Friday, August 13, 2010

Third World chic

I didn't think people actually rode on the sides of buses until I got to Nepal. I could be wrong, but it seemed that buses there don't actually have doors, so someone must stand on a step outside the bus to see if someone wants to get on. People do ride on the tops of buses, but I think those buses were a class below the one I took, something billed as a "video coach".

As the bus rumbled over bumpy, pot-holed roads, even the supposedly beautiful city of Pokhara was an urban nightmare. It was neither urban nor natural. There was garbage everywhere, and most of the land was neither paved nor grass. It was typically filthy dirt, verging on mud, covered in garbage of different kinds. Buildings, too, were somewhere between half-constructed and full-constructed. They were scattered across the landscape, not forming a block of buildings, but imposing themselves every which way.

I find something interesting and redeemable in the vast, sprawling cities of the developing world. Lahore, Delhi, Beijing and Sao Paolo all charm of some kind in spite of their flaws. Urban Nepal may have been hideous, but the people were surprisingly cool. The conductor of the bus is a prime example. His rattail was not otherwise commendable, but coupled a shirt advertising some sort of heavy/death metal, it was impressive. If someone younger and hipper were to hang out of a bus, it goes from being an embarrassing reality of a poor country to the sort of quirk that someone might decry one day.

Gradually, I began to notice that people weren't as poor in style as their country was. There was a lot of bleached hair, a lot of band shirts, and even some Nepali goth. The disdain for school uniforms was also duly noted and appreciated, for how well-done it was. For a relatively isolated country, I felt that Nepalis are more in-touch than their counterparts in a comparably poor country like Pakistan with the totality of world culture, more like Latin America or Africa than a staid South Asia.

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