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A Post Just to Post

I have not written on this bloggie thingie for way too long. Mainly because we have not traveled  for like a whole month!

Life on campus is better than I imagined it could be.

Mary Ann is enjoying her job and the people she works with. She gets tired by Thursday (virtual Friday, the Moslem week is Sunday through Thursday) but that is to be expected. She is taking a Yoga class and getting all nimble.

We are both taking a class together called beginning Arabic. Emphasis on beginning. After the hour class is over my brain cells are fried, deep fried. I keep telling myself this is no way to learn a language. I believe that only necessity and immersion are motivators for learning a new language. Jumping into the deep end and dog paddling to stay alive is the only way. Here in the UAE I do not need to speak Arabic. Only 20% of the population are Emiratis. Everyone I deal with speaks English. I have no one to practice with besides Mary Ann, and yes, she tries, flash cards and everything, but she is just learning as well. The New Jersey accent does not help. You must pronounce things accurately in Arabic, and some sounds have absolutely no equivalent in a romantic language. Let me give you an example.

I, as you might imagine, am the class cut-up. Basically, in a class with professors from around the world I am Jeff Spicoli. So I revel in it. The other night, the scene went like this:

Teacher: “this how you say where is the hospital. Ayna moustafa”

Everyone repeats Ayna Moustafa.

I raise my hand. The teacher, who happens to be woman, but treats me like Mr. Hand treats Spicoli, grudgingly says “Yes Forrest”

“Excuse me, but I truly do not believe I will ever have to ask anyone were the hospital is. Can you teach me how to say something useful like where is the bathroom?’

She says “OK repeat after me AYNA ALHAMMAN”

I repeat AYNA ALHAMAN”

Notice that I spelled them different.  My Mr. Hand starts laughing at me.

Startled by her finding me humerous I say “WHAAAT, what did I say”

She then tells me “In Arabic, we have a sound for a M and a different sound for MM. What you just asked me was “where is the pigeon.”

Now everyone is laughing, at my expense. Cool let them learn how to ask where the hospital is, I can now find out where the bathroom is, or a pigeon. My three to their one. All I have to do is figure out how to say MM instead of M. The only example I can think of in English is ham sandwich opposed to Hamms beer. (Either one of which I would almost kill to get my hands on) Here in the UAE, they say” toilet” so the whole embarrassing episode was academic.

I am also taking an upper level History class Called “The History of US Relations With the Middle East”  or something like that. I am not a real student, so I do not have to turn in papers or any of that rot. I just sit in class and watch this united nations of students discuss the readings. I do my Spicoli act from time to time. Sometimes I even make an intelligent comment. The prof tolerates me because I think he needs comic relief in his life. He is from Massachusetts and has been here six years.  We have a Palestinian guy, a French girl, a girl from no telling where, maybe Pakistan, and  guy from Saudi Arabia. There is one American. He is the only blonde on campus. He is an exchange student from the American University in Washington DC. He works summers for USAID. I am quite sure he is on his way to full employment with a certain three letter acronym soon. Then there is, I swear, a princess. She is a member of the Bahrain royal family. She is very well prepared for class, and she secretly laughs at my jokes.  In my dreams she invites Mary Ann and I for a weekend in the Palace in Doha. But, why should she. Unless I write her term paper for her. Hm. Or is that Hmm.

I have entered three writing contests, short stories. The first is about my History prof going time travelling, the second is about Yetis actually being extraterrestrials and the third is about Social Networking. You FB people would not like that one. Grand prize is a trip to NYC, in January, for four days. Second prize is a whole week.

OK, unless something absolutely amazing happens, like a day under 90 degrees, or it friggen rains, I will not be posting for maybe three weeks. Mary Ann and I are off to Thailand on Nov 12. That is the start of another EID, so Mary Ann gets 10 days off, without having to take any vacation.

Thanks for reading, please comment, I need the attention.


Random Thoughts About Nepal

Everyone should see Nepal.

My bonafides for saying that are simple. I have done my share of traveling (not enough yet mind you) and a lot of that has been in back water bizarre places. I have been all over the Altiplanos of Peru and Bolivia. I have been on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I’ve been to Machu Picchu three times.  I’ve been so far south in Chile I can almost say I have been in Antarctica. I have walked in the Atacama Desert in a place with zero rainfall ever. I have walked on the Chilean/ Argentine border at 18,000 feet in what I learned afterwards was a mine field. I have been deep in the Amazon jungle, where I swam with pink dolphins and fished for piranhas. I have driven through all of Central America. I spent a year in the Arctic and seen herds of caribou that took hours to walk past me. I lived on a tropical island for four years with hundreds of species of birds.  I have hiked where there are no trails and fished where no white man ever did before me.  I have been to an Eskimo village and have seen Polar Bears in the wild. I once drove a truck over a bridge on a major river before it was open for business.  I have walked on the Hopi Mesas. I have taken a train ride across an Asian country and driven across America. I have even lived in Los Angeles. To top it off I now live in the Arabian Desert.

