Sunday, December 28, 2008

Laziness, Gastro and a sole Christmas

When one gets sick, one tends to get lazy.  Simply leaving the house poses a challenge too uninviting to bother contemplating.  Our first Christmas gathering - yes, the fateful night that involved Swifty's recent troubles - left me recarving the line in the carpet from my bedroom to the bathroom.  At a pinch, the ground can be covered in less that 5 seconds, but various household furniture and / or items will be left rolling in my wake.

Yes, I missed a day of work to sickness, it would have been more, but conveniently, I already had the time off for Christmas.  Unfortunately for me, it meant that I missed my friend's Christmas party.  Something I had been looking forward to for about 2 months.  There was a great deal of hype about this party, with Jess even promising to bring back a leg of ham from Australia for the occaision.  At one time there was a rival Christmas party which left her thinking no one was going to show.  As a result she invited the crew from her work.  The other party fell through making Jess the star attraction with a party of more than 40 people.  I sadly spent most of Christmas day in bed feeling sorry for myself or sleeping, in-between attempts to watch some Jackie Chan movie.

That was two days ago however and yesterday I felt up to attempting solid food.  Lacking the strength to bother cooking for myself, I headed out to a trustworthy cafe nearby and picked up the Friday weekly paper - the Nepali Times,  I have never read it before, but it was recommended to me.  

Just a short aside:  I read something the other day that suggested there are two types of bloggers.  Reporters and Examiners.  Obviously, one reports on events, what I did / ate / defaecated etc.  The other actually discusses things, talking about their reactions to certain situations, they report, but they also analyse.  I am starting to get the feeling that I am only really reporting on this blog, which makes me a little sad, because I have more to offer than that.  I guess I have been a little careful, as I don't want to insult or defame the programme I am on, or the people of Nepal.  But sometimes you can be too careful, and I don't want to do that at the sacrifice of sharing my opinion and experiences.  OK, thanks for bearing with me on that, end aside..

Getting to the end of an article in Nepali paper tends to give me mixed emotions.  Usually shock.  You see, although they publish it in English as well as Devanagari, most of the dailies are so poorly translated (or perhaps written in the first place) that it can be a shock to even get to the end without having given up.  When you do make it to the end, you often have to go back and read it all again because it either contradicted itself or made no sense in the first place.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself reading the Nepali Times cover to cover.  The latest in the schoolyard of political turmoil that is Nepal has developed over the last week.  Last Friday, the Nepali Times apparently reported rather negatively on the trade unions antics, or its associations with the Maoist party (effectively those in power - although its supposedly a coalition government).   Seeing this as a slight on their party (which in all seriousness it probably was), certain members took it upon themselves to storm Himalmedia's office, physically "intimidate" the journalists there, and light fire to certain parts of their equipment and/or office - sorry, I'm a little confused about the actual details.  Their office in one district is actually still under siege, and they haven't been able to print any of their dailies all week.

This week's edition was reporting on the obvious attack this is on the free press - well-perceived as a truly democratic thing.  It also highlighted the disunity that exists amongst the Maoist party - with the leadership agreeing on the poor nature of the attacks, but not really promising to put a stop to them.  We are seeing a split developing amongst the party that is supposedly trying to unify Nepal.

This is where the examination comes in.  Although I actually enjoyed reading the Nepali Times, it was hard not to see it as just the "Opinion" section of any paper.  I have not read it each week certainly, so this could be an exception, but as far as newspapers go it appeared at no point to be objective and report the facts.  The Maoists/trade union seem to be claiming that they were actually reacting to physical abuse from Himalmedia's managers on several staff they had let go, but as they have only really reported one side of the story I am left a little confused.

Its all well and good to promote a free press, as it is to villify these attacks.  However that free press must also report both sides of the news.  I fear in this case, the journalists are too close and personally involved in the attacks that it is difficult for them to report objectively, further alienating the Maoists who want their side of it reported too.  

Coming from a country with relatively no violent political action I really hate to see people that think violence is the only way of expressing their political opinon.  I find it worse that they can get away with it because the police don't have the sophistication (or perhaps the fortitude) to do anything but stand on the corner holding a stick or occaisionally walk down the street with an assault rifle or shotgun.  At any rate, the developments following these incidents and the future of this more violent arm of the Maoist party will definitely impact on the future political landscape of the country.  I watch in avid fascination.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Swifty Surgery Chhahinchha

Life is constantly teaching us lessons. Here are a few of the lessons that Nepal taught me today.

1. Mondays are bad days. If you ever wake up and wish you had stayed in bed, then you probalby should have. Your gut instinct is more powerful that you can possibly imagine
2. No shortcuts through unknown suburbs during load shedding. Its dark and unnerving, not to mention you don't know where you are.
3. Never ever believe that you are good enough to leave home without your compass. OK, you have survived 5 months and haven't used it for the last 3, you're special. We get it. Just remember that you will need that compass when you least expect it.
4. No talking on the phone while shortcutting through unknown suburbs during load shedding without a compass. Not only do you have the issues posed by lessopn number 2, but YOU STILL CAN'T SEE ANYTHING, YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU ARE and now you only have one hand. Let me just ask one thing "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?"
5. If you are going to be hit by a motorbike that is also not going to stop to check that you are OK, then make sure you drop your shoulder and give him everything you have got. Make sure he hits the dirt hard. Then, just as he is starting to come around, smack him in the face, then slash his tyres and then kick him in the nads.

That's right team. Swifty needs surgery.


It's a shame actually that an event such as this is what prompts me to realise Swifty did not have a name until now. He needs surgery because he was wiped out by a motorbike with me on top of him. Yes, it was bound to happen, and I know you were all waiting for the event to eclipse the Great Assassination Attempt of January 2005, the Ice Skating Eyebrow Gashing of 1999, the Holy Potato Someone Just Snapped the Back Half of the Car Accident of 2000 (I wasn't driving) and the Big Bastard Pothole Incident of 2006. Today may not have been it, but it was a sight to behold. Had I shown this much prowess during the Ice Skating Eybrow Gashing, then perhaps there would have been more gobsmacked crowd amazement and applause, not to mention less gashing.

It was a T intersection. To be perfectly honest, if you were to call it how it really is, it's a Y intersection. I was going from the straight part into the right branch. A car was going from the right branch to the straight bit. From behind him this motorbike came screaming across my path to go from the right branch to the left branch. We both hit the brakes hard but I knew that we were gonna hit.



Pondering seriously just how much it might hurt this time I was amazed to almost instantaneously find myself standing on one leg with the other somewhere in the air doing a rather awkward kind of half-bicycle mounted pirouette. Swifty's front end sort of flew upwards and (probably) over the motorbike rider and his passenger's head. My leg and the bike came back down to earth and I barely had enough time to realise that I was OK before Old Mate sped off into the distance.


Rather indignant, and not entirely believing that I was really actually 100% OK, and that the most damage to my bike was the front rim and brakes (and maybe a slightly mangled chain) I managed to fire off a swear word or two at him before another passing motorbike rider checked to see that I didn't need any help. I actually really felt for that guy, because he wanted to help me out but I was totally fine.


