06 February 2013

A Canadian Living in Kathmandu: Part Two

A wallah (one who sells things) dealing in plastic goods from atop his head. Magical, strange Nepal.

Last week I posted a list of some of the shocking, wacky and wonderful realities of being a Canadian living in Kathmandu, and since then my fellow expat friends have inundated me with suggestions for a second edition of that blog. Something tells me that this is going to be a regular feature here on M&B.... 

MORE things that I have learned as a Canadian living in Kathmandu:
  • I'm always at least kind of sick. If it's not a rumbly tum, it's a gas fume headache - and it's pretty constantly a low, gravelly hack. The air quality in Kathmandu is ranked at near the bottom of global rankings and it is brutal not only for pollution, but also for particulates. As a result, everyone has a deep, hacking cough that I call "Kathmandu Lung." Makes me think of a old time-y afflictions like Breakbone Fever or Milk Leg, and I like that. 

  • Bed time is pretty universally 10pm on weeknights and maybe 11pm on weekends. Oh - you don't have to go to sleep at that time, but everything in the city shuts down and the streets become eerily silent. This usually corresponds with loadshedding, and so the streets are not only silent - they are pitch black. As a single gal who lives alone, I am particularly sensitive to this - I'm usually home by 9 at the latest. In any other city this would make me lame, but in Kathmandu I am quite the night owl. Parties often start at 5pm and everyone is pleasantly tipsy and home in bed by 10.

  • TV is heavily censored here (which is technically an Indian thing, as the satellite is coming from south of the border) but I don't always realize when it's happening. For instance, I was stoked to watch Homeland every night at 11 on Star TV. "Yay!" I thought. "I don't have to download the whole series!" After eight episodes I was talking to my friends Matt and Kelly and I realized something was awry. "What do you mean, all the sex scenes?" Yep. The lack of sexual content wasn't a 'bold stylistic choice', it was censorship. But don't worry. Matt has downloaded seasons one and two for me, so soon enough I will get my fill of naked Brody. FINALLY.

  • You know when you read old children's stories or 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and the men and women are wearing sleeping caps? When I was a kid, I was all like, "why is that man wearing a clown hat to bed? Houses are warm as shit." Well. Now I know. When your house is not heated, your little head gets freezing cold and cold head = cold lady. I wear a knitted cap to bed every night, and if it falls off while I am sleeping I inevitably wake up shivering and grope around for it like a groggy child reaching for its blankie. It's a pretty tame nightcap, but it's the only one I indulge in here in the 'du. (Seriously. I would love a nightcap. Send me some good whiskey and some chocolate porter asap.)
  • Passport photos are practically currency here in Nepal. I am not sure what the reasoning behind it is, but a passport photo must be attached to pretty much any permit, application or paperwork issued in the country. Perhaps it is due to a lack of a centralized system of record-keeping, but anyone fearful of identity theft should stay the hell away from this country. When I applied for an internet dongle, I had to supply NCell with:
    • a copy of my passport and visa
    • two passport photos
    • thumb prints
    • my mother or father's name and my grandfather's name
    • a vial of blood drawn from a virgin on a clear solstice eve
    Ok, maybe I am exaggerating on that last item, but the rest are true, promise. Everyone carries a stack of passport photos with them at all times. The other day I looked at my pal Vilija and said, with no irony at all, "Oh shit! I only have three passport photos left! I better get some more." Where else on the planet is that even a thing?

  • I know that I mentioned the lack of addresses on the list last week, but I think it bears some more inspection. Sure, I can't get mail delivered, but there are other inconveniences involved. For instance: because there are no marked addresses on any buildings and only the largest streets have names, it is nearly impossible to find a new location on your own. Landmarks help, sure, but if the area looks unfamiliar on google maps, honey, you're gonna have to take a taxi. As for the addresses themselves, hell, I am not even sure if they exist on paper somewhere. But if they do, there is a passport photo attached.

  • It's hard for me to wrap my head around it, but buying lunch in a local restaurant or chai shop is cheaper than bringing lunch from home (lunch is usually under 50 rupees - around 65 cents). I am still stuck in the opposite mindset, but I really do need to stop trying to bring food from home. Feels weird. 

  • In North America, we have phone numbers pretty figured out. You have your area code, your first three digits and your last four digits. Phone numbers are therefore always spoken as "123 pause 456 pause 7890." Now, when I first got here, I was delighted to see that Nepali mobile numbers are also 10 digits. "Easy peasy!" I thought. I thought wrong. There are no designated  pauses when rattling off a phone number and this is more problematic than it sounds! I am constantly having to get Nepalis to repeat their numbers over and over again, a problem that is exacerbated when they throw in "triple six, double two, one, double five" - when this happens I am left reeling and confused. During a training exercise last week, a co-worker read the classic mock phone number "555 5555" as "Triple five, triple five, five." I couldn't contain my giggles.
That's it for this time, but I am sure that I will have a new list for you within a few weeks! In the meantime, lots of love (and lots of passport photos) - Violet Dear

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