Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Remembering the Victims of the Khmer Rouge

Warning: This post contains graphic images and discusses the heart wrenching genocide that was inflicted on Cambodia durring the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. Not for the squeemish.

There is a fable of a wise Chinese farmer whose horse ran off. When his neighbor came to console him the farmer said, "who knows what's good or bad?"
When his horse returned the next day with a herd of horses following her , the foolish neighbor returned to congratulate the farmer on his good fortune.
"Who knows what's good or bad?" Said the farmer
Then, when the farmer's son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses, the foolish neighbor again came to console him.
"Who knows what's good or bad?" Replied the farmer again.
When the army passed trhough the following week , conscripting men for war, they passed over the farmer's son because of his broken leg. When the foolish man came to congratulate the farmer that his son would be spared, the farmer shook his head, "Who knows what's good or bad?"
This dialogue could go on and on and shows that no event however they may first appear to us is inherrantly good or evil, and this is a sentiment that I have myself adopted, that it is not the events around us but our decisions in light of those events that are good or bad. When one visits the the Genocide Museum of Tuol Sleng, formerly Security Prison 21 under Democratic Kampuchea, Cambodia's name under the regime of Pol Pot, one can not help but challenge such a view. The events that took place durring this regime display the lowest depths of human capacity, and it is hard to gaze upon this one monument to their barbarism and not declare this as nothing but purely evil.

Nothing to laugh or smile about

Monday, December 27, 2010

First Impressions of Cambodia

I've been in Cambodia now for about six days and I'm still not sure what to think. If Nepal and Thailand had a love child it might come out something like Cambodia. Much of the landscape is flat rice fields as far as the eye can see interrupted with the occasional palm tree or small herd of water buffalo. Siem Reap, where I have spent most of my time thus far, is a strange eruption of five star hotels to small shacks that clusters near the Angkor ruins. This almost surreal city has a really interesting strip of good restaurants and shops that are mostly congregated around the old market. Although spending time in Siem Reap and saying you've experienced Cambodia is probably like spending a weekend in Vegas and thinking you understand America.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, reflected in a lily pond.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bangkok to Siem Reap Overland

This route is notorious in the region for lots of scams, and things like 'scam vans' and fake consulates are often brought up in its description. It really isn't that bad, in fact it was quite easy compared to anything one might attempt in South Asia. A tiny bit of research (and I mean just doing a minimal amount of homework) and just a dash of travel savvy and anyone could navigate this overland trip. So besides relaying my small adventure, I'll point out some of the basic tips for travel and some scams to avoid along the way. In the end I was able to do the whole trip in just under 11 hours, and it could have been faster if not for some random bad timing instances and an unnecessary snack stop just before Siem Reap.

The route itself takes you from Bankok to the Thai border town of Aranya Prathet where you walk across the border to the Cambodian side of the border to their border town of PoiPet and then it is a short ride to Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples. There are many options for the first leg of the journey including numerous bus services, mini-vans and trains. Scam number one to look out for is that many of the travel agencies hawking bus services will try to sell onward travel on the Cambodian side, and this is almost sure to be rubbish. The Cambodian side is controlled by a state sanctioned private monopoly, and they don't deal with Thai travel agents...it's not like you're going to use someone else when you get to the border so they don't need the business via agents. So if you take a bus just book it as far as Aranya. I've also heard conflicting reports that the vans can be terrible and cause a lot o problems. Some claim that they arrive at places late to force an overnight at the border and other garbage. Others have stated this went off fine. I didn't take the vans so I wouldn't know.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bangkok- Food is the Real Carnal Pleasure

When you mention Bangkok to many people they often imagine something out of the opening part of the second act of Full Metal Jacket, one that involves a girl in a very short skirt propositioning Joker with the now famous line “Me so horny”. Although the GI presence here during the Vietnam war was the jumping off point for the go-go bars that were at one time famous here, Bangkok has changed considerably in the last few decades and it has shucked off most of its seedy image and emerged as a world class capital city. This is not to say that the lineage of the go-go bars and what came after isn’t still here, I’ve seen plenty of old men with young Thai girls, but it is not nearly as prevalent or in your face as it was even when I was here in 2002 and 2004. Back then any time Kim got more than five steps away from me girls came out of the woodwork with greetings and smiles, now they're hawking only drinks, legitimate message, crafts, or food…at least on Kao San road.

