Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giving Thanks

Last Thursday was American Thanksgiving, and celebrating it away from home in Nepal is makes it a little more meaningful for me. I remember when I was a kid my dad telling me that Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday, and as a kid this struck me as an odd choice. I mean how could Thanksgiving compete with the sheer awesomeness that was all the gifts and decorations of Christmas, or the costumes and candy of Halloween, it seemed at best tied with Easter which gave a whole basket of candy but had the downside of a long church session. Thanksgiving seemed to just be a large dinner, some boring football games (which I no longer find boring). Point being is that it didn't seem to stand up to the other holidays that seem geared toward children.

The themes that a holiday is often supposed to make one reflect on are often overlooked for what is practiced in the practical terms. So for children (and maybe some adults) Christmas and birthdays are about the gifts, and Thanksgiving is about the food. As I've grown older though I've come around to my father's point of view, Thanksgiving is firmly my favorite holiday. Unlike other holidays that require gifts, cards and other distractions, Thanksgiving requires only that we come together in common company and give thanks simply for what we have. We do this by sharing a large meal together, and though the host often undertakes the larger part of the cooking, guests often bring plenty of side dishes and deserts.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Concept of the 'Self"- An Excerpt from The Purple Thread of Epictetus

This is a subject I have been tackling at length over the last month in a book I'm trying to put together. This topic has been particularly difficult, but after a good writing session today on draft three of this chapter I think I have most of what I want covered. There is still a good degree of off topic meandering which needs to be trimmed, some topics addressed too briefly and I'm not entirely happy with some of the opening paragraphs, but on the whole I'm finally content with the body of the chapter as a whole. So with all that said I'd thought I'd share this chapter as it stands for now with everyone. At one point I reference the logic problem known as the Ship of Theseus, which I go over in a previous chapter, I linked the wiki article there as a refresher to those who aren't familiar with it.

Chapter 7- Defining the Self

“…because, of all things in the environment an active body must make mental models of, none is more important than the model the agent has of itself.”
-Daniel C. Dennett
Consciousness Explained 

No object will be more considered than ourselves, as we are the object that we seemingly have the most control over, so it is important that we spend at least a chapter considering what our “self” is. It seems painfully obvious to most of us what we are, “I’m me!” one might protest. Looking a little deeper though it is hard to find exactly what we are, what defines “you” and where we should even start to look. When considering objects back in chapter five we noted the need to see things as they actually are, discover what they are made of and strip them of their pretention. It would be less than thorough if we did not do this to ourselves as well as everything around us. Coming to an honest understanding of what you yourself are is an important part of setting yourself free. Because the subject object of much of your thought will in fact be those things that are in your power or those desires that arise in the mind, it is best to understand the object you will be observing the most, which is yourself.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Danger of the "People's" Revolution

Spending all of your time in Kathmandu it is easy to forget that the rest of Nepal is very different, and what seems normal here is not what the typical Nepali considers typical. It is this bubble that kept the middle and business class as well as the politicians at large from understanding the real threat that the maoists poised back in the late 90's and why even after the slaying of the King and the up tick in the violence of the civil war in the early part of this decade that to many in Kathmandu the moaists were an enigmatic group. When I first arrived here I had to put up with many of their so called bandhs, political strikes enforced by thugs on the streets that bring all commerce and transportation to a halt, but those stopped after the spectacular failure that was the May 1st protests. Since then the Maosists have been quiet, and one can easily forget that this is a country where the largest political party are communists who regularly depict mass murders (of their own people I might add) like Stalin and Mao on posters and reference them in speeches. For all of Asia's complaining over colonial oppression  in the past, no western influence has killed more Asians than the communist ideals that well to do Asians brought back with them from studying in Europe.

Today the Maoists are back in the news as they have had a big political get together, and party leaders released several papers defining where the party should be headed. Republica put out an overview of some of the chairmans piece, choosing to focus on his confrontational stance with India (read the article HERE). The ideas that are expressed in the majority of it is no shock to me, but I am slightly taken aback with how honest they are about their goals and implementation. They basically admit to what I've always suspected that the war has never ended and they basically won't stop until there is a communist republic in Nepal. The language is littered with the normal socialist diatribe, using words like proletariat, comrade, cadre, and throwing around the phrase domestic feudalism in every other sentence. One part of the story that stuck out to me was "Dahal was of the view that India will intervene militarily in Nepal when the party launches a people´s revolt to seize state power; so the party should be ready to resist Indian intervention." It's not a matter of "if" but "when" the party launches the "people's" revolt.

