Wednesday, February 17, 2010

5 Things that may take some getting use to in Nepal

I take pride in being a fairly adaptive person, I can eat lots of different foods, get use to many different customs, and acclimate to various degrees of cleanliness with ease. That said, all places have a few things that take a bit more time to get use to. Here are my top 5 for Nepal;

5- Cows in the Road: I don't know why exactly, but this always surprises me every time I turn a corner and there is a cow or bull hanging around the trash or staring at me. Chickens? Goats? Lambs? All these I can get use to in an urban setting but cows throw me for a loop every time. Maybe it's just their size, but for some reason, despite having seen many, they always seem unexpected.

4- Steamed Rice: I can eat almost any food (save for fried bugs and durian fruit in Thailand), but eating the same thing over and over again is somewhat hard for me. I constantly felt ungratefulwhile staying with Pradip and Sabita's because after a few meals of dahl baht (steamed rice with lentils and curried vegetables) I began to eat about half of what everyone else was eating. It wasn't that I didn't like it, I did, but after a while I would just feel satisfied with what I had eaten and was full enough that I really didn't want to eat too much more. On several occasions I tried to eat until I was really stuffed to be polite, but no one seemed to believe me that I was full. The upside is that I know what I can eat to just feel full now.

3- Driving, Walking & Traffic: Traffic goes on the left side of the road in theory, but really it just goes where it can. Most roads here are about 15'+/- wide, and this forces you to drive a little differently. In the US the system is top down, we are all told the rules and we are all expected to follow them or someone will fine you. It doesn't matter that no one is coming for 15 miles at the stop sign, you need to stop. Here they don't bother putting the traffic lights on, you just move and meld with what you have in front of you. It takes some getting use to the constant horns (used to identify where you are, not to notify of anger) and just moving into traffic and expecting other people to adjust. It will take some getting use to, but the more I experience it, the more I understand how it works, and works well for Kathmandu.

2- Swastikas: With roots as an Eastern symbol used in various religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the swastika has a very different meaning here as to what it conjures up in the Western mind. We are so ingrained with the symbol as being the ultimate evil of Hitler's Germany showing hatred and racism that is hard to adjust to a culture that uses it as a symbol for luck, wealth and good fortune. My landlords, who are the nicest people, have one just above the entryway to the house. Strikes me a little odd every time, though I know the cultural difference.

1- Skin Lightening Cream: In the subcontinent apparently they prefer them fair, and marketers aren't afraid of filling that niche with a product. I've seen similar products in South East Asia. Two products that I can recall are Fair and Handsome (for men) and Fair and Beautiful (for woman). Coming from a country that is so sensitive about issues of skin color and taught to be proud of what ever you are, these ads and commercials just don't sit quite right with me. In one commercial a guy is playing volleyball, he makes a play, but all the girls kind of laugh him off because he's dark (apparently). I can't understand what is being said, so in my mind I just hear, "No one wants you darky! lololololololol!" Maybe it isn't that bad. He then uses the advertised product, gets lighter skin, sees one of those chicks that laughed at him while riding his manly scooter, and she's like, "Wow! You are totally doable now that you aint so dark!" Or something to that effect in Hindi. They then ride off into the sunset. Praying on peoples insecurities is nothing new in marketing, so I don't know why it bothers me so much, but ya, it just sits awkward with me.

Honorable Mentions (or the things that aren't as bad as they sound)
-Power going out for long intervals during the day. Aside from keeping us from the internet to do work, I actually don't mind it too much. Sure electricity is nice, but so is reading a book and not feeling guilty that you could be more productive.

-Undrinkable tap water. Sure you can't drink from the tap, but after getting a water cooler (that heats or cools at least when we have power) it isn't that big a deal. The deposit for a full 5 gallon container was like 280 (NRS about 4$) and to fill it with water is like 60 NRS.

-Dirty Streets. Yeah trash collection isn't Kathmandu's strong suit, but really a little burning trash here and there is easy to ignore. Even the streams and rivers that double as open sewers don't really bother me all that much, though I won't be going swimming in them any time soon. The trick is to see that it works in it's own way, and the US had many similar kind of locals less than a hundred years ago as far as sanitation.

Since much of this post sounds kind of negative about Nepal, I'll try and end on a positive note. The weather here has been great. Due to the type of climate all the buildings have these awesome flat roofs where you can sit out, soak up some sun, see some mountains and read a good book. Although the city is somewhat chaotic, it feels very free. That all by itself is worth every bit of the things that may take some getting use to, and much more.

Final Note: Kim and I will be hiking in the Langtang region for the next two weeks, so this blog will be lacking updates. Please check back when we get back! I promise to have some kick ass pictures!!

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