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May 13, 2004

 Life 
Driving in Tehran, Part I - The Foreign Point of View
Guest Author: Ramin Kamal

A typical rush hour traffic in Tehran. Lots of Peykans can be seen in this pictureThis is my write-up on driving and traffic conditions in Tehran. Since there is so much to write about, I have broken it up into several installments. Here is the first part which is on the foreign point of view.

Here's what the Lonely Planet Guide has to say :

"The traffic in Tehran is homicidal and no rules are observed. Traffic lights, indicators, footpaths, and the like are totally ignored. Of all the cars in Iran, almost half are registered in Tehran, and at times it seems like all of these are on the road (or footpath) at the same time. Most foreign drivers give up soon after arriving and quickly assimilate the lawless aggression of the natives. Drive with 100% attention at all times - or, better still, don't drive at all."

Elsewhere the same guide says:

"Whenever the English-language newspapers print another story of another horrific car accident, they include (almost with pride) the claim that Iran has 'the highest rate of traffic accidents in the world' - presumably per person. More than 200,000 road accidents are reported per year (and how many more are not reported?), i.e. one accident per year per every 15 vehicles on the road. More than 5000 people die every year on the roads of Iran.

... The willingness of a car to stop at a red light at a busy intersection is directly proportional to the number of armed traffic police the driver can see within rifle range. Some cars and all motorbikes (and sometimes even buses) use the designated bus lanes - which usually go in the opposite direction to the rest of the traffic. Motorbikes, with four children and three chickens on board, go through red lights, drive on footpaths and speed through crowded bazaars for one simple reason: they can. All this would be funny if it wasn't so damn dangerous.

... never underestimate the possibility of dying a horrible death under the wheels of any sort of vehicle while crossing the road. No vehicle whatsoever will stop at any pedestrian crossing at any time. Resist the temptation to amble across an eight-lane roundabout at peak time in downtown Tehran with your back to the traffic like many Tehranis do... The best idea is safety in numbers: shuffle across the road in a tightly-huddled group of locals. Drivers are less likely to run over a group of people because of the paperwork at the police station, and the potential damage to their precious Peykan*."

Heehee! Doesn't that sound like fun? It took a long time to get used to it, but after a while, I learned to enjoy traffic in Tehran. After all, there's nothing quite like the rush of a near-death experience! And best of all, you don't have to wear a seat-belt here. As soon as I get desensitized to my current level of danger, I'm going to stop wearing it!

Coming soon: Driving in Tehran, Part II - The Three Fundamental Rules of Driving

Notes:
* A Peykan is a no-longer-manufactured and always-obsolete Iranian car [lots of Peykans can be seen in the above picture].

Ramin Kamal graduated from the University of Waterloo in 1994 with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. Since then, he has worked as director of a humanitarian organizations in Nicaragua and as a 3D animation designer in the UK.
Comments
mohammad at May 13, 2004 11:53 AM [permalink]:

Full of exaggerations! We all know the horrible situation of traffic in Iran but "No vehicle whatsoever will stop at any pedestrian crossing at any time" is absolutely not true.

Amir at May 13, 2004 04:59 PM [permalink]:

Hello, Your weblog is beautiful. It got realy a lovely style and I like it.

Good luck!

Ghazal at May 15, 2004 11:52 AM [permalink]:

Crossing the streets in Tehran while dangerous, is very efficient. When I came to US It seemed odd to me that sometimes there was only one car in the street and it would stop for me before I even make my mind to cross the street! My mindset was that, why didn't he just go his way and I would go right after him. Now I think it is all about the dignity and politeness.
Today if I am standing to cross the street and some car doesn't stop for me I think for myself what an unconsidered driver!
The same thing is true when you are driving. When I was driving in Highways in Iran, I would flash the lights if some car was on my way and they would go aside but in US people may get offended if you pass them especially if they have a car bigger than yours. If somebody is really willing to pass your car he would get really close to your car so you look in your mirror and there is this car almost in your trunk so you know he wants to pass!
Over all I found driving in the US much more relaxing experience than it was in Iran until I went to New York City! Driving in Tehran might have been exciting but driving in NYC, that's brave!


SG at May 15, 2004 05:17 PM [permalink]:

For those of you who may not be aware, I would like to provide a bit of a context. "Lonely Planets" produces one of the best series of travel guides across the English speaking world. (Though I was disappointed to see some blatant typoes in their Middle East guide, but I have learned so much from their Iran guide, that I was reminded of one of Aziz Nesin's stories, when the protagonist's professor from his college years in America (or a European country) goes to Istanbul for a visit and the professor shows him places in Istanbul that the guy had no idea they existed.)

What's for sure, if you put together a dozen of Iranian intellectuals of the type who write for FToI, they cannot possibly produce anything like one volume of Lonely Planet guides, even about their own country, and in Persian. Of course, one may cheat and translate The Lonely Planet guide to Iran, but that's easy.

