Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Perpetual State of Doubt

But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.  ~Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

As this year draws to a close I and you naturally reflect on the year that was I realized that despite the restaurant taking over most of my time and being the focus of most of what I have been doing since May, as a dominant story in my inner life it has possibly played second fiddle to a new found respect for the state of doubt. Doubt gets a bad wrap in my opinion, naturally people want to alleviate themselves of it, they want answers, and in that I think we find one of the more noble aspects of humanity- our search for answers and truth to what existence actually is. The flip side of this is that in order to alleviate ourselves of this sometimes uncomfortable state we just make shit up, make horribly unfounded assumptions and can often find ourselves basing much of our lives on completely unfounded beliefs.

The most obvious can be religion, which I don't really feel like picking on in this post, but it is very low hanging fruit for an example. The more I have traveled and experienced religion all over the world the more absurd it all seems to me. Beliefs for instance here insist that bells have to be wrung to wake up spirits or ward off bad luck etc, and yet in other places around the planet this doesn't happen and one experiencing this would have to thus wonder if people around the rest of the world are less lucky or do their house spirits never wake up on time? Maybe, but at what point did it become clear to people that there were house spirits that had to be woken, or that bells would ward off bad luck? I'm not sure, but it seems to me that a lot of people have made up a lot of shit in order to fill in the gaps of what we just don't know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Maybe In Time For The Super Bowl

It's now December and the restaurant is still coming together, but we aren't quite there yet. We are being held up by a lack of doors and windows going in, which once done we can get seriously started on painting, which once completed means we can move in all the other interior elements and equipment and furnishings that we got in China. Right now the trellises out on the patio area are going up, the bar and service counter granite tops are going in and the tile for the outdoor area should be going down soon as well. Primer paint is up, floors are in and the bathrooms walls are tiled. Our counter tops and shelving for the bar and kitchen are scheduled to be ready in just about a weeks time as well, so physically we could be put together quite quickly.

Floors Are In, Primer is Up

Aside from the restaurant Kim has also been in the country for the last three weeks and just landed back in Tampa this morning (my time). Was great to have her here, but it's unfortunately no longer her favorite place on the planet. Visiting is fun for most people, living here is more difficult and if you can't find that groove than it can become just maddening. For what ever reason Nepal seems to agree with me most of the time, and though it has its challenges it also has some advantages that I find compelling. So while it isn't the ideal situation to be some 8,000 miles apart, we are both essentially where we want to be at the moment, and if the last three weeks proved anything it was that I'm too busy to really do anything fun around here at the moment- at least anything fun outside the valley.

Most of Our Interiors Are Ready Off Site- Such As These Pots

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Busy Life in a Laid Back Country

So with the holiday season ending it was time to really start moving on getting stuff done, and that's exactly what has been going on. This is also why this blog has experienced it's longest black out since I started writing it. Every time I would think about sitting down to write something I just couldn't justify it, because I had a meeting to go to, or some cooking to do, or pricing spread sheets to work on, or something else that I should be doing. In fact even now I really should be arranging lists for the upcoming International Food Festival that will be taking place this Saturday, but that can wait until tomorrow anyway.

So what's been going on?Well of course the restaurant is still the big focus. The floors are in, the granite counter tops for the bar and service windows are being cut, the stainless steel counters and shelves are being manufactured and many of our interiors are coming together. We even have the sliding window for the bar apparently figured out. Also Kim arrived back from the US just this last Monday and so I've been trying to spend the little free time I do have with her.

In addition to the physical space coming together we are also getting the the word out by catering events here and there, and next we will be participating in the previously mentioned food festival that is sponsored by the Himalayan Times, representing the US. The menu was kept fairly simple with dishes that we thought would quickly have cross over appeal to the Nepali audience. So we are doing Cajun fries, beer battered onion rings, Buffalo or BBQ wings and burgers with the option of chicken/beef/veg. I'll be putting together large amounts of ketchup and mayonnaise from scratch for the burgers, rings and fries as well as the Buffalo & BBQ sauces. I'll also bring a bunch of the bottled products to sell, including the chili, hot pepper sauce, Buffalo sauce, and BBQ sauce. All this combined with the normal cooking for the markets has left me spending about half my week in the kitchen, and we haven't been able to find any staff to start training, so I'm still at this essentially by myself.

Due to budget and a lack of local experience with foreign restaurant set ups I've been wearing a lot of hats on this project. I am defiantly the establishments chef, so I have no problem embracing this roll, but I am also at times acting as our general contractor for the building site, the companies representative to other parties, our graphic designer for the menu, logos, and product packaging. At times I'm designing the bar space and kitchen set up, other times I'm programming spread sheets to calculate product costs from a database of suppliers products. I rush from one location in one role to another location in another- all the while wondering how I got so busy in a country where it takes weeks for even simple things to get done.

As always the differences of how things are done here as opposed to what I am accustomed to in the US makes things just that much more difficult. Coordination of events and times are very haphazard and every day I find  out something that I didn't know before about what is going into our floor of the building. Still things appear to be moving forward which is good and we'll get from point A to point B it appears even if that line is a horrible zig-zag instead of a nice straight arrow. The latest set back is that the building may not have power until some time in January, but even this can be worked around. It's just a matter of working with what you do have before you, and not dwelling on what you wish you had.

All this said, I hope when people one day sit down and enjoy a bacon Swiss burger with a strawberry daiquiri   cheesecake for dessert they'll appreciate the sheer difficulty of what we have accomplished by pulling all of these elements together in Nepal. Because I can attest that setting this up here hasn't been a piece of cake, but as they say, if it were easy everyone would do it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some Thoughts & Pictures from Around Kathmandu

When I first got to Nepal I use to carry a camera around in my pocket and take photos on a rather consistent basis. As time goes by, no matter how exotic the locale, it just becomes the place you live and it is less likely to stir in you that need to take a photo every few feet. Still Nepal tends to have situations that catch even the long time observer off guard, and since I got a smart phone during my trip to the US I'm back to having a camera in my pocket to document the things that go on in day to day life.  Below are a few photos from the last few weeks and some thoughts about them.

 Oktoberfest at Imago Dei

Imago Dei has an excellent kitchen staff, and I hope I get a staff that is at least half as competent as these guys.A few weeks back I had the pleasure of working with these guys while helping to cater a birthday event here. The above picture is at an Oktoberfest event that raised money for charity to try to help get dental care into the hills and mountainous regions of Nepal, put on by Patricia and her family that owns Skylight. The Imago staff in this photo are cooking a very large number of German style sausages. The meal included the pictured sausages, ham, goulash (both meat and paneer), sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and a tomato and mozzarella salad. It was a good time and a great event.

Laundry on the Line

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Brian's Red Hot Nepali Chili Sauce

Of all the products I'm producing at the restaurant, the one I think I am most excited about is the Louisiana style hot sauce. After a few test batches I got an idea of the exact mix of peppers I wanted to use to make a really great flagship pepper sauce at the restaurant. It uses mostly the very light tasting but somewhat hot local Nepali chilies (what their actual name is I have no idea, everyone just calls them chili, as if there is no other) and then add some chipotle peppers to give the flavor a little more depth and reduce the taste of vinegar on the front of the sauce.

Nepal's New Premier Pepper Sauce

I've learned how to make a lot of things from base elements this year, and pepper sauces are something I have always really enjoyed but never made myself. The one tough thing with tinkering with them is that they take some time to age and get just right, so you don't know the results of making some changes until a few months has passed and you can taste the sauce itself. To get around this a little, I made a few smaller batches using different combinations of peppers, spices, cooking and storage techniques. After trying those I was able to identify what I thought worked best, make a single sauce out of it and see how that was. After getting what I thought was a great sauce I've gone ahead and started to set aside batches that are at this rate about a month apart. Today I thought I'd go over what is involved in making a pepper sauce, this batch below will be ready just after the new year.

First Thing- Lots of Chilies

Thursday, October 20, 2011

She's a Witch!