Let's write down number 6 too. Everything you walk away from is a character building experience!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bruises, Bureaucracy and Fruit

Just a few short notes:
 
1. The sahuni (shop lady) at the shop near my house, which is really just a window into her house that people buy stuff from, sold me a 20L bottle of water based on the trust method.  Mainly because she couldn't (or wouldn't) break my 1000 rupee note. This means one of may things:
a) I am super trustworthy and will come back with 80 rupees when I have it
b) everyone in the neighbourhood knows me and is keeping better tabs on me than the CIA
c) she didn't want to lose my water business to the big department store 20m away - which i was heading towards..
d) she just didn't want to break my 1000 rupee note
 
2. If bureaucracy is strangling Australia, it is snapping the neck of Nepal.  I want to make a very small change that will probably seem insignificant and petty to you, but will make the lives of at least 20 staff members a bucketload easier.  Every patient has a registration date (date they first come here), a visit date (the supposed date of this particular visit) and a bill date (the supposed date they paid the bill).  Its pretty simple.  I want them to record the day that the patient visits in the Visit Date field and the date they paid the bill in the Bill Date field rather than abstract dates made up in the corner of the mind of some guy sitting in the corner.  This will apparently cause issues for Accounting (that's what I expected, that would happen at home too), but when I suggested going to Accounting to discuss the issue with them, I was told "no, we cannot do that.  They are senior to me, I don't have enough authority to talk to them."
 
"OOOOOOOOOOOkay, who does have enough authority to talk to them?"
 
"Mr X does"
 
"But Mr X is the person that told us we have to talk to Accounting"
 
"Yes, but he didn't give us permission to go."
 
"We only want to ask them a simple question"
 
[mini teary approaching] "I don't have authority to speak directly with them.."  URGGH
 
3. In other news, suppose you have 100 apples, and you are doing a study on them.  40 of them have worms, 60 have no worms but do have a deformity.  Both wormed and deformed apples may have bruising, high intra-appular pressure or a glycaemic imbalance, or not, or any mixture of the above. 
 
Even if 35 of the wormed apples and 59 of the deformed apples have bruising, it is a fallacy to say that bruising or those other diseases is a cause of both worms and deformity in all fruit, because you don't have any bananas, oranges, kiwi fruit or ringos to compare them to, just apples.  If you wanted to make a claim for all fruit, then you would have had to include other fruits in your study.  Hard enough as it was for you to read that, imagine explaining it with humans, eyes a language barrier and 5 minutes (which is the amount of time I get with the doctor doing this study on "fruit" each day).
 
Although I am going insane, remember that when I was sane, I loved you all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

100 Kilometres From Where?

How did I end up here?

It's a good question, and it can be tracked back to an email I sent more than a month ago. "Who's up for a rafting and/or taking out bikes to Pokhara and riding around its foothills weekend?"

This was met with a positive response in general, but none were more excited than Mike, an Engineering student from the States (you may remember him from the rockclimbing adventure with Flo). "Dude, we definitely need to do something of the sort. I've ony got a few weekends left. I think we also need to add to the list 'set a Hash' and that idea I had, 'hiring motorbikes and riding to [some town in India] that I have heard is really amazing'".

As time progressed, the plan became smaller and smaller. "OK, we've only got 3 weekends left, maybe we can raft, set a hash and do the motorbike thing". Another weeekend passes, "we really need to organise that rafting trip..." You know how it is with these things.

With one weekend left and no adventure planned, things were getting serious. I even consulted Gunga on the topic. "You know my brother-in-law is a trekking guide, he can organise for you!" Lo and behold, ten minutes later, Gunga's brother-in-law walked into the shop. We had a chat, and all things seemed go for the rafting trip.

Friday night rolled around and there were still no bookings, nor 100% committed participants. Friday night also happened to be the night of Katherine and my Birthday Bash. Dinner at the Thakali Kitchen (our fav restaurant) and a night actually out in Thamel allowing ourselves to cut loose just a little bit. I got some amazing presents, a lovely photo album from the guys at work, an wicked scarf (more on that later) from K&S, and a fantastic beanie from SS&D.
[I also got a dustbuster from A&G which I had been going on about for months]

More than a little tipsy from the new discovery I made on the Thakali Kitchen menu (Red Rakshi with deep fried rice floating in it) I approached Mike with an idea. "Mike, I think the rafting plan is sunk, we haven't got anything organised, and I probably won't be home before 2 tonight, which makes an erly start on Sat kind of difficult. Plus, I really woudn't mind doing the Hash tomorrow."

"Thank God you said that, I would love to Hash for my last weekend! But what else are we gonna do instead?"

"We're going to Tibet."

"What?"

"We're gonna meld your India plan with a new one. We're renting motorbikes and riding to Tibet (well, the border anyway)." A short consultation with Raju confirmed the ditance, and also that he was available on Saturday morning to teach me to ride a motorbike. And Mike was locked in. The other 14 people at our party (which was amazing BTW) were shocked with the random spontaneity of the plan, and to be honest, so was I.

Never-the-less, come 11 o'clcok Saturday morning and Raju was waiting for me at the car park of the hospital for my motorbike lesson. With a lesson plan shorter than a dwarf's pinkie finger, the lesson wass over inside 20 minutes, with me stalling once, making it through some bricks (which were acting as witch's hats) and only looking like falling over once, Raju gave me the rubber stamp and my "licensing" was over.

Following an awesome Hash (which I rate 10+), Mike and I headed back to Thamel to investigate renting motorbikes. Hesitantly giving up my passport to the guy behind the counter of the corner store from which we were borrowing motorbikes, handing him about 10 dollars (being all it cost for an entire day with a motorbike) we were set. We took a short ride out to Diana's house (just out of town), by way of a warm up. This proved to be enough time to show that (big surprise) Kathmandu traffic is INSANE, and also enough time for Mike to have a fender bender. He was lucky enough to get out of it by giving a small token for repairs.

Early Sunday morning (in darkness so black it would give a black hole a run for its money, along with nut shrinkingly freezing weather) I rode out to the Ring Road to meet Mike. This ride of less than 10 minutes was enough to give me images of frostbite and make me question the sanity of this drunken commitment to ride 4-5 hours on a motorbike in a foreign country, in an attempt to see over the border into Tibet (only group trips can get visa approval, and even that is difficult). I did however manage to manufacture a very warm little ecosystem inside my new scarf, by joining the powers of a motorbike helmet and my new beanie, so my face retained a good deal of heat that was then lost through my fingers.

After 1.5 hours in the saddle and only three or four wrong turns, we stopped to grab "breakfast" from a local men's club. Men's clubs can generally be found anywhere in the country. They usually involve at least a bench, a stove, a vat of tea and/or beer and a bunch of guys sitting around usually in silence. Occaisionally one will say something philosophical to which the others will laugh and/or retort. At least one will be wearing a phenomenonally fashionable hat, another will be smoking in a bizarre fashion (in which you create a vaccuum with your hand in order not to let your mouth touch the cigarette) and another will be reading the paper.

We had beautiful scenery to watch when we weren't avoiding landslides, rackfalls or generally unsafe terrain. It was exhilirating to ride on such an quiet road - particularly after the first day of my ride to Pokhara (the main route from India to Nepal). The reason it is quiet is because it is reportedly cheaper to ship goods from China to India and then drive them to Kathmandu that it is to drive them from China itself.

The border itself was a massive let down. The town at the top of the hill on the Nepali side was kind of like any other town. Some falling apart buildings, bucketloads of trucks waiting to get across the bridge and a bunch of shops catering to the truckies and/or potential shoppers waiting to nip across to get a bargain on electrical goods and a ratty Nepali flag obstinantly standing still in the breeze. The Tibetan side was the inverse. Some very fancy buildings, grand golden Chinese characters and a giant fancy Chinese flag flapping away.

Trying his luck, Mike and I started to walk along to bridge completely amazing that none of the 50 armed Nepali police had yet asked us what we were doing. The 2 chinese soldiers standing on a line painted halfway along the bridge (can you believe that?) however, had a very different way of running things. They looked us up and down, smiled at each other, and then one said simply "no". Mike made some feeble gestures, gave them his passport, which they went through every page of, looked back at him, laughed and said "no".

