This is a great challenge for me as I already have a Sign Language feature on my blog about public signage and the comments it make about the culture, economy, or character of a place. Occasionally they’re funny, usually not…. but they do jump out at me with stories. ;o) Here are a few favourites:
Pet peeves are a ridiculous thing. We know that, but we continue to nurture and feed them anyway. I don’t have universal pet peeves for everywhere like bad grammar or rude language (well, maybe chewing with your mouth closed)… but mostly mine are country specific!
Nepal: I start with my absolute major peeve at this point in time: spitting. Do I ever hate it that people spit here! OMG! Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street, quietly minding my own business and before I can turn my head fast enough, there comes the sound of someone hacking deeply–all the way down from their toes– as they deliver a disgusting, ugly splat of phlegm just inches from my feet. And as I turn my head to the other side in disgust, yet another person –with horrendously perfect timing–hangs another, equally loud and disgusting. There is no escape!
Philippines: Manila is full of zebra crossings, or pedestrian crossings if you prefer. Unfortunately in Manila, I couldn’t help feeling they serve only to spruce up the city a little, make it look more modern. Decoration, if you will. They certainly serve no function. (Kathmandu at least has the good sense not to even bother wasting the paint.) In Manila, they are like death traps for expats who have the deluded notion that when you step out onto one cars will stop. I found myself drawn to them out of habit and then felt utterly frustrated when drivers would seem to speed up as I used them to cross the street.
UK: “Sorry! I’m so sorry to bother you, but this microwave you sold me doesn’t work. I’m really, really sorry to make a fuss, but would you possibly consider replacing it with a new one?!” Why do the British feel the need to apologize profusely for everything, even when something is clearly not their fault, even when they have been more than put out by someone else. When I go back to the UK and complain about something – people look at me aghast that I haven’t gone through this ritual. I’m not rude. But I am direct. “This microwave doesn’t work. I’d like it replaced please.” What’s wrong with that?
US: Last week, on a Nepalese airport transit bus from the terminal to the plane, I sat with a group of about 20 young trekkers from all over the world. The bus was crowded and uncomfortable, and as we all sat there tolerating the jolts and jostling, a young American guy told his friends in very loud detail about his adventures the previous day. Finally someone said, “Speak up a bit, John, the people at the front are complaining they can’t hear you!” It did actually shut him up for a while, and it made me realize how much he had added to the discomfort of the situation. Dear loud Americans, cliched or not, please stop. We don’t want to hear it.
So sorry dear Nepalese, Filipino, British and American friends and readers of my blog. I do usually try and focus on the positive…really I do. But just occasionally, I think I deserve a rant as much as the next person. And I’m sure its not you that spits/drives badly/over apologizes/or arrogantly takes over every conversation. Its the other guy! ;o)
The street is cleared at the end of the day, as an old lady picks up the pots that have spent the day drying in the sun alongside parked cars and motorbikes. Here the pottery is still spun by hand on a stone wheel and baked in fire kilns.
After living in a high rise apartment for almost three years, we were thrilled to get a house with a garden here in Kathmandu. The weather is warming up and the time has come to get outside and enjoy a little gardening. Our wire hanging baskets floated uselessly around the Manila apartment, but here they were ready for Spring! There’s no gardening centre here, so we needed to find all the components independently: chains for hanging, compost, seedlings and something to line the baskets. For the last part we decided to use jute, the hair from the outside of coconuts which a local store sold by the kilo. A lot of basket liners in places like Home Depot sell liners made from jute, but they are already pressed and pre-shaped. I would have to start from scratch.
Figuring out how to feed yourself is, of course, a basic first step when you arrive anywhere. As I’ve been blogging regularly from Nepal, I’m surprised I haven’t told a story yet about Bhatbhateni, our local supermarket. After a while in a new place, food shopping becomes a way of life and the story disappears into daily routine, as there isn’t so much to say. However, six months into our life here, I found myself shopping one lunch time at another supermarket, Saleways. I started marveling at how clean and organized it was. Remarkable even. Everything was neatly stacked, the shelves were clean. I could find what I was looking for. Then I realised that it wasn’t remarkable, it was normal. At least normal elsewhere, and my usual Bhatbhateni experience had lowered my standard of expectation to such a point that chaotic had become the new norm.
That’s not to say that I’m not grateful for Bhatbhanteni’s offerings. Its almost the only place in the city where you can shop department store-style (sort of). You can practically get anything you need from olive oil to shoe polish, without having to hunt it down in the small stores locally.
But, boy, is that place a mess. Here’s a little photo story of what its like to push a cart around the store:
Come on Bhatbhateni. If Saleways can do it, so can you.
The view from our 4 meter high stone wall out across the island to the Saronic gulf. Every summer I return to this spot, and every summer is different. I’ve sat here with friends and family looking back, looking forward, or just watching the reflection of the moon on the water.
This very pretty bench is the perfect place to take some time to enjoy the sunshine, read a book, or just linger for a few minutes and take in the view. There’s nowhere else like it in Kathmandu.
Literally, nowhere. Kathmandu streets are dusty, noisy and difficult to navigate. Motorbikes don’t pay much attention to sidewalks. And pedestrians have a very loose idea of where they’re supposed to walk. So both mingle in a continual stream of near disaster and ,if you’re not vigilant, you may well be standing in the wrong place when the disaster happens. And if you’re not looking down, you can trip, or twist your ankle or tread in something nasty. There are no benches, public parks or quiet spots, only gaps in the chaos where people dump their garbage. It ain’t pretty. Not surprisingly–especially as a foreigner–there is nowhere to stop and take a breath.
Except the charming Garden of Dreams, a paid park close to Kathmandu’s tourist district of Thamel, and a little haven of quiet and solitude amid all the chaos. Getting out of Kathmandu to the beauty of Nepal is not always possible, but here at least you can escape for a little while.