Published: May 19th 2007May 19th 2007
I have a garden of my own
Shining with flowers of every hue
I loved it clearly while alone but
I shall love it more with you
...is the quote gracing the first of four fancy gold-scripted wedding invitation cards (with a gorgeous, contemporary Ganesh on the envelope), a preview of the elaborate wedding receptions and ceremonies that is follow in the coming week.
I arrived in Kathmandu on Friday afternoon after a long but scenic bus ride from Pokhara. After settling down in Kathmandu Guest House, I met Tenzing and his friends Ashish and Prabhat for dinner. They have been friends since the 3rd grade, and seeing the boys together made me a bit homesick for the girls, as it’s been almost two years with the exception of jet-setting Joanne.
Being back in Kathmandu, it felt nice to be back to a bit of familiarity and normalcy. This particular evening was Parasar's bachelor party, so naturally I split from them after dinner, despite Tenzing's kind, "Are you sure you don't want to join us? Really, it's ok." Um.. yea right. :) After being orphaned, I wandered into a live-music bar and met some locals
who took me Funky Budda, a bar/lounge/club. After a series of events (and gin and tonics:)), I found myself at the entrance of Jbar, a subtler, simpler version of the "see and be seen" joints of West Hollywood. And just like its LA counterpart, the guards were regulating who did and didn't get in (oh please). A minute after waiting in the front, I saw a familiar face walking in. It turned out to be Prem, whom I had met during my previous visit in February. I tagged along with his buddies and the whole night ended up being one big party, and after all the travel bumps and bruises from India, I had so much fun just chilling, drinking and dancing. :: day i / Cocktail party at Vineyard Lounge & Bar ::
On Saturday, Tenzing and I went to shop for shoes, as all I had were tattered flip flops and trekking shoes. Surprisingly, he made a good, laid back shopping partner, making sure I didn't commit any fashion faux pas ("you should get orange shoes to match your sari"). Due to my ability to digress when I enter malls, I didn't get any shoes, but
rather a cute dress ("no, it doesn't make you look short and the colors are nice"). We headed over to the party afterwards, which was being held in a courtyard of some boutique complex. The vibe was socially easy-going and the bride and groom were busy making their rounds with the guests. This night was my reintroduction to the Nepali habit of asking, "Did you eat?" as Geeta asked me that every time she saw me! Well, the party rocked on, the guests were a lot of fun, and the gin & tonic flowed all night long...it was a recipe for success! :) :: day ii / Mehendi Brunch ::
I don't know how I managed to wake up from my hangover, but I somehow crawled my way over to Geeta's house for her mehendi party, otherwise known as henna. By the time I arrived at her house at noon, Geeta had her hands, forearm, feet and legs covered with mehendi. It was so intricately designed on her, and after hours of letting it dry, she eventually scraped off the dried mehendi to reveal the beautiful designs. During the event, I met several of Geeta's relatives and friends,
and it made for another fun afternoon of gossip, stories and laughs.
