Monthly Archives: April 2014

No Time to Breathe

I hate the word busy. It seems like everyone, including myself, is always so busy lately. Today was one of those days. Beginning at 8:30AM and continuing until 5:30PM when I left work, I was non-stop all day long. With back-to-back meetings, interviews, and assessments, I literally had 10 minutes to scarf down my lunch, and the only time I answered emails was during a lull in the conversation when I would take a few seconds to quickly scan and respond to an email. Even so, I left the day with 30 unopened emails, waiting until tonight when I could get home and answer a few. My day was frenzied and rushed and left no time for me to slow down, talk to teachers who needed me, chat with students like I normally do, or whittle away at the mountain of work I need to do.

My OLW this year is balance, but lately I’ve been so unbalanced I’m surprised I haven’t fallen over. I’m trying to get to everything…work, play, time for myself…but it’s hard. One thing that I love is writing, but now that March is over, I find myself struggling to slice even once per week. Now that the daily writing month is over, my days seem to fill with other “stuff.” My reading life has suffered lately, too. I was averaging 4-5 novels or professional texts a month, but now I’m down to 2-3. Exercise is another thing that’s a struggle for me. I need to make the time, but things are always creeping in, taking my time away from what I need to do. And then there’s sleep. Earlier this year, I was in bed at a reasonable hour and waking up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Now, I’m staying up later and later, fighting getting up in the morning, and yawning all day. Something’s gotta give, but what?

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Travel Tips for Nepal

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Having recently visited Nepal, here are some of my tips for you when you go. And yes, you should definitely go!

  • Visit Kathmandu. Really, you should go. There are some pretty interesting places to see like Durbar Square, Thamel, Patan, and the Monkey Temple to name a few. But don’t spend too much time in the city. The countryside’s where the real Nepali experiences are. Go out into the small villages, take a trip around the valley on the back of a motorbike, play soccer with some kids, buy souvenirs from the local artisans. Just get out of the city. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Engage with the locals. Nepali people are some of the warmest, most genuine, helpful people you’ll ever meet. Sit a spell and swap some stories, hand out chocolate to the children in the villages, practice English with some kids, learn from them. Despite having no money, they find happiness in the small things. We could all stand to learn a lesson about how to be happier with less.
  • Bring a face mask. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. The air pollution in the city coupled with the insane amount of dust flying through the air makes it tough to breathe sometimes. Wearing a mask will make it easier to deal with.
  • Bring some USD in cash to exchange. You don’t need a ton of money since Nepal is really cheap, but finding an ATM that is working can be tricky at times. Oftentimes the ATM would be out of service, out of money, unable to connect, or missing altogether. Save yourself the hassle of trekking all around to find an ATM like I did and bring some cash. One more thing about ATMs- Standard Chartered Bank ATMs were the most reliable for me, so if you happen upon one, that’s your best bet.
  • Try the food. Nepali food is yummy. I highly recommend the momos. Delish!
  • Go to Pokhara. Although I didn’t make it there on this trip due to my short time there, it is said to be paradise on earth. Nestled near the foothills of the Himalayas, the backdrop of the mountains against the lake offers breathtakingly beautiful views. Google it. You’ll see what I mean. Only 200km from Kathmandu, you can easily get there by flight (~30 min.) or you can opt for the scenic route and take a bus which will get you there in about 7 hours. Not sure why it takes so long, but that’s what I’ve heard. It’s a definite must on my next trip to Nepal.
  • Bring some extra passport photos with you on your trip. You’ll need one for your visa on arrival as well as any sort of trekking or adventures you may decide to do. You can easily get them taken there, but that’s time and money you may not want to spend.
  • Bring comfortable clothes and shoes. Make sure that you only bring things that can get dirty, because especially in Kathmandu, your clothes will be covered in dust. Another thing for you ladies out there- while they understand that Westerners have a different way of dressing, it is a good idea to dress modestly while in Nepal. This means long pants or skirts at least to the knee and shirts that aren’t revealing and that cover your shoulders.
  • The high tourist seasons are March-May and September-November, so make sure that if you are traveling during this time, you are aware that hotels and tour costs will be higher and availability at popular accommodation spots could be sparse. Might want to do a little research and book ahead if you are traveling during these times. The weather during the Spring season (March-May) really can’t be beat though!

Hope these tips are helpful as you plan your Nepali vacation. Let me know if you have any questions or any of your own tips to share!

 

The Little House in the Rice Fields

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The view from the terrace. I couldn’t get enough!

