Friday, February 29, 2008

Totally wired

Only Byron Aihara will get this 80s song title reference
Kathmandu, Nepal

Name-dropping. Shameless, sycophantic name-dropping. Why didn't I think of that before? The Dalai Lama wasn't important enough. I had to go over his head, with this visa thing. Anyways, not to speak to soon, but looks like we have some progress on that front.

I continue my survey of wireless possibilities in Kathmandu. Of course, now the problem is catching them at a time the electricity is on.
This morning I met a Californian who's opening a new wireless cafe here in Thamel's 7 Corners area, the Electric Pagoda. He says next week power cuts are going from eight hours a day to eleven (that's 11, as in nearly twelve).

My love affair with Hotel de l'Annapurna (referenced last August, "Wireless in Kathmandu") is officially over. Last year their wireless was free in the coffee shop. It has since gone from free to 161NRs per hours - quite a jump.

Now I'm typing from Dechenling Garden, a new spot on the side road by Kesar Mahal in Thamel. Wireless is still free here; you might have a problem finding an outlet that works, but the garden is beautiful.

The Roadhouse Cafe now features free wireless during daytimes, from opening till 5pm, but have raised their evening prices from 40NRs/hour to 45. Himalayan Java's service for 40NRs / hour continues as always, though the food and drink prices have all gone up. Cafe Galleria, opposite the Road House in Thamel, now charges 25NRs per hour but has the same sumptuous surroundings and professional service. And, I must say, excellent french fries.
There's a notice in the paper every week announcing that a place called Cafe Britain has free wireless all day long. However, they neglected to provide an address for the place. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost....
In the five-star category, the world famous Hotel Yak & Yeti will provide wireless for everyone, including outside guests, for 1000NRs (or about $15) a day. Pack a lunch! Hotel Shangri-La's is beyond the pale, at 275NRs (or about $5.00 US) an hour.

The Kathmandu Guest House is now wireless throughout the building, 24 hours a day, with battery backup. Whoo hoo! However, you must purchase the service in one or 2-hour increments during office hours, and it's 75NRs (a bit more than $1.00 US) per hour. And, make sure the power outlet in your room works (mine doesn't; the building is from the 1800s and the wiring is from the 1960s).

I still haven't tried out the wireless service at Dreams Garden. It's 160NRs to enter, and the wireless is then 30NRs per hour. You'd have to make a day of it to make the entrance fee worthwhile.
Oh, and another thing, every single establishment in town appears to have added a mandatory 10% "service charge" to everything. Three guesses as to who's behind that, and the first 2 don't count (it's been a Maoist demand for ages). The hotel workers I spoke to say they actually don't receive it. Hmm....wonder who paid for Prachanda's Qualis?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More blogs about buildings and food

Kathmandu, Nepal

It's not really about buildings and food. Good title, though!

"Does this movie even have a script?"
"NO, but we've got a poster!" - Ed Wood

More scenes from the 'Du.....

This one (below) is a favourite; doesn't look like much, but in fact it is an ancient Devi (goddess) temple being turned into an ATM.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Immigrant Song
Kathmandu, Nepal
Clothed in facts
Truth feels oppressed;
in the garb of poetry
it moves easy and free
-Rabindranath Tagore

Mr Wangchuk at Indian Embassy says "something" will be issued tomorrow. The suspense is killing me!
All this week's posts have 1980s song titles as headlines.
Extra points for figuring out who did "Poetry." (I have no idea what the points mean, or what they could be used for. )

(NO extra points will be issued for figuring out who did "Immigrant Song," which is 1970s anyway.)

Yes, I'm just uploading old photos today. I got tired of complaining...and thought it better to reflect on some of the amazing moments of the past few years.
Above: Newar kids dressed as gods for a day, at the Kumari Ghar, Kathmandu, September 2006.

: This peacock just showed up at the new Murugan Temple in Parayakadavu, Kerala, just before the pran - patishtha "breath giving" ceremony for the god. The Peacock is the special animal associated with the god Murugan - May, 2005

: Waiting for HH the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Children's Village, April 2007, Himachal.

Below: Aurovilleans prepare for the "Golden Day," which comes once every 4 years on February 29, 2004; Tamil Nadu.

: Twilight falls on Pashupatinath as seen from the Mrigasthali (Deer Forest), Kathmandu, 2006

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jezebel Spirit

Went down to the crossroads
The Spirit World via Kathmandu, Nepal

Long-term Siren watchers (shout out to C Drake, Tim Makins, Jayanthi, George, Carter, Sarasvati, KulluKid and Martin! in the house) know of my standing fascination with the nexus of human and divine.

