of small rooms. Can you see a small hole next to each entrance? It is the space to bind the reins of camels. Since this region is extremely hot in summer and extremely cold in winter, merchants could sleep outside in summer and inside in winter. Sometimes even on the roof (which is the reason I could take this photo). The space in the middle is for the trade. The first night is for free, so those who wanted to go to a certain place could travel for free (?). Anyway, you can find it every 30 or 40km in this region.

It's kind of weird to see that there was completely nobody in these tourist attractions (as you may or may not have noticed from the photos). I mean, the reason is clear but it does not matter wherever we go in Iran, we are heartfully welcomed and whenever we get a problem, there's always someone who wants to help us (though most of them don't speak English so unfortunately there cannot happen anything usually).

Especially this café inside another caravanserai (a caravanserai may or may not have this kind of facilities). This is constructed solely for touristic purposes. There was literally nobody inside. Esther and I had a cup of tea.

Esther: "A good thing about Iran is that, they don't take money for such a subsidiary service. In Germany, if there's a tour like this they would say 'well, the tour contains this and this but this cup of tea is an extra and then these sweets again cost so and so much'". Yes, that's something that exhausts me in Germany (though Japan is not that different)

Next destination: Zoroastrian graveyards. If you are not so interested in cultural stuff maybe it's better by now to skip a couple of lines :)

As in Islam, it was forbidden to burn a corpse. In contrast to the Islam though, they do not bury the corpse directly, but there was a sacred place, of which I forgot the name, where there are two priesters (?) who take over the corpse. In the photo here you can see a small hill with an enclosure. The space inside is the sacred place and when the corpse is delivered there, the priesters put it inside and supposedly animals would hopefully finish it.

And for good measure (and for myself as well since this blog replaced my ordinary diary) let me explain how to ascertain whether the person is dead or not: The first thing is to put a piece of bread on the body and one specially trained dog. After leaving them one day, if the bread is still there, the person is still alive. The second thing is, once a day, there's a moment where just next to the enclosure a very strong magnetic field is generated. In this magnetic field, the person allegedly sometimes revives.

It was a very nice view from one of the hills. The buildings made of mud at the foot of the hill used to be used when the family of the corpse stayed there.

It looks like this inside. The corpse is put around the hole in the middle and when only the bones remain, they are put into the middle and some kind of sulfite stuff is put in order that the bones do not remain.

The rain coming here is also collected inside the hill and goes to the nearby city.

In the evening, we decided to walk around the city since we found it so beautiful.

Concerning the relation of men and women, Islam is a completely different culture. In Europe, as we know that way more men died in Titanic, we try to maximize the freedom of women, though in my generation we are so much used to the equality of men and women, for which we often do not really think of this stuff. In Islam though, the liberty of women is strongly limited. I was not so much aware of it but speaking with Esther, it appeared clear to me that it's really hard to live in Iran as a women from Europe. Of course things like women cannot expose more than the face and the hands. In the intense heat of more than 40 degrees celcius, I can hardly imagine that an ordinary person can still survive.

Something that I did not really perceive was that it is difficult to judge whether it's okay to reply to someone saying for example just "hello", because according to Esther and also other girls, it might cause some problems. I did not directly ask what might happen but it seems to be pretty complicated anyway.

Still, Yazd is a very beautiful city. There were a lot of Iranians who did not really understand what I meant with "beautiful", because probably it was too normal for them. It again appeared to me a little bit too stupid to look around like an ordinary Japanese tourist (who I am) and to take photos everywhere. The effort they make to maintain the beauty of the city is probably enormous, as the majority of buildings are made of mud.

Following day, inspite of the salesperson in the hotel insisting it be better to take the tour around the city, Esther and I decided to wander off to the city center. Locals in this country do not understand that the local life itself extremely interests us. Well, it's maybe like Oktoberfest for us.

As always, the people here were friendly to foreigners. And whenever you go, they offer a cup of tea and cube sugar. Where is it coming from? This is how they make it. I don't know why it is so white but in any case, they make it in this huge pot. It's nearly impossible to see something like this in Germany since everything is centralized. This is a very nice example of what we were interested in and probably the Iranians do not understand why.

In the middle of the city center, we could enter a house (?) and onto the roof. Everyone knows that Europe has its own beauty. However, I felt almost as if I was in the 5th century of Persia. The people, by the way, live exactly like this in this part.

Except for the bazaar, which is also in the city center, there was pretty much no pedestrian side street which was longer than 50m. And each of them was also quite narrow. Whenever there was a car we had to walk in line (though it was still difficult)

Like Zoroaster, there are two other religions which are permitted in Iran: Christianity and Judaism, though both of them are juridically inferior to Islam. I could find a synagogue also in the city center, located in the end of a very narrow way which we found incidentally when I did not want to wait for Esther taking photos of something else. It looked like a hidden place, to be honest.

