Sunday, August 10, 2008


How does one come back to America?

What do you do?

I realize what priveledge we have, and how we do not use it at all.

As Americans, we have all the power in the world. Literally. As voting citizens in the eminent democratic world power, we have the power in our hands to change the world.

I sat outside of Whole Foods in Dallas waiting on my Dad to finish shopping, and I watched the people go by. (I mean, in all honesty, first impression back from Nepal, is "Holy hell, everyone looks so white and tall!") But, seriously, I watched them with their baby strollers, or carts full of organically-grown, free range, hand picked, fair trade, green certified, whatever produce. At the same time, I had just tried to buy a magazine from inside. Thinking I would invest in a Newsweek or Economist or New York Times for the ride from Dallas to Oklahoma, where my father lives. Out of all the magazines in Whole Foods, all they had was People, US Weekly, "How to get skinny quick."

These people who hold all the power, myself definitely not excluded from this, allow themselves to be buried in asinine, mindless jibber about "Britney's new drug habit" or something?

Why do we not look more deeply, or look at all, into what is going on in the outside world. In meeting people from different nationalities, I think Americans may be the only ones who have such a focus on domestic issues. We, as a people, know nothing about other countries even though they know so much about us, and each other. Even citizens from other first-world countries like Europe have a global sense that far trumps ours.

And the food we throw away. This really incenses me. And, Americans are fat because we do not have hunger, true hunger in our country... In fact, we have food so plentiful that eating too much has become a disease, a common disease. Even among our very poor are people with obesity, clearly very wealthy by the standards of the rest of the world.

But, it is good to be home. This is my country. I am American. I fit in here, in this culture more than any other in the world. I also have tremendous faith in this culture. And, now that I'm back I can finally understand what the hell people are saying to me. Beautiful.

It is good to be home, I just struggle.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hong Kong

I am in my favorite airport in the world, totally kidding. I am not so in love with Hong Kong.

I kind of just ran around with Arya and Vivek for my last 2 or 3 days. I asked for their help shopping (dealing with the shopkeepers) and checking out of my hotel and fixing my airline ticket and checking luggage etc.

I can't believe I am gone. Weird. I am sad and it seems really surreal. Better now that I'm in Hong Kong, but I was so so SO sad last night at the Kathmandu airport. I am exhausted at the moment, too tired to write much. I love that city. Very much. It is so strange, and so frustrating at times. Actually, at times I wanted to kill it and everything in it, just get things over with and set the whole damn thing on fire. But, truth be told, I love that city. Absolutely love it. And Asia seems so very different than the other places I have traveled, like Europe and Central America. Kathmandu is a little like an "Austin" of Asia. It's an international smelting pot, as a small port between China/Tibet and India, heavily influenced by both. This added with the influence of trekkers, and other white people from Europe or South America seeking their luck with the Himalayas, accounts for a very eclectic spot. It's also Asian, without the heavy emphasis on communism (like China) or strict Islam (like Pakistan). Hinduism lends the place a very liberal air... I mean very explicit tantric scenes are openly displayed on even the most holy temples.

-by the way, I was wrong before about the meaning of the word "Himalaya." Not mountain but Hima = snow or ice, and laya = abode or home.

Oh, hahahaha, one of my friends made a good point before I left saying, "Look around, everyone here is so absolutely chilled out. They just sit around all day, so laid back. How in the hell is our country ever going to develop?"

Gohonopokhari or "diamond pool"

Produce vendor on his traveling office.


Japanese bath in Lazimpat

Club Fire

Dinner with mom

Talking about Talbot and how excited I am to see him. I went on and on about Talbot, of course, being my "favorite." They cannot pronounce his name and call him Tablet or Tabloid, which I thought was pretty hysterical.

Last minute errands and breakfast.


View of central Lainchour from my balcony. It allows for perfect observation of neighborhood life. The open area in the middle is the neighborhood common space and has recently- I mean in the past few days- been converted to some sort of oversized badminton/ undersized tennis court. Communal recreation.

My room is on the 4th floor, the one covered in this view by trees. Maoist graffiti on the building to the right.

Leaving guest house for the airport.

Catch you on the flip side.

Last post before I leave in a few hours. Very sad and strange feeling. I just bought a necklace that's pretty cool and reminds me of Nepal. Good.

I don't know what to think.

Catch you on the flip side I guess.



Saturday, August 2, 2008


I fly home tomorrow.

Kathmandu is a strange city, sometimes I hate it, no, absolutely loath it. It's filthy. The people are conniving. I don't fit in the culture. But, at the same time, I guess there have been times when I really love this city also. When, for an instant, I actually "get it" and feel confident and comfortable on my own.

