Saturday, 29 May 2010

Happy Birthday Buddha!

On Thursday is was Buddha's birthday, which is a pretty big deal over here. It seems though, that much of the celebrating is done on the night before, and so it was that I ended up walking around the Monkey Temple at 10pm.

It didn't start there though, I came home from work and was informed by Nir that we had been invited for dinner. How nice I thought, except that wasn't quite how it was. We had in fact been invited to a sixth birthday party for his nephew where there were more small children than I could cope with.

This party lasted around two hours and I think I managed to count 16 kids at one stage, and Nir and I were the only male adults. I have to be honest, this was pretty hard work and I was not particularly enjoying myself, so when Nir mentioned going up to the temple I was intrigued and figured it would be quite an experience, which it certainly was.

We got there at about nine and had a cheeky beer before beginning our walk. Apparently Buddhist's walk around the temple 13 times to wash away the sins from their previous lives, or something. Now it take approximately 40 minutes to walk all the way around this place, so those seriously dedicated folks are there for hours. Nir it would seem, is not all that dedicated and was happy to call it quits after a single loop!

The dedication however, does not stop there. The REALLY committed folks go a step further. We were about two minutes into our walk when I nearly tripped over some bloke lying in the middle of the road. At first I thought he was some drunkard with a death-wish as there were literally thousands of people walking by and here he was lying down.I turned to Nir as if to say 'what's this chap up to' only to spot two more people doing it. Now I was curious. They were not just lying down, they were fully outstretched, arms out above them like a fallen down Christmas Tree. They would do this, then stand up, take a few steps, and do it again. They went like this all the way round and as we carried on I saw loads of men, women and children all doing it. Nir told me he met a guy last year who had travelled like that all the way from Lhasa in Tibet. That's 1000 kilometres. Unreal.

It was one of the experiences I had hoped to have in Nepal and was really glad I went. I was actually prepared to go round all 13 times (mentally prepared if not physically!) but was pretty grateful in the end that Nir wasn't so keen.

Other than that the week was been pretty quiet. I was given a hotel room for free last night by the travel company I am doing some freelance writing for so slept in a bed with sheets for the first time in six weeks. I say slept, but I think I was closer to being in a coma than actually sleeping due to the enormous quantity of booze consumed. My last memory is of being in a casino somewhere with a couple of the boys I was out with. All very hazy though.
I continue to flat hunt and it appears that estate agents the world over are all equally useless. Fingers crossed I make some progress on that next week.

Finally, I wanted to share with you all a theory that was presented to me last week by my sister which I am a big fan of. This is called 'Rachael Curr's Theory of Time' and it goes like this:

"As we all know Greenwich is the centre of the universe as far as time goes. Everything west of Greenwich is behind in time, everything to the east has skipped ahead. However, this is not the only factor playing on the east / west divide. Oh, no, there is also the AMOUNT of time squeezed or stretched into the conventional time measurement categories. For example: the minute. West of Greenwich minutes are shorter – hence the “New York Minute” which is very short. To the East minutes are longer – which explains why, when I call someone in the Hague and they say they’ll ring me back in half an hour I don’t hear from them for 90 minutes. Like the hourly time, the phenomenon progresses the further east you go – so, by the time you get to India/Nepal minutes are around 20 times longer than they are in the UK – which explains why you were waiting for 5 hours at the tourist board."

I think that's brilliant.

Now - I am super excited right now because I am in a place with a good internet connection and have not only been able to upload all the videos to facebook that I spent ages making for Nir when I first got here (watch by clicking here), but I have also been able to upload a video onto this blog - see below for my vid of teaching Nir's kid how to high five.

As a footnote - I should also apologise to my Kiwi readership for not including 'Bro' in my recent Poll, naturally you would call it nothing else.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

For my own amusement....

...I have added a Poll to my blog. This sits just next to the post and will have various stupid questions for you all to answer. Simply click on your answer followed by "vote" - it will take less time than reading whatever drivel I've written.

Each poll shall last a week and perhaps at some stage I shall collate all the results into a spreadsheet of which even Kinsey would be proud.

The first question relates to Yeti's.

I hope this is a sign to you all that my spirits are suitably lifted - thanks to all who got in touch.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Six Day Week

It’s been more than a week since I last posted so I guess I should hit you all with the latest news.

Last week was a strange one from start to finish. It began with me being knackered after the Hash, but pleased to have finally done something vaguely approaching exercise, and ended with me starting a full-time job. So what happened inbetween?

