Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Famed Stupa- Boudha

P: Here I am eating Thugpa, a typical Tibetan soup, in a little restaurant of the Boudha Stupa. Actually this is a bit modified, it is a momo soup. Momos are Nepalese yummy little dumplings. The empty bowl next to it, now, that was the Thugpa!!

C: I had the same although you do not see me. It was really good. P didn't mention that we tasted our first Yak milk, salty, butter tea here. Not soo bad but not good enough for me to ever want another in my life. P: And this is the Stupa. It is located a bit on the outskirts of town, in the Boudha area. From the always reliable wikipedia:

A stupa (from Sanskrit and Pāli: m., स्तूप, stūpa, literally meaning "heap") is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, once thought to be places of Buddhist worship, typically the remains of a Buddha or saint. In other Asian languages such monuments are called

  • chorten (Tibetan མཆོད་རྟེན༏ (Wylie: mchod rten), "dharma place/seat")
  • chedi (Thai, from the Pāli chaitya)
  • dagobah (Sinhalese, from the Sanskrit dhatu)
  • tope (Hindi, from the Sanskrit)
  • garbha (Sanskrit, meaning a storehouse or repository)
P: It's a really amazing place, with a great energy. When we had to decide where we were going to live, the Fulbright peeps had recommended this neighborhood, but we thought that we should leave more centrally. The square that houses the Stupa is lined with Thangka painting shops (the objective of my Fulbright is research on this painting tradition- more on this later). So as we walked into one of these shops we immediately started making contacts. That in conjunction with the feeling of the place itself, which is quite striking, started to make us feel as we did a mistake, that we should have decided to actually live here.

C: I'm not sure how to write about the first experience of the Stupa. First of all, I did not come to Nepal expecting a "spiritual experience," as many of the visitors to Nepal anticipate. But to understand what the moment was like coming into the Stupa circle for the first time, you must first understand the context of the moments leading up to our visit. We've mentioned this a bit but, being in Nepal, the first days were filled with dust, hectic streets, very early mornings with unfamiliar sounds- albeit beautiful, but sounds none the less, intense smog- just sort of all around chaoticness. Then we arrive here to this pristine white structure, surrounded by the gutteral sounds of chanting monks spilling from the monasteries, recorded chants from all of the little shops, and many many Tibetan women and men, Monks and tourists walking in meditative circles around the Stupa, millions of prayer flags blowing in the wind. It was powerful. Hard to deny feeling touched, deeply. It was a very spirit filled moment for me and I think also for Piero. All of the chaos fell away. In the moments we spent there, we decided that we want to live here, near this kind of peace. Now it is a place that we go to almost everyday. It is also the place where P and I both slowly, respectfully (as some of the holy places here are not open to the public- but as we are now learning, Buddhist monasteries are mostly open to the public as opposed to the Hindu temples that are a bit more off limits to the general public) entered our first Buddhist monastery and received our first blessing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hadigaon Streets

P: This is an archetype of the storefront here. There are thousands of these around town; some are food oriented (the majority, it seems), others are almost like pharmacies, others are hardware stores, others sell liquor and beer, and others again sell stationary.

C: Its amazing how small these spaces can be, sometimes there is only room for a person to sit, in the lotus position at arms height. (By the way, Nepalis are some of the most limber people I've seen.)
C: The latest in pollution fashion. It is an absolute must have.
C: Beautiful.

C: A bit of (what I'm thinking is) Maoist propaganda.

C: Finally, the streets of Kathmandu, in and near Hadigaon.


C: Images from our first home in Nepal. I think we were there for only a week or so. We had no idea what to expect as the Fulbright makes it their policy not to show any pictures of the apt you choose prior to arrival. It was a crap shoot. Upon arrival, I was comforted by the fact that it was an apt in a private dwelling. The owner was the former Police Chief- we felt safe, the family was super nice, helpful and accommodating. We had our only internet connection thus far at that place. Unfortunately, as it was a basement apt, it was quite dark, a bit moist, and very dusty (not to mention the mint green walls and blue curtains). Not so conducive to Piero's painting and way to conducive to my "weather induced depression." (Please consider that blackouts increase exponentially as the year comes to an end.) Hadigaon is full of Hindu shrines and temples and living just across from the Ganesh Temple, we were awakened everyday at 4am by bells, a marching band of sorts and many many dogs. (Dogs roam free everywhere) I miss it a bit, it's funny how quickly you'll attach yourself and make "home" when you're in such unfamiliar territory. It was nice while it lasted but we moved on to finer pastures. In keeping with recent tradition, we moved.

