Monday, January 31, 2011

Kiva Blog Post #1

I just wrote my first post for the Kiva Fellows blog. It is a slightly different take on my earlier post here on load shedding. Please read the full story, "Lights out in Nepal: Working through Load-Shedding."

While you are there, I encourage you to scroll through other blog posts from my fellow Kiva Fellows. They are writing great stories from all around the world. Consider subscribing!

Then and Now: Commuting to Work

When I lived in Chicago, I took an express bus to work every day. It looked something like this:

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When I arrived at the office this morning, I learned that my transportation out to the field would be this:

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(That is Sanjeev, our local Kiva Coordinator, on his motorcycle).

In Chicago, traffic might slow to a halt because of this:

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In Nepal, traffic might slow down because of this:

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Double-take:

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(Elephant spotted this morning during my walk to the office, in the middle of a busy city road).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Searching for Yoga in Nepal

After receiving some recommendations on yoga instructors and classes through the ktmktm Google group, I tried a class this morning at the International Sports Club in Sanepa, a neighborhood of Patan.

Like the 1905 Restaurant, the International Sports Club has a colonial and regal, if slightly run-down, architecture style.

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A pot with floating flowers greeted me at the entrance:

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In addition to tennis courts, the sports club has a pool (and more footbridges!):

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A gym area with weights:

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I would have photographed the cardio room, but the power was off, so the lights, as well as the equipment, were also off. (No 24-Hour Fitness here).

The club also has a small rooms for classes, including my yoga session this morning. The instructor, Rupesh, teaches sivananda yoga, a style that was new to me. Rupesh explained that it is a more traditional yoga style that focuses on alignment and breathing. While all yoga traditions draw on the same poses, sivananda yoga is slower than the ashtanga vinyasa yoga that I have always practiced. As Rupesh reminded us during one pose, our practice was not about achieving vigor and strength but instead about observing the body with great concentration.

I left feeling very relaxed and glad to have tried something new, but I'm not sure I will be hurrying back to the International Sports Club for yoga. First, I am not positive that I could find my way back there if I wanted to, because even my taxi driver got lost in the meandering, narrow alleys of Sanepa. And second, I think my private terrace will make for a great private yoga studio, with the help of some yoga Podcasts.

Next time I think I will roll out my yoga mat...

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...for some sun(ny) salutations at home.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Farmers' Market at 1905 Restaurant

This morning I took a 20-minute taxi ride up to Kathmandu to check out the weekly farmers' market at 1905 Restaurant. The restaurant occupies a lovely complex that in the past hosted one royal coronation, Queen Elizabeth II during her 1961 visit, and the now defunct International Club, whose members were the "elite & influential of Kathmandu." The architecture suggests a colonial influence even though Nepal was never a colony.

The entrance, with a wooden footbridge that passes over a moat:

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And the restaurant itself:

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Every Saturday from 9am to 12pm approximately 20 vendors set up tables on the restaurant grounds to sell an impressive range of local products, from rotisserie chickens to nettle tea, and everything in between.

As they mill about, people might get a bite to eat at the omelet station and fresh coffee from the barista:

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And then they shop. For organic fruits like fresh strawberries:

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And dried:

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Or avocados:

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And fresh vegetables like the local pumpkin:

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And mustard greens:

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There are homemade juices and jams:

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Fresh goat cheese:

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And non-edible products like Wild Himalayan Bee Balm:

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Finally, I spied this homemade pomegranate salsa, made fresh every Friday by another local blogger, Brian Smith. The sample below was delicious, so I bought a jar to take home.

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Forgot the avocados, though -- next time. Maybe next time I will also try a game at the bowling alley next door.

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Although the local league may be a bit intense for me.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Load-Shedding Explained

After my allusion to limited electricity in yesterday's post, most of you probably spent a sleepless night (or, wait, that was just me, as I am 10 hours and 45 minutes ahead of most of you) wondering and worrying about the electricity supply in Nepal. Well, it was a mystery to me as well until I arrived here last week, but now I can explain.

As autumn turned into winter, Brian and I watched as our friends in Nepal began posting Facebook status updates bemoaning the impending "load-shedding." What was this load-shedding, we wondered, and what were we getting ourselves into?

Load-shedding refers to the planned power cuts that the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) must impose in order to cope with mismatched supply and demand. Nepal relies on hydropower for electricity, and while water is Nepal's greatest natural resource, there are a few problems with hydropower in this country.