That is, spiritual
embodiment/channelling/possession/incarnation of the human body, in its
myriad forms; from the semi-theatrical devotional (Bharatanatyam and other devotional dances) to current folk phenomena (Nepal's "Buddha Boy") to ritual incarnation traditions (Nepal's Kumari and Tibet's Tulku reincarnation system - HH Dalai Lama being the best current example).

I'm going to blame it all on my youthful fascination with anthro-filmmaker Maya Deren, who did extensive work with the Haitian Vodouns, and wrote the seminal book about that belief system, Divine Horsemen.

This was one reason Hinduism always made so much sense to me, intuitively. How could God be completely separate, outside of and apart from us? Hinduism (and Tibetan Buddhis
m, among others) has this great ongoing tradition of living humans embodying the divine. They walk among us! (In fact, in Hinduism and Buddhism, we already are god, we just have to realize it. But I digress.)

Fortunately I've been able to track down, witness and photograph many manifestations of these various traditions - the Tibetan State Nechung Oracle at Dharamsala (my photo below), Newar Astamatrika masked dance and its attendant "possession" rituals, Bhaktapur's ferocious NavaDurga dancers (photos forbidden there, though), Theyyam ritual god dances of North Kerala, Nepal's Ram Bomjom (the so-called Buddha Boy) back when he was under the tree in Bara district in southern Nepal, the Thiksey Monastery oracle (who danced waving swords on a 3-storey ledge and threw chhang on me) and dinner with (as well as blessings from) 2 of the 3 Kathmandu Kumaris, just to name a few.

There is a Hindu concept of the teertha, which means (in one interpretation) "meeting place" or crossroads . People who are into sacred geometry, vaastu, feng shui and architecture study the bricks-and-mortar manifestations of these teerthas. I'm more interested in the walking ones.

And the (never-ending) quest continues.

This poorly-written article from the Mangalorean is the first I've heard of a Dakshina Kannada (southern Karnataka) tradition known as Bhootaradhana, or "honouring the ghosts and spirits."

The rituals, costumes and traditions seem to be
close to that of North Kerala's Theyyam, which makes sense because they are in a geographically adjoining area. (My photo of Bhagavati Theyyam in Payyanur, above.)

The origin of the cult can be traced from ancestor worship, mother goddess, serpent and trees are incorporated. (Mangalorean photo at right.) There are certain spirits originated from Hindu God Shiva who sends the Bootas or Ganas to earth and ask them to receive offerings from human beings.
...The Bhootas are those spirits which once long back in time used to be in blood and flesh like any human being but nevertheless they were endowed with special and extra-human powers to do and undo things as per their will.... The event is called Bhootaradhane or Bhoota Kola. The season of Bhootaradhane begins usually by the first week of February which also signals the arrival of summer. The Bhootaradhane of various bhootas might go up to May 15. The first couple of bhootas to arrive on the scene are Kallurti and Panjurli.... Regional Resources Centre at MGM College Udupi has an entire library of audio and video and documentary evidence of the various bhootas in Dakshina Kannada and the neighboring Kasargod district in Kerala.

If anyone out there has more information about this tradition, or (even better) has ever witnessed a Bhootaradhane festival, I would love to hear about it.

And, if anyone has a correction or clarification about the Hindu (or any other) tradition to share - please do so, politiely. I am certainly open to corrections, but be nice. After all I am just a gori, and at a genetic disadvantage. The only stuff like this my people do is snake-handling and speaking in tongues (and we don't get to wear cool costumes). The Old Testament god doesn't approve of people looking too good.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Once in a lifetime

Letting the days go by....
Kathmandu, Nepal

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may say to yourself
"am I right? am I wrong?"

and you may ask yourself
"My God - What have I done?"

Nothing is working. My camera's picture card, the laptop, my watch, audio recorder, cell phone - every piece of personal technology I own is, in some way, broken or dysfunctional.

The one Skype terminal in town sounds like it's coming through Peter Frampton's Vocoder (or was it a Talkbox?), and international phone lines are usually jammed.

Of course, the fact that power is OFF eight hours a day means, among lots of other things, that that's eight hours less of available fax time for the all-important fax to be transmitted from the FRRO in Delhi.

At this rate, I can only hope to be back in India in time for Tibetan Uprising Day (March 10), when a
group of Tibetans will begin a march back to Lhasa. Somehow, I am going to have to find out the origin point of the march and its planned route. For obvious reasons this is being kept somewhat secret.

