[ places - january 05 ]
A Thai woman abroad...
My dream has come true: I am visiting Nepal, the land where the Lord Buddha was born. The sounds of the Himalayas, the beauty of snow-capped mountains: these were the imaginings of my childhood.
After waiting for my visa in the airport for 30 minutes and a short journey into town, I joined a students' demonstration - the flames and smoke from burning tires in the middle of Kathmandu welcomed me. I paid US$30 for my tourist visa to Nepal to join the most popular activity for the people of the country's capital, one unlikely to happen in my country because the Nepalis want to get rid of their present King!
In Thailand, decorating your house with hammer and sickle flags is a no-no. Tourists in Thailand will never see this, even if they travel all around the country. For over three decades we have been killing each other. Uncountable numbers of people have disappeared into Thai history, taken away by somebody to somewhere where nobody can find them and no one dares to find out what happened to them: that is how we solve our problems! So I was amazed to confront communist symbols and I spent my honeymoon in a vast angry crowd. So romantic.
I took a deep breath of fresh air before I entered the capital's central area. My perception is changing slowly. I can't see anything far beyond the city: black smoke covers Kathmandu Valley, similar to the air in the city I come from, but the pollution is worse in the cold climate at high altitude. You can't breathe freely. Never mind the weather, which is cold for a tropical girl like me.
I really enjoyed watching the Nepali lifestyle and Newari architecture in the valley. The Newari are the old, indigenous inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley, and wood and stone combine harmoniously in their buildings. The Nepali people have inherited the fine carvings that decorate wooden pillars, doors and windows of their ancestors' houses. The Newari work in Bhaktapur, a UNESCO world heritage site, and produce interesting souvenirs - wooden neckties or wooden Buddhas. There should be a campaign for 'Amazing Nepal'. A drive to attract tourists worked out really well in my country, where we see each tourist as a walking dollar. As long they keep pouring into my "land of smiles" we are happy, even if our souls have gone. They have gone like the food in Nepal.
The rights of the individual don't count in Thailand, and neither does food in Nepal. There is self-expression in Nepal (I confronted it at the demonstration), but it doesn't exist on the plate. Dhal Bhat is a regular food here; all the ingredients - pulses, herbs, vegetables - are cooked together for a long time, so a taste explosion might not be noticeable for Thais...
I assume some dishes are delicious, since a lot of people seem to be happy in the Dakshin Kali temple. Thousands of animals are sacrificed every day. Chickens and goats are cooked after their blood has been drained. The animals are skinned and plucked in a water boiler in the temple area and returned to the pilgrims who have finished sacrificing their food to their god. The Nepalis cook the animals and have a party with loud pop or hip-hop in the valley where the temple is located. As long as the Nepalis keep sacrificing animals, they will not stop killing each other. From the burning grounds near the sacrificial temple, the smell of burning human protein fills the entire valley. Death and disco in one place. What a life. Be harmonized, you'll be happy.
It was incredible to be in a happy crowd, watching a Nepali pop concert, in Durbar Square in Kathmandu. Teenagers, wearing jeans and Western style clothes, colorful and fashionable sunglasses, were dancing in front of the stage. From time to time they lifted up one of their friends, a boy usually, and moved him around the crowd - the boy would point his middle finger at the female singers and shout something in Nepali, probably "sexy sexy sexy sexy bitchy bitchy bitchy."
The food sold at this event is a kind of fast food (cooked for a long time, of course) - dhal on leaves with rice. Just as well it is biodegradable, as it is dropped all over the place. Durbar Square is a UNESCO world heritage site.
In morning market near by Thamel Road, veggies vendors, guava, brass, salt, spices, rice, potato vendors, are all there. And of course, cows on every street. The meat in the market on the way to the prison is easy to identify - the heads are there with the meat - goat, buffalo, pig. I was fascinated with the stuff in the market but suddenly my husband told me to go back the way I came. I wondered what I had done wrong. The nature, the local culture, which is still half as beautiful as it used to be, doesn't attract my husband. He was on his way towards the residence of a famous serial killer - Kathmandu Jail - and left me. That's the kind of guy I married. Celebrity killer Charles Sobhraj got arrested a few months before we arrived, for allegedly murdering two foreigners 29 years ago in Kathmandu. My husband interviewed Sobhraj, and I wandered the old city, waiting to resume my honeymoon. The Kathmandu Jail is not a UNESCO world heritage site.
As I left the Kathmandu valley, capital of the birth place of Lord Buddha, the atmosphere was grey from pollution, which is the same as the current state of Buddhism - highly contaminated.
I grabbed any paper I could as if starving and concentrated on reading the Bangkok Post. I heard "excuse me". A man, about 55, spoke English to me; he wanted to pass a spicy Thai snack to his friend who was three seats away. I said "Mai Pen Rai Ka", and he was surprised - he'd thought I was Nepali. I had a short conversation with his wife "Did you visit Nepal alone?" she asked me. Did I know that the entire Nepali Royal family had been massacred. Her husband interrupted: "She doesn't know and don't ask her - after all she's married to a farang." The land I grew up in produces millions of people like this.