I may be a tourist, but I have had the privilege of being a local amongst the Nepalese the past week! I was invited to spend the day at my friend, Dil’s, this past Saturday with his wife, children and extended family. He took me to his home on the back of his scooter winding thru back roads and alleys. We passed rice fields already cleared and others ready for harvesting. We arrived at a single 3 story home, which houses 3 families, one per floor. I had no idea where I actually was, but I knew I was still in Kathmandu.
I had never been to a Nepalese home as a guest so I was not sure what to expect! I had also always hung out with “the guys”, but never with the girls! The women lead such a different life. It is traditional and revolves around the house ( and all the chores that go with a home without all the modern conveniences). So, there is no microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, coffee maker, blender,etc. They make full meals on 2 burners usually with propane tanks. They eat dal baht twice a day, lunch and dinner. This consists of rice, curried vegetables, meat (usually chicken) and what they call “pickle”. I honestly can’t tell you what “pickle” is or how it is prepared as it has many variations. The meal also includes a soupy bowl of dal (lentils). There is one other important detail, traditionally they do no use silverware so you eat with your hand (right only). One washes their hands before a meal, although I would call it more of a rinse ( soap is not always available). Fortunately, I had eaten traditionally in the past and knew what to do which was quite lucky since no one offered any instruction and it was clearly assumed I knew what to do. Now, for those of you who think this is an easy task for us foreigners, let me warn you; it’s harder than it looks! In addition, not spilling it all over when you’ve poured the soupy dal over your rice presents additional challenges. Somehow, they manage to shovel the food in at quite a good pace so before you know it there is more food being added to your pile before you can actually catch up. Despite everything, I managed to do quite well. Not long after we ate, Dil took off to go back to work and I was left to my day with ” the girls”.
Before I describe my afternoon, let me tell you about the house.There were 2 rooms for sleeping, regardless of the number of people sleeping there each night, and 1 bathroom. Toilet paper wasn’t visible ( I’ll admit that I had my usual tissue stash in my pocket) and the shower is….well, the entire bathroom so the floor is always wet. Since all shoes are left at the front door outside the house there is a community pair of flip-flops inside the bathroom door. There was also a main room with a small couch, chair, a coffee table and a small tv. In the dining section there was a table with chairs for four. The walls had a few small pictures but were mostly bare. The kids had a computer in one of the bedrooms with games that had been downloaded, but no Internet.
“The girls” consisted of Dil’s wife, Muna (28), Dil’s sister, Salina (21) who has just returned from a year in Bahrain, Muna’s niece, Sussi (18) and Dil’s sister in law, Kumari (21). It turns out Kumari married Dil’s brother about 4.5 months ago and now he’s gone to Qatar to work for the next 2 years. She now lives with Dil’s parents in their village about 10 hrs from Kathmandu (by bus). So, with a group effort to speak English and have a conversation we started with the usual, family pictures. I had the foresight to bring along my IPad ( which is an instant sensation anyway these days, even with the kids!). I shared my family pictures and those from my travels which I have managed to download up to this point. ( On this note, I have to admit that I haven’t done a thing with my photos since the 2nd week of my trip which is why I haven’t posted any!). They also pulled out their digital camera and showed me pictures of all the extended family from the recent festival, which had just ended the day before.
Then came the marriage and kids conversation. It turns out there are “love marriages” and “arranged marriages” and no one minds telling you which one defines their particular circumstance! Kumari’s marriage had been arranged, while Dil & Muna’s was a “love marriage”. Then came the amusing question, ” Which type of marriage did I prefer?”. I assured them that if we had arranged marriages in our country then there would be no way that I could make it to 49 and still not be married! I am not sure they truly understood my reply!
The next hour was spent taking a walk to a nearby temple with the boys. Muna stayed home while I went with Sussi and Salina. Now alone with the young single girls, we talked about Facebook. Yes, they are into it and like to chat! I’ve already been friended by Sussi and there’s probably one waiting from Salina.
Upon returning to the house, food and drinks were immediately offered and despite my declining, were still brought out. ( the same in every culture!). While hanging out, we decided it was time for coffee. I invited them out, but it was immediately dismissed as if this was something they just didn’t do! Nevertheless, Salina took control and before long delivered everyone a nice hot cup of coffee. As the afternoon wore on, other women and children (neighbors) would drop in to chat or simply sit around. It reminded me of all the nostalgic talk about “how things used to be in the old days”.
It began to get dark and I was asked if I was staying for dinner. I politely excused myself as I had made plans to meet some other people at 7 pm. I had already been there since before 1 pm and didn’t want to overstay my welcome although I am sure that one more person in the home really made no difference to them! Sussi then went off in search of a taxi so that I could get a ride back to my guesthouse. ( They are not by a road where none would find a taxi!). They all came out to see me off and say their goodbyes.
It had been a typical day in the life of the Nepalese! I was honored to be a part of it, despite knowing how different my world was from these women! But, just for a day, I lived it!
