2019/12/14 Update: My personal movie ranking of 2019
This year, just like every year, we had quite some movie sessions at my place. Some of the movies were particularly good, and some of them were particularly bad. My overall impression is we've chosen rather good ones this year. Here's my personal ranking. I enlisted only the ones that we watched together and of course I watched a lot more, but the ones that I watched alone will probably appear at the movie sessions, so I guess it's more appropriate not to put them here yet. Let me know what you think! (NB: the movies are given in the order of dates in each category)
- 1/19 Casablanca
- 2/16 The song of sparrows
- 10/4 Babam ve Oglum
- 11/30 About Elly
- 12/13 It's a wonderful world
Even though I am also a big fan of comedy movies (to watch at the movie sessions), all of the best ones turned out to be drama (maybe a little bit except for "The song of sparrows", which has a good mixture of comedy and drama, which was also the reason that I put it here). As it turned out, we got only 2 US American movies.. Or we can also put it other way around: I found it amazing that the only two Iranian movies and the only one Turkish movie that we watched turned out to be so good. I'm going to talk about it below as well, but Casablanca belongs to the era, in which the movies could still take rather fundamental plots, i.e. the best ones of that time were so rudimentary that it would be rather lame if they were produced today. But regardless of this, Casablanca still belongs to one of the masterpieces even for today's standards. The same applies to It's a wonderful world. I found it so weird that there were so many people who had never watched this movie (and I found it amazing that everyone loved this movie).
I guess these Iranian and Turkish movies turned out to be so good is because they vividly express what human compassion was all about. And the interplay of pride, ethics and the reality was demonstrated in a universal way (who didn't think human nature was culture-dependent?). I must say that the fact that we started discussing the movie after the movie session brought a huge contribution to the quality of the movie sessions, just by looking at what kind of movies I'm talking about here.
- 1/26 Rain man
- 2/23 Ladri di biciclette
- 3/2 Taare Zameen Par
- 3/9 A star is born
- 3/16 Roma
- 11/9 Ikiru
- 12/6 V for Vendetta
First of all, "A star is born" was almost in the 5-star category. The only one reason that I placed it here is because it's a remake - I'll probably never know what was the exact contribution of Bradley Cooper. Whether it's because of the filming technique or the story, you'll feel yourself being very close to Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, which makes the drama even more dramatic as it goes towards the end.
There are two classical movies that are supposed to be the master pieces of all times: Ladri di biciclette and Ikiru. As I mentioned above, I guess the fact is rather, at that time they could take the best portions of cake as they were always the first ones to tell the story. So even though I still think that these movies were neat, I wouldn't say they belong to the best movies ever. This being said, I still think Kurosawa's first movie that we watched here was worthwhile.
I was a bit split about "Roma" - on the one hand, I'd say "yes, this is art" and on the other hand I might still say "well, it's easy to make an artistic black and white movie". Anyway, the entire movie has a subtle tone of black and white atmosphere, and stands out because it's sort of rare these days.
- 1/5 The 39 steps
- 2/2 Gegen die Wand
- 2/9 Minority report
- 3/23 Gone girl
- 8/2 Diamond hand
- 10/19 Drive
- 11/2 Hacksaw Ridge
- 11/16 Le concert
If you talk about Soviet movies with Russians, probably they'll mention "diamond hand" at some point. After having been impressed by other Gaidai movies (e.g. "Kidnapping, Caucasian style", "Operation Y", "Ivan Vasilievitch" etc.), I watched "diamond hand" with full expectations. Well, this one was actually not as striking as other Gaidai movies. I can see the Soviet effort of putting other cultures in the foreground, as we can see in "Gypsies are found near heaven" and "Mimino", but this one was not the most successful one in this regard either.
Another movie that didn't really match my expectations was "Le concert", which had a great background plot, but then with Mélanie Laurent clearly not playing the violin and the uncalled for ending, they somehow missed the score that was right there for them.
