Friday, February 25, 2011

Home again

I always love coming home from a trip. All those things you take for granted when you love somewhere every day become novel again; fresh air, potable water, people who share the same frame of reference as you etc.

I'll probably be AWOL for a week or so, enjoying the things mentioned above and a few more, but I'll be back to share some of the final adventures that I had in Nepal, and outline what's planned for this year.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Goodbye KTM... for now...

It's always easy at the end of a long trip like this to tell yourself that five months wasn't that long after all, and everything worked out pretty darn well. It has been a good trip in many ways; I've made lots of new friends - both foreigners and fellow visitors, I've improved my Nepali to the point where getting by every day isn't exhausting, and I'm coming home with much more thought out and better organised data.

So the trip has been good in many ways, and here at Lozguistics I like to keep things on the more lighthearted end of my time here, but there have been less-than-fun times as well. I've gained an impressive amount of weight thanks to a lack of running and an excess of rice and sugar tea, I'm pretty sure the aforementioned tea has left me with at least a couple of dental cavities, I spent at least 2 months with lice and at times I felt more homesick than I even have before.

But you take the bad with the good and there's been enough good to balance things. And it's definitely time to go home, digest my data, return to normal eating habits and be able to drink tap water. It's much easier to say goodbye to a place when you know you're coming back. My only regret from the last 5 months is that I didn't go see Bryan Adams play the first rock gig by a foreigner in Nepal last night.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


As the countdown units for tomorrow's departure move from days to hours, Nepal also has a countdown under way; as of today it's 99 days until the deadline for a new constitution.

I don't want to go too much into the political situation here. This is, after all, supposedly a blog about Linguistics in Nepal, not Politics. I don't really follow politics here all that closely - it's hard to while cut off in the village and also it tends to rarely have any news worth celebration. Also, I like this blog to remain not so cynical and it's hard to do that when talking about the political situation here, where basically the only stable feature is the complete instability.

So it's no surprise that all major players in the constitution writing process are saying the deadline will not be met.

I've decided it's now a race between the Nepali constitution and my PhD thesis. I have between 12-18 months of funding left and a personal desire to wrap most things up by September 2012 (I feel like one day I'll regret committing this statement to a public forum). I'm willing to take bets, I think it's going to be close.

Friday, February 18, 2011


The part of a trip that's never any fun is packing up to go home. The problem here is compounded by the fact that field work involves a lot of technical gear, and also that books in Nepal are really really cheap.

It means that it's all about the tough love when it comes time for packing. No fiction is coming home with me - and as a bit of a boon I've made a bit of money back selling them to the bookshops here. I've also ditched a lot of clothes, and the only toiletries that are coming home with me are my carry-on necessities.

Still, it's going to be a close call on Sunday at the airport. Let's hope I get a check in clerk who's in a good mood.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Style Cream

Every time I see these chips in a store I have to giggle - and wonder what 'style cream' is supposed to taste like. I finally got around to buying a packet just for the photograph.

It may look like a very simple type setting error, but there's actually a reason for such an error. There are half a dozen flavours to chose from, and all of them are named for a country. So, off the top of my head, there's also "Italian Tomato" and "Indian Marsala." Only the "American" flavour is "style," that is, "in the manner of." Therefore it's no surprise that a non-native speaker parsing these packets would assume that "style" is modifying "cream" and not "American."

Even understanding the reason for the error doesn't stop me staggering every time. I'm sad to report that the chips do taste like sour cream and onion in American style, and not style cream, which I imagine would be a bit like eating hair styling products.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Today and yesterday has been gray skies and constant rain - it all feels much more like a winter at home than the KTM dry season. It's all very confusing, and makes navigating the streets even more difficult. It also makes doing work more difficult, with the constant rain it makes doing audio transcriptions quite difficult!

There's also been some very impressive thunder and lightening. One of the small towers at Swayambhunath got struck by lightening Monday night - you can check out the damage here.

