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Welcome to my blog! True to my name, Shiva the Spy, I will be your eyes and ears in Iran, bringing you detailed accounts of everyday life from my perspective. You'll have a window into the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects of the country. I will bring you the stuff that American media can't...or won't. So, check back regularly for stories, photos, commentary, and anything else your curiosity calls for.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Korean Bazaar

My friend, cousin and I went to the Korean Bazaar today, the first day of the weekend. The event was held at the Korean Church on Si-e-Tir Street in south Tehran. Within its towering brick walls we found a church, a Sunday school building, a banquet hall, a vast play area for children, and plenty of greenery. Crowds of people had shown up for the bazaar--Koreans, Iranians, and even a handful of European visitors. The tables decked with merchandise were spaced along the walls of the banquet room, amidst pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

We learned of the bazaar through a few of our Korean classmates, who told us there would be second-hand stuff for sale. Apparently, it's too expensive to bring new items from S. Korea, so the community recycles its goods instead. The types of things for sale were mainly "montos" (garments similar to trenchcoats that many women wear as part of the country's dresscode), handicrafts, brand-new children's clothes, and Jesus-inspired ornaments.

The bazaar room led out to a courtyard where children played basketball, families picnicked, and we ate Korean pizzas, among other dishes.

There was even a raffle for prizes from a local Iranian department store chain called Shahrvand, but I won nothing.

It was interesting to note that many of the Iranian females (less than half) and all of the Korean and European ones had removed their head scarves for the event. Perhaps the rest of the Iranian women who kept theirs on were 1)Muslim, not Christian or 2)more comfortable with their headscarves on. Of course, my friend and I refrained from taking ours off for another reason--messy hair. Nobody, I mean nobody, needs to see that.

Overall, it was an enlightening experience. Hopefully, I'll be able to attend more events held by various ethnic communities within Iran. If you know of any coming up, please give me a holler.


Blogger Shiva said...

Venus, I wish you were here, too! Come, I'll take you around.

There were men, women and children at the bazaar, and those that wanted to, removed their scarves. It was a very relaxed atmosphere, and since it was within church walls, nobody seemed to mind.

I'll have all those pictures up soon, so that you could get a better feel of what I'm talking about.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very encouraging to see Iranians and Koreans learning about each other. Even though we live in the global age, most people pay attention only to Europe and the US, and miss the great variety of this world.

By the way, Iranians can get some encouragement from Koreans. Korea also is a very ancient country. It was ruled by a pro-American military dictatorship after 1953 which was overthrown in 1979, replaced by an even worse dictatorship, but peacefully (well there were many street protests) become democratic in the 1990's.

I can see that the Christian church would be tolerated by the regime, but what about Buddhist temples (half of Koreans are Buddhist)? Do you guys in Iran know anything about how religions outside the "people of the book" (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian) are tolerated inside Iran today?

2:56 PM  
Blogger Shiva said...

Hello, Agha Havayi,

Thanks for raising such an interesting question. I know that these religions you speak of (Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha'ism, etc.) that aren't considered "official" do exist in Iran, and people do have the liberty to practice without persecution. However, I am not sure of the extent of this freedom, in terms of bringing it to the public sphere. I will research the subject further, and post my findings a.s.a.p.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shiva, thank you for your research. I'll wait eagerly to read what you find out.

12:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Agha havayi: With all due respect, and my thanks to Shiva for having created this site, I'd like to remind you that the process of democratisation in South Korea was not as bloodless and peaceful as you seem to believe.

Bearing in mind its free economic backdrop and its geopolitical context, democracy in SK came about largely as a result of a consistent process of a series of people's protests lasting well over a decade, all the while spearheaded by the militant students and academics, during which, in one demonstration alone, around 2000 innocent people were shot dead and many wounded (in the city of Gwangju) by the military forces and by the order of the then president, Chondu Hun (an ex army general). The tragic day is marked (and observed)as May 18 Democractic Uprising in South Korea. Democracy was eventually established when their political hero, Kim Dae Jung,who had served 7 years in prison, was elected as president when in his 70s.

While it is very interesting to learn that some christian Koreans run a bazaar in a church of theirs in Tehran, it is a little naive to think that the South Koreans, in general, care to learn about Iran/the Iranians. I'm sure the Iranians probably know more about the Koreans than they do about Iranians.

