An Afternoon in Ason Bazaar

On Sunday we went to Ason Bazaar, a market in the heart of the city. We went with Mama and Maijiu to begin buying things for the 1 year puja to mark Mamu’s death. I wrote about the Shradda ceremony a while ago in this post. It’s been happening every month for the last year, and during the puja that takes place, food is set out as an offering to Mamu. During the 1 year puja, the family needs to give offerings of clothing, jewelry, cookware, shoes, and other things that will supposedly reach her in heaven. I know that Tri was feeling a little bad about the whole thing because these items are quite expensive. After the ceremony, all of the items are given to the priest’s wife; we had to buy everything in her size. It’s a little difficult to swallow that a grieving family has to shell out so much money. If it was all donated to the poor, that might be one thing, but it’s going to the priest and his family. Some people are totally fine with this, and if they really believe that the items will reach their loved ones in heaven, then it certainly brings piece of mind. But for agnostics or nonbelievers I understand why it might make them feel uneasy.

I enjoyed going out, though. If you’re going to visit Kathmandu, you’ve got to go to Ason.

The crowds are suffocating and wonderful. It can be hard to walk through the throngs of people but exciting because there’s so much to see. You can get any and everything there. Clothing, spices, jewelry, shoes, stoves, street food, and the list goes on…

The Kasthamandap temple, for which Kathmandu was named

A smaller temple

Jewelry on display

As we were walking past one section of the bazaar, I remembered something suddenly. When I was here two years ago, I went to Ason with Mamu one time. I don’t remember why we went, what we were looking for, but on Sunday, I saw one of the paths that Mamu and I had been walking down. I remembered trotting along behind her, her out-reached hand guiding me through the crowd, past the stores around the beeping motorcycles…

Pote Shops

After walking for a while, we reached a tiny jewelry shop near Basantapur (a square with many temples in it). I literally had to crouch down to squeeze inside the shop. Mama and Maijiu bought a ring and a tilhari there before we headed over to the pote section of Ason. As I’ve mentioned before, pote are Nepali marriage beads. The tilhari that Mama and Maijiu bought is a big golden bead that is threaded onto the middle of the pote. After we brought the tilhari to a pote shop and Maijiu had picked out a good set of beads, the expert threader went to work.

Threading the pote

More pote

Thicker pote

The pote I bought

I sometimes wear pote. Recently I haven’t been doing it as much, but I do when the beads look good with the outfit I’m wearing. And since I only have one pote that I like, I thought I should get a couple more while we were in Ason. The one that I have already is a string of red beads with green beaded flowers around the necklace. Yesterday I chose another thin string of pink beads with gold beaded flowers and a slightly thicker one made of blue and gold beads. I just took a light blue sari to the tailor to be sewn, and I’m hoping the blue pote goes well with the sari fabric.

Japanese lunch, including tempura!

After our romp around Ason, I was tired and starving! So Tri and I went to the only Japanese restaurant that I know of in Kathmandu, a place called Koto. It really hit the spot.

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A Trip to the Kathmandu Zoo

I was surprised to hear that Kathmandu has a zoo. I guess my surprise comes from wondering how the animals are taken care of when the electricity goes out or there’s a water shortage, but they seem to being doing pretty well.

One Sunday afternoon Tri and I drove over to have a look. Like usual, I had to pay the bideshi (foreigner) price, five times more pricey that the local price. I was a little ticked off at first but accepted my fate.

Inside the zoo, the combination of people was a bit strange. When we first got in, it looked like mostly families with kids, but as I took a closer look, I realized there were a number of couples canoodling around the edges of the zoo, mostly on benches. It reminded me of a park I visited in India. When my family and I went to India a few years ago, we visited this park in Delhi with some ruins of what I think was an old temple. It turned out to be a meetup place for illicit couples trying to get away from prying eyes. That was kind of awkward for my family, but with the wider range of people at the zoo, I didn’t feel so out of place this time.

Some huge deer

They seemed to mostly have animals from South Asia and South East Asia, which was interesting for me because I’m not as familiar with the animals here. One was a giant deer. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but they was about the size of moose. There were also some beautiful birds. Unfortunately my camera ran out of charge at the bird cages, but I did take one of this red, black, and white feathered beauty…

There was also a hyena. We saw that the zoo was building something near the cage and had put up poles that looked like the beginning of a bigger fence. At that point we realized how disturbingly low the current fence was! And proceeded to back away slowly.

Water buffalo on a mound

 

 

There were the “typical” zoo animals as well like a hippo, chimpanzees, snakes, foxes, etc. And a funny water buffalo who was just hanging out on a small mound doing nothing for quite some time. I think the funniest part of the trip was walking past the rhinoceros enclosure and watching a man point to the baby rhinoceros and ask his family if it was a pig. 🙂 hmm….

Overall the animals looked pretty healthy and happy. Here are some more pics…

"What if you were in their place? Don't harass the animals"

Waiting

It’s always difficult to wait, and lately it’s been wearing me down.