We visited the city center the whole day. There was a carpet shop near the hotel. They let us go up to the roof (again).

The owner of this shop told us, that there were much more tourists ten years ago in this region. Every year a little bit less and according to him, it about one tenth of what it used to be before. Maybe it's correct, maybe not. Anyway, including this carpet shop, there were only few tourists and still a lot of tourist attractions. Rial is the least valuable currency in the world now and from the point of view of economy, it's getting easier and easier for people from Western countries. This is something that I cannot change at all but it sounds like a tragedy to me because I know that the problems are not coming from these tourist attractions.

In the evening, we were in the restaurant of the hotel. As it was a hotel also written in Lonely Planet, there were a lot of people there. According to what I heard there from other Japanese tourists, it's kind of impossible to get a visa for three months for China, except in Japan and Hongking. If I get it in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, it will be quite expensive but as this is the only possibility for me for the moment, I'll probably do it like this and I will be obliged to extend it twice in China, though I'm not sure whether I can really stay there for three months. According to what I've seen so far, it is not hard to cycle through China within two months, though I don't know if it's so interesting in this case.

In the same evening, I met a French couple. They got the visa at the airport of Tehran. Actually the salesperson of tours spoke also a little bit French, though he told us it's very hard for him to go to France. I don't mean to complain, but in this moment we found out that this French couple did not know that Iranians need a visa for France. It may or may not be the general understanding for Iranians but I daresay there are still a lot of things we haven't been informed of in Iran.

Again, the same evening, there was a couch surfer who just contacted me but since I was staying at Silk Road hotel, we arranged an appointment in the restaurant of the hotel.

When he arrived though, the hotel manager saw that a local came there and spoke to me, a foreigner. Then he immediately informed the police and asked the couch surfer to give his phone number to the manager. In the next moment, the police contacted him and he was forced to go there next day. The explanation we obtained was, locals do not have the right to speak to foreigners in Iran. The only possibility is that the foreigner speaks to locals.

At the empty table, Esther and I were completely devastated.

Following day, we visited the village of Meybod, which is located I don't know where but a bit far away from Yazd, for which reason we again took a tour. This time the guide was an elderly man and did not speak English so well, though I'm quite satisfied whenever I can see people who try to communicate with me, regardless of his or her language ability.

There was again a fortress in this village, which was heavily ruined. Even though there's not much rain in this region I think the buildings get a lot of damage.

The space just in front of us used be a moat. Moat? Without water? Yes, sir, this region supposedly used to have enough water to have a moat here. It's not due to climate change but Iranians had excellent technique in creating water channels.

Next destination: pigeons' house. The people of that time used a lot of pigeons for their meat, feather, eggs (?) and transportation of private letters. (I think there was something else but I don't know anymore). The pigeons could enter and leave this building through the small window at the ceiling. The only animals other than pigeon that could get inside were snakes. So they created a stripe of chalk outside so that the snakes cannot crawl up the wall.

After driving for quite a long time, we arrived at the foot of a Zoroastrian temple. This is by the way "the" Zoroastrian temple since Zoroastrians around the world come here every year in June. They stay here for five days (?) to do I don't know what. I'm sorry that I don't have its general view but it's located in the middle of a precipitous cliff. The guide explained the history of this temple but I forgot pretty much everything.

Final destination of the day: an abandoned village which was inhabited until 70's? I took a lot of videos there because I found this village incredibly interesting. I'll put them when I arrive in Kyrgyzstan (where I hope the internet connection is a bit faster). There are even tourists who stay here for several days (which is possible because the new part of the village is just next to it. I don't know why they did not rebuilt the houses.) In this village, you don't know whether you are inside or outside because paths were roofed and inside the house the floor looks exactly as outside. Anyway, please watch the videos that I promise you to upload when I arrive in Kyrgyzstan or please remind me of them if I forget about them :)

So was my stay in Yazd. Shadi had told me that she has very nice memories of Yazd but I can understand it pretty well. I took a night bus for Kerman which departed at 6pm.

## Kerman

It was just after midnight that I arrived in Kerman. My host, Soroosh with his friend. As usual in Iran now, they welcomed me without even saying a word about the delay I had. We directly went to eat Kebab and then to his apartment.

Kerman is a city where almost no tourist comes by since there are not so many things to see there. There is a city called Bam which is historically interesting but since I'm not so much interested in history anymore (or rather I'm now much more interested in talking to people. Not like I don't like the history of Iran or so), I did not plan to go to Bam. As I stated, there were only few tourists even in Yazd and consequently the people were not used to tourists at all in Kerman. I really love this atmosphere.

