Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Last week was a week of celebrations for us here in Kathmandu.  First up was the birthday of our good friend, Sunil Tamang, aka the Nomadic Nepali.

In 2011, Sunil began a 2,000 kilometer trek on his 20th birthday. He thru-hiked the Great Himalaya Trail BY HIMSELF over 128 days, making him the youngest person ever to do so. (Pretty amazing stuff… check him out!)

Four years later, his 24th birthday may not have been quite as exciting as beginning a life-changing trek through the Himalayan mountains, but hey – it wasn’t so bad! Drew and I attended a birthday party at his house, where he enjoyed his THIRD birthday cake of the day. (Like I said, not bad!)

IMG_0772I was especially fond of this little scene.  Don’t have a clean knife available for cutting the cake? No worries, a meat cleaver will do just fine!

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I learned a new Nepali phrase because of Sunil’s cake: rangy changy, which means “colorful.” Well, yes… the cake certainly was rangy changy!

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Aside from the khata, a traditional scarf presented to people at various events and celebrations like weddings, birthdays, the arrival of visitors, etc. ….

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…Sunil’s birthday party was a lot like one you might find in the U.S. There were gifts, food, singing, and lots of family and friends to wish the birthday boy well…

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These chocolate cake slices came from a FOOT LONG swiss cake roll we picked up at Herman’s Bakery – one of the most well-known bakeries in Kathmandu, right in our neighborhood. Lucky us!

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IMG_0793The birthday boy and his parents…

IMG_0800And our gift for Sunil – half of the fun was finding the beautiful wrapping paper and adorable handmade card…

IMG_0761 All in all, not a bad way to spend your birthday, I’d say… Happy Birthday, Sunil!

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A few days later, we headed to our second celebration of the week – the wedding reception of two of Drew’s colleagues…

As we are now in the auspicious Nepali month of Magh, weddings are happening almost every day, it seems. I often hear wedding parades moving down the streets in our neighborhood, and even more often, I see people on their way to a wedding, looking their best…

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I even witnessed a bride and groom’s photo session at the Patan Museum the other day…

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Because there are so many different ethnic groups in Nepal, it’s hard to describe a ‘typical’ Nepali wedding, as rituals and traditions differ to varying degrees. From what I’ve read, though, most weddings occur over several days (up to a week in some cases), with the big celebration on the last day. So we wouldn’t be getting to see the actual wedding ceremony, as it was scheduled to occur with close friends and family the day before, but we would get to enjoy the party afterwards. Hooray! That’s the best part, anyway, right?

So. First thing’s first – get an outfit. When I learned we were going to a wedding, I quickly remembered that I hadn’t brought anything suitable to wear to a wedding. (Doh!) So I figured, when in Kathmandu…

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Before moving on, a few notes about the outfit:

First of all, from what I gather, weddings here are all about red. The bride often wears red (or red is featured in her dress), and so does… well… just about every other woman in attendance. Of course, this is very different from the never-to-be-broken rule of not wearing white to another woman’s wedding that we have in the States! I found it sort of refreshing, actually…

(And for the record, most women wear saris to weddings, but my friends over at the Kasthamandap Art Studio wisely suggested I wear a kurtha because I wouldn’t know how to put on a sari by myself. How true – good thinking, friends).

Secondly, shoe shopping in Kathmandu is not as easy as you might think. Well… at least not for me. I’m a size 9 and quickly learned that most shoe shops don’t even carry such an ‘enormous’ size here. Why would they?! Who has such monstrous feet? Ummm… well…me. I do. (Sigh). I ended up with a size 8 because after five shoe shops, I was frustrated and happy just to get close to a size 9. No, it wasn’t ideal, but… you know… it worked.

Also – sparkles, sparkles, sparkles! Sequins, detailed embroideries made with shiny thread, and beads are a big part of wedding attire here. Those of you who know me well know that this is generally NOT my style. Call me boring, but I like earth-tones and wooden jewelry. But hey – if you’re gonna go there, you might as well GO THERE, right?  That was my thinking, and I was feeling okay with it until another guest at the wedding – a human rights activist of some kind, I believe – informed me that fabrics with bead work, like what I was wearing, are usually made with child labor.

