Twenty-eight(nine, soon!) going on Seventeen

Repeat-peat-peat-peat. I love this song like a love song and you know how much I love my love songs.

 

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Nanette

I laughed and I laughed and I cried and I cried and I cried and I cried. One day, I will have the words to discuss how I felt after watching Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix stand-up special. It so eloquently captures the traumas of sexual abuse, misogyny, suffering, living in a world often controlled by men (especially of the angry, straight, white variety) and more importantly, living in a world that is so ready to excuse the behaviour of these men so that they can be conveniently be labelled genius.

“There is nothing stronger than a broken women who has rebuilt herself”.

Watching this special has also made me want to do a deep dive into all things art history (Gadsby, an art history grad, explores how the world often perceives art from the greats like Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso – carelessly (or maybe purposefully) excusing certain aspects of their lives to bestow the genius label upon them). Right now, I just want to head to a Kinokuniya, plonk my ass down and learn everything I can. But since it’s 2.35am (I watched the special thinking it would lull me to sleep – so wrong), I shall rely on Wikipedia for now.

But seriously, watch this.

The long-winded status update

I finally deactivated my Facebook account for what I HOPE will be the final time (I didn’t realise how many important apps/accounts were linked to my Facebook account so I have had to activate them again to log into my app before deactivating again). I wasn’t actively using it much though it was my default app to go to after looking at everyone’s Insta stories (and their mothers and pets and pets’ pets and their pets’ mothers).

Deactivating Facebook wasn’t a huge loss. My main gripe was that it gave me a myopic worldview and very little tolerance for anyone who espoused political views (or Kardashian views) different than mine (seriously, I will cut you up if you tell me that the Kardashians are talentless). Facebook had become my echo chamber (especially since I was relying on it more for news). Countless arguments with Lawrence over politics, feminism, leftists, liberalism etc and the way that I reacted to him (emotionally  and not very intellectually – angry tears were involved in an argument about Oprah and Harvey Weinstein that began with a stupid meme posted by his friend) when he poked holes in my oft-repeated mantras  made me realise that leftists (along with people on the right) too can ascribe to a totalitarian type of tribe whose members have embodied a very specific, narrow line of thinking.

I also deleted my account because Facebook was boring – and yet I could easily spend A LOT of time on it. I thought my time could be better spent doing other things. But then that “other things” turned into Instagram and more specifically, Instagram Stories.

I then decided to “go big or go home” and delete the Instagram app on my phone. This is not a forever thing and I suspect I will go back to it at some point – possibly when I’m traveling again. I honestly hate not knowing what’s happening in my friends’ lives but I guess this means that I have to learn how to keep in touch with them more (something that I am admittedly horrible at).

The byproduct of the absence of both apps: Time.

I read a lot more now: Both the news and books. I also successfully binge-watched five seasons of Breaking Bad over 1.5 weeks so I’m not sure how healthy that is. But hey, I am reading more!

I don’t think anyone reads this anymore but I also thought it would be nice if I started documenting what I’m thinking, listening to, reading, watching, or writing  on this space.

I’m currently reading two books now:

  1. The Essence of Islamist Extremism: Recognition Through Violence, Freedom Through Death by Irm Haleem
  2. The Talibanization of Southeast Asia by Bilveer Singh

As you can see by the titles, they are heavy but crucial for me to understand terrorism (which is what I’m currently studying and working on). The Essence of Islamist Extremism is vital in understanding how Radical Islamists explain and justify the use of violence (Spoiler: Islam is not inherently violent but rather extremists use religious tenets of Islam to justify the violence).  The Talibanization of Southeast Asia is a good primer on terrorism in Southeast Asia – especially with the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah in the 90s.

I have totally neglected fiction because all I’m reading now is stuff that will help me in school and at work and needless to say that it can be bleak. So I’m try to slowly ease myself back into fiction.

I will be re-reading The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The book is heartbreaking and funny (I couldn’t eat squids for a week after reading the book) and it’s also incredibly well-written with economically elegant sentences.

