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Hello. How have you been? Two years and five months of bike trip since my departure from Japan has recently brought me to Kathmandu, the south foot of the Himalayas. I got here from Tibetan Plateau, the "Roof of the World". It's almost a year ago that I sent you my last newsletter from Cape Town, Republic of South Africa. I flew from Cape Town to Istanbul, Turkey via Italy. I traveled through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, China(including Tibet) and Nepal. I thought it would be easy to cycle around in Asia, after having survived in Africa. But I was wrong!

I'm glad to be able to share some of my experiences in Asia. I hope you enjoy this Newsletter vol.2.

Turkey - Heading for Asia from Cultural Intersection of the Eastern and Western

Flying into Istanbul from Cape Town, came as a quite shock to me. I was stunned with the fact that it took only 10 hours to fly across the African continent in which I spent a year biking across. The distinct difference between African and Turkish cultures left me confused: I was reluctant to use my left hand to handle things or to eat with. And felt furious with Turks on street corners constantly trying to rip off travelers. I was there to meet new people, new culture and new values in a new continent, but my mind was longing for Africa....

It was the Turks who eased my tension, after all. I started to enjoy the country as I pedaled, and met people who welcomed me with simple but warm Turkish hospitality. Cay ('c' is pronounced like 'ch' in 'church') left me pleasant memories of this country. Cay is what you call English tea with sugar, which Turks drink all the time. "Cay?" with a gesture of stirring tea from the side of the road often stopped me from pedaling (unfortunately it was always men who stopped me!). When resting at a gas station, I was invited for cay. I was window-shopping, then the shop keeper called me to have cay with him. I was looking at a map by the road, and then people came to me and asked "Cay?" When I say "hi," they say "cay?" For me, cay was something that not only warmed my cold body on snowy days but also led me to a number of unforgettable meetings with wonderful ARKADAS (friends: 's' is pronouced like 'sh' in 'sheep').

How often Turks drink cay amazed me. A vegetable vendor at a market, bank teller, truck driver, cook, policeman... everybody was drinking cay at any time of the day. I wondered whether they believed they were going to die without drinking it. When they had a guest at their store, they used their inter-communication phone and ordered cay catered from a cay shop. Then a guy from the cay shop rushed into the shops as if attempting to save the guest's life.

I got to know that in Turkey a visitor from outside was called "God's guest" and supposed to be welcomed as courteously as possible. I remember a married couple at a farm who took care of me, a complete stranger happening to pass by, as if I was their son. I remember a kind middle-aged man who walked and looked for a cheap accommodation with me over half an hour after dusk when it was getting really cold out. I remember a police officer who seriously scolded at a shopkeeper, "What kind of attitude is that to a traveler!?!?" when I was arguing with the shopkeeper over his miscalculation. Turks often asked me whether or not I was going to come back and visit their country again. ---I would love to do so.

>>> My Three Favorite Things about Turkey
1. Turkish cuisine, creating a nice blend of the Eastern and Western tastes. At a lokanta (restaurant), you can have as much tasty bread as you want!
2. Never-ending deserted mountainous scenery in the Eastern Mountain Region and marvelous people living in the area.
3. Japanese-like Turkish custom of taking shoes off at the entrance of the house and their way of welcoming guests by serving a cup of cay.

Iran - Solemn Islam and Harsh Natural Environment

Leaving behind the country where I was chilled to the bone, I crossed the border into Iran. The altitude was lowered, and the temperature rose. But the new country didn't seem welcoming: Persian language sounded too complicated; the road seemed to continue endlessly to the horizon; the scenery was just monotone; and meals available on the streets lacked variety. To make matters worse, I had to bike while keeping my skin covered with long pants and a long-sleeve shirt even on a hot day, out of respect to the Islamic tradition of this country. Repeating to myself "Ah, this is so boring and exhausting!" made my pedaling more miserable. A vicious cycle had started. The weather and nature never support unwilling bike riders. I tried in vain to enjoy riding. To think back, I was experiencing the hardest time psychologically at this point. I also felt so lonely that a little fly walking on my hand gave me such a comfort. When I got to Teheran, the capital of Iran, all I wanted was to sleep until I rotted.

I got to experience Ashura, the commemoration of Imam Husayn, a hero of the Shiite who perished on the same day 1300 years ago. During the three-day-long ritual, men with bearded faces, dressed entirely in black, marched through towns, also covered with black sheets, while the traffic was detoured. When marching, one raised his voice and praised their hero, following earsplitting screams through a microphone, with his left arm holding a person's shoulder next to him, beating his chest with the palm of his right hand, and pushing the chest up high. Among this long, unbroken procession, I saw some stern-looking men crying, filled up with some strong emotion. Others looked at them and burst into tears. Women in chador (a long black cloth draped over the head and body) were keeping a very close watch on the procession from the sides of the streets. I sensed a kind of fear from the passion steaming up from the packed crowds. I could hardly accept it as reality when I saw a large crowd in black wriggling around, under orange lights far into the night.

At the shrine of Imam Riza (a sacred place for the Shiite) in Mashad (or Masshad), I saw thousands of faithful followers absorbed in prayer. Some were praying, while weeping onto the Imam's tombstone which they also rubbed their lips and hands on. Just being there made me emotional and moved to tears. I wondered what religion really is.

In southeast Iran, I had to suffer from its extreme hotness. The air was almost too hot to breathe in. One day a policeman whistled me to stop from the behind after my passing over a police station. Feeling a little annoyed I turned around and pedaled back. "Here, have some water!" Unexpectedly I was handed a glass of water by an elderly officer there. The water was warm + muddy, but I cannot describe how much it moved me. It made me so happy that all the tension in my body disappeared. I was occasionally invited to local houses, where people treated me to cold home-made yogurt with dates in it. Compared to the boiling hell outside, receiving such a treat made me feel as though I was in heaven.

Upon entering the desert in southwest, daily temperatures exceeded 50C. Sometimes, even the night wind was as hot as the one coming out of a hair drier. The conditions became too harsh to keep pedaling, so I ended up traveling on a trailer for the last 300km of the desert....

>>> My Three Biggest Surprises in Iran
1.Cheep gasoline. Only 4.5 yen/litre! It's probably why both air and bus fares were unbelievably cheep in Iran.
2. Two separated doors on a city bus: one in the front for male passengers; and one in the back for female passengers. There was a divider inside the bus, which separated a husband and wife to the two sides in the bus.
3. Cold water dispensers (water fountains) found wherever I went throughout the country. I could drink as much water as I wanted there. To me fresh water in Iran was tastier than in any other place!

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