I am thrilled to share my amazing news with all of you! I made it to the Everest Base Camp! I also made it to Kala Patthar, which is actually higher than the base camp and over 18,000 ft. I can honestly say that it is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was physically and mentally challenging! At one point, I honestly thought it wouldn’t happen. I had about 1.5 hrs to go and as I walked rock to rock trying to keep my balance and panting for every breath, I truly wondered why the heck I had come up with this insane idea! I actually started laughing out loud at my own insanity! I am now truly convinced that marathon training and ironman training are easy compared to this feat! At one point, I felt the tears running down my cheek behind my sunglasses. I didn’t want my friend and guide, Hari, to know how bad I was feeling. I knew that if I gave up now, I would never forgive myself! That’s when bargaining with G-d comes in. Yep, just like I tell everyone when I do those marathon training talks! Actually, I called on every spiritual guide I could! It worked. When I saw the actual base camp and the Tibetian prayer flags surrounding the area, I knew I would make it. Just like all those races, it helps to have that finish line in sight, never mind the fact that getting there is only half the feat, you still have to get back! We arrived at last, took our photos ( which I will attempt to post soon) started back. Fortunately, I met a nice American girl, my age, from Virginia and we were able to chat to pass the time and to keep the breathing in rhythmn!
Folks, there is a reason that things don’t grow in high altitude! You got it, lack of oxygen! I was fortunate enough to have had the 8 days in Tibet beforehand to acclimate. Nevertheless, everyone experiences symptoms and I was no different. My biggest problem was sleeping. I did not sleep for 9 nights. It is cold and they keep the main dining area warm from about 5:30 to 8:00 and then you are out of luck! Everyone goes to bed just to keep warm. I literally averaged 5 layers to sleep despite my sleep sack and -20 sleeping bag! So, I am in bed at 8:30, now what? As all of you know, I am a night girl! I have never been in bed this early in my life! Let’s just say it made for some really long evenings as I didn’t even have so much as a book to read with me!
The conditions are also primitive to say the least! Dirty squat toilets, no sinks and 3 showers in 12 days! The good news– everyone is in the same boat! Most of them smelled far worse than I did. So, all those wet wipes I packed and hand sanitizer came in handy! Besides, it was way too cold to even think about taking off all those layer of clothes!
So, as you imagine all of this and ask yourself why anyone would want to endure such insanity, remember that it’s all about the experiences. It’s good to challenge ourselves, step outside our comfort zones, appreciate how easy and good we have it! For many people, this is all they have, and all they know.
More trekking details to come!
I was shocked to learn that my blog would be blocked the entire time I was in China so I could not publish any updates or read FB. At first, it was very disconcerting! We, or at least I can speak for myself, take these kind of freedoms for granted. I’ll admit it was interesting to see what it was like knowing this was a government control thing, but in many ways it also made no sense at all!
So where do I begin after month of travel! Ok, I’ll start with where I’ve been and bring all of you up to date. I arrived in Beijing on 9/11. I have to admit it was not at all what I had expected. First of all, the infrastructure alone was amazing! The streets were incredibly clean and the buildings, shopping malls and highways were architecturally something. I would say many an engineer would marvel at what the Chinese have managed to create. I also thought it would be an intimidating place, but it turned out to be safe and people were helpful everywhere, even if they didn’t speak a word of English. I managed to zip around on the metro as well as walk miles and miles exploring the many sights and side streets. I had 2 days on my own before I met up with the group I would be traveling with for 18 days. I also had the opportunity to go out with a cousin of mine who speaks Mandarin and is spending the year working in Beijing.
I am going to skip the commentary for now and tell you where I traveled. After Beijing, which also included a day trip to the Great Wall, we took the night train to Xian, home to the famous terra-cotta warriors. Wow, it was nothing like I had imagined. It was magnificent!!! I would seriously put it on top of the must see list! The historical significance and the sheer volume of what they have found and what they continue to do with the excavations blew my mind! I found it as exciting as Pompeii, Machu Pichu, etc. So, put it on your bucket list!
We flew from Xian to Guilin! It’s a lovely small city on the Li River. We took a day trip to Longsheng. From there, you hike up to see the famous rice terraces and the various minority grps. One of my favorite are the Yao women with this amazing hair which is made of 3 pieces (all the hair in their lifetime) and wrapped a special way onto the top of their heads! The next day we took a cruise on the Li River to a town called Yangsuo. The boat trip affords views, which require a “Chinese” imagination, of many rock formations, caves and river life. Yangshuo was a fun small town, easy to manage on foot. At night we saw the famous water show called Impression Sanjie Liu. It was beautiful. The show was choreographed by the man they chose do the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics! Need I say more. We then flew from Guilin to Chongqing. We ate the famous “hot pot” that night, hit the WalMart (yes, you read that correctly) to buy water and wine and boarded our cruise ship, Victoria Princess, for our 3 night cruise on the Yangtze River. This included a side trip up the 3 gorges, a full view of the river damn project, and a 1 am start through the 5 locks. I had the pleasure of enjoying this with some fellow Floridians I happened to meet on the ship. ( Can you believe it, the man lives on Edgewater Drive!) Another reminder of how small the world really is at times!