I say you must see Nepal because it is somehow more intriguing than any of that.

It is not the poverty you’ll find if you look, that is everywhere. It is certainly not the desire to separate a tourist from his money, which is a survival tactic which I admire. It is not the lack of essential services that leave garbage in the streets and cause random blackouts. It is not even the multitude of sacred cows wandering the streets like lost souls.

It isn’t the colorful garb of the people; most people here want to dress like westerners, except for women on ceremonial days and those sensible enough to wear Saris. It is not the maroon robes of the Buddhist monks that sparkle in the city streets and the countryside like so many Thanksgiving mums. It is not the preponderance of Holy Men drifting to and fro with their faces painted and wearing bright yellow silk.

Don’t come here just to relate with Tibetan refugees chased out of their homeland by the Chinese communists, and now doing beautiful weavings and rugs to survive. By the way, the Chicoms will be reincarnated as cockroaches. FREE TIBET!

It isn’t even the thousands of ancient temples of two religions, or the fact that, as old as they are, they are maintained and used for daily worship.  It is not that the result of this hetero religious society leaves a wake of tranquility and contentment, no matter a Nepalese’ station in life.

You should not come here just to see the most magnificent mountain range in the world.

But you should make a pilgrimage here for all those reasons. I count my blessings that I am married to a woman who made Nepal possible.

The origin of name Nepal is disputable, and I do not possess enough knowledge to claim I know. Kathmandu is a word derived from “Temple from one tree”. Kathmandu was a stop on the trade routes from India to Tibet and China. The people in this valley traded with the Tibetans for salt mostly. They then traded with the Chinese for what they had.  When they began to get prosperous, the King built a giant temple from one Thal tree. It still stands today.

Fast forward to today. Nepal was never colonized. However, being India’s neighbor, as well as China’s the Brits, big in both, decided that a presence in Nepal would be a good idea and opened a type of embassy there in maybe 1850.  There is a bit of the colonial influence left over. For instance, they drink tea and drive on the wrong side of the road.  The good thing is that English is the second language of Nepal, which is great for tourists.

Nepal has many different regional identities, each with its own culture and style of dress. They have fought each other in the past for domination. They have been united and separated more than a few times. There remains only one Kingdom inside the territorial boundaries of Nepal, a place called Mustang. Mustang sits at the base of the Himal, in the central to western part of the country. There are no roads or air travel to Mustang. You have to walk it. It is not that big on the trekkers list of places to go. You need special permits and Mustangese guides. I have seen photos of the village of Mustang and I could see myself getting into shape, breaking in a pair of hiking boots, and going there someday. But maybe not.

Back to Kathmandu. The area our hotel is in is called Themal. I have mentioned before that it is the trekkers Disneyland. You would only stay in a hotel outside Themal if you were a businessman staying at the Hyatt. The Hyatt is convenient to the airport, and nothing else.

Walking the streets of Themal (not the sidewalks, there are not any sidewalks in Themal) requires a constant effort to not get hit by a motorcycle or a rickshaw.  You must do this while sidestepping Tiger balm vendors, flute vendors and little women selling little purses. It is a waste of time to be nice. You just learn to walk down the street muttering no,No,NO even when you are not being approached by a hawker. Learning to walk this gauntlet of cultural capitalism is an art form.  Once you have perfected it in Themal, it will serve you in the rest of the world. Every once in a while you might see something in a store window or on a table in the street. If you stop to look at it, boy are you in trouble. The owner of the store will be upon you like a tiger on a lamb. Pick it up and admire it and the owner will consider it sold. The only thing left to do is negotiate the price. DO NOT start doing this unless you really want to buy it. Make that an unwritten rule to follow faithfully. There are no fixed prices, even if there is a price tag on it, which is rare. The vendor will start with “very good price.”

You reply “oh yeah, how much?”

He says, for instance “1000 Rupees.”

You are now into a negotiation which culturally means a sale. You both lose face unless a transaction is completed. You lose face if you pay 1000 Rupees. You should first look surprised, aghast or even insulted by his asking price. Start to put the object down on the table and walk away. This is expected. He will follow you and say a variation of “How much is good price?”

You counter with ½. “500 Rupees”.

This of course will result in him giving you the same look you gave him when he said 1000. He will counter, you will counter, and before you know it you are at 750 Rupees. A sale has been made. Well, not quite. You pull out a 1000 Rupee note and he will invariably claim he has no change. He is counting on you or your partner having to get on your way to dinner, or to answer the call of Yeti’s revenge. You insist. You put the article back. He runs down the street and returns with change. All is well. When you get home you will have a souvenir and a memory. The memory will serve you well, the souvenir maybe not.