Anyway, Soroosh was a student at an aviation school and he had just finished the bachelor degree, though in Iran it is quite expensive to be a pilot so at that moment he was just an engineer in Kerman working with his friends. Since it was Friday, he showed me the city.

As in Europe there is always a bazaar (market in case of Europe) in the city center so we went there first. As usual and appropriately enough there were a lot of spices. I don't know whether they were really all used in Iran.

There was a museum of hamum (bath ?) in the bazaar, which is probably the only tourist attraction in this city, though there were only Iranians inside.

Museums in this country cost in general around 5000 rials, which is approximately 15 dollar cents. Depending on the topic, like whether Islam or not, or number of tourists (in Tehran there's a museum where tourists must pay 20 times as much as locals) the price may change but the support from the government is not that bad in this sense.

One big problem of the current Iranian economy is that countries of high technology are all against Iran. The only countries that have a good relation to Iran are as you know China and Russia, though the Russians are probably only interested in atomic energy. What happens is that Iranians are now importing stuff from China that they would be able to produce themselves, but because of the low prices they still buy them. So sometimes when I get in touch with locals, they cannot stay cool. I mean, it's just a coincident that I'm Japanese and not Chinese and I think the people are aware of this simply fact but apparently it's now so extreme probably also due to the sanctions and it became clear in this extent.

And here finally the first photo of Soroosh. We were having tea. This was a famous tea house among the locals where there's usually (traditional) live music but it was a mournful month, like pretty much every other month in my opinion in Islam there was no music. Music is anyway something a bit complicated in Iran. Women are not allowed to sing in this country and men are allowed but they cannot sing happy songs. I would become crazy.

Mosques are the most beautiful buildings in Iran. It is also located in the city center, but the place looked as if it was separated from the rest of the city, with a large white court without so much noise.

In the evening, his friends in work were also there. First we drank at home and then there were other friends who contacted Soroosh, so we went out to a village near Kerman.

Every time it's really funny to see the huge difference between outside and inside. In the street, it's almost impossible to talk to girls, actually like in Turkey. The difference to Turkey is that if you are inside, they become so open minded. I actually don't really care if boys or girls in Europe, but it's something extremely important in Iran. I'm just wondering if other travelers can have a good view of the Iranian society here.

## Zahedan

As I have already stated, the main reason of this trip was to go near the border to Afghanistan and Pakistan, since I really wanted to see everything in this country. This region is called "Baluchistan" and it has a totally different culture. Especially, it is forbidden for Japanese citizens to go there, because supposedly there are too many terrorists according to the embassy of Japan in Tehran. There have been also many Japanese tourists who have been kidnapped. The danger is due to drugs and tensions between Shia and Sunni. Apparently it's a bit weird that this region is belonging to Iran though it cannot really belong to any country. Maybe it's better for them to be independent.

And pretty much EXACTLY for this reason I wanted to visit this city. Actually it's kind of hard to figure out what a "dangerous city" looks like. Do you have any imagination?

Anyway, when I arrived in Zahedan, like every other city in Iran, there were tons of taxis. There are way too many taxis in this country. Of course everyone tried to get me inside but where can I say I'm going?

Just before my departure of this trip, there was another cyclist, Emily Chappell who did it by bicycle, though in her case there were police that caught her before arriving in Zahedan, though she came from the other side. After being taken into the police car, she went to Zahedan and was put into one of the most secured hotels. When I heard this story, the image that I had in my head was like this photo.

I heard the people there speak another language, Baluchi, but in reality they spoke Farsi, or maybe Baluchi is so close to Farsi? In any case I spoke to these guys here on the photo. One of them showed me a bit around with his car. Hm, actually nothing special. Where's the danger?

Maybe I was a bit too alert but I could not find anything that could be dangerous. There was a huge totally rocking graveyard and the people there looked exactly like people from television, like in Afghanistan? It's just a traditional style and it's also important for them to cover the face because of sand storms. It just does not have anything to do with terrorism (unfortunately I could not take a photo of these guys but I think you know what I'm talking about)

Now, after having seen about everything in the city, I can testify there's nothing special in that city. Maybe I should have looked around a little bit more. Probably, when it becmes dangerous it's instantaneous, like bombing or a gun shot, I suppose. In this sense, it was maybe good that I didn't perceive the danger, though I'm still a bit disappointed.

This city is, however, quite poor. Iran has got a lot poorer in recent years, as you can clearly discern when you come to Iran but Zahedan is probably much poorer than other Iranian cities.

## Kerman

I did not intend to go back to Kerman on the same day, but since I found Zahedan not that intriguing, I went back to Kerman right away. On the way there, there was one police control looking for drugs? Later I heard that the drugs are transferred by camels since they are moving between Afghanistan and Iran. So the dealers bind opium to camels in Afghanistan and when they arrive in Iran, it would be gathered. I don't know if it really works but it seems to be safe to me :)

There were not so many things to do anymore in Kerman. We just went to the edge of the city to climb up a mountain and ate ab gusht.

