Walking Between History And Now

One thing about travelling is that you get to learn something new. If you visit a place with a long history, you’d probably feel that you are travelling back in time. Esfahan was indeed very modern in 2006 when we went there but the city also preserved a lot of historic architecture. When I was walking in the city, at the same time, being surrounded by friendly local people who occasionally stopped me to take photos with them, I had a strong feeling that I was walking between history and now.

Today, we visited a vank in Esfahan early in the morning.

Vank in Esfahan. ‘Vank’ means ‘cathedral’ in Armenian language. Our local tour guide called it, ‘Armenian church’. The design of the vank looked like a combination of a church and a mosque.

The whole piece of land where the church was standing was given to Armenians in the past by an emperor who also believed in Christianity. As in 2006, the piece of land still belonged to Armenians.

Vank in Esfahan. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside.

There were a number of Armenian churches in Iran located in different cities. This one in Esfahan was only one of them.  But they didn’t hold Sunday masses here. It was only for special occasions.

There was also a museum opposite to the church. The museum displayed Christian objects, like the Holy Bible in Armenian language, and other versions of the Bible, religious paintings, money (coins and notes) that the Armenians used in the past, and so on.

While I was wandering around inside the museum, an Iranian woman approached me and showed me a very interesting exhibit inside the museum. When I looked at it, I was quite puzzled. There was a transparent box there, and on top of that box, there was a microscope.

‘What’s so special about it? Why did she ask me to look at it?’ I thought.

I looked through the lens of the microscope, then I saw a strand of something with pattern on it. Full of bewilderment, I read the note on the wall (in amazement) which read in English –

‘Writing on a Hair’

That was a strand of hair??!!

‘- Written with a diamond-tipped pen 20 times thinner than the hair

– Thickness of the hair: 0.1mm

– It was the hair of an 18-20 year-old lady

– Written in Armenian and translated into English:

‘To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding’’

It was amazing!

That verse was from Proverb 1:2.

University of Esfahan

We spent the morning at the University of Esfahan after visiting Armenian church. Our plan was to meet some students but it was still their summer holiday so we could only see a few of them doing research at the university. They were busy preparing for the First Students’ Conference on Applications of Chemistry in Industry (SCACI). They invited people from other countries to attend this conference. We visited the laboratories in their Chemistry faculty and watched them doing experiments.

We were invited to have lunch with the hosts from the international students office who gave us some interesting statistics about the number of female and male students at the university. According to the host, there were more female university students than the male ones in the whole country. The main reason was the male was still considered as the breadwinner in Iran. In order to support their family financially, most of them had to start working early. For the women, since they were not the breadwinners, they continued with their education. So, we could see more female students (even in the chemistry building and laboratories) than male students. But we saw one young male scientist who was only 27 years old in the chemistry block. In the future, it was predicted that there would be more female politicians than male.

Speaking of politicians, people in Iran elected their members of parliament. All adults had the right to vote (i.e. universal suffrage). According to our local tour guide, Iranians voted for those who were knowledgeable, strong and capable to do their own job regardless of their gender. So, in 2006, there were some female politicians in the parliament.

Khajoo Bridge in Esfahan, built in the 17th century
People spending time at the bridge. I wonder why there were so many of them. It wasn’t a national holiday.
This lady asked me to take a photo with her.

While I was walking around and taking photos, my travel companion suddenly called me. I turned around and she said, ‘this lady wants to take a photo with you.’  A young Iranian lady holding a baby was smiling to me. I gladly took one photo with her and in return I took this photo.  Things like this always happened.

As I was wandering around that area, a guy came and chatted with me. It wasn’t a long chat because he was not good at English. In fact, he apologized for that and explained to me they only studied English at high schools. They learnt Persian (or Farsi) as their first language, and English as their second. But since they didn’t learn it for too long, they couldn’t speak it well. Communicating with foreigners was one of the ways to practise English for them.  It of course also served other purposes – to get to know more about foreign countries, to get in touch with foreigners in person instead of on the internet although internet was very common in Iran in 2006.

Speaking of internet, yahoo IM was very popular in Iran in those days. Every time when we exchanged our addresses with the locals, they would say, ‘I don’t have an email address but I will give you my ID.’   At first, I didn’t understand what that ‘ID’ meant.   But as I asked them more questions about that, I realised they meant yahoo IM ID. They probably use other social media now.