While recovering from my hashing debut, I had a call from Charlie BN and discovered he had once again spent three weeks in hospital, with some new ailment that the docs couldn’t explain. Kind of puts any woes of my own into perspective but thankfully he was out again and seemed in decent spirits at least.

By mid-week I decided it was time to stop hoping that a job would fall into my lap and start applying for things. Up to now my job hunting had largely involved hassling the contacts I have out here, and that had got me nowhere. I found a job website, much to my surprise, and applied for a couple of writing jobs and before I knew it I had two interviews on Thursday.

One was to help re-write a travel companies website, basically what I have been doing for Nir, but they were unable to pay much but I liked the guy and the company and said I would do it on a freelance basis. They also said I might be able to get a few freebies such as rafting trips or hotel stays so that’s a good incentive.

The second was with a company called WaitUK, set up by a Nepali guy called Sanjeev who lived in England for around 14 years. Essentially, they build websites for UK and US clients, so they undercut the opposition but still get paid in dollars and pounds, making them pretty profitable. I was offered a salary of R40,000 a month (that’s about £400) which is pretty decent and told there would be room for more. I am essentially writing content for the sites they are designing and while it is good to be working and earning again (despite the six-day week), this is a long way from what I had in mind when I came over here so I remain sceptical about how long I'll be here for. They have offered to sort my visa out, but experience tells me not to get too excited about that.

On Friday I also had a meeting with the Tourist Board in an attempt to get a job with them, which is far more likely to keep me here beyond July, but after being told I would have a wait of 15 minutes and that stretched into five hours, I was then told the metting wasn’t going to happen, I was pretty annoyed. Still, I was some amusing things in the office adjoining the CEO’s such as a Yak Attack 2010 plaque and a brochure entitled "Workshop or Training for the Training of Trainers", not sure why, but that amused me.

I had another meeting with them on Sunday and again never got to see the CEO, but will put a case in writing to them and see if I can persuade them that way to give me a job and help out a bit with Cricket on Everest 2011.

On Friday I had a call from new boss Sanjeev saying he had heard about a flat that is walking distance from the office and would I like him to show it to me on Saturday. Seemed like a good idea but when I got to the office we just ended up in some horrendous bar/disco drinking beers for the next five hours. All I’ll say is that it is useful to know you can out-drink your boss.

Despite the general progress that is being made I have felt a bit down lately, which I guess was inevitable at some point. I think it is probably a bit of homesickness combined with feeling a little cooped up in Nir’s small flat. Everyone here is great, but nothing can replace the easy banter and laughs you have with the people you have known forever. That’s what I miss most.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Hashing and Immaturity

“The Hash – A Drinking Club with a Running problem”

Of all the many ways I found the Hash described I think the above is the most appropriate. Despite the slightly suspect name I can assure you all (Mum) that it has nothing to do with a certain illegal substance, so we’ll put that one to bed now shall we! You can read a full definition of what it is by clicking here.

A few of the guys and girls out here had told me about these weekly “fun-runs” and suggested I come along and having finally run out of excuses I agreed to Becci’s suggestion that I give it a go this week. I was of course sold by the line: “You can always do the walk if you’d rather”.

Having no real idea what to expect I hopped in a cab with three of the girls and after a typically entertaining journey (which involved asking a girl sat on the corner for directions to be greeted with the response: “I sit on a street corner all day, how would I know”. Fair enough I thought) we collected a chap (called Apple) on route who knew the way, which was something of a result.

I was suffering a little from the night before and when told the route would take around three hours in circa 30 degree heat and be mostly uphill I was fully committed to my decision to walk. Having gone on about two runs in the past year this did not seem the time to return to the arena.

The rest of the afternoon was largely pleasant as we meandered through some fields and across streams, passing local houses and seeing people farming in the fields. There were five walkers and maybe 20-odd runners, but the route is designed so everyone finishes around the same time.

Once the uphill began I quickly regretted offering to carry some dude’s bag (who was running), and then discovered it to be a laptop. Didn’t get any thanks either mind you, tosser. Still, it was all very enjoyable and great to get a new view of Kathmandu.

The downhill was something of a struggle and I predictably ended up on my ass three times, which I decided to keep quiet about for fear of punishment (hash-crashes is the official name apparently). I was already lined up for do some ‘down-downs’ for being a Hash virgin and was also to be done for having my hand in my pocket. I shall read up more thoroughly on the rules next time as part of being a Hasher also seems to involve being a stitch-up merchant!

Another part of being a Hasher is the eventual awarding of a Hash-name. Generally these have to be earned and according to my research, many clubs: “go out of their way to make the name as bawdy, scatological, or offensive as possible.” Not unlike some of my friends then.

