In April of this year, George Koo along with his siblings and their spouses visited Iran for 17 days.
The retired business consultant specializing in international relations with China is no stranger to travel.
“By my latest count, I have been to over 80 countries and territories,” he said.
But Iran, of course, is different–“a country that has been virtually blacked out from Americans’ consciousness since the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979,” said George.
Americans can only visit Iran if on an official group tour. Here is Part One of George’s account of his tour.
Traveling Iran (part 1 of 2)
Arrival and (photo)Friendliness of the Iranian People
On our first day, we landed at Tehran’s international airport from Dubai via Emirates Air. The morning flight was delayed, and by the time we finished lunch we only had time for one of Tehran’s lesser attractions: the Iran National Museum. As we entered the front garden, a group of young girls in their school uniforms saw us and came running to surround us and to give us a raucous welcome. Being on our first day in Iran, we were unprepared for the warm and enthusiastic response.
We soon got accustomed to being “accosted” by locals in public places. As we walked on sidewalks, cars would screech to a halt and the (invariably male) driver would lean his head out of the window and shout, “Hello, welcome,” and sometimes “Where from?” before driving away. Females took a different approach: they would seek out the women in our group and invite them to be part of their family photos. Being a mixed group of Asians and Caucasians, I think the women viewed us as somewhat of a special souvenir to add to their photo collections.
The Iranians love to take pictures. The younger generation of men and women all seem to have a camera phone, many at the end of a photo stick. Marion of our group quickly caught on and would walk up to groups of women and proactively offered, “Would you like a selfie?” She would be promptly invited to be part of their group photo. They would take the photo with their phone and also one with her smart phone as reciprocating mementos.
We were to have interesting encounters with professional Iranian men and women at many of the famous tourist attractions. We met a pair of twins and their woman friend at the citadel in Shiraz and found out that the parents of the twins live in San Diego. We met two women at the tomb of Artaxerxes II high above the ruins of Persepolis. One of them, the audiologist, was to join us for dinner at our last night in Tehran. They had taken the bus from Tehran, close to 600 miles away, to visit Persepolis. A young couple was spending their honeymoon visiting Masuleh, the one thousand-year-old mountainside village, and they approached me to have my photo taken with them.
Despite the rate of unemployment at over 20%, I got the impression that the Iranians who could afford it, like to spend their time off visiting Iran’s many parks, gardens and other tourist attractions. We saw them at all the stops on our tour. At no time did we feel unwelcome or receive any feelings of unfriendliness from the people we encountered.
The closest conversation we had that could be considered as political was with a mullah at the Quran School in Shiraz. With the help of Hassan, our guide and interpreter, the mullah said Islam is about peace and love of fellow humankind. He pointed out that the Jews, Christians and the Muslims all believe in the same God. He rejected DAESH, his term for ISIS, as an illegitimate form of Islam that must be eradicated. As for Israel, the problem is the continued occupation of Palestinian land by the Israelis. The beginning of the solution has to begin with the return of the land that belongs to the Palestinians, he said.
We stayed in Tehran, a car congested and noisy city just long enough to visit the Golestan Palace and the crown jewels collection.
Then we flew to Kerman, our southernmost destination, to begin our tour back north. From Kerman, our coach took us westward to Shiraz, then northeast to Yazd and west again to Isfahan, then due north to Tehran again. The last leg was northwestward to Zanjan and Tabriz before returning east and south back to Tehran by way of the coast of Caspian Sea.
Each leg was 200-300 miles apart. Our zigzag tour left out the northeastern part of the country but covered the heartland of Iran’s historical and cultural heritage…
Next week, we’ll share Part Two of George’s story about traveling Iran.
Dr. George Koo recently retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is a member of the Committee of 100, and a director of New America Media.
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