I’ve also been semi-fascinated/obsessed with Modern Chinese history recently so I may look into reading a couple of books that can give me insight into the Chinese civil war, Great Leap Forward and the subsequent Cultural Revolution. I listened to a podcast panel session on China that included author Madeline Thien who spoke a little about her book Do Not Say We Have Nothing. The book spans forty years starting from Mao’s reign in the 40s to the aftermath of the Tiananmen protests. It’s definitely a book to check out and I’m excited to get to it!

 

Nicolas Jaar is against all logic

I came across Against All Logic’s I Never Dream on an Apple playlist and immediately fell in love with it. With all my favourite songs in the digital age, I showed my love first by tapping the ‘Love’ button and then adding it to at least three other playlists I am making. It’s that good.

I Never Dream is heady, funky, and simply glorious. I press play and no matter where I am when I listen to it, I am immediately brought to Disco Box, a dim shady club in Tirana. I am in the middle of the dance floor smiling away, heart about to burst from joy, while my limbs carelessly flinging about. I have my own space, I am not powerless, I am in control and truly, there is nothing else in the world that can bother me. That is how glorious the song is.

After playing the song a million times, I listened to the album and I am happy to report that I Never Dream is not a fluke. The rest of the album is as glorious. It is sample-heavy (samples include J. Dilla and Kanye West) and the production elevates those samples to great heights. Techno elements with a little bit of soul and jazz (This sounds like how I should describe myself on a dating profile should I need one in the future).

At this point, I need to find out who A.A.L (Against All Logic) is. And 0.025 seconds later, I see Nicolas Jaar’s name in every search result and suddenly it all makes sense. NICOLAS JAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRR!!!! So grateful to live in a world where one single man is responsible for Space is Only Noise, Sirens, the best BBC Essential Mix ever, and now A.A.L.’s (Against All Logic) album 2012-2017.

If Sirens was a politically-motivated album that is a reminder that we should not rest on our laurels while our world is shaped by errant leaders and lawmakers of an older generation, 2012-2017 is a reminder that we can still and should have fun (A LOT OF FUN!) in this brave new world of ours.

 

Getting the VIP treatment in Iran

Having bought tickets for a VIP bus from beautiful Esfahan to Rasht, a beautiful town in Northern Iran, I was prepared for comfortable seats and Iranian entertainment I did not understand.

But the VIP treatment I got was something I never paid for: A wonderful conversation (thanks Google Translate!) with an Iranian woman, a former math teacher, in her 60s. Within ten minutes of us meeting, my lap was covered with pomegranates, oranges and a stray lemon (for my Kebab meal provided by the bus company). We exchanged numbers and stories and soon she offers her home to me.

That is Iran for you – full of surprises and warm hospitality. Couchsurfing, the popular hospitality service that allows locals to host travelers for free, is very active in Iran. Before I left, I received almost 60 messages from Iranians inviting me to their homes all over the country. During the course of my trip, I stayed with and hung out with locals who made my trip unforgettable.

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My couchsurfing hosts, Solman and Ehsan, in Shiraz. I hate random, weird food combination but eggplant yoghurt and chips were the best!

This may come as a surprise to those who know Iran for its association to the “Axis of Evil”, popularised by former United States president George W. Bush. More recently, Donald Trump passed an inexplicable (really) travel ban that banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries including Iran from getting a Visa in the United States.

Despites America’s animosity toward Iran, Iran has enjoyed a strong presence on many travel bucket lists. In fact, to match an increasing demand, AirAsia offers direct budget flights to Tehran for less than $600.

Tourism figures in the nation have doubled in the last year but it is still void of tourist trappings – for now. Even the most tourist-friendly places are still favoured and populated among locals.

In Iranian capital Tehran, there is the hip Darband. Darband lies at the foot of a popular hiking trail, and it is dotted with small teahouses, cafes and restaurants – almost all of which offer hookah (or shisha). It may be an uphill walk, but the best, most secluded spots are found further up along Darband where you can sit on carpeted platforms right next to a water fall.

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In Iran, hijabs are compulsory for both locals and tourists. Many in Tehran take the law as a suggestion – merely covering up just a little of their hair. At Darband, we see women letting loose, with the safety of seclusion, as they take off their headscarves showing off their coloured hair, piercings and tattoos. They lean on their boyfriends’ shoulders and show affection freely.