From there we backtracked to a small town called Tatopaani (literally "hot water") and took a dip in the hot springs. A beer on a rooftop overlooking the river and looking at the wall of mountain on the other side that was effectively Tibet was a nice way to end our visit, and we made the return trip in just over 4 hours. I fashioned a new item of clothing for the return trip, as it was warmer but more dusty. This also worked wonders.

It was a fantastic getaway, and a great way to spend Mike's last weekend in Nepal.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Summit

I’ve been asked a few times why I am here.  I think this quote I saw plastered on a friend’s wall the other day sums it up quite well:

 

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. - René Daumal, 1908 - 1944

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Egg Nog at Christmas

Hi Dr Bob!

I have a quick and hopefully entertaining question. Does Egg Nog at Christmas pose a health risk (aside from the obvious problems associated with intoxication)? I was hoping to make some for the crew, but it contains raw egg and I don't really want to be responsible for 10 other AYADs' deaths.

It probably fails the boil it, peel it, cook it or leave it rule, but I thought I'd check. One bright spark suggested that the alcohol "cured" any disease in the egg, but I didn't really believe them.

Cheers
Rob

Ayad Intake 22
Nepal

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Jatra"

My first weekend back from a big week in Australia, I was really looking forward to a few days packed with ex-patness. What better way than to start Friday afternoon with round of karaoke at the place next toe Mike's Breakfast, you say? Well yes. The plan was to follow that up with a nice brunch on Saturday at somewhere outrageously expensive, hit the Hash, and then kick on the to the Scottish night of dancing that Becci politely invited me along to.

Remembering that I was determined to get a little bit more involved with my work colleagues, who had so far been immune to my approaches for a Friday afternoon drink, I invited Nhukesh - the one most likely to say yes - along to karaoke. Unsure what he had signed himself up for, he was appropriately nervous. I think its safe to say that he had a whale of a time. He might not have been an expect at most of the English songs we were singing, but he was the most unbelievable backup dancer we could have ever hoped for.

As happens with most activities in Nepal with less than 24 hours notice on that Friday night, Nhukesh asked me if I could go to his house on Saturday to see his village's festival. The celebrations were scheduled from about 2pm - midnight. Horribly aware of the clash this proposed not only to my addiction to Hash, but the massively anticipated Scottish dancing night (with the guarantee of a nip of whiskey at the door) I found myself in a little dilemma. While in Australia, I confessed my concerns that I wasn't really getting into the culture all that much, with the exception of Bhai Tika day. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I needed exercise more than a nip of whiskey and I piked on poor Becci and my other Scottish friends (who I am sure had a marvelous time without me destroying everything in my path on the dance floor).

I went to the Hash (which was out the arse end of nowhere) and then called Nhukesh (pretty exhausted) to find out where I had to go for this festival. He came to pick me up from Jawalakhel and took me to the Municipality of Kiritipur (about 10km away) where his village of Nagoun is located. He took me on a tour of the village and then to his parents' house where we sat down to eat a very special Newari meal.

Said meal consisted of:
- something that resembled pig fat that was white and jelly textured, I was assured that it was boiled buffalo meat (called Tarkha), specifically prepared for the evening. It tasted pretty much like what you would expect when you see something that resembles pig fat with the texture of white jelly flopping around on your plate
- a red coloured version of the above - "careful Rob-ji, this one is spicy" - and spicy it was - let me assure you
- beaten rice (this was my saviour) - pretty much a found of chiplike chunks of rice
- curried soy beans (another saviour)
- curried pickles - there was nothing particularly alarming about these - except that Nhukesh said - I don't think your stomach will handle that - its very hard to enjoy a particular food item if you are already having images of lonely hours on the family dunny

I was able to wash it all down with 3 different concoctions:
- rice beer (Thoa [in Newari] or Jaad [in Nepali])
- rice wine (Rakshi - good old Rakshi - imagine the heaviest wine you have ever drunk - now double it - that's about half as strong as this stuff)
- red rice beer (Yhamu-Thoa - stronger than the Rakshi this had a hint of that red flavour [you know, like the thing that makes strawberry ice cream taste like strawberry ice cream even though we all know its not strawberries, or red cordial - that kind of thing])

I listened in on the conversations but unfortunately I couldn't follow any of it, and was extremely frustrated for about 10 minutes, wondering why on earth I had spent any money at all on Nepali lessons. It was about that point that Nhukesh pointed out that they were speaking Newari - their ethnic dialect.

From there we went out on the town to see the villagers massing outside a house. Soon enough, their brought out an idol of the god Bal Kumari (Kumari is the word for a female virgin apparently). They loaded the little guy up in a shoulder mounted chariot, and we were led by 4 trumpets, 4 drums too many sets of cymbals and the chariot down the main street towards the temple on the other side of town that was to be Bal Kumari's home for the night. People came out of their homes to give offerings, one lady even had what looked to be a bottle of cough syrup on her offering plate. In her defence, it has been getting really cold, and Bal is going to have to hang out in a temple exposed to the elements all night. The journey was only about 200m, but with many drunk men and all the women and children with their offerings - it was slow going. Nhukesh and his friend Sunil cranked up the dancing again and there are a few photos of me getting into it as well.

At a few point I thought that some people were objecting to the movement of the chariot, because they kept pushing the guys carrying it backwards. After questioning Nhukesh on the point however it turns out that they were all just playing. Is very special to get a chance to carry the chariot, so many people jostle and push each other for fun, and if you happen to fall over or let go of the chariot, then someone will take over your place. You have to be tough!!!!

I'm not sure why we moved Bal Kumari, but it was a hell of a ride.

[photos to come - when Nhukesh remembers to bring his camera to work]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

FAQ's from the Few

I have just returned from my one week jaunt in Australia.  Racking my brains for the best way to describe it on the blog all the way back "home" to Kathmandu, all I could think of were the thousand questions I was asked while I was home.  The best way to do it, is probably answer them.
 
1. What are you doing back here?  I thought you were in Nepal?
Well namely, I am back for my DJ's wedding, to be the best man.  Secretly however, it is all a ruse, to see my girlfriend,
catch up with family, go to my grandfather's funeral (who politely waited until the week before I returned, cheers Granfer, thanks for letting me be there) give a short speech at my old church about life in Nepal and generally get a break from a rather epic 4 month stint in Nepal.
 
2. How long are you back for?
Unfortunately, only an emotionally rollercoasteringly action packed week.
 
3. How long does it take to get here?
17 hours, not including the longwinded wait at the single SilAir check in desk at Kathmandu airport.  Luckily, this being the 
small city that it is, Crazy Neighbour Lady's son worked as a checkin dude for Thai Airways.  Unluckily he couldn't speed me through, but he did keep me company for a bit, probably contributing to the wait for the Thai Airways customers.
 
4. Are you going to want to go back after having a taste of Australia again?
I'm not a quitter, I'll be going back.  8 months will fly by!
 
5. I thought you were in Nepal?  You are aren't you? 
No, I'm standing in front of you.
 
6. Are the Nepali chicks hot?
Yes, they are.  In a generally conservative way though.  But they can definitely make you turn your head.
 
7. What's the first thing you noticed about being back in Australia?  Do you have reverse culture shock?
No reverse culture shock, but the easiest thing to notice is the obese people.  And the fact that they probably don't
consider themselves obese at all.  I actually think that one of the biggest barriers to beating the "obesity epidemic" is the fact that we not only can't acknowledge when we ourselves actually ARE obese, but that it is socially taboo to actually say it to someone.   I mean, you can say "you broke your leg", or "you look like you have a cold", but you can't say "dude, looks like you're tipping the scales to morbidly obese, gonna do something about it?"
 