This photo of the young monks listening to translation on an I-pod was taken at 2007 Spring Teachings.

In local news: three weeks in Nepal has convinced me that the elections are, once again, not going to happen as projected this coming April.

Meanwhile, back in Himachal:

The people I asked to hold my bags and reserve a room for me must be wondering where the hell I am. The phones never work here now, and they don't do email.

The picture below was taken at the Dalai Lama Temple in Dharamsala a couple years ago. The Tibetan women are performing prostrations (full-body-length prayers) in front of the main temple.

Here's a report lifted directly from about the opening days of HH Dalai Lama's Spring Teachi
ngs (aka, Where I'm Spozed To Be).

One year ago, things were so simple. How did things get so complicated?

Dharamsala, February 23: Thousands of Buddhist devotees are attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama's annual spring teachings, which began Friday at the Main Tibetan Temple (tsuglag khang).

Earlier on Thursday, the Tibetan spiritual leader gave teachings on Jataka Tales after presiding over the “Butter Lamp Festival” (Choe-nga Choepa, held on the fifteenth day or the full moon day of the first Tibetan Lunar month), which is the highlight of the Monlam Chenmo (the Great Prayer Festival). On Friday, His Holiness began his spring teachings with Dhammapada texts....

...Alongside main discourse, His Holiness has also been giving teachings on “The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa” (Mi-la-ras-pa’I gur-’bum).

Below is a full text found on the Dalai Lama’s website following the first day of the spring teachings:
The two texts His Holiness the Dalai Lama is to teach belong to the Six Major Texts of the Kadampa Tradition: the Jatakas and Udarnavaga (Dhammapada); Asanga’s Bodhisattva Grounds and Maitreya’s Ornament of Sutras; finally, Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and Compendium of Trainings.

His Holiness clarifies that his approach to presenting the Buddhadharma is first to describe its benefit and second how to put it into practice.

All sentient beings yearn for happiness, but not all know how to achieve it. Clearly, material development counts for a lot, but not if it increases your anxiety.

More important is having a calm mind. Recently doctors have demonstrated that medication alone does not affect a cure; calmness of mind also has a role to play.

Cultivating love and affection, warm-heartedness in our relations with others is a source of inner calm.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Big Picture

Thank god it's Friday
Kathmandu, Nepal

Because in Friday, here in Thamel, we get electricity all day long! Whoo hoo!

Too bad we are running out of cooking fuel (in this case, propane).

My American friend Vincent, who runs a resto-bar here, says he has enough for a couple more days. All the propane (in the red metal tanks) comes from India, and the trucks can't get through (as previously detailed) for the strikes by various political groups in the border region.

Normally, a tank of propane would run 1100NRs. Vinnie says people are paying as much as 3000Rs for a tank, (that is, about 50US$), which lasts all of 3 days or so when you are running a restaurant.

Street level
Yesterday, the power was off for 4 hours in the middle of the day (2 - 6 pm). I was in the Road House Cafe, which has three enormous picture windows at street level.

I just sat there in the dark, watching the street scene go by, and thinking, "these people are amazing." Little bitty old Nepali guys in traditional dress carrying huge loads of luxury goods (for the tourists) on their backs. I need to put up a photo of the loads these guys carry, easily twice their own weight. All they use is a strap around their forehead.

But it wasn't just the quaint, romantic countrymen who looked amazing. Everyone started to look amazing. Middle-aged tourists, the Sarangi guys (all Nepali visitors will be familiar with
them - they stroll around playing traditional Nepali violins, hoping to sell them), the security guards in uniforms, the Israeli kids with dreadlocks, 2 Muslim guys in skullcaps and flowing kurtas, the mangy spotted dog that has been living on that corner for the past 5 years and, I notice, gets a little bit sicker and lamer and mangier every visit. Everyone just looked so beautiful. My heart went out to every single one of them.

Maybe it was the fishbowl, filter effect of the glass - I didn't have to hear their noises and smell their smells. Or, that feeling of enforced surrender (no electricity, no activity, nothing to do but sit and absorb the environment).

I found myself spontaneously trying a Buddhist meditation method, which is to put yourself in the place of every single person that walks by. Just for a few seconds each. Pretend you are them, wearing their clothes and in their body, walking along the street.

I finally snapped out of it a few hours later when the power returned. It was a great, diffuse feeling of being everywhere and joined to everything at once, without feeling overwhelmed or freaked out about it.

"Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No fun

No fun to hang around
feelin that same old way
No fun to hang around
Freaked out - -for another day

The level of idiocy going on at the Indian Embassy is so...Stooge-like, I don't even want to start explaining it. After a while Indian bureaucracy ceases to bring a smile to your face, or even to be an interesting story.

