Saturday, September 29, 2007

Of course much has happened since our sacrificial Saturday over a week ago, and of course we meant to post earlier, but of course we've been busy. Of course!
This actually was started, as is obvious, yesterday, but a monsoonal power outage postponed things by a day...
Anyways, its a rainy Saturday, so our plans of seeing Prashant, the Nepali-heritage winner of Indian Idol in concert this afternoon have effectively been washed away, although our budgetary restrictions until we can turn a job offer into an actual job factored in more than just the inclimate weather. We are back on our own again, Reannon has departed our company to return to the jungle of Bardia and teach English at BBAS Memorial School for around a month. We're really excited for her, not just for continuing the Muth teaching legacy in rural Nepal, but also because it is a great ESL teaching opportunity in an amazing traditional community that is very welcoming and kind, and the students will genuinely appreciate her efforts.
The last week had a clear highlight: a two-day rafting trip on the Trisuli River. For $23/person/day - more than we probably could have paid, but best price we found - we joined up with a bunch of Chinese tourists to head down a Class 2/3 semi-raging river. No one in our raft spoke English, besides the guide of course, so we were issued commands in Chinese ("sensin" for forward), although to be honest the middle-aged Mandarin-speakers, dedicated to shouting in rhythm, were none too devoted to the actual paddling. We were very glad the river wasn't too intense, since the three of us and the guide were all of the arm-power and raft-direction, but the ride was still very fun, we have been definite fools not to go rafting at all while in the States!
Thoroughly, happily, soaked, the three or so hours of rafting was soon up, and while enjoying an unexpected non-daal bhaat lunch (coleslaw, tuna salad, bread - oddly American), we learned that everyone else was heading to Chitwan, so the next day's rafting would just be us!
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, due to sore extremities, plus more eating, playing with goats, and walking over a large suspension bridge connecting the two sides of the river. Our provided tents were reasonable, though not as comfortable as our air mattress back home :-), and the three of us stayed up light, next to a fire, chatting. Then the scorpion(s) appeared, first Liz got stung on her leg, and then Reannon found one crawling in her tent... nothing too terrible resulted, but sleep was decreased at least partially by well-founded paranoia.
The next day was pretty much rapid-less, best part was a clothes-on shower in a clean freshwater waterfall a little ways off from the river. Turned out we'd had the same guide in Rishikesh, rather unbelievable, really! Still a fun trip, more floating than paddling, so in some ways we should've stuck with the standard one-day trip, but all's well that end's well, preferably with an enjoyable journey along the way. We then parted ways with Reannon, her bus wouldn't leave for Bardia for a few hours, but we caught one for Kathmandu pretty much right away, although soon enough we ran into an enormous traffic jam. Apparently the Maoists had set up a road block, so for about 3 hours, conveniently during the heat of the day, we inched along within a giant backlog of buses and trucks. So our hopes of arriving before dark turned into hopes before 10pm, which we did manage, though not by much.
We were delighted to find a few legitimate job offers waiting in our Inbox, so this next week should hopefully move us closer to our return to the land of employment, although we're going to refrain from any premature excitement until things have advanced past the current stage. Confidence is high, but we are going to be patient and pick the best job that we can, ideally in Pusan, South Korea. Unfortunately, with September now over, our chances of joining Iain & Claire on their Oct. 6 Tibet Tour have disappeared, but we're also not sure if we'll be able to go ourselves later, or if flying direct to Korea will be in our best interests, both economic and otherwise. We shall see, but the job is the big priority for now.
Speaking of Iain & Claire, they've now arrived in Kathmandu, so we had a nice night together last night, and will be hanging out much of this week until they depart to the Tibetan plateau. On Friday we went and extended our Nepali visas, other than the $30 charge/person it was entirely painless, taking only 45 minutes, which the interim time being spent at the nearby Ethnographic Museum, which is very nice, modern, and informative. Also, at 25 Rs, it's quite cheap. Dioramas are set up about all the native people of Nepal, with traditional scenes recreated, plus an entire of room of jewelry, clothing, and artifacts. Much better than the Pokhara incarnation of the same museum, thankfully. So we've got new visas, lasting until the end of October, and while we can renew them again if necessary, we are really hoping to be in South Korea by then!
Today we're just laying low, we are trying to keep our costs low and save money until we have sorted out our job situation, since we have several different potential start dates and rather limited funds. Good thing we like reading...
That's that from the Kath.,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Going to Dakshinkali