8. [Struggling for questions here] Want some steak?
Strangely no, I thought I would be fanging for a steak when I got back, but actually, at dinner on Thursday, when ordering
dinner at the Spotted Cow, a place known for its steak, I was toying with the idea of a chicken burger.  It's a very strange feeling.  I also didn't go out for breakfast while I was back.  Two of my favourite things...hmmm.
 
9. Was the groom nervous?
No, he was not.  He even managed to get through about 400 people asking him that.  Of course, until the moment she came
through the archway to the chapel.  From that moment, he didn't know where to stand, where to look or which foot to put his weight on.
 
10. This one is actually a series of questions from a rather blonde checkout chick at a Brisbane Duty Free shop:
Girl: Where are you going? Kathmandu.
Girl: Where's that?
Me: [sigh][roll eyes][realise she did not notice or was incredibly polite] Nepal
Girl: Where's that?
Me: [furrow eyebrows in a "did you really just ask me that" kind of way] Asia
Girl: Like, what country is it near?
Me: It's between India and China.
Girl: Oh.  Do you know what the alcohol limits they have there? 
Me: No.
[to co-worker] Do you know where Nepal is? Yes.
Girl [to me]: What are the alcohol limits there? 
Me: I don't know, I've never worked at a Duty Free store that sells alcohol at an airport before.  Has no one ever bought
 
alcohol with the intention of going to Nepal? Don't you have a book to look it up in?
Girl: Oh, yeah....  OK, you can take a quart, how much is that?
Me: [sigh] Just give me the stuff, I'll pay a duty if they check my bags, which I very much doubt.
 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Bandh For You Today Sir?

"Waiter! What's this bandh thing?"
 
"Well sir, it's an entertaining dish, I suppose you could say."
 
"Well, for goodness sake, what does it take to make one?"
 
"Oh, that's easy, pick up the newspaper on any given day and you will find some 200 reasons to make a bandh."
 
"Really? It doesn't take much then?  Go ahead, give me the details."
 
"The thing is, not everyone agrees on the ingredients and at the end of it all, more often that not, no one can really remember exactly what went into it.  There are always rumours afterwards, any of which could have been the main ingredient.  Of course, there are your staple items that can always be counted on.  Those would be:
One.  A group of impressionable teenagers.
Two.  A band of delinquent young men
Three.  Rocks, tyres, bricks, sticks, and eventually shotguns, rifles, riot gear and big police sticks
Four.  Said groups of young people block roads, force transport not to move, force shop keepers to shut up for the day, and close schools.
and Five, to quote V for Vendetta, 'what will happen?', 'what usually happens when people without guns stand up to people WITH guns'"
 
"OK, but your last one, for example, what was in it?"
 
"According to popular belief there were at least three major things:
One.  Two students were kidnapped some time ago, much like how it used to happen...you know, during the insurgency.  Yesterday they were found dead, perhaps with knife wounds, perhaps not.  No one actually knows who murdered them, but popular belief is that the Maoists were involved.  Yes, I see the question you are about to ask, they would be the political party leading the insurgency and who are now (effectively) in power and have promised that this kind of thing doesn't happen anymore.  The young delinquent men often conclude that obviously it IS happening right now and thus mass in large groups waiting for the slightest excuse to get a little bit violent.
 
Two.  You remember the fuel crisis a while back?  Well, transport prices went up, didn't they?  They haven't come back down since petrol became available again.  Students tend to get upset about these things.
 
Three: Some people are upset that the private schools have money.  Or that people can afford to send their children to private schools.  Or that they have to pay too much to send their children to private schools.  Or something.  I do know that it involved private schools, money and a bunch of generally grumpy people.
 
Having said that it could be anything that goes into it.  I've heard of another ingredient being the proposal to break the country into autonomous states, and in another, the government refused to provide public money for the ritual sacrifice of animals."
 
"Right, I think I understand, well, what's it good for?"
 
"One.  It's a good excuse not to go to work for the day.
Two. Boys love hanging around in groups destroying things.
Three.  It's a crude but effective way of getting the government or other people to do what you want.  Take the animal sacrifice example, I believe they got their money back.
Four: It gives those involved a rush and a feeling of power over others - you may choose to see this as a negative, but I'm calling it a positive, only for those involved though.
Five.  Usually bideshis and bicycle or motorbike riders are left alone.  It's just cars, buses, trucks and shops that people seem to get angry at."
 
"So the drawbacks?"
 
"Well, pretty much the flip side of all the good things.  If no one is at work, then no work is being done.  If boys are destroying things, the guy that owns them usually gets upset, or has to pay to fix it.  Being such an effective way of getting your way, it is positively reinforced, next time there's a problem, everyone will remember how effective the last bandh was.  If people like the feeling of having power over others, well, we know how useful that really is.  Bidesh or not, it's a sure way to get you nercous about whether you will get to the airport on time tomorrow..."
 
"I'll have the chicken..."
 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bats and Bricks

I'm a mahout on an elephant being pushed up the stairs.  I'm alone with a cricket bat in a china shop except for the timid bull sitting in the corner.  I'm bashing my head against a pillow while leaning on a brick wall.  I'm pulling teeth from a baby and ripping hair from a bald man.  I'm juggling 2 knives, an angry cat and an anvil Wile E Coyote style while singing Click Go the Shears.
 
In short, I am going batty and this weekend can't come fast enough.

Rockclimbing, Puri Sabji, Banana Splits and the Bookclub

What an EPIC weekend to end an epic week.

Friday night was Katherine and I relaxing at home watching DVD's. The problem with a plan like this, as I will illustrate when I get around to doing a "characters" post on Katherine, is her inexplicable ability to fall asleep the moment any part of her body reaches a parallel angle to the ground. 10 minutes into the movie she was a goner.

Early up on Saturday to join Flo and Mike and head towards Nagarjun forest, where Flo had been a number of times before on the advice of someone that told someone to tell his fiancee that it was a good place to go rockclimbing. The place is so out of the way that that's a rather normal way for you to hear about it. It was the party of people from countries beginning and ending with 'A', with representatives from Oz, the US and the land of the Sound of Music.

[Flo, trying to keep me alive and save me from myself]

They were amazing climbers and I was a total novice, I don't think I held them back too much though, and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. I'm still sore. We did get the chance to meet Freddie Wilkinson. Sound like someone important? No? Well, I'll have you know that he's a pretty famous climber. Yeah, I didn't know either, Mike was impressed though (he did well to hide his awe, except for that moment where he went "DUDE! That's Freddie Wilkinson!").

[Mike trying to be all nonchalant]


Leaving the forest I spotted one gigantic monkey. This big guys testicles were off the scale (if there even is a scale for such things). He was easily scared though, as two baby monkeys invaded his territory and moved on. Those things are so agile they scare me, youj never know if they are gonna go for your eyes or not. He didn't get away before we could knock off a few impressions:



Rockclimbing was followed by a rather intense nap, that left me wondering whether I was actually awake or just severely drugged. You know, when you sleep for a little bit too long in the afternoon?

I went to meet up with Flo, Mike and Mike's roommate Mana. Mike and Mana are Dartmouth students her working on Engineering Internships with a Nepali NGO. They do pretty cool stuff like pull apart batteries and attempt to reverse engineer Nokia stuff, and in their spare time they build bridges. They both have blogs going (checkout my links to the right to see what they have been doing [and their versions of the stories I have been telling], they're not all lies).

We had dinner at a place that Mike has been raving about for weeks. Puri Sabji was the order of the day for 30 rupes (about 50c). Potato curry that you shove into a thin puffy little bread thing. It was fabulous! And you get about 5 of them! I will be going back for more.