In the evening, there was a friend of Soroosh, who wanted to come with two other friends. In the end, it turned out that we were around 15 people in total. It's Iran. They do not really care even if there are simply too many people inside, though Mohammad, Soroosh's flat mate, went to someone else's place because he could not stand the noise anymore.

I stayed in Kerman one more day because it was so comfortable at their place. In the end though, since I got an invitation from Albi from Shiraz, I decided to go over there by bus.

## Shiraz

A night bus is something horrible, in my opinion. Since Iran is partially quite mountaneous, they must use a bus but this time, eight hours in a bus, which is a reasonable length for Iranians, I truly found it nice to travel by bicycle.

Before my arrival in Tehran, everyone told me that Shiraz is a must-see spot because of its culture and history, but at the same time this city is famous for the laziness of people. Hm, I come from Japan. I wouldn't be surprised no matter how lazy the people are.

When I arrived at Albi's place, there was an Iranian girl, Helaleh, who was traveling with two French boys, Raphaël and Clément. These boys were participating to a wedding party of a girl they met in another city, there was only Halaleh at Albi's place. Anyway, we went to the market together, which has now become the standard activity whenever I arrive in a new city in Iran.

Maybe I've mentioned it but Japan seems to be something quite special in this country. Wherever I go, people are quite surprised whenever they hear I'm from Japan, because it apparently appears kind of weird to them that a citizen from such a high-developed country comes to Iran. Well, the Japanese technology may be high-developed, but it doesn't have anything to do with me personally... In any case, "made in Japan" is something special in Iran, even if it's "made in Japon".

Directly on the first day, I noticed I was not motivated to do anything. Halaleh apparently neither. But I needed to extend the visa which was about to expire, so I went quickly to the police station. Shiraz is actually a very famous city among tourists who want to extend the visa as the process is quite fast and they usually accept it. When I went there on the first day, it was abit too late so I only got a piece of paper on which was written how to transfer money first (30,000 tomans for the extension, which is now equivalent to 7.5 dollars).

Following day, I went to the police again. The number of people from Afghanistan is incredible. I was a bit troubled when the officers saw that I was from Japan, I was ushered me to the director's room to ask me to help in person. This is something that happens to me quite often in this country. I don't know whether they really think I need a special treatment like this.

However, at noon, they officers started to distribute sweets to foreigners, regardless of his or her nationality. This is something that sometimes happens in this country. In public, they cannot show their emotion or personal opinions, but in reality I think the police officers in Iran are not as evil as we often think in Europe.

In any case, I could get the extension for one month. Technically I could stay now until 15th of February but since my visa for Uzbekistan is only until end of February I will need to leave Iran a bit earlier.

In the evening, on the same day, I contacted another couch surfer, Marjan, who told me she could just show me around the city. We went to Harfezieh, Harfez's tomb. Marjan was showing Shiraz to two other couch surfers from Poland, Alan and I don't know the name of the girl anymore. Sorry

Harfezieh is a very very touristic spot. If you arrive there, you will certainly notice that it was constructed solely for tourists. Actually, the road in front of Harfezieh was under construction since they are destroying the asphalted road to create a stone pavement there, which was complete on one side where there was a huge traffic jam because of the low speed that was artificially and forcedly created due to it.

In the evening, we were invited to her place together with other locals. There it turned out that there was one couch surfer who even knew that I was arriving in Shiraz and he told me he even sent me a message on the website, though I could not find it after searching for my mail box. Anyway, there are a lot of active couch surfing users in Iran.

Following day, I contacted the polish couple to go to Persepolis. I think all of you know what it is. The French boys had come back but they went to the police to extend the visa.

17 PM is maybe something like 5 AM? (At least from mathematical point of view)

On the way to Persepolis, I had to go to a bus station. Without knowing its exact position, I asked one of passers by:

Sam: "Istgahe otobus miduni kojast? (Do you know where's the bus station?)"

Guy: "Shoma farsi baladi? (Do you speak Persian?)"

Sam: "Bale (yes)"

Then he explained everything in English. Merci.

I intentionally put here one photo which looked quite nice and I intentionally took only photos that looked quite nice. If you go to Persepolis though, you must be well informed of the fact that, it's probably the most touristic thing in Iran with Iranian traditional music running all the time and tour guides and audio files etc... At the same time, Persepolis looks like some kind of construction zone with a lot of iron pipes and plastic walls which clearly did not exist at that time, though the damage done to the building itself was quite critical there. I think in the Louvre museum in Paris you can have a better feeling of being in Persopolis.

Many Iranians say also that it's better that the most parts are now in Paris because they are treated better and a lot of people can get in touch a bit with the Iranian culture. What a sarcasm...

