Friday, August 29, 2008

Toilet Language

Just a quick update to let you know what has been happening, and what is on that abstract to do list.


  • Get some lights for the damn bike - seriously! It's getting dangerous out there! See the next point.
  • Find someone official enough and demand they do something about that open manhole on the main street in Lazimpat. Currently a green tree branch is sticking out of it, warning all and sundry not to drive into it. Of course, this is quite an acceptable solution, until such time as the branch dies, and then people won't know what to do.
  • Work out how to convince my didi (literally, 'big sister' but actually the lady upstairs that does my washing) that the money I am waving around in my hand is actually for her, for services rendered over the last month. The broad just won't take it!
  • Write a paper on the optimal intraocular lens power for North Korean cataract patients based on a minuscule dataset that may or may not be complete and accurate.
  • work out how to work out what the optimal IOL power for North Korean cataract patients should be.
  • Work out how to convince colleagues that I don't know actually know how to work it out. There must be some research, formula or method for deciding these things. Not some Australian guy with no experience pulling numbers from tea leaves (while apparently a widely accepted fortune telling technique, I'm not sure the scientific community is likely to accept it) - however i could document it in the Methodology section.
  • Find a colleague that doesn't nod and smile as I ask the above questions. I want some head shaking, frowning and even some yelling just so i know I'm getting somewhere, even if it's wrong.
  • Determine how to jump the locked fence after 9pm without waking up the entire compound.
  • Sound proof my bedroom from the morning sounds of neighbour's sex, dishwashing at the communal well, taxi music, taxi drivers, taxi exhaust and taxi maintenance sounds (apparently I live above some kind of taxi gang hideout).


  • Established the phonetic difference between four and six (being 'char' and 'chha'). To the point where I was actually able to request half a dozen bananas. Seriously, what the hell do I want with 4 bananas anyway?
  • Followed a conversation with a local shop keeper.
    "namaste, tapaailaai kasto chha?" - "I greet the gods within you, to you how is it?"
    "namaste sir, Thik chha" - "i greet the gods within you sir, OK is"
    "chhawataa keraa dinus" - "six bananas give please"
    "oho! countrymaa aaun-something something" - i interpreted as "hey! what country have you come from?"
    "ma Australiamaa aaue: bhayo" - "I Australia at, came"
    "ma Australia something something something something something suhuji" - i interpreted as "I want to open a shop in Australia"
    "raamro chha" - "good is"
    "paache-teis rupiyaa: dinus" - "25 rupees give please"
    "la" - "there ya go"
    "pheri aaun:aulaa" - "again come!"
    Of course, at one point in there we broke into English to discuss the potential of his business and expected salary in Australia, which I craftily avoided, but I was pretty happy with my efforts.
  • Sunil came back from India about 2 weeks ago, and came to check in. Technically he wasn't "in" India, or anywhere near it in fact, but was working on an infrastructure project somewhere translating for the Japanese. So, not India then. Apparently Danesh (Denis, I have now worked out his actual name) couldn't work out how to use the key in my lock after I showed him), it is tricky - I'll give him that. Sunil "fixed" the toilet, by buying a new hose and applying duct tape. Always a good solution when times get tough. Aside from some acceptable sprinkling when you flush, the toilet seems to function to a most satisfactory level.
  • I determined that Danesh is not the son of, but in fact the husband of my didi "Rita". Who knew?
  • Had a lesson from my neighbours son (Bin) on making dhaal baat. It wasn't a lesson so much as him cooking for me using every food item in the fridge and every pot and pan available.
  • Worked out that Jingo is called by a different name depending on who speaks to him. Bin dislikes him so much that he just calls him dog (cucuur). Bin's mum calls him something else and his brother Prim (they like to keep it simple for me) calls him something else again. SO I'm gonna stick with Jingo.
  • Wrote a program in VB with Raju, technically its not part of either of our job descriptions, but it is "capacity building" so I'm not feeling too bad about it. It adds 7 days to a date of your choice. Sure, it hasn't got the most practical of applications, but it worked, which is a big improvement on my stuff from uni.
  • Felt like I have lost a significant amount of weight. Not so much because I feel thinner, but because my favourite shirts have doubled in size due the Rita's "technique". What used to be a chest hugging arm-strangling polo now reaches to my knees and would probably function better as a nightie or some kind of short towel.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Funny Word

Skewness is a funny word.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hashing the Field

I'm getting behind in my adventures. Two weekends ago, Katherine (my little insane trekking buddy) and I tripped to Nagarjun Forest (where incidentally, I have since found out the ex-king [how can you be an 'ex-king?] is in exile in a cottage [that probably more resembles a palace]).
Is was a 5 k walk to get to the entrance, 10 k's to the 'summit' and back and another 5 k back home - because it seems we were either too emotionally or intellectually disabled by this point to barter with a taxi driver for a realistic fare home. Looking back upon that moment, 5 km really is probably worth $6, still, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger (or at the least sore, which generally makes you feel like you've acheived something).