While Tehran is Iran’s cosmopolitan city (complete with modern pollution), Shiraz is the nation’s cultural capital. It is known for its stunning mosques, gardens and its literature. As I head out to The Tomb of Hafez, the most celebrated Iranian poet, late on a weekday evening, it is packed with locals. Some are taking selfies, laughing as they enjoy one other’s company and others are sat on the ground in circles reading the poetry of Hafez out loud.

I am invited to join one of their circles. One of my new friends then tells me that along with the Quran, many Iranians keep a collection of his works at home. I may not understand Farsi, but I have gained an appreciation for Hafez and his musings on love.

Iran has many beautiful mosques but Shiraz, in my opinion, has the most beautiful ones. Traffic can be crazy in Shiraz and I found myself seeking refuge and peace in the mosques and its gardens for hours.

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Eram Gardens

One of the most popular mosques is the Nasir ol Molk Mosque (below) – otherwise known as the Pink Mosque. Arrive before 7am, and you will be treated to a kaleidoscope of colours filling the small room. Also, remember to look up when you are in any mosque or bazaar in Iran. It is very likely that the ceilings may take your breath away with its intricate carvings, colours and symmetry.

IMG_0884.JPGEqually breathtaking is the city of Isfahan, the most beautiful city that I have ever been to. Situated at the center of Isfahan is the magnificent Naqsh-e-Jahan Square (also known as the Imam Square) – the second largest square in the world followed by Tiananmen Square. (80 per cent of my time at Isfahan was spent without my phone because I ran out of battery so I have terrible pics of the place. You just gotta trust me on this – it’s beautiful).

Surrounded by two grand mosques, a huge bazaar, and several teahouses, it is easy to spend an entire day here. But the best activity is to do what the Iranians are doing: Sit down and have a picnic, an activity common throughout the rest of Iran wherever there is a patch of grass. At the square you will see artists painting the sights around them, young teenagers gossiping, and horse carriages riding delighted families around the square.

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After spending time at Imam Square, you can take a long leisurely walk to Isfahan’s famous bridges including Siosepol Bridge and Khaju Bridge – both of which are gorgeously lit up at night.

The bridges are a perfect backdrop for a romantic date as the arches are occupied by older Iranian men singing beautifully in groups. Romance is a language clearly not lost in translation. Local couples have the same idea too as they snuggle up close to each other in the arches of the bridges.

Once you have explored the three main cities in Iran, it is worth going up North to explore some of Iran’s beautiful nature. Masuleh is a village where houses are built into the mountains and where the streets are built on top of the roofs.

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There is nothing much to do here except taking hikes, and drinking copious amounts of tea, and non-alcoholic beer and smoke Shisha but it is worth spending at least a night there. Several games of Backgammon  as well as a free flow exchange of stories and 3/4 of a Fargo episode kept my Dutch friend and I more than occupied for three days.

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Close to Masuleh is Rudkhan castle, which was a challenging two-hour hike through dense forests and up a mountain. You may want to give up mid-way through but just curse your way throughout and you will be there in no time. The view left me speechless (but it may also have been the exhaustion).

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Photo: Sjoerd van Baarsen 

Iran is a beautiful, complex country that has many beautiful views, cities, and mosques but it is undoubtedly the people of Iran and their warmth that will lead to repeat visits to the country.

Tips:

  • Due to the sanctions imposed on Iran, you will not be able to use your credit or debit cards so make sure you withdraw enough money. For mid-range travelers, I recommend 50Euros per day.
  • Taxis are very cheap but they tend to rip tourists off. Always bargain down to at least 70 per cent of their asking price before settling on 50 per cent of the fare.
  • Traveling between cities is easy and cheap (around 20 Euros). Just take the VIP buses from bus stations.
  • Women must follow the dress code and wear a headscarf at all times when in public spaces. They should also wear loose-fitting shirts that cover your bum.

P.S. If you’re visiting Iran for the first, second or sixth time, make sure to go to Dina’s blog. Her Iran travel guide is the best Iran primer you can find out there – it has all the information you need and then some. She is a Singaporean that has been to Iran many many times – and she is basically an expert (in my opinion).