Not to recommend:
- 5/11 Bram Stoker's Dracula
- 9/14 It
2019/11/27 I bought a new computer
Frankly, it is rather a wonder that there are people who don't have a computer at home in Germany nowadays, especially among the professional programmers. As a matter of fact, I didn't, for more than 3 years, since the day that my old Mac Book Pro was destroyed by my flatmate of that time and I thought it's enough to have a mobile phone at home. At least at that time, I was not particularly wrong. The problem is that things didn't evolve much for the mobile phones as much as I had imagined, while things around me evolved a lot. Still to this day, I think it makes much more sense to build mobile phones that work just like a real computer as soon as they are connected to a monitor, with a Bluetooth keyboard and the mobile phone itself becoming the touch pad, since the mobile phones are already so powerful. Well, as I already stated, this never happened. And now I surrendered, and bought a new computer.
The reason why I bought one in this moment is not only because Apple just released the newest Mac Book Pro, but also because I have pretty much nothing to declare for this year at the tax declaration. In addition to this, there's this book called Capital in the twenty first century written by Thomas Piketty, which I bought on kindle on Dec. 12, 2017 and took two years to finish, in which he explained how economy works. It was with absolute certainty not his intention to make me waste money, but it is true that there could be a world in the near future where those who don't invest money at all are punished. To the very least the inflation is real, so leaving money in the bank is certainly not the wisest thing to do.
Whether my productivity goes up, or whether I see a positive effect on my life, is to be seen. At least I wrote this text with my new computer. And it's true that I wouldn't have written this with my phone, not only because the subject wouldn't have been pertinent, but also this much text on the phone is still not quite as easy as it could potentially be (with the idea I stated above).
2019/11/03 I re-joined an orchestra
It's been some time since I posted something on this page. Of course there a lot of things happened in the meantime, one of which happened to be Olli's birthday party. Olli is as you might already know one of the regular participants of the hiking events that I've been organizing since I moved to Düsseldorf. The thing is, she organized it at her place, but nearly all the people who joined there were people I already knew from the hikes. Well, this is essentially what happens with the events around me: I see only people from the hikes. This itself is not particularly a problem, but as you might remember me talking about the my fear of belonging to a group (cf. this post). And also I'm really not a kind of person who sticks to the same people all the time. I slowly start suffocating when I have the same person(-s) right next to me, whether while hiking or elsewhere.
So, there's of course the possibility of extending the hiking group, like by making a new Facebook group or otherwise advertising it elsewhere. But then we'll simply have more of these like minded people. Rather than doing so, I started looking at other activities. I seriously started thinking about enrolling in a university or something, like years after I got my PhD in physics. Crazy, isn't it?
Fortunately, I got a better idea: joining an orchestra at the university. You might already know that I was part of this Japanese orchestra in Düsseldorf a few months ago. But I quit it because I couldn't stand their revisionist view. Since then, I didn't really do anything about music. But since the new semester started, I thought it might be a good idea to give it a try at the university this time. Then, at the beginning of October when they had the first rehearsal, I simply joined them. It was impressive to see a real orchestra with 15 celli or so.
Well, then I was away for two weeks and right after I came back, there was a small audition for new ones, which apparently I passed fairly okay. Actually quite as much okay as the conductor made me sit in the first row at the rehearsal, which allowed me to bring chaos to this peaceful orchestra.
Anyway, now officially I'm part of the orchestra. The next concert is going to be at the beginning of the year 2020. Please look forward to the future development.
2019/09/29 Sense of learning
There's this TV drama called 16 über Nacht (16 over night), which I was watching a few years ago in an airplane, for no particular reason. It tells a story about a 40 year old housewife, who is married to her former teacher. She visits her former school one day, where she by magic turns into 16 year old herself. She then starts living at her best friend's place and visiting her former school as an ordinary student, where she tries to help her daughter (who was also 16) and fend off all female students to prevent her husband from having affairs.
Well, you probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that I closed the session before it was over. I also don't really care where the story was going afterwards; I'm pretty sure that it would have made me face palm over and over again. Yet, I'm talking about this, because there was one striking scene, that couldn't have been possibly more German than anything else: The mother-turned-into-16-year-old then visits her old school, where she attends a biology class. And the teacher asks a question that could not be possibly answered by a 16-year old, and she quite eloquently gives an answer, to the astonishment of everyone else in the class. So the implication is that stuff learnt by 16-year-olds is easy as pie for a 40-year-old. But this way of thinking is by any standards typical in other countries.