One thing you could do in Kathmandu, if so inclined, is to become a Bollywood fan. Bollywood makes movies in India that are immensely popular. Even at a few rupees admission fee they take in more money than most Hollywood productions. We get them on TV here in the UAE because of all the laborers from the sub-continent. In Kathmandu, they are playing in the theatres instead of the latest Hollywood cop movie. They are about 4 hours long. They are not subtitled. They really do not need to be. They are very graphic. Every few minutes, no matter what the plotline, they break into a huge song and dance number. Imagine watching this;

The movie opens with a man and woman obviously falling in love, and singing and dancing about it. They are co-workers and they sing and dance about that. But the woman is engaged to the boss, as revealed by song and dance. The boss is a crook, song and dance. The company is building a dam on the river going thru their town. The boss, instead of paying for concrete is using bat guano building the dam. Sing and dance. There is nothing our young heroes can do about their love or the corruption, so they sing and dance. Then the boss man falls into the cement mixer and becomes part of the damn, and our heroes get together, big song and dance. Then the heroin has a disfiguring accident, sad song and dance. The hero drops her. Sadder song and dance. The heroine disguises herself. The hero falls in love with her again, she then reveals herself and tells him to fuck off while singing and dancing. About this time the monsoons hit and torrential rain is falling. The river is rising and everyone is singing and dancing. Then the bat guano dam breaks, somehow everyone is singing and dancing as they get swept away by the river, but our two heroes hold on to the top of a Stupa and survive and sing and dance happily ever after.

That is Bollywood, the most popular form of entertainment in Kathmandu. Maybe the hash helps, I would not know.

In conclusion, I want to say that Nepal is the most intriguing place I have ever visited. I just began to scratch the top of the culture and religion that is so deep and old. There is really nothing else like it on earth. Nowhere has cultural and religious practices survived as long as they have in Nepal I am looking at opportunities to go back as more than a tourist. One is to go teach young monks to speak English. Live in a monastery and sing and dance the days away. Maybe.

Or maybe I will sell Yeti Tours. My guides and porters will take you deep into the Himal where Yeti sightings have happened, or at least Yeti footprints found. I will guarantee, 100% that you will NOT see a Yeti, even a footprint. If you do, your tour price is refunded.

No I have not been smoking hash.

Note: I am having technical difficulties making a proper presentation of the Kama Sutra post, but I promise it will come. Soon.

Another Side Trip in Nepal

Remember when you were a kid (if you are my age) and your parents would drag you along to visit a neighbor who invited them over to see the slides of his trip to Akron, Ohio?

His narrative would go like this.

“This is the Best Western motel where I stayed, see how big the parking lot is?”

All you want to do at this point is go home a read a comic book.

Well folks, that is how I am starting to  feel about blogging. I  feel like the the intolerable neighbor. My readership has dropped like a Yak over a cliff. I will finish the Nepal posts, and then maybe throw away my slide projector, I dunno. So those of you still reading, thank you.

Back to Nepal

Pokhara.

This is Nepal’s only true resort town. It sits on a beautiful lake. In the distance behind the lake the Annapurna section of Himal dominates the skyline.

Monks on a stroll on the lake in Pokhara

Getting here was a six hour ride in an automobile. Our driver was young, and fearless. The road, the Pavatti highway, is congested with 70% cargo trucks belching diesel exhaust, 25% busses full to (and on) the roofs with Nepalis and  thousands of motorcycles, and only a few automobiles. The road is narrow, and most of it has deep drop-offs into a rather wild river called the Trisuli.

Trisuli River from our lunch stop

It passes through numerous small towns. The towns are all bustling. Everyone seems to be out buying food. Nepal is not destitute, although it is one of the poorest nations on earth. There are no fights over care packages here.

Delicious bananas on the side of the road. They are as good a the primitivos in Bocas.

Beside the road are many goats, buffalo and dogs And oh yeah, sacred cows.

The sacred cows seem to know they are sacred and just saunter around without any care.

The road is mountainous, up and down, up and down, and very twisty. If our driver did not nerves of steel, it would have been a 10 hour drive. We have decided to fly Buddha air back to Kathmandu. Once was plenty enough.

Our hotel is called The Base Camp. It is on the edge of the tourist area of Pokhara.

Today we set out to be tourists, visiting stuff we found in the Lonely Planet guide. We will see at least one Tibetan village, a museum dedicated to mountain climbers, and a waterfall that drops into a sink hole, never to be seen again.

We’re back. It is cloudy and overcast and the Annapurna range cannot be seen. I am truly glad we did the mountain flight on Buddha air or we would have left Nepal without seeing any mountains. Imagine going to Bocas and never seeing any water.