First, there is the issue of seasons. Nepal has a dry season, generally from October through March, and a wet season, typically from April through September. When the water levels are low in the dry season, the NEA has to forcibly reign in electricity consumption with scheduled power cuts, which, at their worst, make up 12-14 hours of each day. Here is the current load-shedding schedule; it is generally reliable, but in practice the time blocks may differ by an hour or more:

In case you are curious, I live in Group 7.

When the water table is high during the wet season, the NEA can provide residents with more electricity -- there are still scheduled power cuts, but typically only for 1-2 hours a few days per week.

As a local water resource analyst points out, though, the NEA should be able to provide consistent electricity during the wet season, and it is because of poor management of the hydropower plants, which often operate below full capacity, that residents have to suffer through load-shedding even when the rivers are running high. He notes that there was load-shedding even during the devastating floods of 2008.

Although the load-shedding schedule ensures that all areas equally receive (or do not receive) electricity, this nod to fairness stops there. I am fortunate enough to live in a home with an inverter, which allows us to power our laptops, run wireless internet, and use low-watt light bulbs even when the electricity is off. Many people, though, cannot afford an inverter (depending on the inverter and its capability, prices start at about $60 and go up to as much as $3,000 or more). At my office, for example, there is no inverter, so people make due with calculators and natural light and otherwise work at odd hours of the day if work necessitates a computer and internet.

So while I am probably killing my eyesight by reading under a single 3-watt bulb at night, I am still thankful to have those 3 watts.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Inside an (Expat's) Nepali Home

My original title for this blog post simply read "Inside a Nepali Home." I realized, though, that I needed to add a caveat to that title, as the photographs below do not represent the homes of average Nepalis. I am admittedly a bit spoiled here, for the several reasons that follow:

Because the house has an inverter that provides back-up electricity even during the scheduled power cuts, I can always use small appliances and electronics, such as my laptop and phone charger. The inverter also powers the 24-hour wireless internet. The inverter is a true life-saver when there is no electricity for 14 hours out of every day.

The kitchen is outfitted with an advanced water filtration system so that I don't need to worry about drinking water.

I have access to a TV with about 50 channels (for the record, I have not watched any TV yet -- I'm kind of enjoying a break from it).

I have hot water in my solar-powered shower. I have learned the hard way that it is best to shower in the afternoon, after the sun has warmed the water for several hours. Otherwise, my next-best option is a bucket bath with hot water from the kitchen.

Jealous yet?

I know, probably not. But see for yourselves -- bucket baths aside, my new home is really nice!

My bedroom:

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My desk:

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Which looks out over my terrace:

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The ground floor living room:

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The dining room:

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The kitchen (yes, that is marble, which is found in abundance in homes here):

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And, finally, the ground floor terrace where I had breakfast this morning in sunny, 65 degree weather:

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Jealous now, perhaps?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My New Home in Patan

Yesterday I settled into my new home in Patan. I found the spot through a Google group that people (mostly expats) use to for apartment searches and advertisements, for event announcements, and as a marketplace -- kind of like a simple version of Craig's List, Nepal style.

Tia, a clothing designer from India, owns the three-story home located in the Manbhawan neighborhood of Patan. The house is enclosed by a gate:

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It has a lovely yard:

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Which boasts a vegetable garden, a gas grill, and, of course, a small footbridge:

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The first floor is a shared space, with a kitchen, dining room, and living room. Tia lives on the second floor, along with another American girl who is also a renter (she is back in the U.S. at the moment, so I have not met her yet). And I have the third floor to myself, with a bedroom, sitting room, bathroom, and terrace.

Come back tomorrow for pictures of the interior. In the meantime, I am resting up before my first day of work!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nepali Language Lessons

Over the past couple days I have been working with a great Nepali tutor. There was no time wasted on choosing a Nepali name or even discussing a syllabus, and the few English words she used in the session were to explain that she believes in teaching only in Nepali. I immediately had flashbacks to my Chinese drill instructors in college.

"Claudine-ji," she began, staring down at me in my little wooden desk, straight from 1955, and then proceeded to tick through flash cards at a quick pace. Within a few minutes she had taught me some beginner question and answer statements ("What is your name?" and "Where are you from?") using the surprisingly effective method of flash cards with famous faces, including Obama, David Beckham, and Michael Jackson.

The next day she brought more props. To teach me the words for salt, chili, sugar, and lemon, she brought in the real things, carefully folded in brown paper. In order to teach me the words for salty, hot, sweet, and sour, she had me taste each item but did give me permission to skip the chili (she is a taskmaster with a very sweet soft side, unlike some of my Chinese laoshi).

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Language lessons with Durpata were a great way to fill my time while staying around Boudha in Kathmandu. Today, though, I am moving to Patan, the city just south of Kathmandu proper. They are only a few miles apart, but with bad traffic, the commute to see Durpata on a regular basis would be tough. With hope, I will find another tutor in Patan who also likes Obama, Beckham, and MJ.