There's this huge culture of private schools in Japan, called Juku, which has been a huge thing since the end of Japan's economic boom. The weird thing is though, Japanese women usually did not work at that time. So while kids went to private schools, mothers stayed at home (and did virtually nothing). This totally makes sense to Japanese parents, because for the Japanese standards school children learn things only school children should know. And their content has no meaning in real life.
This summer, my exchange students from Japan seemed surprised to see they and I could talk about things like history, economics (not to mention foreign languages, physics or math) etc., simply because it is so rare that adults can talk about this kind of stuff in Japan. But then, again, it's maybe also not only a Japanese thing. It seems to me that Germany is rather exceptional in this regard.
Düsseldorf unfortunately is not a particularly intellectual city, and what I'm telling here about Germany does not really apply to Düsseldorf. So what I'm telling here does not straightforwardly apply to my daily life here. Whatever the current situation is like, maybe it's a good idea to try it out, to show how interesting things can appear.
One thing I tried out was this T-Day, that I talked about in the last article. This is almost like an extension of school, which might appear crazy depending on your cultural background. It indeed didn't arrive very well at the beginning when I introduced it in France, but then after a few sessions, we indeed started enjoying it. Then, actually we didn't end up simply enjoying it; it was actually a session, where we indeed appreciated the difference of origin, like those who hadn't spoken much played an important role, as they all had a mother tongue, which made every one of them special.
What's more, it actually allowed some people to recognize that other languages are closely related to their languages. For example, I knew that in contrast to Russian, Ukrainian is fairly close to West Slavic languages, such as Polish or Slovak, which you might notice when you hear their accent in English, as the Ukrainian accent sounds much more like the Polish one. Anyway, a friend of mine from Slovakia didn't know it, and found out that she could directly understand Ukrainian. Well, by doing so, people might feel that other people are actually closer to them than they initially thought. Well, maybe I'm hoping too much. But the point is clear: learning isn't something you do just for school, but it's something that indeed makes sense in life. With this in mind, I'll continue looking forward to how I could contribute to its sense in the future.
2019/09/23 Back to T-Day!
Back in the old days, when I was living in France, we had this regular meeting called "T-Day", which stands for "Translation Day" (a rather bland name, which our flatmate Maria came up with). What we do was fairly simple: We pick up random phrases, usually from this page, and translate them into the language your were interested in. Then a native speaker (yes, it requires a learner and a native speaker at the session) corrects them. This was a brilliant method for someone who knows the syntax and the grammar, but cannot yet start speaking in the language.
Düsseldorf being not quite an intellectual city, and the languages spoken by the people surrounding me being quite complicated (Hindi, Arabic etc.), I was almost giving up the hope of organizing T-Days in Düsseldorf. But then I met Gülkaiyr from Kyrgyzstan, who was willing to do it with me in Russian. And since it makes already sense for a T-Day to take place if there's two people, I guess I'm gonna try it out in the coming weeks, maybe a bit with the hope that there'll be others who'd be interested (also in other languages, like Persian or Spanish for example). Let's see what's gonna happen. By the way, the first two photos were taken 3 years ago in my old flat. There were really quite a few languages being learnt by a few people at that time.
My Russian has by the way a rather weird background: there was a friend of mine, Jeremy, that I met when I first started living there. Jeremy was Jewish and lived in Israel for quite some time. You might know that the Jews living in Russia during the Soviet era now mostly live in Israel, so that there's quite a significant portion of population which speaks Russian. Since Jeremy didn't speak Russian but had a few Russian speaking friends, he always wanted to start learning Russian, but didn't want to do so all alone. I was a good friend of his, and so he asked me whether I was interested in learning Russian. I wasn't. I mean, at that time learning Russian appeared to me a completely random activity, like why shouldn't I walk on the Champs Élysées backwards or eat spaghetti with a spoon. But then I thought since Jeremy was a good friend of mine, we're gonna start together. Well, two weeks later he gave up. I didn't. With no clear reason in mind, giving up was not an option for me.
But then I visited quite a few post-Soviet countries after this, where I found out that people still speak Russian, even though in the Western media Russian is very often presented as an obsolete language in the post-Soviet countries. And I discovered a few Soviet film directors like Leonid Gaidai. And so, to this day, my interest in the Russian language and culture has grown to quite a certain extent. It's so weird to think about how it all started.