I think now that my time is ending, I hate the city. Perhaps because I love it and I feel hurt that now we must "break up" hhaha.

I ducked out of all engagements this morning, dropped off one last load of laundry, and had lunch by myself in a cafe in the very back of a bookstore. It was a welcome quiet from the streets where people from all sides speak at you constantly. Rickshaw drivers say, "rrricksaw?," cab drivers say, "taxiii madam?," drug dealers creep up behind your back and purr "meeeruijuaaana?" or "hashish, didi?" (hash, sister?) All this mixed with shopkeepers relentlessly trying to entice white people into their shops, offering items for four times the actual cost.
While I was in the bookstore, I bought the book The Snow Leopard, which documents an exploration into the Himalayas to find an elusive white leopard. I think it also has some sort of an emphasis on personal development. In reading a little bit, I was struck by one comment by the author, "Yet in Varanasi there is hope of life that has been abandoned in such cities as Calcutta, which seems resigned to the dead and dying in its gutters. Shiva dances in the spicy foods, in the exhilarated bells of the swarming bicycles, the angry bus horns, the chatter of the temple monkeys, the vermillion tikka dot on the women's foreheads, even in the scent of charred flesh that pervades the ghats. The people smile - that is the greatest miracle of all."

I was impressed with his ability to capture so much of Kathmandu in two sentences.

Another instance of eloquency towards this complicated city was by an American girl about a month ago. She was leaving the next day, and someone asked her to sum up her experience in Nepal in one or two sentences. (She was actually really delightful, my age, from Idaho, had been here for a summer trip also). At first I groaned at her response, thinking it was cheesy and too, I don't know, quasi-philosophical or something. But, it stuck with me, and now I am reminded of what she said. It was, "Nepal is full of beauty and full of filth. But, at the same time it is very pure." I still am not quite sure how I feel about that, but for whatever reason, I have not forgotten it.

So, one night left, and then home home home. I am sad, and just feel like I am in a strange shock, or state of limbo - this could also partly be due to a very intense and lingering hangover from last night. (Caroline, oohAAHooh) Now, I will pack, buy a few scarves, and maybe walk around a bit to feel the city one last time on my own.
I may finally punch on of the shopkeepers, just for good measure and payback for all their talking at me all summer. We shall see.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I think I am going to have to skip going to Chitwan, which sucks, but it would be a logistical nightmare. The strikes and monsoon complicate the matter alot. So, I am definitely going to the Zoo, or somewhere so that I can get on an elephant and ride around. Seriously.

I leave the day after tomorrow, around 10:30 pm. Leaving will be strange, but I feel like it is time.

I don't have very much to write, I have just been hanging out with friends, and doing a lot of shopping for the past few days. They are having a going away party tonight in one of their restaurants, which sounds like some fun.

OH, actually, one interesting thing is that today on this side of the world is a solar eclipse. I do not know if it is at home also, but apparently this is the first time in 95 years that a solar eclipse has happened here. There is a national holiday here, so no offices are open. I actually wanted to go to the zoo today, to try to get on an elephant, but it also is closed for the day. I have gathered that eclipses are very sacred in the hindu religion. They do not allow themselves to work today, nor are they allowed to eat from, 4:30 to 6 pm... the height of the eclipse. The digestive system will go totally wrong. And, you must stay inside during those hours, and do "pujah" or worship. Some of my friends are actually very concerned about my American self not correctly observing the eclipse that they have mandated that I meet them during those times (Jill, are you laughing.. can't you just hear it? hahaha) to ensure that I am properly equipped to deal with this holy astronomical happening.

Actually, I have not looked it up on the internet, but is this the same kind of eclipse that we had at home about 15 years ago? I remember being at grandma grace's...

So, for now, lunch and a nap. Maybe some cool pics tomorrow from the eclipse and the party tonight.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Riots Escalate in Response to New Vice President


I wish I had my camera.

The country has gone into rigors over a speech the Vice President made four days ago. While we were in Jomsom, the Constituent Assembly elected a new president and vice president. The Vice President gave his acceptance speech in Hindi, the language of the Indians, and not in Nepali. Nepali people see this as a huge insult because the person chosen to lead them does not acknowledge their nationality. The situation becomes more interesting in that Nepal is a geographically trapped between these two up-and-coming world giants, without the population or developing industry of either of them. Thus, Nepal is forced to depend either on itself for products, or turn to India or China, as Nepal cannot import items by sea (landlocked) or air (yea right, too expensive). As the Himalayas lay between China and Nepal, the only option for imports is to traffic them across the Indian border - through places like Biratnangar.