Just after we had arrived at the entrance to the forest, and potentially naively handed over Katherine's only ID to the Armed Policeman (not that he had a gun, that's just the term for the service) it started to rain. Not to be put off at yet another reminder that this is not the right time of year to be going walking in Nepal we donned out next to useless raincoats and started up the hill on what some people might call a track* (see footnote).

Within 10 minutes we looked like drowned rats, but we by the time we reached the top, the worst of the rain had passed, we had de-leeched, killed about 40 bazillion mosquitoes and had (again) a most exquisite view of Kathmandu (that's 3 weeks running for me folks!). Eww icky leeches...

The Buddhist stupa at the top is apparently a common pilgrimage point for Buddhists around the world. We wouldn't really know except for the signs because apparently they got the memo about not trekking in the monsoon...

Needless to say we hiked back down, which was pretty, slippery and fun although a little less wet (but twice as exhausting) but there is more to tell you of the last week, so I shall continue.

On Thursday at approximately 3.29pm (i knock off at 3.30) I was asked if I would like to go on a field trip to Nuwakot on Friday. "FIELD TRIP!" was my instant excited response, but to be responsible and follow the rules, I had to ask, "where are we going?, how are we getting there, where are we staying?" etc. The response was, "well if you don't want to come..."

Quickly I arranged for approval and before I knew it found myself outside Hotel Shangri-La waiting for the car to pick me up at 6.30 am Friday morning. We drove for 2-3 hours, along the side of a hill allowing buses and the like to pass us on seemingly tiny one-lane roads. Constantly pausing for me to get a good photo, and trying to teach me Nepali and explaining what exactly it was we were going to do in Nuwakot all at the same time, the 5 of us (Menoj [the driver], Mohan [the counterpart], Bhoj Raj [the self-appointed Rob assistant, regardless of whether he wants one or not], and guy who's name can't be remembered and now too much time has passed for Rob to ask]) made our way to the town of Trishuli.

There we spent an entire day teaching Female Community Health Volunteers about how to recognise the signs of childhood blindess so they could go back to their villages, screen children and send them on to the Community Eye Centre in Trishuli. Some of them had travelled more than 5 hours on foot to be there. Of course, I assume this is what happened because the entire day, and all the handouts were in Nepali. "How obvious" you might say, well its not so obvious when a chunk of the women were actually illiterate. It could have been in Swahili for all they knew.

The night we stayed at a "5 star resort" according to Whatzisname "haha I make joke" where the mattresses were like rocks lying on a bed of rock. The food and beer was unbelievable though, and we ate by candlight as the hydroelectric power station above the town didn't seem to be on the clock 24/7. We shared an 8 bed dorm and they tried to make me more comfortable by putting one rock mattress on top of another. The boys (Menoj, Whatzisname and Bhoj Raj) acted like it was a 14 year old slumber party and wouldn't let me sleep. My Mp3 player and rubik's cube were the hit of the party. [I was sitting there twitching as they destroyed 2 hours of work on that damn Rubik's cube, but I did love to see them so excited].

Our return to Kathmandu was an adventure, as large portions of the road we took to get to Trishuli had been washed away overnight. Every man and his spade was out on the road trying to help out insane motorists (like ourselves) to get through. So I can add a spot of road maintenance to the list of achievements in Nepal.
After returning, I met up with Avi, who I had foolishly agreed to go 'hashing' with. Some of you may have heard of the "Hash House Harriers". Well, the Himalayan chapter of the club describe themselves as a drinking club with a walking problem. Before I knew it, I was back at Nagarjun Forest running up a hill on all fours, in the most non-eco-friendly trekking experience of my life, following random shouts of "on-on" which I took to mean that someone had found the trail we should be on. There was a moment where we had to jump a brick wall, when someone said "I think we're meant to pay to be in here, I think the ex-king lives in here" the serious reply was, "yeah, if you see an Armed Police officer carrying a rifle, run faster".