Numerous people were standing in a circle and downing glasses of quite revolting beer, but the highlight was most definitely when one of the girls, Vicky, who getting over excited at the fact everyone was drinking Star beer suggested they do star jumps upon finishing. When asked to demonstrate in the circle Hash-Hound Leader or whatever he’s called, Jimi, decided to simply thrown the beer in her face mid-jump. I’m not entirely sure how Vicky felt about this but it cracked me up something chronic. More of the same next week I hope.

As hinted above my sense of humour is famed for its immaturity, so I thought I would share a few small episodes that have made me chuckle uncontrollably in recent days. One was on the way to the Hash when I discovered there was a guy called Yogi who teaches Yoga. Yogi the Yoga teacher. Priceless.

On the same journey I was also told about a guy who signs off all his emails ‘All the very beast’. I am giving serious consideration to taking this up myself just to see what reaction I get.

Then, a few days ago while having another meal of rice and beans I was doing my duty of feeding the little lad at home when he tilted his head and gave me a rather quizzical look. He then lifted one cheek and let out an almighty fart. I was forced to leave the room for fear of actually peeing my pants.

Finally, and best of all, is the conversation I had with my friend Shambu the other day. I should point out that Shambu spends much of his time ruthlessly taking the piss out of everyone and anyone. He has a tattoo on his forearm which is some writing and for a while I had been wondering what it said so asked him and he replied that it just said his name. Naturally I made a gag along the lines of having this done in case he forgot what he is called.

His face then came over a little sad and he continued: “the only problem boss, is that when they write it they spell wrong. They put a P instead of a B”. I considered this for a moment and then said: “You mean they wrote Shampu on your arm?” I then lost total control and have been calling him Shampoo ever since, much to the amusement of everyone here.

So there you are, the little things that keep me going! I am sure they are not half as amusing being told as they were at the time, but I sense that finding ridiculous things to laugh at may just be the key to surviving out here. Thankfully, I am pretty good at that.

As a footnote, what a weekend of sport. Chelsea completed the League and Cup Double and England topped that by hammering Australia in the Twenty20 Final. Unreal. The company of a few key people was definitely missed last night, you know who you are.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Ups and Downs

I'm hungover. There's no point denying it any longer. I have been up and about for two hours now and my general condition is quite clearly deteriorating. The reasons for this situation are threefold.

Fold One
I woke up yesterday morning in fine fettle and decided the time was nigh to follow up on the job mentioned in my previous post. This took most of the morning and during the exchange of text messages I decided to go for lunch with Prakash. Now, Prakash is a legend and I've got to know him pretty well during the last couple of weeks. He was saying yesterday how he is struggling for work and has not done any guiding since October. That's seven months without pay. I had in mind that should I get this job he would be the first person I'd hire and decided to mention this to him as I felt he needed cheering up and I was feeling very positive about things. At that exact moment my phone beeped saying the job was dead in the water.

The reason I was given was because of the visa, but I really got the impression the bloke simply couldn't be arsed to organise it (whch would be in keeping with the general style of management that I've heard the place uses), so I replied saying I was happy to organise it myself since I know a few Government people. His response was that would be illegal. Bollocks it would. Anyway, this was rather disappointing and I spent the rest of the afternoon in a sulk.

Fold Two
I was meeting Becci and some of her friends for dinner. I actually managed to find the restaurant without getting horribly lost, which was a first, and met up with the guys. Without going into too much detail we all had a very pleasant meal and a few beers and having met at 7pm we went our seperate ways at around 9:30 with promises to do such things more often. It was never going to take long for the social life to get up and running.

Fold Three
England won a semi-final of a major tournament. I really should not need to say more on that front, and the couple of Everest beers in Tom & Jerrys undoubtedly did more damage than the Carlsbergs at the restaurant.

So there we are, that is why I feel rubbish today. I am supposed to meet more people tonight for a leaving do which will invariably involved more booze. It's just as well I don't let little things like cash get in the way of life isn't it?

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Back To (relative) Normality

The strike is over and may I be the first to say thank God for that! Last week was pretty weird in that everything was shut and the normally hectic Thamel was a total ghost town. This morning however I was nearly run over twice and asked if I wanted to "smoke" three times before 9am, so normal service has definitely resumed.

It is hard to describe just what it was like. I guess the best way to imagine it is if you're living in Clapham knowing full well that there are huge protests going on in Waterloo and Westminster, but where you are is not really affected except for shops being shut and there being zero traffic. The streets were full of people playing cricket, football and rather randomly, badminton, and all the kids were pretty happy with the situation because there was no school either.