The bus was so packed the irrelevancy of our seats was simultaneously apparent to our noses and crushed toes. We'd arisen early, for our perma-tourist lifestyle, at 7 am for a warmup walk across half of Kathmandu to the bus stand. Now our journey to witness ritual sacrifice was rapidly becoming too self-involved. Crushed in the last row of the Nepali-capacity bus, we crawled out of the city, only to be slowed even more the hills en route to the temple. Some semblance of comfort came at Pharping, the final village before a brief descent, as at least a few people jumped off the bus.
Situated in a shady valley, amidst a pair of rivers, lay our traveler's version of Saturday Morning Cartoons. We'd neglected our cereal, but we were here to, presumably only metaphorically, watch slack-jawed as the great Kali's bloodlust became temporarily sated. We worked our way down the crowded path, stuffed with sellers, politely refusing such necessities as metal locks, framed photos of Kali, plastic trinkets... before spotting the sacrifices-for-sale section, thoughtfully located adjacent to the last loop of the line. Chickens clucked in cages, while tethered goats awaited their inevitable transformation to mutton. The line, or rather two lines, snaked endlessly, up stairs and into parking lots, full of queued Nepalis patiently waiting. Many carried coconuts in baskets, or rice, though plenty of live animals were around, too, as everyone waited patiently, talking and time-passing. As non-Hindus the offering line was an impossibility, so we walked the gawker's walk, that awkward amble of the tourist. Amidst candles and incense, tikka powder and fresh flowers, goats and goat poo, ritual and blood, we walked. Lines inched as bells clanged, and we perched as heads rolled - a few chicken heads, recently removed, failed to stay in their proper place...
A well-shaded overlook, a vista over the vivisectionist, allowed us to sit, relax, and admire the melding of religion and ritual with culture and chaos. The ante room for the altar was where the line's civility ended: in the proximity of the goddess her violent spirit is apparently quite strong. The throng, with godly gifts in tow, pushed and pressed, themselves to the front and their money to the priests. When the time was right, chickens were carried underarm while goats were led in on leashes. There's no drama or performance: the gods don't require the extravagance of Indian Idol (just won by Prashant of Nepali-heritage). Chicken limbs are appropriately tucked and folded, while goats are held down by half a cricket squad of men, and then the burly butcher saws quickly from neck to nape. Blood pours onto the altar, we sensitively snapped a few photos, then rupees are handed over and then the meat is hauled off for hacking. Many families dine at Dakshinkali - carnivores for Kali. The goddess is usually depicted as blood-splattered, dancing on skulls, the most fear-inducing incarnation of Shiva's beloved consort Parvati.
Overall the flow of supplicants certainly outmatched that of the blood, and after an hour of soaking up the scene, we spied some familiar faces as we made our escape: our companions on the bus, still diligently awaiting their turn, their moment with the goddess. Certainly more intriguing than an average temple, Kali and her devotees definitely made a firm impression on us, even though we're a bit jaded from "too many temples" syndrome...!

Friday, September 21, 2007

More of the same is the name of our game. Still looking for a job, still mostly not doing all that much. Our anniversary was rather uneventful, since we were supposed to have a job interview that night, but there was a mix-up on the recruiter's end, which was very frustrating since we waited around all night for a call that never came, only to have them act like it was somehow our fault that they lost the email we sent them...

We've been watching more movies, eating more tasty and inexpensive food, etc. etc.

The next few days will be spent doing some more sightseeing around Kathmandu, since Reannon will most likely by heading to Bardia to teach English sometime next week - abandoning us... :-)

We've had a lot of fun with her the past month-and-a-half, but soon enough it's back to just the two of us. We're not too stressed out about the job situation, we're applying to everything we can, talking to as many recruiters as we can, and even considering alternate options in Thailand as a last-ditch option - there are some short-term teaching positions there if we cannot find what we want/need in Korea. We really, really want to live in Pusan though, it sounds like a great place, being a big city with Western amenities, but next to the beach and mountains both. We think Seoul is just too big, and most other places are too small to have the Western culture, or attempts at it, that we crave... but we shall see.