I'm putting hashing on my list of 10 most awesome experiences in my life, I shall see if I can keep up the momentum when I meet them all again next week!

* Of course, you would only call it a track if you were descended from mountain goats and had some kind of miraculous glue shoe that allows you to stay on it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Load Sharing vs Traffic

More aptly, the subject of this post should be "how to get lost with the involvement of a dog or two, a bicycle, an aeroplane, no lights and dirty glasses".  I had to content myself with combining the title of two previous posts and shall attempt to make it witty (even if it is only me reading this stuff).
Tonight in the space of an hour, I did a lot of stuff.  The best way to tell you about it is probably to travel back in time and relive some thought and moments with you.
  • Kupendol's lights are all out, it must be their load-sharing night...make sure you don't die in the traffic that not only can't see youi, but also doesn't care if they wipe you out! note to self, add an item to that ever-increasing to do list.  Get some lights for your bike!
  • This doesn't really look like Ratna Park.  I remember more one-way-ness and less petrol queues.  Meh, what do you know gut instinct?  I choose to ignore you.
  • Yep, you weren't meant to cross the river again...I tink you might be about to get quite uncomfortably lost.
  • You have never been here before what on earth are you doing?  You can't be in the bum end of nowhere, you're technically in the middle of Kathmadu!  Perhaps, due to the busy-ness we'll call it the empty abdomen of Kathmandu.
  • Hmmmm,. the lights are still out here, maybe this load-sharing business is just rubbish and really the whole town is out each night.
  • Clean glasses = no glare from headlights - next time, clean your glasses
  • This looks familiar, I'm not going to turn back yet.
  • Invest in a gas mask for future "let's get lost" style adventures.
  • Look at that oddly shaped plastic bag sticking out of that shop door....HOLY TRUCK!  That's a dog's tail! [swerve to other side of the road narrowly avoiding not only the dog's tail, but a motorbike, taxi and 3 small children]....[pat self on back for quick thinking]
  • If I took that wrong turn, that means I'm west of where I should be, I just need to go east.  So, which way is that?
  • HOLY TRUCK that "puddle" was actually a ogre-sized hole half way to China!
  • Note to self: avoid man-eating potholes in the future, even if you think you can see the bottom [note for others: if the puddle actually looks's not]
  • Apparently, to a dog, a motorbike halted in traffic is just as appealing as any old fire hydrant.
  • Maybe I should turn back, no wait!  That pothole looks like I've been in it before.  I must be on the right track.
  • Hmmmm traffic jam, I have no time for you, I am taking this road with no cars on it, that just so happens to also be approximately at the river's water level.
  • No no, I'm sure mud is actually GOOD for your jeans.
  • Who knew that there was a mountain biking trail in the abdomen of Kathmandu?
  • NO matter what your situation, in the future, you cannot judge EAST by a plane going in particular direction to land.
  • Wait!   I have a compass!  I love you sweet compass!  Take me home!
  • A compass is only really useful to a person that has a pretty good idea of where they were in the first place.
  • I hate you stupid compass!  You are not wortth the 20c I spent on you!
  • Sweet sweet compass.  I take it all back, please don't hate me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday is Load Sharing Night

Sunday night is load sharing night. It's fantastic. Its like forced quiet time. Something I might enforce on myself when I return home.

Sunday afternoon/evenings, when I come home, I often forget. Usually though, Jingo (my name for the little puppy that lives next door) is there to meet me. He is usually tied up outside the neighbour's door in the late afternoon. He gets so excited when I come around the corner that sometimes he wets himself. But he is the most beautiful little puppy. I must get a photo (mental note: put that on the to do list to get done at some point in the time before he's no longer a puppy).

Moments after I arrive inside, at say 5pm, and switch on the lights, they go out. "Ahhh that's right, it's load sharing night!" It's quiet. There's no music, no blaring dodgy 40 rupee DVD's playing in the distance and only the occaisional dog barking. No one appears to be out washing clothes, dishes or yelling at the top of their lungs at one another. The creaky old water well is silent. Brodij's wife is comparing weeds in the back garden and there is a general state of calmness about my whole environment.

I light up a candle and open up my journal. Its time to do some writing! It's a fantastic time to reflect and force myself to forget everything else out there for a little while. A time to slow down from the weekend's events and get back into work mode. To get an early night's sleep and prepare for the week ahead.

