Thursday, September 30, 2010

Butter the devil you know

I should say, in all fairness, that by and large I love the food in Nepal. Sure, for most people it's daal, vege curry and rice twice a day - but as a vegetarian I'm certainly not complaining about that. Being culinarily compatible with your field site is a rather important part of feeling comfortable on field work. I could never work where my friend Mos works; where fried pig fat is a local delicacy. Nor do I have the fortitude to live where another fiend of mine works, where she describes one menu item as, and I hope she won't mind me quoting her, "a rat with an extra long nose and a plate full of slimy spinach."

So by and large, Nepali food is tasty and they're very much on board with the whole vegetarian thing. But there is one foodstuff that I can't cope with very well - butter tea.

Butter tea is a traditional Tibetan style drink popular among many of the hill dwelling culturally Tibetan people of Nepal. It involves blending milk and butter and salt and then serving it hot from a giant thermos. Originally the blending occurred in a giant wooden churn and a woman's domestic skills were judged on how well she made tea (a rather physical job) while now the hard work in most urban families is left to an electric blender.

The tea is rich, almost like a savory broth. I could cope with one cup perhaps, but the customary practice is to keep the small cup permanently brim-full.

Fortunately butter tea is something of a special delicacy, so it's not served too often. Although it means that when it is I'm rather obliged to partake. At least while I'm drinking I can console myself with the knowledge it's made from neither pork fat or rat.

Traffic jams in Kathmandu...

...even the cows have to queue.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Going Native

One thing I love about Nepal is that many of the women wear these bright beautiful kurta surwals.

While last trip I wore long skirts and tshirts this time I decided to get in on the KS action. To westerners they look a little like pyjamas - in fact, I have a pair back home that I use for that purpose. Not only do they look like pyjamas, but they're as comfortable. And you get to wear them all day. And you get them made for you individually. I'm not sure what's to love about them.

So I got some made, but I've been a bit wary about finally heading out in public. I'm not sure why I should worry about being stared at, it happens enough anyway, what with me being a tall, pasty, pale-haired freak (I've had 3 conversations in the last 2 days about how tall I am...). Maybe I've just been worried that wearing a KS would push me even further towards being a freak instead of redeeming me.

But so far today it's been ok. There's been some amusement among the guesthouse staff, but A. gave me the thumbs up so I feel more comfortable already.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A suddenly peaceful day

I've been getting back into the swing of sessions - and the data crunching that comes with them.

Today I was supposed to meet with another speaker that L. had met - I'm beginning to be convinced that L. really does know everyone in Nepal.

Anyway, so I had time today to digest all the data from working with both A. and the new woman I only did a little bit of work with A. this morning. When I got back to my guest house I found L. there, waiting to tell me that the new woman was too busy to come today. So now I only have a fraction of the usual work to do... I think some leisurely afternoon reading is in order!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A new house, a new baby, and the second time around...

In discussions with seasoned fieldworks prior to my departure, many of them spoke enthusiastically about the second time around. People are glad to see you, you all know what the procedure is and you're all a lot more comfortable. After catching up this morning with my friend and main teacher of Tam it's my turn to also do the same!

Things didn't get off to a great start - but then anything involving me, Nepali and a phone rarely does. This became apparent after I organised to meet her at her house and then found out that she no longer lived there! But the old man who sits out the front to read the newspaper every morning was there and he kindly offered to take me to A.'s new place ("It'll be good for my karma," he said) and we took a scenic detour via the river to throw in the trash.

A.'s new place is rather nice. There's running water and more secure doors. After clearly up the initial confusion (I was supposed to ring her at the old house to collect me) we spent the morning catching up, working our way though each others' respective families, swapping stories. Her daughter is pregnant and due in December so that was exciting news.

I gave A. a draft of the dictionary of Tam that I've been tinkering with - and the whole family were gathered 'round. Not only is she glad to have it, but she said she'd make not of any errors, which will help no end!

And so after almost a week of reading, relaxing and generally not doing much it's time to get down to work. I'm actually looking forward to it - and now I took can talk about how much easier it feels second time around!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

5 must have items

If I had to describe my personal packing style I would say that I am generally a minimalist - always choosing the convenience of a small pack or suitcase over preparing for all eventualities. I say 'always', but that's clearly not the case when it comes to fieldwork trips. Although I brought a minimum of clothes and not even a second pair of shoes, I managed to almost exceed the baggage limit again on this trip. Bags full of computers, gadgets, gifts, and of course noteboooks.

However, for the mountains of stuff I brought with me, here is my list of 5 things that I can not live without here:

1. Water purifying UV light: It's like something straight out of Sci-Fi; think sonic screw-driver but with only one of the functions. I spend so much time here being careful about what I eat/drink that if I were anywhere else you'd think it were a phobia - but in Nepal stomach upsets and much worse are a daily reality. Unfortunately, the water in the guesthouse rooms is not physically clean enough to drink (the light is great, but no defense against floaties) - however I'm ready and armed for the countryside!

