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."


"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.


Ayad Intake 22

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


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.