The danger these kind of serious revolts cause are clear in history, and it's highlighted for me by my upcoming trip to Cambodia in December. Nepal is in less danger of becoming another Cambodia due to the fact that it is bordered by two very ambitious emerging powers, India and China. What Nepal risks if it falls into a deep civil war is being completely co-opted by one of those powers or becoming the center stage of a proxy war between them. Most people don't seem to realize how tense relations are between China and India, and it was extremely interesting to me that one of the first things to happen when North Korea flirted with starting a war the other day was that India ordered 30,000 troops to its border with China. Both sides of the Nepali government playing these two nations against each other is a very dangerous game and Nepal is in a delicate situation where drastic moves that destabilize the country could very easily lead to a complete loss of sovereignty, let alone the human tole that a drastic revolution like those of Pol Pot and Mao would inflict on the citizenry of this country.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rewriting- Because the First Draft Always Sucks

There is a saying  that "there is no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting". I've been doing a lot of rewriting lately, though I'm not quite sure that much of it is really good yet. Although I write much more than the average person, I've never really sat down and tried to write something in book form until this year. Blogging is more of an exercise in stream of consciousness, and other things I had worked on were short enough that rewriting them over and over again never felt like too big of an undertaking. Rewriting hundreds of pages at a time and keeping them at a certain flow, pace, and rhythm all while keeping the entire thing coherent is an undertaking that I wasn't prepared for, or at least I did not expect the sheer level of difficulty that it would pose. I have a new found respect for people that can really sit down and not just tackle the oft mentioned blank page but really take on the one that's already full of that not-good-enough draft that sits before them.

Back in April/May I pounded out a rough draft of the book I'm trying to put together, and I was quite happy with myself that I managed to get all the way through and actually write it. I was thinking to myself at the time that this whole writing thing isn't really all that hard. Once i was done with the first draft I thought it would be easy to just shore up some of those thoughts, reorganize the book a little better and presto, I should be done. It's now the middle of November and I'm forcing myself to fight through draft number three. It has been an excruciatingly slow process, and after sitting down just about every day for the last month, I've managed to get through only about a sixth of the the book. I've spent entire weeks working on seven stupid pages, and still not liked what came out. When I was tearing through my first draft I usually put out at least seven pages every day. The big difference is that I seem to spend far too much time re-reading and not as much time as I'd like re-writing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some like it Spicy

There is this strange perception that goes around that white folk don't like spicy food, or can't handle it. As someone who has spent most of my adult life sustained almost entirely on spicy foods and bothered to order a gallon of Frank's Hot Sauce from the States, because I miss good hot sauce, this perception can be rather annoying. I first encountered it when travelling in Thailand back in 02'. I'd order Thai food and get this tasteless crappy version that was clearly prepared for that portion of the white population that prefers mayonnaise to Tabasco. Sure you could add spiced oil and red pepper flakes, but it usually wasn't as good as when the chilies are cooked into the dish. We encountered similar silliness in Nepal, India and Mexico as well, and I spend an awful lot of time convincing the people at the restaurants that, yes I really do want my food prepared hot and spicy. Half the time it still comes out and isn't that hot.

This kind of treatment normally gets me into a bit of a huff, and I find myself wanting to challenge the poor waiter to a contest of who can eat the spiciest food. "I'll bury you pal!" is the accompanying thought. seriously, I've happily consumed meals that when they touch your skin it turns a bit red from irritation...I can put down some seriously hot stuff. Since I've been in Nepal I've found that many Nepali people don't think westerners like spicy food, or that we can't handle too many hot peppers. When I first moved here one of the first foods I went ahead and tried to make was Mexican style chili, and my hosts thought it was intriguing that not only a man was cooking, but that I had bought chilies. The dish calls for not only chopped up chillies but I also added a fair amount of chili powder, which made my host question why I was making it so hot. Because, some westerners do indeed like it hot, in fact hotter than my host would have liked it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Technology & Travel

My first big trip was back in 1999, it was a 2 and a half month backpacking trip around Europe. back then there wasn't much in the way of communicating with people back home. Internet cafes though were just becoming common and it was definitely nice to be able to send some e-mails back home in order to let everyone know where you were and that things were going well. I suppose you also had phones, but calls overseas were quite expensive and I have always traveled as a budget traveler even when I've had plenty of money...it's the only way I know to travel.

