Monday, April 25, 2005

pink chiffon war

Why haven't I posted anything for a while? I've been busy. Not busy experiencing the niceties of Nepali life, but busy with work. It's about charging batteries with interrupted power supplies. You wouldn't be interested.

On Wednesday, Nini's father and aunt are coming for a visit. He's been in the British army for 42 years. On Friday we're all flying to go see the Everest area - or, as tourists who read their Lonely Planet extra attentively like to call it - the Solo Kumbu. Ewan and I will be there just until Tuesday on account of work. Monday is his birthday and also the day we have to break from the group and get back to the airstrip, so it'll be just the two of us celebrating his 27th birthday on Monday night - at high altitude, where we can really think clearly. I'm going to get messed up on homemade sherpa beer. Nini and her family will stay up there for another week.

But this post isn't about the future, it's about the recent past. Walking home from work today, I dropped by the place we rent DVDs. It wasn't to rent a DVD, it was to pick up my deposit from the last time I rented a movie. I returned that movie this morning, but the guy said to come back later - no change now. That's a little odd, I thought.

If you step back and look at the DVD place, it's kind of odd in and of itself. They sell two things: pirated movies and office chairs. They don't sell office furniture at large - just the chairs. The DVDs border the walls. They don't like it if you sit in the chairs if you're there to get a DVD. They must think it's not likely that the movie-renting customers are also office-chair-buying customers. They're probably right - completely different clientele. I've never seen anyone buy an office chair there.

So there I am, 6:00 on a busy street, walking into the DVD/office-chair place to get the change from my deposit. But when I get inside, there's no one there. The door's unlocked and the lights are on, but no proprietor. There is no back room in which he could be doing something. He's just not in his store. I walked slowly up to the counter and looked over to see if anyone was on the floor back there. Nope. So I go outside and decide I'll wait for a couple minutes - maybe the guy is on an errand... with his store wide open. The idea of grabbing all the DVDs I can hold and running briefly passes through my transom. But then, why would I want to do that? Just because I could - I guess. The idea passes.

As I sit on the step waiting, an Indian street vender walks by selling chiffon. Not dresses - just loose yards of chiffon. They're on his shoulder. He looks at me as he walks by and makes a face that asks, "you want to buy some chiffon?". I make the corresponding face for, "why would I possibly want to do that?".

Pink or white available - good quality chiffon.

The new idea that sprang to mind was that I'll have to write a post about this. I realize my laptop's in my backpack - I could write as I experience. Modern. I think people call blogging where ever 'war blogging'. I don't know if you need an internet connection to 'war blog' or if writing offline counts. This idea passes even faster than the smash-and-grab-DVD idea - mostly because I can barely handle the word 'blog' itself, let alone the phrase 'war blogging'. I think the phrase is really new - many a year or two old. I believe the name follows from 'war driving' which is a few years older still. War driving is when you tool around town in your car trying to pick up 802.11 wireless networks either without encryption or crappy WEP encryption that you hit with airsnort, and then use the networks. Not exactly 31337 ski1z. What do you do when you find and access a network? I don't know - I guess most people who war drive check the email. Sex offenders war drive for lurid internet business because it's almost untraceable. Both of these names stem from 'war dialing' I think, which was when back in the day people phreaked the phone system from pay phones so they couldn't be traced. What's phreaking? It's bypassing the phone company's archaic systems to make calls for free. It used to be easy, I've read. As the phone companies got wise to phreaking, they got better at tracing offenders - so the offenders went mobile. You could call a friend in Singapore for free from a pay phone by war dialing - if you had any friends in Singapore. And where did the name 'war dialing' come from? I don't know. It was probably made up by people who were never in a war who thought it sounded cool.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

live band before 8:00AM

It's 7:43AM and there's a South-Asian marching band hitting it pretty hard right outside our flat. I guess it's a wedding. It started at 7:25AM, right after I'd gotten up to put on the water heater for a shower. Just as I was sitting back down on the bed to waste 20 minutes or so staring at the ceiling while the water warms up, the band started. It'll scare the hell out of you - at 7:25AM - to hear a sleep-eyed marching band start "When the Saints Go Marching In" with no warning. It's disorienting. The band has that South-Asian sound - lots of complicated and loud clarinet. Even when they play Western songs, they're arranged in a South-Asian way. Kind of awesome.

If I ever propose to a girl in the US, I'm going to do it by hiring an Indian marching band to wake her entire neighborhood up at 7:25AM.

I don't think I ever posted it before, but engineers seem to replace lawyers here in the rank of which jobs get the most respect. In the US, it's a big deal if you're a doctor or a lawyer, but here it's doctor/engineer. Awesome for me.

