Friday, November 26, 2010

Two weeks, 75 emails...

Not to mention the 352 unread items in my RSS reader, and the fact that the internet in the town I'm in is like something from the mid-ninties...

I'm currently in a larg-ish town near the villagee for a couple of weeks to work with some other speakers, and enjoy things like plumbing, personal space and food that isn't daal and rice.

Although I've just settled in here, I'm back to the villages in a couple of days for a wedding. It's a tough life, but someone's got to enjoy all that singing, eating and dancing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese

This morning I decided to throw in the transcribing of stories for a couple of hours and stroll over to a farmers market I'd seen advertised in one of my favourite cafes.

It turned out to be a goldmine of foods that I've been missing from home. As you may have guessed from reading the title to this post there was cheese! Mozzarella, feta and some rad pungent French-style stuff. There was also cake that tasted like cake, and bread that looked like bread. And avocado. The only things missing from my list of food stuffs I regularly day dream about were Portuguese tarts, cherries and decent ice cream. But it was more than exciting enough as it was.

I know where I'll be every Saturday that I'm in Kathmandu.

Back to the village

My return to Kathmandu has been but a brief visit to organise myself for a longer stint in the country. The harvest season is upon us, and in a few weeks most of my village-side Tam speaking friends will be up to their elbows in rice fields. So I leave again on Sunday for what will be a couple of weeks in the village and a couple more in the nearest town, where the amenities aren't much better and there are more noisy vehicles around to boot.

This means that tomorrow, as well as packing in as much work as possible, I'll also be packing bags and making the most of all the things that I can't do outside Kathmandu. So hopefully I'll have time to eat a salad, hang out on g-chat, get a massage, speak some English, have a glass of wine (or two) and sleep in a bed that's actually long enough for me. It promises to be a great day!

The lack of readily available internet also means I obviously won't be posting quite so much. But don't worry, I'll be well looked after and sufficiently over-fed and will be back with lots of amusing and bemusing stories in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Nepali Picnic

Today I took a break from study, having been invited by a friend to attend a picnic. This friend runs a school for kids who are at risk of dropping out of society. It's a small school where children are socialised into education before the organisation supports them in mainstream education.

The 18 or so kids were all excited to be having an excursion, which was in a small park a short bus ride from the Kathmandu. It was, in many regards, like most other picnics I've been on. Excited children, games, a quiet-ish park. But when it comes to catering Nepalis do picnics like no one else.

Basically, the picnic involved bringing the kitchen along - including two gas cookers and a large gas bottle. At one point there were no fewer than 6 of us preparing food:

It was rice and curry - but being a picnic there were lots of exotic ingredients that aren't in the usual meal; tofu, mushrooms, egg, sweet curd. It was truly a sight to behold, and has certainly set the benchmark rather high for future al fresco eating.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weather I'm here or at home... doesn't matter today. Both Kathmandu and Melbourne have an expected top of 28 degrees.

So we've finally reached the point where Melbourne's summer is kicking into gear, and the days here are slowly getting cooler (the nights are getting cooler rather rapidly).

One good thing about the cooling weather here is that it's not accompanied by cloudiness of a winter at home. It's still lovely and sunny!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tihar: Sel Roti

The last few days have been full of candles, marigolds, fireworks, singing in the street and food. You can see lots of pretty photos of those first few things at my friend Amos' blog here and, so I thought I'd let you know about Tihar food. I know this is supposed to be a linguistics blog and not a food blog - but after 3 days of continuous eating food has been somewhat at the forefront of our attention.

Tihar is a very positive festival, and part of that is you eat lots of luxury food to celebrate - amongst other things - Laxmi, goddess of wealth, and cows, the sacred animals of Hindu. So there's lots of dried fruit, nuts, curd, fresh fruit, meat and all those things that are a bit too expensive to eat too much of most of the year.

Another thing that's eaten this time of year is Sel Roti, which is something like a doughnut, but less fluffy. They're deep-fried rings of sweet bread made from rice, and this year I got to watch my friends making them. I took enough photos to be able to bring the Sel making experience to you guys as well - but be warned, you might find them slightly less appealing after reading this!



