Iqbal Asaria’s travel blog (2)


Travel Log
Scanning the newspapers I pick up an interesting item:

‘Malaysia’s own fast-food franchiser, Marrybrown Fried Chicken…… Sdn Bhd, will be opening its first franchised outlet in Tehran, Iran, next month. Managing director, Nancy Liew said the 464 sq-m stand-alone outlet would be the first fast food restaurant allowed to open in the country. Liew said the franchise, International Credit Care FZE, would operate 45 outlets in Iran over the next four years. She said the franchiser, Food & Life, was responsible for the expansion programme in the Middle East region and targeted Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. It would also be making inroads into Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and states in the central and eastern regions of India next year’. (The Star)

One had always thought that Iran’s brush with Uncle Sam had thankfully spared it the junk food blight. It seems that just as junk food induced obesity is becoming the bane of the McDonalds generation, Unfortunately, Iran is destined to be brought into the twenty first century with a customised Far Eastern version of fast food. Iran’s own Chello Kebab peddlers may have reason to feel threatened. It takes a while for junk food starved peoples to tire of them. By that time the local food trade may have perished. Yet all is not lost.

During a recent visit to Qatar, I saw a ‘fast food’ Chello Kebab outlet in a new shopping mall. It was more crowded than the Burger King, KFC and McDonaldís outlets combined in the same mall. In Kuala Lumpur as well I saw a posh ‘Iranian’ restaurant serving authentic Persian cuisine. We sampled it and the food was as good as the best we get in London from Mohsen’s or Behesht’s. I await an Iranian entrepreneur to open up fast food Chello Kebab joints in Kuala Lumpurís many malls. That would give Marrybrown and the junk food outlets a run for their money on home ground.

Speaking of Iranians, they have a reputation for spotting a bargain in the region. During previous visits when I was looking for some items to purchase I asked a Malay friend to tell me where was the best place to find them. He said, just follow the Iranians – men with colourless shirts and shaggy beards and women with their distinctive chadors – and you don’t need to search any further. He said any further exploration was futile after the Iranianís had exhausted their searches!

As I read the news I become aware that it seems to be a day old. With the eight hour time difference with Europe and over 12 hours with Washington, the media seem to be reporting on ‘stale’news. This always used to hit me on may previous visits. Now, as satellite television news becomes more widely available, the disconnect is even more glaring. It becomes obvious that today’s news is still largely made in Washington and European capitals. What you see on BBC or CNN would make it to the newspapers the following day. By that time one would be watching further developments on key stories which may be out of synch with the positions taken be the newspaper editors. Indeed, I have noticed that as a result serious comment on key issues is largely absent from the local media. The local versions of the International Herald Tribune or the Financial Times need to be consulted if one needs to get to them. Ironically, these papers have good customised versions with some important local coverage of relevance to their audiences.

The power dynamics behind the ‘time shif’ are even more obvious in the timings of flights to and from the region. To accommodate the restrictions on night time flying in Europe and North America, flights tend to land and take off at the oddest of times. Thus may of the flights to London take off around mid night. Many to the Persian Gulf countries take off in the early hours of the morning to make it to connecting flights to Europe and the States. This leads to very odd hotel check-in and check-out times, although the hotel charging regime is based on the European model of 12 noon to 12 noon the following day. Often one ends up paying for rooms for hardly a few hours stay. More importantly, if the residents of the region and those in Europe or North America were to be equitably treated then this inequitable timings would need to be negotiated fairly.

A key inconvenience inherited from the times of powerlessness is bound to be reversed as the region gains in economic might and self confidence. To end one is struck by the ubiquitous’tip culture’ in the region. One used to think that the low salaries of service staff ‘justified’ a tip to help them keep body and soul together with dignity. On occasions when one was in a good mood one could tip handsomely by local standards thought still a pittance in ‘hard’ currency. This time round and Indonesian friend threw a new light on the meaning of a tip. He said it was eastern management mantra for ‘To Improve Performance’(TIP)! Indeed, handsome tip can get many a mountains moving in the region! (192)

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