To Nepal via Bangkok

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November 9th 2008
Published: November 10th 2008
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Thai BoxingThai BoxingThai Boxing

Standing room only. This was a championship bout, apparently. Each bout is 5 or six rounds with 90 seconds between them. Pretty much, anything is legal above the belt and below the bottom hem of the trunks.
Namaste from Kathmandu, in the heart of Nepal! Well, since my last posting I've been doing a fair amount of moving around: From Kuala Lumpur through Bangkok for a couple of days, and then on to Kathmandu (KTM) where I'm at right now. Ironically, I really haven't too much to report since then, primarilly since I've been pretty much sidelined due to a bacterial infection of my foot that became fairly serious. Dr. Syed's $14 treatment that you may remember me recounting in my last posting wasn't too effective, apparently. I also don't have too many pictures this time, but I'll fix that for at next posting. While in Bangkok, I mostly just hunkered in my hotel room, although I did get out a bit (although I probably should have seen a doctor and just stayed in bed). By the time I arrived in Nepal, I was in pretty rough shape and immediately went to the hospital. They took pretty good care of me there and I can finally say that I think I have this foot thing beat and am ready to get moving again. Tomorrow I leave for Pohkara, at the foot of the Annapurna sanctuary, where I'll begin
Between RoundsBetween RoundsBetween Rounds

The champion in red trunks (the champ or favorite always wears red) being tended to between rounds. He eventaully lost this bout to the challenger.
my volunteer service and be staying with a local family (at least until I do something to warrant my immediate expulsion!).

A couple words about Thailand, or at least what little I saw of it. While there I was able to take in a Thai Boxing Match. Surprisingly, it wasn't as bloody and as brutal as I thought it would be. Maybe part of it was that all the fighters looked like they were about 14 years old and only weighed about 120 pounds. Still, it was quite an experience. I think the most action occurs in the poorly lit, smoke filled din of the spectators' stands where wagers are being furiously shouted back and forth between the rounds by bloodthirsty spectators betting on anything from who will land the first kick to who will lose the first tooth are being consumated with little more than a hand gesture and a grunt. Before the fight, the boxers begin with a flurry of dramatic dancing maneuvers to immitate animals (most commonly birds) with dramatic hand flapping (i.e. to imitate a bird in flight, and culminate, rather suddenly considering the frenetic energy being displayed to outdo their opponents in pre-fight showmanship,
Yaret the WandererYaret the WandererYaret the Wanderer

This pic is actually from Kuala Lumpur but I forgot to include it. This guy, Yaret, is a Russian who has ridden his BMW F600GS accross the world... twice! Oh, and he's also deaf and mute (as I found out the hard way). His website is It's worth a look and shows a map of his travels.
in each fighter kneeling down in the middle of the ring for a brief meditation. No doubt to summon the gods for strength to pound his opponant into next week. It was really quite a show.

Another thing about Thailand, and Bangkok specifically: All the crazy stories about Bangkok's rampant sex industry, well, they seem to be absolutely true. Now before anyone jumps to any conclusions, let me explain. The hotel I stayed at had a concierge, which was kind of ironic since it was really kind of a dump; the power was out much of the time and the hallway immediately adjacent to my room smelled vaguely of piss, but it had a concierge nonetheless (whereas they should have perhaps had a janitor). He was about 55-60 years old and seemed very friendly, so on my first day there I struck up a conversation with him where he offered to get me tickets to the boxing match, which I accepted. In his very next sentence he asked me if I would like for him to "send a girl to my room for a massage," as he smirked and rolled his eyes on the word massage. He even had

As seen in the morning from the top of the guesthouse I stayed at. For all of it's problems, it's still a city with a lot of charm.
pofessionally prepared brochures showing Thai women in various poses and performing various activities that looked nothing akin to a theraputic massage (depending on one's definition of such) and none wearing a stitch of clothing. The most shocking thing was that he offered me this service in full company of the female desk clerk who, having heard every word, simply smiled, and he had said it to me as casually as if he had offered to hail me a taxi! I shared this story with a couple of other Western travellers that I met while I was there, and they had their own similar stories as well which makes me think that this reputation that Bangkok has is, perhaps, well earned and well deserved. Oh, in case any of you may be wondering, I declined his gracious offer. I mean, c'mon, my mom reads this journal!

