Saturday, March 26, 2005

where the people who know go

Where do the twenty-something expatriots go in Kathmandu when they want to have a gin fizz? Well we found out tonight. In the early evening, we went to the eightieth birthday party for one of Haydi and David's friends, Olga. For the last twenty years, she's been running a scholarship program for bright, but underpriveledged, Nepali kids. In addition to a lot of expatriots she knows, there were about 200 of the kids there. They call her 'Olga Mommy'. She's a huge part of these kids' lives. The ex-Prime Minister was there, the one who was ousted and put under house arrest on February 1st. It was a big, big party. Very nice. Olga's speech was brief and really on the ball. She's 80, and incredibly with it.

Later, we went into the tourist part of town to hit the bars. We saw four of the expatriots from Olga's party at the bar we went to. We thought it was kind of 'our place', but apparently it's an expatriot hang-out. Don't worry though, there were also plenty of tourists with dirty long hair, formless bags, and baggy pants.

It occured to me last night, staring at the ceiling right before falling asleep, that I'll be leaving Nepal in less than two months. Two months from now, I'll be in Hong Kong. In two months and five days, I'll be back in California with nowhere to live, with a lot of things I've put aside for the last six months staring me in the face. Pretty scary, really. Everything I consider home will be gone. There'll be no Doggy, no flat in Jhomsikel, no Ewan & Nini, no Haydi & David, no Tapa, no Mylee, no Nandu, no KC, no twenty people in a microbus - it'll all be gone. Instead, the money will be green, things will be expensive, people will speak my language, I'll know what the holidays are, OSHA will be standing in the way of fun/fast/cheap things, and George Bush Jr. will rule the country of residence. And here at EcoSystems, we've still so many things to do before we go. It got me cracking on work when I woke up, even though it's Saturday.

And I'd still like to take a long weekend to Varanasi before I go. So much to do.

Holi was as colorful and drenched as one would expect. Photos of that will follow shortly. They, like the photos of the nine-course meal at Dwarika's, are on Ewan's computer and the network connection isn't accessible when his computer is asleep.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Tomorrow is Holi, so I've designated some second-tier clothes to wear. If a little kid throws a water balloon, full of red dye, at you on Holi, then that's okay. The little fella is celebrating a Hindu festival. They especially like to hit white people, I'm told.

The kids have been getting excited about this for about a week. There's a narrow dirt path between our flat and the main street, and the neighborhood kids like to take advantage of that urban canyon scenario. People move slow there because the ground's really uneven. If I was ten (or twenty), I would throw water balloons at foreigners there too. I got hit by a non-dyed balloon last Thursday and shouted at the surrounding buildings that Holi's not for another week.

In other news, I got the full run-down at the western-grade clinic this morning, after still feeling a little fatigued eight days after getting sick. I don't have mono or the blue-green or a parasite, as far as the tests show. As conciliation, the doctor told me he's been similarly fatigued for the last three weeks and can't find anything wrong with himself either. Maybe the two of us have an undiscovered disease and are on the verge of medical history. As I mentioned in the last post, this clinic has discovered digestive-system diseases before.

On Sunday, Ewan's parents took us all to a fancy Nepali dinner. The tourist guide books say this is something you must do in Kathmandu, and it was as good as it was billed. We chose the 9-course set meal. Ewan's mom took pictures of all nine courses. I'll put those up when she downloads them to Ewan's computer.

At this restaurant, you can have anywhere between 6 and 22 courses. Prince Charles ate the 12 course when he was there - so the picture on the wall says. The affair took 3 hours seated on the ground. Awesome. If you're ever in Kathmandu, you gotta do it: Dwarika's Hotel, book the dinner at least three hours ahead.

Monday, March 14, 2005

blue-green food

Still a little sick, food is not really foremost on my mind.

The prevailing theory is that I may have cyclospora, the blue-green algae disease. It makes you fatigued and achy, without the lung/stomach situation of a cold. It was discovered in Kathmandu. We're really on the forefront of fecal-ingestion diseases here in Nepal. Geez.

Don't worry, cyclospora is curable with three days of over-the-counter stuff here. Come to think of it, everything's over-the-counter here: valium, whatever. You can buy a little packet of rabies vaccine, a syringe, and directions of how to shoot it - brought to you by France.

My pants have been on a slow road to looking like a Subway-Select-Menu ad on me. Blue-green's kept that going. Best shape of my life, incidently.

Food is on my mind observationally though. You know, like when you make plans for the future. I'm considering photographing all my meals like this guy. Just considering.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

sick and raining

No sooner do I write about feeling great and the sun shining for springtime, then I get sick and it starts raining.

I must have touched my face.