We followed this up with drinks and banana split sundaes back at Mana & Mike's house. There we were joined by Avi, Gemma and Annette(from Norway) and Katherine (who again pulled off her imitation of a tall blonde American with a sleeping disorder. They couldn't get us out of their house until about 1am. Just for future reference, after the first glass, Nepali whiskey isn't all that bad.



Monday night saw the inaugural meeting of the AYAD book club, with appearances from special guests Liz and Sanjana (whom I accidentally called Sandika - for no apparent reason other than a completeinability to remember Nepali names). Liz is an American I was introduced to by Lena and Sanjana works with Gemma, Annette, Katherine, Danielle, Sascha and Kat at Save the Children ("SAVE THEM! SAVE THEM!" - actually, with that many people to look after them, I hope they'll be ok).

We have been reading a book called the White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. I think its an absolutely fantastic bok that I got right into (I still haven't finished yet, as it proved mighty hard to find, and the Tihar festival got in the way of deliveriess, "come back tomorrow sir....not today sir, maybe tonight....no sir, please come tomorrow"). My enthusiasm was met by equal enthusiasm in the opposite direction with the others finding no sympathy for the protagonist, an Indian servant turned murderer . I don't have any sympathy for him, but I did appreciate his cynicism and wit. Check it out, it won the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
The bookclub will reconvene in 1 month to read "Snow" by....... [someone] set in Turkey.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good Intentions

So, the much heralded trip to Boudnath temple was a failure amidst a victory.

After doing a few laps of the stupa we (somehow) managed to get about 10 of us onto a rooftop restaurant. The problem with a group of more than 5 people is that they don't tend to act like sheep except for when you don't want them to. So when you are a hungry shepherd, and you just want everyone to follow you they may not. In the end you might just say "screw you all" and hope they work out where the rest of you are.

Anyway, the reason that we had to do a few laps of the stupa is because you must walk around a stupa clockwise, for fear of the gods or God, or something, smiting you. Now although the idea of seeing something smiting brings a smile to my face (as I imagine it's not exactly something you would see every day) it also wasn't soemthing I wanted to risk for fear of being labelled culturally intolerant or, more importantly being trampled. I did see one guy trying to go anti-clockwise on a bicycle. I think it would have been faster for him to do 10 laps clockwise than to travel 10 metres.

There were THOUSANDS* of people - tourists, Buddhists, Hindus and tourist Buddhists (complete with whacky clothes) out doing the walk. We were there because supposedly the stupa is lit up like a runway every month at the full moon. After the sun setting, and still nothing happening but many local shopkeepers setting up tables and lighting thousands** of candles on laying them out on tables in front of their shops. A ceremony was taking place with some monks chanting and blowing into conches (Lord of the Flies style) and horns while passing people threw food onto a pile (that they had bought from the entrepeneur who set up a shop next to the pile). I'm not sure what happens to it after, but I hope it goes to someone needy (it was a VERY big pile of food).

We retreated to our rooftop balcony to have some drinks and dinner. After about an hour, it occurred to someone to actually ask why the stupa was not lit up yet. Completely baffled, we asked the waiter, who suggested (in that "I'm answering even though I don't think I understood your question" kind of way) that it "might" have happened yesterday but he wasn't sure. Someone (it might have been me) suggested that he thought that the full moon was on the Wednesday. This was all devastating news to poor Mike, who had been planning this expedition since Monday with email trails a million*** miles long from volunteers trying to avoid doing work.

It did leave a few riddles.
1. Why on earth had they lit all of these candles just to have them sit on tables outside shops?
2. Why were there so many people walking around if it wasn't a special occaision?

Someone suggested that perhaps, unlike many Christians, Buddhists and Hindus might not especially wait for special occaisions to go to worship or meditate, or do what they do. I think we'll have to wait for the next full moon to find out.

The night was still claimed a success from the good food, company and that anticipatory feeling you get when you know something cool is about to happen (even though it didn't).

This is something like what we missed:

* OK, maybe hundreds
** no, this time there actually were thousands
*** not actually "millions" - maybe one million****
**** probably not though

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Invitation From Mike I Couldn't Refuse

Friends, on this coming Thurs-eve, under ye newly full lit moon glowering in ye carbon molecule and particulate matter smog haze, by bicycle, cab, tuktuk, and goat we shall make haste nor'east, yonder where lies ye great Stupa of Boudhanath. Ere, on ye full moon eve lay ten hundred thousand score lit-candles, flick'ring whence we ambulate clock-wise of ye stupa in "Kora." Complete ye Kora, and we'll all dine on banana split sunday's at our flat when the clock strikes nine times.

Come or come not if ye will, but come with a bike if ye can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Good Bits

So apparently I have been making it sound like Nepal is unbearable. I have absolutely no idea what would give anyone that impression, but thought I would make a post of all the really cool stuff that has happened or that I see everyday, or that puts a smile on my face. I warn you now, if I ever complain, its usually because I find negative things rather more comical. I think most people do. That's why we have sitcoms, and like watching people cry on Big Brother. Misery is more entertaining than a list of happy feel-good things.

Nevertheless, let's stop wasting time:

Raju lifting the phone of the hook, taking his shoes off, putting his feet up on the desk and saying, "Rob, I sleep", and promptly doing so.



- Copping out on my Halloween costume and just going as a "local biker" - this is what I wear to work everyday BTW, (sans 2Pac shirt obviously, that was there to make me more "local", I just couldn't find a Britney Spears shirt to look hardcore)


Rosie after the Halloween party in an effort that just goes to prove that you never can exaggerate the danger of sewage filled manholes.


Trekking awesome-ness



Hashing goodness



The amazing people that I have met here (I have more than one for every single day). I made a specific list just to see how many I had. Its an amazing list, with entries such as "chow mein guy", "chow mein guy's wife", mohan's family, "grumpy fruit man" but also such amazing names as all the other AYADs and various volunteers I have become friends with, Raj, Gunga, oh yeah! And the "loud female rights activist lady".

["smiling kiosk dude" from work]

The "Australian Big Day Out in Kathmandu" - a bizarre spectacle of 'Australian culture' right here in the Du. Complete with dancing and of course, man-love.



The local equivalent to a lorry passing me on the way to work.


Monkeys!


Sunrise over the Du.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Characters > Bhoj Raj

Bhoj Raj G/aut/am is a fascinating creature that I see daily at work. He is very affectionate, highly intelligent, looks like he is about to cry just about most of the time, says thankyou one or two more times than necessary in a single conversation, is a Brahmin (very high caste status), can go by the nickname of Bhoju - although I am not prepared to get that familiar with him, lest he start trying to hold my hand in public- and is probably not quite as good at English as he thinks he is. This is fine, as my Nepali is a long way short of his English, I'm just setting the scene here.


Bhoj Raj, as has been pointed out before has appointed himself the "Rob Nepali Guru" meaning, he tries to teach me Nepali. Usually, this results in him saying things to me very quickly and pausing meaningfully while waiting for me to respond. This usually results in a 20 minute conversation where I mainly try and work out exactly which is the new word he is trying to teach me, as it is not either clear or easy to pronounce. Any attempt to get him to repeat a sentence prompts some kind of cognitive reset function resulting in him saying something completely different with no memory of having said something different 10 seconds before.

Today he told me his love story. "You and I are very alike Rob-ji," he starts, "we are both very young to be married, and both our wives are NURSES!" OK, so I lied when I got here, telling everyone that my girlfriend was actually my wife. Something I did on the advice of some Nepalis living in Australia who suggested it would "just be easier" when she comes to visit. Unfortunately, that won't be for a bloody long time, and in the meantime I have to keep together this web of lies that not only had us married before we started going out, but involves a honeymoon in Thailand (a place I have never been to) and means that I pretend to actually own a home.