Well, shit.

Nothing like a little child labor to spoil the festive mood and make you feel like a total jerk. In all fairness, I don’t think this woman meant to make me feel bad – I got the feeling she just wanted to educate me. And I suppose it was naive of me not to consider the possibility of child labor being involved in the garments that I buy here. But then again, it’s quite possible that something Drew was wearing (clothes he’d brought from home) also involved child labor, or at the very least, ‘sweat shop’ working conditions, so it did feel a little unfair to be singled out like that. But okay. Now I know, and knowledge is power, right? No more beaded Nepali products for me. Got it. Lesson learned.

But I digress…

Once the outfit was squared away, I wondered about a gift. Do you bring gifts to a wedding here? If so, what is appropriate? My online research wasn’t so helpful, as I couldn’t find a definitive answer to my questions, so I turned to the author of The Roofs of Kathmandu, a great blog written by a Croatian woman who is married to a Nepali man and living in Kathmandu. She helped me out with my laundry question a few weeks back (do didis wash your underwear? more on that later), so I figured she could help me with this too. And she didn’t disappoint!

(You can check out her posts about her experiences at a Nepali wedding reception and her own Nepali wedding if you’d like, by the way).

She informed me that, traditionally, if you are invited on the groom’s side, you are not obligated to bring a gift – perhaps some flowers, but nothing more – and if you are invited on the bride’s side, it is mandatory to bring a gift (which must be given TO THE BRIDE – she was very specific about this). And nowadays, even though just about everyone brings a gift, it’s still not unusual for many of the groom’s guests to show up without anything. (Well, gee. I guess that dowry thing is still pretty big here, huh?)

She also told me that if you do want to bring a gift, most people bring 500 -1000 Rupees (that’s about $5 – $10 USD) in a nice envelope with no card.  Cash in an envelope – now that’s my kind of gift!

As we were invited from both the groom AND bride’s side, we figured it best to bring a gift. So I set out to find a pretty envelope and got lucky at the very first store I visited. I found a whole pack of fancy envelopes, in fact, for about $1.20. We can go to LOTS of weddings now!

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So. Outfit – check. Gift – check. Untimely stomach bug the night before the wedding – check. (Poor, poor Drew – luckily, he was good to go by the following afternoon and we didn’t have to miss the wedding).

On the big day, we met a friend who was also invited to the wedding, and shared a taxi to S.R. Party Palace in northern Kathmandu. That’s right. Party PALACE.

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Just about all of the banquet/reception halls here are called “Party Palaces,” and I just love that. It adds such a sense of occasion to the whole thing, don’t you think? I don’t just party anywhere. Oh, no. I party in a PALACE.

Here we are, looking fancy in our ‘palace’ for the evening…

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Generally speaking, there wasn’t a whole lot of structure to the event (and I believe most Nepali wedding receptions follow the same model) – you arrive, you’re greeted by the bride’s parents…

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(Notice all the khatas? This was just the beginning of the party – they had them up to their eyes by the nights’ end!)

…and then… well… you mingle. And eat. And mingle. And eat. And you dance a little too. It’s all on your own schedule – whenever you feel like eating or mingling or dancing, you do it. No ceremonial cutting of the cake or first dances or any of those things that we associate with a traditional American wedding reception. Fine by me. I like talking, eating, and dancing. No problem here!

I think the bride and groom get the raw end of the deal, actually. They arrived in an awesomely decorated car…

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… and then proceeded to sit on a stage for HOURS greeting guests, accepting gifts, and taking photos with each and every person in attendance (or at least, those that come up to the stage, anyway). It looked utterly exhausting, all that polite smiling and nodding…

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Here’s the stage near the end of the evening, when the bride and groom were finally freed from the shackles of the meet-n-greet to get their groove on (more on that below)…

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Meanwhile, all the lucky guests get to talk and eat. Hors d’oeuvres were served outside where folks were milling about. Not your typical American fare, but you know… we’re not in America, are we?