2019/09/16 Running a full marathon
There's this thing called "Weltkulturerbelauf" in Bamberg, which roughly translates to "World Heritage Run". This takes place every two years and every now and then I join the run. The very first time I joined was in 2005, when I was a high school student. When my host mother talked about it, I actually didn't understand what she was talking about. And if you give an ambiguous answer, Murphy knows what you're about to do. In my case, I signed up for the half marathon, which was the longest distance offered in this event. Half marathon is obviously very long for a high school student. And I had a miserable run, as expected. But it was not all bad, since I never forgot this sensation of misery, which made me run regularly after that. When I went back there 10 years later, I achieved a brilliant run with 1h 40min or something (I don't really remember). The point is, I made it, that's honorable. But look, we call it a "half" marathon. Just as much as you cannot possibly be half a man, you can't live with the notion of "half" marathon.
With this in mind, I signed up for a full marathon later that year, with very little preparation. Half marathon was already so easy for me, how could it be so difficult for twice the distance? I was wrong. Indeed, up to the half point, I did a good job, but then I could feel my body starting crumble. I slowed down, and then walked. The second half was almost entirely about walking for me. That was just as miserable as 10 years ago.
And this year, I decided to take on that challenge one more time, with slightly more preparation ('smile'). I just didn't think about the fact that I cannot run a lot in the spring because of the hay fever. But then, during the three-week crash course I talked about in the last post, I ran pretty much every day. And this Saturday (yesterday), I ran a half marathon on my own. And it was easy!
There were a few things that I learned after I started running seriously. Firstly, I had trouble sleeping in for some time before I started running. I was not sure why, since I had been having a peaceful and healthy life without particular concerns in my environment. But then I started sleeping extremely well after I started running. Indeed, I used to run more frequently. It just became somewhat annoying since I moved to the city center of Düsseldorf, where there's no green area in the neighborhood. I ran twice a week at work, but apparently this was not enough for my sleep quality. Now it feels like I go to bed and wake up instantaneously, even though indeed 8 hours fly away in between.
Another thing I learned was this thing called hitting the wall, which roughly describes the phenomenon that your body stops working all of a sudden. This is because the body can store only a limited amount of energy, and if the fuel is entirely gone, it stops functioning (quite naturally). Not only theoretically, but also from literature I knew this phenomenon, but I didn't think that it ever applies to me. The surprise for me was actually how little energy is available: it's only something like 1,500 kcal, which means if you run 20 km, it's gone. So your body might well be prepared, but you won't make it till the end if you don't refuel, just like a car. This was probably what happened when I ran a full marathon last time.
So, the preparation is still going on. The marathon will take place on Oct. 13 (cf. this page). It would be amazing if I could make it below 4h, but I'd still be proud of myself if I can run till the end this time.
2019/09/09 Back in Düsseldorf
I was thinking about updating the English version as well, but in the last three weeks, I was literally updating the Japanese version every day and didn't have enough time for other things. Really a pity that I didn't do the same in German or English, since the stuff was really extremely interesting. In short, my vacation was about being a tutor for Japanese high school exchange students for three weeks, who were to start their exchange year in every corner of Germany. This was my third time (after 2014 and 2016). And this year, initially I only accepted it because they didn't have enough people applying for it.
The fact that there's this course is a brilliant thing, as it allows them to have the first contact with Germany in a rather friendly environment, where they'd have fellow Japanese exchange students and teachers who speak Japanese (which, of course is not limited to Japanese students, but other courses are simply elsewhere). But not only this, since they can have more profound reflection on the metaphysics of every aspect that is pertinent to having a successful exchange year, i.e. they thought about things like "family" or "friends" or other stuff and how to (re-)define it, since not only they'll have a new family, but also they'll most likely discover new/different points in family in Germany. And for this, it is essential to have thought about the very fundament of what "family" is.
This aspect, however, was something that cannot be straightforwardly made clear to the students. So, what usually happens is that they think it's merely a language course. This misunderstanding itself is not a problem, as long as they believe what they're doing is meaningful. I'm pretty sure that we didn't derail, but every time I get the feeling I'm fairly close to making them lose confidence in me. It's true that the orientation course was extremely difficult to gauge in contrast to the German language lessens (which they got from another teacher), which is not quite what people from Japan are familiar with. And certainly you won't get a clear answer from them if you ask them sometime in the future what they did in the course.
