I first came to live and work in Iran in 2002. I was the operations manager that delivered the opening of Wonderland Tehran the first Family Entertainment Centre in Iran. I managed a team of 40+ Iranians to operate the facility to western standards. I invested in people and encouraged the girls on the team to step forward, enjoy the job, smile at people and be a part of a winning team. It worked great for a while………about 6 months before others got involved. We fell foul of the bad hejab, the eye shadow, the girls and guys sharing the same tea break. In short we had to operate an entertainment centre but go easy on the fun. Burned out I went back to UK and then on to other projects in the gulf region, Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain ok places but they sold out their culture. Somehow I knew that one day I would go back to Iran. The call came in 2006. The guy wants to open Wonderland Mashhad. I quite the job I was doing in Saudi Arabia and found myself back in a place I thought of as a second home. Things had changed a little Mohd Kattami was gone and replaced by a different! boss man. I was advised not to push the envelope.

As per the Nike ad….the guy said "it's your project just do it !!" Knowing Iranian investors this was a huge vote of confidence. 18 months later after the challenges of the design and actually getting $2 million of rides, games and attractions from all over the world to Almas Shargh in Mashhad we recruited and trained the team and opened the doors to the public. I had themed the place out as an imaginary story where the mascot character we created for Tehran (Shangool) goes on an imaginary journey around the world. Sections inside the centre were China, Antarctica, Australia, Europe and even US. I was amazed at what I could get away with being a foreigner I guess they kind of expected it and in a true Iranian way just ignored it : The head guy with the beard liked it and the others stoically nodded. The week before we opened a group of British Sailors got caught in Iranian waters and spent a couple of weeks as guests of the Islamic republic. This event coincided with a presentation on the Wonderland Mashhad Project to the dignitaries and people of Mashhad. Standing on a stage in the amphitheatre of the Almas Shargh Mall I was asked to say a few words explaining what people could expect from an entertainment centre. Speaking through my trusted interpreter I started off to say that unlike my fellow countryman I am here by invitation. About 2,000 people cheered and clapped an unforgettable moment and a rare privilege. Contrary to the crap western media Iranians really do love foreigners and their hospitality has no limits. If only they could apply the same courtesy on the road as walking through a door…befalmi…nah…befalmi….nah and so on.

Anyway to cut a long story short Wonderland Mashhad exceeded my clients expectations and I went back to a job in Dubai. Now at home in UK when people ask me where I have been in the Middle East and what is the best country they don't expect me to tell them IRAN. I qualify this by saying if a country is judged by its people then Iran is one of the best places in the world to visit. Living there is a challenge but I would not have missed it for all the Tea in China.