Soshan: film review

A critic of Nepali cinema can't really afford to be critical. To pick on the problems that plague Nepali cinema would really be to miss the point. It doesn't really matter if the flashback to the hero's mid-90s childhood involves flat screen televisions. Nobody cares that the music from the dramatic points are taken directly from other films (tunes from both Star Wars and Indiana Jones made it into Sashan without a shred of Post Modern mashup irony). And lose plot points don't really bother anyone (where did the female lead's grandmother disappear to during interval?).

So if we're to ignore the plot errors, shoddy editing and occasionally woeful acting then what's left? Well clearly more than enough for Nepali audiences, who exhibit an enthusiasm that Australians usually reserve for a game of football. It's completely appropriate to cheer on the hero as he rescues the love interest with some improbable fighting skills. It's fine to turn to your friend and offer your opinion of the film as some kind of live audio commentary. And if it's getting dull call your friend and offer a commentary to them.

Sashan is the story of a rich man and his son. Our hero turns up at one of his father's villages to open a new hospital dedicated to his mother. There he falls in love with a local village girl. Cue many song and dance numbers and many costume changes (which are a way to show off ones budget). The hero stops a local bad man from kicking the girl's family out of the village (by grabbing the sharp end of a machete - Nepali heros have some improbable qualities), and realising their love for each other they get married. Our hero must dash off overseas for something important, leaving his new wife waving goodbye as his helicopter flies off over the mountains (again helicopter = impressive budget).

This would probably be enough material for a whole film, but it's just setting the scene. The girl's family are eventually bested by the baddie, and seek help from the hero's father. When they arrive at the palatial house nobody knows about the marriage. the son has a girlfriend and is frankly rude to the woman who loves him. The rich man lets the girl and her father stay. While there we watch her heartbreak - then the hero's older brother kills the girl's father because he finds the hero drunkenly harassing the girl who's really his wife. The police find the girl with her dead father on the road and arrest her for murder. By this point she's also quite clearly pregnant, to add to her woes.

Still following? Just when things can't get worse it transpires that the hero has a twin brother, thus solving the mystery of his rudeness. But our hero is heartbroken when his dad tells him that she is dead - it's ok, nan breaks down and tells him she's in jail when she can no longer bear the guilt of knowing that the hero's mother was killed by his father because he thought she was sleeping with the chauffeur. And the hero's older brother? Actually the son of the chauffeur. The elder brother goes crazy and kills the whole family as a very slowly delivered revenge. He kidnaps the hero's very pregnant wife and stages an improbable death for her - letting the hero have a chance to come in, guns blazing, and singlehandedly shoot down a battalion of thugs and save his beloved - who has quite forgiven him for not being his nasty twin. Cue happy ending with hero, heroine, cute new baby and hero's nan who has somehow survived. There was also something about the UN security council but I can't say I understood that.

Nepali films are generally fairly similar to each other. They all have a good mix of fighting, romance, family drama, song, dance and unpredictable plot twists. Like Desh, this film had several didactic monologs from the hero exposing the many virtues of good Nepalis. Like my favourite Nepali film Kusume Rumal this film also had one dance scene full of cross dressing. I'm not sure if this is a common feature of Nepali films, but I'm sure there's a great thesis in it.

One thing I've noticed is that every time I go to the cinema I understand more. I can't say I really follow the intricacies of the plot - UN security council? And how did the girl not figure out that the hero had a twin? - but I can figure out how people are related to each other and the general gist of what they're saying.

Going to see a Nepali film is like I imagine Indian cinema was 30 or 40 years ago. In many ways it would be a shame if they stopped dubbing the dialog in post-filming, and if car breaks didn't squeal every time a car stopped. The charm of Nepali cinema is not in the quality of its production, but in the enthusiasm that the audiences bring to it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I've finally got around to adding a couple of photos to the post I wrote about the village funeral I went to a few weeks ago. I was reminded because yesterday I went to not one, but two Buddhist funerals.

