Monday, 18 October 2010

Tourists on parade

Cycling into the dusty outskirts of Mianeh we were greeted with the the usual long stretch of greasy garages exhibiting pieces of Paykans and old trucks at various stages of their life cycle waiting to be welded, beaten and batted and then spat back out on the roads for the next round of battering.||

Once you get through the initial mayhem these small regional towns can be quite pleasant but they are always guaranteed to be clogged with traffic. Cars and trucks jostle for position and motorbikes dart through any gaps that momentarily appear. We know our place in the food chain so we are always ready to back off, but being too timid often results in confusion from drivers as they expect you to be opportunistic. Once you get your nerve and get into the flow of the traffic it seems to work rather well but we still haven’t worked out the traffic lights. The traffic lights consist of three lights, either all amber or all red. Normally they are amber with the middle light blinking. We take amber as saying, “go if you want but be prepared for anything” and the red as “stop” but it seems there are variations on “stop” as many drivers still go through when it’s a certain phases of blinking red, all rather confusing so we end up doing what the traffic does.

As usual perplexed by the Farsi script we were unable to find a hotel so we stopped for a few moments at cross roads to consult the map. Within a minute there was a small crowed mulling around us intrigued by the strangers on bikes. With much miming and broken Farsi we tried to explain how we find ourselves in their town.

Soon a man stepped forward and asked us in broken English if he could help. We asked for a hotel, stressing the word cheap as by default all tourists are sent to the most expensive hotel in town as it is assumed that we want to pay well over the odds for a nice en suite with a sit down loo. After examining our unkempt looks he soon appreciated the fact we were ready for the local establishments.

The nice chap had offered to escort us to the hotel but first asked if we needed anything from the shop.

“Shop, bread, yoghurt, milk, egg?” he enquired, mustering up all the grocery vocab he could find.

Guy politely refused, explaining we don’t need anything, but it seemed he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“No, no, I say to YOU, do YOU need anything from shop”.

“Umm, nope, I REALLY can’t think of anything”, Guy insisted.

After a moment of confused looks he escorted us to the Teachers Residence, holding Guy by the arm as we crossed the road whilst Freddy was stumbling behind struggling to keep up.

The Teachers Residence looked far too nice for our usual standard so we were naturally concerned about the price tag attached. After a small negotiation with the very friendly Resident Manager we found ourselves in the best Iranian room to date, en suite (no sit down but a real McCoy flusher), fridge and safe place for the bikes.

The chap who had found us the accommodation, Nader, was keen to meet up later and show us around town, and we were keen for the local tour. We waited outside the residence and soon Nader appeared with his ever so slightly rotund son in tow.

He introduced us to his son, “this is my son, he is very fat”.

Taken aback by the rather abrupt introduction Guy stumbled for a response. “Nooo Nader, he’s just……well fed, your wife must be a wonderful cook” said Guy, immediately regretting what he had just said.

It soon became apparent that the conversation was going to be limited as his English was quite basic. It emerged that Nader was actually a teacher of 30 years. Guy asked him what he was a teacher of.

“I’m teacher English”.

Guy turned to Freddie with raised eyebrows. Perhaps this was an explanation as to why we had encountered such little English throughout the town…

We decided that we should go to the park, the pride and joy of most Iranian towns. Just before the entrance Nader asked us if we would like some ice cream.

“Mr Guy, do you like ice cream?” said Nader.

“Sure”, replied Guy.

“Does she like ice cream?” enquired Nader, pointing to Freddie some one foot away.

In an attempt to bring Freddie more into the all-male conversation Guy turned to Freddie.

“Yes, I like ice-cream too”, chirped Freddie.

Strolling into the parlour it soon became apparent that Nader knew most of the staff and was quickly giving them the run down on his prized find from foreign lands.

We sat down to our ice cream dessert. A delicious rose flavoured ice cream, with the consistency of thick goo. In a momentary lull in conversation Freddie questioned the origins of a brown liquid on the table. After a discussion with the staff a small dish of beans emerged, similar to Kidney beans but larger in size.

Nader doused the beans in the brown liquid which turned out to be vinegar.

“What is it?” enquired Nader.

“Beans”, we replied.

“What is it?” said Nader pointing to the vinegar.

“Vinegar”, said Freddie.

He wrote them down in his little notepad, no doubt the word of the day for tomorrow’s English class.

Diving into the beans Guy made the classic tourist mistake of eating with the left hand, the poo hand. Freddie shot Guy a look but it was too late, you could see the look on Nader’s face. Within a flash a second bowl was ordered and Nader told us it was for us.

“Thanks”, we said.

Moments later he asked if he too could have some beans. We soon realised we had made the second most common tourist mistake in Iran, not anticipating Ta’arof, we should have refused the beans as he actually wanted them for himself. During all this commotion his son, Salar, was polishing off his second helping of rose flavoured ice cream.

Leaving the parlour we headed for the town centre, which was very vibrant, with modern shops selling the latest mobile phones and flat screen TV’s to more heritage items such as antique shops with hand painted vases from Esfahan and Persian carpets from Tabriz.

Every second store Nader seemed to know someone, he would say a big hello and making sure that we were clearly on show. People would greet us with big smiles and hand shakes, it was very self absorbent but we must admit it was all rather fun.

Nader also had an older son that has a shoe shop in town. We went to pay him a visit.

“What do you think of my son, beautiful?”

“Yes, he’s very beautiful”, said Guy.

Within a flash Nader had explained to his son that Guy thinks he is beautiful, much to the embarrassment of both parties involved.

“Are you comfortable?” Nader shot up.

“Yes.”

“Are you tired, do you go hotel or park.”

We explained that perhaps we could go via the park to the hotel. We were still really keen on going to the Park. We walked back the way we had come and nearing the park again we suddenly doubled back to the hotel. It seemed we were never destined to see the park after all.

Back at the hotel we found out that Nader did not devout all of his time to teaching but was an active member of the school’s ping pong team, and if legend be true, his brother is the captain of the Iranian national team! Of course the strong ping pong gene had rubbed of on Salar and we watched videos of him in action on his fathers mobile phone. Somewhere during the course of the evening it was clear that the day’s activity was taking its toll on Guy as his pronunciation of Salar had some how metamorphosed into “Salad”.

“Ohh look look, I can see Salad, he’s very good at ping pong Nader!”

Just to make matters worse: “Salad, you are very good at Ping Pong.”

After a few rounds of picture taking and some address swapping we parted ways after a truly entertaining but exhausting evening.

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