Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Man giving dumpling to cat is going to Kathmandu

It took 24 hours , countries and one trip in an unmarked black car, but I made it to Nepal. As the plane descended through the dense cloud cover over Kathmandu, I saw the slums, the buses and the ancient cars and realized that I was back. It had been over 16 years and 18 countries in between, but I am finally back in South Asia. The mustaches, the ceiling fans, the slow movement without regard for time which dictates a portion of my life in Canada now dominates it.

Getting off the plane, I was hoping that the touts which invariably ravage tourists would leave me alone. Having not shaved in five days and having a nice tan from the Korean summer, I thought I could blend into the population. Of course, my brand-new 35-litre backpack and general look of bewilderment kind of gave me away. "Hola!" remarked one shark of a taxi driver. "Are you from Chile?" With a population of just 16 million people, it was kind of an odd choice, but the novelty was lost on me. I was crushed.

As we drove through past amputees lying on the street and people calmly walking through traffic driving on the right side at times, on the wrong side at times, I realized that there was nothing Pakistani, Indian or Nepali about me. Of course, my parents could have told you that for free, but I had to learn it for myself with my own hesitation at crossing the street, at indifferent bureaucracy, at random, unmarked streets and overall disorganization.

Kathmandu itself is kind of a nightmare, a sort of retrograde Seoul. Consider that with the lush green pint-sized mountains in the distance, the buses polluting jet-black air and dense cloud cover in its summer monsoon season, it is what Seoul was fifty years ago. There's even the peculiar, unique population that lives in the shadow of two giants in India and China. Of course, not everything comes back to Korea even though I'm from there.

The nimbleness of life here surprises me. The way high school students in oppressive navy uniforms pick their way on the sidewalk between filthy puddles on one side and corn roasting on the other amazes me. The way people manage to cross streets without police direction and do so calmly (I give myself away as a Westerner when I run) frightens me, and I don't even know what to say about the breeze that gives as much as it takes, taking the edge off the eat much as it whips the dust on the ground into my teeth.

Tomorrow I leave, hopefully only to look black for when I fly out of here. There's a lot of beauty in this country, but it definitely isn't here. Kathmandu is a lot of things, a sort of resilient, utilitarian concrete treehouse for those with the savvy to negotiate it, but it's definitely not the reason I came here. Without the natural beauty in this country to pull in the gora, it would be the equivalent of a regional Indian city.

That means the architecture is intriguing, if sometimes in a morbid sort of way. There are a lot of colonial-style buildings, if not colonial relics, that are decaying in a way that makes them seem like they're 500 years old. They're often set against hideous, shiny modern buildings that are cut off from the rest of the city with high walls and security guards. The faux-colonial buildings of the classical style make do with rusty gates and high-minded if somewhat worn signs indicating their government or educational function. The rest of it is low-rise utilitarian, neither ugly nor pretty, simply existing on politely-written, tastefully-coloured signs in Devangari and English.

1 comment:

lolyper said...

a nice pun.