But maybe all my concerns didn't really matter: we had excellent three weeks, which we enjoyed in the extreme (it was so clearly visible that the students had a hard time accepting it'd be over after three weeks), which was of paramount importance, but then I also truly learned a lot of things.
I might be a horrible person to put it this way, but in my vacation last year, in which I cycled over the Alps with Jen, I had the feeling that I was simply wasting time and money. Two years ago as well, when I was hiking with Mina. In both cases, what I did every day was to count the number of remaining days, only to find out in my despair that I was not going back to Düsseldorf immediately. And these were not quite a conventional vacation either (e.g. spending a week on a beach in Barcelona), which would have killed me anyway. Yet no form of vacation thrills me these days, probably since my bicycle trip to Japan, except for this crash course that I did this year, even though it was already the third time.
When I first did it five years ago, I thought it was because I wanted to see what I was like before everything started, i.e. before my first arrival in Germany, in order to recognize all the valuable steps that I made over the years since then. This was indeed interesting, but it became clear to me that this was only partially the reason. The real motivation is that I just find it amazing to work with people who believe that there's a bright future in front of them. And these exchange students happen to be the ones.
I'm not Saint Exupéry, but I often wonder how the adults can have so boring lives. As children they must have looked forward to a thrilling future. Once they grow up, they stop doing so, even though there's no intrinsic obligation to not do it anymore. I find it even more horrifying, that these people might be educating the younger generation. In essence, they might be telling the children to work hard, while not being able to propose anything better than the absurd reality they are living in. So, from the pedagogical point of view, I'm pretty sure I'm a horrible teacher. Yet, I can tell how meaningful the achievements that they are striving for are, and the future that they are dreaming of is just as exciting. Isn't it great that these exchange students listen to you with sparkling eyes?
Now the course is over, so is my vacation of this year. But the feeling I get is qualitatively different from the vacations of the recent years: I've done something meaningful, while having fully enjoyed it. The exchange students are gonna stay in Germany for a year and I'm pretty sure that I'm gonna see them during their stay in Germany. I really look forward to their development.
2019/08/04 Verpflichtungserklärung and Alfredo's departure
You must have realized I stopped writing about the hikes on this page some time ago, mainly because my hiking page took over this role at the beginning of this year and it made no sense for me to report the same thing here. So now I stop copying the title and use it as my personal diary, which used to be the case before. I don't understand how my personal scribbling could possibly be interesting to anyone, but this text will continue being publicly available.
If you know me personally, you might know that I cycled from France to Japan a few years ago. And if you know me very well, you might also know that I was stuck in Iran for a few months during this travel, where I stayed with one Iranian family most of the time. And whether you know me well or not, you certainly don't know that we're still in close contact since then. Since my visit at that time, I was thinking about inviting someone from the family to Europe, although the plan somewhat turned realistic only after I visited them at the end of the year 2018. The problem at that time was that my visa had already expired, which made me an illegal immigrant. The great thing is of course as you can see in a recent post, I continued being illegal for 8 months following the expiration. You don't have to be a drug dealer or live under a bridge to be an illegal immigrant. You can very well be a doctor in theoretical physics and entitled to the honorable illegal immigrant status, although the significant difference is probably that I was proudly being so.
Anyway, the point is that now I got my visa thanks to the young lady from the newly established international office at the Max Planck institute (whose life must have been reduced by an important amount because of my case), which now allows me to invite people from abroad. Great.
For someone from Iran, there are two categories to apply for a short stay visa: visit or tourism. In the case of visit, there's an official application form called Verpflichtungserklärung, which roughly translates to declaration of responsibility. As the name suggests, you declare that you take all the responsibilities, from financial issues to this person's departure from Germany. I guess the most important thing is that the invitee leaves the country. And quite often for Iranians, this is the argument from the German government when their visa application is rejected. In short, they have to have a good reason to go back to Iran, like there's a wife/husband/children or they are about to finish their study etc. Sounds difficult, doesn't it? It apparently really is, as most of the Iranians that I talked to lately told me that they had at least one application rejected recently.