3 kg of uncooked rice, soaked overnight in water
1/2 kg sugar
1 lt liquid ghee
6-8 cups plain wheat flour

step one:

blend up the rice, ghee and sugar in small batches. Doesn't that look yummy already?

step two:

blend in the flour, you may need to feed small batches back in to the blender. Do this until you have the right consistence - something that will still flow but isn't too liquid.

step three:

Fry! To get the attractive ring shape one must have the batter at the right consistency, then swirl it around deftly into the bubbling oil.

Repeat, more than a few times, and there's your Sel:

Those white dots are grains of sugar that have come in contact with the oil, and give a crunchy counterbalance to the smoothly blended rice dough. Those who cook might have noticed that 3 kg of rice is a lot of base ingredient to start with, and you'd be right. All up our friends made around 100-150 Sel, which took about 3-4 hours just for the frying alone, and this in a small household. It gives you an idea of just how much eating goes on here over Tihar!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lucking out, pt. 2

A few days ago I mentioned a conversation with friends where we had been divided as to whether 'luck out' was a good or bad thing.

The results beyond out little lunch time gathering were just as mixed - so we're definitely not the only people who are likely to have this argument. Urban Dictionary, that most authoritative of lexicographic tools, argues that the 'luck out' divide is one between US and UK English, with it being used positively in the US and negatively in the UK. My pitifully small sample number of approximately 1.5 UK English speakers and 0.5 US English speakers would appear to conform to this analysis, but those numbers are much too low for me to throw my opinion behind.

Looking very quickly at a comparison between newspapers from different countries. Note, I took a wild guess this would be the most common form used in news reports and didn't bother searching variants like 'lucking out.' The New York Times up to 2007 had 326 references for 'lucked out', The Independent (UK) had 19 references since 1994 and for an Australian angle The Age had 44 search items with 'lucked out' since 1995. I'd love to spend all day going through the clippings, and tallying which sense is used where, and the oldest reported uses etc, but work calls . With only a quick flick it looks like the NYT references are all using the positive sense. the Independent also mostly uses the positive sence but the term mostly crops up in American references and quotes, such as this article on US beaknik Sarah Jepp:

but despite having "lucked-out" with an inexpensive room on the Venice Canals, L.A's vacuous side was beginning to grate.

I'm not sure if a more colloquial UK newspaper would have given a different result, but I'm not plunging into an archive of The Sun this early in the morning.

In The Age there are a mixture of usages, much like our small Australian contingent at the lunch table showed mixed attitudes to the meaning of 'luck out.' This rather pointless article about a pampered dog (From Zero to Hero, 22/05/95) uses the positive sense:

MAX, the five-year-old chihuahua, started life as a pet shop boy. For three weeks, his owner-to-be visited the pet shop almost every day, eyeing this sweet little fur ball all alone in a cage. At the end of three weeks, Jean Pierre Heurteau could resist no longer, so he bought Max and home they went. Max didn't realise it then but he had lucked out he was to start a lifestyle to die for.

While this article on seafood (From the deep 01/07/03) uses the other sense:

"I marinated pieces of the squid in seven different marinades for 12 hours and 24 hours to disguise the flavour, yet this made things little better.

"It's safe to say it won't be appearing on our menu," says Kerry.

Munro is mortified and suggests Kerry must have lucked out with the samples he supplied, but if you're a chef, supply-chain failures in the quality of the product cut little mustard.

You won't find lucked on in Merriam-Webster online. But it does occour in the Oxford English, although, interestingly, only the positive sense, which they site as a US term:

e. to luck out (U.S.), to achieve success or advantage by good luck in a difficult, testing, or dangerous situation.

In the last post, I withheld my own opinion on the matter so as to not bias the conversation. In the interest of full disclosure, I only ever use 'luck out' as a negative thing. If you lucked out things certainly didn't go your way.

Lucking Out

Tihar continues unabated - I'll give a run-down later, but at the moment I'm stuffed and suffering from sel roti overdose. Also, I have a question I need your help with!

