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Published: September 30th 2009
meditating with the enormous Buddha statues
It's been longer than I like between posts, and this time I'll have to risk your boredom again with a direct paste of my raw project notes (names removed). Not only have I been completely occupied over the past few days, I've also been sick, removing all desire to sit at my computer and write up notes. It's also high time for a picture post, so if you need a break while reading my notes you can refresh yourself with some scenes around the Kathmandu Valley. Here goes:
Today I did some exploring. I met up with a couple of travelers in Thamel, and together we walked across the bridge to Swoyambhu, stopped at the Thulo Buddha park, then continued on up the hill and out of Kathmandu city to a small Hindu temple called Ichangu Naryan. The scenery on the walk was fantastic, and as we climbed higher into the Himalayan foothill we got bigger and bigger panoramic views of the Kathmandu Valley and Kathmandu City. We passed through a few small settlements on the way, and saw people having fun and playing cards on their Dashain vacation time. We also saw some kids flying kites, and one
'what's your favorite music?' 'Tibetan'
'what's your favorite instrument?' 'Tibetan'
was having a hard time—his kite was ripped through the middle. We arrived at Ichangu Naryan to find that it was much smaller and less fantastic than we had originally thought. It’s still a very significant temple to Shiva, and it’s very old (maybe 17th century), but it’s fairly small and out of the way. We rested at the site for a while, took some pictures, spoke with some Nepalis (more language practice), then walked back a little way. On the way back we met a group of late teenagers who were teasing a girl among them; they wanted to embarrass her by calling me over and saying that she wanted to marry me. It was all fun and games, and we had a good laugh. We then saw a Buddhist monastery on a nearby hill and decided to walk up to it. The walk was tough but well worth it. The monastery was beautiful; the architecture and painting was pristine, and the surrounding views of mountains and the Kathmandu valley were unmatched. While wandering around I ran into a few of the kids living and studying there (all in traditional red and orange Tibetan Buddhist robes), and we had
a lively conversation. They asked me the usual questions: where are you from? How long will you be here? When did you get here? First time in Nepal?, and I asked them the usual questions: what kind of music do you listen to? What’s your favorite music? What’s your favorite subject in school?. Then we talked a little about Tibet. I haven’t been, and the kids haven’t been, but we all agreed that we want to go. One of the kids told me that he was from America. I asked what part, and he said: Canada. He said he was there for four years (he didn’t look much older than 10). He then said that he had white skin when he was in America, and his skin turned brown when he got to Nepal (obviously joking). His favorite music is Tibetan, and his favorite instrument is also ‘Tibetan’ (not a misunderstanding—he knew exactly what I was asking). I asked his name, and he gave me one, then changed it, then changed it again. He asked my name, and I gave it, then he changed it, and then he changed it again. He was a clever little kid, and I enjoyed
speaking with him. I then spoke with a Tibetan philosophy teacher who works at the monastery. He said that the students learn Tibetan music—drums, singing, and some shawm-type horns. He gave us a tour of the inside of the sanctuary, and it’s absolutely one of the most beautiful and colorful rooms I’ve ever seen. There were two enormous painted ceremonial drums just inside the entrance, and a line of ornately decorated shawms. All of the walls were elaborately painted with figures of the Buddha, the wheel of life, the death protector, and various other mandalas. There were embroidered prayer flags hanging from the ceiling, and long cloth lanterns dispersed throughout. Along the two side walls were rows of low desks and sitting mats for studying. After the tour we said our goodbyes to the teacher, took a few more pictures, and went back down the hill. We stopped again at the thulo Buddha because the sun was in a better position for pictures, then walked back to Thamel to end the journey.