And everyone knows (or at least I do - and I'm everyone, aren't I??) that Mercury Retrograde is no good for creating new media...better for reviewing old.

Since the Embassy is full of stooges, I decided the best soundtrack was Iggy & the Stooges.

Sometimes people ask me about the red scar on the side of my nose. I'm not sure I am ready to tell that story on the blog, or anywhere really, but the Stooges album Funhouse got me through that episode of my life (about 1984).

I swear to Godzilla, if it hadn't been for songs like "Down on the Street," I might not be here, at least not psychologically. It was better than all the therapy available in NYC at the time (not that I could have afforded therapy anyway).

In this vintage video, you can see the backdrop of Max's Kansas City, which was (believe it or not, kids - yes, I'm old) the first nightclub I ever, ever went to in New York City. It was still open in 1981. Yes, these feet have trod where the feet of Lou , Andy & Nico trod!

I was underage, but they weren't checking.

Alan Vega (from the avant-punk duo Suicide) and I stayed up till closing time, watching the Dictators and wondering if Johnny Thunders would ever take the stage as scheduled. (He never did. Come to think of it, I always thought Johnny Thunders looked kind of Indian. )

All that, and I still made it to French class at CUNY the next morning.

Here's my therapist Iggy, and a few ambient random (Rambient??) Kat-town photos. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fuels rush in

Back to the old school (walking and biking)

Thank all the 300,000 gods and demons of the Kathmandu Valley that the human "rights" activitists haven't been able to eliminate the pedal rickshaws here, yet. Pretty soon they're
going to be the only way to get to the airport and get out of this country. (Seriously - during strikes people are known to take cycle rickshaws all the way to the airport.)

Why not go by land, you ask? Read the news items. The Tarai is constantly under strikes, road blockages and so on. The petrol tankers can't get through; the few that do manage to make it through must be escorted by Nepal Army personnel, and there just aren't enough of them. (You should see the rifles they hold - like something from a US Civil War museum.)

Taking a commuter bus through the Tarai across the border would probably be okay, really. Probably. If I weren't on the verge of vomiting all the time, I would consider it.

When (or if) I finally get well - the migraines are dwindling, but the hacking respiratory infection is still there and I feel like there's a ton of handmade Bhaktapur bricks on my chest - I will rent a bicycle. Getting around the city otherwise has just become unfeasible.

Nepal capital set to run out of fuel
AFP via Yahoo! News Fri, 15 Feb 2008 0:46 AM PST
Nepal's capital is set to run out of fuel this weekend as ethnic unrest in the south has stopped supply from neighbouring India to the landlocked country, oil officials said Friday.

Nepal strike hits petrol supplies
BBC News Fri, 15 Feb 2008 4:45 AM PST
Nepal is hit by a huge fuel shortage, largely caused by protesters blockading key roads in the south.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A complete guide to why everything sucks right now

It's all right here.

Mercury Retrograde

At 20:32 UT (Universal Time), on Monday, January 28th, 2008, Mercury the cosmic trickster, turns retrograde in Aquarius, the sign of the Water-Bearer, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup.

....Everything finally straightens out on March 10, as he passes the point where he first turned retrograde.

In general, Mercury rules thinking and perception, processing and disseminating information and all means of communication, commerce, education and transportation. By extension, Mercury rules people who work in these areas, especially people who work with their minds or their wits: writers and orators, commentators and critics, gossips and spin doctors, teachers, travellers, tricksters and thieves.

Mercury retrograde gives rise to personal misunderstandings; flawed, disrupted, or delayed communications, negotiations and trade; glitches and breakdowns with phones, computers, cars, buses, and trains. And all of these problems usually arise because some crucial piece of information, or component, has gone astray, or awry.

All areas of communication are affected, especially in matters related to the family, business, particularly home business, travel, domestic relationships and real estate purchases in general. This period brings travel snafus and missed appointments of all kinds. Documents can go astray. Be sure to carry a diary and refer to it often.

My grain

The little elves that live inside my skull, hacking away with ice picks, are mostly on a break today. Or maybe they're on strike (better working conditions....?).

I am learning a lot about migraines. What the experts call the 'Aura' is lurking just behind my left eye all the time.

What is a migraine?

Usually migraine causes episodes of severe or moderate headache (which is often one-sided and pulsating) lasting from four to 72 hours, accompanied by gastrointestinal upsets, such as nausea and vomiting, and a heightened sensitivity to bright lights and noise. Approximately one third of people who experience migraine get a preceding aura.

