The morning begins with the ringing of temple bells down in the valley. The early morning Hindus are blowing horns and banging bells below my hillside. Grumpy from being awakened, I look out my window over the misty morning and I scowl like a dazed Grinch frowning on those happy Hindus with all their, “Noise, Noise, Noise”. I snap out of my Suessical-spasm and wrap myself in clothes. It is peppery cold in Kathmandu. The bathroom is still dark when I wake up so I light a candle to see. Nepal Tip 1# place a candle next to a mirror and you get twice as much light. Before the sun has crested over the mountains, I’ve descended into the kitchen. Radha is waiting in his blankets and sleeping caps. He wears two caps. We eat simple Nepali food over small talk.
Nepali culture doesn’t have a morning meal, just two lunches. My breakfast is left over rice-n-spice from the previous night’s dinner. Then my backpack and I go for a little walk toward the micro-bus stand. Radha lives in an area that has large gardens adjoined to each property. The houses are incredibly simple. Some are brick, concrete, or what I assume is clay though I haven’t tasted it yet. The houses are not small, but their contents are quite basic: one or two bare electric light bulbs, water basins, and decent household supplies. I’ve seen kids pulling water out of the ground from buckets, but I’m not certain if they are getting well water or if they have a broken underwater storage tank. The houses may not have doors just openings and the windows might just be holes in the wall. Certainly some of the houses don’t have toilets.
I tip toe through these houses. Since there are no doors sometimes I am intruding when I go past. The beloved house dogs sleep in the dirt path like explosive K9 tripwire. I come to a road, suitable only for an ox cart. I walk along the road, the crunchy rocks are some of the only sounds that early in the morning. Then what do I see– a few people in combined Sprite-NorthFace-Versace brand tracksuits going for morning walks. Creeping along the path, because you know how creepy I can be, I’ll walk past a rooster coop. One of these roosters, slowly opened his eyes to see me. Like a whimsical British man caught slacking during Hogwarts official business, the rooster swallowed an, “Oh my” puffed up his imperial chest feathers and gave a cracked and chirpy, “Cock A doodle do to you Sir”. It closed it’s beak and scanned for my reaction. Then it shook its head with the usual, “ That didn’t make it, did it now?” rhetorical self-loathing. He put his head back in its feathers and pretended that it was all a dream.
I walk past a few more hutty homes, their clothing and dishes left outside to dry. The homes end where a steep hill begins. The hill will take me out of the valley and in the daylight it ain’t no thang to walk up it. On top of the valley, I could turn around to see the sun crest over the mountain. The moment the sun beams on the city, the whole thing vanishes in the fuzzy refracting light of mist and dust. Ashes to Ashes.
At the top of the hill, one can see that Kathmandu is a series of valleys. As if the city was built in-between the toes of a giant. Standing on top of one toe you can see the districts of the city toe-jammed into the open spaces between the other toes.
At the top of the hill is a stretch of road wide enough for two cars. In Nepali road means dirt path and two cars means four bikes, three cars, and kids. There parked in the path are a few 1980s Astro-van type automobiles. The vans don’t have doors or anything. Just a gangsta group of young men who ask for money and wait for the van to fill up before they move it. In Nepal using power is very expensive, so if a mini van is going to run they have to wait until every seat is full before they go. This reality clicked when I got on a Ferris wheel that had to wait twenty minutes to be filled before running. I was slowly rotated around the ancient Ferris wheel as each new passenger boarded. We made a large human sundial. The Ferris wheel rolled for a thrilling three minutes and every capsule was screaming with terror-joy.
The van is called a “micro” in Nepinglish. The micro starts and the pleasant yammer of traditional Nepali music bumps along with the road and my butt. The bumps are so steep that sometimes my butt leaves the seat– like a roller coaster! The road is rather bumpy and full of children, bicycles and children on bicycles. There are places where the micro could just fall off the big toe of the valley and tumble us all to our final destination. The road has withered and deteriorated so much that the manhole sticks out of the road like a tree trunk.
The micro arrives at the ring road that encircles Kathmandu. The ring road is a paved, smooth, asphalt road. It would be a nice road if it had the necessary signage of a road. There are no working traffic lights in Kathmandu. They have a few traffic lights near the royal palace, but those look totally broken. They were probably gifts from the USSR. Also there is so little electricity in the city that depending on traffic lights wouldn’t make sense. So the traffic just goes however it goes. There are a few traffic officers, who bravely try to regulate traffic, but you can see that their focus is to survive the smothering pollution. Everyone in KMT wears a black face mask to halt the thick smoke. The masks are all black because any other colour would be ruined in a day. A visitor would be disgusted to see how discoloured a mask can get in just a few hours. To shield the tourists from the hard knock life, the tourist area, (the area with expensive bars and hotels almost only tourists can afford) doesn’t allow in cars. This gives visitors the illusion of cleaner air.