2. Nail brush: one of the most contented parts of my day is filling a bucket with hot water and scrubbing Kathmandu off my feet.

3. The pink pencil: I'm not normally one for superstition and such - but I have a pink mechanical pencil that I used every day of the previous field trip, and have with me again. It's nice to have something so familiar to write down so much unfamiliar language with.

4. Skype: Ok, so I didn't really bring it with me, but I am officially now a massive fan of Skype. It's so much better than phone calls for the basic fact that silences aren't awkward - you can just wave at each other. And what's the use in having a Handsome Penpal if you can't see his Handsome face from time to time?

5. Laptop: it's a bit of an obvious one, but in many ways my laptop is like an electronic umbilical back to my other life. It's full of movies, songs and photos. Not to mention I can use it to Skype and internet. Oh... and do my work... It lets me be much more on top of data processing than I would be if I left it at home and just came back with a pile of tapes/CDs/SD cards.

Of course, one thing about Nepal is that there are lots of really great books here at really affordable prices - which is going to do nothing for my baggage weight management issues!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cruisy times in Kathmandu

I've settled in to being back in Nepal rather easily. It's less humid than I remember it being at this time of the year, but apart from that it's like I've never left.

My Nepali is getting a good airing and it's not as horrible as I thought it was. It's slowly coming back to me, although there are a lot of gaps still.

While it feels comfortable and familiar there's been something a bit weird about being here, and it took me all day yesterday to figure out what it is. Basically it feels weird to be hanging out in Kathmandu and not working. Normally in Kathmandu I feel a daily race against time to keep up with data collection and analysis. But at the moment I'm waiting a few days to acclimatise before getting back into work and it feels rather nice. But I guess in the long run there's only so much cafe-hopping and strolling that one can do. So I'll hopefully get stuck into work in a couple of days.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm totally sure the last nine months weren't a dream...

... and yet it feels like I've not been away. Everything looks the same, it's all as crazy as ever, I'm just better equipped this time to deal with it. Already caught up with my Nepali teacher to arrange some (much needed) conversation classes, and about to chai with a friend at our favourite cafe.

I guess this is the luxury of a second trip - I've only been here 3 hours and it already feels more like home than in did in the first 3 weeks of the last trip...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

T minus 6 hours

After the most charming spring day (magnolias and sunshine!) it's only a couple of hours until until my flight.

The lead up to this trip has been so much different to the last one. The stress has been much less about the prospect of a strange place and unknown situation (to think I went last time not knowing what language I was working with!) and this time the stress has been much more about ensuring I'm prepared to collect maximally useful data - in the words of Orwell "all data are useful but some are more useful than others."

I've been a lot more relaxed about this trip in many ways. For example, I've still got stuff to take strewn around my room and have chosen to blog instead of pack. I've also decided at the last minute to take my mac as well as my shiny new EEE. The little'un (named Flynn) will be super useful away from civilisation, but the mac (named Errol, he came first...) deals with high qual. video better - I just shan't be lugging it to cafes for interneting like last time...

This will be the third Australian spring in a row that I've missed. And of course I'll miss friends and family, and the Handsome Penpal will have to get used to being my penpal again - but I'm also excited at the prospect of catching up with friends, seeing what is left of my Nepali and embracing the opportunity for new anecdotes at my own expense.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Work... in a hardware store

I've spent a couple of afternoons this week loitering around my local hardware store, stealing their paint colour swatches. I'm not planning on repainting my room at the guest house in Nepal, instead I'm using the little colour swatches to check the definitions of different colours in Tam.

My current database has two separate words that roughly equate to blue and green - but a similar language I've been looking at has only one word for the two. This isn't too uncommon cross-linguistically; they're known generally as grue languages.

So I've got a whole bunch of blues and greens and aquas and bluey greens, greeny blues, yellowy greens and purpley blues as well as a bunch of other colours and I'm hopefully going to get a clearer picture on what the deal is.

If I were a proper linguist I'd use a Munsell Chip set, which is obviously much more universal than the 2010 Dulux colour range. However paint shop swatches are free and this is really only a primary analysis.

I've also been spending time in magic shops, buying magic tricks to hopefully elicit the way Tam speakers show surprise. It's times like these that I find it rather amusing to do the work that I do...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Half Way!?

I was in a casual conversation with some of the other graduate students in the department last week when one of them asked how far through I am. As long as you're not near the end of your candidature (and tether) this is a perfectly legitimate question to ask, but one I hadn't given much thought to, what with all the prep work distractions.

Some quick mental calculating resulted and I realised that I'd been doing this for 18 months, to the day. That means I'm half way through my scholarship time (tactfully ignoring that I can apply for an extra 6 months later down the track. That means I'm half way though. I don't feel half way though. I'd be lucky to have 20,000 words (25% of the 80,000 requirement) and even then nothing is any way fit for publishing. Time has flown like I never knew it to in undergrad.

So here's to the first half of this crazy adventure, and here's hoping that the next half will be as enlightening...