Did I Ever Mention…? (Part I)

Bonjour tout le monde! Now that we’re coming to the end of my time in Nepal on the blog, I couldn’t resist compiling this post of all the little things that I have yet to share with you. Of course, the big trips and my artist residency were very important in defining my Nepali experience, but I also found that the ‘little things’ were just as important to my understanding of this incredible place. So here’s a mish-mosh of the things that caught my eye, made me laugh, and made me think…

(And I’m sorry to report that this post will also be in two parts.  Once again, I’m having issues getting the post up all together for some odd reason.  Those of you who know me well, know that this is making me CRAZY!  When you are finished with this post, please move on to “Did I Ever Mention…?” (Part II) to finish…I’m so sorry for any confusion! SIGH.  But anyway, moving on… )

Did I ever mention my favorite marketplace in Kathmandu? I believe it’s called “Asan Tole.” Drew and I found ourselves here a few times, and I just adored it. The crowds, the shoppers haggling over prices, the rickshaws, the stray dogs, the ridiculously tiny shops packed to the brim with merchandise, the CHAOS of the place – it was all just so fascinating and fun to watch…

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Yak hair for various ceremonial uses…

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Nepali brooms – we had one in our apartment, and I was surprised to find how much I actually loved using it…

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Most of these tiny stores sell A LOT of only one kind of product…

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Did I ever mention the hilariously creepy mannequins that line the entrances of clothing stores in just about every area of Kathmandu? The creepiness factor isn’t helped by the fact that most of them are secured to the store with a rope tied around their necks, as if they were being strangled… Yikes!

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And of course, some of those stores have pretty great names that had me giggling…

“Gracious the Fabulous Wear”…

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“My Friend Fashion Wear”…

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Did I ever mention that if you’re looking for handicrafts made of felt, Nepal is the place for you? This stuff is everywhere!

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Did I ever mention that Nepal, like most of the word, is also gripped by ‘Angry Birds’ mania? The streets are filled with young kids and teens wearing t-shirts, backpacks, and other paraphernalia. And for the classier folks among you, you can find knitted ‘Angry Birds’ crafts if you like…. Sheesh!

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Did I ever mention that I bought a korta? This traditional Nepali / Indian dress is made up of three components: loose-fitting pants, a long dress-like top, and a scarf. I saw so many incredibly beautiful kortas while I was there, I couldn’t resist the temptation of having one of my own! And lucky for me, one of my fellow studio-mates at Kasthamandap, Pramila, offered to take me to the korta shop located just below her house in the old city of Patan…

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The friendly shopkeeper…

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Unfortunately, I didn’t quite understand how it all worked when we arrived. Turns out that the shop is where you buy the FABRIC for the korta, that you then have to make yourself or take to a tailor. I wasn’t so committed to the idea of having my own korta that I was willing to go to such lengths, but I did also want to purchase something after my studio-mate went through the trouble of taking me there. Luckily the shop-keeper had one ‘ready-made’ korta on hand. It’s not exactly my favorite color, and the pants were hilariously big (even after I had them tailored for the whopping price of $1), but I bought it anyway…

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I ended up wearing it quite a bit while I was in Nepal, but with different pants. And now I wear the top with jeans to give it a ‘Western’ feel – but many women in Nepal wear their kortas like that, actually, so maybe it’s not so ‘Western’ after all!

Speaking of tailors, did I ever mention the lovely woman who allowed me to take her portrait while she was working in her shop?

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Or the tailor in Sankhu who allowed me to do the same…

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And while we’re on the subject of fashion and beauty, did I ever mention the charmingly bad ‘Beauty Parlor’ signs that I found… well… just about everywhere in Nepal? Drew pointed them out one day, and after that, I couldn’t stop noticing them…

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This discovery led to another interesting observation: Most beauty parlors for women are cloaked in secrecy, shades and curtains drawn…

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…but the equivalent shops for men are just the opposite. They’re right on the street and open for anyone to see inside…

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And here is the barber – he wasn’t satisfied with the first picture (above) and wanted me to take another…

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And speaking of hair, did I ever mention the fantastically bad hair styles one can find in Nepal? Ooooh, there’s some good stuff, indeed!

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Did I ever mention the conversation about hair I had with my studio-mate, Erina? She told me all kinds of things! (It is important to note here that there are many differences in culture depending on which ethnic group/caste you are discussing. Erina is Newari, so I believe most of what she told me applies to Newari culture, but it might also apply to some others).

She described how, according to tradition, only widowed women wear their hair loose and free – married women are supposed to wear their hair tied in long braids down their backs (this is falling out of fashion now, but just a generation ago, this was how it was done, she says). She also described how when the father dies in a Hindu family, the sons must shave their heads. Only when there are no sons in the family is it acceptable for a daughter to do this (and I recently read an article about a Nepali woman who shaved her head when her mother died, despite the fact that she had brothers – it caused quite the stir). Erina also described the ‘Bratabandha’ ceremony where young boys get their first haircut. Either a priest or the maternal uncle of the boy cuts the hair, which is collected on a special ceremonial plate (the hair is not saved, however – of course, I asked). Usually, several family members are present for this event, and a large feast follows. It is a rite of passage, signifying his entry into manhood, even though the ceremony can be performed as early as 6 years of age. There is no special hair cutting ceremony for young girls because (unsurprisingly) long hair is the ‘norm’ and standard of ‘beauty’ for women in Nepal. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the significance of hair in Nepali culture – I was so grateful to Erina for sharing all of these interesting things with me, and I am so excited to learn more when I return to Nepal someday!