I get picked up on the side of the road by my co-worker Surendra on his motorcycle. Surendra will get lots of much needed focus in another post. I was lucky that I popped my South Asian motorcycle cherry in India. Kathmandu doesn’t scare me too much, even though we weave between trucks, touch cars, and regularly do gnarly backflips. I guess if you have constant heart palpitations from the wild traffic, then the rhythm of them can replace your heartbeat. Being on a motorcycle through Kathmandu is certainly safer than Bangalore, but still 100x more dangerous than NYC. I don’t think that motorcycles are that scary anymore. Though they are not scary they are still dangerous….like….. eating blowfish.
I was lucky to have adjusted to a lot of things in Bangalore before coming here. Bangalore, with all its cray-cray, is a soft landing for South Asia. Kathmandu is a lot like a 3rd tier Indian city in terms of development. Poverty, stretchable time, and deep sense of calm in all aspect of society are a norm for me now. Leaving India and testing myself in a new place, I’ve recognised how chill I have become. If I have to unexpectedly wait a few hours or days for something that could be instant, I don’t care at all. When people are surviving all around you, and you have the privilege of just living, those other things in your day don’t seem that urgent anymore. It can still be a bit of a stretch for me, but I like how chill society is.
I’ll give you an example. The students from the school spend the entire day in the school. They come in at 7am and they stay in the lobby all day. They go out, buy food, bring it back, and cook it in the kitchen! They read books, use the Wifi, play games, and play with their phones. When classes are over they play Gangsta rap music and play card games. My classes ended at 3:30 one day, but we stayed at school until 6:00 doing nothing at all. They stayed around enjoying the comforts they can’t get at home. Then on our way home by motorbike Surendra took me to visit his friend. I would have been happy just to sit anywhere for hours learned from them talk in Nepali. There is nothing urgent in my life.
South India and Nepal are geographies with a deep chill. Time moves much slower here than in Japan and the Eastern USA. Time isn’t as precious as the relationships that you spend that time among. I’m adjusting to this deep chill, but the part of me that was crafted in Japan and the USA sort of laughs at what I’ve become. At work I have a three hour Nepali siesta. Time to just relax, write, eat, and enjoy Wifi. Then after work I’ll have about two and half more hours of lounging with the students. There is no manager who oversees me, just another teacher who likes to relax as well.
Riding on the motorcycle I look at the mountains and wonder if they are also enjoying their endless free time… Lazy mountains.
Rain and love must be cousins because they both will arrive when your busy making other plans. Walk into the heart of your kitchen and consume basically anything. The rain pours down the toe valleys and floods the city. Without proper water management the paved roads become slip-n-slides and the rocky roads become CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM!! HULLALUJAH. With Christmas commercial cheer on their faces, the children pour out of the school doors and into the streets with waffle cones. Singing in the rain they joyously scoop all the ice cream into their cones. Holding their precious treats with flimsy fingers they give big melted ice cream smiles for the camera. Actually they don’t do that, the rain brings disease, floods, and leeches to Nepal. The kids stay dry inside and stare out the windows and wonder why they were born in a country where almost half the people are hungry, even when the streets are made of chocolate ice cream.
The motorcycle journeys on…
We have to ride through the tourist center, Thamel. The area has shops, old architecture, and restaurants. I’m not strong against the cold. I wear a T-shirt on my head like a doo-rag and a black mask over my big nose. I cover my ghoulish appearance with two layers of hood from my four layers of clothing. Now I am invisible. I can look at the tourists and they can’t see me. I’ve had an odd relationship with other travellers since coming to South Asia. Many of them don’t have the luxury that I have of being able to stay for long periods and work with locals, they haven’t had the opportunity to adjust. When I talk with them I realise that I’m a bit different from some of them. My mind is still western, but my operating system has installed a beta South Asian driver.
There are five branches of the school across the city. I’ll get to know many parts of Kathmandu. The branch I work at most often is next to a large Tibetan Buddhist Temple. Kathmandu has a large Tibetan Refugee population. There is still a refugee camp in the city that accommodates the handful of political refugees that cross out of Tibet even still. Tibet was occupied in 1965 when Bolivia double-doggy dared Peru to grow a pair and invade inland Asia. Since then the Tibetan language and religion has been oppressed. A grand temple of Tibetan Buddhism in exile is just next to my school. In closing on the topic of Tibet, I wanted to comment that the Dalai Lama is the most handsome holy figure above 65 just beating his holiness Morgan Freedom by a spot of tea.
So many teachers across the world spend hours planning lessons. Due to the way that Nepali students conduct themselves it is impractical to plan a lesson. For teachers who are reading this, before you strike me down let me explain what lessons are like. The students show up for any class they want, they don’t have a fixed lesson structure, nor would creating one do any good. At anytime the classroom can have any number of students in it. They could all be a difference levels, however that are some students you customarily come at the same times. When class time begins, I just ask the majority of the class what they want to study and then I pull a lesson out of my rump. The class never really ends. Students just start leaving when they decide to go. New students could enter at anytime. My teaching just slows down and fades into just conversations, then I excuse myself for tea and the students disperse. More students appear over the course of twenty minutes and the conversation morphs back into a class re-adjusted for the new level of the room. It is extremely flexible and un-Japanese. Success in Japan is based on how well you can conform to a single path, success in South Asia, absolutely India included, is defined by how you adjust to a rushing river.