In the evening, the French boys were back home. They travel from Istanbul to Malaysia? or something like that, anyway by hitch hiking. They brought also an Irish guy, Conor, which sounds pretty funny in French by the way.

Following day, we were almost just sitting around the whole day, when Mohsen (Albi's coworker) suddenly said he wanted to eat falaffel. Actually there was another couch surfer, Juan, who was invited by Conor.

It's hard to understand that the people in Shiraz really do not want to walk at all. We were eight people, but we were all in one car, in an Iranian sedan. Anyway, it's impossible to stay at home for us travelers. We got out of the car and went to the bazaar, for the third time for me.

Did you know that in Iranian buses there are two sections? For men and for women. I always wanted to take a photo of this weird view but the problem is the section for men is front, which means everyone would be looking at me while I'm taking a photo. As far as I know it's not that problematic but other Iranians told me it might cause problems so I didn't do it. However, there were two couch surfers in front of me there so I tried to take a photo of the inside of the bus, without much success I have to admit. After me, Conor tried it as well though it was so obvious that we were not taking a photo of ourselves.

If you use the website of couch surfing you certainly know that there's a feature called "vouching". In short, you can vouch for other people if you are at least three times vouched for. And this is usually done to only trusted people. In Europe it is really hard to be vouched for, but in Iran, it happens so quickly, even if two persons see each other one time. Anyway, we were all able to vouch for other people, except Albi and Mohsen, who just started to use couch surfing. It is actually very important to have vouches three times. After that you can be hosted more often and more easily. We teased Mohsen all the time with this stuff (we vouched for Albi quickly because he was our host), like "if you get me a piece of chocolate from the super market, I vouch for you." There was something called "friendship charge" when I was at school. It reminded me of that :)

This laziness of Shiraz is incredible. As a matter of fact it was also incredibly boring. I mean, Harfezieh and Persepolis deprived me of the motivation to visit Isfahan, which is supposed to be a touristic city as well. Maybe next time, if ever.

Anyway, I decided to go back home to Tehran on the following day, though I did not really have a lot of things to do there. The others wanted to visit Persepolis so I stayed with Mohsen who wanted to see a friend of his. She had just passed a very difficult exam in English? so she wanted to talk in English a little bit.

There are sometimes European buildings in this country as well. This government clearly does not like them but there are people who support them. And they are usually quite beautiful.

When I arrived at Albi's place, I found out that the others were still at home. Shirazian laziness! (plus French). So we played ass hole, if you know this card game. Actually we played it the previous day too.

We were all travelers. And our problem was the same: Shiraz is too touristic. We played asshole all the night. I don't know whether this game is well known outside of Europe. Each European country calls it in its translation, like in German "Arschloch" and French "trou de cul". In Japan it's called "daihinmin" or "daifugo", though the rules are bit different. Still funny that we have the same game in Japan as well. I'd be interested whether or not you have the same game in your country.

In the evening though I decided to go back to Tehran. My visa for Turkmenistan was waiting for me and I was not so much interested in Isfahan anymore. Besides, somewhat I wanted to have more time with the family in Tehran.

## Tehran

A very nice thing about Iran is that if you decide to go somewhere, you can go there without preparation. You just have to go to the ticket counter at the bus station and here you go.

Armita and Shadi were not at home when I arrived in Tehran. They went to Istanbul with grandma. I think it was a very nice occasion for Shadi since she really wanted to go to Europe. And Istanbul is a little bit like Europe in my opinion. However, I have to say it is probably not possible to feel the European elegance in that city. It's simply too crowded and no one really cares aabout the appearance of the city. What a pity.

I did not have anything to do in Tehran anymore (of course not...) there was just one agonizing work waiting for me: my website. During my trip across Iran, I did not write anything at all for my website. I spent the whole day to update my website. Horrible...

In the evening, Vahid invited me to dinner. Do you know what is on the photo? It's the brain of sheep. There are a lot of exotic things in Asia. Iran can represent a lot.

Following day, I went to the embassy of Turkmenistan. There was no crowd of people this time. Maybe they realized it's also hard to go to Turkmenistan. I paid 55 dollars (wasn't it 35!?) and I got the visa, for 6 days. 6 days? Maybe some of you know that Turkmenistan is one of the most severe countries of dictatorship. It's therefore quite hard to get a visa for it. Pretty much the only possibility that is supposed to be still feasible is to get a transit visa, as I did, though a usual transit visa is just for 5 days. Well, in my case it was also written "5 days" but the period was from 2.5.2013 to 2.10.2013... It's clearly 6 days... I asked at the reception again if they made a mistake but they kicked me out saying it's 5 days. Well, in the end they said I can enter on 5th and exit on 10th so it doesn't really matter to me if it's an error or not. I think I am one of few travelers who got a visa for Turkmenistan more than 5 days.