Fast forward to 2001/2002 and Kim and I are traveling fully around the planet for about 9 months or so. The internet has become a much more communal resource that even my parents are using quite often at this point. Digital cameras are also now commonly available allowing us to share our adventures with people back home in pictures and not just words. Another big development was the proto-blog sites, ones that allowed us to put up stories and post our pictures and our friends to post comments or messages to us as we traveled. All of this really made it easy to stay in touch with family and friends as we moved from one region to another.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

East and West

Back in August there was a great post on a blog named Musings From an American-Nepali Household (read the original post HERE) that showcased some diagrams done by a Chinese artist named Liu Young who spent some time in Germany. He has illustrated in great simplicity some of the differences in how eastern and western cultures approach life. 

Blue = West                  Red = East


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tihar the Festival of Lights

So it's another big festival in Nepal. As I write this you can hear the sound of bottle rockets, firecrackers, roman candles and M80s exploding in the night mixed with the sound of Nepali music and some children singing in the streets. Since holidays in Nepal are an almost weekly occurrence  the big ones get set apart by a large number of days, Tihar, the one currently getting celebrated, is a festival that takes place over five days, and I believe we are on day three.

My Street Lit Up for Tihar

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Democracy is the New Tyranny: The American Myth & Failure in Nepal

tyr·an·ny –noun: A government which practices arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority.

I try to steer clear of my home countries politics most of the time, as this isn't a blog about America, and certainly not about its politics. There is also the fact that the partisan divide has become so great in our country that you stand to alienate half your audience by just taking a stand. Even someone as popular and likable as Oprah saw her television show take a popularity dive as soon as she took a political stand. We have becomes so divisive in America that people of opposing opinions can rarely talk to each other without degenerating to name calling, and most people start with fairly negative opinions of anyone that is on "the other team". All of this over usual complete lack of understanding of the philosophical positions of where the other person is coming from, and the belief that people on the other side are trying to "destroy America". 

For all of the bickering between the left and the right, and all of their insistence that their team is different I just don't see it. After all of the rhetoric of any election Washington keeps on at the same pace, doing the same old stuff. Republicans who apparently believe in cutting spending, fiscal responsibility, and smaller government saw some of the largest spending and government expansion projects under the reign of Regan and both Bush's. Democrats who are supposedly socially liberal and have often opposed foreign war were strangely silent during our involvement in Somalia, Kosovo, Indonesia, and the silence to the escalation in Afganistan and Pakistan is deafening. I won't even get into the fact hat Gitmo remains open, the worst parts of the patriot act were renewed under a democratic super majority or that the recent "health care reform" was basically a big gift to insurance providers and completely disregards the freedom of American citizens to choose products for themselves. After all is said and done, regardless of what our public officials say, the machine of the Federal government keeps right on going. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Tribute to Some Really Worn Shoes

I'm not one to pay too much attention to fashion, but when it comes to trekking I am very particular about my shoes. Each person has different things they look for; some want to make sure they have ankle support, or waterproofing- me I want light weight and grip and just about nothing else matters. I met my perfect shoe back in  the middle of 2007 when I discovered GoLite's Spike Tail. Love at first fit. These shoes are exceptionally light, get an excellent grip even on steep wet granite and dried very quickly if you happened to go wading across streams. They were comfortable to boot, making them my favorite shoe I had ever put on my feet.

This is roughly what my shoes looked like when I got them.

I purchased the shoes specifically for my planned ascent of Kilimanjaro and went to work immediately making sure they got broken in on the trail. The shoes not only accompanied me up that very large mountain in Africa, but have since been my default shoes for trekking back in New England and now here in the Himalaya. They were also excellent running shoes, so they got plenty of use running the streets of Kathmandu two or three times a week. Here is a quick list of the places this pair of shoes got me;

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