No, I’m not going to get into the arguments about Shiah vs. Sunni. I think there is enough of that elsewhere if you care enough to look for it. To me, obviously all religions are different, but there are enough similarities which we can use as platforms to work together rather than concentrating on our differences.
Anyhow and anyway... whatever perceptions and misconceptions that anyone has about Iran, I suppose most people know that Iran is largely a Shiah country. So I thought most people I would bump into in Iran would carry the name of either Ali, Hussain or Hassan. A rather shallow thought, I know, haha! So when I landed at Imam Khomeini Airport and found my pick-up driver cum guide in the Arrival Hall, I was somewhat surprised when he introduced himself as Muhammad. Don’t ask me why I was surprised, but yes, I was surprised a bit. It’s part of the perceptions and misconceptions, I guess, although I would certainly like to consider that as just a teeny weeny one. Self-justification, no?
Oh! And did I mention that this young friendly chap, Muhammad, was actually expecting an old couple from Malaysia instead of a “single and (ahem!) young guy?”
Bless him :-)
- - - - - - - -
Hostility vs. Hospitali-tea
After being dropped off at the hotel by Muhammad, I had the whole of afternoon and evening free to explore Tehran on my own. Was really excited about that, thinking about all the beautiful ceramic and tile covered buildings that I was going to see and taking photos of.
I have previously read in various travel advisory websites that taking photos in Iran, including its capital, Tehran, is largely not a problem but personally I didn't find that to be the case. Maybe because I was being too cautious at times, remembering that I don't actually speak Persian and most policemen don't really speak English. The general guidelines are:
- no photos of women; and
- no photos of government buildings.
Other than that, it should be okay. Well, theorectically...
I went out walking around Imam Khomeini Square on the first afternoon in Tehran when I wanted to take a snap of a row of motorcycles parked on one side of the Square. It was a sidewalk and there're plenty of people walking around and street traders selling their goods, also on the sidewalk. While adjusting the camera, I noticed one guy was waving his arms towards me while shouting something in Persian. I was perplexed by this because I was not taking a photo of him so I asked one local guy who happened to be standing nearby me.
Me: Excuse me, what is that guy saying? Can I not take a photo of these motorcycles?
Guy1: No, it's okay. That guy is just saying not to take a photo of him. Where are you from?
Me: Oh, okay, thanks. I'm from Malaysia.
Guy1: From where?
Guy1: Ahh Malaisie.
Me: Ahh bon... parlez-vous français?
Guy1: What did you say?
Me: Tu parle français? Do you speak French?
Guy1: Oh, no, no, only Persian and English.
Me: Oh, okay, I thought you speak French because Malaisie is what Malaysia is called in French.
Guy1: Oh, no, no, but we use a few French words in Persian...
Me: Oh, okay... *proceeded to try to capture the intended photo*
Then I noticed the 'complaining' guy (Guy2) came over and spoke to Guy1. Their exchanges were somewhat heated (or passionate?).
I thought, “Okay, this doesn't look good! No trouble, I hope!” *Already getting worried* Then thank God, Guy2 left. I smiled at Guy1 and chatted a bit more with him. About work and stuff. (Guy1 turned out to be a journalist with a local paper)
Then it was time for me to leave. So I thanked Guy1 and was saying goodbye to him when he suddenly _raised_ his voice a bit...
Guy1: NO!! YOU CANNOT GO!!!
Me: *Confused and thought "Oh! Cr&p! What have I done now??*
Me: Urm... why?
Guy1: Urmm... NO, YOU CANNOT GO yet... because the guy just now is bringing you some tea...
And sure enough, Guy2 came back over a moment later and brought us each a cup of tea.
Bless him :-)