Me: Are you in an arranged marriage? (FYI, options are love marriage or arranged marriage - about 50/50)
BR: NO NO! I am in a love marriage. But the story around my wedding is very strange.

The short of it is that Bhoj Raj met his wife, Urmila, while working at a hospital in Pokhara, over time they got to know each other rah, rah, rah. Where this gets interesting is around the point where Urmila's parents start to look for a good husband to set her up with. They found a nice chap. A businessman I believe that might or might not have known something about engineering.

She refused to marry him saying that she was in love with somebody else. You can almost see the scene now can't you? Demanding to know who it was, Urmila's father set out on a mission to discover more about the mysterious (and in my opinion over-friendly) ophthalmic assisstant.

You see, although you might not quite understand it, I most certainly don't, Nepal works (less and less nowadays, but it exists nevertheless) on a caste system. I haven't got a great grasp on it except to say that if you are a Brahmin, then you are pretty much ok, you have quite a lot of status, are likely to be able to afford education and won't be going begging. What I did not understand is that even among the various castes, there are ranks. Although Urmila is also a Brahmin [YAY], unfortunately poor Bhoj Raj is a lower rank than her [poo].

Her parents refused to allow her to see him and demanded that he come and see them alone. Afraid that they would be waiting with a bevvy of large brutish family members to do him an injustice, he refused to go unless he could take friends. As I understand it (and I am sure I have got part of this wrong) eventually they came to the conclusion that they could be together only if BR agreed to marry her the next day at temple, or the whole thing was off and Urmila's father would not take part in it at all.

It was 2pm in the afternoon and BR wasn't expecting this particular development. He had no money for a dowry (also required) and none of his relations knew anything about this. Apparently he went crazy that afternoon, finding special clothes, contacting relations to tell them about the wedding and borrowing some money and or gifts for a dowry. And the next day they were married. That was back in February, and unfortunately she is in Pokhara for now and he in Kathmandu.

He really is a character and always has a smile on his face (if it does look like he is also about to break out in tears).

[on the left - yes, the over-affectionate one]

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bhai Tika Day

This has been an incredibly big week. Should I talk about the insane ride up the hill with the warning: "This mountain has 15 to 50 degree inclines..." or the fact that for most of that ride our tires were spinning on the rocks because there wasn't a "road" so much as, well, rocks.

Should I tell you about the fact that the town is lit up as if it was Christmas? With children running around the streets letting off firecrackers? Occaisionally the odd firework will fly overhead as you walk down the street staring at all the decorations hanging from the shop windows that seemed to miraculousy appear overnight.


Actually I'll tell you about the cultural experience I had today. It was none to soon either. I have been wondering if I have not been fully embracing the amazing culture that surrounds me as I pass my year in this strange place. I can't explain to you what all the festivals are. I can't explain why people believe and do some of the things that they do. Today however, I had a great time at my counterpart's house.

He called me this morning, and instructed me to meet him at Koteshwor Tempo Park at 11 where he would give me a ride to his place. That was an adventure itself, and a story for another time. Turned out I was following him (me on bicycle, him on motorbike - yet another adventure) and we arrived at his house and he introduced me to his family. His sister, mother, son, daughter and brothers. I had to guess who the other people were, and I think I came to the right conclusion with wife and nephews.
Today, sisters prey for the long life of their brothers and give them a very special 'tika' (the cool little spot on the forehead that most people put on each day at temple). In return, brothers give their sister a gift. The women were inside preparing the meal while we sat outside and akwardly shot the breeze. The young boys were staring at me like a monster from the Trapdoor, not sure whether to speak or poke me and run away.

We were called inside and I was given my designated place. Arrayed in front of us on the floor were lots of colours and fruits. Mohan's sister went through Mohan and his brothers dropped some oil on our heads. Mohan's daughter (I feel horrible because I can't remember any of their names) did the same thing for her brother and cousins and then for me. They then poured flower petals over our heads and for some reason we found ourselves balancing walnuts up there as well. As the process continues the boys all became more comfortable and familiar with me, joking all the time. Mohan's daughter then gave me a little Nepali man's hat (YAY! I finally have one) and more flowers.



Then she pulled out the paints (all sorts of colours, made out of various fruits and foods) and gave us each a base layer of yellow with purple, red, pink and orange dots. Then we got a wad of sticky banana-rice redness whacked up above that. I'll put the photos up tomorrow. Afterwards she lit the wick of a candle for each of us and we threw flower petals over it. The ceremony appeared to conclude when grandma (she looks so much like a grandma - she was adorable) ran (actually ran) outside with our walnuts and started crushing them with a brick. Apparently it was very important that this occur at the same time as some other unseen (and unintroduced person) set off a firecracker in time with each one and Mohan's daughter passed us a boiled egg and a bowl of curd (yogourht) which we were apparently meant to eat. I was obviously a special guest, as I was also given a dried out fish (not part of a fish, or a fish fillet, a dried out fish, head and all). It was really special and I felt like a part of their family for the day.

We then had some food (which I thought was lunch) and then I asked the boys to teach me how to play carromboard (a fantastic game slightly similar to pool but without sticks or balls). The younger of us gave Mohan's daughter 'tika' (just the quishy sticky rice-banana redness) while the elders gave it to Mohan's sister. We followed this up with a present, I had already given them them a box of sweets so had to resort to money, which I understood was quite OK. Then an entire meal of Daal Bhat (sometimes, you really just can't eat that much rice) and I came home.

This is a very typical Newari custom (that usually occurs at night time) but we had it at lunch today as they were going to Mohan's wife's family's house for the same ceremony (kind of like at Christmas where you need to go to the party for both sides of the family).

As I rode home, many people pointed out my flower petals (still sticking to my hair) and noted my 'tika'. I felt less bideshi today.

Extra: Forgot to mention that yesterday was Newari New Year. Like I said, it's been a busy week.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mero Charpi Explode Chha

My Nepali teacher visited on Wednesday, and, as is his custom, enquired how everything was. Lacking the liunguistic acumen to explain that I had a party the other night and invited 5 Europeans I had never met before, as many AYADs as can fit into my flat, an American and our Nepali friend Jaya, and that the first of them to use my toilet created a chaos only before seen when the aliens blew up the White House in Independence Day. I started to explain but after a few false starts, a couple of giggles and an illness fried barin I simply said "Mero charpi explode chha". Meaning "my toilet explode is".

It was bound to happen. I mean, obviously, we all knew, it was only a matter of time. I'm surprised he made it this far.to be honest. Perhaps over the course of my three months in country I have become familiar with his habits. I know that when he is flushed he likes to have the flush handle raised back into its regular position. He doesn't like exceedingly large downward pressure applied to the tank and when there is no water in the building tank to refill him, he knows that I am more than willing to use my precious hot water (filled from a seperate tank) to flush him.

Danielle however was not aware of this. She was not aware of the history. Of the pain. Of the three weeks I spent effectively toiletless last time he exploded. She does have a good ear for humour though, as she picked the best time to hatch her dastardly plot. Most people had arrived, and we were all sitting down to a few warm glasses of beer (which the Italian girls claimed to prefer over cold [which has to be a lie, why would anyone PREFER to drink warm beer?]). Danielle sat back down from her visit to my friend the temperamental toilet and I was in the kitchen doling out the warm Everest beer packed in bottles clearly printed with the word Tuborg (a different kind of beer). There was a horrible crashing sound like a ceramic sink smashing all over a ceramic tile floor.

Immediately I had images of what had happened - knowing how much the sink also dislikes downward pressure. Before you knew it, 5 or 6 people were crammed into my bathroom to witness the scene making it impossible for me to get in to see the damage. It was not the sink, as I had feared but poor Charpi. His tank had suicided off the wall, the filling hose had torn itself right off (a brand new one too) and water was shooting out at a flesh damaging rate*. Grabbing the hose I bought for fixing him last time that turned out to be the wrong size but I kept for a moment just like this I put Danielle in charge of holding that while I grabbed Jaya and ran to find Danesh while still having my wits enough about me to grab Jaya to help translate.

