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Javaad Alipoor on spicy Thai food, crying on planes, and the privilege of working in different places

We caught up with the author of ‘Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran’ to talk about all things travel.

Javaad Alipoor and Natalie Diddams.Handout (Custom credit)

Javaad Alipoor loves everything about Thailand, from the culture to the people to the food. The English director, artist, and writer also enjoys training at a “properly traditional boxing gym” while in Thailand. Alipoor’s play “Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran,” which won the 2019 Scotsman Fringe First Award, is part of the 17th annual Under the Radar Festival, which offers digital livestream and streaming-on-demand performances. Boston’s ArtsEmerson is joining other organizations as a global partner of the New York-based Public Theater’s annual festival. Alipoor said his play, which has select live performances through Jan. 10, then again Jan. 14-17, covers a range of topics including entitlement, consumption, and digital technology. “It’s really a show for people who are interested in global politics,” said the 34-year-old Bradford, England, native. “It’s a state-of-the-world play, but to keep it from being too heavy, you also get at least four gags in your hour’s viewing time.” The immersive play, which combines digital theater and a live Instagram feed, is produced by the Javaad Alipoor Company and is a sequel to the award-winning “The Believers Are But Brothers.” Information on Alipoor’s play and others in the festival’s lineup may be found at ArtsEmerson.org. We caught up with Alipoor, who lives in Manchester, England, with his wife, Natalie Diddams, an adjunct college professor who focuses on comedy and feminism, to talk about all things travel.

Favorite vacation destination?


Thailand. I have always loved the culture, Muay Thai [Thai boxing], the very particularly history of a country that’s one of only three in Asia and Africa not to have been entirely colonized at one stage or another, the food, Theravada Buddhism. My wife had been [there] on her student travels, but I had never been anywhere that far away from the UK, and she always said I’d love it. In Iranian culture we have this thing called mehrieh, which is sort of like a reverse dowry — where a husband gives a bride something for agreeing to get married — so Natalie got some Baklava, roses, a copy of the Quran, and a trip to Thailand. When my previous show, “The Believers Are But Brothers,” toured to Australia, I went to Bangkok on the way home and got to spend some time training at a properly traditional boxing gym in quite a working class neighborhood, which was awesome. And then my wife came out to meet me and we swapped the Muay Thai for Mai Tai.

Favorite food or drink while vacationing?


Thinking about that [vacation] . . . I love super, super hot Thai food. The funny thing is, what with being mixed race, and growing up in a part of the world where the big immigrant population is Pakistani, I’m used to being able to ask for food more authentic and home style — and then being taken seriously! But I suppose, it’s the vagaries of race and what not. In Thailand, I was just read as a “white person” or Farang. So people wouldn’t believe me! In the end I learned enough Thai to be able to say, “Can I have it like you like it, please?” and the always useful “with a ton of chili, please.” I’m also a big fan of Thai rum.

Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?


There are all kinds of parts of Iran that I would love to go to but haven’t had the chance. When you grew up as an immigrant with a “home country” to go to, trips back are largely meeting cousins, aunties, and uncles. So though I have been fortunate enough to go to some places, I haven’t been able to really see the heritage of the country. And after all, it’s a heritage that’s really important, both in terms of the history of civilization, but also because as a mixed heritage or mixed race person, what’s amazing about its history is that it is a genuine confluence of peoples; there are palaces and tombs and whatever else from Akkadians, Medes, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. Iranians are the descendants of all those people, not simply “Persians.” I hope the political situation changes so that not just me, but the whole world can go and engage with this history, and get a taste of Iran’s legendarily hospitable culture.

One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?

To be perfectly honest . . . some sort of a nicotine delivery system and either some resistance bands or a TRX to get a cheeky hotel room workout in.

Aisle or window?

Window if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been; aisle generally because you get to move around more.

Favorite childhood travel memory?

Three or four times we went to London as a family for a weekend. In those days there were hardly any Iranians outside of London, and we would sometimes go to Kensington and see this weird world of incredibly posh and aristocratic Iranians who had fled the revolution – a very different kind of person to us. My father came to this country as an exiled revolutionary from a much lower class, basically peasant background, and worked in pizza shops through most of my childhood. But it was genuinely bizarre to go to this place that smelled like you were in Iran. And also to feel that the language you spoke at home, and the food you ate, was something that more than just three or four crazy families did.


Guilty pleasure when traveling?

Basically, I didn’t know that altitude can make you emotional, and when I was on the way to Thailand, I was already a bit that way as I had been on tour for five weeks, and hadn’t seen my wife – and was fairly hungover. On the plane I watched the film “Aquaman,” and to be perfectly honest, literally started crying. I was like “in a way aren’t we all Aquaman, struggling to find a place in the sea kingdom . . .” I didn’t even learn my lesson then, and had a bit of a moment on the plane to New York watching the live action remake of “The Lion King.”

Best travel tip?

I am privileged to be able to work in different places, and I think that always means you get a slightly different vibe to being a tourist. But I think the best trips are ones where you have something to do that connects you to people aside from the tourist connection. For instance, trying not to get killed in a downtown Bangkok boxing gym. But there are options for everyone, and individual mileage varies, so to speak.