As you know, I’ve recently returned from a trip to Nepal. I was only there for five days, so I just stayed in and around Kathmandu, the nation’s capital. Kathmandu was alright. It was a busy city with lots going on and much to see, but I live in a big city with a lot happening, so I wanted to experience something a little different. I wanted to see what real Nepal was like. And I did just that…

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My taxi took me outside of town, past the noise, past the shops, past the chaos. We ended up driving down an old dirt road that wound around houses, up and down hills, past an orphanage. When the road was too bumpy for the car to continue, I got out and met Gopal, the man who ran the guest house. I jumped on the back of his motorbike and rode the rest of the way. Soon enough, the cutest little house, nestled in the rice fields, came into view. This would be my home for the next few days. I was smiling from ear to ear.

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After dropping off my stuff in my room, I explored the house. Gopal, giving me a tour, explained that I was the only guest this week, and that I’d have the whole place to myself. Is this possible? I thought. I’m one lucky girl! The house had a total of three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting room, kitchen, dining room, terrace, and a room that housed the chickens, rabbits, and dog at night. Upon encountering the chickens and their distinct smell, I was instantly taken back to my Mamaw’s farm. This place was perfect, and just what I needed this week- a place to rest, relax, and recharge. Bliss. Perfect bliss.

My room :)

My room 🙂

Sitting room, where I'd blog and read each night

Sitting room, where I blogged and read each night

Gopal was the kindest, gentlest, most giving person I’ve met in a long time. He and I sat and talked about Nepali life a lot during my stay. I learned that electricity in Nepal is shut off 12 hours per day. The guest house had a backup generator that worked most of the time, but most Nepali people couldn’t afford a generator and just had to deal with the regular power cuts. The times were random each day, but I found they were at pretty inopportune times. For instance, there was no electricity from 6am-1pm and from 5-10pm one day. Those seem to be the times you would need electricity. For him and the people of Nepal, it’s just a way of life. I also learned that the average Nepali family income is 8,000-15,000 Nepali Rupees per month (80-150 USD). That’s it. To say they live in poverty would be an understatement. I learned that in order to give your children the opportunity to succeed in Nepal, they must attend a private school. People who graduate from local schools are unable to get jobs since they have a reputation for being so bad. Sending a child to a private school costs 25 USD per child per month. Gopal sends his three children to private school. Because of this, he and his family all share one room in a shared house with 6 other families.

Gopal and his family :)

Gopal and his family 🙂

Speaking of his children, I had the pleasure of meeting this little guy on my first day. Madan, the most adorable four-year-old around, was instantly taken with me, curious about who I was, following me around, both of us communicating in broken English and hand signals. I introduced him to my iPad, which he’d never seen. After demonstrating a game, he would try it on his own right away. He did very well! He’s so bright.

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The next day, I awoke to the pitter patter of little feet. Opening the door to my room, I find Madan proudly showing off his 3-day old pet rabbit. How cute is that?

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While I spent a lot of time enjoying the peace and quiet of the house, reading on the terrace, blogging in the sitting room, playing with the kids, and talking with Gopal, I also spent some time each day exploring the areas in and around the guest house. I went for a walk with Dehli, the dog, one evening at sunset. I came upon a small group of high school kids playing volleyball without a net. Saying hi, they smiled and introduced themselves. After talking with me for a few minutes, they invited me to play with them, to which I happily joined and had a lot of fun! Gopal took me on a couple of day trips to surrounding villages, where we’d get off the bike and wander around, stopping in to look at the goods for sale and talk with the locals, who were very much drawn to me, the blonde haired girl who looked very different from them. I met some 11 year-old girls who later walked by the house to share some peas they’d picked for me. Even though I was only there three nights, I felt like a part of the community. Wandering around the villages, I found kids playing soccer, table tennis, and tag. My heart was so happy as I caught a glimpse of a life so different than mine.

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My favorite day was my last day there. Gopal and I toured the entire perimeter of Kathmandu Valley on his motorbike, winding through narrow pathways, high into the hills, and down into the valley. We stopped frequently to take in the beauty of the valley, have a Coke with the locals, watch ladies harvest wheat and mustard, talk to some kids, buy a souvenir, and cross a huge bridge connecting two hills/mountains. I managed to get a sunburn despite my 50 SPF sunscreen, but it was totally worth it. The breathtaking beauty of Nepal is truly indescribable. You just have to see it for yourself. And when you do, stay at The Little House in the Rice Fields. Tell Gopal I sent you!

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Chasing the Sun

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? In honor of this, I would like to share a little poem I wrote on my flight from Hong Kong to Kathmandu this weekend. I was mesmerized by the images outside of my window, so much so that I was inspired to write a poem. Enjoy! 🙂

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Chasing the Sun

An ocean of gray clouds
form a never-ending horizon
Puffy white clouds in the distance
play the part of mountains
Fiery orange contrasts against the ocean,
fading into tangerine, butter, lemon
A touch of cotton
just before
the field of forget-me-nots
reaches high,
darker and darker,
until it finally settles into night
Flying into the sunset
trying to
catch it
touch it
before it fades away
A race against time
A race we can’t win

First Impressions of Kathmandu

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Namaste. Greetings from Kathmandu. Before arriving in Nepal two days ago, I really didn’t know much about it. I knew that geographically it was between India and Tibet (China), so I figured that it would have some influences of both cultures. I had heard that Nepali food was good, but I hadn’t ever tried it before. I knew that it was a poor country, as is most of Asia. I only know two friends who have been to Nepal before, and they loved it, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m definitely glad I did.