Turned out that Jaya had had a little too much rum to speak him own language intelligibly, Danesh managed to work out what was going on and shut off the tank but not before we lost a good 100 litres of water mainly depositing itself on Danielle and myself.

I decided to do the fixing 100% myself this time, not wanting to "bother" Danesh with it and I am happy to say that Charpi is back to 60% functional.**.

*not quite as strong as the Stupid Pressure Hose Incident of 2005
** He's actually only ever at 60%, so I take that as a good effort on my part

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Linguistic Adventures II

I just had the most painful conversation.  This post should enlighten you some of the frustrating components of working here.

 

Because giving you a post full of misspelled Nepali words would not only be pointless but relatively boring, I will attempt to give you the conversation that I attempted to have in Nepali, in English.  I do hate to pick on Bhoj Raj, but as he is the self-appointed Nepali-teacher for Rob, it invariably results that he is the one involved in these kinds of conversations.

 

Rob: Can you give this CD Nhukesh?

Bhoj Raj:No, you mean "Pleeeese give this CD to Nhukesh"

R: S&(* I forgot the "to", Can you give this CD to Nhukesh?

B: No, you mean "Pleeeeese give this CD to Nhukesh".

R: Hang on, wait, what does "pleeeese" mean?  I've never heard that before.  For second person I should say "pleeeeese give"?

B: Yes.

R: So, first person, "I give....", Second person "pleeeese give....", third person "he give...."

B: yes

R: That doesn't make sense.  Do these all have the same meaning?  Usually second person is the same as third.  I'm asking a question, it sounds like your way is telling me to do something

b: yes.

r: yes, what?

b: yes.

r: [deep breath] is "can you give this to Nhukesh" correct?

b: n-... yes

r: so what does "pleeeese" mean then?

b: is polite.

r: OH!  you mean "PLEASE!" you just spell it and say it in a completely different way to how I was taught.  That is why I was confused.  So "Can you give this CD to Nhukesh" is correct, just not very polite?

b: yes, i mean no.

r: not correct?

b: yes.

r: rajuji?

raju: yeah?

r: Can you give this CD to Nhukesh?

raju: OK [head wobble which is the local equivalent to a nod]

r: bhojraj, raju understands what I am saying.

b: yes, you said it correctly.

r: [loud sigh] so we just had a 20 minute conversation because I forgot "to" in my first sentence? and you were teaching me to say something different to what I wanted?

 

People make that mistake in English all the time, “You give Nhukesh” – you just shrug and go and give the stupid thing to Nhukesh don’t you?  Katherine suggested that Nepalis get “in-country immunity” (which itself is a rather amusing concept) from these kind of mistakes, but the rule is all foreigners must be corrected.

 

The worst part of all of this is that the CD is still on my desk.

 

 

Aside: looking back on that - it lost something in translation*, and I sound like an annoying little poo head. 

 

*the irony is not lost on me

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Characters > Gunga the Tea Man

For those of you that intend to grace me with your presence in this wonderous country there is one place that is sure to be the first of our stops on your own personal guided tour. That stop will be at Gunga's tea shop.

Gunga is quite possibly the happiest man you will ever meet. He has an endearing round face which I have only once seen crossed with a frown. His shop is across the road from the main department store in Lazimpat and is adourned with a clean looking green shopfront with the words "Sagamartha Tea House" printed in grand white letters, "please step in for all kind of Nepali tea, coffee and spices". "Sagamartha" is the Nepali word for Mt . Everest.





On a pinboard out the front are articles regarding tea production in Nepal and a sign quite adamently declaring that "sugar destroys the taste of the tea!" Gunga is a bit of a purist! He can tell you where all of his teas come from, how they are grown, and what ailments they will help you with. He would make a great winemaker, as he even has it down to the art of telling you where in your mouth and how quickly you will feel the flavour of the tea.

As I pass on my bike I always look in to give him a wave and often see him looking through the window out onto the street waiting for someone to visit. I say someone to visit rather than "his next customer" because I don't really think Gunga has customers. In fact, I'm not entirely sure how the man eats, not only because he is always in the slightly claustrophobic shop, but because only rarely do I see the man exchange tea for money. He's usually giving the stuff away (in actual fact I think he is a rather shrewd businessman.

"Please Robji, sit down, have some tea, we will have some tea, what do you like today?"

He encourages all people to come in and will have the kettle boiling before you have even introduced yourself. "If you want to buy, you buy, if you don't, is ok, just come back for a nice cup of tea!" He loves talking to people and has enlightened me quite a bit on the very confusing process that is Nepali politics. His business partner Navin has a similar shop (although a little more cramped) down by New Road but is just as regularly in Gunga's shop helping out, and he educates me on Nepali religion, custom and in particular Newari culture (the Newari's are one of the predominant Kathmandu Valley castes).

Gunga breaks down religion like this, "You be the best person you can be, isn't it? You have good in your heart and you give goodness to others, isn't it?. All religions say this, isn't it? Christian, Hindu, Musleman, Budd-His, isn't it? So I accept you, and I accept you, and in this way the world can have peace and understanding, isn't it?"

"And tea Gunga?" says I.

"Oh yeeess, Peace, Understanding and a cup of tea!"


Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Want...

I'm so not in the mood today. I want to go home.

I want to see my family, and the beach and Lauren.

I want to wake up and have that feeling that I want to get out and go at the world.

I want my favourite TV programs.

I want to kick a footy and to go to a cricket match.

I want to play video games with my friends.

I want to have a conversation and be confident at the end that I understood it all.

I want to walk into the Turret and have Rhi pass over my chai latte.

I want to be back where car horns are used only in the case of dire emergency, even death.

I want to be able to buy milk and drink it without boiling it (oh yeah, I only just found out that I should have been doing that all this time).

"Wahhh!" I hear you say, well yes "waaah". Please no emails of "are you OK? is there anything I can do?", this is a temporary moment and it shall pass.

Maybe it's because I was up in the peaceful mountains for 12 days and I have gone into a state of return from holiday shock. To come back to the pollution and poverty is a bit of a kick in the gut. Speaking of guts, mine is acting up. There's something totally unnatural to me about co-habiting with monkeys, mal-nutritioned cows and stray dogs that lead me to believe that sometimes that the people here just don't care.

OK, I'm going to go and have a nice warm cup of cheer up buttercup.

Oh yeah. Today is 3 months. Maybe it's that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

From ABC - The Other Nut

From ABC - The Other Nut
 
In addition to the post of the other day, I left out these important facts:
 
Day 2 - Jhinu to Dovan
  • Attack of the Zombie Children, "Give me SWEEEEEEETS, HOOOONNNNEEEEY, CHOCOLATE, SCHOOLPEN".  Bryan forced to stop and check they had not taken anything from his bag and treat scratches obtained from children hanging onto his legs.  I had to pause momentarily and feel bad about almost chucking one in the creek in order to get past. It started innocently enough, with them singing us a song, but then the wind must have changed or something and they became zombies!
 
Day 4 - Hiking - Dovan to MBC
  • Emergence of neck beard.  Things have gone from charmingly uncouth to a little bit feral.
 
Day 5 - Hiking - MBC to ABC and actually Bamboo
  • Parted ways with Cloe, the insane mountain climbing Belgian.
  • After climbing down, as I said, to the disgust of my knee, it was apparent Bryan wasn't yet.  He hung around above ABC for another hour or so as I got plodded back to MBC.
  • Together we sped from there to Bamboo, knee in so much pain I found it difficult to continue standing.  This will be a recurring theme.
 