IMG_0915(No, I was not brave enough to try one – I generally avoid eating eyeballs. But Drew took the plunge, and he liked them!)

And then there were the foods that weren’t all that ‘strange’ to us, but they weren’t necessarily foods I would think I’d be eating while standing up, drink in hand, wearing fancy clothes. Like peanuts, for example…

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Or how about french fries with ketchup? How do you eat french fries and ketchup without dipping your hand into the bowl to fish them out, contaminating the shared plate, you ask? Turns out, with a tooth pick and a spoon, it can be done…

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Inside, there was a buffet that was stocked all night long, as guests come and go to the buffet as they please at these events. There’s no set dinner time, so… hell… you could eat TWO dinners if you wanted…

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A sweet little Nepali touch that I adore – they like to set out their silverware in cute little arrangements, I’ve noticed…

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The food was mostly Indian fare, but with the addition of traditional Nepali dal bhat, of course. It was DELICIOUS…

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And the dessert. Oh, the dessert. So, so good. A slightly sweet, but mostly sour yogurt with a small fried doughnut-like treat. So simple and so very tasty…

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And then there was the dancing – my favorite part. The bride and her family are Limbu, so of course Limbu traditions were observed at the reception. Most notable was the group of drummers and dancers that performed a traditional circle dance (on and off) for the entire evening.  They began outside, performing their dance around a bottle of Sprite and a bottle of Whiskey. Well…umm… okay. An odd combination it seems to me, but I was told it was a blessing of sorts, so who am I to argue?

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WATCH A VIDEO OF THE DRUM / DANCE CIRCLE HERE.

Once the blessing of the drinks was finished, they moved into the main courtyard area…

IMG_0910I especially liked the dancers’ outfits – traditional Limbu attire with leather jackets and faux designer purses. East meets West…

IMG_0911… and there they stayed for most of the evening, drumming and dancing to their simple, hypnotic beat… 1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4…

IMG_0914After a little research, I’m still not sure if they were dancing the “Yalakama” or “Kelangma” dance (or maybe both?), but either way, I loved watching them. Drew and I even had the opportunity to join in on the fun a few times, as everyone is encouraged to take part. I mean, people dancing together in a circle – seems just about every culture has some form of this, no? Does it get any more… well… human than that? Language means nothing in these moments, and I love it…

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While dancing in the circle our second time around, I noticed this little girl wearing what looks like a 70’s era ‘leisure suit’ – in my book, she totally wins the ‘Best Outfit’ contest. I mean really… how AWESOME does she look?!

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Another thing I love is a good ol’ fashion dance party. DJ, loud speakers, and a group of folks who just want to get down. If people are dancing, you can be sure that you’ll find me in the mix.

And so… the DJ was pumping out the beats – some American pop/dance cuts, but mostly Nepali (Indian?) pop songs- and as these things go, a small circle of women got the party started (Is this a universal phenomenon? ALWAYS the circle of girls!)…

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Shortly thereafter, the boys joined in…

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And the birde and groom were FINALLY free to have a little fun at their own party…

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Oh – and lest we forget the adorable toddlers, bopping up and down to the beat. There’s always at least one of those at a wedding, right? (Another universal?)

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I’m happy to report that not one, but TWO old Nepali woman came to dance with me during our little jam session. That’s right. My moves have been approved by the Nepali grannies … #winning.

And so. With drinks and delicious food consumed, money envelopes bestowed upon bride and groom, circle dances danced, and booties shaken to the DJ’s beats, we headed to a bar with a few new friends for a small after-party, where we listened to this guy sing a cover of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison. Oh, man. YES.

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A successful evening, indeed! Fun and merriment was had by all, and I so much enjoyed getting a chance to check out my first Nepali wedding (or a portion of it, at least)…

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Now we’ve just got to find a way to get ourselves invited to more weddings so we can use up those envelopes…

7 thoughts on “Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

  1. Very interesting and fun! The abundance of color is astounding and you guys looked like you had a great time. Just curious – did you tame down your “moves”? Love you sweetheart!
    Mom

  2. Pingback: … Let’s Celebrate, It’s Alright (Part Two) | Home is Where the Hair Is

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