I think I will instigate load-sharing night when I get home, even if it is only so I can have a cold shower by candlelight.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kopan Monastery

I haven't yet told you about last Saturday, my most recent riding adventure. Lindsey (another American, this time from work) asked if I was keen to checkout the Kopan Monastery. She said "we'll ride up", I said, "I'll be there!".

A much shorter ride than the weekend before, but with good portions of it being directly uphill, by the time we reached the monastery we were about ready to drop dead as it was quite possibly the hottest day since my arrival. Along the road we were passed by a monk riding a motorbike at breakneck speeds downhill and at the gate there was another having a chat on a mobile phone. I don't know why these were things I didn't expect Buddhist monks to be getting into, but I was surprised all the same.

There were many sayings, prayers and suggestions up around the walls of the monastery, but this was the funniest one, just near the entrance.

The monks here mainly seem to be influenced by Tibetan Buddhism- as I understand, there are many flavours - although the general concept is the same. The Dalai Lama and his exile were popular topics on all the notice boards, with plenty of advice from the old guy. A few protest posters about the Beijing Games, or perhaps Beijing itself but in general it was a very peaceful and happy place.

Whlie we were there the monks were having some kind of session with very deep singing, unfortuantely there was no one there to tell us exactly what was going on. But I got a photo of an old lady and a young boy watching the ceremony together. Very cute! He's a serious little guy though.

We wandered around the gardens, very tranquil, and observed that you can go on a retreat there for a measly $US200, where you will sit in silence for 2 weeks "without the tiresome bother of everyday chitter chatter". While I value the concept, I think the tourists might be losing out...

We checked out their library, that not just only had Buddhist Dharma but interesting "think about your life" type books and everyday novels. It's definitely the place you want to go for a day away from the city.

Leaving the monastery behind, we headed for a "nearby" Hindu temple. The Gokorna Mahadev temple. When we asked for directions it seemed to be very hit and miss with some people knowing exactly what we were talking about, and others not while still others just pretended that they knew.

Lindsey had a little moment we she couldn't decide whether to be riding or walking. Stuck behind a group of people on a narrow path she was struggling to keeo her balance on the bike. Eventually decided to plant one foot on the ground, the particular part of ground she decided on collapsed beneath her and she found herself tumbling down the side of the mountain. Now, by "down the side of the mountain" I actually mean about 2 metres, but it was both horrifying and hilarious to watch, as she kept trying to push herself back up and slipping further down the side of the hill. After helping her up nd determining the only damage was to her pride, we pushed in front of the slow meanderers in front of us.

The scenery was once again breathtaking, exactly the kind of place where you want to go on a weekend picnic with someone special.

We got to the Mahadev temple only to discover almost the entire place deserted. We weren't even sure we had gone to the right place. Maybe next time it will be a bit more interesting. There was however preparation for a cremation/funeral going on by the river bank, but as it was only preparation I will have to fill you in with more detail when I actually observe one, for now though, pheri beTaau:la!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Day, and Spray Water Everywhere

We don't really know what happened. Maybe we never will. I'll tell you the story all the same, whether it develops an ending or not. I hope it will. What would a whodunnit be if the whizz mastermind detective didn't reveal all at the end of the movie in a nicely summarised 20 minute monologue?

I'm no whizz mastermind detective, but I can spin a story. So, unless you have been living under a proverbial rock, you would know that I have been having toilet problems.

Carly asked me if the toilets flush here, and in general, yes they do. Thankfully however for the last 5 days only one of my taps has been working (one in the shower) and that means that the toilet has not been refilling. This is in fact a good thing, because for a while there, it was impossible to sit there without being ankle deep in toilet water. Somewhere my toilet developed a leak, and then in the course of me trying to determine the source of the leak another one appeared. Before I knew it anytime the thing had water in it it was like being back at wet 'n' wild.

I told Sunil, my landlord, about the problem. He said that Denis (I think that's his name, although it doesn't sound very Nepali) would come, check it out and fix it but that Sunil would be away in India for a while. Denis came, acknowledged that the toilet (charpi) was broken and we had a conversation. The gist of which was "toilet is broken", "yes","I will fix", "excellent", I think. Of course, he might have actually said "well, that's borked, good luck with it mate!". It's another thing I think we'll never know, because I was speaking English and him Nepali.