And what the heck causes these things??

According to the National Library of Medicine's Medical Encyclopedia, migraine attacks may be triggered by:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Bright lights, loud noises, and certain odors or perfumes
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Skipping meals
  • Lack of Water or dehydration
  • Alcohol or caffeine
  • Dealing with the Indian Embassy of Kathmandu
Ah! We have a winner......

Monday, February 11, 2008

Subterranean homesick news

Get sick, get well, hang around an inkwell

I'm still sick as a dog. Spent most of the day in a darkened room like a vampire,
because sunlight exacerbates the migraine.

When I arrived, I had all these great plans for day trips in the Valley. But going
anywhere at all means - at minimum - a 45 minute drive, lurching and careening
over seriously potholed roads, breathing in carbon monoxide constantly, so that
by the time I arrive I'm too nauseous to do anything.

And because of the petrol shortage, the taxi fees are extortionate now - it costs
$4 to get to Boudha from Thamel. (Three times the price when I arrived in
2005.) And you have to beat the drivers down to get even that price out of
them. "Mahango chha - ma paryatak hoinna! Ma muggar hoinna! ("That is too
expensive - I am not a tourist and not a stupid chicken!")

There are privately run mini-buses (actual, officially run municipal buses are
almost unheard of in Nepal) but they creep along in the traffic, taking an hour to
get almost anywhere. And, one of them was bombed last September. Tends to make one paranoid.

If you are coming to Kathmandu, be sure to bring or buy:
-a flashlight
-candles for the frequent power outages
-sweaters and blankets, since there is no heat in the buildings and the power's
always out
-a book, since you can't use the TV, the internet or your laptop most of the day.
-a gas mask. Kathmandu is officially the most polluted city in Asia now. (The
most polluted city in the world is Mexico City.)
-I have a dormant Nepali cell phone account but don't see any need to revive it -
literally half the time the lines are jammed.
-Oh, and bring a lot of patience, and a big smile.

I still haven't figured this one out yet. By comparison, India is developing so
fast, the economy is booming, the middle class is fat and happy and yet, the people themselves are all so PISSED OFF.

Nepal, on the other hand, is just barely getting by, and the people are so gentle, smiling and humble. You see very little obesity here - Nepalis count themselves lucky to eat dall bhatt twice a day. And they don't complain.

I think the difference is, Nepalis never got fed the post-independence propaganda of being a great, important country. Indians have been indoctrinated with hype about how they're going to be running the world by 2020, ever since 1947.

This guy (Tim Johnson, Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy) has a good description of what it's
like to try to get anything done here now.

...before you congratulate me on finagling a work-related trip to Kathmandu, let
me describe the situation here.

For at least eight hours a day, there is no electricity. Luckily my hotel has a
generator, but it is only enough to power an overhead light and my computer.
There is no heat when the power is off.

I’ve eaten dinner by candlelight ever since arriving four days ago.

The roads are congested beyond belief. People complain about
traffic in Beijing.
It is nothing compared to Kathmandu.
Walking is good exercise. But not for the
reason you might think. I’ve repeatedly had to leap for safety while on the
sidewalk to avoid getting hit by careening motorcycles and scooters.

At least in Beijing, while stuck in traffic, one can work the cell phone. Even that
luxury is unavailable here. The cellular phone circuits are so congested – like the
roads – that I’ve
repeatedly given up trying to make calls after dialing 10 or 20

In short, Nepal is the least developed country I’ve visited in Asia, although I
confess I haven’t been to Papua New Guinea. Frankly, I’d compare Nepal to
Haiti, where I worked quite a bit in the early 1990s.

Speaking of power outages, anybody who travels outside of Europe or North
America these days will likely learn a new phrase – “load shedding.”

I heard it a lot in Pakistan and wasn’t quite sure what it meant.
Pakistan, or at
least the area around Islamabad, is
3-5 hours of blackouts each day.
Which seemed like a lot, until I came to Nepal.
Load shedding is the word de
jure to describe rolling blackouts designed to keep overburdened power grids
from collapsing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Okay, I feel better now.

"It'll blow yo mind."

Why can't I write (or do anything) the same way James can dance?

(Check that Camel Walk!)

Still In Saigon

Another day in Samsara
Kathmandu, Nepal

That was always my favourite part of Apocalypse Now - the opening shot. Willard wakes up staring at the ceiling fan, and for a second everything is fine. Then he remembers where he is.


I'm trying to remember a morning when I didn't wake up feeling that way. Like, if I could just get the mission over with, I could go home.