We could find internet in most of the hotels or motels in 2006. The country also had internet bars or ‘Cafe Net’ so they called it. The charges I heard were very low in those bars. It could be as low as less than USD1 for half an hour.

Walking on history
Fried corn were being sold in the streets near Khajoo Bridge

Speaking of corn, Iran was actually very famous for that. Other than corn, they were also very famous for pears, persimmons, pistachios, pomegranates, (yes, all start with ‘p’), grapes, melons, wheat and the expensive caviar.  

I tried their pears and melons, they were so delicious, juicy and sweet.  And their tomatoes…, I had never seen tomatoes so red before!

According to our local tour guide, in the past, Iran relied heavily on imported goods including agricultural produce. But after Khomeini became the political leader, he started to develop the agriculture industry in Iran. People began to grow wheat, corn, fruits, etc. They grew so many that they started to export them to other countries.

After this, we requested to go back to the Naqsh-e Jahan Square to do more shopping before dinner. Apparently, it wasn’t enough for us yesterday. 😀  One of us even bought a new suitcase at the bazaar for the numerous carpets that he bought.

Bakers baking delicious bread. The bread was so delicious when it was served hot. It was as good as those I tried years later in Tbilisi and Mestia, Georgia.

The sun was setting.

It meant that I didn’t have much time left in Esfahan…

On the first day we arrived at Esfahan, I was stopped by a little girl at this very Square.   I guess she was less than 10 years old.

She came and asked me, ‘where are you from?’ speaking perfect English only with a little bit of accent.

So I told her.

She asked, ‘how long have you stayed in Iran?’

‘4 days already.’

‘When are you going back home?’

‘I will have 3 more days in Iran and then I will go back home.’

‘I am studying in England. It’s now the end of summer holiday but I couldn’t buy an air ticket. The planes are all full so I am still here. I will be late for this school term. And now I am shopping for some souvenirs for my friends.’

‘What are you going to buy?’

‘Something Iranian, like handcrafted things.’

All the way, there was a blonde guy standing beside her. I think he was around 15 years old. I guess that’s probably her brother.

‘Which cities have you been to in Iran?’

‘We have been to Tehran, Shiraz and Persepolis.’

‘So which city do you like the best?’

‘Well, I like all of them.’

‘Which city do you like the best?’   She insisted and emphasized ‘the best’.

‘Which part of Iran are you from?’

‘Esfahan.’

‘I like Esfahan.’

She was happy when she heard that and the guy standing behind her smiled.

Unfortunately, my travel companion urged me to go as our bus was leaving so I had to discontinue our conversation and I didn’t even have time to take a photo with her. That girl was so cute.   That was a very interesting encounter.

But it was true that I liked Esfahan.

Our dinner tonight was a little bit different. I think the organiser requested to have dinner with a local family so it was arranged. Since we had 15 in our group, the host prepared a big feast for all of us.

We were first served with some fruits.  The bowl of fruits was so big and heavy that even a guy from our group couldn’t hold it for long. But it was a lady who served us. She was holding that bowl, walking around, giving it to each one of us to select the fruit. We just quickly picked the fruit from the bowl because we didn’t want her to hold it for too long too. When I write this now, this whole scene actually reminded me of my trip in Turkey in 2018.  

We were all sitting on the floor. The floor was covered with large pieces of carpets. Before the dishes arrived, we helped them to put a plastic cover on top of the carpets. Then we started to chat. One of the hosts told us about how men wooed women in Iran and he also told us about the symbolic meaning of having the salt on the table. ‘Everything on the dining table was ‘man made’”, he said, ‘except for the salt.   Salt is given by god, and it is the soul. So, it is very important. Even if you don’t use it, it has to be there on the table.’

Entertainment for tonight. Traditional Iranian performance. The drummer played the drum while singing.
No joke. The things in their hands were very very heavy. I couldn’t even hold one up.

I think the performance lasted for about an hour or so but we were already very tired. It was a very interesting day indeed. We would visit another unique place tomorrow.

Stay tuned. 🙂

5 September 2006

P.S. It is true that there are more women serving in the parliament now. However, the majority is still men, according to Wiki when I checked it at the time I write this blog.

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