That night, Sia, Bitly, Himanshu and I went out to Tamel and had dinner and wine at Helena's. Sia and Bitly went to school together with Geeta in India, and Himanshu is Bitly's husband who has a knack for telling funny stories and drinking whiskey and water, while Bitly is sort of like the Indian version of Reese Witherspoon—cute, bubbly, smiley, chatty, etc. Later on in the evening, we went to New Orleans to check out a live show and met Prem. He was sort of given the job to entertain us, and as any good host, he led us on our Thamel-bar-hopping tour. A couple hours into this, we were all completely wasted and dancing up a storm at Fire Club. We had told Geeta's driver to go home earlier in the evening, but at 3 a.m. or so, we got a call saying that he was still waiting in Tamel-- which meant he was waiting about seven hours!!! We hurried back to the tired, sleepy, waiting driver... feeling so bad that we got him momos to make it up...which actually didn't. We made plans to
go to Baktaphur the next afternoon depending on how successful we were at nursing our potential hangovers. :: day iii / Geeta's evening reception ::
Well, it was the final mystery shot we took the night before that did it for Bitly... she woke up with an unforgiving hangover, and opted to rest for the afternoon, while Sia, Himanshu and I went to Baktapur, one of the three ancient kingdoms of Kathmandu, and supposedly the most grandest one. Now it's a well-preserved "old town," with ancient architecture and monuments. The entrance fee is peanuts for locals and SAARC countries, while foriegners have to pay Rs700 ($10).... I tried to pretend that I was a Nepali, as everyone tells me that I look Nepali, but for the one time that it mattered, the attendant didn't buy it for a second. Plan B was to say I was Chinese as they are also on some promotional discount; I tried to explain that "I'm Chinese but born in America," but it didn't work. So I forked over the foreigner price. We were feeling pretty tattered from the night before, but after a fat, gluttonous lunch, we were rejuvenated and we made
our round through the beautiful ancient kingdom.
Later in the afternoon, we wandered into an art school/gallery that were selling some astonishing paintings, and I saw the most beautiful Tibetan mandala thanka painting… and I’ve seen so many of them in Tibet and Nepal, but this one was so perfect. The thing about backpacking is that you often don’t buy souvenirs as it’s a pain in the ass the lug it around, so you end up passing on buying things. Well, the painting that I was thisclose to buying ended up being a “I should have bought the damn thing” regret and I still think about it. Oh well, another reason to return to Nepal. :)
We made our way back to Geeta's house for her evening reception party, where she was hoisted up on a platform, greeting the hundreds of guests who came all night long. She sat there looking like a beauty pageant contestant, as she looked impressively beautiful in her elaborate gold intertwined red sari, perfectly made hair with red flowers, armsload of shimmering bangles, and a permanent smile on her perfectly made-up face-- and her makeup was beautiful enough to make the Sephora-Queen, Julie,
trinkets for sale
day iii- Baktapur
proud. Geeta is really pretty (that's why I was able to pass off using her ID when I was underage, haha) and a borderline tomboy, so seeing her made up and glamorous was really a treat. That night at the party, while Geeta was busy greeting & meeting, the rest of us made a little refuge next to her stage for moral support, while sipping bottles and bottles of wine. Geeta lent me a gold treaded orange sari to wear for the reception, and with a bindi on, I again looked Nepali. Someone even spoke to me in Nepali! The only problem was that I had no shoes so I wore my ghetto FLIP FLOPS! HAhahaa... talk about a high class seniorita! :)
Oh, today was my birthday as the clock struck midnight while we were sitting around after the reception, talking, laughing and finishing the drinks. I was really happy to be in the company of Geeta, Sia and Bitly. I was sort of adopted into their group, so it felt nice to be with familiar people, since it's the second time I've been away from my family, friends and home on my birthday. It's funny because last
year, I was in the airplane coming to Korea from Bangkok, and b/c of the international time zones, the time reached midnight twice, so I actually had two birthdays! Well, some people say that as you get older, birthdays seem less and less fun/ important/ etc. But not for me! I can't wait for next year so I can make up for the two overseas birthdays, a feeling I share with fellow jet-setting Joanne--whom I think beats me with the weirdest birthdays celebrations, a la with her Chinese business partners in Hong Kong-- hahaaha. Anyhow, thanks buddies back home for the string of happy birthday emails & messages (tear tear). Next year when I'm back, someone can finally get me the Anthology DVD set, though I doubt Julie would (she saw what happened with the Counting Crows CD). :: day iv / Parasar's luncheon reception & the wedding ceremony ::
Today, there was a luncheon at Parasar's house, and we were all so excited to go over there. Gosh his house was so beautiful, with a vast garden, high pillar columns guarding the entrance of his home, which was reminiscent of a colonial-British mansion. There was a stuffed tiger
and cheetah on his grand stair way, which I (and PETA) hope were fake! The visit was quick-- we just came and said hello, ate from the buffet-style lunch, and was on our way back to Geeta's.