We flew to Shanghai as the last stop on my ” official tour”. What a crazy place. The skyscrapers were unbelievable. I went up to the 100th floor of the Shanghai World Trade Center. There is also a view through the glass floors. The bathrooms were even impressive. We gave them a 5 star plus:). Personally, I couldn’t figure out what half of the buttons were for on the arm rest ( yes, I am still describing the toilet), but compared to all of the other toilets we’d seen ( I’ll spare you those details for now), this was awesome!
I flew through Hong Kong the day after the typhoon! My girlfriend, Elisabeth, met me at the airport a we flew to Chengdu, also in China. Our main goal there—- to visit the famous panda conservation center and to “kiss a panda”! The center is amazing and the pandas are really active first thing in the morning. We also got to see the newborns and the interesting red pandas which I never even knew exisited prior to my being there face to face with them.
We flew to Lhasa, Tibet on Oct 2! As we headed from the airport into town I was thrilled that my dream had finally come true!
Stay tuned for my next update!
Well, I finally made to Macau! This desire to go there started after my first visit to Hong Kong in 1991. I started reading my first Robert Ludlam book, The Bourne Identity. It all took place in Hong Kong & Macau! That was it! I needed to see it for myself! (And that’s long before Mat Damon turned out to be the star character!) Nevertheless, I never made it there on my second visit in 2008 either, so the 3rd time had to be the charm! I really did not know what to expect. It seems like all I had read about Macau the past few years is how all the Vegas style casinos & big hotels were opening up there. Well, time to see for myself what it is all about.
So, here were a few of my immediate lessons. First of all, you must take a passport with you & clear customs when arriving & leaving both Hong Kong & Macau. Second, they do not use Hong Kong dollars. They have Macau dollars! Fortunately, most places & taxi drivers accept both & consider them to be of equal value! Third, even I can read many of the signs because they are also in Portuguese! Last, you have a great Hovercraft ride for 1 hour ( the only down side is the sub zero air conditioning ) and when you arrive in Macau & step out there are buses everywhere waiting to shuttle you for free to every big hotel & casino! Free was the key word here so we hopped on & utilized this convenient service.
Macau is an island and everything is connected by these amazing bridges. We arrived at this massive hotel & casino & suddenly it all seemed surreal. We managed to find our way back out to the street & made our way to the center of the old town! When we arrived I fell in love with it. There were the lovely cobblestone pedestrian streets & an old colonial style mixed in with an Asian influence. Shops were everywhere selling everything under the sun! We followed the crowd and made our way to the last surviving wall of St Paul’s!
Time was a bit tight so we hopped in a cab & headed over to the infamous Venetian Hotel! That’s right, the identical twin to the one in Vegas! Even the canal with gandola’s & serenading! Then there’s the shopping! You got it, surrounded by the beautiful painted blue sky & fluffy white clouds! I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Asia, still!
Just like Vegas, time just passes too quickly & we escaped back out to the daylight to catch the bus ( yep, the free one) back to the port so that we could take the boat back to Hong Kong for a night on the town in the mid levels & Soho!
Well, I now know where the expression “Shop til you drop” comes from. Folks this is a shopping mecca! There is a mall and/or a market everywhere you look. In fact, once you get into one of these so called shopping malls it’s almost impossible to find your way out! These things even connect you to the MTR (metro) & you can whiz around just with one swipe of your octopus card! This thing is amazing! You can even purchase items at the 7 Eleven with it! You would think someone in Miami could come up with such a system by now! I mean they don’t need to get creative or anything. They can just borrow the idea! ( Even the British have it. They call it the oyster!). So back to the shopping situation. There is every amazing store, especially the high end ones, you can think of. And let me tell you, they are not cheap! These people buy Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Rolexes, etc. like it’s going out of style. It is truly fascinating to see the consumerism that takes place on what seems like a 24/7 basis! By the way, I actually went into every one of these places. The beauty of being a foreigner is that they think you can actually afford to buy this stuff. It’s really hard to keep a straight face when the purse you’ve decided you like (it’s almost as if you believe you can buy it) costs $2500! Imagine doing that currency exchange in your head! So truth be told, I did treat myself to a small purchase! Elisabeth introduced me to Shanghai Tang which is actually one of the few high end designer stores that is actually Chinese! I couldn’t resist buying a wallet that was actually designed for real function & where the change would not continually fall out & end up at the bottom of my purse. Ok, confession is over!
Back to markets— just wanted to name a few. There’s the jade market, the ladies market, the night market, the temple street market & plenty of others with everything from fruits & vegetables to fish ( most of them alive) & meat ( enough to convert you into becoming a vegetarian). I will post a collection of pictures with some of the interesting sites soon.
Well, stay tuned, I need to leave soon & head over to Stanley (market)!