If you are an Iranian and you read the above sentences cut out from the Lonely Planet, you might find it exaggerating, but has it occured to you that this may simply be because you're grown in that culture and over the years have got used to the chaos? So I guess you should try to see things from a Western perspective.

Another thing is, a slight exaggeration is quite called-for in matters of safety. If tomorrow a tourist gets run over by a car in Tehran, you are not the one who has to deal with getting sued because you misled the readers to think Iran is a safe place when it comes to auto traffic--Lonely Planet guys are. :-)

I have more to day on the subject of driving culture, or lack thereof, in Iran, but I shall wait for the other "installments" and then, if not the issues I have in mind are not touched by the other installments, I will write a long comment about our driving habits not being an isolated part of our cultural existence, but part of a larger pattern in our social behavior...

Ordak D. Coward at May 15, 2004 08:27 PM [permalink]:

SG, I am wondering if you have first hand experience of driving both in Iran and abroad. You see, I cannot say much on this subject, as my total driving mileage in Iran is less than 100 miles. However, my driving record after coming to US is around 60,000 miles. So, I would be definitely misleading you if I try talking from own experience.

Furthemore, "Iranian intellectuals of the type who write for FToI" are not to be compared with a professional team of travel writers. So, why do you bring it up here?

An Iranian Student (AIS) at May 16, 2004 02:09 AM [permalink]:

This article does exaggerate a lot, but it is not deniable that driving in Iran is crazy. In Tehran itself driving 'culture' changes from place to place. Besides streets like Nasser Khosro which are a class of their own, I think driving in Aryashahr and the very west of Tehran has been the most adventurous for me!

By the way, I think I read somewhere (probably one of the older issues of Film magazin) that the episode in Pink Panther where he wants to cross the street using different ingenious plans was inspired from a visit to Iran by the makers of the show. Any body knows this for sure?

Ordak S. G. Coward at May 16, 2004 09:01 AM [permalink]:

There seem to be more than one "Ordak Coward"s writing comments in these pages. So I thought, What the heck! Let me call myself, by accident, Ordak Coward as well. This is no tribute to the original Ordak Coward, who, cannot be identified anymore anyway.

Well, I brought up the comparison out of pure meanness, Ordakak JAAN. ASLAN forget about FToI intellectuals, if they like to be called by that name. Who in Iran, from intellectuals or mullahs, small or big, young or old, male or female, do you think is capable of anything remotely close in calibre to what Lonely Planet manufactures? And you surely agree that in this respect, Lonely Planet is not, perhaps kinda ironically, alone.

No, no, I take it back! I merely meant to praise
Lonely Planet guides because I've been thoroughly impressed by such amazing real intellectual work. So all I meant was, even a team of people of the stature of our beloved FToI writers cannot make such great brochures. I didn't mean to put them down, although little doses of humility sometimes help, and someone should once in a while stick a needle in you and release your extra BAAD. :-)

Pick your pick, Ordak. But in any case, the level of getting some real intellectual job done among us Iranians makes you cry. Things like FToI is a step forward, but indeed far from sufficient...

Ordak D. Coward at May 16, 2004 04:11 PM [permalink]:

Dear cousin, S.G., there was only one person identifying himself as 'Ordak D. Coward' on FToI until you did so as well. I had a hunch that you are a related cousin of mine, but I was not sure.

I guess the reason for your coming out of closet is the P.S. footnote I left at Babak S.'s recent article. You see, a few days back, I had figured out, that a contributor of FToI used to use the name Ordak (and Ordak D. Coward, neither Ordak Coward) before. But, that was not on FToI that he used it, it was far far away, in a another galaxy of cyberspace.

Anyway, I think you are not understanding the difference between a critic and an author. Both do their jobs, and they do not necessarily do well the other person's job. So, I guess what you are saying, is this: "you people who cannot write anything in the calibre of lonely planet, do not sit on your butt and criticize lonely planet books". Well, you are barking, no, wait, quacking at the wrong tree. Iranians Intellectuals of any kind (on FtoI or nor, religious or not, fanatic or not), are not supposed to be travel writers just because they are intellectuals. However, you can always make travel writers out of Iranians. Grab a few Iranian Cab Drivers, and a few Writers. Pair them together, and send them to different cities in Iran, pay them salary and bonus if they meet your criteria of producing an acceptable travel guide. You may like the result better or worse compared to Lonely Planet guides. However, notice that this is just the beginning, at the end you need people who are travel geeks with the writing bug. Find a path to move from beginning to end!

SG at May 17, 2004 09:26 AM [permalink]:

Ordak,

Of course, if you're a creationist, then we're certainly some sort of cousins. Other than that, as cowardly as I may have looked to you, I am not from the grand Coward family, God bless them, and I don't bear any resemblance to an ordak either.