When I arrived, Geeta was in her living room and she was surrounded by a bunch of people presenting her with gifts and jewellery from Parasar's side. Later I found out that a many of them were his servants and that was funny. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm in Nepal and they all (at least in their circle of friends) have servants here, or at minimum a main/cook. One of the cool things about Geeta's family is that they treat their workers like family, not only treating them really well, but educating them and buying the long-term employees plots of land, etc. Geeta says she knows what it’s like to work hard like that, as she was (gasp) cleaning and cooking when she lived abroad in the States. Hahaa.. all this is so funny to me.
Later in the early evening, Parasar arrived to a ceremonious welcome from Geeta's side of the family, complete with a full-on band
to greet his arrival. Wow.. so it begins, I thought. Geeta lent me a beautiful beaded red sari, and this time, I wore my Indian made leather sandals-- a step up from the flip flops at least!
The ceremony was really long and complex, so I didn't understand the symbolic significance of half the things that were going on, but here is my interpretation of it. Well, since Parasar is from the Brahmin (priest) caste, there are additional things that need to be done during the wedding, on top of the Newari customs, which is where Geeta's side of the family are from. I believe the Newars were the first to come to Kathmandu, so they are like the OG Nepalis... I think (I forgot a bunch of stuff I read from the first time I was here in Feb). Geeta's UN-employed aunt, Anjali, told me that Newars are also big on the alcohol, and even when babies are born, they traditionally give it a drop of alcohol. This tidbit of info explains why all of Geeta's receptions and parties had copious amounts of alcohol flowing (whereas in Brahmin castes, they tend not to drink alcohol, hence no drinks
at Parasar's luncheon)!
Anyhow, so after Parasar arrived, the priest and his assistant (see everyone with money has helpers here!) started on the ceremony. This priest was also the person who married Parasar's parents, which goes to show his significance to the family. He did some puja and chants that no one could understand-- at least no one I asked. Maybe he was speaking in Sanskirt or something. Anyhow, after that, Geeta arrived and they sat in front of this elaborately decorated fire-pit, and perpendicular to them sat the priest, who proceeded to chant for hours. Then there was a sindoor ceremony, where Geeta sat with a drawn cloth to her head, and Parasar drew red powder from one end to the other, where it was placed on her forehead. Then later, a strawberry looking sequenced thing was placed on her upper forehead, another indication of marriage. Then Parasar did this thing where he carried her and moved her from one side to another, and Geeta did this one thing where she "bows down" to him three times (um, sounds like a cause for NOW!). In the end of the ceremony, there was a sort of tug o war
with the groom's side and the bride's side, which I equated it to the throwing of the bouquet in Western wedding ceremonies.
Again, that night, the drinks were endless, and we all sat around outside until the rain storm hurried us into the home. Traditionally, the groom and his friends are supposed to sleep over since Geeta is leaving the family tomorrow, so the guys all slept over. What a perfect wedding day I thought, a warm, breezy day, topped off with a fresh coat of rain. :) :: day v / Groom meets bride's family, religious puja & Geeta's ceremonious departure to Parasar's home (aka. cryfest) ::
Today, Sia left back for India, so Bitly, Himanshu and I came over to Geeta's house in the afternoon to say bye. While we were there, Tenzing offered to show us around to Patan, which is one of the other ancient kingdoms of Kathmandu. It had a string of enormous pagodas, and from the rooftop of the cafe we had lunch at, we were able to really appreciate the magnificent beauty of the courtyard. We went over to a Buddhist temple and a museum on Buddhism. There were so much
to see, but the guys were just rushing along, whereas Bitly was lingering back, and I was lingering even more slowly... so the guys cleverly came up with a chant, "Bitly more quickly, Grace pick up the pace!" HAhahaa.. was so funny, I could not stop laughing at the prospect of how desperate the guys were for us to hurry, they had to come up with a catchy, cheesy chant.