In their legislative branch - the Constituent Assembly - the two main parties are the Maoists and the Nepal Party of Congress. As the Maoists have links with China from communism and Mao Ze Dong, India has jumped to support the NPC to keep their foothold in Nepal, especially since the Maoists won the general election in April.

SO, apparently, the president was supposed to be the leader of the Maoists, "Prachendra," but at the last minute, in a very lose race, votes changes to tip the scale and elect representatives from the NPC into office. THEN the vice president gave his acceptance speech in the language of the Indians, Hindi, making the situation of their Indian backing even more apparent to the public. (idiot) But, I think he did this to appease and impress the Indian government. Like us and Mexico, sort of. They should make sure they are on good terms with us, or we could potentially make their lives miserable, but we do not necessarily neeed to show them that same respect.

One specific instance of Indian control is the petrol situation. There is literally NOT ENOUGH fuel in Nepal for the demand. This is not like at home where fuel just gets really expensive. Yes, it's expensive, but nonetheless, it is there. In Nepal people simply cannot get petroleum unless India supplies it. This means that the infrastructure reaches a standstill at times. I mean, try to imagine going to the Exxon station and there not being fuel in the pumps... forget the high prices it is NOT AVAILABLE.

So, in protest of the Nepali government admitting to being stooges of India, the students and youth have risen up. The riots have very noticeably escalated. I cannot wait to show you pictures. Jill got caught up in them yesterday, a really big riot in Ratnapark, thousands of people. I am heartbroken I missed it. Luckily, I am sure there will be others.

Anyways, the students have gone up into riots, chanting in the streets, burning tires, burning effigies of the Vie President, and the rocks they throw at everything is amazing. There are broken glass and burned tires and brokwn bricks littering the streets. My neighborhood is a hotbed for this activism because there are several Colleges in the area... which house and produce the instigators and participants in these Les Miserables -like rallies. It's like in Sewanee if Lainchour Marg was University Avenue, I would be living at SAE or Fowler. Impressive.

It is really like a scene out of Les Miserables. I know saying that highly romanticizes the situation, but I am really intrigued just the same. These young boy students fighting the government for causes like patriotism and justice and liberty. It really really gives me goosebumps. I guess it just goes along with my serious desire to be a hero, and jealousy that these boys get to do things like that.

- Robel laughed pretty hard at that one -

I am awed, but Arya and Vivek are only marginally impressed. They, along with many Nepalis see these rioters as immature and unprepared. They point out that these people want a new and better government, a new and better Nepal, yet they use destruction to achieve their ends. They are physically damaging the same infrastructure they are asking the government to build. So, I don't know. I guess they could learn better activism tactics, but they look heroic from a distance.

Robel is interested from the standpoint of his job, but he talks about how blase even these are in comparison with the Maoist rebellions just 9 months ago - before they were disarmed. It makes me sad that I missed everything before, but I know that probably would not have been an ideal situation in which to be.

I found my camera charger finally, so I am going to try to get pictures in the next few days. I might go to Chitwan tomorrow for a day or two though. It is a huge tropical Terai jungle, part of which is a national park, in southern Nepal, on the Indian border. I am determined to ride an elephant before I leave, and hopefully see some tigers or rhinos or something too. I think Chitwan is famous for giant leeches in this season. Well, bring it on, I am DETERMINED to ride an elephant before I leave Nepal!

Oh, and I turned in the final draft of my project yesterday. Done!

Mom left two nights ago, and Jill just left today, so I am alone again with my thoughts in this strange land with these strange people. Such fun though.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang

My mom and Jill arrived Sunday, and it's been quite a mix of stuff I have already done, with stuff that's pretty new. We left for Pokhara on Tuesday, watching the sunrise at Sarangkot - the famous overlook to the Annapurnas. Unfortunately the monsoon was too heavy this time to get a view of them.

Sunrise from Sarangkot

Limestone cave in Pokhara

Buddhist monastery in Pokhara. Lots of Tibetan refugees.

Thursday morning we flew to Jomsom, which is on the other side of the Himalayan belt, the Tibetan side. That afternoon Mom and I and our guide hiked to Kagbeni, then the next day, Wednesday, we continued on to Muktinath - an elevation gain of over 3,000 ft in one day. Intense. Muktinath is a little over 11,000 ft in elevation. One impressive aspect of Muktinath is that even at 11,000 ft (which is a very good-sized Rocky Mountain summit) we were still only in the "hills." The "mountains" here are not even considered "mountains" until they pass 17,000 ft (which is higher than the Grand Teton in Wyoming).

Muktinath also has one of the most sacred Hindu / Buddhist temples in Asia, apparently. Many Indians were there on a pilgrimage for somehow we visited on the same day as some very sacred holiday. Indians say: "Bambuleyy," Nepalis say: "Namaste," Tibetans say "Thasitire," and I say: "Heeyyyy." Again, quite the ethnic mix.