Today we're going to go to Bohdinath to see another exciting stupa - should be a thrill a minute.

Hope all is well wherever you are at,

Please pray on our behalf to the Korean ESL employment gods!


Anderson & Liz

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We've mostly been preoccupied with applying for jobs, waiting for responses, and ignoring those that simply won't work. So if you have a spare couples job for Pusan, in mid-to-late October - please let us know!
So, how'd we get to Kathmandu? After arriving in Bardia, we spent almost a week there, with a keen focus on relaxation. We spent one full day in the jungle, trekking for much of the day before riding an elephant for 3 hours. Not riding an elephant was probably our worst "regret" from our trip, so we made up for it in style, meeting Ms. 'Phant deep in the woods, crossing rivers, ambling through forests, and laying trees and shrubs in our wake. An elephant has an unusual gait, swinging you around strongly, but it was very enjoyable. We didn't really see much for the first 2 hours or so, besides a few deer, since the jungle during the monsoon is very, very thick. But then the animals arrived, and we got to see both a one-horned rhinoceros and a large male elephant close up! Our elephant was intimated, if not scared, by the elephant (the rhino didn't faze her) - he knocked over three trees to "impress" her before eating the roots and bugs beneath them: an elephant delicacy. So we got our $116 worth - yep, 3000 Rs. ($39)/person for 3 hours - but when else will we be able to ride an elephant in the jungle?
We of course went and saw our former students, twice in fact, and we gave them a small gift of a mechanical pencil and a (much-needed) eraser. We also went to the elephant breeding center twice, the second time solely to play with the orphan baby elephant - and so Anderson could win a $10 bet with Reannon by french-kissing said elephant. The 650 Rs. was well-spent later that night, as we had an American-food party for all our friends around Bardia. We cooked fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, cold macaroni salad, and for drinks, of course, had the local rice-alcohols: rakshi and chaang! The food was plain tasting compared to the Nepali diet of spicy lentils and rice, but every enjoyed the food (the large pieces of chicken in particular were probably quite unusual) and we had a very good time... so much so that we got a bit of a later start than hoped the next day, although as it happened our journey to Kathmandu would have been quite epic either way!
Basically a crucial (though short) bridge along the Kathmandu road was knocked out by violent rains that night, so our 14-hour journey turned into an exciting 30+ hours of transit. We had to spend the night sleeping on the bus, before our bus arrived at the downed-bridge traffic jam. There it quickly became apparent that the one land-mover was going to take a few days to build a new road (it ended up taking over 5 days), so we decided to grab our bags, cross a small stream, and cut through the hills to get to the other side of the river. There, after waiting for a bit, we found a Kathmandu-bound bus, which we ended up riding on the roof all the way to the capitol. The ride wasn't too bad, although we had to argue a bit over the fact that we didn't want to pay baksheesh to ride on the bus (since our tickets were with a different company) and that the conductor should get reimbursement from them, not us, due to the situation. With a translator/mediator things were worked out decently quickly, since we felt it was ridiculous for us to pay the full amount for a proper seat when we were on the roof!
