Sunday, March 27, 2016

[TEHRAN] Hunger Games Iran

Yahoo, we now take a break from the usual ranting and nerdy verbal diarrhea you see on this blog, because we have a sob story to tell! Oh wait, technically, it’s still ranting but with the hidden agenda of eliciting sympathy from you. To tell you the truth, I’d rather you give me food right now instead of sympathy but if Cirrus debit cards just can’t penetrate Iran, I don’t think your food package will make it here in time either until I leave or starve to death. And so the Cashless in Iran saga continues!

Despite PayPal coming to the rescue, it could only do so much. After saving my ass in Shiraz last Thursday, I realized that I just maxed out my credit card. No problem, I just pay it online, right? But then again, it was Maundy Thursday in Manila and banks won’t be back from holiday until Monday. This simply means that I just lost the capacity to transfer anything via PayPal. Happy days are over and I know I’ll feel the brunt of this dilemma when I land in Tehran. True enough, today is Day of Fasting #2.

Having nothing more than IRR 500,000 (~PHP 750) left in your wallet is not that bad, really. I mean, with all flights and accommodations already paid, this amount would be enough to buy you two cheap set lunches at the Iranian capital, but things don’t always go according to plan. You see, I landed at the domestic airport, which is connected to the city center by metro. That means you can move around for as cheap as IRR 8,000 (~PHP 12), but the Imam Khomeini International Airport is a different story altogether.

There used to be a shuttle van plying the IKA – Azadi route for just IRR 60,000 (~PHP 90) but for whatever reason it has been discontinued late last year. To cut the long story short, the only way for me to go to and from the international airport is to take a fixed rate taxi, the price for which starts at exactly IRR 500,000 (~PHP 750) from the city and can go all the way up to EUR 30 (~PHP 1650) from the airport itself. I guess this means I have to say goodbye to lunch. Hunger Games Iran, here we go!

The first episode of Hunger Games Iran started on a delayed Aseman flight from Shiraz. It was Saturday, day number one, and we got lucky because the airline actually served food. That means we started the day with a piece of sandwich and a cold tetra pack of orange juice. The meal came with a package of roasted peanuts and a piece of banana, both of which I placed securely inside a barf bag and guarded with my life in the inner pocket of my leather jacket. If we are to play this game, we ought to be wise, you know.

I still had some loose change and small bills when I landed at Mehrabad Airport. IRR 8000 (~PHP 12) was spent for the metro and that took care of all the expenses from the airport to the city center. What I immediately noticed about the train was the daunting absence of maps. I mean, show me where I’m supposed to go, doh? Or do the locals here have the entire map embedded in their psyche that they decided printing it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money?

The airport was the terminus anyway, and the maps started to appear in a mix of Farsi and English once we reached the main line connecting to the city center. I made it to Imam Khomeini Square station hungry and tired, but in one piece. What greeted me as I got out of the station was the sight of chaotic traffic which had me thinking for a second if I magically teleported myself back to Manila by accident. No wonder those Iranian medical students feel so at home back in the Philippines! Tehran is so Manila, but in Farsi.

Finding my accommodation took almost two hours of walking, unfriendly people pretending I wasn’t there when I tried to approach them to ask for directions, light rain, and hunger. I had to attack my roasted peanuts halfway through this episode because I just needed to eat something. I could have just surrendered and used the IRR 500,000 taxi money to end Hunger Games Iran, but getting stuck here for a few more days and not being able to withdraw would be more challenging, and I don’t have the patience.

It felt bad being snubbed by locals like that, but I think it was the language barrier. Almost everyone speaks nothing but Farsi, of which I have zero knowledge. I can read Arabic script, but this is a different language despite the shared alphabet so I don’t think it would have helped a lot. Besides, dismissing the locals as a bunch of pretentious jerks would be unfair to those who actually helped me, as did that guy who made phone calls for me and had his friend deliver me right to my accommodation’s very doorstep. For free.

I was already unpacking by 3 PM and the rest of the day before dinner could have been spent sightseeing. Well, sorry, but not today. That is simply hard to do when you don’t have either money or energy to spend. If I were to emerge as the proud victor of Hunger Games Iran, I'll have to be wise. And so I did what most mammals in need of temporary delayed metabolism would do. HIBERNATE. I woke up right before my first shift of the evening started. The banana tempted me from the side table, but my willpower won.

The second day was supposed to be entirely dependent on that single banana I had left, which I devoured when I woke up because I just felt so hungry. As I had my last bite, I told myself that I could do this. And so I went out to the common room to distract myself by virtue of work. A Spanish guy was also seated on the sofa. At last, someone I can talk to who shares a same language! After exchanging notes on our Iranian misadventures, he disappeared for a second and came back with a small plastic bucket of biscuits.

I thanked him and said that I will treat him to lunch if ever we run into each other in Barcelona. I’m not joking, dude. Name a hotel, we’ll be having buffet. The stupid thing about this dilemma is that I’m not really broke. I just can’t access my money. Blame the west all you want for the sanctions they have levied on this country but that’s just life. You can find ATMs everywhere but they only accept local cards. In the end, stupidity and lack of prior research is to blame for all of this. And so we just roll with the punches.

Or perhaps “pangs of hunger” is the right term. Barcelona guy has been kind enough to share his food but he’s also playing Hunger Games Iran. I think most of the few tourists that come here do, because you are limited to whatever cash you bring in. You won’t be getting more until you get out. In any case, we are grateful, because the sole banana eventually welcomed company. At least we ate something today. And now, time for some sightseeing! I have to warn you that it only lasted for an hour or so, though.

I walked around this area of the city and took advantage of free parks. I intentionally wore a light jacket to feel the cold, because one way of numbing a bare necessity is to amplify another. If you feel cold enough, this will distract you from hunger. It worked, but it started to drizzle, and then I was BOTH cold and hungry. The remaining IRR 4000 (~PHP 6) loose change I had could’ve bought me a piece of bread, but impatience led me to get three pieces of cinnamon flavored chewing gum, which didn’t do me any favors.

Oh well, we will always stumble upon a bad decision here and there. Back to sightseeing, Imam Khomeini Square is not as impressive as I imagined but had colorful flowers that served as some sort of a beautiful boundary for the monument itself, with more chaotic traffic lurking the streets that surrounded it. I only took photos of buildings old and new, so forgive me for the lack of anything interesting to share. Wait, I take that apology back. Fuck you, I’m the one who haven’t had lunch for two days straight now.

I noticed that Tehran has a snow-capped mountain range stalking it from the background. Perhaps, that explains the chilly breeze. As for this part of the city, it reminds me so much of Old Manila in both ambiance and layout. If Jakarta, for me, was a bigger and more chaotic Manila, then Tehran is yet another Manila clone, but way colder. I walked around some more until I found the entrance to Golestan Palace, which has an IRR 150,000 (~PHP 225) admission fee so I had to say No Deal!

I decided to cut my walkathon short and bide energy by sleeping some more. With no more food at hand and just enough taxi money for Day Three, we have yet to see if I will be declared as the winner of Hunger Games Iran tomorrow. I will be giving you updates, hopefully from a bar or resto in Sharjah while munching on a giant hamburger and downing glass after glass after glass and another glass of milkshake while basking in perversely hot and hellish weather. Wish me luck. I think I really need it this time around.

[TEHRAN] Hunger Games Iran

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