Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strange and wonderful

"To be matter-of-fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy - 
and dull fantasy at that, as the 
real world is strange and wonderful."
-Robert Heinlein

A couple weeks before coming to Nepal, my mother kept asking me, "What if you hate it? Isn't 10 weeks a long time?" And I kept reassuring her, "That's not possible." I couldn't articulate at the time how I knew. I just did.

Now I'm starting to realize the funny way I view the world. As long as something is a learning experience, which is virtually everything when you're in a foreign country, then it can't be bad. It would take a natural disaster or food poisoning to put a damper on my day (let's hope I don't have to find out, though).

I guess I'm fortunate to have this outlook. I wouldn't be able to make it through the day without laughing. Take for instance my daily commute; everything about it is frustrating and strange and wonderful. Yesterday, on my way to my internship, I passed two Nepali marching bands (more on that later), monkeys, monks on motorcycles, sleeping cows, pooping cows, cows blocking traffic, three cows nuzzled up against a buffalo, a man getting a cut and shave on the side of the road, and probably lots of other bizarre things that I've become desensitized to in the past three weeks.

Then there is the bus itself, which is the epitome of discomfort. I already wrote about this abomination, but I want to describe it in detail because it's an experience unparalleled by anything in the western world. First of all, the buses have these tacky tassels hanging from the ceiling and things like "love is life" scrawled across the windows in paint. It's like '60s decor gone bad.

I didn't take these photos, but this is basically what all the buses look like. 
Wish I could find one showing the inside.

Then you have the kids who are basically the bus salesmen. They are maybe 15-18 years old, and their job is to collect money and yell things like "blah blah blah BUS PARK BUS PARK BUS PARK!" at people who are passing by (they actually say something in place of the blahs, but I can't understand them). These guys actually hop off the bus in the middle of traffic to try to persuade people to get on the bus. And they let the driver know when to stop/go by different whistles and by pounding on the side of the bus. It's quite an elaborate system, actually. The only drawback is that sometimes the driver doesn't feel like stopping, so you have to hop on while it's in motion. Today, the bus boy said to me, "Go fast!" because apparently five seconds is too long for boarding time.

The morning commute isn't so bad, but it's a nightmare in the evening. For the past few days I've been standing on the five-inch ledge between the first step and the walkway, practically falling out of the bus, holding onto the rail above me for dear life, holding my breath when armpits come too close to my nose. I'm fairly certain there is no Nepali translation for "safety hazard." 

This is a pretty typical sight in Kathmandu, but luckily I haven't had to ride on the roof yet..

Now that I've harped on public transportation, I promise not to bring it up again, unless something really crazy happens like running over a cow (which is illegal in Nepal, by the way, because cows are sacred).

I'd like to write about something more pleasant: Nepali weddings. Yesterday morning I awoke at 7:30 a.m. to the sound of drums, horns, trumpets, the whole shebang. I quickly hopped out of bed, determined not to miss my first Nepali parade. 

As it turns out, it wasn't a parade - it was just the beginning of a wedding celebration. I should mention that wedding receptions in Nepal last for five days. So much for a honeymoon. 

It has been quite entertaining watching a bunch of Nepalis, clad in burgundy suits, playing music in the street. The wedding cars have hundreds of little flowers taped to them, and all the women wear dazzling red and green saris. It's quite nice. One of the girls at the orphanage asked me, "Do you like Nepali boys?" I think she's hoping I'll get hitched while I'm here so she can attend a wedding. It does seem pretty fun, but I think I'll stick to watching weddings from afar.

In other news, I had hot, running water this morning for the first time in three weeks. It only lasted for about five minutes, but I swear it was the greatest luxury I have ever known. You don't realize how much you appreciate hot showers until you have to take cold bucket baths instead.

In other other news, real news, my internship at Kathmandu Post is going well. I'm working in the Op-Ed section doing a lot of copy editing, rewriting letters to the editor, etc. It's actually a huge responsibility because the section editor is away getting married (I didn't understand why she needed so much time off until now), so I'm expected to fill her position. The editors trust me a lot, which is both fantastic and intimidating. Most of the time they don't even review what I write before it goes to print, which is not always a good idea because I'm still learning. On my second day interning, the editor-in-chief reminded me that it's "realise," not "realize." Oops. I'm still getting getting used to British spelling and style differences.

The great part of working in Op-Eds is that I'm learning so much about politics and social issues in Nepal. Caste discrimination is a big topic of debate right now, and while it isn't as rigid as the Indian caste system, prejudice is still prevalent, especially in the rural areas of the country. I was talking to a guy a couple years older than me who is a Bahun, or Brahman (the highest caste), but he refuses to the wear the decorative band that identifies him as such. It's nice to see that the younger generation is opening up to equality. 

Tomorrow I will have a short day at work because I'm heading to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal, for a weekend of kayaking and relaxing on the lake. It will be nice to get out of Kathmandu for a few days.

P.S. There is a town nearby called Kalunky (except that probably isn't how it's spelled).

P.P.S. There is a town nearby called Pepsicola. I read it in a letter to the editor today and thought it was a joke, but apparently it was named after a Pepsi factory. Isn't that a perfect picture of globalization?


  1. Namaste,

    It’s virtuous to search inner self trying to discover true meaning of life and cracking gaps between the hearts and respect all living non-living individuals on globe. It’s so facetious and knowing about Nepal and there life-style, cities, people, weddings etc.
    Ride on the roof of the bus is perilous, I already experienced the same one day but conclusion is unforgettable. Pepsicola, what a monkeyish city name and about all the experienced you gain is facetious. Bhutan is also a nice country, visit there if possible for some new experience.

    You don't know where you'll go but know that, going somewhere ...

    Ciao, Xsuie

  2. Thanks for a very entertaining glimpse of the culture in Kathmandu! Enjoy Pokhara! Remember, no riding on motorcycles or bus tops! Love, Dad

  3. I actually lived in Pepsicola when I visited Nepal back in 2009. I also found it quite funny! I wish I could visit Pokhara as well! I've heard it's a beautiful place. Enjoy and do keep us updated!
    P.S. These blogs are great, I absolutely love them! I just got all caught up and read them all.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoy my blog!