It was odd getting sick. For the first time since I got to Nepal, I had a cold. Oh, I've been sick plenty of times, but it's always been food poisoning. After five or six good stiff food poisonings, you forget about a plain old cold. For a little while, I was wondering whether I had something truly awful, like rabies. Not that I'd been bitten by an animal, but I could tell it wasn't food poisoning, but I was nevertheless sick. I calmed down about that pretty quick. Some advil and orange juice don't make you feel better if you have rabies.

Ewan's parents are visiting. They went for a walk up one of the Kathmandu Valley's hills yesterday. To further spite the idea that a beautiful springtime is upon us, it started to rain, and then hail, and then a lightning bolt hit the ground 20 feet from them and they saw the ground steaming afterwards. They told me it was pretty scary.

Tomorrow, the Hobbses and Nini are off to Pokhara. They planted a flower bed outside our flat this afternoon. Our landlord has alotted us a bit of a garden, but we've been typical engineers about the thing, and just left it, up until now.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


It's springtime. It happened in the last two weeks. No more jackets to go out, just a nice shirt and a sunny day. This kind of weather means a lot more to me after going through winter than it otherwise would. Take southern California, where it's always sunny and warm - there's no contrast there to make springtime. Taken to the other extreme, like in Fargo, springtime isn't nearly so sweet either. The piles of black melting snow and slush in the roads take too much away - once those are gone, the wanderlust of it being warm and sunny is gone. But here, it's just right - like in northern California. Since there's no snow on the ground, all of a sudden when it's sunny and warm, everything's beautiful. The contrast from just a few days prior is what does it. All the girls suddenly are a great deal more attractive too. I attribute that to everyone switching to fewer layers.

And springtime has me thinking, this place is good for me. I'm feeling good. I've been taking care of myself.

Springtime also means there are a lot of white people walking around the streets of Kathmandu who look like they're 'finding themselves in Nepal'. This often includes looking like a homeless person in San Francisco, but with the addition of the dirty clothes being expensive, synthetic, quick-drying materials. There may be a poncho. There may be a book about Buddhism or ayervedic medicine under the arm, and a whiff of incense may be detected when you walk past. It almost certainly includes a necklace made of rope, and possibly includes a man purse. If no man purse, then a huge, formless bag. No fanny packs, no SLR cameras - that's a different genre. I don't bring up the 'finding themselves' genre to beleaguer their deal (much). I bring it up to draw the comparison that this kind of thing is not what has gotten me happy in Nepal. It's something else.

It's not been big things that have led to feeling good. It's not resolutions. It's small stuff, in the presence of a lot of life's issues being an average of 12 and 1/4 time zones away. I've been sitting up straight. I've been sitting cross-legged more. I've been shaving every other day. I've been wearing presentable clothes, for once. I've been getting up at around 8:30 without an alarm clock. I've been washing my face. I've stopped wearing white socks. If you spend a little more on socks than you would if you buy clear plastic bags of white socks, you can get some nice stuff - not fancy, just not white. For starters, steal your dad's socks like I did. I've stopped touching my face.

That last one is the weirdest - I know. A guy I know once recounted to me, while going down the 405 one night in LA, that a doctor told him that the way to get sick less and have better skin is to stop touching your face. The story went that the doctor relayed it as 'off the record' - the kind of thing that makes you lean in and speak quietly. It seems to be working.

Friday, March 04, 2005


This afternoon I got a package from the shop TA's at the PRL. Awesome care package, signed by everyone except Nicole, who was supposed to bring lunch to the weekly meeting, but was in Reno. The package included my very own Swopener:

304 Stainless, electroplated, rounded edges where your hand touches, chamfered edges on the business parts, great surface finish, great registration on the fixturing flip. Oh man, I'm still geeking out over speculations on the tooling.


Dude means 'milk' in Nepali, pronounced just like Americans say it. This must contribute to how hilarious 20-somethings 'finding themselves in Nepal' are to Nepalis. This situation has me saying 'dude' a lot less than I used to, so that's good.

The trekkers are starting to come back. Yesterday Ewan and I were on one of the major streets downtown, and we saw quite a few. What seems like 'quite a few' to us is relative to very few being around during the winter. But to Nepalis in the tourism business, the number of trekkers is extremely low - business is not good. May have something to do with the political situation.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


A few months ago, Ewan, Nini, and I went to see the Royal Botanical Gardens at Godavri. It was a nice day out. It had been quite a while since we'd left Kathmandu, and the air and calm up there was nice. The ride home wasn't so hot. It was in a minivan with twenty people in it, mostly loud teenage girls. The hell van was driven by a 15 year old, completely out of control. Sometimes he veered off the asphalt onto the dirt shoulder. But all in all, it was a good time, and I think the driver succeeded in impressing the girls. Some memorable pictures really captured the extent of beauty available at the gardens.