A Nepali living in Minnesota posted a comment to my last entry. Funny, as I am a Minnesotan living in Nepal. He noted most Nepalis are far from "pretty much vegan". Dairy's huge. So there you go - my last post was full of factual errors! Not surprising, really. I've only been here seven months and spend most of my time in an English-speaking office in the country's largest city. How much do I really know about how Nepalis do anything? Not much.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

best new year's yet

Yesterday was Nepali New Year. We celebrated the arrival of 2062 at a bar with Nepalis and expatriates.

This was the best New Year's yet. It's the fourth since I've been here, and I've only been here seven months. There was Newari New Year first, then Western, then Tibetan, and now Nepali. I still haven't found a Nepali who knows what happened 2062 years ago.

We were made privy to the bar we spent New Year's at by the architect who's volunteering some with us. He asked me at one point, well into the evening, what my marital status is. Sweet Enola Gay. This is the first time I've ever been asked that.

Looking around me, I realized though that I was probably among the youngest people there - some of the tourists in ponchos were probably about my age, but the people we knew there and were talking with were all married couples. His question kind of shocked me at first, but taking in the situation at hand, I guess it was a reasonable question. Nevertheless, while we have many talking points in common, marital status is not one of them.

Monday, April 11, 2005

vegan food

With Ewan and Nini still in Bangkok, it was dinner-for-one tonight. Our dede made dal baat with spinach. She leaves the food in three tupperwares next to the stove. Since there's no special lady around, I fried up some garlic, onions, and chilis, and put it all together in our one, sacred, non-stick pan.

Once I finished, I realized that the meal was vegan. For those who don't know, vegan food doesn't contain any animal products. It's like vegetarian food, but with the added caveats of no dairy, honey, gelatin, or elmer's glue. I knew a lot more vegans at school in California than was statistically likely in a given national pool. That's Northern California.

Back in California, I even know of a kid who was fruitarian. Frutarians take it further by only eating food that does not cause the death of the plant. Fruitarians can, for instance, eat peas but not potatoes. They can eat nuts that grow on trees, but not peanuts. I heard the kid was pretty sickly.

Mulling over the chilis after dinner, I realized that a lot of the food I eat here is vegan. A lot of Nepalis eat mostly vegan. A Brahman family I know observe it strictly - and no leather on account of Laxmi. And the thing is, the food is good. When I was at Stanford, I lived for a year in a house that served vegan food at every dinner. That food was usually ass. Good salads though. At the time, one more serving of poorly marinated and baked tofu seemed humanly less doable than retaking that multivariable integration class I got a C+ in. It's not anyone in particular's fault. The house policy was that cooks couldn't order particular food for the meal they were scheduled to prepare. 'This is the way this house has always done things' was the defense for that. Cooking for fifty makes sauteing a two-hour affair of batches - so that's pretty much out. Vegan food doesn't really lend itselt to baking either. So it pretty much ended up being a big wok full of... something.

The point is, some people can't cook toast. And most California budding yuppie doofuses can't cook vegan food. But vegan food can be good - so good, you don't think of it as anything other than 'good food'.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

more sickness, more food

Sick again. No, not blue-green this time - at least I don't think so. It's just a cold. Just in time for the weekend.

So, I look inward (to my apartment) for the weekend. This kind of forced seclusion has me thinking, in ten years will I regret all the time I spent in my apartment instead of out and about in Nepal? I could be be taking in Boddhanath for the weekend, or climbing a hill or mountain. Nepal has these things. Many days, I go to work and come home around six. Maybe I have a curry at the local place, or something like that. Maybe we rent a VCD. Maybe I write one of these posts or, via personal correspondence, contribute to the future W. Vucich Beecher Memorial Letters Collection at an leading American university.

When I'm working and living here on a daily basis, it's not a constant adventure of sights and photo opportunities. It could be. But right now my focus is certainly on my work, as there is so little time remaining. I have a tentative appointment to see a local injection-molding operation this week. Then there's a new 6V two-stage battery charger in the works - constant-voltage with a current-changeover. And we're meeting with potential sub-contractors. As you can see, my mind is not principally on the banyon trees of Lumbini. We're also in the middle of a 11-day Maoist-called strike. All the roads outside the Kathmandu Valley are closed.

Many people have emailed me that for the last six months I've been writing expatriot instead of expatriate. How embarrasing.

Like last time I was sick, my mind's on food. Again, like last time, it's not immediately very appetizing so the thoughts are observational. I don't know if I ever said that most Nepalis eat the same meal every day, twice a day - and they only eat two meals per day. That meal is dahl baat tarkari - rice, lentils, and a vegetable curry. Our dede eats it before she comes over at around 8AM and then again around 8PM. We have dahl baat three times a week when she makes it.

More about food. A friend sent me a link to a ripped version of a new American commercial from Burger King for an enormous burger with a five-word name. Hootie's in it. I'm sure my bosses would call that burger a crime against humanity. Why? Because two days ago they called a steady diet of white rice 'bad for you', as it is just simple carbohydrates. 'Brown rice is so much more nutritious.' Only people from Northern California could possibly look down upon the diets of Japan, India, and most places in between. What's the incidence of heart explosions in those countries? What's the incidence of obesity? Without delving into the erudite, I'm going to venture saying 'low'. Maybe they were speaking more about vitamins and minerals than heart explosions, with the brown-rice thing. People are relatively short in those countries.