Okay, onward to Nepal. Finally. Alexandre Dumas said that the whole of human wisdom can be summed up in two words: Wait and hope. Well, I've been waiting for a long time to get here (and as it turned out I waited several more days after arriving in KTM to really do anything due
Enjoying a Coke... I ThinkEnjoying a Coke... I ThinkEnjoying a Coke... I Think

I'm not sure if it is clear here, but this can of coke was labelled in skrit vice "normal", Indo-Arabic letters. Also, this little guy popped into the frame kind of unexpectedly and hung with us (Reine from Switzerland, Debby from Ohio, and I) until we bought him and his friend lunch.
to my convalescance from my foot problem). And now I sincerely hope that it was worth it. From first impressions, in particular the cooler, dryer, days filled with Himalayan sunshine, I think it has been. KTM itself is a big, urban sprawl with a lot of charm but even more smog and pollution, still, it was wonderful to finally be walking around Thamal. The food here is quite a bit different than what I had been eating in SE Asia. There is still plenty of curry to be found, but the main dish here is dahl bhat (rice and lentils) mixed with, perhaps, some curry or vegitables, etc. CHicken is pelntiful (as it is virtually everywhere) but don't even bother asking for red (cow) meat. It can range from being pretty bland (some of the best advice I got before coming here was to bring a bottle of hot sauce and a few spices) to very spicy. In general, I've really enjoyed the food here as it really seems to stick to your ribs, and part of the Nepali culture is to keep piling food on your plate until you scream uncle. If you walk away from a Nepali meal still hungry, it's your own fault. I did have a little surprise, however when I was laid up in the KTM guesthouse letting my foot heal. I was ordering all of my meals in my room and found them to be fairly tasty. On my fourth day I was finally able to walk around a little bit, and while I was walking through the service areas downstairs in the guesthouse I was nearly knocked out by this terrible smell, like a broken sewer main amidst a garbage fire. I was equally horrified seconds later when I realized that it was the kitchen from where this noxious odor came from. I tried not to think about it, for subsequent meals. The food tasted pretty good though.

The Nepalis that I've met are some of the friendliest folks I've come accross, and often love to interact with foreigners to practice their English skills. The ability to speak English is seen almost as a virtue as the common belief is that English is the language of business and commerce and is the key to economic opportunity, both individually and for a nation. While in KTM, I didn't really do or see much, but I did get an opportunity to learn some basic Nepali language, and more interestingly, to learn about Nepali culture. The caste system and arranged marriages are not as prevalent today in the urban centers like KTM, and will probably fade from relevance moreso if the current Maoist government stays around, but these traditions are still very much in practice in the villages and rural areas. The four castes range from the "noble" class (Bramans) down to the fourth tier or "untouchables". I made the mistake of asking where westerners fit on the hierarchy. My Nepali companion advised me sheepishly that although westerners and foreigners don't really fit anywhere on the scale, we are commonly referred to as "cow eaters". In a Hindu culture, that can't be a good sign, and I think I got my answer.

Another cultural difference is that in Nepal, you use your hands quite a bit more than we do in the west. Specifically, I was advised that when I get to my placement home where I'll be living with a rural family while doing my volunteer work, that I should expect to eat Nepali style: i.e. without cutlery. No problem. I can scoop up food barehanded with the best of them. I was also advised that in rural Nepal, people do not use toilet paper, rather use their hands to clean themselves up back there. Hmm... Problem! We'll see how that goes, but I can't imagine that I'll enjoy it. The most fascinating and perhaps distressing cultural tradition is that of "purifying" the house following a birth or death in the family. If either event occurs, the house is considered "contaminated" (i.e. jhuto) for 11 days at which time a local priest or holy man comes to perform his purification ritual. This is done by sprinkling cow pee throughout the hose, or, and I can't imagine why anyone would choose this latter option, with cow poop which is, apparently smeared about the house. I can't overemphasize my sincerest hope that no one is seriously aged, ill or pregnant while I'm staying there.

On to Pokhara, at the foot of the Annapurna Sanctuary and some of th emost dramatic scenery in Asia. I'm very excited to be getting there and to be healthy for it. Thanks for checking in on me. I'll have many more pictures next time.


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