Sign Language: Put on the Red Light…


Its been a while since I’ve found an interesting subject for Sign Language until I spotted this one. There’s a small town called Red Light on the road half way up the mountain towards Holywell, one of those very respectable “blink and you miss it” places gathered around a small community church. If you look closely you will see this double-sided sign on the roadside, serving as both a welcome and a goodbye notice to drivers passing through on the narrow, windy road. Now I have to ask myself “why is this Red Light district” and not “Red Light town” or simply “Red Light?”  Is this a nod to the history of the place, or an innocent coincidence? The charming care that someone has taken to decorate the sign with flowers adds to the intrigue a little when you realize that the flowers illustrated are the indigenous “hot lips” (see my earlier Holywell post) because they resemble a sexy woman’s lips.  Mmmmh.   Is there a connection?  Did the town really get it name from ladies of the night?  Or some other way?  How intriguing to see a sign that seems to focus on its shady history and encourage visitors to “walk, drive & ride safely” at the same time.  Someone needs to explain this to me!

First Impressions of Kingston


I was definitely surprised how green the city appeared when we first arrived. We are limited to the Northern suburbs (away from the violence of the downtown areas) with green hills across the skyline. No smog. No concrete jungle.

First impressions can be hard to report so long after the fact. Devoid of context, they are just supposed to be gut reactions to what you first see around you. A couple of months have gone by, so now I have filters…but maybe a few of my first photos will help bring it all back. Continue reading

Sign Language: Signs of Change?


Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed these billboards going up around Kathmandu. They are meant to be arresting and thought-provoking.  And indeed they are.  On so many levels…  The problem of violence against women here is huge.  It cuts across all income, caste, and cultural backgrounds (much like statistics elsewhere, I believe) but is so prevalent and yet largely unaddressed publicly in the mainstream media.  Its not uncommon to hear NGO groups conduct awareness events or see street art with banners proclaiming “No to Violence Against Women and Girls”.  But on a billboard sign, next to a supermarket, next to the ads for concrete and building supplies?  Really? What does it mean?

It raised so many questions:

A magazine just for Nepali men… really? Actually, a magazine for relatively affluent, English-speaking, educated men.  That’s a niche market alright. But is its big enough to sustain a magazine like this? What did they have to say? I took a look at their website and was pleasantly surprised.  The articles were mostly about real issues rather than how to have tighter abs or buy flashy cars.  Articles like Choices in Contraception speak to the absence of real information here on taboo subjects.

A magazine published here? Almost everything here in from China or India, or imported from elsewhere.  Do they even have a high quality colour printing press in Kathmandu? Perhaps this particular niche market is one that already owns iPads and has easy internet access? Looking at their quality website, perhaps the main readership comes from an internet-based audience like so many magazines now in the developed world?

A magazine has the budget to advertise on billboards? Coca-cola, plywood, cement, rebar, paint and overseas educational opportunities… what else is there to advertise?  Here in Kathmandu, little else it appears.  If its not about construction (or the ubiquitous Coca-cola), then it seems there is no budget for billboards or posters.  Then, suddenly there’s this.  Maybe its not just about the cost?

What do men really think about this issue? Rape, sexual harassment in the office, feminism.. these are subjects that would be brave articles in Western mens’ magazines.  Brave in the sense that it might turn off readers.  I think its encouraging that Nepali editors are willing to take these subjects.  But what do the male readers think?

What does this mean in terms of changing attitudes?  Does this mean attitudes are changing? If gender-based violence cuts across all educational and economic backgrounds, will this eventually start to change with educated readers like this?  Why does every young man I speak to say that women should be empowered and that violence against women is wrong. But there’s so little evidence that this is happening. Is it just lip service? Will only real change come when the country develops?

And you thought it was just another billboard!…….

Sign Language: English Lessons

I couldn’t resist. If it had been a notice about washing your hands, or turning off the lights, anything else really…. I would have left it unedited. But the subject made it too tempting to ignore. So I made the corrections:


Afterwards, I must say I felt guilty. Did I shame someone who’s already trying to work on their less than perfect English? Someone who may have poor English only because they never got the chance to study properly at school? Perhaps someone more sensitive than me took down the sign after I left? Ugh. I felt like a bad person.

Or maybe they appreciated it? The sign may have taught me a lesson too.

Sign Language: Back Home


I’ve chosen to do my last post on South Africa under the”Sign Language” banner because money exchange and wiring signs were everywhere in Cape Town, yet often they were the only real reminder that we had that we were truly in Africa. Cheap calling rates to Angola, bargains in West African francs and cheap tickets to Nouakchott. I barely knew half of the places and names advertised. I was warned by many before we visited that Cape Town wasn’t really “Africa” and–although I didn’t get the opportunity to see the contrast–what I saw was enough to still understand why.

Our time there was such a mixture of different emotions. You’d have to make the journey from one of the world’s poorest countries, to one of the world’s richer cities to understand the culture shock we found ourselves in. It took 24 hours just to feel normal again around traffic lights and sidewalks. I spent the next few days figuring out where I thought I was on the scale of all thing previously experienced: a little bit of England, a little bit of Australia, and a little bit of something else entirely. And, yes, judging by the staff who served me in the restaurants – a little bit of Africa. That was the oddest part. The separation of black and white is still very much in existence, but from the little slice of middle-class black South Africans that I saw, perhaps this is slowly changing.