I have no problems with these rules, though friends back home may suggest that I'm stealthily dodging the last one. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flying Out

The only time I've left Nepal in the past year was for a short trip to Tibet back in July. It's funny that now as I get ready to fly to Thailand I feel like I'm leaving home, not just a place I was staying or traveling in. We've had a great year here and though things were sometimes awkward at first I'm really quite comfortable here now. Although Thailand is in many ways much easier to navigate than Nepal, my familiarity here makes it feel like a bit of the reverse.

The other day I went to buy some groceries for a dinner I was going to make for some friends when I opened my wallet and realized I had no debit card. Although we have access to Nepali funds through bank accounts here, that card is my link to US$, which are still very handy to have, especially if you will be in Thailand in a couple of days. Now the good news was that I realized this when I did, and not when I got off the plane and Bangkok to go use an ATM...that would have been a tough scenario. After a little research and some thinking it occurred to me that I may have left the card in an ATM, something that is very absent minded and quite stupid. Nepal being Nepal, I wasn't sure that even if I had done this I would ever see that card again.

For those that don't know, because they've been smart enough to always take their card after a transaction, the ATM machine will claim a card that has been left behind by sucking it into the machine if someone doesn't take it within an allotted period of time. The next morning I went down to the headquarters of Himalayan Bank (the owner of the ATM in question) and inquired about my card. Although helpful they were quick to try and get me to visit their card center in Patan. When I inquired to whether they could call to see if it was there, the guy I was dealing with was very helpful and made the call. Turns out the card was there and they would bring it to this office in a few hours for me to pick up. Crisis averted. I was actually a bit surprised how efficiently the whole process was and how polite the people were, so props to Himalayan Bank for providing services above and beyond what one normally experiences in Nepal.

So with that out of the way Kim and I did some last minute Christmas shopping, stopped by the market (sorry didn't have time to make salsa), and then went with Akshay and Jenara out to an organic farm for lunch and some relaxing scenery. Had a great time and some good food there, and saw the first blueberries, currants, raspberries, blackberries and passion fruit I've seen in Nepal. Cool spot, and we followed it up with dessert at Che Caroline's. Chocolates, apple crumble and macaroons were ordered and we had a good time, thanks a bunch to Akshay and Jenara for a fun day jest before heading south.

The one side note of this was that something somebody ate somewhere has not agreed with people's stomachs. Somehow I seem to have avoided any problems thus far (maybe I have iron guts) but Kim was up quite sick for the better part of the night, which is a terrible way to spend a night before you get ready to fly for 24 hours almost non stop. What particularly unfortunate is that in our year here so far we have not suffered from food poisoning once, so to be struck by it on the eve of departure seems a little cruel. I can only hope that something in my stomach doesn't drop mid flight. Anyway, I'm off to Thailand, and look forward to updating this blog from the road, hopefully with some interesting pictures as well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mr. Smith Goes to Thailand & Cambodia

So with my visa running out at the end of the month we were faced with a few different options of what to do. The easiest thing was to leave the country for a few weeks and come back. Due to plenty of things to do for Harilo, Kim was faced with what is essentially a business trip where she gets to see family around Christmas and new year. The cost of flying all the way to the states for both of us is a bit prohibitive and I came all the way out here to not visit Asia not fly back and forth to the US. So I'll be flying to Bangkok on Sunday and will split the next few weeks split between Thailand and Cambodia.

  Map showing the route I'm looking to take.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mr Smith Goes to Kathmandu- One Year On

So today this blog turns one year old! I had no idea what I would be writing about when I originally put this together, and looking over the posts from the last year it's interesting to me to see how it all shaped up. All in all I've had a great experience over the last year, from the final preparations to come here in December to now when I'm planning to leave Nepal for the first extended period since coming here (I'm heading to Thailand/Cambodia for a short time). While any experience has its ups and downs, this one has been mostly ups and a great experience over all that I'm glad has been a part of my life. Not everything goes as expected, but that is in an ironic way that's something we expect.

So before I left I wrote a post on Why would you want to move to Nepal, and now that it's been a year I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of those thoughts and see what I have done, what I haven't done,how reality matched up with expectations, what I'd still like to accomplish and what was just naive thinking. I'll use Italics to quote the original text.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dinner at South Beach

So it looks like I'll be cooking at South Beach Pavilion on Wednesday for what I'm hoping will be one of the better dining experiences in Kathmandu. Now Nepal being Nepal I'm of course having difficulty finding the needed ingredients, for instance the guy that sells feta cheese has been MIA and thus the secondary person I buy from who gets direct deliveries from him is also having a shortage, so sourcing the Feta has been a little work. Herbs seem to be disappearing as well and I had to place a special order for fresh rosemary and thyme. Despite the difficulty in getting all the ingredients I need together I'm excited to be putting this together for people, and am really looking forward to the event.