Now I tell you what's 'bad for you', and that's the Burger King thing that Hootie and Brooke Burke are selling. That commercial got me thinking back to nights I went for a 'midnight snack' at Jack in the Box during college, I started to wonder how many calories are in my once-staple Jack in the Box midnight run: one ultimate cheeseburger and two tacos. I tried out and that indeed is the restaurant's web site, complete with nutritional information. The answer is around 1200 calories. No wonder I got carb-faced in college.

Since I've had so much time to think in the last 36 hours, I've also thought about how, in the future, I can parle having lived in Nepal into being able to do whatever the hell I want. I don't plan to stop the ultimate-cheeseburger thing at Jack in the Box once I'm back at home. In fact, I think if any northern-Californian gives me strife over eating something like that, I'm going to reply that "I've eaten boiled meat from my dead horse in the Gobi dessert when there was nothing else and our teeth were loose form scurvy, so this is really good right now". I don't think the average American will know their geography well enough to call me out on not possibly having done that by way of having "lived in Nepal for a while".

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

one metric ton of steel

Yesterday I went up to see our machinist, KC, at the Jai Bagalamuki Engineering Workshop. I was checking out the progress on the v4 model of the pedal generator. It also happened that there were twelve tension rods for the Tar Pul bridge on the workshop floor. They were rushing the tension rods because our galvanizer's place is shutting down soon. They're going to have one last big run of heating up the zinc pool.

I bring up the tension rod thing only because never before has my work created so much steel. It was about two weeks ago that I pointed out to my boss that our current tension rod is too small, if we want the concrete anchors pulling-out to be the failure mode of the Tar Pul. He put in an order for new tension rods with KC post haste.

There on the floor were twelve tension rods, each probably 100 kilos and ten feet long. They will be portered to bridge locations by a team of eight men, who will take shifts of four to carry the rod. And I am the reason those guys will have a heavier load than before. I am the reason there's a ton of steel on KC's floor. Pretty wild.

After the visit to KC's, Simon (the British architect) and I were walking down the street and everything ground to a halt. The street went quiet, except for police yelling at people to get onto the sidewalks. About five minutes later, the king blew by doing about 50 MPH in an E Class benzo. He was driving, albiet with trucks full of soldiers ahead and behind. Back in the day, they say you had to stand with your back to the road so that you did not see the king. Now though, you get to watch.

Tonight we had some drinks with four Dutch people. They dropped by our place in January before they went off to build a school, and now they're done. One of the guys is over two meters tall. The photos of him with the Nepali kids are pretty funny - he's twice as tall as a lot of them. This left me wondering about myself - I mean, 6'4" is tall in Nepal. It's really tall. But it's not quite tall enough to be a point of interest. It's tall enough to make tuk-tuk rides uncomfortable, and tall enough that I can't buy any clothes. Our bosses' cook is about 4'11", and he's the head of his household of 12 people.

I read some American news today. It's going to be a little odd in nine weeks going back to a place where people do stuff like believe George Bush Jr. is competent to run a country, recreationally get even fatter watching to make sure Mexicans don't get a taste of our sweet sweet freedom, and buy crap like this.

Friday, April 01, 2005

more film criticism

If I told you that someone paid tens of millions of dollars to make a movie where Denise Richards was allowed to say the line "the world's greatest terrorist with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can't be good" - in a James Bond movie nonetheless - you probably wouldn't believe me.

Oh, believe it. It's called The World Is Not Enough and it's the worst Bond film I've ever seen. Oh, even worse than that one with that guy who's not Sean Connery or Roger Moore, but before Pierce Brosnon. This film gets the same rating as Catwoman.

As a point of reference, like Catwoman before it, I luckily rented this DVD for 25 Nepali rupees, and none of that went to pay royalties to anyone involved with making the film. The DVD also has two other Bond movies on it, the good first one that Pierce Brosnon was in, and the one with Hallie Barry. Considering Hallie Barry was Catwoman - however you spell her name - I'm not expecting much of that movie.

Man, work is stressing me out. So much to do, with only six weeks left. So much expected of me.

I still don't think my bosses know I have this web site. I checked out and an average of 60+ people are reading this site every day. Who are these people? I don't know, but on this last post, I got a response from an Nepali guy living in the US. Wow. Oh, I've mentioned this website casually in conversation with my bosses a number of times. It's not very hard to remember - It's my name, and then '.com'. I don't think they use the internet except to download email.

Unrelated, but surprisingly pertinent to the ethos of this post, the affordable local gin in Nepal is great - Blue Riband.

Oh, and there are no flights from Kathmandu to Varinasi. More to come on that idea...