I think I do understand the difference between a critic and an author. After all, alas, I have so far been more of the former category than the latter. Here's what I think: a critic evaluates the work of an author (and by "author" I don't simply mean NEVISANDÉ, but any creator of any work: an architect, a composer, a director, etc.) and s/he does that mercilessly, without taking into consideration things such as tribal loyalty, hefz e aaberoo, and other similar cultural obstacles present in backassward societies such as ours. A good critic is simply ruthless in pointing out the flaws. A better critic is the one who can also see the good parts and manages to praise the work (and its author) duly.

Anyway, I didn't exactly mean "Oy, you who cannot make movies, stop criticising them!", because I myself sit on my butt all the time and do nothing but find fault with people's work. But perhaps I thought it would be a good exercise to bring up the fact that I believe in (and no, I disagree with your rather simple-minded idea that a bunch of cab drivers paired with writers can produce such results. Your attitude so awfully smells of what I would like to call "scientistic naďveté") and challenege these guys, as well as the idea that I have already challenged and you supported:

That pure scientists are of any use what. so. ever. for Iran's even-handed progress. :-)

Ordak D. Coward at May 17, 2004 10:56 AM [permalink]:

SG, it seems that you need to sharpen your comprehension skills before getting to become a critic. I never claimed my solution is a challenge to a serious team of travel writers. Or did I? Anyway, in case I was unclear, what I meant was that there are two sides to your comparison, one is the LP travel guide, and one an imaginary travel guide written by imaginary intellectuals. All I am saying is that the latter is not comparable with the former, and I tried to give you an imaginary process where you can get a minimal travel guide that is at least comparable to LP travel guides. I think you know better than all of us why Iranians do not produce travel guides. They do not produce books on home improvement either. Nor we produce books on how to keep turtles as pets. I guess we do not have books on how to become a cab driver either.

SG at May 18, 2004 12:41 PM [permalink]:

Hm. How self-righteous your quacks have become recently, Ordak!

Iranians do travel, for your information. I know many of them go to India, for example. Some go to Iraq and Syria for pilgrimage. I have heard some of them even go to Europe and North America, as well. You may have heard that, too. So why isn't there any travel guides in Persian for those who go to Najaf and Karbala? The first reason is, it doesn't occur to most Iranians that there could be such a thing as a "travel guide". That's the first reason. The second reason is, even when it occurs to the more worldy ones, none of these call-them-intellctuals-or-writers-or-whatever have the incentive (and I presume, neither do they have the capability) of providing such a thing. Another is, even after literacy, we stick to our "oral" culture. We prefer to hear the tips from people, because we don't have the HOSELÉ to read them, neither do we have the ORZÉ to write them. :-)

Ordak D. Coward at May 18, 2004 04:51 PM [permalink]:

Your imminent highness SG,

This cowardly Ordak has a few simple questions to ask.

Which kind of books Iranians have 'the ORZÉ' to write? I guess if it was the 1330's you would have claimed Iranians do not have 'the ORZÉ' to write cooking books. If it was 1360's you would have claimed Iranian intellectuals do not have 'the ORZÉ' to write cooking books. What say you now?

Let the flare of your glaring wisdom enlighten the self-righteousness darkness of this humble Ordak.

SG at May 19, 2004 09:45 AM [permalink]:

Dear Ordak,

Believe it or not, every night before I go to sleep I sharpen my CS (Comprehension Skills) for a good 20-30 minutes, but when I read your comments the next morning, I find them at least as incomprehensible as yesterday. In fact, your recent comments have grown more and more out of touch, I mean out of reach (excuse me), not to mention more loaded with sarcasm (which I enjoy thoroughly).

Well, maybe it's time for me to get a new CS-sharpener.

But what do the cookbooks have to do with it, anyway? Here's my theory:

First you write "travel guide", then I write "Najaf", then you think "Daryabandari", then you write about "cooking book". Right?

Your "simple questions" make little sense to me, Ordi, so I'm afraid I have to declare the emperor as butt naked, Your Majesty, Coward, The Great.

Except for the first one: What kind of books Iranians have the ORZE to write? I guess Iranians have the ORZE to write plenty of books. For example, we have very good Persian-Persian dictionaries, and if you leaf through Haďm's bilingual dictionaries from, what, half a century ago?, it may knock your pants off. (Of course, later some fellows built on Haďm's work without giving him due credit. So Iranian of them, don't you think?) Iranians from past centuries have written great great books. So great indeed, that they have survivded to this very day, but travel guides, or, say, writing about other cultures, have not exactly been their forte, as far as I know. (Biruni is the only counter-example I am aware of, if you can consider him Iranian.)

So let me propose a practical defintion here:

Iranians have the ORZE to write in a genre if (and only if!) they have already written something in that genre. After all, as much as I hate to admit to the answer of this question, I should ask: What tangible way of recognizing a potential do we have other than having it realized?