"Home," in this case, isn't Tennessee, or America. It's escape from Samsara.

Sorry for the not-posting thing. It's just that I've had a blinding migraine since Tuesday and can't get rid of it. Ibuprofen, paracetamol, the original Otis & Carla duets on the Stax label....nothing works.

Shangri-La behind concertina wire - this photo sums up the current mood of Kathmandu.

I feel like I'm reading the same newspaper every morning. Editorials by distressed, hand-wringing liberals saying things like, "The Maoists must stop their high-handedness, must cease and desist their abductions and extortionate ways and the rule of law must be restored." But they're not going to, and it won't be, and everyone seems to know that but no one wants to say it out loud, particularly in a country where so much of the economy depends on tourism.

Losar (the Lunar New Year) has just ended. Boudha was full of Tamang people in various forms of regional dress, singing and dancing Tamang and Tibetan folk songs around the Great Stupa. The Tamang are just one of the myriad ethnic groups (mostly Tibeto-Burman) that have lived in Nepal long, long before the "Hindians" invaded about 300 years ago.

Tibet and Tibetans have such a hold on the popular imagination, most people don't realize that Boudha is a Tamang neighborhood, and the Boudha Stupa is a Nepali stupa, built by Nepali Buddhists - Tamangs and Newars.

The Tibetans, though they have always come through the area on the old trade routes, became residents later, post-exile.

Tamangs still paint most of the Buddhist thangkas for sale in India and Nepal, carve the wooden chham dance masks, and make the mind-numbingly intricate metalcraft used in the Tibetan Buddhist rituals - all stuff that is associated with Tibetans.

Burning brains
Many people think the shrine immediately in front of the stupa entrance -- a ferocious, pot-bellied silver deity snacking on entrails - is the Tibetan god Mahakala. Other people have told me it's the Nepali god Bhairav.

It's actually not a god at all, but a local goddess named Ajima (Grandmother).

And if this migraine doesn't go away, I'm going to offer my brain to her in a skull cup, an extremely authentic one. My cranium feels like a short-wave radio jammed with conflicting frequencies.

Here are a few more images from my past week in the land-locked insurgency-wracked power-starved isolated Himalayan former kingdom.

--Oh sh*t, it's not uploading. I'm still here, all right.
Here, watch this space while I go bang my head against a 5,000 year old brick wall.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mouse in da house

Losar Greetings
Kathmandu, Nepal

Happy New Year of the Male Earth Mouse,

Friday, February 08, 2008

Diplomatic license

Irrational International Relations
Kathmandu, Nepal

There just can't be such a thing as a normal visit to the Indian Embassy of Kathmandu. It just IS NOT allowed.

Always, there has to be some kind of extenuating circumstance inserting itself into the few thousand feet between my guest house and the complex of bungalow-style buildings in Lazimpat.

Today's episode featured a blockade of the front gates of the Indian Embassy by members of the Nepal Army, or maybe Nepalis in the Indian Army. What? No one could explain properly; evidently it had something to do with Nepali members of the Indian army striking for better pay and improved conditions.

Guys, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but have you looked around the neighborhood lately? You are lucky to have a job at all, let alone one working for the neighborhood superpower.

So I had to find the "secret" back entrance by a public school. Evidently this strike has been going on for a while, because the school gate has actually been now painted with the name "Indian Embassy Entrance." Armed soldiers come and go along with the uniformed schoolchildren and orange-robed ascetics applying for Indian visas.

When I finally reached the window, I was surprised to see the famous Toupee Man was no more. Toupee Uncle, gone! Now who's gonna smile at me and make playful banter?

In fact, all the faces had changed. Great, now I have to ingratiate myself anew.

A Colombian woman in line next to me had heard, via the expat jungle telegraph, that the previous crew had all been transposed - caught for taking baksheesh in exchange for issuing five-year visas, and sent upriver to some other office.

However, the grace of the avatars was in my corner. The new man at the window was either a Sherpa, or a Tibetan.

"WHY you are coming and going so much from India?" he asked, flipping suspiciously through the - by now several dozen - various stamps and stickers in my passport.

Of course, there MUST be a nefarious reason to want to spend time in India. I love this logic - it's as though they're admitting that no one in their right minds would go there. Come to think of it, they do have a point.

My impeccably chaste reply:
I am following His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

(Note to karma police: Forgive me for name-dropping, just trying to get back to Dharamsala to see Him.... this year he's teaching Dhammapada.)

The guy's head snapped up. "Really?"

Sure. Wanna see?