I had a wonderful Dashain tika day today. It started with me going to sitar professor’s house in the morning to
I'm the tiny human in the gray t-shirt in front of the middle Buddha
see if he was playing. He didn’t really plan on playing that morning, and he was a little bit stressed out about the Dashain events (he had to celebrate with two different families; his parents and his wife’s parents), and he said he had a lot to do before it got started, but since I arrived he agreed to play for a little bit. We talked for a bit about Dashain, had tea, he explained that Malushree, the Dashain song, is in reverence to Durga, who battled evil demons, and that Malushree is a raga with other songs also to Durga. I was a little bit sick in the morning, and my nose was running quite a bit, and he recommended that I get some rest that day. It worked out all right, because then I didn’t have to worry about joining him for celebrations in Gongabu, then madal teacher in Swoyambhu, and then guitar friend and his Nepali wife in Lazimpat. This way I only had to join Madal and Guitar. We also talked about medicine and diabetes. He recommended that I try yoga to help control the diabetes. I don’t know how much yoga will specifically help the
meditating at the Monastery
disease, but I’m sure it will be good for my overall health. He said he would look for a teacher for me. After we played he threw out the idea that we should write a song and record it—he on sitar and I on clarinet. I left fairly quickly after that, as he had preparing to do, and I had some resting to do. After a brief break at the apartment, and a walk through Ranibari with my roommate, I rode my bike to Swoyambhu to hang out with Madal and meet his family. He has a fairly large family with a group of 6-7 people around my age. First we sat around and made introductions, then we played a little bit of music (I brought my clarinet with me), his brother and father also play music, and he had me get out a madal and show what I’ve learned. Everybody was extremely friendly and festive. After some more talk (in Nepali—I got some practice), I went to the kitchen and ate a huge lunch of daal bhat, but instead of daal I put curried potatoes on the rice. My plate also had a range of mystery meat chunks, probably
The outside of the sanctuary
buff, but I don’t know what part of the animal it came from. To wash down all this food I had a small glass of rakhsi, the local home-brew moonshine made of rice. I then went down to the family room again, played cards and did magic tricks with the family, taught them slaps and speed and blackjack, and I learned some gambling card games from them. We then went to the roof and flied some kites. We lost both of our kites to other kite fliers who cut our line with theirs. It was a gorgeous day, and the valley looked spectacular from the roof. I talked with the guys about music, and favorite artists, and Nepal, and favorite places, and one of the guys likes Lumbini, and another guy likes Swoyambhunath because the monkeys are his friends, and we talked about the US, and how things are the same and different, and trekking, and how some of the mountains close by are trekking circuits, and I was given another plate of food, and a glass of chang, or local homebrew rice beer. The food was good, but I was already full, and the chang was very sour. After
Kathmandu from above
My apartment is in this picture somewhere
it started getting hot outside again we went back downstairs, and on the way down I had a puff on an old wooden water pipe. Back downstairs I hung out some more with the family—it was 3 guys who looked a little younger than me, one guy older than me, and a girl who might’ve been a little younger than me. They entertained me all afternoon because Madal teacher left to take his young son to another friend/family member’s house. We played some more cards and did some more magic tricks, and right at the last minute before I was going to leave somebody came in the room with another plate of food for me. This was an average Newari celebration lunch—beaten rice, curried vegetables, meat chunks, and something completely new to me: buffalo brains sliced and fried. They looked and tasted like mushrooms. They also gave me another glass of rice beer, which I had to drink directly before getting on my bike. I somehow managed to eat maybe half of what was on my plate before leaving. The whole family was incredibly friendly, and they implored me to return soon. One of the girls is a little bit
count the education advertisements
older than me, and she will be studying to be a nurse in Bangalore soon.
