Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sonata Allegro: Bridge to Development (Pokhara)

July 28, 2011

If you go to Nepal, anywhere in Nepal, people will ask you where you are from, which cities you have visited and where you are headed next. And if you have not been to Pokhara, they will talk, well, gush about how beautiful and amazing it is. If you don't go to Pokhara, you might as well say you haven't been to Nepal. So, after lollygagging for two days in Kathmandu, Maureen and I head out to Pokhara for our "mini-vacation" before the real work takes place in two days.

When we get off the bus after an 8-hour ride, a swarm of hotel lobbyists and taxi drivers flock over to us like bees to honey saying things like, "Our hotel is by the lake," "You get a free taxi ride and if you don't like the hotel, you can just pay for the taxi and go find another place," "We have a room for only 500 rupees (approx. $7) a night!" Maureen is totally amused by the scene and laughs and I am calculating in my head what the best deal would be. I have my guard up because I don't want to get ripped-off but Maureen, in her total optimism, picks out a 500- rupee room that is by the lake and they even offer a free taxi ride. My brain is overloaded with information but the offer sounds better when Maureen says it instead of tanned Nepali men who come up to my chin with eyes shooting laser beams at my wallet.

Hotel Grand is the abode of our choice. We decide that I would be in charge of bargaining and Maureen will be in charge of reinforcing and nodding. Our guy takes us to a room that is 700 rupees a night. My don't-be-a-stupid-tourist flag goes up and I immediately inform him that that is not what he said at the bus stop. He gestures a things-like-this-happen motion and tells me all the 500-rupee rooms are taken. But consider the view, he says as he opens up the curtains. I can see a mountain. I tell him I can go outside and look at the mountain for free. He doesn't budge. I don't mind paying 700 rupees ($10) a night but I don't like being toyed with. I sort of call him a liar and he seems apologetic. Maureen and I deliberate and we decide that our fatigue outweighs justice so, we stay. The whole drama seems anti-climatic and my sense of heroism is wounded.

To put the unpleasantness behind, we go out to get dinner by the lake. We have the most delicious chicken masala curry I've ever had. We look around and Pokhara is beautiful. The mirror images of the mountains on the lake and the blue sky make the view absolutely heavenly. We take in the scenery and are as happy as two forgetful clams. We go out rowing on the lake for a couple of hours and treat ourselves to a full-body massage. The power is out (it usually goes out periodically at night) so we get our service in candle light. I really want my shoulders and lower back worked on but the guy focuses mostly on my ass and legs. But, whatever. He wants us to come back the next day. No way, Jose.

We look at the list of places to visit in Pokhara that Manish gave us in Kathmandu. (He and his girlfriend come here every time she visits from Malaysia. Apparently, Pokhara is a great place for romance.) I tell Maureen that this trip would be even more amazing if we had two guys to hang out with. Maureen wholeheartedly agrees. So, we place our order out to the universe and ask for two guys (one for me and one for you) with some wavering faith.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sonata Allegro: Exposition (Kathmandu, Nepal)

July 25, 2011

Maureen arrives in Kathmandu a week earlier then I do because she has to go back a week early for her sister's wedding. I arrive on the night of July 25 armed with the vague idea that I will be contributing my drop in the bucket of goodwill. I know nothing about Nepal except that it is sandwiched between India and China. I will be in Kathmandu for a couple of days and then head off to some touristy city that starts with a "p" for a few days and then to a village that I don't even know the name of. I unpack my backpack at Aastha's parents' place where Maureen has been staying for a week. I sit on my bed and think, "What in the world am I doing in Nepal?" I feel unprepared and inadequate to even make a dent in the face of intimidating poverty.

In Kathmandu, I meet Manish who supervises the boys at the SOS Children's Village--he is also the product of the organization. He was sent there when he was three when his family was too poor to raise him. Manish is my age and I mispronounce his name as "Mannish" as in "He's so mannish." It's actually pronounced "Maneesh" with an accent on the "neesh." He takes me and Maureen around Kathmandu and is one of the nicest and generous men I have ever met. He studied ethnomusicology in Kathmandu University but had to drop out two years into it because his mother fell ill and he felt he had to earn money. Dropping out of school is one of his greatest regrets in life. He says he envies me and I feel apologetic for the opportunities I have.

I also meet Bsam who was sent to the SOS Children's Village when he was two by his grandmother when his mother abandoned him. He is granted admission at Kathmandu University this fall and will be studying ethnomusicology there. I give him a couple of piano lessons and I can tell he's smart. I ask him about the music education that is available in Nepal. He tells me there is a dearth of resources for teachers and students of western music. The "books" that he has are photocopies of the music foreign teachers brought to Nepal.

On my second night, I meet an 18-year old Sulochina who invites herself into our room and asks us various questions with beaming curiosity. She shows us her Nepali things that might fascinate a couple of foreigners. We love her trousers and want to get some for ourselves so she takes us shopping. We also get mehnhi (henna tattoos) on our hands and we think it's the coolest thing. We go back to our place and show her the things we got earlier that day. She immediately asks us how much we paid for them and gives us a nod of approval for not being the stupid foreigner and getting ripped-off. Her charm and sass totally win me over.

I still feel bewildered by the newness of this place. I can't believe I am in Nepal! The reality hasn't sunk in yet. But after living in the dusty and crowded city for two days, I long to get out to the countryside and take in a breath of fresh air.

Me and Bsam in his room


Me trying to sing a hymn from Maureen's iTouch on demand

Bsam's friend, Bsam, Maureen, me and Manish

Our henna tattoos

Me and Sulochina

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prelude: What? Nepal?

I am not very good at serving people. You may even call me selfish. I have big ideas and the desire to serve, but they always get lost between transactions. So, I have to commit to something big and announce it to the world (via Facebook) so I will actually do it.

I saw a flier for volunteer work in Nepal in the summer of 2008. I really wanted to do it but didn't have money at the time so the plan got pushed back indefinitely until I could afford it. In the winter of 2010, I mentioned my plan to Maureen at an Indian restaurant run by our Nepali friend Aastha in Seoul. Maureen had a friend in Nepal doing volunteer work at a school in a village where we might consider helping out. So, the plan was born. We will go to Nepal in the summer of 2011--exactly three years after the idea was conceived. I committed to Maureen and announced it on Facebook. That's how I ended up in Nepal.

Oops, sorry.

This is the longest period of silence I have imposed on my blog since its birthday. And I am sorry! I did fail to blog about many interesting and great stories. To make it up, I have decided to do a special on my 3-week trip to Nepal. You will soon forgive the silence and be engulfed by the fascinating tales of Nepal. Coming soon. Why Hannah decided to go to Nepal.


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