Archive for October, 2008

29
Oct
08

Taxi driver

Yesterday I took a cab-ride out of my previous life. From the tourist district Thamel to my place in Bagdol, about 15 minutes away, but not before the driver delivered Anoek at her place in Leinchaur. Beforehand we haggled the price down to 250 rupies (100 rupies ≈ 1 euro). After the Anoek-drop-off, I got into somewhat of a surreal conversation.

a totally unrelated picture, and not a good one either, but at least it's got a cab in it on the right

a totally unrelated picture, and not a good one either, but it was the only one I had with a cab in it

For a while now I’ve been wondering about how much cab-drivers earn around here. I’ve always been hesitant to ask though, because I knew I would be embarrassed by the reply and I was afraid they would be too. Yesterday however things started off a bit the other way around. The cabbie wanted to know a bit about my housing situation. How much did I pay for the rent (about 5000 a month in an ideal situation), did I have a nice garden (yes I do!), do I have air-conditioning/heating (no, and I’m gonna suffer in the next few months).

The for me nameless driver was talkative, but serious. Tired and inquisitive; not the social-overflowing-chitchat kind of driver who is normally the one to drag/strike a conversation out of nothing. For some reason his composure enticed me to return fire.

So I asked him about his monthly wage, his home-town and his living conditions. The conversation was scary. Not because his answers were shocking. Exactly the opposite actually. He gave an account of the state of things that was so polished in details, so standard, that it seemed to flow from the hands of an unimaginative novel writer. The details he gave to color in his life, without me asking for it, his frankness, his background, even the numbers concerning wage (all are divisible by four) were in harmony somehow. It almost seemed he was taking the mickey out of me.

You should know that in Holland, in the nineties, we had this tv-program called Taxi, in which some actor engaged his passengers in conversation. We on the couch could see the end result on our screens. Ever since I’m paranoid that I’m being filmed in the cab. (In Rotterdam these days, this is standard fare btw (excuse the pun), but those are security camera’s. Kathmandu is quite safe in comparison.) I’m pretty sure though that this guy had better things to do than fiddle with electronics. It just seemed like he wanted to get his situation across to the kind of person that has the leisure to read blogs.

So here it is, his life. As I said before, it’s not exiting. It’s the kind of story you hear all the time. Thirteen in a dozen. And you internetters are a jaded bunch, so you might just as well skip it.

He has been transporting people here in Kathmandu for 16 years. The first four years he was a riksha driver, the last 12 he was a cab driver. The chauffeuring trade isn’t all that easy in Kathmandu. There’s a lot of competition. Only government or NGO jobs are nice, because they’re relatively secure and pay good. Otherwise you’re usually on your own driving a cab: Small, square, white things without suspension, often adorned by their owners (haven’t spotted a women cabbie so far btw) with religious symbols or pics of Hindu actresses. He comes from a small village, the name of which I forgot, as well as the area it’s in. The living conditions were crappy. The hills around the village were bad for growing crops. So he left for Kathmandu. He still sends money home.

Almost none of the cab drivers here actually own their car, so they rent them. The money flowing in from rides every day is about 1600 rupies (so 16 euro’s), but almost all is lost, mostly to car-rent and fuel (the price of which has gone up very fast in the last few months). At the end of the month he’s got 2000 rupies left, which is less than 10 times what I make in Nepal, and about 100 times less than what I made in Sweden (which was pretty much the minimum for the kind of work I did). He pays about 1200 rupies a month for his room, the rest goes to food: Dal Bath (rice with lental soup and veggies) every day. Just one glass of roxi (clear, tasteless booze, comparable to the Dutch jenever) every night, the quality of which isn’t half as good as the pure stuff you get on the countryside. Then it’s time for bed. Repeat 365 days a year, except for Bandas (the strikes here that happen about once every four days) and the occasional festival.

And there are millions and millions and millions like him… of course.

That’s all folks.

29
Oct
08

Hedonism

As I’m writing this, I’m sipping on some rum and I’m smoking some cigarettes, alone in my house. I’m tired. My mind made this night the of the end of so many things, that I think I must have blown some symbol-repression fuse.

The most tangible of these is the end of my Indian brother. Not the end of his existence thank gods, but the end of his presence in my house, which for me is almost just as bad. Although your standard expat usually enjoys a lot of luxuries, dear friends are often hard to find, and even harder to keep. All those you cling to can be gone tomorrow, and most move along eventually, for one reason or another. Dev, my partying brother in crime, told me yesterday that he would be gone today, and so he did. Leaving me his spacious room and his almost permanent presence. Excuse me for a minute, while I dry my soaked face from tears.

festivals

Together we survived the Nepal festival season. The last month and a half I was trapped in a rollercoaster ride of indulgence, with severe effects on wallet and mind, both of which will take some time to repair.

In Nepal festivals are a dime in a dozen. It has got lots of ethnic groups, and lots of traditions. The two main festivals of the year, both just after the monsoon, are Dasain and Tihar. Dasain is the biggest of the two, but Tihar is also quite conciderable.

Dasain

The etymology behind Dasain has something to do with some god killing lots of other gods, if the explanations I got are correct, but etymology is secondary, if not tertiary or even a later -ry. It’s a family festival, so it kinda leaves us expats in the cold. It’s a fifteen day festival, and everyone at the office got a week off if they wanted. Kathmandu becomes deserted. Most people in this city has their roots in the countryside, so most go to their kin. Most shops are closed and the streets are deserted during the most important week. A very strange sight in this overcrowded place.

