Thursday, November 18, 2010

9 Days In Iran - diary of speaker in Iran

Monument in Azadi Sq, Tehran
On Thursday 4th Nov, 2010 I travelled to Iran to speak at a number of seminars and conferences with speaking colleagues Larry Hochman, Kevin Kelly, Richard Denny, Paul Sloane and Sylvia Perreault. The following text attempts to illustrate the highlights without passing judgement or opinion.

Overall a great trip, interesting people and huge potential for the country. Their are of plenty of obstacles in the way though. Other good news is a measurable weight loss and a drop in trouser size!

Would I do it again if asked? Of course! Read on for some insights ...

Thursday 4th Nov
A long drive from Cardiff to Heathrow, a bit wet on the motorway. Arrived in good time to check in around 3 hrs before flight. There was a notice at check in saying that we were going via Hamburg to get fuel. This is because of sanctions against Iran.Why does the UK government do this, it is pointless?

Iran Air is a little no frills but clean and very polite. There is no in flight entertainment but everyone is quiet and the children were exceedingly well behaved. Could the calm be a result of no drinks trolley trundling up and down the aisles?

First plate of food was a rather chewy cheese roll but thankfully this was just to tide us over to the fuel stop in Hamburg. I managed to get a can of coke that had been turned into ice somehow! Some part of that plane was a little cold. Actual meal was better than most aircraft meals that I have had.

Friday 5th Nov
Arrived in Teheran. Met by Moss, Hossein and Mehdi and then driven at high speed to Mehrabad airport for a flight to Isfahan. Other speakers arriving on the BMI flight were delayed and in danger of not making the Isfahan flight. Luckily the flight was delayed by fog for around an hour and a half so we did manage to join up.

Isfahan was very pleasant, sunny and around 10 degrees. Introduced to Beni, our 'minder' for the next few days. It is useful to have a good english speaking person to accompany you who can show you the local sights and help 'colour' your picture of Iran. Hotel Kowsar billed as 4*. I don't think that it quite makes that grade but it is spotless and everyone pleased to see us and be helpful.

Drank a lot of tea and slept a lot before dinner. Had dinner in hotel restaurant with the gang and then went for a walk with Paul and Beni. Bumped into a couple of Beni’s friends Sohail and Reza who were out cruising in their car. Reza was highly ranked at Tae Kwan Do so he was to be my friend if I got into any trouble. We walked across one of the many magnificent bridges spanning the river. Plenty of people out but completely safe. The traffic on the other hand was something else! Iranians seemed to have developed a unique blend of walking, talking on their mobile phones and body swerves that allowed them to cross the road with ease.

Noticed that the bank next door to the hotel was named the Tat Bank – an unfortunate name.

In bed by 10:30pm and slept like a log due to fresh air and excitement.

Saturday 6th Nov
Went to an extraordinary meeting with Mr Yazdanpanah, the MD of Lahzeha. His business is wedding photography and videos but with a certain wow factor. He certainly knows his stuff and the products are amazing. What followed was a little surreal as his staff photographed and video'd us doing just about everything! It was like having paparazzi follow you.

The lunch that followed was great and then soe free time, bliss. Tomorrow night we are having a party at the premises of the owner of Lahzeha. Don't know what to expect but looking forward to it.

Ate in the hotel restaurant tonight but went out for a long walk afterwards taking in some delicious saffron ice cream and also a stroll up to the Abbasi Hotel. The architecture is superb.

Each time we go out we are introduced to business associates and cousins. Is everyone in Iran related? Lovely people though.

Chehel Setoun Palace, Isfahan
Sunday 7th Nov
Went on a tour of Isfahan with Beni and Paul. Saw Chehel  Setoun Palace and Abbasi as well as Imam Mosque and Imam Square. The latter has bazaars/shops by the hundred all making incredible textiles, metal an enamelled goods. There is huge potential to make money from tourists here!

Went to a well hidden café where you can smoke the 'shisha' pipe. Beni told us that this is what they call it but it is also the name for an illegal drug! Best stick to the arabic hookah I think! Went in the section with the ladies and took tea and smoked the pipes. Had our piccies taken their too! Very Persian and thoroughly enjoyable.

Back to the hotel for a rest, a slice of apple pie and catch up with home.

Mr Y's party turned out to be a small gathering at his garden out in the countryside. What a place! A nice crash pad but I was not sure about the collection of motorcycles.

Monday 8th Nov
First speaking date in Isfahan. Venue is Isfahan Chamber of Commerce and is splendid. Because of the nature of the event timings went a little awry. It was a longish day with a late dinner.

Despite being briefed by Kevin about being mobbed and people wanting photos I was surprised by the attention. Is this what being a rock star is like? I am told that things may get more intense in Tehran. Still giggling at the sight of the audience being taught Irish dancing by Kevin!