Two weeks is not enough to see the country. I wish we had two months so see and explore the country more….and maybe we will some day.  But, as it stood, it was the perfect break from the chaos of Kathmandu.  ‘Til next time…

Sign Language: What’s an ODF?


In ODF is an Open Defecation Free zone.  And before you run screaming from anything with the word “defecate” in it, or switch off entirely…please bear with me, as this is reality here.  It’s an awful topic I know.  And I know that many people who read my blog might prefer cute pictures of animals over the reality of sanitation problems, but sometimes I have to add a little reality into the mix.

Open defecation is a major problem in Nepal with proper toilets in rural areas severely lacking.    According to UNICEF only about 46 percent of Nepalis have toilets in their homes and in the far west of the country the percent drops to half.  NGOs are helping to try and create awareness of the health problems and contamination issues caused by raw sewage to water and soil, and the resulting gastrointestinal diseases.

Communities declare themselves as ODFs to try and solidify local support for proper sanitation.  However, often existing toilets are so dirty that many people prefer to go “au naturel” to avoid them.  Its a vicious circle.  This rusting sign stands testimony to the ongoing battle to try and improve conditions.  The Nepali government says its aiming to provide adequate water and sanitation conditions for all by 2017.  Unfortunately, that sounds more than a little ambitious to me.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

I was excited to see this week’s Photo Challenge theme on Signs.  I’ve always had a thing about signs and what they have to say about different cultures. I actually have a section on my blog devoted to them. They offer little insights and clues into a culture’s priorities, buying preferences, or sense of humor.  Sometimes all three. I love noticing what they have to say about where I live, or at least the questions they raise.  Often they leave me stumped too.

Take today for example:  Stuck in a small developing world airport, I was delayed for hours, waiting around inside a concrete box with no internet connection, a dead battery, nowhere to charge, and no book…   People watching ran its course.  I studied the bad paint job.  I kept looking at the broken clock.  I peered regularly out the window hoping to see our plane land.  After a while it was just me and the signs staring back at one another.  Here are the two that graced the airport’s walls today:


The Greenply company manufactures commercial plywood. Quite why they would have a public stance on bad language is a bit of a mystery? In fact, what they are trying to say is a bit of a mystery too. After hours of uncomfortable staring at an otherwise blank wall, I’m still not clear on the point?  Suggestions welcome!


My other choice was this one. How to even begin?! Thinly veiled sexual innuendo, blatant false advertising (where is the “serving suggestion” label)…since when do Nepalis eat Thai noodles?… very odd indeed!

Sign Language: Don’t Shoot the Messenger!


Fire is a serious hazard on a island covered with pine trees in the hot, dry summer. And Spetses has had its share of massive, destructive fires in the last fifteen years.

The message προσοχe κίνδυνος πυρκαγιάς στο δάσος means “Warning. Danger of Forest Fires.” The signs, posted all over the island, are a reminder that human carelessness is a major cause of forest fires. However, not many signs remain. Most are fallen, rusted beyond recognition or — ironically — burned in one of the many forest fires over recent years.  On a recent hike, we spotted this rare example of one that is still in relatively good condition.   To add to the neglect, this sign is peppered with bullet holes.  I’m guessing this is not as a statement of dissent from pyromaniacs, just winter hunters carelessly using them as target practice.  Not very a respectful gesture towards an important environmental message. As we finally watch the baby pines regrow after the great fire of 2000, which destroyed 2/3’s of the trees on the island, perhaps its time to get some new signs up?

Sign Language: Single Women


It wasn’t that I was unaware that women here undergo a great deal of discrimination and denial of basic human rights. Its just that the label “single women” to me just meant unmarried.  I had noticed signs all around the city using  the “single women” term, but it was only when I became aware of  how shameful the word “widow” is in Nepal (and how difficult their lives are), that I began to understand how using the phrase “single women” had become a positive attempt at creating an all encompassing term for unmarried, widowed, separated and divorced women.

Through awareness raising and lobbying, womens’ groups are battling to achieve changes in discriminatory laws against single women.  Piece-by-piece that are making changes to the law, but there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination against widows here is deep-rooted, and I was also surprised to learn that it cuts across all castes, religions and categories of society.  A woman from an educated, middle-class family can still be as vulnerable as one from a poor, rural one.

However, things are slowly changing:  Now the law says that the property of deceased husband does not need to be returned after remarriage.  A widow no longer needs to be 35 years to inherit deceased husband’s property. Male consent is no longer required while acquiring a passport and citizenship.

Through the efforts of groups like Women for Human Rights, widows are increasingly aware of their rights and WHR works to increase their skills, and social and economic status.  Job creation programs teach women how to start their own businesses and learn to be financially independent.  I’m hopeful that things will change dramatically for the next generation of Nepali women, but sometimes — looking at the size and extent of the problem —that feels like a long way off.


A Word A Week Photograph Challenge – Sign

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:

bomb jokes

Sign at Manila International Airport. Guess they don’t have a sense of humour:



Nepali trucks are colourful and covered in slogans.  Here’s my stuck-behind-a-truck story:



Kathmandu traffic woes!  Turn it down!:

This post participated in A Word a Week Photo Challenge: Sign