I arrived really late Sunday night after a mishap with my flights. The visa process was actually pleasant and quick. I’d heard that it can take hours in line to get your visa on arrival. I guess landing at 11pm can be a good thing. I managed to get a taxi and get to my not-so-nice hotel. I only stayed there one night, and moved on in the morning. Needless to say, I didn’t get much of a feel for the city late at night while riding to my hotel in a taxi.

Morning came really early…because of all the noise! Beginning around 6am, my ears were inundated with all sorts of noises, from dogs barking, birds chirping, horns honking, hammers hammering and all sorts of other construction noises, and people chattering. I quickly realized that Kathmandu is not the place for lazy holidays where you can sleep in until the late morning. Despite my late arrival, I was up and out of the bed by 7am, on to explore the city.

The only way to describe the roads in Kathmandu is chaos. Unpaved, bumpy (What’s worse than bumpy? Because that’s the word I should be using.) roads so narrow that you think a car can’t possibly fit on it are filled with people on foot, motorbikes weaving through, carts and bicycles, oh, and cars as well, honking to signal that they own the road. Everyone fighting for space, zipping past, barely squeezing through. There’s no listening to music while leisurely walking the streets. No, you had better have your eyes and ears open at all times so you don’t get hit!

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Speaking of the roads, let’s talk a minute about the traffic situation. It’s every man for himself. With no paved roads, no working traffic lights, and many (unmarked) one way roads, it’s a wonder they don’t have a million accidents all the time! People drive around other people, oftentimes on surfaces other than the road, with a beep, beep, get out of my way. A few of the major intersections have a traffic police officer who stands on a pedestal and directs traffic. The intersections without someone directing traffic, however, are everyone for themselves, flying through, dodging others as they go.

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Another crazy thing is the electrical and telephone wires. They’re everywhere! A tangled mess of wires, going this way and that, hang from poles, sometimes near to the ground. How they possibly fix ones that are broken is beyond me. I wouldn’t know where to begin to make sense of it.

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And the AIR! Let me tell you, I’ve been in dusty places (ahem, Egypt) and I’ve been in polluted places (Shanghai, duh), but this place takes the cake. Not only is there a ton of pollution in the air, evidenced by the permanent haze in the sky, but the unpaved roads and lack of maintenance mean that dust is constantly being flung into the air. I’m so glad I brought my face mask. I didn’t wear it all the time, though, because it got hot, so when I got home and blew my nose, my boogers were black! Sorry if you were just grossed out, but I’m just being honest.

The kids here are the cutest little people you’ve ever seen. Their smiling, sweet faces melt my heart. I love how curious they are, too. They’ll walk right over to me, smile and shyly say “Namaste” with their hands in a prayer-like position. So cute! Some of the children wear eyeliner. I’m not sure what the significance is, but it’s definitely different.

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I’ve sampled some Nepali food, but one thing I tried can only be described as a “meat donut.” I was walking down one of the streets, and a man frying something resembling a funnel cake caught my eye. I stopped to watch him a minute, and asked him what it was. He said it was very sweet. Deciding to try one, I asked before I bought it if it had meat (I’m a vegetarian, remember), and he said that no, it was just fried sweet dough. Great! After my first bite, my tongue tasted a taste I have not had in a very long while. What is that? It vaguely tasted like meat. My friend, whom I’d met on the flight from Hong Kong, confirmed that yes, I was tasting meat. We figured that the oil used to fry the dough had previously been used to fry meat. Yuck! I had to drink lots of water to get rid of the taste. Some of my risk-taking doesn’t always pay off…haha.

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Pigeons, pigeons, pigeons! Everywhere around the square you can find them. Scrambling for food, these birds congregate in one area, condensed so that all you see is a sea of pigeons. Children play a game, chasing the pigeons away, laughing as they succeed to break up the pack. The pigeons fly up for a moment, and quickly land back where they were, ready to peck for more scraps.

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As Nepal is a Hindu culture (some are Buddhist), cows are sacred. You can find them roaming the streets, lazing around wherever they want, and generally taking advantage of the fact that no one can mess with them.

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The thing that I love most about Nepal is the people. While they are impoverished and live on next to nothing, yet they are able to find joy in life. I have met some of the most helpful people on earth here in the last few days. Traveling alone can be troublesome, but I have met nothing but generous, kind people, willing to help me out.

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More of Nepal to come! Stay tuned! 🙂 

 

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