Wednesday, January 19, 2005

on the United Nations and SUV's

About a week ago, on a day like many other days, I was walking to work, thinking about The Great Gatsby. Then, like a kick in the head, an enormous diesel sport utility vehicle really punches it coming up a driveway to the street, right in my path. The Kathmandu Mid-Town Rotary hat I wear all the time, which is way too small, falls off as I race to jump up on the next curb. I think about how that isn't how I want it to end, run down by the United Nations.

In Nepal, there are over 5,000 NGO's and INGO's. These organizations are here to help innumerable aspects of the Nepali society in adopting new practices to better the country and its peoples' lives. These organizations enjoy perks, including blue license plates and duty-free vehicles. The duty-free thing is a big deal, as Nepal likes to put 100%+ duties on cars. The more expensive the car, the higher the duty. That makes a USD55,000 Land Cruiser more than USD90,000 off the lot, in a country where the average annual income is under USD250. But the UN people get these things for the duty-free price of USD55,000. They might even buy five at a time and get a discount. And then they have these hired drivers that really like to throw it around. You can see how this situation can breed resentment amongst foreign twenty-four year-olds dodging these things on the road. Just imagine what the Nepalis think.

These big sport utility vehicles are big status symbols. Forget about the S500 with blacked-out windows. If you're a private citizen and have a Pajero or a Samuri or a Land Cruiser, then you've really made it, probably through some aspect of government corruption. So the two major groups with sport utility vehicles are (1) international aid organizations and (2) corrupt businessmen.

It's difficult to get down on the United Nations, with all the good they do, but they are the principle offenders of the international organization sport-utilities-in-Nepal situation. It's just obscene. Maybe they really use these things outside Kathmandu - you know, 4WD Low for three days straight. But, like a mom with kids at soccer practice, a lot of these things spend their lifetimes driving around the streets of Kathmandu by Nepali drivers with white people along for the ride. A Toyota Land Cruiser is 1.94m [76 in.] wide and 4.87m [192 in.] long, with a fuel economy of 13 city, 16 highway. Let's forget about the highway number. The other vehicles on the road include the three-wheel tempos - these were pictured in an earlier post - and the most common car, by a wide margin, is the Maruti 800. The Maruti's about the size of a Geo Metro, it makes the Chevelle look like a spacious family car. You'd be amazed at the duece a Maruti can get through when it puts its mind to it. This a country with narrow roads, and the Maruti handles them well.

My father was in Nepal twice, quite a while ago. I remember he was gone for my fourth birthday. There was a puppy dog candle on the cake and Dad was in Nepal. He recounted to me a few years ago that while he was here, the group he was with had Chevy Suburbans. He said he felt absolutely silly showing up in small villages in three tons of American steel that barely fit on the road there.

Here's a tip for the UN and all the other international organizations around here: buy a smaller car for the city, if only to deal with the perception of all those people you're almost running over. Hearts and minds, hearts and minds. My bosses have a Hyundai Santro - really nice, with about a 1.2L engine. Here's a picture of one going fast:


At 12:14 PM, Anonymous said...

very interesting observation. i've also always felt how absurd it is that you get to see all these cool/expensive SUVs on the roads of one of the poorest countries in the world.

At 1:54 AM, Anonymous said...

You're hilarious.
your blog is far superior to mine.
Although, fair enough, I'm just sort of thrown into these places and am reacting to them, whereas you, being stationed, have time to masticate and ruminate on implications, stepping up the game.

as long as you're considering the Great Gatsby you might as well ALSO consider the Gatsby brand of soap, sold in Indonesia. A fine product, if I do say so. (overlooking the eye-burning smell). In fact, right now I own a small tube of Gatsby hair gel. How does it make me feel? like I could, when I was driving in a rented Toyota Katana in south Bali, smash up people's lives? just my own? ok then.


At 8:02 AM, Deepak Ghimire said...

I saw your page, it's cool and I like your comments regarding the cars and stuffs like that. I'm also from kathmandu and right now i'm working as a Software consultant in Houston, Texas. It's good to see somebody working in Kathmandu as an intern from foreign country. You reminded me kathmandu...Anyways, i would be glad to hear your perspectives about the society and attitude of people living in kathmandu..

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous said...

Beecher you salty dog.
Ben Friedland


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