Monty Python's Holy Grail Mocks Declarations of Witchcraft

Growing up at the tail end of the 20th century I believed that accusations of people being a witch was something that was far in our past. Growing up just a few hours north of Salem Massachusetts I was aware of our sorted past of punishing people for absurd crimes that it was not even possible for them to have committed. Then while in my first year of college I attended a Christian school (it's a long story) and around Halloween I was informed that there would be prayer vigils to help protect people's souls from witchcraft. I thought I had landed on another planet. Really? As we prepared to enter the 21st century there were people in the industrialized world who thought there were people consorting with magic and demons? Yes, in fact there were. 

Aside from this being slightly absurd and reducing the stock I took in humanity as a whole, it wasn't like these people were burning people at the stake. As misguided as it might have been at least they were just praying for them, which aside from stunting logical thought seemed rather harmless. Although I had heard stories coming out of Africa about people being accused of witchcraft on occasion, I thought that this was really the limit of where this kind of absurd behavior stopped. Then I moved to Nepal.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nepal's Visa Debacle- Making Sure Nepal Keeps Out Investment & Talent

The last six months have been a roller coaster dominated by one exceptionally difficult goal, to get a business visa in Nepal. This post might be especially relevant since there have been calls to make the year 2012, foreign investment year...which just like Nepal tourism year would consist of them declaring it so and then doing just about nothing else to achieve any kind of relevant goals. In a sensible world one might think that a self styled impoverished country that sends large numbers of its working age men overseas to do very difficult labor in places like the gulf states or South East Asia would welcome with open arms injections of foreign capital and business, or talented young professionals that are looking to do meaningful work in the country- but this assumption would be incorrect. Unlike countries like Cambodia, with arguably much better living conditions, where business visas for foreigners are so say to get that you can apply for them through travel agents, Nepal has created a nightmare procedure that would test the patience of a saint, costs tremendous amounts of money in legal fees and quite a bit in government fees as well, and basically says to the person trying to create something posative in the country "Not Welcome".

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Myth of Money

One of my favorite posts this year was The Fictions Which Bind Us written back in April of this year. In it I discussed how essentially we play a lot of games of make believe within our lives and yield power to some rather absurd things that do not in fact exist in any true form. In that post I mentioned that the two leading contenders in this were countries & governments along with our financial systems. The last post was on governments and countries and this one will be on the financials- why our misunderstanding of what money is and where it comes from has allowed us to make it a completely fictional system that has created two classes of people on this planet- those who work for "money" and those who can create it.

Occupy Wall Street Protester 

To most of us it seems perfectly normal that pieces of paper, or increasingly plastic cards and computer digits somewhere in a bank computer, are money. For all of our lives this has been the case, and so we never really think about it too much. But what is money? Like all human inventions it came about as a matter of convenience. Farmer A had lots of barley and trader B had brought salt from over the mountains and both needed what the other had. Initially there could be direct trade of X amount of salt to Y amount of barley. This bartering system is still alive and well in large parts of the world where subsistence farming takes place, and to a lesser extent forms a portion of the underground economy in developed nations. But what if the salt trader didn't want barley? Maybe he wanted to bring back silk. so the barley farmer goes to trade for silk, and then gets silk to trade for salt. To avoid the hassle of intermediate trading a commodity took the place as the intermediary store of value, it was something that would be easy to carry, non-perishable, rare enough that it had value in small quantities but common enough that people all over had access to it, and ideally would be recyclable. Independently around the earth most societies moved to using precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper as this form of intermediate barter good- and thus the first "money" of human culture came about.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Endless Rain, Goats in Taxis, Possible Visas, and Opening Dates

This blog has been quiet, but only because my life has not been at all. There was a time when I had half of just about any day to sit and write as I wished, that time has long passed. Finding time where I'm not exhausted to sit and write anything that someone might want to read- or that I could even go back and decipher, has been lacking. Also though I can only write about my adventures in opening a restaurant so many times before it becomes a little monotonous, and essentially that's what every day is. Some days it's chasing down visas and paperwork, other days it's opening bank accounts, transferring money from overseas, other days it's working on the menu or testing out recipes with friends over lunch or dinner. So here in this post I'll give the rundown of what has been going on in Kathmandu.

The Big Wet- It's been raining like crazy! Every day since I've been back from the US seems like it has had at least one rain storm. By this time last year the rain had really subsided and I remember while I was up in the Everest region the monsoon broke. No luck this year, as we head into October and the high Hindu holiday season kicks off it's still raining, and not just a little. Last Monday it rained literally all day, and it poured the night before, something that tends to be somewhat uncommon here. At the market yesterday we had to move the tables around as rain leaked through the tarps. Forecasters are saying that the monsoon should break this week, we'll see.

Goats in Taxis- Wednesday marked the kick off of the multi-week holiday event  of Dashain, a time when many people travel to their villages, get together with family and apparently eat lots of goats. This week goats started arriving in the capital as people prepare for the large family feasts. While not in full swing yet, there will come a point where goats occupy every other corner in town as they are sold off for dinner. Last year I saw goats being transported in the backs of taxis, on mopeds, bus rooftops, and walked on leashes like a dog. Last time I never seemed to have my camera when my favorite goat sightings occurred, this year I will at least have the camera on my phone and hope to get at least a few good goat shots. Nothing makes me laugh as much as goats in taxis- it really strikes me funny.

Business Visa- This will at some point have to be its own post, as this has been one of the longest and potentially frustrating things I have ever done. I say potentially, because to expect too much out of any process including lawyers ad bureaucrats is to set yourself up for disappointment, especially here, so I advise to always expect delay, absurd rules, endless signatures and plenty of visa extensions. I've been working on this since I got back, and apparently despite the fact that the department that approves names already gave us the go ahead, and the fact that we already opened bank accounts and have a company stamp and letterhead with that name, the Department of Industry had decided that they didn't think it made sense that we were a restaurant and a bar- because apparently you can really only be one or the other. Despite the slight absurdity of this position it has held us up for the last few weeks, and apparently just the other day it was approved. So with this last hurdle cleared my passport and company stamp have been sent out to get the business visa that I set out initially to get back in early May. So finally after five months, some 200 or so signatures, opening 2 bank accounts, some two dozen plus passport sized photos, half a dozen thumb prints, countless visits to the department of immigration and industry, and plenty of money in legal fees and visa extensions I may actually be getting my visa. I'm not actually holding it in my hand yet though, so I'll hold off on declaring victory.

Brian's Grill House Will Open, Someday- The great news is that I have a lot of people asking me when the restaurant will be opening, a lot of people seem genuinely excited about it, and that's really encouraging. We are moving forward, the building has electrical and plumbing going in now, word arrived that my elevator is actually on its way and won't be delayed as long as initially feared, and we are about ready to go ahead with interiors. That all said, I have no idea when we will actually open. In Nepal things get done when they get done, and coordination of contractors and timing is not this countries strong point. Currently we are looking to  a general opening some time in December, with our earliest possible ready date being some time in November, where we might have friends and family as we work out systems and train the staff. But who knows, maybe things come together quickly, maybe I'm writing something similar come February. At this point I'm really itching to get going, and will feel a lot better once the space is in place and ready to go.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Earthquake!

Any student of history knows that Kathmandu gets a major earthquake every 100 to 125 years or so. Every student of engineering (or possibly even the casual observer) knows that most buildings in this city will come down when this happens. So inevitably in the not so distant future Kathmandu will be flattened, this isn't a matter of if, but a matter of when. In the world there are two locations that are listed as potential catastrophic disasters with a major earthquake hits, and Kathmandu is one of them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Music at the Grill House: My Current top 50

So I started to think about what kind of music we will be playing at the restaurant today. Music sets a certain tone for a place, and as much as decor it can add or subtract from the experience of dining. So the questions you have to ask are; What do you want the music to say about the place? How does it affect the dining experience? What music is your target crowd comfortable with, and what are they not comfortable with? Lastly this is a place I have to spend a lot of time, what type of music can I stand to listen to day in and day out?

