Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mr Smith in Kathmandu Two Years On

Sunday marks the two year anniversary of my arrival in Nepal, and what a two years it has been! If you had told me then that in two years I would be opening a restaurant, selling salsa at farmer's markets, had written a book and forging ahead with some other plans I would most likely have thought you crazy. But even stranger really has been getting to know Kathmandu, and to a lesser extent Nepal as a whole. It's one thing to visit another place, but it is another thing entirely to live in another society so different from where you come. On one level your initial reaction to the more outward differences, such as what seem like crazy driving habits, a very alien religious systems and styles of dress that are very different from where you come from are all overcome by the similarities of a common humanity. This is the "no matter where you go, people are people". But this isn't the whole story. Because although this is definitely true, there is a second level you begin to see the longer you stay somewhere, and that is that, it may be the same but cultural differences and the weight of historical outlooks forge differences in people that are much more subtle than the outward appearances but differentiate us much more.

One of these things that I never really appreciated before is that Nepal is, for the most part, a much more socially tiered society than the casual observer from the west first understands. I mean people in the west hear about the caste system, and we in a vague way understand that it's a hierarchical system, but we don't usually understand the real nature of it. For us I think we instinctively relate it to our most common understandings of hierarchy, so we relate to it in an abstract way with the most common form of hierarchical system that we are familiar with, something like a work setting, where high caste people must be born into something like the bosses position, and low caste folks fill the roles of low end workers. This though is not really the case, and the ways it affects the social currents and the ways that people interact with each other is very complex and although it is a somewhat fading system, it has left a very big impression on the mindset of how people relate to each other. This isn't a judgement statement about this being a good or bad thing, but more just an observation that it is very much something that differentiates the psychologies of natives and foreigners. There are many of these subtle differences that you begin to pick up on over time, and it is increasingly clear that there are some subtle differences that add up to some very different outlooks on living.

Another thing I've noticed is just how small the world seems to have gotten, mostly due to the internet. While you never really forget that you're in Nepal, there are times when I've been in my apartment, and maybe I spent Tuesday morning watching a Monday Night Football game (Monday morning I'll be watching the Pats take on the Ravens) and maybe I'm talking to friends or relatives back home over Skype and then I'll go eat breakfast with cranberry pancakes and maple syrup...and finally I step outside and see woman dressed in saris, and taxis honking as they turn the bend and remember "oh yeah...I'm in Nepal". With information technology what it is and global shipping infrastructure allowing almost anything from back home to be available, back home never really feels all that far away to me, despite literally being on the other side of the planet. 

My two years here have been two very different entities. Both years are marred by months of chasing expensive paperwork, lawyers and bureaucrats for the ever elusive visas, but year one saw mostly a lot of getting to know Nepal and Kathmandu, and  plenty of exploring the different trekking circuits up in Annapurna, Langtang, and the Everest region interrupted now and again by a good amount of writing and trying to find my place here. Year two on the other hand has been almost entirely committed to forging that place, bringing the restaurant from a crazy loosely formed concept to the near reality that it is today. In fact it will be almost exactly a year after Donnie and I first started dreaming this thing up while craving burgers, chicken parm sandwiches, and buffalo wings on a trip up to Everest base camp that this place will open up to the public. In between has been many twists and turns that have kept life interesting, and although this all seems to be taking forever to get put together,when I sit and think how much we've done to go from a vague concept to actual reality that far and away surpasses any initial expectations, I can't help but be impressed, and think that possibly my expectations of things happening even faster were perhaps quite ambitious, even if this wasn't Nepal and things went as slow as they do.

Lastly, some thoughts on this blog, which I have maintained since even before I left to come here. Obviously my number of posts have dropped off significantly since i began committing myself full time to opening the restaurant. I don't see this changing in the near future. When we initially open I can't wait to post pictures of the space (Interiors are going in this week!) and I'm, sure some posts on the menu and such will get posted as well, slightly bumping my post count in Feb and March. But my most popular threads here are mostly about trekking, and I don't see myself getting back in the mountains any time before next Dashain at the earliest due to my obligation to get this thing off the ground and fully functional. I will maintain this blog, and hopefully sometime after the initial crazyness of running this restaurant has passed I'll get to some things that are of maybe greater general interest to readers. Until then, meandering posts of random thoughts such as this one will most likely be the norm. But such is life in Nepal.


  1. Great post Brian, I've only been in Nepal for 3 months at a time, so 2 years must be really something! Glad to hear the restaurant is coming along and can't wait to see pictures / visit it in the summer! Ed.

  2. Mr. Smith,
    I am trying to find somewhere in KTM to watch the superbowl now that my giants have made it. Any suggestions? I'm here teaching golf until may and have a blog at

  3. Last year I looked and looked and the only place that I know of that shows it is Phora Durbar, but you need to have a membership or have a friend with one that is willing to get up early enough in the morning to watch it (starts around 5am). Other than that I'm not sure. If my restaurant was up and running I'd be showing it for sure, complete with Buffalo wings and pulled pork, but I'm not sure I can pull enough together in 2 weeks time to be operational. I will however be at least watching via the internet at my place, and depending on the load shedding schedule I'll have the projector hooked up. So if you want you're welcome to stop by my place, although I have to warn you that being from New England I don't take kindly to fans of Eli Manning.

  4. Hah, I'd be happy to watch it with any westerner! I can't help it if my family is from New York, but how much more fun would it be to watch it with a Giants fan, I know it would be better for me with a pats fan. I really just want a good game, I know you guys want revenge. I watched the playoff game via facetime on my iphone, with my buddy pointing his towards his TV. In Nepal, you just have to make due I guess.

  5. I was mostly kidding about the Eli thing, would be great to have another American to watch the game with. I've been watching the playoff games via TVPC which at that time in the morning seems to stream rather well. If you are interested send me an e-mail at some time as we get closer to the actual game and we can arrange something. I'm holding out a little hope my bar might be functional, but not much.

  6. Congrats on your first 2 years!! I can't believe all that you've accomplished -- you've certianlly had a full plate!!!

    In 3 weeks I'll be joining you in Ktm -- I can't wait!!!


Related Posts with Thumbnails