My band of misfits got by as good as we could. We got invited to a Newari party, which is always nice. Nice company and extremely nice food. One day we went kite flying Nepali style. Which means buying a dozen cheap kites, tying them to specially coated thread getting up on a roof and trying to cut the cords of kites of people standing on roofs nearby. Fun stuff.

Tihar

Just a few weeks later Tihar starts; the festival of light, which is five days in total. Lots of stuff is celebrated. Amongst others, cows, dogs wealth and siblings are worshipped/celebrated in one way or another. Effect-wise its a mix of Christmas and New Year. People decorate their house with colored, flashing lights, and ignite a lot of fireworks. The lights are mostly electrical now. Someone from my office gave as a rational explanation that these lights used to be (and still are in certain places) oil-candles into which the last of this years annoying insects are supposed to fly.

Before celebrating Tihar though, me, Dev and some others went away from the city a bit to the wildlife resort in Chitwan, which is so peaceful and quiet compared to Kathmandu. We didn’t do all that much there. I let an elephant soak me with river water though, while sitting on it’s back. And I swam in the human-eating crocodile inhabited river, next to our little resort. But I mostly enjoyed sitting by myself in the middle of the night, looking out for shooting stars, in actual NATURE. Without smog.

Then there was Tihar. As I’ve been told, Nepali people don’t do much charity donating, except for on the third and forth days of Tihar. Then social workers and children go to random or not so random houses and start singing and dancing, after which the people from that house will give money and food. The social workers will give the money to their cause and the children will often use it to go for a day-trip to the countryside.

A group of us had studied some Nepali and English songs and some Nepali/Hindi dance moves this last week. Yesterday we went round the houses of acquaintances to put practice into embarressment; in traditional Nepali attire, which a lot of us bought for the occasion. The night was,.. special. We didn’t practice all that well, and most of the non-Nepalis didn’t even have a clue what the Nepali songs actually meant. We were somewhat saved though by a sitar, some good dancers, some punjabi beats and the comic sight of those foreigners fumbling with their traditions. I for one got a bit tired at the end, singing ‘Deusi re’ for the x-th time, but it was fun though.

new year resolution

Outside my house now, the fourth day of Tihar (and incidentally the Newari new year) is slowly retracting it’s tentacles. I need some sleep. It’s not just the festivals. There’s been to much going on lately. Stuff that hides itself in the details and which I’m not gonna bore you with (sounds heavy huh!). I need to repent for my sins somehow (that’s just me trying to sound interesting of course). I’m gonna take it easy on the easy stuff… gonna stop smoking for the fourth time this week… gonna start being boring again…

Promises, promises…
No!!!! I’m out of smokes!!!…

19
Oct
08

Hard science tells you like it is

Any respectable blog has book recommendations. Or should have. This is a bold statement, I know, but someone has to make it. I won’t defend it now. I might never. But this IS a respectable blog. No controversy in that statement. So where’s the book review? Right under your noses. Read on brothers and sisters:

So I’m reading this collection of transcriptions of lectures of the late Richard P. Feynman. He’s supposed to be this hot shot physicist who did cool stuff all over the place. Like, ehh… helping in developing the atom bomb, I just learned from Wikipedia. Way to go! I wouldn’t know, cause I hardly know anything about physics. That’s why I’m reading this book: ‘Six easy pieces, six not-so-easy pieces.’ Those pieces are transcriptions from a selection of classes, part of a series of quite famous introductory courses on physics he gave once, called ‘the Feynman lectures on physics’.

In general they rock. The easy pieces that is. Very swiftly Feynman paints a picture of the state of physics in the SIXTIES. Yes people, the lectures are THAT old. But then again, science doesn’t move THAT fast for him to be obsolete. Neither does physics. Didn’t come to the hard pieces yet. Thought it to be smarter to write this now, before having to admit defeat to the three people and the cow that read this blog.

I’m sorry to have bored you with all these facts. Who cares about facts anymore. Lets talk about feelings: The cool thing about this book is that it ties up facts about very obvious things that you never thought about. Example: We’re just matter, moved about by forces. There’s some matter, and there are a few forces acting on it. And that’s it! All of the universe explained! So you’ve got gravity. That’s a force. But not the one that’s doing the attracting between atoms. ‘What!!!’, you scream, ‘it’s not????’. And I’ll reply, plucking an imaginary beard: ‘No, that’s what electricity is for!’. Mouths fall open. Slowly the crowd gets an applause in motion.

Oops, some facts crept in. But all this babbling in the paragraphs before, is just introductory static, leading up to this great quote from Feynman from that very book that this post is about; again about electricity:

‘More was discovered about the electrical force. The natural interpretation of electrical interaction is that two objects simply attract each other: plus against minus. However, this was discovered to be an inadequate idea to represent it. A more adequate representation of the situation is to say that the existence of the positive charge, in some sense, distorts, or creates a “condition” in space, so that when we put the negative charge in, it feels a force. This potentiality for producing a force is called an electric field. When we put an electron in an electric field, we say it is “pulled”.’

‘Yea! Well ain’t that the truth! Rub it in why don’t you!’, says our narrator, and he lapses into a fit of inconsolable weeping. Curtain drops. Three mice do a little dance in front of it, after which they go away in search of food. Audience leaves, feeling betrayed.