Anyway its been a week and a half since said conversation and Denis may as well have left town, because I haven't seen him, and my toilet is most definitely not fixed. Here's where the mystery sets in. For the last 5 days as I said, things have been relatively dry on account of no water. I came home today to see my bathroom resembling something like Kevin Kostner's Waterworld. The toilet (let's call it 'tank') had come right off the wall. The hose that connected it to the bowl was sticking up in the air and the bathroom was is a general state of mayhem.

Now I can't tell if Denis paid a visit and tried to fix it or if the toilet itself tried to commit suicide by wrenching itself off the wall. The toilet brush had definitely moved, as well as the toilet paper, but I don't know if that was human related or brought about by suicidal toilet antics.

Any solutions to this crime are welcome, and may be addressed to Or alternatively, leave a comment detailing your suspicions.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cultural Tolerance

Screw cultural tolerance.....I'm wearing shorts.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I have found these fantastic snack biscuits. They had ‘vegetarian’ or something on the pack. Point is, they are so disgusting, they’ll stop you daydreaming about snacking for an hour or two. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Taking it to the Himalayas

Technically, Himal = mountain and laya = permanent snow. So, we didn't exactly take it to the Himalayas, because we weren't on a mountain with snow, but it felt pretty damn high.

It's funny, Nepal is a pretty small country, but the actual amount of land on it is pretty huge. The rivers flowing from the Himalayas provide water for one third of humanity. Can you believe that? That's the two billion people of neighbouring India and China.

My new friend Katherine (an American working at Save the Children - US) and I decided we'd try to find out just how much land there is, by taking on the first "mountain biking" trail indicated in out Lonely Planet guide on the Saturday just gone. We wanted to get it done before all the tourists arrive and decide that its a good idea too (that would be when the weather is a little drier and cooler). The rather obvious diadvantage to this clever move is the fact that at the moment it is actually HOT and WET.

The 'Scar Road' is a 70km trail that runs through the Shivapuri National Park, a park that happens to be on top of a mountain that overlooks the Kathmandu Valley. A 30km baically straight uphill ride directly north of Kathmandu took us through tiny villages, past corn fields, rice fields and huts filled with what I am assuming were mostly unhappy (not to mention uncomfortable) chickens, stray dogs and the occaisional goat herd. There was also that delightful small child that chased after the dog that chased after US yelling "sick 'em, sick 'em'. I must remember to thank the tourist for teaching him THAT. I contented myself with yelling "you horrible nasty little boy" back at him. Incidentally, on the way back the dog came after us again, so I can't be too sure of how much input the boy actually had.

All the way we were a fascination, "look at these silly white people riding bicycles uphill for fun!" Children would occaisionally yell "hello, what's your name?" as we rode past. One took the effort of running alongside, only to then jet off into the distance, as if to say "is that as fast as you can go?"

After leaving at about 6.30am, we made it to the town of Kakani after about 24 of the 30 km battle and decided on lunch, at 10.30ish. Strange as it was, sitting on the table in front of me what another Australian. A bottle of "Queen Adelaide" a vino of South Australian origin. We noticed, rather cynically, that although fresh water and power were so often out of reach, there would always be Coca-Cola.

Making it to the actual National Park we faced a problem, having followed the Lonely Planet's "instructions" and carry/pushed our bikes up and over the last part of the hill, the Scar Road did not spread out "obviously in front of" us... After spending time 'probing' a few half paths, we came to the conclusion that we couldn't be the tourists that appeared in the paper because we were lost for 40 days and 40 nights in the Himalayan wilderness...

Contenting ourselves with a beautiful downhill coast for 30km, we had breathtaking views of the Kathmandu Valley when the weather consented to clear the clouds for us. All up 60km, and we didn't actually touch the Scar Road. Next time...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Riding Kathmandu

I left the shop after one week of bike hunting. I had been on highs and lows, but had just reached the point where I wanted to be able to get around independantly of taxis and the work bus.

I bought the bike. With every metre I rode on my new toy that signified burnt cash, I played over the sale and bargaining in my head. There was little bargaining and to be honest, I was appalled with my performance. I couldn't help but feel I had paid to much but was meekly trying to convince myself that I would have spent that much at home anyway.

I was weaving in and out of traffic, missing puddles and whizzing past motorbikes whose drivers appeared to be gunning them for all they were worth. Took-tooks and buses would cut me off while vying for position and I just slipped in and out of them like a snake. My trip home took less than 20 minutes.

As I hiked up my steps carrying the new beauty in hand, there no longer seemed to be a sour taste in my mouth.