Symptomatic of their relative affluence and newly-found freedom, they have their eyes glued to their heavily-American influenced TV programs, their computer games, the Internet etc. Aside from paying attention to the superficial glamour of the West, the S.Koreans simply do not give a toss about countries such as Iran. Their only English language TV station (arrirang), for instance, does not even bother to mention once any of the Iranian cities on their daily internationl weather report. But, yes, they do know of the Iranian footbal team! Thanks to our football players.

In terms of their religious tolerance, you are right, though generally quite exclusivist of other cultures, they are tolerant of other religions - but that's chiefly because Buddhism has faded and Christianity has had its large share of the (mostly superficially) converted. Also that today's South Koreans make up a capitalist society tilting rapidly towards secularism.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think some of Alx's comments are off the mark. I know many devout Korean Buddhists, so I wouldn't say that Buddhism is fading. Also, we should not judge who is 'superficially' converted to a religion and who is 'really' converted. The truth is that every culture will absorb religion in its own way. You can't expect Christians in Korea to behave the same as Christians in Italy. Rumi wrote that even the 'kafir' will go to heaven if he believes in his 'kafir' beliefs.

Also, the democracy movement in Korea was very peaceful, both in comparison to Korea's history and that of other nations. There were a few hundred killed and many more tortured, but there was never a revolution. If North Korea became democratic today with so few people harmed, it would really be a miracle from the heavens! All the reformist leaders survived in Korea to become corrupt politicians today. I think you'll agree that this is peaceful compared to what happened in Iran.

Let's not just give up on all Koreans for watching TV and playing video games. How is that different from everybody else in the world? It's true that they may not pay any attention to Iran. The average person in Seoul has no reason to pay attention to the weather in Tehran.

But through cultural contacts, and sharing the best from our literature and arts, we can show why learning about Iranian culture is more valuable than watching mindless TV shows.

Iranians are very proud of their culture, in a way that is very unique. We have not been successful in the past few centuries in making our culture spread beyond our borders.

Farsi was once the official and literary language of the middle east, north Africa, northern India and central Asia. That was a unique aspect of the Iranian character. We are very curious about other peoples and accept them into our culture.

The Koreans are different and have their own unique traits, so we can't dismiss them just because they are not as curious about the world as Iranians. I don't think anybody is as curious about the world as Iranians, actually.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agha Havayi,

I'm glad you agree that their democratisation was not entirely peaceful. I never said they had a bloody revolution - only that it was not as smooth as you'd put it.

I'm not dismissing the Koreans. I'm sorry if I've spoilt your optimism, but all I meant was that as a result of many obvious factors, many peoples of the world, including the South Koreans simply have little or no interest in, let's say, Iranian culture. That does not imply any defect with the culture of Iran, nor with theirs. Only that Westernisation and secularisation of many countries in the world have clearly had a lasting impact. Such factors, plus, the international image of Iran, unjustly imposed, prevent other countries such as SKns from paying any attention to Iran.

This, sadly, makes the good job of those (Iranians) who try to educate others of our culture all the more difficult.

Incidentally, you talk of ancient civilisations and the importance of educating others of our culture, yet you begin by calling our language Farsi in English. That's been another reason for a lot of misuderstanding on the part of the world of our culture. Do you expect the Greeks, for example, to call their language Greek in their own language? Or, by the same token, the English to call theirs, Engelissi in English? It was a foolish mistake by Reza Shah to have the international name of Iran (Persia) changed. While Persia stood for its association with an ancient civilisation with a rich artistic culture, Iran simply became (and still is) confused with Iraq (understandably so). Many countries have international names that differ from how they call themsleves in their native lingos, but which they don't mind them used as such. Some of thes countries include South Korea, Egypt, Greece, Japan ... to name just a few. While trying to use Persia instead of Iran is a little too late now, why further confuse the world by calling our language Farsi in English, when it can still be called Persian? Isn't the world already confused about and unaware of our culture?

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alx, I agree with you about the problems of secularization in the world. Culture everywhere is being destroyed by consumerism. We definitely have a tough job to face, given Iran's situation, to spread some of our own culture.

I have heard a lot about the question about Farsi/Persian and Iran/Persia. I really don't like Reza 'Shah' and his pompous decision to force other countries to change what they like to call Iran or Persia.