I rode away from his house in Swoyambhu, and the view of the Kathmandu valley from the ridge on the road was spectacular. There was very little traffic that day, and many people were away from the city, and it rained the night before, and it was a gorgeous day, so the air was magnificently clear and the views were wonderful. I took some pictures. At around Lainchour I got another flat tire, the second in three trips to swoyambhu, so I’m taking the micro-bus from now on. I’ll ride my bike to Gyaneswor and Bishal Nagar and Thamel, but not Swoyambhu. I walked my bike up to Guitar friend’s place at around 5, and entered the party for the rest of the evening. Quite a few of my friends were there talking and having a good time. We chilled for a while, watching the George Harrison tribute concert on DVD, and then my host’s wife gave my roommate and I tikas. The tikas were huge—I took pictures. We talked more, mostly about music, and then it was time for yet another meal. His wife
cooked an amazing spread of fried chicken and various curries. The fried chicken tasted amazing—the best fried chicken I’ve had since I arrived. I gave them a bottle of Texas Pete’s hot sauce, and my roommate gave him a package of Hawaiian chocolates. After dinner we talked some more, joked some more, had a great time, and then we all got out our instruments. The host played some songs he’s working on, my roommate played some songs he knows on guitar, people practiced some mandolin, and I played clarinet melodies the whole time. One of the Nepali girls started calling my instrument ‘poo poo’ because that’s kind of the sound it makes… We had a good laugh over that one. Everybody else wanted to try the clarinet, none to great success, and they can all now appreciate a little more how difficult it is. By the end of the night everybody was pretty well intoxicated, and I ended up sleeping on Anthony’s floor on a big thick blanket.
This day I felt very sick with cold. I was supposed to go to sitar professor’s for music, but I overslept my alarm and didn’t wake until around 10:00. I
didn’t have a very set plan for what to do that day, it was the worst of my sick days, but a man who I met at the Lazimpat Gallery café called and said he would like to show me some videos of music performances and introduce me to some of his friends, so I agreed to meet him (he doesn’t live very far away). Sure enough, he had hours of footage of music performances, mostly religious ceremonies, and he has some great shots of what happens when nobody learns the music and the old musicians die. I’ll be able to use some of that with my project, I’m sure. He’s an eccentric old man—he has a big film studio/office in his house with shelves and stacks of digital video tapes. He has a couple computers, a couple cameras, a couple TV screens, and a huge stuffed bird of prey. He has a garden outside, a birdcage with a variety of little birds and one cockatiel, and he has an enormous record collection and assortment of broken electronic items downstairs. He has a lot of things to say about a lot of subjects, and I listened with varying interest. I
I know both of these guys
finally left, went home to eat and take care of myself for a little bit, and then went to my guitar friend’s house to watch a movie with him and another friend. We watched the King of California, about a dysfunctional father and his daughter looking for old Spanish treasure in California. We then watched a little bit of Year One, talked for a while, and then I went home.
This whole day I seemed to be rushing from place to place around the city, and feeling sick to boot. I woke up with a cold, slept for a lot of the morning, and then finally made it over to sitar professor’s for practice. I was very late, and I didn’t get to play much, but I got to watch a good lesson. Finishing there, I had the idea to ride to Bhat Bhetini to buy some floor cushions to sit on for tabla, and I met up with a metal guitar player who’s also learning sitar with the professor. He’s a good guy, and we talked a lot about music and opportunities and music teaching. He helped me buy some cushions at a good price. We stopped
and got cokes, and he bought me some cookies, and we agreed to meet again another time. I then went home for a very short time, and rushed off again to Swoyambhu to speak with my madal teacher. I was feeling more and more sick, and it was very hot outside, so we decided not to play, but instead talk about my previous research and some of the conclusions that I’ve come up with. It was a great talk, and I wrote it up already. He gave me some cold medicine, and we drank some hot lemon, and I went home just in time to meet my guitar friend to go to the New Orleans restaurant for our gig. The gig went well, once it got started. When we arrived the guys told us ‘no music tonight.’ You can imagine how we reacted, having been cancelled the night before. We told them that, yes, there is in fact music tonight, and since they have the equipment in house they need to start setting it up. They were understaffed for Dashain, and I’m sure the waiters just wanted to go home. Unfortunately for them, we wouldn’t let them, and it turned
Me and My Monkey
Everybody's got something to hide, except for...
out to be a very busy night—quite a few of our friends came, and a bunch of other expats were also there because it was one of the only places open. I ate a great burger, then played the show.