So the first thing to consider is what we want the music to say about the restaurant, and how does it add to the atmosphere we are trying to create? We are a Grill House with an American theme, or at least a very western theme. If I want to speak to western music than I have several options; rock, country, blues, pop, etc. It rules out hindi pop and the like which you hear on the streets of Kathmandu. I want it to feel like that when you get out of the elevator and step through the door you've stepped out of Nepal and into a western country. The fact that it's a grill house, in my mind rules out pop and dance tracks as well. It's not a club, and it's not for teeny boppers- a grill house asserts a certain amount of testosterone and masculinity something pop and R&B lack.

This brings us to rock, country and blues. I'm passing on country due to my unfamiliarity with the genre as well as the lack of it's appeal to the world at large outside the US. The tricky thing with western rock is that it can be loud abrasive and can often contain explicit content which in my opinion would distract more than add to the atmosphere of the restaurant. While I don't want elevator music, I want it to be heard, I just don't want it to distract, and thus the selection of which songs to play should try and avoid anything too caustic with overdrawn guitar solos, odd noises and inappropriate language. To show the sheer diversity of this genre though I really would like to try and grab singles that span through the the last 40 years or so covering everything from acoustic to electronica to fusion.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

One Week Back in the Du

Well I've been back in the big Du for a week now, and have finally gotten over the Jet Lag monster. Although following quickly on it's heels was the Kathmandu Cough, which thankfully also seems to be receding. Still getting back into a rhythm here isn't easy, even if these ailments weren't bothering me. Aside from the normal chores one faces when the apartment has been empty for a month, I also found that my internet shut down and my phone ran out of minutes. Now these don't sound like difficult problems, but they are things that Kim had been doing for us, and I was a bit unsure how to fix them.

The phone was a piece of cake, just stop by any corner store, get a charge card for my carrier and text some code in. The internet however was a bit trickier. Because internet is horribly slow here we pay for some kind of premium service that gets a certain amount of "high speed" bandwidth every 3 months. Once that amount or time has been exceeded you have to go down to the office, give them your account number and pay up. Problem was that I didn't know our number, and I had no idea where the office was. After asking the staff at Imago, I found out the office was just down the road from Bhat Betini in Naxal, just a quick walk around the block. After some searching I found our account number and went and paid the lady at the desk and my internet supposedly was going to be turned on. After another trip back to the office and a four hour interval it finally was.

The thing about all these little chores that kept popping up was that they were getting in the way of what I really wanted to focus on, which is getting the restaurant up and running. While I was away not a whole lot got done, and I'm still waiting on my business visa, which I will supposedly get this week. I stopped by the building site and the plumbing and electrical have started to get put in. They have also filled in the giant hole in the ground where there had been stairs in the middle of my dining area. The walls have an initial coat of primer like white paint and most of the debris that had filled a lot of the space has been cleared out, giving the sense that it could actually be turned into a restaurant in the near future, which is somewhat exciting. It almost masks the lack of progress that has been made on other fronts, or setbacks like finding out our elevator may be delayed until November.

One thing I really wanted to get fully back into this week was the Saturday market at 1905. In preparation I went back to the fully expanded selection of salsas, pulled pork, chili, pasta sauce, tzatziki, etc. While I was away the hot sauces I had made have matured, so I was able to sell them as well, both a Louisiana style sauce and a chipotle sauce. I also made a buffalo wing sauce of Frank's Red Hot. Most importantly I'm rebranding the products with the restaurant logo and trying to push that connection to drive up interest. With the market now also taking place on Wednesday from 4-7 I have the opportunity to train staff in how to prep many of the condiments and sauces in preparing for these markets, that is as soon as our kitchen is ready and we actually have staff.

 All in all it's been a hectic thrust back into the life of Kathmandu, and in many ways it's not as exciting to write about as trips up into the great Himalaya (this time last year I was going up to Everest), but to live it is in many ways more exciting, and I can't express how much I am looking forward to getting things up and running here. For now it's baby steps toward the opening, and one of those steps includes working on vanilla and cocoa vodka infusions tonight and getting designs ready for the jars of next weeks market. Almost like climbing the trail, these are the steps we must take now so that later on we might sit back and admire that which we have surrounded our self with.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why go back?


The single question that just about everyone close to me asked the last time we got together before I flew back to Nepal is "So why are you going back?" It's a question that I've had to increasingly ask myself as Kim will be staying in the US another three months in order to expand what Harilo can do from the US, and she has made it clear that we need to come up with some kind of plan to transition out of full time living in Kathmandu in the future. People look at me dumb founded when I tell them I live in a place that goes without electricity for up to 18 hours a day, water is only available if someone remembered to pump it up to the roof from the cistern- and that's if there is water in the cistern. You mention the pollution and the dust, the shit and trash in the road, the incredible amount of corruption and the hair pulling insanity that is the Nepali bureaucracy and people think that possibly you're a little insane to want to go back into this.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Friends, Family and Stuffing My Face Up & Down the East Coast

One of the things that I do miss while being in Nepal is of course my friends and family that live back here in the States. One of the reasons my posts during this trip have been so sparse is that I've been running around trying to see all of them, all the while trying to pick up some stuff for the restaurant as well. On the first weekend I was back on this side of the planet my dad had a good sized get together for that side of the family, and it was great to see everyone. That was followed up by a cook out with a bunch of my close friends and their families at my friend Bob's house the next weekend. This was followed by another cook out the next weekend at my mother's house for that side of the family, and again it was a lot of fun catching up with everyone and stuffing my face with even more grilled food.

My Dad Grilling Steak Tips and Chicken

Friday, August 12, 2011

Readjusting to the Old Normal

I've spent almost the last two years converting rupees to dollars every time I made a purchase, so I found it odd when I was at the supermarket today and I found myself converting dollars to rupees. I was doing this while staring somewhat slack jawed at the price of produce in the US, 2.99/lb for tomatoes, 3.20 for a bunch of Basil, 3.99/lb for red peppers. To think that you pay less than a fraction of that for things per Kg in Nepal made me realize joust how inexpensive produce is there. Then I had to wrap my head around the size of the produce here; garlic and tomatoes larger than my fist, red onion triple the size of any thing in Ktm, and a selection that dwarfs even the best stocked stores in city. While the produce seemed extremely expensive, the cheeses and meats were either cheaper or about the same. Still I ended up spending what would be roughly 4,000 Rs for a single meal for 4 people, much higher than if I had made this meal in Nepal, even after you consider the cost of imported cheese.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back in the USA

So it's been a few very crazy days. As my flight approached in Nepal, I still didn't have my business visa, which for all intents and purpose I kind of need to get back into the country. I spent the last few days running back and forth to government offices, and banks to try and make sure this would get done. As they say though, the best laid plans of mice and men... Now offices in Nepal open around 10am, and essentially close by 3pm. Some private offices may stay open until 5pm, but nothing new really can get started after 3pm. How anything gets done, I'm not entirely sure. Anyway, to make a long story short; on the day I was flying out I found myself called to the immigration office at 5pm, and after almost two hours I left without a visa. As my flight was leaving I had to rush to pick up Kim and get to the airport.

So no visa, despite having everything completed and ready to go,despite having the company fully registered and even the required letter from the department of industry. What a pain in the ass. Well on the other side of things we got to the airport and were upgraded to business class, which was a nice treat at the end of a rather crazy day, adn a nice start to 30+ hours of plane travel. Our first leg was to Abu Dhabi, and after a short layover there it was on to Paris, both flights with Etihad airlines. Friendly service, decent food, and the airport in Abu Dhabi was nice as well. Charles DeGaul airport on the other hand is a confusing mess of an airport whose layout doesn't make a bit of sense. That said, we had no issues in Paris and then flew Delta back to Boston. Now normally I think American companies excel at service, but our airlines are a grade or two behind most foreign competition. While the flight was fine, and no one was unfriendly, it just lacked in quality compared to any other airline I've flown in the last year and a half.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Going Home?