We've now been in Kathmandu for a week, with a lot of time spent on the internet. This is really the only place in the whole country with decent and affordable internet access - Pokhara is a bit slower and 5x the cost. Yesterday we went on a day trip to nearby Patan, which has a beautiful Durbar Square - full of old buildings, temples, and even a restored palace that is now a museum. It was also a Hindu holiday - Ladies' Day - so all the women were dressed in bright red saris, and there was much dancing and music-playing. The museum overlooked the square, so were able to people-watch to our hearts' content! The museum was, as it is hyped, the best in the subcontinent, with many fine pieces of sculpture, good descriptions, and a nice sense of design and style. There's even a nice garden (and restaurant, of course :-) out back, in case wandering the three stories and two gift shops gets to be a bit much! We also visited Patan's Buddhist Golden Temple, where there was live music playing while we walked through the gold-plated hallways which were filled with statuary.
We've also visited Swayambhunath, a large Buddhist stupa on a hill overlooking Kathmandu, which was very peaceful, monkey-filled, and quite active. Doubly so, since an invigorating walk up some steep steps is necessary, while there are also lots of devotees in addition to the tourists. We also went to the Museum of Taxidermy, mistakenly called the National History Museum - the 20+ foot snakeskin from Bardia made us glad to be in a city! They had way too many stuffed animals, including all sorts of snakes, rhino and elephant fetuses, and plenty of other horror movie accessories. Good times being a tourist.
We've attempted to "go out" a few times, with a dance club last Saturday being the apparent highlight - the music was bad, drinks overpriced and bad, etc. The cover bands are none too good either though, so we've been renting a DVD player and watching Western movies - nice to laugh with a movie again! "Knocked Up" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" were both rather hilarious, though last night's "Reno 911: Miami" was a bit of a letdown. Kathmandu has a lot of bakeries, so we've eaten our fair share of pastries (half-price after 8/9pm), and there's a restaurant near our hotel that is run by chefs-in-training, so the very good food is very affordable. That means a steak, with potatoes and vegetables, is $2.50. Actually less than that, at 150 Rs. Or you can get a good Tibetan thukpa for $0.75. Too bad beer is still spendy at $2 for 650 ml -- but there is cheap, and illegally imported, Chinese brandy; a whole bottle costs less than $2, if only it tasted good!
We've seen most of the sites within the city by now, mostly being the Durbar Square (Kathmandu's and Patan's are both very nice - Patan's is just better maintained) full of temples and bustling touts. There are a few other day trips around the Kathmandu Valley we plan on making, but given how the job search is going we're not rushing around, preferring to be leisurely since we know we're in Kathmandu, for better or worse, until we have a job. We can't really go to Pokhara, since the internet is super expensive there, and when we do go to Pokhara, we're doing so to go trekking for a week, not stay in the city, and we cannot disappear from the digital world again until we've resolved our employment. So we're stuck in Kathmandu, which really isn't too bad at all, since food is cheap, as is lodging, there are enough things to do (navigating Thamel alone is time-consuming and often a bit exhausting), although we feel a bit bad for Reannon that she is stuck here until we've ceased to be unemployed bums!
We obviously want/need a job ASAP, starting in October, but we just have to be patient until the Korean language gods smile upon us...!
Our third wedding anniversary (and 2nd outside of the States - last year we were in Hamburg, Germany, at the very beginning of this trip!) is coming up this Tuesday, so that should be pretty fun, although that night we, conveniently, have a phone interview with a recruiting agency, so the party may have to be a bit late-night! No plans yet, but we have a couple of days to make up our minds...