Friday morning I woke up early and did a practice at sitar professor’s house, and at the end of the practice I met Hom Nath Upadhyaya, the premier tabla guru in Nepal. He was very friendly, and we talked briefly about music teaching and the US (he taught at the University of California for a while). He didn’t stay long, and when he left I stayed around with the professor and ate daal bhat with him and his family. He told me about Dashain, and how it is a celebration of Durga’s victory over evil demons. People do meditation and worship for nine days, and then on the tenth day is celebration, because the battle took 10 days to complete. There are also Dashain roots in the Ramayana, and Ram rescued Seti in 10 days, I think. The festival also coincides with the old Newari harvest festival, so they’ve been combined into one big Nepali Dashain festival. He
huge festival crowds
said that it used to be for all Nepalis, but now some Nepalis are identifying more with their caste or religion, and they say that Dashain is not for them. People go to their homes for Dashain, and visit family, and do meditations, and give tikas and clothes and eat special food. He said that the importance of the festival is diminishing since people buy clothes more often, and people eat special food throughout the year. After leaving the professor’s house I quickly went home, took care of some things, then went to Jyatha for another Nepali language class. We talked for a long time about Dashain also, and I learned some new structures. I really value those times for the language practice that I gain. When I left the big road Kantipath was closed down for an official procession in association with Dashain. It wasn’t a parade, though, it was only a few cars driving fast with sirens. I then went home and made ready to join my guitar friend for our Comfort Zone gig. I hopped on my bike and went to Thamel, but when I arrived I found that our gig was cancelled, and it was a bad job on the part of the restaurant manager to blame. She just forgot about us, and then made a bunch of excuses as to why it couldn’t happen that night anyhow. It was extremely unprofessional, and we are still somewhat angry about it. Instead of playing, then, we went to the Roadhouse restaurant and ate pizza.
Today I had a practice with sitar professor in the morning, then went home to prepare for a performance at Whitefield Higher Secondary School. I went to the school at 12:45, rehearsed a little bit with the music teachers, then went to the stage and helped set up. It was a very long, echoey auditorium, and the sound system was awful—it was designed for speeches, not music. We checked all the microphones, played some sample things, and generally milled around as the kids came in for the children’s day celebration. The backdrop of the hall was a painting of the mountains, and there was a banner that said ‘Happy Children’s Day, Every Day is Children’s Day.’ The program started with some speeches and awards, and included jokes, poems, songs, sing-alongs, skits, and speeches. Many of the speeches I’ve heard in Nepal have been very humble, emotional, and somewhat apologetic. It makes me uncomfortable—I like my speakers to be strong and assured of themselves. The principal’s mother sang her song, but the mike system wasn’t the best, and she was hard to hear. We finally did the Malushree (special Dashain song) performance, and it turned out alright, but not nearly as good as in practice. The hall was very hot and stuffy—there was no air control at all. The kids also weren’t really required to do anything. A lot of them were in the hall, but there were also some wandering around the school, playing outside, and going to cold stores outside for refreshments. There was no punishment for not being with the rest of the students. It was a little strange. After Malushree the only thing I had left was to accompany one of the music teachers on his song, and that wouldn’t be for another while yet, so he, the other teacher, and I went to a cold store across the street and had cake and sodas. We stayed there for a while, talking about various things, including the idea floating around that Nepal might change its flag, and we were finally called back into the school to give the performance. It went fine, and we stuck around afterward to eat daal bhat with some of the teachers in the school canteen (cafeteria). We talked about the performance, I was asked about music ed in the US, and about how long I had been playing the clarinet, and they invited me back anytime, and then we left. It’s great to see the two Whitefield music teachers together—they look like great friends. It wasn’t until about 5:30 that I went home, and I just stayed at home, read my book, and tried to go to the Gallery café (it was closed), but ended up getting some noodles at BlueMoon instead. It was a nice relaxing night.
PS: I found out that it is legitimately possible to rent the elephant from the zoo on an hourly charge. That's all I'll say.
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