Over lunch with a few friend the other day it transpired there were two very different opinions about the meaning of the term 'lucked out' that divided the group. Half of us firmly believe that it is a good thing to luck out, while the other half thought that it was a very bad thing to luck out.

I won't tell you yet which group I fell into, because I'd like your opinion first. Let me know via email, or in the comments below and I'll do some dictionary digging as well as some scouring of the web and see what I can come up with.

Friday, November 5, 2010


We're right in the middle of Tihar, the Hindu festival of light - also known in some other countries as Dipawali - and one of my favourite times to be in Kathmandu.

Unlike Dasain there's no sacrifices to be seen. The last two days have been celebrating crow (messenger of death) and dog (loyal friend and guide after death) worship respectively. Today is worship for both the cow (sacred animal in hinduism) and Laxmi (goddess of wealth). Today we're going to a friend's house to help in a ceremony to welcome Laxmi (and her wealth generating powers) into the house. Conveniently, at various points this includes eating lots of yummy food and lighting lots of candles. Tomorrow will be Bhai tika day (brother tika), where the whole family gather, eat more yummy food, and honour their siblings by painting multicoloured tika on their forehead.

You may be thinking at this point, why am I always talking about celebrating Hindu festivals if I'm working on a language spoken by Buddhists? It's a good question, and there are a number of reasons. The first is that one of my closest Nepali friends is Hindu. The second is that everyone here is pretty chilled and most Buddhists will, to some extent, celebrate Tihar. The third is that Bhuddists have only one really big party festival, and that's Lhosar (new years) celebrated in February, which I'll also be around for, but it's still a little way off. And, finally, because Tihar is so much fun!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The top three problems with having pale skin on field work

1. Sunburn. I now have a pretty brown patch on my back.

2. You can actually see how dirty you are. Enough said there.

3. Everyone can pick you for a foreigner a mile away.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Husband

Before I keep talking about my village-side adventures there's someone I need to mention.

Much to the dismay of Nepalis, and my grandmother, I am a happily unmarried 25 year old woman. In Nepal this makes me rather old to be unmarried, while most of my friends my age here have kids in primary school. That's not to say I'm single either, the Handsome Pen pal, as well as being me favourite international correspondent, is also my long-time (and long-suffering) boyfriend.

This causes a bit of difficulty in Nepal, because here there's really only a binary difference between 'single' and 'married' - I once tried to explain to a shopkeeper that in Australia it's verycommon for people to live together without being married, and he asked if the government makse that hard for people. How do you begin to explain that the government actually make it easier by legislating for de facto relationships?

And so, to make life easier here, the handsome Pen pal very kindly masquerades as my Faux-Husband. I don't really feel too bad about lying because it means people don't think I'm single, or crazy. Also, as most of my lying is done in Nepali it doesn't feel as weird because more often than not I'm talking about my 'sriman' and not my 'husband'.

Of course, the standard question that comes after asking if you're married is to ask if you have kids. The answer, as it is to my nan is always 'later'.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Village Life

The village I ended up staying in last week was not an exclusively Tam speaking village (of which there are five), but one of the local hub villages where there are a mix of languages spoken. The best way to describe village life is that it's like living in a medieval village, albeit one with mobile phones, solar panels and plastic thongs.

I stayed with a family, a woman my age with an 8 year old and a 4 year old. Most women my age tend to have a child or two, but I still find it rather alarming! The 5 year old is the grottiest person I've ever met - in only the way that a 4 year old boy who happens to live on a farm can be. What amazes me the most is how hard working people are, in ways that I've never known people to have to be. There's no plumbing so children are send on the down hill walk every morning to fetch water. People still cook over wood fires and most people (myself included) wear the same clothes every day for most of the week. It was certainly no luxury wilderness retreat!

Back in Kathmandu

It's felt like an epic adventure, but I've only been away about 12 day!

I arrived back in Kathmandu this after noon, very tired and much much dirtier than you probably want to read about in a blog post. I've solved the second problem with what was probably one of the most satisfying hot showers of my life, and plan to solve the first one with an imminent sleep.

It has been a rather successful mini-adventure on many fronts, I'll let you know about it all over the next few days of posting.