Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Saree, Not Sari-Sari - Kathmandu, Nepal

We're not in the Philippines anymore. That seemed to be the theme of a conversation I had with a friend in Kathmandu I had met in Tacloban the other night. I haven't been here long enough to make any kind of judgments about this place, but it is certainly a different world. Philippines is far from perfect, as is my home country; it's not about perfection. As a long-term traveler, what we seek is a place in which we enjoy being. "Being" is the important word, because some places are stops along the way that draw no attachment, while others entice us to stay for a while and re-join normal life for some period of time. On these types of multi-country, multi-city journeys, life as you knew it mutates into a constant state of fluctuation - juggling sight-seeing with personal safety, cultural propriety, and your personal budget. If you can find a place where you can be your best photographer, writer, volunteer, honorary local, well, that's something unique.

Arriving at night is usually the worst way to do it. Bad things happen at night; it leaves you more vulnerable, and it's more difficult to find your way when you are your most ignorant of a new place. Luckily, I arranged for my hotel to send a driver to the airport. First impressions are always tough at night, because the morning light often produces a completely different scenario. Interestingly, my first impressions of Nepal started on the flight here. Several passengers had their cell phone cameras out shooting videos all over the plane - even up in the face of one of the flight attendants. The guy next to me stared conspicuously at my computer screen as I looked through some photos and tried to get some writing done. Seconds after landing, all of the seat belts on the aircraft clicked open, and everyone got up to open overhead bins at 100 mph. Upon arrival at the airport, the man processing my visa lied to me about not accepting credit cards before relenting. The man at the money exchange desk threw my ringgits back at me after I challenged him on the discrepancy between my receipt and the rupees I had received. It suffices to say, I was skeptical of what was going down in this country. It should also be said that in contrast, I encountered several people who were quite gracious and helpful - even forwardly friendly!

However, I know well enough that it requires some time to understand what is the truth of a particular location. It's not Tacloban, it's not Singapore, and it certainly isn't Lahaina. What is Kathmandu? We'll just have to wait and see, now won't we. For now, I'll just dodge the random spitting, try to find some water that isn't "processed" (maybe what is upsetting my stomach), watch to not get hit by cars and motorcycles on the wrong side of the street, and avoid the aggressive monkeys and vendors. Oh, yeah, and learn some Nepali. Stay tuned.

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