Wish me luck this week as I settle into my new home, learn my way around the neighborhood, and start work as a Kiva Fellow!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Same Same But Different: Part Two

Yesterday I explained the concept of "same same but different" and gave a short list of the things that have not changed much since I was last in Nepal in 2008.

Now for the things that are different.

Mobile phones are everywhere, and they are accessible to many more people because of inexpensive phones and affordable calling rates (and, unlike in the U.S., no contracts). The explosion of mobile phone use in developing countries is not new news. Mobile phones have long proven to provide a crucial link to banking, health services, and the outside world during political upheaval (for example, the election protests in Iran and Myanmar).

I was, though, surprised to realize that I could use my BlackBerry in Nepal, which now supports smart phone technology as well. Although the service has been a bit spotty, I think that may be my lack of tech savvy and not Nepal's failing, and I am still happy to have my GSM BlackBerry fitted with a local NCell SIM card:

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There are also more and more people (both foreigners and locals) toting around laptops, perhaps because of the surge of free wi-fi in restaurants:

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As for low-tech infrastructure, the formerly dirt road running north of Boudha is now paved with lovely flagstone:

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And Kathmandu is attracting international music stars, with Bryan Adams scheduled to perform on February 19. I have not yet been able to snap a photo of the billboards around the city, but I did find this entertaining YouTube video for proof:



(P.S. Bryan Adams has AGED!).

As much as these changes make life a little easier here, I find myself being most grateful for some things that have remained the same -- most notably, the friendliness and generosity of everyone I meet. By the time my flight landed in Kathmandu, I already had three invitations to family dinners. And yes, I will be taking them up on those offers!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Same Same But Different: Part One

When I backpacked with friends around Southeast Asia in 2005, we often heard the phrase "same same but different." Often used to hawk goods (it looks like a Rolex but is not the real thing) or to describe a restaurant dish (it's like bangers and mash but different), this phrase can suggest a range of meanings, but it generally applies to situations when something seems similar but is different in some ways. Makes perfect sense, right?

That phrase has been floating through my mind over the last couple of days because I cannot help but keep a running tally of the things that have remained the same and the things that are different since I was last in Nepal. So this post is the first of a two-part series dedicated to "same same but different." In this post I will cover the things that are same same and in the next post I will write about the things that are different.

On to the same same.

It is likely that on any given day you will see -- among the cars, motorcycles, buses, and pedestrians already crowding the roads -- cows:

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And goats:

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And pigeons:

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Motorcycles still outnumber cars:

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Children are overwhelmingly cute:

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Women labor just as hard as men:

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Monks frequently add individual style to their robes:

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Evening circumambulation at the Boudha stupa is a busy scene:

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And a musical recording of the Buddhist mantra "om mani padme hum" still plays from every CD store located around the Boudha stupa, creating a song-in-round effect and lending a soundtrack to daily life in Boudha. Check out the little video that I took today in Boudha:


video

Stay tuned for my post on the things that are different.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cafe Culture in Kathmandu

Today I went to Thamel, which is the main tourist hub of Kathmandu. Thamel is a tangle of narrow streets with hundreds of storefronts advertising everything from auryevedic massage and whitewater rafting trips to trekking gear and pashmina shawls.

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And for every store selling knock-off North Face, Mountain Hardware, and Patagonia goods to tourists and backpackers, there is also a restaurant or cafe that appeals to those seeking Western comfort food, international cuisine (namely, Italian, Korean, and Middle Eastern), and, of course, coffee and tea. Today I went cafe hopping around Thamel, returning to some of my favorite places as well as trying a couple new spots.

There was Himalayan Java, which was quiet today but in the past has always been a bustling spot for young, hip Nepalis:

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At Himalyan Java, I sat at a sunny outdoor table with my typical spread -- tea, Kindle, Lonely Planet, and notebook:

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There are restaurants appealing to the hippier set, such as Or2K, an Israeli vegetarian restaurant with low tables and pillows for sitting (no shoes, please):

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There are great rooftop cafes, like this one at the The Factory, which advertised "coffee, food, wine, and conversation." I had none of the above but snapped a picture of the great rooftop area anyway:

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Then there are the quiet and sunny garden cafes, like this one at the Hotel Mandap:

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Here I had a masala tea:

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At every restaurant and cafe there was free wireless internet, and many people, both locals and tourists, were typing away on laptops. The free wi-fi around the city is pretty amazing; Kathmandu definitely beats Chicago on that count!