I knew all the time but I never used it: subway of Tehran. As far as I know, it has exactly three lines. In Tokyo on the other hand, there are at least three companies in the city center. I actually did not really regard it as a transport possibility. But the embassy of Turkmenistan was simply so far away from home so I used it to go somewhere near home. When I got into the wagon, a shock wave stroke me on the spot: MEN. I can see ONE woman on the photo but the rest is consisting of men. Actually there are wagons for women and they obviously only use these wagons. It appeared almost ridiculous to me but actually there's also something like this in Tokyo (though I found it also ridiculous in Tokyo).

Vahid told me it's very important for Iranians to have original stuff. He asked me what a watch from CASIO would cost in Japan. Actually, the price is not so important. It's just so hard to find an original one. If the fake is so dense as the one on the photo (maybe for non-Japanese it's hard to understand what's the problem) it's okay but sometimes it really looks genuine. Well, when I get back to Tokyo I'll probably send a watch or so to Shadi and Omid, the real Japanese quality that I never appreciated when I was in Japan.

And Shadi and others came back. Grandma seemed to be very happy to see a country like Turkey since it was the first time for her to go abroad. We had a small party in the evening.

Shadi had a brother, the late Amir, who coincidentally loved China and Japan. For Shadi maybe not, but for grandma I was gradually replacing his place. So, there's one more reason to come back to Tehran.

On my last day in Tehran, there was one couch surfer who contacted me, Abouzar. He lived in USA for a while and now he was working for a company in Tehran but he was quite interested in the Japanese culture so he contacted me. Sorry I cannot really stand for the Japanese culture but probably I'm one of few Japanese who speak English so maybe it made up for it.

In the evening, we had a small farewell party for me. I prepared a guest book for them, with the first comment written by me, the first couch surfer at their place. Noshad gave me a DVD with a slideshow inside.

During my preparation for the trip, Shadi offered me a pepper spray, though she did not know exactly how strong it was or first of all if it works or not. I went to the kitchen, sprayed onto my palm, and thought, I shouldn't have done it... You know, if you spray something on a surface, it will be dispersed all over the space, especially it directly goes to your face then. Not only the face, it also stays in the room. Shadi started coughing, I was sitting in the couch, completely unable to open my eyes. Noshad coincidentally arrived, coughed, went away... What a nice evening just before the departure...

So much was my life in Tehran. So much? No of course not. There was so much more than what I wrote here and I almost freak out when I think of each and every single event I could not fully describe here. I have now something I had never expected before the start of my trip here. But it's not only about personal relations. There was also much more here in Iran.

I usually don't care about what I am able to do and what I am not. But I really hate to say "I cannot". Still, it's okay... If I cannot do something, then I cannot do it. However, if there's something I cannot, I really really want it to be due to my ability. I cannot accept it be because of social problems or my origin or anything like that.

I've got probably the mightiest passport in the world. And usually I don't even need to care about what is going on in the rest of the world. If there's a friend of mine who calls me fron Thailand saying he's gonna celebrate his birthday this weekend, I can simply take a plane ticket for Bangkok and still I can participate in the lecture after the weekend without having fully recovered from the hangover. Yes, I can do it, simply because I'm Japanese.

Iranians, on the other hand, they cannot do it. Why? Because they were born in Iran... For this simple reason they see at least ten people standing in line in front of every embassy, wait at least for one week for the visa and pay sometimes more than 100 dollars to stay in the country for one week.

Probably you didn't notice during my stay in Iran, how frustrated and furious I was. Did you think I was just having a great time here and I am now simply leaving the country?

Yet, there's a huge discrepancy between what Iranians think and what in reality happens in Europe: Shadi asked me what the life is like in Europe. I told her, we get bread in the morning and we have breakfast with all students in the meeting room of Rosenbachweg. At noon, we can go to a restaurant near the university and on the way back we buy a few bottles of beer to drink in front of the university, which is a very big park at the same time, though there are not too many people since you can find such a park everywhere in Göttingen. Not only in Göttingen, it's almost everywhere the same in Europe. In the evening we can go to a pub or stay at home to drink with other students or whatever. Often we just watch a movie together with others.

All this, does not exist in Iran. In particular, Iran is a country where you may simply die directly in front of the door of your apartment in a car accident, which is not an extreme example. There are people in Iran who even say that the way French drive is so safe.

Yes, we have safety, we have freedom and we have beautiful countries in Europe. Is it the end of the story?

Hannes, Eduard, Victor, Max, all my friends from the university. And all of us had the same problem: the life is too boring. As a result, Hannes went to Amsterdam, Max went to Spain and I went to France. Eduard and Victor are also planning to go abroad.