Sacred yak-butter candles.

Tibetan yaks

So, while we were in Jomsom and above we were in Mustang (pronounced Moose-taaang, not like the horse mustang), which is technically the "Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang" - a portion of Tibet absorbed by Nepal but that still has its own Tibetan King. As Mustang is on the other side of the Himalayas, it looks a lot like Tibet, and is populated by Tibetan people with Tibetan cultures, etc. Very different than the Nepali Kathmandu / Pokara or the Indian - like Biratnagar.

But, since we were on the other side of the Himalayas we were in the "raincloud." The moutains block all moisture coming north from India, thus as much as lower Nepal is a tropical jungle, Mustang is a veritable desert, convenient for Himalayan travel at this time of year.

Mom's shoes fell apart about an hour outside of Jomsom, so I gave her my boots and I went the whole way in Chacos (sandals). It was fine because we did not get up into snow, but I tore up my foot pretty badly as we were approaching Jomsom again on the last day. We had to cross this raging torrent of a river that was completely black water from the shaley soil. I mean, the water was black from the soil, not pollution as is the case here in KTM. Anyways, the water was frigid and I think my muscles cramped and when forced to stretch, they just tore.

Entrance to Muktinath, in which a natural gas flame burns constantly "straight from the earth." I was skeptical at first, but geologically it makes sense that there is till outgassing in this geologically young area. We saw the flame, which was neat, but I was much more impressed by the plethora of natural springs.

Not to be heady, but crazy sick geological folding revealed in Mustang from the great Himalayan deformation. This cliff is about 500 ft tall, half the size of the Cumberland Plateau in one sheer cliff. Seriously sick.

View of Jharkot, the town in the foreground, from Muktinath above. I was worn out by the time we reached Jharkot. Seriously. I did not realize then that we still had more than 600 ft to climb to get to Muktinath, the town, and then another 100 or so to get up to the temple!

Arid Moose-tang.

After a shower in Kagbeni playing with a Tibetan kitten. And, you would just never guess that they even act the same here as they do at home... (constantly reminded here that people are just people no matter where they are from, just as cats are cats no matter where they are from)

Intimate Buddhist monastery in Kagbeni, you can see their prayer Thangka in the background.

Buddhist prayers carved into rocks. Very large in scale.

Dhauligiri earlier in the day

Nilgiri at sunset from Muktinath

At our highest, around 11,100 we were coming out of the rainshadow and beginning to see more vegetation.

On the way from Muktinath back to Jomsom. Whole descent in one day. Pre-messed up foot, but check out my chacos.

Tibetan weaver

We ended up getting stuck in Jomsom for another few days because the monsoon was making travel through the mountain pass impossible. After possibly facing a forced extended stay in Jomsom from no flights, I was brutally bored and thoroughly sad. We finally chartered a helicopter, which came through the weather on Tuesday, after 2 days delay that seemed like weeks. Jomsom, with probably no more than 200 permanent residents, most of which are Tibetan is not exactly a hip destination. It was breathtaking and wonderful, I was just ready to get home. There are no western tourists at this time of year because of the heavy monsoon so the town was like one of those old western movies in which the dust rolling through is the only thing that happens from day to day. We sat for like 8 hours each day on the steps of our hotel - waiting for something to happen with the weather - and watched processions of yaks and donkeys.

Our hostess drying apricots in Jomsom.

Literally, documented in the "Eco-Museum" in Jomsom.

Traffic in Jomsom

View of KTM and Bagmati River from the helicopter.

I am not working that much right now, almost done with my project so I have some time to spend with friends here and mom before I leave. She was supposed to leave tomorrow, but extended the stay until Sunday to finish some things she wanted to do, shopping for a museum, etc. It has been fun for her to meet some of my Nepali buddies, and obviously they were very excited also.

I graciously volunteered to guide her to the Cathay Pacific airline office yesterday to change her ticket... obviously my hidden agenda was on the way home, shopping!! I have finally found the "Park Avenue" of KTM, which has lots of western-looking clothes, "Durbar Marg." I got a huge gold purse, and gold-beaded shoes. I think I have become somewhat gaudy in my old age... or maybe it's just the asian influence (one too many bowls of noodles and women in saris).

One really cool thing about my mom and Jill being here is that in showing them around, I realize that I know this area much better than I thought. They have provided - among lots of things - a mirror in which I can see a reflection of myself as I am in this place. I don't really know how to say this in a way that makes sense, I mean I am the same person pretty much, but it's like looking at myself as I am after 2 months here from the eyes of how I was before I traveled here and had these experiences.