One thing the we’re waiting for is the one year mark of Tri’s mom’s death. Last weekend was the shradda for the eleventh month, so the one year mark is only a few weeks away. I guess it’s sort of like the final funeral for Mamu. There’s going to be a priest, a puja, and family members and friends will be over at the house. We’ve been waiting for this day for the last eleven months, waiting for the mourning period to end, waiting for things to go on. As the year has inched by, things have progressively gotten better. Tri’s dad is definitely doing better, and so are Tri and his brother. Things feels less overwhelming and more normal. But as we move closer to this one year marker, I’m feeling more and more anxious. I just want it to be over with, and waiting has gotten under my skin.

The other thing that we’re waiting for is more news about our return to the US.

When we came here last summer, we weren’t really sure how long we’d stay. We knew we had to be here at least until the one year date of Mamu’s death, but beyond that, we had nothing telling us to stay or to go. We considered the possibility of settling in Nepal, but a few months after moving here, I decided I didn’t want to make Nepal our home base. There are so many amazing things about being in Nepal, but there have been some real challenges too. So a few months into our stay, Tri and I talked about when we wanted to go back. I knew that I wanted to start grad school in fall of 2013, but before that, we were free to be where we wanted. At first, we thought we’d stay here for a year; then we moved it to two years, then a year and half. We kept changing our minds. But now it seems like we’ll be going back sooner than we had planned. I won’t say more about it until I have more details, but our return to the US is definitely on the horizon.

A few weeks ago, I started to look at some pictures that Tri took of my parents’ house and backyard right before we came to Nepal last summer. He had bought a DSLR for his uncle, and was testing it out before we packed it into our suitcase. Here are some of the picures

Upstairs hallway

Flowers in the backyard

More flowers

Stone face on a wall

While I was looking at pictures, I felt a wave of longing to be back in the US. For the last eight months, I’ve been swallowing feelings about my family, kind of ignoring how much I miss them. I knew I wouldn’t see them for a long time, so I had put the idea of being with them out of my head. But once there was some indication that I’d get to see them sooner than I thought, I really started to miss them.

So for now, I wait. When I have free time, I try to keep myself occupied. Reading, writing, a little bit of cooking, and yesterday I did a deep cleaning of our room, which definitely made me feel better!

Teaching in Nepal

I’ve been teaching for a few months now and in that time have been thinking about education and schooling in Nepal. Here are a few thoughts and observations…

Parent-Teacher Relationship

Tri showed me this comic a few months ago about the teacher-parent relationship in the past versus now.

The way the cartoon describes 1969 is a somewhat accurate (although exagerated) description of the parent-teacher relationship at the school I teach at and (I think) in Nepal in general. When a kid does something wrong or isn’t doing well in school, a parent is called in, there’s a discussion, and the parent often expresses his/her disappointment to the kid. Sometimes it’s more than disappointment. I’ve seen parents get really mad at their kids for not doing well and yell at them for not listening to their teachers. I’m sure that parents get mad at teachers too, and they must have disagreements, but I’ve found that for the most part, parents listen carefully to teachers and respect their opinions. This is pretty different from the model I grew up with in the US. I’ve never taught in the US, but I was a student at a public school. Not only do parents blame teachers for failing students, the government does as well. With new reforms aimed at fixing inadequacies in the school systems, it’s often the teachers who suffer. I don’t think the Nepali model is necessarily the answer, but it’s good to see teachers really getting respect. I think there’s probably some balance between the two extremes that would work best.

Public vs. Private

I like working at a private school. The curriculum is great. Extra-curricular activities are well-funded, and parents are heavily involved. But it has also made me appreciate public schooling. The thing about a private school is that if a kid is a trouble maker or not doing well in school, he/she can be kicked out. The school may try very hard to prevent that from happening, but ultimately they make the decision about it. Public schools, on the other hand, have to accept every child in their district: the studious pupils, the troublemakers, students with disabilities, students who are poor and those who are rich. Of course, many districts in the US are already segregated racially and socio-economically, but at a public school, there’s still a greater likelyhood that students come from a range of experiences and backgrounds. The idealist in me likes to think that this helps to foster tolerance and appreciation for difference.

Attitude Towards Education

One thing that I love about teaching here is the Nepali attitude towards education. The students’ families at the school I work at are very involved. Parental willingness to help out at school, go on field trips, organize events, etc. is actually one of the criteria the school looks for when accepting students. The parents there may have particularly strong feelings about the importance of getting an education. However, I’ve met Nepalis from many different parts of Nepal, from different ethnic groups, in different economic situations. Again and again I hear and see a similar attitude towards education in parents and kids: that school is one of the most important things and no matter what, you must try your hardest. Whether it’s the kids whose parents drive them to school every day or the kids who walk two hours both ways to attend. In the US, many people believe that getting an education is important, maybe one of the most important things in life. And I think that the great majority of people want their kids to attend school, but there’s no wide-spread push to do your very best and to attain the highest degree that you can.