I switched on my camera and flipped through the close-range photos for him, as his eyes widened.

"You have MET him?"


"He KNOWS you?"

Yes. (Not by name, just as that gutsy American woman who bullies around the Indian male news photographers. HH does get a chuckle out of this, I have seen it.)

Would you like some tenshug? I asked, reaching into my bag of silken blessing cords that had been 'zapped' by just two of the 1000 Arms of Avalokiteshvara.

Problem solved. Thanks, HH!

Because of some Hindu holiday (of course, there's one on a weekly basis - but what the hell is 11 February? - oh that's right, Vasant Panchami), I can't retrieve the visa till 14 February.

But Mercury will still be retrograde...maybe this time I'd better bring along some Precious Pill.

All About Vasant Panchami
I'm glad it's Vasant Panchami. If there were ever a patron goddess of Geek Girls, it would be Maa Saraswati.

Saraswati is the goddess of wisdom, art and music. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning.
She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus — the symbol of true knowledge — in the second.

(Actually, it's not a lotus she is holding in the second is a mala, or prayer beads for saying mantra.)

With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena.

She is dressed in white — the symbol of purity — and rides on a white swan that symbolises Sattwa Guna or purity and discrimination.

Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography — the consort of Manjushri.

Yaa Kundendu tushaara haaradhavalaa, Yaa shubhravastraavritha Yaa veenavara dandamanditakara, Yaa shwetha padmaasana Yaa brahmaachyutha shankara prabhritibhir Devaisadaa VandithaSaa Maam Paatu Saraswatee Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa

Translation --
"May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops; who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus; who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mysterious ways

Turn and face the strange
Kathmandu, Nepal

Well, I won't be back in India on 16th February, after all. Turns out my heart-homegirl and living legend Ani
Tenzin Palmo (nee Diane Perry) is getting enthroned as a Je Tsun Ma right here in K-town on the 16th.

That's right, all holy an' stuff....a first for a western woman.

Tenzin Palmo's mission in this lifetime has been to revive the lost lineage of TogdenMas (kick-ass, hardcore longhaired female yoginis). This lineage was lost after the Tibetan Exile in 1959.

I was fortunate enough to meet Tenzin Palmo last year at the Tashi Dzong Monastery masked dances in Himachal Pradesh. She is best known via the biography written by Vickie MacKenzie, Cave In the Snow, which is a sort of end-users' manual for following your heart.

Everyone told her she couldn't do it, it had never been done before...against all the rules and traditions, blah blah blah....and here we are 25 years later getting enthroned, for crying out loud.

When I met her (photo above), while bathing in her considerable aura, all I could think was: Amazing, that a woman who spent 12 years in a snowbound cave in the Lahauli mountains is so totally normal - more well-adjusted than most of us.

The burning eye
Now I'm going to go off on the mystical tip. My friend Robert hates it when I do this....but Kathmandu is like that sometimes.

Thus I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Gaya, at Gayasisa, together with a thousand bhikkhus. There he addressed the bhikkhus.

"Bhikkhus, all is burning. And what is the all that is burning?

"The eye is burning, forms are burning, eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning, also whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with eye-contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion. I say it is burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, with lamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs.

"The ear is burning, sounds are burning...

"The nose is burning, odors are burning...

"The tongue is burning, flavors are burning...

"The body is burning, tangibles are burning...

"The mind is burning, ideas are burning, mind-consciousness is burning, mind-contact is burning, also whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with mind-contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning.

Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion. I say it is burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, with lamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs.

"Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in the eye, finds estrangement in forms, finds estrangement in eye-consciousness, finds estrangement in eye-contact, and whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful- nor-pleasant that arises with eye-contact for its indispensable condition, in that too he finds estrangement.

"He finds estrangement in the ear... in sounds...

"He finds estrangement in the nose... in odors...

"He finds estrangement in the tongue... in flavors...

"He finds estrangement in the body... in tangibles...

"He finds estrangement in the mind, finds estrangement in ideas, finds estrangement in mind-consciousness, finds estrangement in mind-contact, and whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with mind-contact for its indispensable condition, in that too he finds estrangement.

"When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: 'Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were glad, and they approved his words.

Now during his utterance, the hearts of those thousand bhikkhus were liberated from taints through clinging no more.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


In the dark
Kathmandu, Nepal

The people who run the breakfast place were so glad to see me, I almost didn't get to eat. My long-awaited banana porridge went cold as I answered questions. Sangeeta Didi,* when did you arrive? Where have you been all this time? LONG time you not come to Nepal! How long will you stay? Sanchai na hunccha (everything all right?)