First we went to the International Mountain Museum. It is a large modern museum actually quite well done.

Modern and well done. Some museum curator did and has a great job.

They had displays of local garb from all the mountainous regions in Nepal

They had a room dedicated to the Yeti. My Man!

The restroom signs were a bit confusing. Yeah, I know I always post weird restroom signs. So what?

Mens room or Ladies room?

Ldies room or mens room. I looked inside for a urinal, usually a good clue.

There was an excellent demonstration of how the continent of India collided with the continent of Asia and forced the Himal to pop up in between them. In geologic time this was a violent and fast collision. It only took 40 million years or so to form the mountains. It also explains to me why the Tibetans had conch shells to carve and to use for calling across valleys. The entirety of the Himal was under water in geologic pre history. I have passed on the carved conch shells when I see them, now I am considering buying one.

The museum paid due homage to Hillary, but hardly mentioned Mallory. To me, besides the tribute to the Yeti, the most memorable room was a display of the garbage brought back down of off Chomolungma. Climbing Chomolungma has become an industry now. Hundreds each year try and 100 or so summit. Every year. A Japanese climber who failed 3 times before he finally made it decided to spend the rest of his life raising funds and recruiting people to pick up the garbage left behind by the climbers. In the first season they took ten tons off the mountain.

Next stop was Davis falls. Like I said, this is a waterfall to nowhere. The water is simply swallowed up by the earth. This is a true class six rapid!

A very strong stream that just drops into the earth never to be seen again.

Lastly we went to a Tibetan refugee village where they are doing their industrious best. We bought three more rugs. Mary Ann tied a few knots in a rug,

Mary Ann ties a knot with a Tibetan woman.

They weave beautiful rugs like this

Leaving Pokhara, which is pronounced by combining the k and the h like a German would, we decided to take a 1 P.M. flight instead of driving back on the diesel highway. We loaded our guide on an early bus and went  to breakfast.

AT the café, we ran into a person Mary Ann had met the day before He is an American from Colorado who runs the Himalayan Healing center, basically a spa where she had a great massage. He originally came here as a Peace Corp volunteer. I will write his story for publication on other web sites. It is fascinating. He left the Peace Corp and came back to Nepal and now runs a healing center which trains women from the untouchable caste, to touch you all over. He was full of stories and I was sad to leave, but we had to catch our plane.

I am sitting with Mary Ann in the Pokhara airport restaurant. We were early, the flight is delayed. It is once again time to take it as it comes.

We are flying Buddha Air again. A Yeti Air plane just came and left. They have a cooler logo on the tail, a big Yeti footprint.

The Yeti needs to be commercialized more to increase tourism. Ah, maybe not.

The airport, while not exactly modern, is large and comfortable. The restaurant even has Diet Coke, not something you can find everywhere in Nepal. It costs twice what a regular coke costs, because it has to be imported, from the UAE of all places. They have last minute souvenirs available, we have no space for anything. When we get back to Sharjah I am considering turning our apartment into a souvenir store. We must have a thousand chaztkas (sp?) from everywhere from the Amazon to now the Himal. It is practically embarrassing. When we went out for coffee this morning we both said “we aint buying no more shit”. Wrong. Fridge magnets and coolies  (beer can holders) made from grass. JUNK, more JUNK.

“But it’s cool junk baby!”

“Where are we going to put it?”

“We can replace the Inca Sun God statue with it”

“No way!”

And so it goes.

Our flight left three hours late due to “technical difficulties”. That even makes me nervous. It was a ½ hour flight compared to a 7 hour bus ride. We really could not complain. Of course our driver was no longer at the airport, so we hired a taxi sponsored by the official tourist agency. The taxi was of indiscernible make, model age, or even color.  It was small. The driver had someone with him, and they argued with each other half the way back to the hotel. Then, the car just died. It died on a busy narrow street. Mary Ann and I sat there for about a half hour while they frantically tried things to get it started, with horns blasting at us. When the driver reached into his ash tray and pulled out a fuse and some bubble gum, we decided to just get out and flag down any cab. So I did. About then a traffic cop showed up and chased my cab away. He recruited a couple of locals to try to push our cab UP HIL to get it started. I flagged down another cab. The cop told him to move on. I was starting to get pissed off. Finally I convinced the cop that the cab I had was “no good, no go” and he let me flag down another.

We got back to our now familiar hotel and the desk clerk said “you late”. I was afraid he was going to say our room was gone, but when I looked at him and said “Airplane broke down, taxi broke down, room broke down too?” He laughed and gave us a nice room where we collapsed.

It is what it is.

That’s it for today folks. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the Kama Sutra post. I would appreciate it if you make a quick comment so I know who still tolerates the intolerable neighbor and his dumb slide shows.

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