Tuesday 9th Nov
Better organisation today. Stayed at the hotel until lunchtime and then went with Kevin to the venue just before lunchtime. Just in time for more kebabs!

Audience were much more enthusiastic and appreciative. It was a shame that we had to ruch to catch the plane to Tehran as the crowds were even bigger. We had to fend them off and make for the exit. It would have been nice to chat but there was not the time.

Flight to Tehran passed quickly but back at hotel late and went for a snack with Sylvia and Richard. Tried Skype and it worked for a while but felt as if the internet was turned off at midnight!

Wednesday 10th Nov
Lousy night’s sleep. Woke up with a headache a gulped a couple of ibruprofen before having a chat with a colleague in Mexico and catching up on my Iran diary. Feels like I should sleep for most of the day!

Went sightseeing and had a peek at the Golestan Palace, the Den of Espionage (former US embassy) and also Azadi Sq. The paintings on the wall of the former US embassy are great but I can see how it would upset the USA. Saw revolutionary militia dressed in black riding on their motorcycles in large numbers near Tehran University. Very scary indeed!

Thursday 11th Nov
Another bad sleep. Up at 4:15am instead of 5:30! Had brekkie at 6am and was ready to go to conference venue at 6:45am. Shame nobody else was. We left a little late but the start was delayed anyway. Venue very posh and I have a badge which says ‘keynote speaker’ on it – cool. First speech very good I thought but second did struggle a little as audience had a problem with the concept of time travel (or my explanation of the activity). After second speech Mehdi sold all of my CDs plus copies of the PDF files, brilliant!

Dashed out at 5pm and returned to hotel to check out. Off to Mehrabad airport for flight to Mashhad. Translators did not make the flight for some reason but one seems to have been found. Mahan Air much better than Iran Air and we were greeted by the event organisers with roses. Temp was lower but air is clean. Reminds me a little of the north of Thailand.

Hotel basic but comfy and spacious (we have suites) so down to tweak PowerPoint, have a cuppa and off to bed. 

Friday 12th Nov
We now have a new translator who has never done this before but his english is good and he is keen! Also the conf venue does not have a translation booth. We start off with translator in a different room for my first slot, not brill but ok. For Paul we move translator in and he has to do one sentence at a time. Progress, things go better. In the meantime our powerpoint is translated in Farsi and so my second session goes much better. Q and A session could have carried on all night as could photos. Translator helped by lovely lady Negin.

Went into Mashhad itself with conf organiser Mr B and his wife. Went to trad restaurant where you sit on a raised floor. Food brill but we managed to innovate the cooking! One of the dishes we had was supposed to be eaten with bread but Paul and I ate it with rice. They told us that this was odd. We just put it down to innovation.

Negin met us afterwards and we all went to Haram to the shrine of Imam Reza. Paul insisted on seeing everything and led us around with the guidebook! Nagin wanted us to go to her garden for tea which was miles out of town but very pleasant. I fell down a hole next to the swimming pool!

We had 6 people in Mr B’s car and he drove like crazy. It was fun though. On arriving back at the hotel Mr B presented us both with gifts. A nice thought but I am not sure how to get the picture back to the UK. 

Saturday 13th Nov
Left hotel with very little time to spare. Mr B and wife insisted that they drive us to the airport but they stopped on the way for a pressie for John. Nice but we only just made the flight. Disturbing scenes of martyrdom on posters at the airport.

Ok flight back to Tehran and then transfer to Hotel Howeyzeh. Great lobby set in a timewarp and efficient staff. Rooms sparkling but bathrooms have 'exciting' plumbing. Tested the air con and I can say that the air con in every hotel room that I stayed in did not work!

Had lunch with Paul and Moss then went to sleep after trying the internet access (free – great). Met with Moss, Hossein and Mehdi, Paul and Richard for meal in the coffee shop. Only food was pizza and the oven only takes 3. Alas the 3 Iranian guys were forgotten and only got half cooked pizzas in the end. Still have not found out the Iranian equivalent of manana . An early night was called for with a 4:30am start the next day. 

Sunday 14th Nov
Up at 3:30am in order to leave the hotel at 4:45am for the airport. Trip to airport only takes 35 mins and then Mehdi has a disagreement with the taxi driver!

Mehdi takes us to the currency exchange where the inhabitant is asleep with his feet up. On being woken he says the exchange is not open! We go through security and then try the Meli Bank. They do change our money but only to Euros not sterling.

We check in and then go for a coffee. Richard appears as the business class lounge is rubbish – there is a god after all!

Flight is uneventful but we notice as that as we get further from Tehran the women begin removing their scarves!

Back to reality in the UK!

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