Anyway, we have to give it a try. Well, signing this document is easy, but the difficult thing is to reach this point in the first place, going through the entire German administration...
Wednesday morning, I went to the city hall. There was already a horrifying line of people waiting at the foreign office, which was a different one from where I got my visa. And I quickly learned that I was in a wrong place. Great. They told me that I have to get an appointment in the internet. Hold on, there's a problem here: There's exact the same enquiry page for the visa application, which is as we now know is a ghost page. So for the one purpose we must not use the website and for the other we must use the website? That sounds fantastic.
There was another reason that made me less excited about it: I had actually checked the website before I went to the city hall in the previous evening. There, I saw that the appointment can be arranged only towards the end of August, which would be too late, since Noshad (whom I'm inviting from Iran) got an appointment at the German embassy in Tehran on Aug. 19. So I was desperate when I was thrown out there. But still somehow I decided to take a look at the page, and found out that there was one free slot only half an hour later. Miracle occurred at the city of Düsseldorf! And a positive one!
The staff who took my application was very friendly, though they usually are, as long as they are not doing some dully messy work (e.g. processing a visa of someone who didn't have one for 8 months). He was telling me how nice and polite Japanese people are. Well, it's nice to know that Japanese people are nice, but is it possible to invite Iranian people? Apparently it's an entirely different story: lately almost all applications are rejected, for no specific reason. He told me that it is extremely important to make sure that there is absolutely no mistake in the application. So I really had to look at each and every character several times. After having neglegted my own visa for more than 8 months while laughing about it, I really had to be serious this time. I'm living in a controversial world.
So much for the story of the declaration of responsibility. Right after that I sent it off by post. Now we all have to hope that it's gonna arrive in Iran at some point.
There was one more important occurrence around my life this week: Alfredo moved out. If you know me personally in Düsseldorf or if you've been following my blog, you certainly know that I had this flatmate Alfredo for exactly two years. The problem he had been facing was essentially his salary, since he was earning not even half of what I am earning. Finally he and his boss agreed that he'd work from Spain, where things are significantly cheaper and he can also live at his parents' place, so that pretty much the same amount of money he'd earn would be enough for the living.
So for both him and his boss, it was essentially a win-win situation. The biggest loser was --- me. As you might know, I've really appreciated his cooperative stance and openness, especially regarding the fact that I sincerely enjoyed all the nonsense we've created together. It's hard to believe that I'd come back home and not start speaking Spanish. Well, that's life. This experience makes me also recognize there are things that I actually appreciate, without being aware of them. Let's see how things are gonna evolve now.
2019/01/01 Iran over Christmas vacation
Happy new year everyone! I hope you all had good holidays. As you might already know, I was in Iran. Yes, Iran. Yes, it's not quite the country that everyone visits over Christmas. There were a few reasons that I wanted to go there now.
Exactly 6 years ago, I was also in Iran (cf. this article). At that time, I was essentially spending the winter there in order to continue cycling towards Central Asia. My greatest luck in that moment was meeting Shadi, who happened to use couch surfing for the first time there. Even though Shadi moved to Sweden, there were still (only a few...) family members in Tehran. Especially Madarbozorg (grandma) was still there. It was already a sufficient reason for me to go back to Tehran. At the same time, I also did not want to stay in Europe during the Christmas vacation, as it is cold, there's no one, dark, everything is closed etc. And visiting a place like Morocco or Thailand is the worst idea, because you'll see tons of German tourists in those areas. Tehran was a perfect place which did not have Christmas and doesn't have a high season either.
These were my personal reasons, but there was one more purpose of my visit this time: to see the effects of the new economic sanctions. At the beginning of this year, one Euro was around 50,000 Rials, which is the Iranian currency. Now, a few months after President Trump announced the re-introduction of the economic sanctions, it floats around 130,000 Rials. As a matter of fact, a similar phenomenon was occurring when I was there 6 years ago. At that time, the memory of the election protests of 2009 was still fresh. The high tensions and the re-election of President Obama gave signs of changes in the Iranian society. This time, with the almost decade old bloody protests and the election of President Trump, I thought the situation might be different.
