Monday, 20 August 2007

View from the couch

“Wow, you’re brave,” or “Is it safe?” were frequent responses when my wife and I told people we were heading to Iran.

Considering the coverage that Iran receives in most media outlets, these comments were not exactly surprising.

Almost always political and overwhelmingly negative, Iran is presented as a forbidding and rather anti-Western country that considers foreigners – especially the American and British kind - to be the “enemy.”

In reality, that impression couldn’t be further from the truth. At least in our experience at street level.

Everywhere we go in Tehran we are met with curious smiles and a friendly “salam” – hello!

View of the Alborz Mountains from the living room of our apartment.

While in recent years Iran might not be a “path well trodden” by foreigners, it certainly isn’t as isolated or cut-off from the world as many people might think.

Our first foray into a department store/supermarket to purchase essentials to stock the refrigerator was made so much more productive by a lady who took the time to explain the confusing way items were priced – while also telling us about the years she had spent in Canada as a student.

The staff in the electronics department had us in stitches with a slapstick comedy routine as several hands tried to repack the toaster we had just bought – with varying degrees of success!

View from our couch in a small restaurant in the mountains near Darbang Square. Delicious food, traditional music, and a puff!!

Many of the people we have met have either lived or studied abroad, or currently have friends or family who are.

Isolated and cut off from the outside world? Absolutely not, though some Iranians have told us it can be a tiresome process getting visas for certain countries.

It has been almost three weeks since we touched down here and of course there have been a few irritations – but that is all they have been – irritations, minor frustrations. A delay in upgrading our internet service, a two tier mobile phone service – the first, expensive and efficient, and the second (the one we opted for) cheap and unreliable!

Will there be more serious frustrations or problems on the path ahead? Without a doubt. But just as living in Korea or China, Thailand or Hong Kong – and even Britain for that matter - had their own unique benefits and delights, there were also some downsides. How these benefits and downsides will balance themselves out in the months ahead is anyone’s guess.

But right now, we are still on “honeymoon” and the view from our couch is looking pretty good.

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Saturday, 11 August 2007

A new adventure

At the end of July my wife and I finally bid farewell to Seoul. The departure had been a long time in the planning - and was certainly not some last minute decision in reaction to any events that were playing out at the time.
Negotiations for the new job had been ongoing since the beginning of the year, and a final decision was made in June.
It wasn't an easy decision on many levels. First there was fact that I'd be once again changing direction - returning to television news after 20 months editing and writing for a newspaper. There was the convenience of South Korea compared to the rather more restricted and less developed environment - at least from a Western perspective - of Iran. Many of the things people in Korea take for granted are virtually unknown here.
On the other hand, Iran and the Iranians have a certain charm and openness that would be hard to find anywhere else.
Certainly, the level of English among average Tehranis is rather higher than you would find among Seoulites - and many of them take every opportunity they can to show off their skills.
Colleagues, local merchants and even taxi drivers were eager to practice their English, using it to enquire where we hailed from and how were we enjoying Tehran.
And so far, we are enjoying it just fine.
Once settled, I hope to update the blog more regularly - though probably not with tales of poorly treated English teachers alas!

Chris and Shirley (newly nicknamed Yoda because of the very impressive impersonation she gives of the diminutive Jedi Knight master from Star Wars)

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