These were slightly different to the last one, as both of them were cremations. The previous ceremony I attended was about helping the spirit move on to the next phase of its existence, while both of these were about fare welling the more physical elements. In the more northern parts of Nepal and in Tibet sky burial is a common way to return the body to the world - leaving the body exposed to birds of prey and other animals. However it's not so practical in Kathmandu or the hills where I work and cremation is preferred.

Like the village funeral both of these events involved a lot of butter candles, a lot of feeding people and whole lot of incense. What was interesting at both of these events is that there seemed to be a lot more gender segregation - with women doing the majority of the cooking, praying and crying.

It is perhaps something of a shame that I didn't get to stay to see either cremation take place - but after visiting Pashupatinath I think I've inhaled enough ashes of dead people for one trip to Nepal.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Another wedding

During my last stay in the country I got to attend another wedding. This one was smaller than the last, and because I kind of had a hang of the format and basic Tam conversation I found it all a lot easier than the last one.

This wedding was interesting because the couple already had a 2 year old daughter. While having children before marriage is becoming increasingly more common back home it's not something I've come across here a lot. Or at all. Courtship is usually a bit of a whirlwind here (or taken care of by one's parents) so there usually isn't time for a pre-wedding bub.

People I talked to in the village said this kind of arrangement is becoming more common, and there certainly seemed less scandal about it than I would expect in Kathmandu.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Having spent the last 5 months in Nepal pretending to be married I now have such an impressive wedding ring tan that when I return to Australia and stop wearing the ring it's going to be tough to convince people I'm not pretending not to be married.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I was really excited that this year my trip coincided with Losar - the Tibetan New Year. I arranged everything so that I'd be in the village for the festivities and was looking forward to sharing lots of anecdotes and photos with you.

However, Losar turned out to be a bit of a fizzer. The uncles who usually organise the party were working overseas this year, and no one stood up to fill their place. Most of the people who wanted to dance and party went to a village a few hours away and so the rest of us had a very quiet night of it.

Although Losar may have been a fizzer I learned one important lesson - it doesn't matter what type of New Years you celebrate, if you just rock up on the night and hope for an entertaining evening it's usually a flop.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Load Shedding

"Load Shedding" is something I've alluded to a few times in posts here, but I've never explained what it is properly.

Basically, there's more demand for power in Kathmandu than there is power. This is partly because most Nepali electricity is generated by hydro-power, and now that it's dry season there isn't so much water around. According to most Nepalis it's also because Nepal sells its electricity to India so it can make money instead of delivering it here.

To deal with this shortfall, whatever may be causing it, the city is divided into seven blocks and they alternate who has access to power. throughout parts of the year you may find yourself without power for a a couple of hours a day - never more than about 8 hours through out the week. At the moment, however, in the very depths of the dry season we are without electricity for approximately 14 hours a day. You can check out this week's schedule here, if you're curious I live in group 6.

Given that I do a large amount of work on computers, this is obviously an inconvenience for me, but it constantly amazes me that the city continues to function as it does at all. On most nights one can hear the steady hum of generators (a must of any size business that wants to survive here), and meals by candle light aren't romantic, just pragmatic.

It's things like constantly streaming electricity that I take for granted at home, but when you're without it for more than half of every day it suddenly becomes rather a luxury!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A dozen days

I'm back in Kathmandu, quantifiably older (no longer in my early 20s!) for the final dozen days of my field trip. These I plan to spend tidying up data, sleeping in read beds, catching up with people, eating salads and having a few final frantic data sessions.

The final jungle adventure continued to be a shambles. My main consultant didn't surface until my final few days, there was a week without power that made working hard, and there was a wedding and Losar in there too - not to mention that I had a supernasty bout of gastro that put me out of action for a few days. With all that ot's impressive I got any work done at all.

I'll be sharing some of those adventures over the next few days, for now I need some more salad and an early night.