Here's an interesting fact about the economic sanctions: Their specific target is the nuclear programme of Iran, which is the government's agenda. However, the economic sanctions are, by their nature, imposed on the Iranian citizens. The logic behind it is, if we squeeze the daily lives of Iranian people, they will at some point affect government policies, if not topple the government altogether. Yet, Iran is not a free country, so this logic does not go far beyond an assumption. I am anyway not going to endorse economic sanctions, whether they have effects or not, purely from the ethical point of view. However, if the US American government wants to justify their moves, someone has to see whether their goal is possibly going to be achieved or not. Yes, someone has to see it there. And it might be in my personal interest to escape Christmas in Europe or to see my Iranian family, seeing the effects of economic sanctions is not an option for a nation as a whole imposing those sanctions. Even if the US is certainly not my country, I'd carry the responsibility and I'd see it myself.
December 19, 2018 at Düsseldorf main station. I took the train to Frankfurt offered by Lufthansa which miraculously arrived on time. This system is now called Lufthansa Express Rail, in which the flight company offers one rail trip and flight instead of two connecting flights. The problem was, when I arrived at Frankfurt, I was told I was about to miss the flight, which appeared to me like a reasonable comment, since I was having barely one hour before the departure when I arrived there. In the country where the trains are constantly delayed, I must it was quite a bold decision of the part of Lufthansa. Fortunately, the plane got a delay. It is almost a daily routine in Germany.
A few hours later, I arrived in Tehran. At Tehran airport, there were two gates for the police control: one for Iranians and one for foreigners. The gate for foreigners was obviously used by Iranians who got a foreign passport. According to this Wikipedia article, it is apparently possible for Iranians to have a dual citizenship. Anyway I was most likely the only one pure foreign national. Right next to the never ending line before the Iranians' gate, I was almost sympathizing with those standing there - until I found out that the eVisa approval had to be changed to a real visa.
There is a police station inside the airport, where foreign nationals are supposed to obtain a visa on arrival. According to this Wikipedia article, almost all nationals can get a visa at the airport. This, however, gets complicated if you don't have a hotel booking for the first night. This was something written on the Wikitravel page, but I didn't really check it beforehand. So naively, I put my personal information and the phone numbers of the family members I was about to visit. In this moment, I should have handed in the visa approval, which would have delivered my visa within a minute. I didn't. I was curious about the visa on arrival. I was stupid.
The fact is, it is actually not allowed to host a foreigner in Iran, which is an extremely weird rule contrasting the Persian culture. I spent the next 30 min waiting for the police officer to decide whether or not he's going to deliver a visa. Later, I'd find out that I would have been able to get a visa anyway, whether I put a phone number of someone inside Iran or not. I should have known that Noshad, whose number was the only one that I had on my phone, was being harassed over the phone by this police officer while I was waiting.
In the meantime, there was a Chinese trio right next to me who didn't speak English but was trying to get visas just like me. Since they were not quite able to communicate with the police officer, they asked me if I speak Chinese. I said I was Japanese (which was apparently clear to them anyway). Still they continued asking me for help. Who would have thought I'd be being an interpreter of Chinese and English at an airport in Iran.
Anyway, I got my visa in the end and managed to get out of the airport.
At the main entrance, I was inhaling the same air, the unique smell of which was not forgettable. The Tehran airport being in the middle of nowhere, I had to get a taxi. But for this, I had to get money first of all. One guy claiming to be a government worker approached me, telling me I should change money at the official bank of the airport. One Euro for 50,000 Rials. Well, I know that's the official exchange rate. Thank you for reminding me that there are two exchange rates in this country. This, however, helped me find a right taxi driver, because I just had to see who says the correct exchange rate to me. Luckily, I got one very quickly, who took me to the city center for 10 €. Well, you might be interested in knowing that the distance between the airport and the city center is around 40 km. A taxi ride for this distance for 10 €. There's something really wrong about it, right? Still, that's the situation in Iran.
I was welcomed just as warmly as I was 6 years ago. Madarbozorg was just as sprightly as at that time. With Shadi and Omid not there anymore, there was only Noshad remaining who could speak English. Fortunately, I retained much of my Persian since last time (even though I rather lament the little progress...), so it was relatively rare that I was completely lost.
Almost as soon as I arrived in Tehran, I lost my voice. The air pollution hit me so hard that I never fully recovered during my stay in Iran. At the same time, my family told me I should (and not could) stay there. So lovely people I was living with. From changing money to buying a SIM card, they did essentially everything for me. How could I ever daresay I crossed Eurasia all alone...