It's now been roughly 19 months since I was back in the US. In that time I've spent the majority of it in the Kathmandu valley, but I've also made trips to Annapurna, several to Langtang & Everest, a stop over in Tibet, another in Bhutan, a holiday in Thailand & Cambodia, and most recently my short trip to Guangzhou in China. I've written a book that I wanted to write, I've stayed rather active on this blog, I've supplied the population of Kathmandu with salsa and other foods, and will be opening a restaurant some time this fall which has consumed most of my time and energy since the Spring. It has been an interesting few months to say the least.

About one week from when I'm writing this I will be landing in the US, at Boston's Logan airport to be precise. It's been a long time to go without seeing family and friends. Thanks to the blessings of technology like this blog, Facebook, e-mail and Skype I do get to regularly stay in contact with those from back home to varying degrees. But that whole notion of home is something that for me has been in flux for so long, I'm not entirely sure where it is. My Father joked with me on a recent Skype call that I had lived in Nepal now longer than most places that I had lived in the US, and I think that has some truth to it, but I felt obliged to point out that we also were already on our second apartment over here. A rolling stone gathers no moss I'm told.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Guangzhou- Where shopping is literally a way of life

I often wonder if Mao is spinning in his grave with such velocity that the Chinese could harness it as a power source. There seems to be no country that has become more driven by consumer markets than China...well aside from the US, which supplies much of the demand, but still it's a far cry from some communist utopia. Now this isn't to say that China is some market driven utopia either, their construction policies are clearly centrally planned, and market demands would never create a city like what I just saw in Guangzhou, as I think occupancy rates are under 40% in most of these buildings. Despite this you can't help but be impressed with the engineering and the layout of this modern city in China.

View from outside my hotel 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mr Smith Goes to China?

As the horribly slow process of registering a company and getting a visa here continues, I'm scheduled to fly out to Guangzhou China on Monday to pick up the majority of the kitchen equipment, furnishings and dishware for the restaurant. For those that don't know Guangzhou is a large provincial capital that sits just on the mainland side of Hong Kong. If it means anything to you it was known (and still often is) as Canton in the west.

I've never been to mainland China with the exception of Tibet, but then Tibet is Tibet and China proper is something else entirely really. I really don't know what to expect. From the pictures that I've seen it looks very much like a well to do modern city. In fact quite a bit should look familiar there as much of what I've purchased over the years back in the US was shipped out of this area. With everything in Nepal also imported from China, it just seemed to make more sense to go to the source to get everything. That and the selection here in KTM is really abysmal. Often types of glasses or dishware you are looking for can't be found, and if they can be found there is only one or two options available to select from. Asian dishware is often made to fit Asian eating styles, so finding bowls that are better fit to salads and not rice, curries or soups is often tough. Plates are also either too small, and those made for Indian audiences often have these horribly gaudy patterns. I'm hoping to find stuff that is ready to be shipped across the ocean to western clientele as those products will obviously better accommodate the food I'm planning on serving.

Other items I hope to find are kitchen appliances. Some items that we need,like fryers, griddles on a gas range, char broilers, and cheese melters would have to be custom made in KTM or possibly imported from India if even available there. We're hoping that we can also hunt down cooking equipment that is made for western forms of cooking. We will also be looking for refrigerators and freezers, though these are items I know we can get in KTM, it's simply a matter if it will be cheaper to get it in China.

All of this though hinges on whether or not the Chinese decide to grant me a visa  to go or not. Hopefully I'll find out tomorrow. If you are from most countries the cost for a single entry visa costs 29$, but for Americans we have to pay 150$. While I'm use to paying more for a visa as an American, the scale of the difference is kind of crazy. Anyway crossing my fingers that I walk out of the Chinese consulate with a visa tomorrow and get to fly out on Monday.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making a Menu in Nepal

Doing business here can be challenging and so can cooking. If you combine them together you can get one really good sized headache, but as they say the harder the challenge the greater the reward. Putting a menu together here has lots of challenges ranging from seasonal or unreliable availability of many ingredients to strange pricing structures that make it hard to cost things effectively or even accurately due to variation. Despite this we set out to create a high end pub style set of food that we believe we can reliably make at a cost that people will find acceptable. Exciting for me as well is the fact that we were able to put together a full western style menu complete with graphics and proper descriptions, I think a first in Nepal. It's still not done, and I have no prices actually listed, just place holders but in this post I thought I'd talk about the menu's development to this point. For those that are curious I did the design work in a combination of MS Expression Design and Publisher.

Menu Cover 

The only thing to say about the cover is the logo. We've gone through roughly a dozen logo incarnations, and have almost settled on this one, any further changes should be rather minor. One of the challenges we faced in logo design is that the brand will not be just the restaurant, but a variety of packaged goods as well that we already will be selling at the farmer's market here and hopefully at some of the grocery outlets in the not too distant future after launch. Thus we needed a logo that could transform to fit other foods, but still be the same base logo. Other logos had fonts and flames that couldn't be transformed without removing all resemblance to the original and thus any connection to the brand. This logo on the other hand can keep the same geometry, the same font for "Brian's" and just change the colors, remove the flame and change the font in the center and have individual product packaging that resembles the original closely that people realize it's all related.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Buildings & Condiments

So things are continuing to move along with the restaurant. I stopped by our floor the other day and walls had been knocked down, new doorways erected and service windows were knocked out for the kitchen. It's exciting to see the plans becoming a reality. I was most excited to see the north wall opened up where our bar is going to be, giving me the first actual view of what you will be able to see while sitting there. Even with the monsoon rains and cloud cover obscuring the Himalaya it was still really nice, and I'm really looking forward to what see what the views will be like in the Fall when the monsoons clear and visibility is at its best.Below are a couple photos showing the space under construction.

 The open terrace area on a clearer monsoon day

 The north wall, where the bar will one day sit- clouds obscuring the great view.

Looking inside from where the bar will be. 

 Entrance, that opening on the left will be the service window to the kitchen.

Still lots of work to do!

As the construction continues we're still working on plenty of other things. Refining the menu, filing paperwork,putting together seating plans and figuring out how we will train staff. One other thing I've been doing is working on which recipes I want to use for things like condiments and sauces. Some I've made for years and are quite comfortable with, like the Tequila-Lime marinade and the salsas. Others I've learned since I've been in Nepal and have become comfortable with as well, like mayo, and pasta sauces. Some others though are things I'm either less familiar with or I am still playing around with different recipes to find something that is at least as good as the stuff that comes in a bottle. For instance BBQ sauce is something I'd like to do myself, but I won't use my own until I can make something that I'm as happy with as say Sweet Baby Ray's- and as of yet I haven't found that. I'm still playing around with ketchup as well, but I'm happy to report that I may have finally stumbled upon the recipe I want to use yesterday, as that batch came out very close to what I want.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Menus in Nepal

Posts are indeed sparse as I work toward getting the restaurant on its feet. While registration and paperwork continue in the background I've spent the last several days working on the menu. The text of the menu took quite some time and is essentially done, pending final decisions on which items we are going to run. Something I've wanted to do is put a menu together that is very reminiscent of the pub style menu's that you get in the US, one that integrates graphic elements, good descriptions and maybe a little wit into a menu that is more interactive than the typical menu that you find here- which tends to be rather boring and often depicting pictures of food that the place couldn't produce in a million years.

  Buffalo Wings!

One of the things I'm most excited about seems simple enough, but nobody does them here and that is Buffalo wings. Now outside the US people have no clue what you're talking about apparently as many other expats from Britain and other places have looked at me like I had three heads when I brought up the term. They cause a bit more confusion here when you consider that Buffalo (or buff) is a normal staple on menu's and thus the term Buffalo Sauce can cause confusion. Due to this, and other cultural variances in food lingo, I've added various text boxes that explain what stuff is. In this case it's a place, Buffalo New York and not the animal. Other cases are things like chili being what Americans think of it as, and not the the little peppers or the sauce that you get here when you order "chicken or chips chili" which is entirely different. 