South Beach Event Menu

The items on the menu are things I've developed since living here, making use of some of the great produce that are available through the year. I've started using pomegranate quite a bit, because it has such a great subtly sweet flavor and is available year round here. Other more exotic fruits, like persimmon, are things I really enjoy experimenting with since I just never had the opportunity to cook or eat them back home...or at least I never noticed them anyway. I've also managed to find really good whole cream at the dairy down the street from me which is exciting for me as well, and I think it will make the dessert great. Hopefully we'll get some good pictures of everything for a future blog post.

For those not familiar with South Beach its a great event space that sits behind the Wunjala Muskva restaurant in Naxal. The space has a very Miami style feel to it and Akshay and Jenara did an excellent job with its design, look and feel. We've previously attended a few tea events there as well as monthly movie viewing.  Anyway it's a great space, and I'm looking forward to being part of what should be a really fun and tasty event.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Market at Cafe Moksh in Patan

The farmer's markets in Kathmandu are a salvation for those of us who want some quality foods that are reminiscent of back home, or some of the better quality food products from Nepal. For the last five months or so I have been selling salsa's at the market at 1905 every Saturday. For people who live in Patan, there is a new market that is now being held at Cafe Moksh every Sunday from 9am to noon.

Rotisserie Chicken, Cakes, and Spices 

Everyone that sells at the 1905 market seems to be here as well, so you can get cheeses, dried fruits, French food from Christine, cakes from Virginia, and rotisserie chicken. Vegetables, honey, jams, achar/pickle, Nepali teas, and seasonal fruit are all available too. Most  importantly you can get Enlightened Salsa here in four great flavors, made and sold by yours truly. It's a good community of people, and many of the vendors are providing things that you just can't get anywhere else in Kathmandu, or Nepal at large. If you're new to the Kathmandu valley it's also a great place to meet people that live here, as it's a fairly small expat community and a good number of us show up these. If you've happened upon this blog entry and come to the market, don't hesitate to introduce yourself to me, I'm always happy to meet new people here.

Enlightened Salsa, French Food, Dried Fruits, and Live Music 

The location at Cafe Moshk seems like a really good fit, and the staff there did a very nice job of fitting their location to the market. They have a nice outdoor staffed grill, a full breakfast menu available and a counter for coffee, tea, and food orders. The space is a nice grassy area in front of the cafe with the stalls set up at the edges and plenty of space in the center to mingle or sit at tables. There was also live music available that was quite nice and the band was very talented. Francois, who put this all together, told me that this will be a regular feature, which I think will be kind of cool. There are plenty of good talented musicians in this city.

So the Market is at Cafe Moshk
in the Pulchowk area (restaurant row) in Patan
Sundays 9am to 12pm

Friday, December 3, 2010

Imago Dei- My Favorite Cafe in Kathmandu

Kathmandu has no shortage of places to hang out, have a drink and maybe try to get some work done on a computer or conduct a meeting. Many of the locations though are lacking, either in food, atmosphere, or internet access. Imago Dei by contrast supplies all three and further gives some of the better table service I've had in Kathmandu- which as an American I dearly miss on occasion. They also have a great location, being just across the street from the east gate of the Royal Palace Museum compound. This puts them in an easily accessible area, that is not far from most of the areas where expats who live in Kathamndu proper (i.e. not Patan) tend to congregate. It also has parking available, which is rare in this city.

It has a decent menu that covers everything from wraps and sandwiches to a Thai curry, dips, pastas, breads and deserts. My personal favorite items are the salads, especially the roasted pumpkin and spinach, which are all served very fresh, are a very decent size and are served with bread- the pumpkin bread is my favorite. When I'm looking for heavier meals I like the Thai curry dish and Kim likes the gnocchi.  The drinks are some of the better in the city, serving very good ice teas, as well as some tasty strawberry lemonade. The deserts are also very good, the cheesecake has a reputation as the best in the city and I am personally a big fan of their chocolate brownies which are served with a mall side of chocolate sauce to drizzle on this very big brownie.

Imago Dei's Comfortable and Well Lit Dining Area

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