We got to Geeta's house a little late, but managed to dress up in time. Today was the big day, where Geeta leaves the family to Parasar's house. It's supposed to be a really sad day, as it's a symbol of Geeta leaving her family to live with her husband's family. Parasar was over at her house to do the meet and greet all of Geeta's family and relatives. It was purely done for tradition, as Parasar is practically family to them anyway, considering how he and Geeta have been together for 11 years. During this ceremony, some were crying because they were anticipating what was coming next.
After that, Geeta and Parasar did puja together at the make-shift shrine in her living room, and then everyone followed
day v: Geeta's leaving ceremony
Geeta and Parasar outside to the waiting car. There were tear works, and Geeta did her final farewell to her emotionally-charged family. Bitly and I went along, whereas the rest of Geeta’s family are not allowed to come.
Before we even got to Parasar’s house, there was a welcome band along the drive, and when we got to his house, many of his relatives were dancing at the entrance to the compounds, eagerly awaiting Geeta’s arrival. The thing about the Nepali wedding is that the groom’s side of the family hardly participates in the wedding until now. So there were a bunch of things to be done, like a welcome ceremony from Siru (Parasar’s sister); a humorous tradition where the girls from Parasar’s side blocks the entrance to the home, refusing to let her in until she presents them with something; and a “competitive” game that Geeta plays with her mother-in-law (Geeta won).
After all that, we had another dinner at Parasar’s house, and called it a night. Being a witness for my first Nepali wedding left me thinking (1) that the elaborate Nepali customs are something to be really proud of, (2) poor Geeta, as the all-day
With Geeta's aunt, Anjali
day vi: Geeta's reception party at Hotel Shanker
receptions, ceremonies, smiles, and hugs must be utterly exhausting, and (3) I will have my bridesmaids wear beautiful saris for my wedding! :) :: day vi / Geeta's reception party at Hotel Shanker ::
In the afternoon, we went over to Geeta’s to say hello, and afterwards, being the Korean-food ambassador that I am, I took Bitly and Himanshu out for delicious Hangook cuisine. I don’t know how I remembered the obscure location of Seoul Arirang from the last time I was in Nepal, but if there is a will, there’s a way, so I sniffed my way to the Korean restaurant. I ordered a feast of traditional Korean cuisine, as well as the ingredients for the soju-beer-coke alcoholic drink. And as any Korean will tell you, it can’t be a complete Korean experience without popping open a bottle of nice, cold soju. Anyhow, as expected :), they both LOVED the food and the kimchi was well-received, so my job was done. :)
After the late lunch, I went over to my guesthouse and the lady in the gift shop helped me put on yet another beautiful sari—a beaded, flower-print, delicate lime green sari. Although I’ve been
Himanshu, Parasar, Geeta, Bitly and I
day vii: Parasar's reception party at Radisson Hotel
dressed three times so far, putting on a sari is quite an undertaking, and in no way could I do it myself. It’s pretty much a 10 meter long fabric that you put on with no strings, pins, zippers, buttons, etc., so you can imagine the work that goes into putting one of these on. Afterwards, I went over to Hotel Shanker, where a beautiful outdoor reception was taking place, with more smoozing and more boozing. The hotel reception was less formal and traditional than the other receptions at Geeta’s house, as I believe it was more for business acquaintances and distant relatives. :: day vii / Parasar's reception party at Radisson Hotel ::
So the last day of the wedding has arrived, and this time, it’s Parasar’s reception, and I think there were well over a thousand guests, as his family are big players in the Kathmandu community. His company does business with Korean Airlines, so the representative for South Asia came, Mr. Kim. I noticed him right away because his wife was dressed in a traditional contemporary hanbok. They were talking with Siru, and I went over to say hello. Gosh it’s been so long since
