Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hong Konger!

This morning at 5:30AM I left my landmark signature-series room at the Hotel Miami in Bangkok. It sure was budget - but not bad. It's close to a skytrain line and had air conditioning. The sheets may have had bugs though. Not the first time that's happened during beecherinnepal.

If I'd had another day in Bangkok, I'd have gone to the National Museum of Forensic Science.

I bought the electrical components Ecosystems needed. There's only a very limited selection available in Kathmandu. A lot of the Nepal expatriates fly through Thailand, ergo Bangkok is known as a place to get stuff on your way to or from Nepal, electronics included. I got the parts at the Ban Mo electronics market. I bought the polypropelene film capacitors from a man who only sells capacitors. He and his grand daughter sit behind a counter full of capacitors. You can buy a cap the size of a novelty Foster's beer can from him, if you want.

The rest of the Ban Mo market was just as awesome and odd as the idea of a family store only selling capacitors. There were huge rack-mount stereo systems thumping, guys soldering surface-mount chips onto boards, and cute girls behind the counters trying to get you to buy their MOSFETs - I can barely describe the joy. And the selection was off the wall. It was like five digikeys happening all at once, in person instead of by catalog, inside a music video's slow-motion walking-through-the-club scene.

I posted the electronic components from the Bangkok airport. It made me feel like an international businessman of mystery - dropping packages of highly specialized parts in the mail to Shangri-la as I catch a jet to Hong Kong.

Speaking of Hong Kong, I'm writing at a park bench there presently. The park is clean, thoughtfully landscaped, and free. The traffic is above orderly. The train from the airport was fast and service was excellent. The people are snappy dressers with the newest cell phones. Everyone seems to be going somewhere or doing something intently. This last bit is in sharp contrast to Nepal. Nepal loves a good sittin' around, doin' nuthin.

I'm staying at the Miradore Mansions - just up the street from Chung King Mansions. Miradore is supposed to be like Chung King, but with fewer mysterious deaths and less of a firetrap. It still took me four different flights of stairs to get from my guest house on the 12th floor down to the ground. Cosmic Guesthouse seems nice. It's behind a cage door and has a very Hello Kitty theme - all pastel blue, all walls tiled.

I'm going to get something to eat. In two days I fly to Xi'an to see the terra cotta statues with a friend from school, Jeff. A mutual friend of ours is also coming. She's coming from Beijing, Jeff's coming from Xining, and I'm coming from Hong Kong. Very exciting times.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

message from above

So the Grace Hotel has proven to be a curious place. There were no knocks on the door, but it turns out this area of town is Little Arabia. There are women with burqas here. Burqas in Thailand - I would've never guessed.

The lobby of this hotel is full of full-figured Thai ladies looking for, ah, dates. And the guys standing around down there are ready to arrange, ah, dates.

This morning I was woken up by lightning hitting the hotel at 8:00AM. Keep in mind I am on the top floor. It scared me the hell awake and set off all the fire alarms. I got dressed fast and ran out of my room, and the only other people in the hall were old confused-looking western guys slowly leaving their rooms with one or (surprisingly often) two Thai girls.

Maybe the lightning strike was a message. Regardless, I've had just about enough of the Grace Hotel scene. So I've checked out and found a place for half the price. You can now find me at Hotel Miami. The door of my room, 204, is pictured in the Lonely Planet's 'budget places to stay' section. It's like seeing a celebrity at a restaurant - an encounter with fame.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Last night was the bosses' going-away party - not for my going away, but for theirs. They're going back to America after 13 years. Big move. The party was proportionally large. We demo'ed the product we created at the party. We got it done in time - not having achieved in our constant pursuit of the platonic ideal exactly, but it was something that demo'ed well. It was a proof of concept, if you will. The cleanness and professional look of the demo is as much to the credit of our best mechanic, Prem, as it is to the big shot foreign engineers and architect. Prem - what a guy. He always has a smile and is always ready to make anything mechanical better.

But this morning, I woke up in Nepal for the last time of beecherinnepal. Got up with the sun at about 7:00, heated up the daal bhat, and went to work. At 11:00 I said goodbye to everyone I've known for the last eight months. I got two silk kata scarves and 3 necklaces of flowers - as travelers do.

It felt like the end of undergrad.

Neither now, nor at the end of undergrad, did it feel very real that it was all ending. With that kind of feeling, there's really no answer to 'hey, how does it feel to be leaving?' or 'thought, reflections?' or 'did you write a poem about this?'. What is there to say? It was, and now it's done. It was good. I think we did good work. I think it's been good for me. Check that - I think it's been great for me. And it hasn't been all about me.

I had a professor once last year, Bernie Roth, who suggested replacing 'but' with 'and' in all manners of speech. It changes excuses into statements. I think that's a simple idea that changes everything, like using short sentences. It's for the better.