New Hampshire wins best licence plate hands down.

On the menu and eventually in the restaurant we're hoping to create a fun environment by adding things like US licence plates, odd street signs...although how you top some of the stuff you around here I don't really know. That said it'll be some small pieces of home that will be something new for people here and something familiar to those who come from the west, giving a different kind of appeal to both groups. Slowly over time I'm hoping we can collect some really cool stuff to decorate the place from both around Nepal and on various trips back home and around the region.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lots of Updates & No Time to Write

Time is not a commodity I have too much to spend at the moment, as everything seems to be happening at once. Most of it has to do with starting Brian's Grill House, but there is more to it than one might think. Interwoven in the process of setting up the business is getting a visa. The paperwork required for this combined effort is mind numbing, including signatures, thumb prints, letters, statements and more passport sized photos than you can shake a stick at. Combine this with a culture where it takes several hours to do anything, and the involvement of six busy people in the restaurant itself whom I have to collect signatures, photos and various forms from and you can begin to see that this is a time consuming process.

Paperwork though is not the only thing we are trying to manage at the moment. Having found the space we will be using we had to quickly figure out the layout of the restaurant so that the head engineer of the building could remove and erect walls as required, put toilets and doors where we needed them etc. This isn't an easy task as you have to take into account how everything is going to run. What kitchen equipment will we be using? Where will staff place orders, how will they place orders, where will dishes be dropped off, how will clean glasses be delivered to the bar, will the guy working the grill want to kill the guy working the fry station if I arrange the kitchen this way? Bathrooms were incredibly tricky as there were columns in unfortunate positions, making it very difficult to split them into men's and woman's rooms. Differences in how ventilation, lighting and separation of facilities is done here made this even more of a challenge.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

When Cows Attack and Immigration Office Migrations

At what point in time individuals of any given country became the property of their respective government I'm not entirely sure, but the paperwork involved in staying outside the geographical confines of the place you were born is a headache it seems for everyone on the planet. Still to avoid further headaches it's a game we all it seems have to play. So while walking up toward the grocery store other day I was texting back and forth with my Lawyer about getting an extension to my visa. Walking and texting in Nepal can be a bit challenging, as there are very rarely sidewalks, there are many sink holes, occasionally cow dung, uneven pavement and other traps can be underfoot. The road is often in use by pedestrians, cars, trucks, mopeds, motorcycles, fruit vendors, ice cream carts, wandering cows, and street dogs...it can be a congested place. At one point I was walking along the side of the road and had to move past a bull and a few cows on the side of the road, oncoming traffic demanded that I walk within about a foot or two of them.

Now normally cows, even bulls here are quite docile- calm as Hindu cows. In all my time here I've never seen one do anything rash, and people often touch them and then touch there head as they walk by as the cow is considered holy. Well this bull, for what ever reason, was not a fan of me and while walking by he decided that he'd put his horns into my arm...which kind of hurt and got my attention in a hurry. Now looking over at the bull I could see that he still wasn't happy with me and decided to come at me again, throwing me out into oncoming traffic. The guy driving the car that was coming toward me had a look of terror on him, I think he thought the bull was going to continue to come after me, but I walked out of traffic, and on my way as if nothing had happened, and I had no more trouble from the bull. Still it was a very odd experience, and I may avoid walking too close to those things in the future. Once it kind of dawned on me what had just happened I got quite a laugh out of it. These aren't the kind of things that seem only a little strange here, but when I tell people back home it sounds like I'm on another planet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Brian's Grill House

I have alluded several times to the fact that there may be a restaurant coming soon with me cooking in it, and it is now looking like this is just about certain to happen. Locations have been found, documents are being signed and hands have been shaken. So after many weeks of debate about the name we all decided on Brian's Grill house. No I did not suggest this, and I think I was the last one to know. Although no ones ever accused me of being too modest, I'm also not so ego driven as to suggest a restaurant that five people are putting together be named after me. In fact there were two other names that didn't mention me that I potentially liked more, but we are all happy with this and it will translate easily to our bottled products.

Early Logo Draft for the Restaurant

Saturday was a particularly productive day for us, as aside from settling on a name finally we also found a stunning location. Although it won't be great for foot traffic it has far more space than we initially thought we'd get and has stunning views of the valley and, when clear, spectacular views of the Himalaya. Further we're getting all this space at a price that is about the same as if we'd rented about a third or even a fifth as much in some of the other locations that we had looked at. This has opened up opportunities to add some cool features that I'll be glad to talk about when things are a little more set in stone. 

Now that the name and theme are better defined we will also be getting to work on a more concrete version of a menu. I have a general rough draft of one already penned up, but now we can start giving the plates names, and pricing things out. Our concentration will be doing pub style food really well, with much of my cooking having a bit of an american twist to it. So as far as I know we will be the only place in the city doing real wings (and we plan on having 6-8 different flavors), and we will have an array of different burgers as I've mentioned in previous posts. On top of this I plan on doing some American BBQ, authentic Tex-Mex and I'm sure we'll work to get some British offerings in there as well (though to be honest those will not be my recipes). Kathmandu also seems to attract an incredibly large number of vegetarians, and we'll be taking this into account as well, with many vegetarian selections despite my personal desire to add meat in some form to almost any dish. 

Aside from the food, which is what I'm probably most excited about, we will be putting together a bar that will try and provide the same level of quality and selection that you find in the US or Britain. Our beer selection will have some limitations just due to laws and our geographic location, but that said we hope to have the best offering in this country as well as putting together by far the best cocktail bar in Kathmandu. Just like our food there will be certain ingredients and even glassware that we plan on sourcing from the US to make sure that we do things right. I plan on putting my experience as a bar tender at a very nice restaurant back in the US to work and aside from properly training staff, it gives us an opportunity to offer some really great looking and, more importantly, great tasting drinks that people are not all that familiar with here. 

All of this doesn't come without its challenges, and we will be extremely busy in the coming months to put this all together. I have a little bit of concern that the trip I was planning to go to the US, which initially was primarily to see family and friends will now predominantly be a trip to get stuff for the restaurant and I'll be quite busy working on it even when I'm not in Kathmandu. Also I imagine that from the month preceding us opening and through the first 6 months or so I foresee roughly 14 hour crazy days followed by only slightly less crazy 12 hour days for the next year possibly. As a result it is altogether conceivable that this blog may suffer slightly as a result, if for no other reason than the content will be lacking its normal diverse experiences as I don't think I'll get out of the restaurant too often, let alone outside of Kathmandu. Still it will be all more than worth it as this is something I've wanted to do for some time, and it will add something that is not at all present in the current dining environment of this city. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More Thoughts on Monsoon Trekking & Travel

A glance over at the sidebar of this page shows that the most popular page (as of today) on this site is a post I did called The Big Monsoon Lie. This has been the case, almost since I wrote that one, and it continues to be the most common question I get asked about on this blog or via e-mail from people who have stumbled upon this site. Having spent almost another full year here since I wrote it, and talking to more people and friends on the trails, I am even more convinced of what I wrote now. Increasingly I'm starting to think that people who trek during peak season put up with far more hardships and problems than those who trek on the cusps of the monsoon, and possibly even those who go right in the middle of it.

It is now the beginning of June and most guide books list this as a time when you shouldn't travel to Nepal, but truth be told the weather has been even better than last year. Sure there are occasional afternoon storms but those have been going on since April, and they are just short one or two hour rain storms, nothing to get excited about or to make travel difficult. Another American couple we are friends with just got back from a trip around Annapurna (and can read about the trip on their blog; The Kathmanduo) and they had a very similar experience to myself as far as weather. Now true, this isn't officially monsoon season yet, but because of the way most advice is dished out I know they were quite concerned about weather and views before they left. Not only are the views quite good (there pictures and mine seem to prove that) but the lack of crowded trails, avoiding temperatures well below freezing and snow on high passes just seems like such a bonus.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Kathmandu Burger Project

As I mentioned in this post it is tough to make a really good burger in Kathmandu, but this hasn't deterred me from trying. So yesterday I gave it my first real attempt since I've been living here, and despite some of the components being substandard the result wasn't bad at all. 

