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Published: December 13th 2010
“I just love living in a place that has four seasons…”
Millions of times I’ve heard some variation of this utterance. It’s always delivered in that same dreamy tone that seems to imply that deep down inside everyone should feel this way. It's infuriating. I DO love one season, and I can tolerate some parts of two others. Winter and I however will never see eye to eye, and it’s hard for me to express just how happy I’d be if I never had to experience another day of it. Nothing bah-humbugs me more than winter coats, cold wet shoes, and snow.
Many people get depressed in the winter; I feel downright outraged by it. The feeling I have when cold wind blows in my face might be compared to the feeling I get when I’m stuck in a four hour traffic jam, or how I felt when I learned that Bush was anointed president (both times) or that a friend was dying of cancer: angry, helpless, and desperate for it not to be that way. Rational? Perhaps not, but I can’t overcome such feelings. With every fiber of my being I loathe winter.
I’ve probably done a
reasonable job of expressing how much I adore İstanbul, but even MY rapture for this city starts to wane at this time of year. The constant hassles surrounding life in this city (which I tend to overlook in the summer) become more amplified each day: the dozens of clouds of cigarette smoke that pedestrians ahead of me always seem to "üf" directly in my face are even more visible in the cold air, the cars that cut off or swerve dangerously close to anyone walking along the street are now armed with puddles, and the brutish disregard of queuing features an ever increasing cast of elbows when the prize is shelter from the bitter cold.
A windy rainy (always both when it rains) winter day in this city is ten thousand discarded umbrellas flapping on the street like dead butterflies. (I’ve gone through no less than five of them in the past year). The umbrellas are always such a powerful image: we’ve lost. Going from A to B means getting wet, getting angry, and perhaps getting a cold.
So, from my somewhat warm kitchen, I’m going to travel back in time a few weeks, to share a few blissful
Singapore & Malaysia, like Turkey and surely many other places around the world, embrace the "New Year's Tree"...
moments from a recent trip Mehraneh and I took to warm, green, sunny, tropical Southeast Asia. Like all holidays, it was over far too quickly…
16 November 2010 – to the airport!
Annoying border number 1.
Lousy exchange rate and a hefty penalty for Mehraneh’s expired residency permit, but who cares! Our trip had begun and nothing could bring us down. Before long we were in the air.
Singapore Airlines: good food, adequate legroom, chic & attentive flight attendants, and entertainment choices that range from French films to English documentaries on Brunei to the original Super Mario Brothers game – all in the comfort of your seat... I watched a bad Adam Sandler movie and gleefully ate something that wasn’t Turkish food for the first time in far too long. Washed it down with a Bloody Mary and a Tiger beer.
At check-in we had been told that our flight was one of the last on the İstanbul-Singapore route to touchdown in Dubai (our return flight twelve days later was non-stop). The view landing in Dubai at night was perhaps more interesting than the airport itself. From our window, we just barely made out the massive
off to a good start
Day 1 - first Indian meal, still need to shower...
palm tree islands in the Arabian Sea and a few other glowing monuments displaying Dubai’s brash decadence. I felt the same as I felt landing in Las Vegas: uncomfortable, perplexed, and amazed. On the ground we were told that we had a little over an hour before we’d take off again, and could enter the airport, if we wanted.
Between exiting the plane and re-entering security, we were left with barely a half hour to see what seemed to be a disappointingly average international airport. The only memorably quirky thing that I did notice was that the ezan (Muslim call to prayer) was broadcast quietly and evenly throughout the airport. After all my time in Turkey I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing this loudly blaring from some nearby mosque, a sound beckoning the faithful towards it from some definite direction and with a bit of urgency. Hearing the ezan as a soothing blanket of background sound in the departure hall, the way you might hear old soft rock hits in a dentist’s office, struck me as odd.
Hours later, we groggily disembarked into tiny tidy Singapore. Annoying border number 2. A few raised eyebrows at the sight of
at JB Larkin bus terminal
an Iranian passport and a handful of politely delivered questions, but as her visa was all in order, we were allowed in without too much delay.
Off to Orchard Road, the shopping-est center of a very shopping-centered country, in search of breakfast (fresh dragon fruit and pineapple) and a guidebook (which we found at Borders). Before long we made our way through some of the huge Asian food courts that are, for me, the only redeeming parts of the Orchard Road area. Before long, even Mehraneh was sick of walking through malls. We met Hossein in the afternoon and together stuffed ourselves full of Indian food. He told us stories about his rigorous student life and kindly offered to couchsurf our extra bag while we visited Malaysia.
Roughly twelve hours after entering the country, we crossed the bridge into Johor Bahru. Annoying border number 3. A few more questions, were we planning to come back to Singapore? etc. You’d think they’d never seen an American-Iranian couple traveling together before…
The Larkin bus terminal in JB was a bit of a shock after a full day of Singapore. It was as if a long day of noodles, curry,
and Chinese pop music hadn’t really counted. NOW we were really in Asia (should that be “truly” in Asia?). Night had fallen and the dinginess was tangible. The woman we decided to buy tickets from was off praying somewhere when we got back to her counter. As we waited for what would be a harrowing bus ride to Mersing, I discovered that Mehraneh and I have different philosophies about adventurous dining. To her credit, she grew far more daring as the days went by, but despite my protesting, our first meal in Malaysia was at a McDonalds.
The air conditioning on the bus was like a bad joke, easily a forty degree drop from the outdoor air temperature. We had traveled halfway around the world to avoid winter, and there we were, refrigerated and without parkas. Though judging by how our driver was thrusting the bus fearlessly down the bumpy road through the dark night, I started to assume that perhaps there was a practical reason for the frigidness: should our first day in Asia become our last night in the realm of the living, our bodies would take longer to start decaying – perhaps we’d even make it
odorless-ly as far as the morgue.
After a few long miserable hours, we happily got off the bus in Mersing. We chose the best of three rather uninspiring hotel options and, as our exhausted legs carried us down the open-sewer-lined streets, Mehraneh remarked that other boyfriends might consider taking their sweethearts to places like Paris or Venice. Mersing probably couldn’t even rank as “the Paris of the eastern part of Johor Province.” I promised that it would be one of those moments she’d laugh at later.
We ended the night at the busy and pleasant fluorescent light restaurant/bar that was the ground floor of the hotel, sitting near a television broadcasting a basketball game between Iran and Japan. Mehraneh started laughing, “the Japanese players have hardly any noses and the Iranians have enormous noses!” The first day of Eid was over. I finished my stout (yes, stout! – something unknown in Turkey) and Mehraneh, her tea.
Victory went to the team with hardly any noses.
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