I flew into Bangkok this afternoon. This country has parking spaces and the taxis' meters are actually metered. I haven't spent enough time to observe much else yet. I read in my guidebook that in some Bangkok hotels, girls knock on your door all night asking if you want special massage. The guidebook named the Grace Hotel, in Sukkumvit, as a particular instance of this Bangkok-sleezy-hotel phenomenon. So I told the airport cabby where to go, and here I am at the Grace. I think they've cleaned up their act since the guidebook was published. Maybe these two things are related. Regardless, it's midnight, there've been no knocks, and I'm going out. I have to buy some fruit juice or sorbitol gum - I won't elaborate.

There's writing your blog, and then there's a whole modern city out there with a night life, after eight months in Nepal. You understand I hope.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

times will change

Last night as I lay motionless with the light on, watching for mosquitos to kill before going to sleep, I got to thinking about the timeline I'm on.

It's May 15.

In one week, I'll be in Bangkok.

In two weeks, I'll be in Xi'an checking out the terracotta army with Jeffers - a friend who teaches English in Xining.

In three weeks, I'll be on a plane somewhere over the Pacific headed for SFO.

In four weeks, I'll be starting a summer job in Washington DC as a shop-floor technician and occasional engineer.

Oddly, the fact I'm a high-strung guy gives me some solace in the face of these timelines. I was handling this after-Nepal stuff three weeks ago. That should make this last week low-stress and fun. Should.

Rato Machendranath

Rato Machendranath is a 15-meter-tall chariot with six-foot high wheels, made entirely of wood and vines - no nails, no pegs. It's pulled by a team of men. It holds a god that gets toured around the Kathmandu Valley once a year. Its stability can best be described as 'tippy'. They've been building it for a few weeks down the street, and it got rolling on Thursday.

Every twelve years, the chariot starts a couple miles from Kathmandu and comes the extra distance. The last time that happened was three years ago. It fell over three times that year.

If you're wondering "what happens when it gets rolling down hill?", don't worry. There are guys running backwards in front of the wheels throwing sticks under them to slow it down. When they want to stop outright, the guys wedge logs under the wheels. That causes an abrupt stop where the entire thing lunges forward. I saw it get up on three wheels when they did that. I have some video of that, but at 18 megs it's a little big to put online from 56k.

Friday morning, I got up at 5:00AM on account of the mosquitos in my bedroom. I went for a walk down to where they parked Rato Machendranath for the night. When I got there, it may as well have been noon - there were hundreds of Newaris circling around the chariot. Lighting butter lamps, throwing offerings, buying vegetables - it was busy.

Yesterday my boss approached me to ask what I'm planning for my last week in Nepal, and in the course of doing so told me those plans will include going to their choir concert. So we went to their choir concert tonight. It was at the British school. I haven't seen so many white people in a room since the US embassy's town meeting after the coup. Most of the music was in Latin. It was like being in Church, in Italy, at the long service. As I was listening, I thought briefly about how secular performances of this kind of music is a specialized interest - like spoken word readings of Tender Buttons. Intricate and technical, but not a general crowd pleaser. Later they rubbed some funk on it and did a few numbers from the 1994 film Sister Act. Tremendous.

Monday, May 09, 2005

newspaper clipping

I'm at the office. It's pretty late. I'm trying to send a fax to Hong Kong from Nepal. You can probably understand what a circus that is.

Right now there's a wedding party outside the window. The office/bosses'-home is next to an open area that's popular for this sort of thing. It's a three-goater, which is big. The guys were butchering the goats yesterday outside our window. They butchered the first goat in front of the other two tied-up goats - cut its head off and everything. I was a little surprised they didn't take it behind a wall or something.

Here's a news clipping from the Himalayan Times yesterday about how FM radio will now be used for the promotion of art and culture rather than political news. The Minister for Education and Sports is paraphrased:

They're cutting down all the trees that line the major street in Patan: Pulchowk. They're big trees. I'm no ecological activist playing pirate-taking-over-oil-tankers, but this doesn't seem right. It takes so long to make big trees like that, and they don't hurt anyone. Then someone younger than the trees gets an idea. And who knows what motivates that idea.

An expatriate woman who's been here for thirty years and I were talking about the trees the other night at a dinner event our manager had. She told me I should read the story about the last tree in Brooklyn. I think I will when I get home.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


It's Saturday. Fin de semana. Nini and her family are still stuck in Lukla. The flights flew today, but the available seats couldn't clear the backlog of travellers. Maybe tomorrow. The options out of Lukla aside from airlines are (1) a five-day walk to Jiri and then a day-long bus ride to Kathmandu or (2) a chartered plane or helicopter. Option number one would make her family miss their flights back to England on Wednesday, so that's out. Option number two is more than expensive, so it's out also.

I've been tying a few things up, as we're at fewer than two weeks remaining in Nepal.

I've read a lot more here than I used to. There's more time to think here. But all that accumulated reading was around fifteen pounds - not including the borrowed books. This kind of already-read weight is not going to make the trip home.

Most of the books were used - left at our flat by traveling friends who came through. I packed up about twelve pounds of these used books in a kitchen towel and plastic bag and headed into Thamel, the tourist part of town, to hock them. There are a lot of used book stores there. I think used book stores are one of the highest manifestations of human society. All those texts passed from person to person at such a reasonable price.