This Tuesday, we headed back to Godavri. But this time, we didn't visit the government-run botanical gardens, we went to ICIMOD - the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. It's an INGO, with the stated goal of developing technology for the rural poor in mountainous terrain. We're told the money comes from the Germans, so that's probably why things are done right. The place was beautiful. It blew the government botanical gardens out of the water.

There were plots of nitrogen-fixing plantings, breeds of enormous goats that make 3 liters of milk per day, bunnies whose angora fur (the shaving kind, not the killing kind) can support a family, slope-farming techniques, and much more. They had plots of fruits they're breeding for Nepali village economies - like citrus, kiwi, and passion fruit. The citrus stuff is only applicable for below 2000 meters, we were told. They had demonstrations of water pumping concepts, and efficient charcoal briquetting. All in all, a wild place. The office is in the middle of a forest in the hills, so between that and its stated goals, it made me think of the Rocky Mountain Institute for the developing world.

EcoSystem's human-powered generator is coming along. We went up to KC's today with the Chinese-made gearhead motor that we had delivered to our bosses' hotel in Bangkok. It's a complete circus getting stuff shipped to Kathmandu. Shipping DHL from Quingdao to Bangkok, then hand-couriering to Kathmandu ended up saving everyone a lot of hassle and money. The motor has the name 'Linix' die-cast into it. Incidently, there are cough drops named Unix in Nepal - it's as if people name things after cool English words. Maybe Linix and Unix mean something in Mandarin and Nepali, respectively, and I'm just projecting. Probably not.

That funny naming thing reminds me of when a friend of mine worked in Russia, and his company wanted to rename themselves to sound less Russian and more international. Their current name was perfectly descriptive of their line of work, but it was just too Russian. The buddy of mine was the only native-English-speaker at the company, and they wanted to know what he thought about the name they'd arrived at: Flextera. He recounted this story to me that evening. I was sitting there, kind of leaning over the table listening. He paused and looked at me after he said the name they'd worked so hard to arrive at, Flextera. I said, 'sounds like a company that makes cheap modems'. He said, 'exactly'. The point is, these English-ish names foreign companies come up with - more often than not - make no sense.

KC really liked the DC motor and the way it was supposed to fit in with the human-powered generator. He also really liked the bike chain ring and western-standard chainring bolts we'd brought to put on the motor. He got a little concerned about the pitch on the bolts though - they were those hex-wrench kind of bolts that go with a sleeve to make up a sex bolt on nice bikes' chain sets. He said he couldn't get a tap for it in Nepal - so he'll make one. They machine carbon steel all the time at his place, and they make enough gears on their horizontal mill to know how to make a helical groove. Making taps - you gotta love that kind of initiative.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

not about Nepal, but also not about welding

This copy was originally the second-haf of the previous post, aluminum welding in the developing world. It was brought to my attention today by a friend that most people don't want to read about welding though, so I've moved this text into its own post.

I've been reading a lot of fiction here in Nepal. For some, that's normal - for me, that means I have a lot more free time here than I did at school. I wonder if that's entirely healthy. It feels healthy, but I'm weary that spending a lot of time 'on myself' is warping. Regardless, I've been going through my bosses' shelves of books, and have been on a science-fiction kick for the last two months. I'm reading the third book of the Dune series. Man, is that some heavy plot-driven science fiction. Before that, I picked 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea off their shelf. Once I started reading it in Bhaktapur, I saw it was the abridged edition. I don't think anyone over 12 should be reading abridged books.

A while ago, I got a compilation of short science-fiction stories off the bosses' shelf. The book was pitched as being 'presented by Isaac Asimov'. The back cover said the book, and Asimov's magazine in the 1980's, present 'hard core science fiction, the way it used to be written'. I thought that was pretty funny.

Ewan and Nini are off at dinner. Ewan told me about an hour ago they were going out for a romantic dinner. I think that's great. I haven't done that kind of thing with a special lady enough, historically. It shows a good consciousness of the present. Nepal is a great place to do something like that. They went to the Summit Hotel down the road - seriously swanky at about USD7 per person. Big spender! For USD34, you can get the best meal in town: a 22 course Nepali dinner a hotel named Dwarika's. For this 22-courser, you have to notify them of your plan to attend two hours ahead of time. The meal comes with a retinue of ladies serving, and a really beautiful traditional Nepali room. There's a picture on their wall attesting that Prince Charles ate it.

Speaking of the British monarchy, Ewan's been telling me about Prince Philip - Queen Elizabeth's husband. This came up after the recent news that Prince Charles is going to marry his special lady, but she won't be titled 'Queen' - she'll be 'Her Royal Majesty Princess Consort, Dutchess of Cornwall'. I didn't even know Prince Charles is the Duke of Cornwall.

The story is that Prince Philip is known for saying some pretty funny stuff, like when he was being toured through an Indian school and commented on the plumbing with "by jove, this looks like it was put together by a bunch of Indians'. Way to go, really connected to the people.