If you say: "I could have become a great writer, scientist, whatever, had I ...", I just say: "Stop bullshitting, Ordak". :-)

P.S. The noun "intellectual" have been getting on my nerve for some time now, especially when it comes with the adjective "Iranian" (if that's technically an adjective, or is it a modifier?). What intellectual? WHAT Iranian intellectual? I have to say that I have no problem with the word "intellectual" when it is used as an adjective. :-)

Ordak D. Coward at May 19, 2004 10:28 AM [permalink]:

SG, you wrote:

Iranians have the ORZE to write in a genre if (and only if!) they have already written something in that genre. After all, as much as I hate to admit to the answer of this question, I should ask: What tangible way of recognizing a potential do we have other than having it realized?

So you are saying that Iranians are nenver going to have the ORZE write in a new genre. WoW! My self-rightousness realized your is far ahead, and will pace forward till it reaches yours.

Your definition butchers the word "potential," That's all I have to say.

SG at May 19, 2004 10:47 AM [permalink]:

Ordi-ja(h)a(n)nam:

Your problem is that you think ORZE is something that we EITHER have had, have, and will have forever, OR we have lacked, lack, and will lack forever. No, brother (I assume you are a male guy!). You can *gain* ORZE.

Well, at least if you have the ORZE of gaining it, of course. HaHa!

Ordak D. Coward at May 19, 2004 05:39 PM [permalink]:

Dear SG, I think the problem was your definition of ORZE which is completely different than what I do. Although, I have to confess that I still have difficulty in your definition when I put the following quotes of yours together.

What's for sure, if you put together a dozen of Iranian intellectuals of the type who write for FToI, they cannot possibly produce anything like one volume of Lonely Planet guides, even about their own country, and in Persian. Of course, one may cheat and translate The Lonely Planet guide to Iran, but that's easy.

...

Who in Iran, from intellectuals or mullahs, small or big, young or old, male or female, do you think is capable of anything remotely close in calibre to what Lonely Planet manufactures? And you surely agree that in this respect, Lonely Planet is not, perhaps kinda ironically, alone.

...

The second reason is, even when it occurs to the more worldy ones, none of these call-them-intellctuals-or-writers-or-whatever have the incentive (and I presume, neither do they have the capability) of providing such a thing. Another is, even after literacy, we stick to our "oral" culture. We prefer to hear the tips from people, because we don't have the HOSELÉ to read them, neither do we have the ORZÉ to write them. :-)

SG at May 20, 2004 12:23 PM [permalink]:

Yeah, ODC, at this point I'm pretty confused myself. My brain doesn't function, perhaps due to the heavy burrito I just devoured.

"ORZÉ" is a hard term to define, really, but I still believe in what you quoted from me in your last comment. And you who like philosophy, should have noticed that the notion "potential", too, is not easy to define without falling into some loops: You may have the potential P, but not the potential to realize P, or something. ;-)

What is *your* definition of ORZÉ/potential?

P.S. Many of my smiles are actually smirks, mind you.

Ordak D. Coward at May 21, 2004 09:27 AM [permalink]:

Here is how I like to define ORZE:

If I know P has tried N>T times to do X and succeeds more than S(X,N) times then P has ORZE of doing X.

If I know P has tried N>T times to do X and fails more than F(X,N) times then P does not have ORZE of doing X.

If I do not know that P has tried doing X more than T times, or, if I know P has tried doing X N>T times but the number of failures T S(X,N)+F(X,N)>=N-1

Also I choose S(X,N) and F(X,N) be non-decreasing functions of N.

Of course my view of person P having ORZE of doing X will change as long as I get new information about P's trials.

SG at May 21, 2004 10:57 PM [permalink]:

Ordak wrote: "If I do not know that P has tried doing X more than T times, or, if I know P has tried doing X N>T times but the number of failures", and then jumped to the next paragraph!

What happened, Ordi? Did you fall asleep in the middle of your calculations? :-)

P.S. I used your complicated formulas to find out how much ORZE I have had in the matter of getting laid on Friday nights. Nothing came out (no pun here). Is that a bad sign? :-o

Ordak D. Coward at May 22, 2004 10:14 AM [permalink]:

SG, I was doing some cut and paste, but apparently, I only did the cut :)
Anyway, you did not miss anything, and in case you think you did, here it is again in a shorter version than what I had before:
If the first two conditions are not met, then I do not pass a jusgement on ORZE of P doing X.

Is that a bad sign? You have to learn that nothing is free. You want an answer, work for it.

SG at May 22, 2004 06:07 PM [permalink]:

I disagree. Some things are free. Even some *pleasures* are free. However, sounds like we tend to get stuck on the ones that depend on others' consent. Humans' paradoxes, I suppose.