Did I ever mention the pharmacies? They’re usually small, street-side shops – no white coats, no separate drop off and pick up lines. And the best (worst?) thing is, you don’t need a prescription for… well… ANYTHING, as far as I can tell! (OK, that’s probably not entirely true. But you could definitely get things for which you would need a prescription in the States, that’s for sure!) Need antibiotics to battle one of the many water-born illnesses you can contract in Kathmandu? No problem! Just ask for it, and it’s yours…

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Did I ever mention the dogs? OK, yes… I did mention the dogs. But did I ever mention the one that lived across the street from us that would bark and snap at every motorcycle that drove by, but was otherwise perfectly friendly? I miss seeing her every day – she was pretty darn cute…

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Waiting for the next motorcycle’s approach…

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Speaking of neighborhood dogs, did I ever mention the one I dubbed ‘The Most Cowardly Guard Dog’ of All Time’?

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I mean, come on! Barking at me from the ROOF every time I walk by? You’re gonna have to try harder that THAT, buddy…

And then there was the dog that ‘adopted’ me for a day – I had to run a quick errand around the corner from our apartment before walking to the studio, and she followed me back home. Then she followed me almost all the way to the studio. I never really figured out why – I didn’t make eye contact with her, or pet her, or even notice her at first. I was just her ‘chosen one’ that day, I guess. After that, I saw her in the neighborhood a few times, but she acted like she didn’t even know me. Sooo immature…

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(By the end of my time in Nepal, Drew was joking that I “picked up dogs and kids” wherever I went. Looking back at the blog, that does seem to be a common theme!)

Here are a few more pictures of my canine friends that I couldn’t resist posting…

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Himalayan puppy…

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Look closely and you’ll find him…

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I mean, geez.  Does it get much cuter than this?! ….

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Speaking of cute animals, did I ever mention these goat lovers we found in Nagarkot, sheltering from the rain on the ledge of a school building? Aaaawwwww…

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Did I ever mention the three-wheeled vehicles that fill the streets in Kathmandu, called “Tempos” or “Tuk Tuks”? They’re one of the many forms of public transportation in the city, and are always packed with people (I never rode one myself, and am regretting that now… oh well, maybe next time!). These strange little vehicles – a cross between a tricycle and a car – are pretty darn cute, I must say…

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And speaking of public transportation, did I ever mention the micro-buses? I rode a few of these, and it was an interesting little adventure, indeed! The word “bus” is misleading, as they are really nothing more than large vans, and like the “Tempos,” they are always packed with people. They seem to be privately owned, and each one has a ‘bus boy’ working with the driver, shouting the destination out of the window as the bus approaches each stop. He collects money, and usually rides along with the door open, hanging halfway out of the bus, shouting at pedestrians trying to drum up business. One of the best things about these buses are the (somewhat unexpected) personal touches that drivers add to their back windshields…

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Life in the streets of Kathmandu is certainly chaotic! Did I ever mention that there never seem to be any lanes painted on the major streets to organize traffic? Well, OK yes… I think I did mention that. But now I have a picture to prove it…

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Did I ever mention my favorite public service advertising campaign in Kathmandu? I noticed these signs within my first few days there, but wasn’t able to get a good shot of one until we were waiting for our bus to leave for Pokhara near the end of my trip…

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The punctuation and capitalization alone are enough to be amusing: “Road Safety, is No Accident.” But this sign becomes much more funny when you’re there, in the midst of the chaos that is the streets of Kathmandu. The whole concept of “road safety” becomes laughable, and putting “road safety” and “accident” in the same sentence is…. well… clever, yes….but mostly just ironic in this context.

Speaking of roads and cars, did I ever mention the work trucks and vehicles? Dump trucks, gas trucks, and the like – they are all magnificently painted and decorated. I’m not sure why this is, but I absolutely love it! What a great way to take an ugly, bulky machine and make it your own…

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Of course, the taxi drivers do something similar with their ‘work spaces,’ as I’ve mentioned before. Here are few more gems I encountered after blogging about it the first time…

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I LOVED this hairy steering wheel, of course…

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Hmmm, yes.  Wise words… I guess.  It’s certainly a random thing to find in a taxi!