And so, 6 years went on. While I have been following the situation in Iran closely in the Internet, it was indeed different to look at it directly there. As I've already mentioned above, there was a nation wide protest in 2009, which is almost a decade ago. With Iran having been a well educated civilized country, the violence the government employed at that time seems to have brought a huge shock, that makes such movements unlikely these days. At the same time, it doesn't matter how much Iran is engaged, the Western hemisphere obviously continues disliking this country. This obviously encouraged the people here to go outward, in particular towards Western Europe. I can't remember how many people told me they'd love to go to Germany. Yet, the reality is apparently harsher than I thought: if you now try to make a reservation for a visa application at the German embassy, you get the next appointment in two years. If you are a tourist, it takes less time, but it doesn't allow you to do much.
In the end, the full picture looks like this: The oppressive government persists, the international community dislikes you, and you cannot even get a chance to go away. I could feel a sense of resignation and despair.
Nevertheless, the Iranian hospitality was still strongly there. Wherever I went, I was warmly welcomed. While I was offered a lot of things there, I was wondering how people were looking at the fact that the GDP per capita of Germany is 8 times as high as in Iran. In particular, when they wanted to pay the bill of let's say 1 €, I was wondering how they were looking at the fact that 1 € is nothing for me while it must be roughly as much as 8 € considering the GDP ratio. Certainly you won't be surprised if I tell you that I indeed tried to pay everything for everyone.
The two weeks flew away so quickly, that I had to realize that I visited only 2 cities except for Tehran. Only Esfahan and Ramsar, both of which are fairly touristic cities, even though I didn't see many foreigners anyway. I spent quite some time talking with Madarbozorg, who treated me like her real son. Actually, I have never been asked about my biological parents in Japan. Maybe for Madarbozorg I'm simply her son, which can also be seen from the fact that she doesn't treat me differently from other members of the family. Well, this being said, Madarbozorg anyway treats everyone quite equally...
Speaking of family, I pressed Shadi this time to say I'm a family member, which is an extremely weird thing to do, since they might say they'd welcome me as a family member, but it's not something a guest would ask for. Well, there was a particular reason for me. The reason is this one incident that I did not record when I left their place last time. Actually in the evening of the last day in Tehran, Shadi anded me a banknote of 100 €...
... It's been 6 years since my bicycle trip over Eurasia. In these 6 years, there have been numerous people who asked me whether I have never encountered difficulties, that might have made me give up altogether. While asking this question, they certainly put me in the center of the picture. I sincerely want them to realize that there were a number of people who made me achieve my goal. And when I think of those moments, the very person I come up with first is Shadi, and this scene of her holding the banknote of 100 € with both hands. Not because of its real value, but because in my hesitation to continue, she gave me the final "go" I needed.
Since the end of my trip, especially after Shadi moved to Sweden, I tried several times to offer financial help to her. She'd never accept it. After all, I was more afraid of crossing a line by going too far by continuing to offer it. And if she doesn't give me her bank account there's anyway no possibility for me to deliver it to her (except if I go there directly, which is rather an unwanted option as I know that Shadi works hard everyday and my presence will probably only make it harder for her).
Shadi wouldn't, but then I thought, Noshad might... So before I flew to Iran, I bought a random picture in a frame, behind which I hid a letter and 1,000 €. Then I left their place. On the taxi heading to the airport, I made Shadi say I'm a family member, a statement I needed in order to make them receive it. And they accepted it. With this, my trip went to a peaceful end.
Now actually I'm fearing that it might have made them feel uncomfortable. So in order to make sure that this money won't redefine our relationship (or in order to let the time make them forget about it), I will probably not travel to Iran in the near future.
I wish things had been different. I wish money didn't mean anything and I could visit Madarbozorg just as frequently. I wish I could freely invite all those lovely people who wished to come to Europe. Well, the reality is different, and I only lamented my own uselessness for quite some time. It's true that I cannot make a fundamental change, but still there are the ones who fought their way up to Germany. I don't want anyone to be forced to go back against their will anymore. And now I can contribute to some real changes for them.
So, it's not over yet. Please look forward to the future developments.