So that's what's up...

PS - This is our 100th post - proof positive we need jobs so that we can better keep ourselves busy! But thanks to all who read what we (well, mostly Anderson) write, family and friends, we love you all and miss you, and our "normal American life"," very much!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Well, no time right now for the complete Nepal update, but we are busy "looking for jobs," which mostly entails emailing recruiters about possible positions and awaiting their replies. But there are definitely a few good opportunities, and after all we only need one so-called couple position to actually work out, so confidence is high that things will work out soon. Just sucks that we need to figure this out while in Kathmandu, ideally, since the internet is the country's best and cheapest here, and our other main activity in Nepal is going trekking for a week, which we cannot exactly do without having some confirmation on the employment situation. Slowly, slowly, and patiently as well...
We've found a good sandwich shop on Freak Street, the original hippie neighborhood where Westerners first encamped in Kathmandu, which means today we've mostly just wandered the streets. We're going to go to Bodhinath, outside the city, this evening, but some rest and relaxation is most likely in order until then.
More soon, please pray for ESL jobs to rain down upon us!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

No we haven't died, we've just been either traveling or without internet access for the past two weeks or so. Here's Part One of what's happened thus far:

On Aug. 27, our 4th day in Dharamsala, we went to the FRRO, the visa
extension office, and talked/pleaded ourselves a 3-day visa extension
in order to get to Nepal, given that our visa expired that night!
Initially we were going to just overstay, thinking we had to go to an
office in Delhi, but Dharamsala, due to all the Tibetans, has its own
office, which had no line (Delhi's went out the door) and not too much
hassle (only had to ask for it 10x or so). We just filled out letters
explaining our self-induced plight, an application, and gave passport
photos and visa copies, and after a few hours of idling, were allowed
to escape after 15 seconds of face time with the Superintendent of
Police (same building, he has dual authority evidently). He just
asked what our jobs were - how random?
Uncle Chipps (by Lays/Pepsico) are definitely
the best snack around, and the resulting plastic waste well
appreciated by your average hungry cow -- so, so gross what cows will
eat here!
The Delhi train arrived, a bit late, and we found seats
easily enough, in a relatively empty compartment. It filled up
eventually, half-way through our books, but the hours continued to fly
by. After too much waiting at a few stops outside the city, one in
particular in Haryana state was packed with entertainment-deprived
young men, we got to the new Delhi station, where a series of
attempted scams began:
First a tout dragged us across the street to a tourist office, which
was none-too-fast in trying to get tickets - we left. Then the
authorized train ticket seller pulled a double-scam: first that no
sleeper was available so we'd have to take first class (which we
"fell" for, we had to hurry, insisted on sleeper repeatedly, and
really had no choice), and ...
(this is now being continued a day later :-) ...
then that two of the 500 Rs notes we gave him were accidentally 50 Rs.
notes (some fast slight of hand would've netted him an additional 900
Rs., thankfully we had just been to an ATM and had no 50s). Yelling
at him vented some frustration, but obviously changed nothing, but at
least we didn't get totally ripped off. Our sleeper train ride that
night was relatively uneventful, after wandering through almost every
sleeper car we finally found some bunks at the end of the train. The
next morning, however, we awoke to some commotion, a a sharp-eyed
kindly neighbor had caught a thief in the process of stealing
Reannon's handbag! Ironically it contained solely personal effects
and books, but despite our protests a swift public beating ensued just
outside the train car: the unlucky (?) thief was punched and kicked,
and hit repeatedly with two pieces of wood - one small, one a stick of
bamboo - before finally being dragged off presumably to the police,
although we'll never know. Definitely intense mob justice, that is
culturally ingrained apparently, that we were powerless to stop.
That occurred at the last main stop before our destination, Lucknow,
our most favorite Indian city ever. Our wait in Lucknow was a hot 3
hours or so, as the train was rather late, and thankfully Anderson's
lice scare was merely nasty travel head - yum. Bad food preceded a
long slow train ride through rural Uttar Pradesh, rainy and humid too
much of the way. We reached Gonda, around 3 pm, needing to arrive at
the Nepal border before 9 pm, ideally. No trains were going to
Nepalganj for several hours, so we bucked up for a taxi ride the rest
of the way, which ended up getting us there just in time, as both
offices ended up being semi-closed but with all necessary employees
still around. Leaving India involved only a bit of hassle over our
decision to ride trains across India rather than the buses indicated
on our 3-day visa extension form, but soon enough we were stamped out,
and into the no-mans-land between the two countries. The Nepal
immigration office also went smoothly, though we ended up spending the
night in an office there due to the rain! The Nepali officials were
most kindly, we got a great dinner featuring some amazing chicken -
and dal bhaat of course - and slept on the floor in order to escape
the torrential downpour.

More to come on our time here in Nepal soon, got to get back to work
on that tricky employment issue!
We are currently in Kathmandu, having just spent a week at Bardia National Park, and will
be here for at least a week or so longer. Looking for a pair of jobs is our priority for the next few days, thankfully the internet is cheap and abundant in Kathmandu, unlike everywhere else in Nepal.

Thanks for everyone's input on whether to visit the States or not - our finances have definitely decided for us that although we suffer from homesickness at times, we can't just succumb to our every travel fantasy! We miss you all, and our homeland very much, but "slowly, slowly," is unfortunately all too true in this case.

Peace and much love
Anderson & Liz