Anyway, to other news. I hear back home everyone in Parliament is going to be hung, so that's good. I wonder how you all voted, except Kirtley who has made his hatred of all things Labour very clear!

I was offered a job a week ago. It was all very random, and for those who word has not yet reached, it seems highly likely that should I be granted a working visa I will soon be running my own resort. I've not yet had a proper look at the place, but it has a gym, pool, squash court, tennis courts a restaurant and at least one bar. I will also live on-site and it is in a much nicer and quieter part of town - in that the Maoist leader will no longer be my next door neighbour, which would be nice!

How I got this position is a funny story in itself which generally involved putting lots of nonsense on my CV because, and I quote, "that is how things work out here". Good to know that! My first job will of course be to ban all spitting and sack any staff member who spends the day hocking and sounding like they're about to throw up. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst thing about this place. I cannot get used to it at all. It is the first noise I hear in the morning (mixed in with the farmyard animals) and the last thing I hear at night. Garbage.

So, running this place would be something of a fresh challenge and by all accounts it's a great place that just needs a bit of a kick up the arse. My friend Becci, who lives round the corner from it, said: "it's the kind of place where they're quite happy to spend hours putting petals in water to look pretty, but then they don't clean the toilets". Hmm - room for improvement then I think.

My other great challenge will be that of beard maintenance. I really need to find a pair of clippers or something because I simply can't have a repeat of the episode that took place a week ago, which can best be described as assault. Nir decided to take me to a nice "local" barbers which would cost about 40 rupees(around 30 pence) for a beard trim. After the bloke went to town on my face and removed all of about three hairs, he then, without warning, decided to give me some form of impromptu massage. I am confident he was not qualified. This "massage" basically involved punching me in the spine and jabbing between my ribs before administering Chinese burns on both my arms then yanking each finger and thumb. It was all I could manage not to punch the bloke in the face.

Other than that Kim Jong-Il continues to amuse me and I have now successfully taught him how to high-five. Perhaps my single greatest achievement in life to date (OK, I am sure that like the rest of us he would have figured it out eventually for himself, but to have a one-year-old high-fiving with great delight is damn entertaining). My next task is to teach him how to ride a motorbike.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Making like the Bee Gees

The thing about riots is that they tend to be concentrated in one part of a city. The truth is there could be mass protests happening and yet just two or three streets over you would have no idea.” - Tim Cahill, 'Road Fever'

This quote has somewhat dominated my thoughts when I have occasioned to leave the house during the last few days, I have no idea what might be around the corner. It is very difficult to know exactly what is going on, mainly because all the news channels are in Nepali and everyone I ask simply says “it's not good.” This was highlighted when I discovered this morning that the police had administered a couple of beatings.

The Maoist demonstrations were scheduled to start on Sunday, but the workers union decided to jump on the bandwagon and do their own protest on Saturday, meaning that most of the city was locked down anyway. These were perfectly peaceful and I even went out walking with Nir & Prakash for around four hours and took in the crowds.

The way it has worked is that the Maoists have given villagers from the hill regions a couple of hundred rupees as payment for joining the protests. They then come to Kathmandu and shout what they're told to, meanwhile the rebels go to local businesses and demand “donations” for their “worthy cause” of around R6000, which is why everything is shut as that is a crap load of cash to these guys.

The rebels have tried to find accommodation in public buildings for these out-of-towners but many are left on the streets, which has led to bugs spreading. I'm confident that a load of people suffering from diarrhoea is hardly conducive to peaceful protests.

Where the problem really kicks in however, is when the locals in Kathmandu get fed up of being unable to earn. Many people here live on a day-to-day basis, so what they earn from their shop or whatever, they use to buy food for that night. So far everything has been shut for three days, and the longer that goes on the more likely the Kathmandu residents will start fighting back in an attempt to get rid of the rebels, then it gets nasty. In 2006 the demonstrations lasted 18 days.

I saw thousands of people on my Saturday walk, and then on Sunday morning when I came back up to Thamel a massive group marched past me. In truth about half looked under 16 and one guy had his headphones in, so really did not seem that interested. It was all peaceful enough but that evening I was back in town to try and catch Liverpool v Chelsea and was in an upstairs bar. I heard shouts from the streets and looked out the window to see thousands of rebels running through the streets carrying burning torches. It was dark and was actually quite a frightening sight, especially with the shouting and hollering, they looked like the Ork Amy from Lord of the Rings. I reckon there was a couple of thousand at least.

I have ventured out a couple of times since, but am staying pretty close to home. I have numerous other stories to tell since my last post, some really rather amusing, but they don't seem that relevant right now.