The only possible answer for this last one is a big smile, and: "Ahilye Nepal maa, sarbai dehri ramro chha." ("Now that I am in Nepal, everything is very good indeed.")

I always feel like I'm coming back to visit a family - one that's internally highly dysfunctional, but externally wearing the perpetual stoic game-face. Even the corrupt politicians and gun-toting commandos whose photos dominate the paper are followed like wayward relatives. Hmm, there's Bhattarai, haven't heard from him in a while...what's he threatening now?

But, it's official: this country is broke as a joke.

As previously mentioned, there is no diesel and no gasoline. This is because the Nepali Government can't pay its bills to Indian Oil.

After sinking to more than one billion (that's billion with a B) Nepali Rupees in debt to its creditors, India finally cut them off.

One billion rupees, can you imagine? I bet they were like, "uh....can we get ya next week??"

At first, I just thought I'd been given a hotel room with faulty wiring. But electricity is off more than it's on; power cuts are in effect eight hours a day. This was just increased from the previous six hours a day enforced since January.

We now get power from 9pm till about 1am and 6am till noon. Needless to say the few manufacturing concerns still operating in the nation are barely able to function. I am typing now in a downtown cyber-cafe running on some kind of battery backup.

If I had wanted to be in a place with no current, I could have just stayed in Ladakh.

Full news coverage here.

I'd better hit SEND before the power goes off. Din din ne, ek naya samasya aunchhu. (Every day, a new problem comes along.)

*My real-world English name translates as "joyful religious song." The closest Nepali name equivalent is Sangeeta.

Way too easy

Creative Procrastination At Its Best....

Which State Are You?
You're Tennessee!

A vibrantly musical individual, you probably know how to play multiple
instruments. At the heart of your love for music is the guitar, though you have a soft
spot for violins, which you refuse to call anything but fiddles. Fiddlesticks aside,
you are very thin and have excellent posture. If you ever run for elected office, you
won't even be able to get your hometown to support you. I guess that's why they call it
the blues.

Take the State Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Nepal: the coolest country in the whole freakin' world

Katti ramro ho!
Kathmandu, Nepal

At least, that's how I feel every time I touch down in Kathmandu. So genteel. On a smaller, more human scale than its big-butted, loud-mouthed neighbor to the south.

Then you get out of the airport and start trying to actually do things. It's all the same inefficiency and lack of professionalism as India - but in a softer voice and with a bigger smile.

Petrol (gas to you Yanks) has gone up, again - when it is available at all. It now costs about 300NRs ($5) to get to Thamel from the airport. It was less than 200NRs just last year.

Yesterday, 50 people were injured in a bombing at a political rally in Birganj, the border town near Bihar. This comes quick on the heels of a bombing at a pro-monarchy rally within Kathmandu itself a few weeks ago.

The Ongoing Indian Currency conundrum continues in a new form. Previously, you couldn't bring in Indian 1000Rs or 500Rs notes, but could change them at the airport money-changer or the land border. This is thanks to all the problems counterfeiting.

Last year, big Indian money was further demoted - they stopped changing the big notes at the airport, even. You had to find someone in town to do it subterfuginally. (look ma, a new word!) A classic subcontinental catch-22 was created in which the Indian airport moneychangers don't like to change Indian for Nepali currency, and vice versa. Where the hell are you supposed to change the money?

Now the airport official moneychanger won't even
change the small 100Rs Indian bills (equivalent to about $2.50 US). This, despite the fact that they are considered hard currency on the streets and in most Nepali shops.

If you could just get OUT of the
airport, it wouldn't be a problem - since everyone outside takes the Indian 100Rs. But Nepali Immigration refuses to take them for the $30 visa fee. It is also beneath the duty-free shoppe or the official money changer to countenance these notes.

As for my fellow passengers, all the foreigners had either US Dollars (remember those??) or Euros. Indians are not required to purchase Nepali visas so they don't face this problem.

Finally, just to be let out of the airport, I had to get the three-day "gratis visa" (I guess that sounds more important than "free visa") and promise to report to Bhrikutimandap Immigration office in town on Monday to get the proper visa. Unless of course there is one of the 9 jillion holidays for which Nepal is so justly famous.

It reminds me of that old Seinfeld routine: "Do the people running the airport just think they are in their own little galaxy or something? $12 for a tunafish sandwich - hey, if you don't like it, you can go back to your own galaxy, Buddy."

In addition to having its very own time zone, Nepal is definitely in its own little galaxy.