P: The first morning, or I should say night, it was very surprising, because we didn't know. At a certain point, in the midst of 13 hours difference surreal jet lag, the kind where you feel like you have taken acid, the sounds of cymbals and the symphonic barking of dogs, each performing a singular melody, started to distill our first dawn in Kathmandu. As the week progressed the cymbals where accompanied by a full horn band (as C mentioned), which would sort of roam in front of the temple. I tried to make some sound recordings, but they would only play for a handful of seconds at a time, causing me to repetitively get up turn on the mic only to have them stop for an indeterminate amount of time. I would then turn the mic off, and they would begin again. I repeated this for a number of times and a number of days.

C: Oh and by the way, our first steps alone, beyond the gate above, were how do you say... terrifying. Not only was I nervous that we would never find our way back, being that in Nepal there are no street addresses, so we had none to give if we'd gotten lost, no phone to call anyone for help, we were also the total spectacle. Deep inside my secret place, deep in my soul, I have to be completely honest, it made me feel damned crazy (and still do, of course without all the insecure stuff) having people stare at me ALL THE TIME, I wondered, what have I done wrong... I'm wearing the most conservative clothes I have and I've covered myself with a shawl. There is nothing that you can do to "downplay" the fact that you are totally and utterly foreign.

P: I felt terrified as well, but also really excited. As I took those first steps out my head was almost spinning, my mind was a cloud of a million thoughts, and through my veins ran something that had a lot in common with electricity. I remember feeling like I was floating all the while feeling ultra-aware of myself and somewhat awkward. The surroundings were completely unfamiliar.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


C: P just as we found our contact from the Fulbright. His body language, at least from my point of view at the time said a lot. I've been to some ragtag airports in my time, Sicily at the top of my list thus far, until Kathmandu. The valley is relatively small, so when you come down, you come straight down. You walk right out of the plane into the Kathmandu smog and humidity.

P: Two things not shown in the pictures. A) Thai Airlines shows you the landing on the screens in the plane. At first it was all clouds, which opened up to a green valley framed by sharp ascending hills. In front of us one runway and a little airport, made of orange bricks. B) When I first saw the airport from the plane I have to admit that I said to myself "Holy Shit!" The thing had one runway, and was so rundown. The reality of it all, after such a surreal and long trip through aseptic airports, hit me like one of those bricks that the Kathamndu airport is made of.
C: I was busy chatting with another Fulbrighter when my first free roaming (holy) cow caught my eye... and here she is. Overwhelmed is a complete understatement for what I was feeling at this very moment. It was complete sensory overload. I think the general condition of things- the mess of roads, the garbage, the traffic, the air quality, what seemed like millions of people, the cows, the buildings, garbage, saris, bare feet, babies, bright colors, nepali script, car horns honking, dirty water holes- all smacked me upside my head. The ride from the airport to the Fulbright office is not the prettiest of ones. I had this sort of sinking feeling and this feeling of we're really doing this, we're gonna be here for 10 months, straight up, no visit before hand just straight up living here. I also think we both had the ability to see beyond the surface of the moment and felt excited. Our adventure. Holy @#$%ing %$^t!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'd always thought that I had seen poverty, but I have never seen anything like this.

P: I felt the same way, although I only told C after a few days. I was like "this ain't nothing!". Well, partly I really did feel quite calm, but partly I was questioning what did I get my self (and C) into. But I also felt super exited, just trying to absorb it all in a sense. C's description does the situation justice, although I would add: tin shacks, a million store fronts involved in as many activities plus some unidentified ones, goats ready to be sold, trees growing out of shrines, banana plants; it was a completely different place than any other place I had ever been to. I was struck with what I perceived, however problematically, as poverty.

Bangkok Decadence (wee hours in the morning)

C: Grandure.
C: Ah yes, we have matching backpacks. Scootin around.

C: Boredom + MacBook Pro= 1 million PHOTO BOOTH pictures!

P: There is no end to the amazing fun that can be had with this. It's the contemporary version of the fun house deforming mirrors. I think one of my favorites is the third one down, from the top all the way to the left. There is something understated but hilarious about that one.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bangkok Thailand!

(C: Side note- This may have been completely obvious to everyone but me, but we just found out how Nepal has managed to be free of the likes of McDonalds, Burger King etc.- IT'S A HINDU COUNTRY. DUH. (not nationally anymore but the elite, folks in power are) so no Holy Cow Big Macs here. Dag, I was hoping, just for that rare occasion....)

(P: You can get the delicious water buffalo burger from "King Burger"...)

C: Pork dumplings, spicy fish sauce, beer. Best midnight snack ever. (I was secretly dying for a Whopper from Burger King- syke!)

C: Bangkok by air. We landed at about 12 am. The airport was absolutely desolate. Having nothing else to do, we explored the eats in the food court. Hands down, best Thai food ever. Also, note Thai Air (our airline from Thailand to Nepal) had the absolute best airplane food ever- plus ceramic serving bowls and real cutlery. Wish we could have stayed a few days and eaten everything.

P: Yeah, the airport was crazy. It was nearly empty, but it had all this semi open stores until super late. And the restaurants were also open almost 24-7. In some areas it was entirely surreal