A Day off
About twenty days (hard to believe) since I landed, nearly a quarter of the time has gone by. I spent a lot of time doing the administrative work to get my program off the ground, and have really had only a few days “off” – Saturday being one of them. Even then I picked up some photocopying. Tomorrow begins a six-day marathon. Gird about my loins with strength O Lord!
Took a microbus to Ratna Park for 15 nrs, pleasant little ride and I smirk to myself about the other videshis who took a taxi and got charged 800 nrs each way for the same trip.
Once at Ratna Park the plan is to do an “urban hike” around Old Kathmandu (Ason, Indra Chowk, Chhetrapati, Thamel), trying to get the legs moving. Also to scout out possible things to bring back, stuff people asked me for. For example my friend Suman who owns the one and only Nepali Restaurant in Honolulu, wants some painted wooden masks for decor. The idea is to see what the masks would cost then get back after Suman gives more of a go-ahead. That sort of thing. An industrial quantity of prayer flags for Suman’s patio at Himalayan Kitchen. Kati-ota jamma pa chi?
A main objective is to try out my Nepali in superficial conversation, which can be a hoot as long as you maintain a sense of humor.
I can ask for and receive directions.
I can access the bus system
I can order from a menu written in Nepali, and read a street sign or business sign.
I can buy vegetables including haggling.
I can say where I am from and tell superficial details about my family.
When exchanging money, I know the correct hand gesture and a lot of the numbers.
I have Nepali table manners.
I can name body parts and ask about pain or body functions, but this is frankly, not something to do with mere social acquaintances. And I don’t always understand the answer when I do ask.
I can understand more than I speak, but this needs practice, and I need to get out there.
So – let’s go!
At Ratna Park I took a shortcut down an alley, following a crowd and came upon a big puja scene. Lots of incense, a crowd of maybe three thousand, wending their way to a mandir where beggars waited for alms and they could go in. Took a YouTube video. A guy came up to me to explain, we conversed in Nepali for a bit then he changed to English and I filmed his explanation. Shared our emails and later when I uploaded the videos, sent him the URL.
I now know more about the role of astrology in Nepali life. I’d always seen the gurus at these events, never knew they were *astrologers.* Wow.
West of Ason Tole, I found the office of a brass band near Nardevi Mandir, a crowd gathered when I started reading their sign out loud. No gig today. A continual stream of motorcyclists and I was surprised to see that one particularly dusty one was a woman. Other cyclists wear less gear and maybe there is a family of three with the kid up front. They disappear through a low archway and when you look after them, a quiet courtyard appears with an old Buddhist monument. Kids play there.
It was hot so now and again I sat on the stoop of the shady side of the street to drink water. Invariably a rickshaw driver would come by. Not a busy day, a couple of the drivers dismounted, sat next to me, tried to offer me a ride, then conversed in Nepali. Just what I was looking for.
Want to talk for three hours?
Never tell a Nepali you are divorced unless you want to have a three-hour discussion of “love marriage” versus “arranged marriage”.
I bought a hat. Could have gotten a topi but wanted one with a brim, this one has “Kathmandu Nepal” embroidered on it. Touristy.
Dickens Meets Slumdog
Old Kathmandu is a series of cliches. Dickens meets Slumdog. It’s crowded, dirty, dusty, oddly beautiful and charming and endlessly entertaining, to me at least. If Old Kathmandu were a woman, who would she be? Endless parade of characters. Vegetable markets. The bicycle bajar. Piles of garbage. Monks chanting in a mandir on a side street. Goldsmiths. Hole-in-the-wall bhansas (restaurants) that literally are holes in the wall. Street food, and yes, I got some panipuri. God I love those!
All this time it feels funny to have a running Blackberry conversation with a friend in Seattle at the same as one in Melbourne. Not using the earbuds today.
Think of every mysterious alluring woman you ever knew….
If Old Kathmandu were a woman, *who* would she be? Maybe the distant relative you see at holiday parties who shows up with a lowcut dress, lots of gold jewelry and a new boyfriend, smokes too much and has a gold molar you didn’t notice before. Or better yet, think of a stunningly beautiful Hollywood actress that we all watched from a young age; but who is now about forty; maybe she’s had a well-publicized divorce and alcohol rehab but she comes out of nowhere to win the Oscar…. You’ve seen every movie she ever made and you realize she’s the one you wanted to grow old with….. You’ve known her forever… Maybe Judy Dench? Certainly not Julia Roberts or Gwenyth…. those are too wholesome. Somebody who still turns heads when she walks in the room…… Speaks with an accent.
Everything you want in a romantic Asian mysterious city. Some body offered to sell me hashish. No thanks. A Tibetan store where I could buy cymbals, or a yellow Lama’s hat for 1,100 nrs or a flat hairy hat made of Yak fur. (Not practical in Honolulu). Found ManMohan Hospital where my friend Manju works, in North Thamel which seems to be under permanent construction. Kids playing cricket in the street. Shopkeepers sprinkle water from their hands onto the street in front of their door to keep the dust down. Two old guys playing bhaag-chal, a board game. Pashmina after Pashmina. A shop specializing in authentic military surplus from the Gurkhas. Tried on a Gurkhas slouch hat but it was too small. My brother Ed wants me to get him a khukri, didn’t look at them here though.
For lunch I decided to go to “Fire and Ice.” No, I didn’t get the pizza…. Save it for next time. Lasagna and a chocolate brownie. Then to a cyber cafe where I sat next to an Israeli woman with dreads wearing hemp clothes and a nose piercing. I uploaded yesterday’s blog and checked site stats. I have about forty readers per day, pleasant news, I wonder who they are. Streets here get deserted when the sun is directly overhead, almost left my new hat at the cyber place.
The dried fish bajar, just north of Ason again. Little small ones, piled in baskets big as the hoop your arms make. It’s a staple of certain sauces and dishes, never have figured out where they are produced. Surely not all the way from the ocean. It’s not a snack food. Pungent.
Back to Ratna but you take the pedestrian flyover to get to the outgoing microbuses….
Been using the same photocopy guy in Kupandole, he announces they just installed a program and I can call USA for one rupee per minute. It’s three in the morning in Florida or Boston, some recipient would have a heart attack. The copies of class handouts are carefully wrapped in old newspaper for protection.
Back to my neighborhood
Guys on the stoop in my neighborhood wave, they remember me from carrying the palanquin the other day. Vine-ripened tomatoes again, enjoy with cubed cukes, the didi in Tansen used to call this combo a salad. A little vinegar and olive oil perks them up. The Canadians are off somewhere, it’s okay, after dinner I can clip my toenails in the TV room. Bought the clipper from among a hundred laid out in neat little rows on a towel on the sidewalk tended by a barefoot lady under an umbrella with two broken ribs. Sipping from ice water and the answer comes to me.