There's something called Paris syndrom. Young girls dream of Paris but after seeing the city itself, they have a strong clash with the reality. This is okay. I find it reasonable. But when I tell stories about Europe, I don't lie. And still everything sounds dreamlike for Iranians. Everything sounds so beautiful. Yes, if you come to Europe, you have the freedom and the beauty I promise here. Still, we were not happy. We were never satisfied.

Shadi complains about the salary of Omid, or rather the fact, that despite high prices they had to pay, Omid could not get as much money as they had promised. Omid is a pilot. He's even a captain. Specifically, he became a pilot because he wanted to be.

Shadi doesn't know how precious it is that someone can advance with an unflinching determination. This is exactly what so many people around the world cannot achieve and especially because we have freedom it is so conspicuous in Europe.

Now, I sincerely want her to come to Europe, where she eventually wants to live, with Omid and Armita if possible. The reality of Iranians, who can pretty much never live where they want, impacted on me like a dreary humiliation. I swear I will do whatever I can to bring Shadi together with Noshad and Armita to Europe. And this is the way I retaliate.

... and I hate to say "I cannot".

## Tehran - Garmsar - Semnan

Following day, Jan. 25th, I restarted my journey, heading for Mashad, which is located about 700km in the east of Tehran.

Armita seemed to be unconcerned. I also said to her that I'm coming back soon so it was probably the appropriate attitude, I suppose. Besides she is just 5. At the age of 24 I still don't utterly understand how big the world is, I cannot expect her to figure it out. Actually others were pretty much the same. Each one of us was sure (hopefully...) that we'll see each other in the near future so there's no reason to be emotional. After all, the world cannot be that huge.

At first it was okay. There were some villages and some empty roads. However, the further I went, the less it was inhabited. In the end, there was pretty much only desert. One good thing was that it was windy, but exactly going in the direction I was heading for. I was a bit worried about my conditions which might have gone downhill during my interruption in Tehran.

In the evening, I arrived in the city of Garmsar, the birthplace of the current president, though the people did not seem to be so much proud of this fact. Anyway, I looked for a hotel. I could have used my tent but I also wanted to talk to the locals again. I did not really look for a host in this city. Actually not only in this city but for the entire route because it made me feel a bit weird to look for a host after having lived at one place for more than two months and to say "Hey! I'm a new couch surfer! I don't care about my past please host me!" I just put open couch requests hoping there would be someone who contacts me.

It was a pretty nice hotel with a photo in the reception with army style guys holding a flag where was written "We don't negotiate with the United States!" or something like that. It was maybe the revolutionary army which is a kind of private army (?)

It cost me 8,000 tomans the night in the hotel, which is now equivalent to $2. Nice... It's apparently not very common to have breakfast in a hotel in Iran. As far as I experienced so far, there was no breakfast and nobody seemed to bother about it. Just get up'n move! Oh yes I haven't mentioned so far but the way I took was the genuine ancient silk road, up to maybe Uzbekistan? It is said that at least every thirty kilometers you can find a caravanserai or village. As it has lost its meaning there were a lot of abandoned villages on the way. It's a pity that I cannot put my tent in one of them because of wolves. Iranians are very hospitable, especially when they find out the tourist speaks Persian as well. However it does not always have a happy ending: On the way to the next city Semnan, I wanted to have something small and I went to a local restaurant which was at the main street. As usual, they all welcomed me feverishly. When I wanted to leave the restaurant, one of the guys there told me he would pay for me. Without having any special thought, I just thanked him and left the restaurant. Around 30km away though, when I was having a break, the same guy appeared, while I was talking to young people of the village nearby. While the boys were there, the same guy was smiling all the time, then he took me to his truck and said, he wanted to have my knife. My knife? I bought it for 5€ in the market of Croix-Rousse in Lyon, so it's not a very precious thing but since I needed it I said no. Then he became furious saying he had to pay for me because I fled from the restaurant. Hmhm, ok. How much? 20,000 tomans, which is approximately$6, though he was claiming it's less than one dollar. Well, I mean, I can afford it but I simply didn't want him to run off with it. To be honest, I'm a kind of person who can enjoy this kind of stuff :-) I think there'll be one day where I bump into a real danger

Between Tehran and Mashhad, there are not so many big cities but I could find a host in Semnan, Ghazel, who lived in Armenia for her Ph.D. She had a small daughter and she told me it was so hard to live without her daugher in Armenia so she started to work as a tourist guide at first then she started with couchsurfing. It's a new way of using the site. Her husband was a journalist and was about to issue a new journal. So he wanted to have a small interview with me the following day. Hm, ok I was not planning to stay two days in Semnan but it's cool to have an interview.

Following day, we went to the city center before the interview. And FINALLY I could take a photo of the Iranian school uniform (?). This spooky style starts at the age of nine, though at first it is apparently white and pink.