So the Dalai Lama's autobiography, Peter Matheison's The Snow Leopard, some lonely planet books for countries I've never been to, some fiction about India, Papillon, and more have been put back into the cycle. And what did I get in return? Postcards!

Well... postcards and 800 rupees (~USD11.50). I was in the mindset of Nepali financial scales and not tourist financial scales when I was at the first bookstore. When the guy said he'd give me 800 for five of the books, I shouted "deal!". I didn't even counter-offer. I probably could have gotten 1200, without even resorting to hysterionics. Way to go beecher.

Did you ever read the post on how to leave a comment anonymously?

Friday, May 06, 2005

monkey on a bus

Ewan and I are back from Lukla. We have been since Tuesday. Nini is stuck in Lukla due to cloudy weather, along with her aunt and father. We've taken to telling people they're her parents - it's a lot easier than explaining the relationship. As an aside, we're told 'Nini' means aunt in Newari - the language of a Nepali ethnic group by the same name. But it's not just 'aunt', it's specifically for aunt-by-marriage. So your father's brother's wife is your nini, but your father's sister isn't. Our cook is Newari.

If you're an avid beecherinnepal reader, you'll notice that I will have commited Revisionism in a few days. I wrote a few entries while we were in the Everest area on paper. I know - paper! I'll transcribe those later and pre-date them to when they were originally written. I'm holding-off on posting them because with Nini and her family still in Lukla, our collective of digital photos is not yet complete. The posts need accompanying photos to fulfill my artistic vision. When will the posts be up? That's the same question as 'when will Nini and her family be back?'. No one knows - if it's cloudy in Lukla tomorrow, the flights will be cancelled again. Even if it's clear and the planes fly tomorrow, everyone who didn't get a flight out today will be throwing elbows trying to get back to Kathmandu. A single day can mean hundreds of dollars and meticulous planning to some tourists. I hear the higher monetary value of the synthetic clothes the trekker is wearing, the more violent and unpredictable they get. That, or being French. So the Lukla airport can get real ugly, according to the Lonely Planet. They wrote an entire half-page on delays, fear, and malice at the Lukla airport in their purple Nepali-trekking book.

Being back in Kathmandu is good - the flat feels like a home to come home to. They say it's an early monsoon this year, as it's been raining about every day. The rain puts the dust down and cuts the fragrant bouquet of the Bagmati river.

On Wednesday morning, Ewan and I went into town for electronics parts. Stuck in traffic, I saw a bus going the other way with a baby monkey sitting on the driver's side window, chewing on a plastic tube. Ewan and I commented that this kind of thing is normal here, but being out of the Kathmandu Valley, even for only four days, makes you appreciate this kind of stuff. I wish I'd had the camera that I carried everywhere on the trek. Because there was no camera, I can only provide this artist's rendition of the monkey on the bus:

picture on queue - will be revisionist-ed

We had more business in town after the monkey incident. The second notable incident happened once the rain cleared up. We were walking past a busy minibus/tempo-stop. These stops become impromptu markets, and a member of the new-wave hippie genre I've written about prior was doing his thing. This particular specimen had clearly been in India before visiting Nepal. He was wearing one of the sarongs that I'm told men were in southern parts of India. Guy smilie probably thought the sarong, and the accompanying tie-shut-collar poncho-shirt, made him look totally with it. In fact, in my experience, the Nepalis I know look down on the sarong-wearing guys as laborers. I think it's a caste thing. So guy smilie with the hip outfit was holding up his minibus. And why was he holding up a minibus of Nepalis, most probably wondering why a rich western male would be wearing a sarong? He was pointing across a few lanes of pedestrians at some strawberries and saying the word for 'quickly' (which sounds just like 'cheeto', like the cheese puffs) over and over to a woman selling seasonal fruit. As we walked past, I noted to Ewan that that hippie's gonna get something he wasn't bargaining for with those strawberries - something messy and painful and free with any street produce introduced to a foreigner's digestive system. Ewan kind of laughed and agreed. "Want to do anything about that?" "Nah, he'll get what he has coming".

Yesterday I mailed the postcards that I wrote in the Everest area. A Patan postmark is less exotic than a Namche Bazar one - granted. But I think the postmarks are written in Devanagri, so the recipeints won't know either way. When I watched the man slam the postmark on to cancel the stamps, all the guys in the post office started to gather around and read the postcards. There was some debate as to whether the slightly overlapping stamps were acceptable on the eight postcards. It's a good thing there were four employees standing around doing nothing at the post office, or the chore of reading such a high volume of people's mail would have fallen on a single Nepali government employee.

Speaking of, want a postcard from Nepal? Try leaving a comment with an address, and wait four weeks. You could not even include a name if you don't want to - just an address. See what happens.

Since we've been back in Kathmandu, things have been coming together on the project at work. We have PCB's now. What I've been struggling with for a while has finally reached a clearly stateable one-and-a-half sentences:

The key to detecting an absolute battery terminal voltage in a system with no absolute reference available is by making a differential measurement. This is common-mode rejection.