Although I like the river, I know that my students will suffer if they continue this unstructured life in Japan. I forced the most advanced students to take my number and text me if they are going to be late to their “assigned” class. I can’t really force Japanese culture on them, but I can at least try to warn them that they are about to into an opposite world.
I’m surprised that I’m not frustrated by anything. I’m totally here to roll with whatever. I love my students immediately because I can identify with them and I can can see how much they appreciate me. The classroom is full of smiling faces that are so happy to learn. When the day is done I know that every thing they’ve learned we go to good use. It’s not even work it’s awesome. he students are so excited that I came and made the lessons come alive. Basically the lessons are all the same topics that I have taught in English, so I know all sorts of games and drawings to make the concepts understood. The school only has beginner level courses and there is only one textbook. That one textbook is photocopied. Each student purchases a photocopy. The book is, Minna no Nihongo. With each lesson I get the students to act out situations. Young adults love the physical style of teaching. I get them out of the chairs and into pairs. The front of the classroom is our stage for Japanese performances. I get so excited and involved that I completely loose track of time, perfect for Nepal. Even when I tell them class is over they stay and ask me to keep teaching. It’s a riot… run for your lives !
Since I work at the five branches, I could be transported to any of the other schools. I spend the two morning classes near Buddha Park and then I go to the main office for the afternoon class. So far this week I only teach three classes a day. I have some much free time, I’m considering joining a gym to stay healthy. I get transported from branch to branch either by my manager’s car or Surendra’s bike.
My manager’s name is Phursang Lama. He is a celebrity in Nepal. He is a singing idol. He has Versace sunglasses and brand new Ford SUV. He wears nice clothing and drives the nicest car I’ve seen in the city. He is a calm guy. He is focused on the business. The school is very busy this year. They have 92 students. All of these students need to register and take a official language exam and the school helps them arrange visas for Japan. So naturally he is busy. He travels to Japan about once a year or more. He is polite, dependable, and kind. Below is one of his music videos.
On Tuesday, Phursang drove me to one of the main branch and told me the propose of moving me was to, “talk about class”. When I walked into the main an older male teacher wearing a teed jacket grabbed me by the arm and led me into a room with eleven student, handed me a whiteboard, then he said in Japanese to the class “ this is your new teacher” then he walked out. All eleven students were as shocked to see me as I was to them. I found out what lesson they were on by asking the most studious girl. Then I exited the room to breathe and type on my game face. Holy crap that was the most awesome lesson I ever taught. I played on the boy-girl tension of the room. When the kids tired to disrupt the class I pulled them to the first of the class and made them speak. I made them sing, act, and do Para-para. The owner and his wife appeared through the door to check on the class. I pulled him into the lesson and the made the students super show off. I kept the class for an extra half hour and I really had to turn off the lights to get the students to leave. They all were so happy and wanted to Facebook friend me.
Facebook is really popular in Nepal right now. Everyone is connecting. They put the words Facebook on anything to make it popular. I’ve seen a restaurant called the, “Facebook Kitchen” and a bus called, “Facebook”. At the Facebook Kitchen I also saw a toddler girl wondering around with a butchers’ knife. I laughed and she kept on toddling unattended with a knife.
After school sometimes I get a ride home from a portly guy named Sumon. Sumon is very polite and very good at Japanese. He also has a really Japanese attitude told me, as a Sensei. I’m receiving so much more respect in Nepal as a Sensei, than I did it Japan. Nobody knows my name, only Surendra and Phursang call me by my name. Everyone else calls me Sensei. Oddly, however I’ve started to speak Japanese to random Nepali people because I spend all my day speaking Japanese with my co-workers.
I graduated from the anus clenching stage of riding a bike. Now I just relax and look around. In Bangalore there was no spring season. Winter just ditched Spring, just like that, and hooked up with Summer. In Nepal there is a spring/summer season. Now that Spring has come the all the street dogs have turned back into puppies…is that how it works? Either way, the streets and trees are sprinkled with the living and dead bodies of little dogs and monkeys. It a bit sad to see how beautiful, innocence, and helpless those scrappy street dogs start out. their helpless poochy butts sleeping on staircases or in some shade, crossing the street like freaked out novices.
They start out so gentle and then the world spins madly on.
After a bike ride and a micro-bus shuffle, I walk through the final road back toward my home. This is certainly my favorite part of the day. The work is done, the valley is dark, and the sounds of housework and cooking from the roadside huts is all that I hear.
All of a sudden BABY GOATS! Two shiny, frisky, super super, baby goats scamper to me. I bend down to my knees and rustle their floppy ears like they are “MY BEST FRIEND, YES YOU ARE”. Right-O, I stand-up and place one foot on Blacky’s back and the other foot atop Pumpernickel’s back. With the stance of a proud charioteer, I point to my house in the dark valley and ride baby goat roller-skates all the way home.
Here is one of my manager’s music videos