Real Hamburger- Step One

Getting real, decent hamburger in this country is a little tougher than most due to its Hindu heritage. Why people of various religions think God(s) is(are) interested in micromanaging our diets is beyond me, but I digress. Nina & Hagar's supplies ground beef tenderloin and it can be purchased for a reasonable price, but it does come frozen. Despite this, the quality seemed decent, although defrosted hamburg is harder to shape properly. I made use of wax paper and a rolling pin with a little shoring up of the edges with my hands afterwards to create burgers that would cook evenly.

Condiments, toppings & Bread

What prompted me to finally put this all together is that a shipment of cheese from the US arrived via Harilo a few days ago. While you can get some Australian cheddars that aren't terrible, they aren't really quite right. For this time around I cut up some New York sharp cheddar and grilled up some bacon for New York cheddar & bacon burgers. In addition I grilled up some onions, mushrooms, peppers, chopped some fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and broke out the Heinz ketchup (though I may start making ketchup from scratch) and Grey Poupon. 

One difficulty was still the bread. Kim made some really nice bread the other day, but I have no head for baking. So I went off to European Bakery, which produces some of the better bread products in town, only to find that they were closed. Stuck between a rock and a hard place I lowered myself to buy the rolls at Bhat Betini- and these are rather terrible. It looks like a roll but the texture is just all wrong, it's far too light, and they disintegrate rather easily, not unlike Wonderbread. To combat this I toasted the rolls over  a girdle which firmed them up, and lets face it, toasted rolls are better anyway.

Result- New York Cheddar Bacon Burger

I'm happy to report that the first test run was relatively successful. The weakest link was the bread, but I'm confidant we can overcome that problem. The burger itself was quite tasty, the cheese we shipped worked out well, the bacon was good, and the toppings were all there. Although I'd normally have a burger with fries, recent events have had me cooking more fried food than I like to eat, so instead I took the opportunity to make some other items I had wanted to test out including some walnut & Gorgonzola stuffed mushrooms and a salad with apple, cranberries, walnuts, cucumber, Gorgonzola, tomato and tossed in olive oil. This is just one burger of a list of about a dozen I have to experiment with so I'll be sure to update my pursuit of burger perfection in the hardest place on earth to make a good burger. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bandhs, Political Theater, and the CA's Extention

Over the last few weeks life in Nepal has been about one word really- Bandh. While it's easy to understand why people would want to call a general strike to bring attention to their cause, such strikes only make sense to me if they are done in solidarity with the population at large, and not forced on them via thugs with sticks. Despite this, half of last week was marred by strikes that half shut down the city and getting anything done has been a bit of a hassle. The strikes have been called for everything from the want of ethnic federal states (what a terrible idea) , to people wanting to bring attention to the fact that the constitution is still not done, despite yesterdays deadline for the constituent assembly (CA).

So Saturday at midnight the constituent assembly was set to expire, and there was really little doubt that there would be an extension, though some other options had been floated. Some said that the Maoist hardliners would take up arms and go back to the hills, more reasonable voices called for the disbandment of the body and adhering to actual democratic principles calling for fresh elections. In true political theatre the politicians announced at 4AM Sunday that  they had reached a deal to extend the CA for another three months. The 5 point deal signed by all three major parties is as follows;

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nepal's Facebook Revolution?

In Greek mythology there is a recurring theme of the young rising up and overthrowing the old order. The mythology is based on what was in the past the natural order of things, where one generation rose up and challenged the generation before them. There comes a point when the younger generation see the entrenched powers before them not as something paving their way to prosperity but instead as a barrier to it. It is often said in half jest that my country is in fact a geritocracy, where the old rule over the young. A look at the eyebrows of most of our senators bears this out. While there is certainly wisdom that comes with age, their is also vitality and fresh insight that comes with youth. When one side of this feels completely shut out of the system, then discontent begins brewing and left long enough it is only a matter of time before the young rise up against the old.

Recently the uprisings across the Middle East serve as an example to this. Not that it is strictly seen in this light, in many places it is people of all ages supporting the Arab Spring revolts, but look at who is organizing it, and how it is being implemented, it's almost always the youth. Tools such as Facebook and Twitter, along with the support of hacker groups like Anonymous are working to bring people together, get information out and transform the structure of society...maybe. In Nepal recently this same phenomenon is starting to take root, as the country inches closer and closer toward the status of a failed state.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Appetizers for 20 People- Serving 5

So the other day I cooked up a huge pile of food, roughly nine different appetizers that may or may not appear on a menu of a restaurant that may or may not be opening this year. Some things I had made here before, but most of them were things I was familiar with but had never tried to cook here. As I am still waiting on a shipment of cheese from the US I had to forgo making quesadillas, or anything that has cheese as a major component. I did get some very poor cheddar to top off the potato skins, and I picked up some very over priced danish blue cheese to make some home made Blue Cheese dip.

As much as I would like to keep some things exactly like they are made and served back home, there are a few small  places that it makes sense to make compromises. For instance when making a Ranch Dip or the Blue Cheese dip I would normally use buttermilk in the recipe, but it just isn't all that affordable over here. On the flip side you can make some really high quality yogurt at a decent rate, and if mixed correctly with slight adjustments to the other ingredients you end up with a healthier product that is just as tasty and maybe a bit creamier in texture, which I actually enjoyed. Another thing is that you can't get celery stalks, so wings get cucumber and carrot sticks instead.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And the Bandh Played On

One of the only concessions that Nepal was able to seemingly get for Nepal tourism year 2011 that was worth a damn was the fact that the political parties agreed to no bandhs (something like a general strike) to disrupt daily life and more importantly the tourist industry. After the Maoists disastrous open ended bandh last May the country had mostly shaken the habit and one could almost forget how often Nepal is bothered by this somewhat absurd practice. Then a few weeks ago the groups that want ethnic federalism to be a cornerstone of the constitution took it upon themselves to enforce the first bandh of the year that actually affected Kathmandu (the Terrai has been on fire, and bandhs and bombings have been more common down that way).

This last Friday was the second effective bandh in just a few weeks, and this time it stirred up some opposition, and people marched, rode bikes and motorcycles in defiance. Part of the problem is that to most workers it's just an extra holiday, as their employers still have to pay them despite everything being forced to shut down. This is also the reason that such bandhs very often fall on one side or the other of a Saturday, making long weekends for people, and they are often enforced by people shipped in from villages that have nothing better to do. One gets the sense though that people in Kathmandu at least are getting quite tired of this foolishness, and there is a general sigh any time a bandh is mentioned.

Word I got through some UN staffers is that next weekend there is a three day bandh planned, which would be by far the biggest yet, and I'm thinking that this will not go over that well with the population here. Any group that thinks they are going to gain sympathy for their cause by implementing this is severely misreading am already disgruntled public that is only putting up with a failed political process because they don't really know what else to do. Making life more difficult by enforcing a general strike is like kicking a hornets nest, and they've already prodded it a few times- the bees are getting angry.

That said, if the city is going to be shut down next weekend and I can't sell stuff at the markets, it might not be a bad excuse to make my way over to Pokahara with Kim and chill out at Lakeside. I've only been out that way once since I've been here (almost exactly a year ago) and Kim hasn't been back there since we arrived. We all know that if you're going to have to spend a few days with things shut down, it's better to spend it where you can enjoy some views of the Annapurnas and relax than to spend it stuffed up in Kathmandu.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mangoes & Weddings

Each season has a distinct feel to it in Nepal, and this time of year is marked by the rain storms that break the dry season, the arrival of abundant and tasty mangoes, and the bands and colorful saris that mark the arrival of Nepali wedding season. Of these, I look forward to the mangoes the most, as at heart I am a person who loves food. In April you get teased with absurdly priced 400 Rs per kilo (roughly $3/lb), but the upside is that you know that not far down the road mangoes will be everywhere and quite cheap. Last week I was thrilled to see them show up for 125 Rs/Kilo, and this week they are down to 90 Rs/Kilo and they are everywhere.