Here is my view. It is because Iran is weak, politically and culturally, that we are squabbling about these ridiculous issues. The UK has several names: England, Britain (or Great Britain), and United Kingdom. They simply don't care if you are confused. Their country is important enough that people better know about them. Anyways, in languages that are very different, your name will always be very strange, so it is childish to try and control this.

I think everybody should call Iran whatever they like. The more names, the better, actually. It is very small-minded to think there is one correct name. I do have my own strong preference for 'Iran' and 'Farsi' over 'Persia' and 'Persian', but I think that any ancient nation will have many names, and that is just fine.

'Iran' means land of the 'Aryans' (or nobles), links us to our ancient past, when the Iranians, Indians, Parthians, Scythians and many other peoples lived together and I contrast this with the term Persia which refers to just one province (although an important one).

Personally, I don't like 'Persia' and 'Persepolis' because these names were given to us by hostile Greeks, and do not convey the sense that there are a large number of peoples who are Iranian, both ancient and modern. I think the 'Fars' people are actually a minority in today's Iran. So I see Iran as a multi-ethnic country with Fars having its own language, while the Azari, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians and Arabs also have their own language. Therefore, Farsi conveys some sense and makes sense when you consider Kurdi, Arabi, Azari, etc. By the way, my own family speaks in Azari and Kurdi sometimes, so I think this kind of multi-ethnic experience is a reality that we should respect.

'Persepolis' is another good example. This means 'city of the Fars'. Well, I guess every city in Fars province is a 'persepolis', so there's nothing special in this name. In our own language, we call it Takht-e-Jamshid, 'the capital of Jamshid'. The city is named after a mythical ancient king. We also have places like Naqsh-e-Rustam, named after an ancient hero. Maybe these names are difficult for people to pronounce, but you must agree that knowing the original names converys some sense of Iranian culture. I mean, you read the same names in the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi (probably the other way around, actually). I think this is an interesting part of Iranian culture and it is a shame to bury it under a boring name like Persepolis.

So, in short, I like to say 'Iran' and 'Farsi', but I am very happy to have other people use whatever terms they like (except Axis of Evil). There are good reasons to use each version (as well as bad reasons, like hyper-nationalism).

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agha Havayi: Thanks you for your comments. Obviously you are a cultured person and I share the info on the origin of Iran and its various ethnic make-up. However, the comparison you make between the name of Iran and the variety of names used by/and for England lacks validity. The reason for this is that England and its langauge, which happens to have been the lingua franca of the world, has been a dominant contemporary nation-state (albeit having lost a lot of its power) which therefore can afford to have more than one name, and hence does not fit into the comparative equation whose other side is Iran, whose power was lost a long long time ago. You just said it yourself that Iran has been weakened both culturally and politically, and therefore it does need the international recognition it deserves. I personally love the name of Iran and Farsi, but, yes when used in Farsi and amongst the Iranians. I do realise what Iran means and what it encompasses, and I did mention that the term Iran is now well-established and acceptable. What I do disagree with is the adding to the confusion that further obsucres the name that internationally represented our beloved culture. By imposing the term Farsi ( which in some countries is even mispronounced as Fuzzy!)on other nationalities, we're missing the chance to inform them of who we are. England can well afford to have a few names, since, as I explained they are the dominant power, but not Iran, which has been totally misunderstood. And by the way, even the name of English was derived from one of the three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain, namely Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, with Angles obviously bening the majority. I am well aware of how the name Persia was coined (by the Greeks initially)based on Parsis who happened to be the majority if not the ruling ethnics at the time. But if the international term Persia stands to represent our ancient multi-ethnic culture to the world entire, then it is absolutely unnecessary to replace it with Farsi, which is the Arabisation of Parsi anyway, and essentially the same as Persia.

Incidentally, England, Britain and the United Kingdom do not exactly mean the same thing. When we speak of English we are excluding the Welsh, Scotts or the Northern Irish, though British or UK include all the three inter-related peoples.

To conclude this, while I also detest the term 'axis of evil', I never consider myself a hyper-nationalist, but just an ordinary Iranian expatriate of over 30 years, whose heart is still and will always be with Iran.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shiva jon
It is interesting to hear about the cultural activities of other communities in Persia!!!!!

10:41 PM  

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