Day 6 - Hiking - Bamboo to Gharjong
  • Became intimately reacquainted with the Chomrong stairs, knee apparently enjoyed the upstairs action.
  • Developed fixation on trail mix aka mixed nuts that is more just raisins and coconut than anything else.
  • Received donation of codeine pills from friendly yet ever still so obnoxious Australians.
  • Determined NOT to go to Ghurjun, took the road there by accident, got lost, and were found by a funny bald man in gum boots.
  • Very entertaining conversation with gum booted bald man revolving around 2 syllable English questions and 2 syllable Nepali answers as we quickly realised this little village did not often see trekkers. 
  • Gummy old bald man took us on a shortcut through his farm and sent us packing back up the hill.
  • My foul mood started getting both of us down, elected to stop at first bed identified, eat food and sleep.
  • Met Cheech in Gharjong (yes I understand just how similar this name is to Ghurjun), a lovely thin guy about our age just married and managing the family lodge and farm.  He put us up for the night and shared some lovely (read disturbing) Maoist stories from the insurgency.
  • Funny little man playing with a marijuana tree, we thought at first to be simple through his hand gestures describing getting high, eating, being happy and praising the gods. 
  • Turned out he was deaf and he was actually signing to us. 
  • Immediately chastised self for being such an idiot.
 
Day 7 - Hiking - Gharjong to Tadepani
  • Mood improved with food and food and the chancce to wash clothes.
  • Eventually gave up on clothes drying and hung underwear, socks and t-shirts of the back of our packs.
  • Stopped for the beautiful view at Chuile and were joined by a running Frenchman named Eric.
  • Learned of Eric's year long plan to travel to 21 countries and learn how each language says cock-a-doodle-doo.  Thought it was impossible to be lighter packed or less prepared for the elements than we already were, Eric did not have a backpack but a shoulder bag with a solitary water bottle, a spare pair of pants, a jumper and his camera. 
  • Climbed epic hill number 647 to be rained in at Tadepani (a mere 3 hours from our starting point).
  • Rejoined by Eric and whiled away the afternoon rain by chatting with the incoming wet people, writing, reading and learning how to say cock-a-doodle-doo in Mandarin, Chilean Spanish, French, Irish (same as English, who knew?) and Nepali.
  • Elected to wait out the rain as  certain travelling buddy flirted shamelessly with Anita, the waitress (whose sister married a Norwegian trekker) and may or may not have some similar aspirations.
 
Day 8 - Hiking - Tadepani to Ghorepani
  • Set off with Bryan and new recruit Eric, still with wet washing for Ghorepani. 
  • Bryan - who had been hiking in sneakers and/or flip slops, much to passing trekkers astonishment, managed for the first time to step directly in a creek with his shoes.  He promptly converted to flip flops.
  • What should have been a very simple 4 hour meander turned interesting when the rain clouds rolled back in, but gave us a nice Man From Snowy River motif as we wandered through the jungles along the top of the ridge.
  • It was all very scenic in a "I can't really see the mountains I know are a stone's throw away" kind-of-way but that all headed south when said rainclouds opened up.
  • Donning ponchos and walking in an "I'm about to go arse over tit" kind-of-way and there are two guys that are going to laugh themselves silly when i do, Bryan continued in flip flops mainly for pride as we were actually soaked through anyway. 
  • Coming into Ghorepani, I picked the lodge based on the presence of a "German Bakery" downstairs.  Unfortauntely the place was made of balsa wood and the owner refused to light up the wood heater to keep us warm.
  • Made friends with 4 Israelis who continued to serve me their own coffee brew, which I continued to drink in spite of the fact I knew I was to wake at 4 in the morning for the view at Poon Hill. 
  • Played card games and talked European politics as Bryan slept and Eric wasted away in his room with a queesy stomach (the lesson friends? don't eat tuna in the mountains of a land-locked country - obvious? you say....well...yes). 
  • Drank more coffee.
 
Day 9 - Hiking - Ghorepani to Poon Hill and Birethanthi
  • Terrible sleep with weird dreams on account of coffee and fear of missing the sunrise.
  • Actually "awoken" by the Israelis as they came to knock on my door, but not after the balsa wood house being shaken down by one of them with footsteps resembling those of the BFG, Frankenstein or some other equivalently loud stomping pachyderm.
  • Climbed to Poon Hill alone as the Israeli guys still weren't ready at 4.30.
  • Inwardly cursed each big group I passed as they shouted at the top of their lung's at each other during the beautiful starry morning.
    Made it to the top first and had about 10 minutes before any groups showed upand had the pleasure of seeing the nearby mountains lit up by the moon and stars.
    Clouds rolled in to destroy any hope of seeing Himalayas or the sun rising, determined to depart before the crowds started heading back down.
  • Ghorepani appears to be the trek done by families and older people not confident enough to get to the top (not actually complaining about that, but it explains the huge about of people present at Poon Hill).  From here I think I considered the peaceful and serene mountain trekking to be over.
  • Some more codeine popping and we left Ghorepani for the most epic, downhilled, shop filled, tourist ridden stair case yet.  It must have been as difficult as the pyramids to assemble.
  • Encountered an Indian and English family with 5 small children - they asked if they were halfway yet - didn't have the hert to say they had 7/8ths of the way to go.  I hope they're alive.
  • Stopped for beer in Birethanthi with the plan to continue to Lumle.  That plan nosedived after the first sip.
  • Were passed by the Israelis as we ate dinner - very close to dark and they still had an hour to reach Naya Pul.
 
Day 10 - Birethanthi to Pokhara
  • Beard has now gone curly, could not recognise self in mirror.  Transformation to wandering smelly man effectively complete.
  • Plan to leave "early" pathetically destroyed by breakfast and slow moving body parts.
  • "Should be virtually flat today but we have a lot of ground to cover"
  • Left at 8 and it took 2 hours to climb the 3 or 4 HUNDRED metre "virtually flat" ridge before reaching Lumle.  Praised decision to stop for beer at Birethanthi.
  • Another attack of zombie children - elected to try intimidation approach - made one child run away - apparently effective.
  • Found ourselves back on a road for the first time in 10 days.  Touched it like a duck with water.
    Immediately surrounded by car exhausts, trucks and a bus that had evidently taken a suicide dive into a rice paddy.  Steel cables had been spread taught across a blind corner in an attempt to pull the bus out.
  • The zombie children appear to be multiplying - intimidation technique no longer working - technique to in turn demand sweeties and chocolates from children met with confusion and anger - resolved to ignore them and smile.  Problem resolved, almost to my satisfaction (except that they will ask the next person).
  • Split up from boys to find my way to friend's wife's house to re-aquire bicycle.
  • Arrived at designated meeting place mere seconds before someone upended a lake in the sky and Pokhara was lost under rain.
  • Had bizarre experience of Gemma (fellow AYAD) appearing in front of me, closely followed by another encounter with a Scottish fellow Hasher stepping out from a bar in our path.
 
Day 11 - Return - Pokhara to Kathmandu
 
  • No bus ticket, no problem.
  • Show up ask for seat, "you have to sit in aisle", no other bus "OK". 
  • Chuck bike on roof, mildly wondering if it will still be there upon arrival in KTM.
  • Sat on a little stool right up the front, if there wass an accident I was going straight through that window.
  • Discussed to my horror the fact that the Oz dollar is now worth less than 50 rupees (WHAT IN THE HELL HAPPENED WHILE I WAS AWAY?) with an American sitting near me.
  • Made it home - discovered house ransacked - panicked only for a moment as I realised that was just a result of me trying to pack my bag frantically the night before departure.
  • Slept.