I spoke a word of Korean that I was stuttering like a retard when I first started chatting with them. Embarrassed and feeling dumb, I went over to Geeta and Parasar to say hello. Then I went back over to Mr. Kim and his wife and spoke with them again, but this time, properly and more refined. As I spoke with them, I could hear that my heavy English accent had made its way back into my Korean, something that I almost managed to eradicate while I was in Korea for a year and a half! All that hard work…and now I’m speaking in a rolling Korean again. :(
After the reception, we all went out to party it up, first starting the night at a jam-packed hotel club. Late into the night, a fight broke out which heavily damaged the hotel—complete with broken windows, flower pots, walls and the collection of motorbikes knocked over like domino squares— so that was the premature death of the party. We moved over to the sceney Jbar and danced until the club closed down, so Tenzing and I went over to Galaxy to have a final good night drink. Afterwards, I went
to Fire to say bye to Prem’s good friend, who was visiting Nepal for the first time in 7 years from London, and soon after, moved to Funky Budda to mellow out. Needless to say, it was a long, exhausting, eventful night. :: Life after the wedding ::
The rest of the time I spent in Kathmandu was pretty much a blur of cafes, restaurants and bars— Or2K, Le Bistro, Tom & Jerry’s, New Orleans, Fire Club, Jbar and Full Moon, etc. I went back to meeting other travellers, swapping information and stories. I bumped into Oly, who I had met in Varanasi, so it was really nice to see her again. She had done the Vipassana course again in Kathmandu, and was raving about giving it a second go and how much more significant it was the second time around. It inspired me to try to get back to meditation, and I will definitely do one more course later on in the near future. I went back to my duty of being a Korean food ambassador, and took Elad, Oren and Kevin to grub and drink, and another time took Oly, Gal, Gift and two African guys
on holiday. Both times, I taught them a bunch of soju games, and we were so drunk. Gal also taught us this animal game where we pretend to be animals and it was just about the most silly and bizarre soju game I have ever played. It was so fun and the entire staff sat around entertained, looking at us hollering and laughing… as that’s what copious amounts of soju does to people. It’s funny how soju has the exact same mood/atmospheric affect wherever it’s drunk, whether it’s in Korea, the States or in Nepal! Ha, well, my job is done as soju ambassador. :)
On one of my first nights in Nepal, I was walking out of my guesthouse and bumped into… Sebastian!, one of the Kathmandu Guest House live-ins I met last time I was here. He had stayed since then, working on independent projects here and there, and just loving Nepal. Last time I was here, Sebastian knew the insider info for KGH, like how to make phone calls for free, and that you could use the internet for free late at night when no one was around. Well, security beefed up thanks to his cunning
on my walk to Durbar Square (another ancient kingdom)
ways, and there are now new security codes on the phone and log-in systems for the internet! Hahaahaa… We had some amazing conversations and it was just too nice to see him again and catch up with the crazy Italian. I heard from him updates on the rest of the KGH crew… Owen was back in the States, and Doreen (the lesbian from Holland in her early 20s) had just stayed in Nepal because she met a lover… Kali, the intelligent, opinionated Chilean Maoist sympathizer in her late40s! Sh!t, I could not believe that because last time I was in Nepal, Kali was in an unhappy, unstable relationship with a German-American, confused about what she should do, and Doreen was starting to hang out a lot with Kali, visiting her Mao orphanage in the village. Well, love blossomed for the both of them… but I do wonder if Kali was bi or if she just developed it from spending so much time with Doreen. Well anyway, good for them.
In between all the wedding events and the travelers scene, I hung out just about everyday with Prem, who was just about the nicest host and sweetest guy, as were
his friends that I met over time. A lot of his friends were visiting Nepal, so it was endless nights of get-togethers and parties, so I think I got that all out of my system, at least for the time being! :) I was very well-taken care of during my stay in Nepal, and for that, I am a lucky girl.
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