Now if you've never been to a place that grows mangoes you might wonder what the big deal is. I know I use to get mangoes back in Maine and they were like $3 each and they were horrible quality. If that's all you've ever tasted than you probably don't get too excited about mangoes. But fresh picked just off the tree sweet and juicy mangoes are something to be cherished and devoured in quantity. Aside from being quite tasty on their own they are great in tons of different meals from my mango salsa I've started making for the market, to being used in salads, cooked with chicken or turned into chutney. Jams, deserts, juices, shakes, or just with yogurt- the mango is something to really enjoy when it comes into season.

Unknown to much of the world is that mangoes come in many different varieties, much like apples. Right now it's the big yellow juicy ones, but as mango season goes on we get access to a number of other ones, each with their own texture and flavor. My personal favorite are the slightly smaller ones that usually have a more greenish tint to them as they are perfectly sweet and have a slightly firmer texture, which makes them perfect in salsas and for things like Caribbean tacos. Those won't start showing themselves until roughly the end of July though, but in between I get at least three or four other mangoes that are all worth eating.

While making mango salsa last week I was treated to the music selection of a wedding party across the street which was playing a horrendous mix of terrible Western pop and dance music (that one would normally hear at a strip club) and some Hindi pop/dance. Much of the western music that gets played here often seems to be music that follows the same formula as Hindi music, meaning it has to often be light pop style music, preferably with woman singing at a high pitch and better if it's a duet with a male vocal component, which is lower than the female voice. Songs like Barbie Girl are thus often favorites, as are singers like Shakira, the Spice Girls and the Pussy Cat Dolls. Apparently in the Hindi music it's cool to have a single English line that includes some common phrase, usually about love or maybe some one liner you might hear in a film. It's strange to hear something that being sung in a foreign tongue and then all of a sudden hear a familiar English phrase in a strange accent.

Terrible music aside, weddings here are quite the events and often there are several in any given neighborhood at any one time. Increasingly the sounds of bands playing at houses and in the streets can be heard as well, with some not so in-tune instraments making their way through our neighborhood and settling in to various walled compounds for extended parties. These I actually enjoy listening to, and despite the fat that they often start at 7AM I still find them charming. Woman's party sari's can be seen hung from the third floor of a building to dry, their colorful sequined fabric draping the entire length of the building. Occasionally you'll pass a small family on their way to a wedding, dressed all up, henna drawn on their hands, and  full dress outfits including colorful or ornate bindis and little boys with very cute kapi hats.

Mixing with the music, color and aroma of this season as been the near constant sound of thunder. Every day it seems at least one storm moves through the valley which is stark contrast to the dry May we had last year. Even when there are no rains thunder seems to echo through the valley of Kathmandu. The valleys bowl shape and high mountains in the north cause the noise to echo, so even when there is no storm over the city, you can still hear it if there is one anywhere in the valley. All of these sights, sounds, tastes and smells, combine to make spring a unique time of year, and one I look forward to in Nepal.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The China Bubble

So in the past I've oft voiced my opinion on the faults and positive aspects of the economies here in Nepal and back Home in America. Today I'm going to discuss what I think might be one of the worlds biggest economic bubbles, and that is Nepal's neighbor to the north- China's growing economy. Now there is no doubt that there has been some real progress in China, and real wealth has also actually increased, but there is another side of this growth that people aren't paying attention to, and that is the side that central economic planning plays and how it distorts the Chinese market.

Now there is a lot to admire about the Chinese, they are shrewed and in many ways better capitalists than Americans are these days. They have acquired access to near monopolies on rare earth metals, and they have manipulated their currency in a way to send trillions of dollars to their country via exports. They have hired out Western firms to learn how to do high end engineering projects and instead of becoming dependent on them they have trained their own staff in their techniques and then pursued those same projects with only domestic talent going forward. People in the West, and elsewhere, are rightly impressed, but this admiration often goes too far and with little understanding of what is driving the Chinese economy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

If you were a hamburger in Kathmandu, where would you hide?

Maybe it plays into stereotypes but if there is one food item I have really come to miss in this city it's a really good hamburger. Yes I'm American, yes I like hamburgers, and no you can't get one really worth eating here. Maybe that's how Nepali's in the U.S. feel about hunting down momos or dahl baht. When I've mentioned the lack of good burgers I'm often met with a curious response, as plenty of places claim to make them, and if that's the only type of burger you've ever had I suppose you think the claim a bit odd. But to use the former analogy it would be like me showing a Nepali a pile of plain over-cooked rice and some dryish lentils and saying, "What do you mean this isn't dahl baht?" Yes it would be rice and lentils, but no that isn't how you enjoy it.

One of the things that conspires against the creation of a good burger in this country is that it has several parts, none of which are popular or even in South Asian cuisine. Beef for example is not to be eaten as the cow in Hinduism is sacred. This leaves you with a few options, which is import the beef from India (also a Hindu country but apparently with less qualms about killing cows) or places like Australia. This inevitably means less fresh meat, and requires freezing which often reduces the quality in my opinion. That said, I've had some really good steaks here, so getting good cuts of beef is not impossible. Another option is to use an alternative  but similar animal such as water buffalo or yak. Now buff (as water buffalo is referred to) is OK, but it has a slightly different taste, different enough that I'm not a fan. Yak on the other hand is quite tough, but when ground up as burger it actually is quite good. Thing is that most places in Nepal that advertise yak are actually selling buff, and most of the actual yak meat I've eaten was in Tibet and not Nepal. So really just trying to find decent whole steaks and then grinding them locally would most likely be the best option. Most places though seem to settle for frozen buff which is the worst of both worlds.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seinfeld: "A Good-Hearted Tween Comedy" Or Why Engrish is Funny

One of the joys of living in Kathmandu is the abundant supply of pirated DVDs and CDs. I don't even think it's possible to buy legitimate versions as everything is either a burned copy or produced in China almost certainly without permission. Aside from being able to get the complete seasons of most shows for less than $10, which is nice, the packaging alone is worth the money. The amount of spelling errors, made up lines and English to Chinese to English Google translations can make for some very funny reading. This Seinfeld box set I picked up for Kim yesterday is one of my favorites yet.

"A Good Hearted Tween Comedy" -San Francisco Chronich

At first it's easy to miss the absurdity that lurks on these covers as the graphics and fonts look correct, it's not until a close inspection of the actual words that you start really laughing. Seinfeld was a lot of things, but a tween comedy it was not, and I wonder if there really is a paper called the San Francisco Chronich. 

Emmy? Award Winning Season!

The top paragraph in black is only slightly awkward. While the second paragraph in red can only be the unfortunate result of a bad Google translate. it reads as follows;

"The story of four of Manhattan's old youth: a Seinfeld his own speech, is a less successful comic dialogue actor; one of his former girlfriend, now common friends, and the third was his high school classmates, Start a bald head, but Yan Fu is not shallow, and the forth was his door neighbor, God Tao Tao, there are a lot of quirks. There is a quarter of the program is to sell to television stations say that they did after the play been called the most funny scene in the play, at least proved one truth: the story behind the film and television industry more exciting than the foreground, more winding paths the plot ... ..."

Special Features- Higher Definition:OneLestThing... Episode

And always worth a chuckle are the warnings in fine print, often warning about copyright infringement if you copy these discs. This one also warns against allowing minors to watch this show and its use of punctuation is kind of funny. Also this DVD set can't be hired.