Semnan used to be one city with three small villages inside. There was a field between the cities and before, marriage between villages was forbidden, though girls were often kidnapped from one village to other. Interestingly, the fortress is surrounding all these three villages so technically they should have lived without conflict. It's therefore a very interesting village for reseaches. Now buldings filled the space and even there are buildings outside the fortress but still there are three different bazaars and three mosques etc.

Do you know what this object is? This is the official fundraising box for poor people. In Islam, though not written in Koran but said by an Akhunde (Islamic preacher) in the course of history, everyone must donate one fifth of his or her fortune, but not directly to poor people, but to Akhundes and they are supposed to distribute the collected money to poor people. So, the government put this box everywhere in the country. You cannot find a post box in this country but this donation box is everywhere. There is of course the hunch of the people that this money is not going to poors.

It's not really my buisiness and I find it futile to discuss whether or not the money is really going to poor people, but I found out that you can actually BUY this box everywhere. I just don't know how normal people can use it and for which reason.

At noon we had the interview. They just wanted to know firstly basic things like why I wanted to travel to Japan by bicycle or what kind of difficulties I have etc. Then what I think about the tourism in Iran. The biggest problem in tourism in Iran is that there are simply not many people coming to Iran first of all and there's pretty much nothing these people can do. Every time I'm quite sorry for that. The journal will be published in a month or two they said.

Then I went to one of the bazaars. Have I ever talked about the fashion of the people in this country? Since the revolution of 1979, Iran is obviously not developing its culture of fashion. It's even more conspicuous when you see young people trying to mimic the western style but they exactly look like girls in 70's or 80's of the monster fashion if you know what I mean... I'm sorry that I don't have a very good example here because in Iran it's kind of forbidden to take pictures of girls.

In the evening, I had the occasion to play the guitar for the daughter of Ghazel. Usually I don't sing myself but here in this country the people want musicians to sing, especially small children. Hm, okay, I sang "Volevo un gatto nero", a song for children you have certainly heard once in your life. She didn't like it. Then "Champs-Élysées" which you have heard as well I imagine, she liked it but not so much. Then "Yesterday". Oops, it was a hit. She wanted me to sing it at least ten times though Ghazel and I could not figure out what made her like this song so much.

## Semnan - Sabzevar

Iran is a vast country with the population of 70 or 80 million people. Compared with Japan of 130 million, it appears empty. One big problem is that not only there's no couch surfer on the way, but also once you leave a city, the next might appear 50 or 60km later. And you know that Iran is a dry country where it rarely rains. You can curse the weather when it does, for example, this day. Even though it never rained between Trieste (Italy) to Rasht (Iran), where it could have rained according to local climates it only rained in this dry country.

I used my tent for the first time since November. It was even before I arrived at Mohammad's place in Baku so it was a very long time ago... Anyway, nothing appeared weird to me but it was much colder than at that time where I scarcely needed my second sleeping bag. I hope I can arrive in Kyrgyzstan without problems...

Some road signs are country specific. Of course you must be careful about camels in Iran :-)

Following day, I had finally a flat tyre again which I had only on the first day of my trip in France. It was pretty much the same reason this time. It doesn't take much time but it's just annoying.

The fact that the population density is so low in this region was just agonizing. I grew up in Tokyo where 32 million people live and I love talking to people in general. And you can find a city only every 50km here. At least I could find a service area this day to stay. I could even get dinner there for free. Awesome.

Some people told me it's possible to sleep in the mosque in Iran but I never tried it out because I never needed it but it looks quite comfortable inside and I'm interested if it's true or not. Could you maybe try it next time?

When I arrived in the city of Sabzevar, I first went to a local restaurant and I contacted a couch surfer, Diyako, from Mashhad to say I was in Sabzevar and was to arrive in Mashhad two days later. Then he immediately contacted one of his friends who had again a friend in Sabzevar, Ahmad. Unfortunately he didn't speak English but it did not bother me so much at this stage. The friend of Diyako had an empty apartment in Sabzevar so I could stay there. After four days (?) of camping my hairs were like needles and I had a completely red face due to the collected salt from my sweat burning the skin.

In the evening, we went to a restaurant together with his family and friends. The parents wanted the kids to speak English a little bit but it was clearly the first time for them to see a total stranger like me. They cudgeled their brains and uttered a word or two. Nice effort :-)

And so was the long history of the first and coldest month of the year. Five months over from the beginning of my journey. I really did not think before the start that I would ever want to travel for such a long time but I'm now really into it. I have a new family in Tehran and there's a lot of things I learned there. Well, as well as in December this month was completely covered with Iran. As I declared at the very beginning I can assemble something meaningful from what I learned in this country. For now, let's just go back to the USSR and see what happens :)

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