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Did I ever mention the largest pile of bricks I’ve ever seen? We were en route to Nagarkot, and passed this near Bhaktapur. They make bricks in that area apparently…

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Did I ever mention the brilliantly colored houses we found on our way to Pokhara? There they were, amidst the green landscape, just jumping out at us! They made me think of some of the funky paint jobs you find in my West Philly neighborhood…

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And also on the way to Pokhara, did I mention that someone was selling ice cream in the town where our bus was stopped during the transportation bandh (see The Road to Pokhara / “Nepal este ho” )? Nothing like a cold ice cream cone during a hard day’s bandh! So weird…

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Speaking of our trekking trip, did I ever mention some of the interesting things we found while walking? Like this water pipe, supported by the trunks of small trees (that’s certainly one way to do it!)…

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Or this tiny piece of fungi that looked like sea coral…

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Or this amazing tree…

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Or the maps? Oooooh, the maps! I’ve mentioned my love of maps on this blog already (see Art in Kathmandu), so you know I was happy to find these on the Annapurna trail. I just loved them…

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And I must not forget to mention the “Money Hole” we found near a small village! Unfortunately, it was for deposits only…

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Did I ever mention these gorgeous haystacks we found in and around Pokhara? They made me think of my good friendSusan Benarcik’sart…

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Did I ever mention the tin roofs you’ll find in rural Nepal, held down using only rocks and heavy logs?

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Did I ever mention the communal water wells you’ll find throughout Kathmandu? They are gorgeous, and people collect water from them throughout the day (not for drinking, of course, but for other household chores)…

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Did I ever mention that there are a surprising amount of Montessori schools in Kathmandu and Patan? Not exactly what I was expecting… but then again, I guess I didn’t know what to expect!

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Did I ever mention the awesomely bad posters you’ll find in various shops and stores? Oh, man. Good stuff…

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Speaking of strange and wonderful things to hang on your wall, did I ever mention these fantastic medical thangka paintings? Drew and I love them, and have vowed to buy one someday…

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Did I ever mention the “Mind Your Head” signs you’ll find in temples and shrines with small, low door frames? Nothing too remarkable in and of themselves, sure, but when cropped just so in the camera…

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Did I ever mention the method of trash collection in our neighborhood? A far cry from what we’re used to in the States, but I’ll take what I can get!

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But then again, there’s always the possibility of recycling! Did I ever mention this Nepali twist on home security? Who needs barbed wire when you have a bunch of broken glass?

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Did I ever mention how I found this portrait of the former royal family in many households and businesses?

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(For those of you that don’t know, the former royal family of Nepal was massacred in 2001. The official story is that one of the princes killed his family before turning the gun on himself, but many people in Nepal do not believe this is true – there are many theories as to what really happened, but nobody seems to know for sure).

Did I ever mention that swastikas and hexagrams are all over Kathmandu?

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This was jarring for me at first – being born in the time and place that I was, the swastika is inextricably linked to the Nazi party in my mind, and the hexagram with the Jewish Star of David. But of course, both the swastika and the hexagram are very old symbols that have been used in many religions throughout human history. In Nepal they are Hindu symbols – the swastika is associated with one of the most-popular Hindu gods, Ganesh, and the hexagram is a mandala symbol that represents the perfect meditative state of balance that can be achieved between man and God.

Did I ever mention the woman who sat in the same spot near the grocery store every day, spinning yarn from (what I think was) yak hair?

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Or the other women who roast corn throughout the city, day in and day out…

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This of course, makes me think of all the food you find on the streets in Nepal. Especially, my favorite: the fruit and vegetable vendors…

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I am particularly fond of those that put their merchandise on wheels…

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And did I ever mention the banana plants themselves? I had never seen one in person before, and I was transfixed by their strange and interesting blossoms…

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Did I ever mention how much I loved spotting the garlic bouquets that hang out of windows and along rooftops, drying out in the sun? There’s something so gorgeous about them…

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And while we’re talking about food, let me show you some more of the delicious things I was able to enjoy while in Nepal…

Did I ever mention MoMos? Hmmmm, what a tasty treat! Steamed dumplings of Tibetan origin, typically stuffed with buff (water buffalo meat), but also with chicken and veggies. I ate countless MoMos in my two months in Nepal, and can’t wait to eat more when I return!

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And did I ever mention another lunchtime favorite, chow mein? Of course, Nepal borders china and this little dish has made its way into every day Nepali cuisine. It seemed strange to me at first, but here they serve it with ketchup, which is surprisingly tasty…

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Did I ever mention pakoras? Fried veggie patties, a delicious (albeit greasy) treat…

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And yes, I have mentioned it, but any discussion of my culinary experience in Nepal would not be complete without a photo of my beloved curried cauliflower – by far one of my favorite Nepali dishes!

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We also ate our share of the delicious, traditional Newari cuisine…

Roasted soybeans…

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Chili Chicken – flavorful, but VERY SPICEY!

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Chatamari – “Newari Pizza”…

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Another soybean.. I can’t remember the name.  They were almost too beautiful to eat!

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Did I ever mention the leaf plates and bowls? I encountered these at art openings and other public events – they are gorgeous and perfectly functional. And what a much better way to go about the need for disposables, rather than making them from plastic or paper – these leaf products are biodegradable after all!

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You’ll often find used bowls on the streets…

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SORRY, TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES.  GO TO “Did I Ever Mention…? (Part II)”

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