"WARNING: This article contains material. which may offend and may not be distributed, circulated. sold, hired, lent, shown, played or projected to a perso under the age of 18 years The copyright propeter has licensed the film (including its soundtrack)comprised in this video disc (including laser disc and video cassette tape)for home use only All other rights are reserved. The definition of home use excludes the use of this video disc at locations such as clubs coaches, hospitals, hotels, motels, oil rigs, prisons and schools. Any unauthorized copying duplication, editing, renting, exchanging, hiring, selling, lending or any other kind of trading, public performance or transmission by air, cable diffusion, and/r broadcasting of this video or anrt part thereof is strictly prohibited and any such action eslablishes, is an infringement and may result in legal liability."

"The Show About Nothing Turns Out What May Be The Best Dvd Release Yet."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Storms & Unstable Politics

The rains seem to have come a little early this year, as the last few weeks have seen rather consistent thunder storms moving into the valley and quite a few torrential down pours. This time last year the weather was exceedingly dry and hot, and the city was shut down due to a Maoist enforced  bandha (or strike) which shut down the city for nearly a week. The indefinite strike was supposed to put pressure on the political parties to bend toward the Maoists in the coming deadline for the constitution to be written by the end of the month. The strike failed miserably, and the popular uprising that came up against the enforced strike was a major setback to the Maoists.

By the end of that month there was no constitution and the constituent assembly (CA), extended their term for another year to finish the constitution. Another year has now passed, and the constitution is no closer to being completed. What happens when the CAs term comes up again on the 28th of the month?  Most likely they will extend their term again, despite some calls for the dissolution of the body in favor of fresh elections to put people in place who might actually do their job. Although the chances of even that happening in a system where power is so tightly held by political parties and not so much by people who feel they are there to actually represent their constituents interests are slim. This is a problem it seems in parliamentary and democratic systems around the world at the moment, including my country.

Still aside from some saber rattling by a portion of the more revolutionary elements of the Maoist party declaring that they would return to war if the CA expired with no progress, recent statements from the Maoists top man Dahal about working toward a conclusion of the peace process seems to indicate that the Maoists are also ready to settle in for the status quo where nothing gets done and nothing happens in Nepal. While paper's today celebrated the Maoist adoption of peace and the political process as the official line of the party, the average Nepali really has little reason to rejoice. As long as there is no political progress the countries problems continue to deepen as basic things are just not getting any attention. Petrol continues to be scarce and Nepal Oil Company (NOC) still has not paid its bills, a complete lack of sufficient electricity is devastating to any development of the country’s industrial and economic base, and basic infrastructure continues to crumble while nothing gets done in the high halls of political office.

Even though I have doubts as to India ever becoming a true super power, there is no doubt that the country has seen an infusion of vitality and economic growth in the last decade, despite its proximity and ties to the Indian Economy, Nepal remains in the doldrums with progress  not really being measurable and no discernible momentum. To compound problems many of its brightest sons and even large portions of its labor base have left, with the former group finding employment through the first world and the latter finding exploitation and occasionally good money in the Gulf states, Malaysia, India, and North Africa. In fact this migration of brain power and labor has spawned what seem to be some of the only fast growing industries in Nepal which is man power firms that negotiate overseas employment and numerous education and scholastic placement companies that assist in getting students into universities outside the country. While this is bound to happen anywhere to some extent, one only has to look at the passport lines by the west palace wall to see how much of a problem the mentality of wanting to escape Nepal has become.

Witnessing the counter protest that took place last year in response to the Maoists authoritarian strikes, one has to wonder where that energy has gone, and why there isn’t more outrage to change the system. That same energy that declared in one loud voice that the people of Nepal wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace needs to be brought to bear against a political situation that is increasingly becoming untenable. Nepal is suffering like a house that has been long neglected by its owners who can’t bother do basic upkeep, with things failing to work due to a continuation of no simple maintenance. How long can a political class rob its own country before the people demand that the status quo isn’t good enough? Or like an abused animal, has Nepal been beaten so often by its rulers that it is content so long as it just doesn’t evoke the ire of its masters? Have promises been broken so often and so many times that people have lost any expectations of something better? At what point is enough, enough?

The rains came a little early this year. The clouds build and grow dark in the south rising up on the slopes of the Himalaya. Sometimes they build and in spectacular fashion they break open with lightning slitting the sky and rain falling in torrents upon everything in the valley. Other times they dissipate under a bright sun which holds them back, and we get only a light rain shower, just enough to cool the air, and reduce the dust. One wonders what Nepal’s growing sense of political futility will develop into, will the people’s discontent eventually break open like a Spring storm , or will it just dissipate under a hot sun giving way to further unbearable conditions?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Fictions Which Bind Us

There are, in our lives, far too many things which seem to me arbitrary and slightly absurd that we have all seemed to agree upon to be true. We have created in our minds this vast game of make believe, and it all seems true because we all play along. In fact to make the statement that many of these things are but figments of our imagination will bring howls of descent from the greater portion of the population, but on close observation it is quite clear that they exist in no true form. Two of the biggest fictions are the existence of countries and governments (the subject of this post) followed closely by our financial systems (possibly the topic of a future post).

It should be clear, on any reasonable inspection that countries don't exist in anything more than a loose reference to a geographical area and the people who occupy it. The lines that divide it from other countries are arbitrary mythology. For instance there is nothing more Chinese about one side of Mt. Everest or Nepali about the other. There is nothing American about one side of the Rio Grande, and Mexican about the other. These lines exist only in our minds, and they can be enforced because people with guns are convinced they're real. Increasingly I'm starting to think that this is an outdated bunch of garbage that humanity would do better without. For what purpose does these lines serve, aside from dividing us? One answer may be the appropriation of resources through our governments with a sense of shared values.

If our history has shown us anything it is that our concepts of government have brought forth more suffering and disaster than any fiction with which we cling to. There are many definitions of government one could use, but the one I like is as follows;

Government: (Noun) A fictional entity used to describe a group of people who have been granted, by consent of the population, a monopoly on the use of force in a specific geographic area.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Who's the Guy with the Fro?

When you first come to Nepal there are a lot of things that at first seem a little strange. Cows in the road, skin whitening creams and the liberal application of reverse swastikas to gates, buildings and even pins on mens lapels all stand out as something you just wouldn't see back home. Another thing that started to stand out that I saw all over the place was pictures of some guy with a big fro in an orange robe. I had no idea who this guy was, turns out it was the very popular Indian guru Sri Satya Sai Baba.

Guru Satya Sai Baba

Turns out Sai Baba was quite popular in Nepal. The house owners of our first apartment had a big picture of him as you went up the stairs, and they gave Kim a video that showed "proved" he was divine. What? Yeah, see this guy with the fro is supposedly a living God, an Avatar, the reincarnation of a former Sai Baba. As proof he coughs up golden lingams (normally phallic symbols, but in this case eggs) and produces ash from nothing among countless other "miracles". If you're a God apparently these are the kind of things you like to do, but to be honest I wasn't all that convinced. When confronted with preforming his miraculous abilities under the watch of scientists to confirm his divine power he stated that; "Science must confine its inquiry only to things belonging to the human senses, while spiritualism transcends the senses. If you want to understand the nature of spiritual power you can do so only through the path of spirituality and not science." I couldn't disagree more. Sai Baba appears to me to be no different than the televangelists back home who prey on the week minds and desperate hopes of others in order to elevate themselves in some fantasy world they've created in theirs and their followers minds.

While it would be easy to write a post ripping into the man that was Sai Baba, it's not really called for. People can observe his life and make up their own minds. Sai Baba passed away yesterday, and I'm sure for many people this was a day of great mourning. For the people who had allegedly experienced sexual abuse at his hands, or for the families of four boys that were murdered in his compound, perhaps it's a day of closure. Regardless it often seems that things we designate as sacred walk hand in hand with the profane, as if the elevation of that beyond question is to cover for the depravity that it usually conceals. 
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