A New Perspective

Becoming a teacher has given a new perspective on schooling. Being in Nepal and getting to know how education works here is one thing, but I think just being a teacher has given me a new perspective on how teaching and learning work and also on my own education. It’s definitely made me more empathetic towards my previous teachers. Teaching is not an easy job. I come home exhausted from work sometimes, but I find it immensely satisfying. There’s no “best way” to teach a child because students vary so much, but I am learning that some methods work better than others. Although I don’t think I want to continue to be a classroom teacher in the long run, I think I’d always like to teach in some capacity. The process involved in learning is so fascinating, and I’d like to continue in a career that allows me to explore and understand it better.

Children’s Literature, From Denmark to Nepal

There isn’t a long history of children’s literature in Nepal, at least that I know of. I have heard of a few books written for children in Nepali like The Adventures of a Nepali Frog (Dhumdham ko ghumgham: Bhaktaprasad Bhagytako Nepal Yatra), and there must be others. A few people and organizations have been working hard to increase the number of books written in Nepali for children and to increase access to educational sources of entertainment in Nepali. For one, the school I work at has done a lot to promote the writing and publishing of Nepali children’s literature.

Maya & Max

A woman named Shrijana Singh Yonjan is also working towards providing educational TV for kids. She created a Nepali language program called “Maya & Max.” A couple of weeks ago, I went with my class to a presentation about this show, and it reminded me of some of the shows I used to watch as a kid, like “Zoom.” In “Maya & Max,” there are kid stars who speak to the camera while taking trips around Nepal and conducting interviews. We saw an episode, and it was pretty good.

The other part of the exhibit included a display of children’s literature from Denmark, which I absolutely loved. They had blown up drawings from the kids’ books and put them on glass plates behind which they shone lights to illuminate the pictures. While flipping through the books (which were also on display), I couldn’t understand a lick of what was written, but the illustrations were so fantastic, I didn’t feel like I was missing out. Some were a bit scary, and I was surprised that they were classified as children’s literature. But maybe that’s not so unusual. Some original versions of our modern day Western fairy tales are known for their gruesome and disturbing details. However, most of the illustrations were whimsical and imaginative, sometimes strange but lovely too. Here they are…

A little bit scary! They kind of look like zombies

The guy in the back reminds me of a creature from "Where the Wild Things Are"

I love his expression 🙂

Reminds me of Escher

One of the scarier images

One of my favorites

Another of my favorites

Dogs on My Mind

A dog relaxing on the street

Where I’m from in the U.S., you almost never see animals roaming the streets except for squirrels. I guess I’ve seen a lost dog or two over the years, but it’s very unusual. In Kathmandu, there are always stray animals around. It can be really sad to see. Cows are sacred in Nepal, and it’s considered a sin to kill one by many Hindus. I think it was even illegal in Nepal for a long time (maybe still is?). Cows are very useful because they provide milk. While bulls are used to pull plows and for breeding, they’re not as valuable as cows. But people can’t kill them, so they often let the bulls out onto the street, where they hang out and cause traffic jams. Actually, I don’t really know what becomes of them. Are there NGO’s that take care of stray bulls? Besides cows/bulls, there are usually chickens pecking around the side streets and monkeys that hang around certain areas of Kathmandu, like Pashupatinath. And of course there are the dogs.

A dog in the mist one morning

When I was very small, we had cats at my house, but my brothers were allergic, so we had to get rid of them. I was quite bad to the cats anyway. I remember I loved to sneak up behind them and pull their tails, so it was probably good that we gave them away. We also had a variety of fish at different points in my childhood, hermit crabs, and even chickens for a while. But never a dog. I expressed interest in getting one when I was a kid, but my parents didn’t want to have to take care of it. I get it. Dogs are a big financial and emotional investment. I put the thought out of my mind for a long time until I met Tri. When he was five, he begged his parents to let him have a dog, and Buwa and Mamu agreed. The dog was something like a golden retriever, named Joni. Ever since we got together, he has talked about this dog. He’s told me countless stories about Joni’s love for chasing cats and scaring away the neighborhood kids. Strangely, he also liked to eat balloons and money. He was quite an unruly dog but very loved and really a member of their family. There’s actually an interesting NOVA episode about dogs and their relationship with humans that helps to explain why our species are so close.

Since Tri started to tell me these stories about Joni, I’ve developed this growing desire to get a dog, and coming to Nepal has really sealed the deal for me. I was never really around dogs while growing up, but now that I spot at least 15 dogs a day, I can’t get enough of them. They fight and cuddle and play with each other and the people around them. They’re so full of personality and life.

Puppies

And they can be so cute too! The cats we had when I was a kid were kind of cute, but none of the other animals we’ve had were even remotely cute. Dogs, though, especially puppies, are so adorable. Lately there have been a few puppies romping around the street outside of our house, and I just can’t help but sigh whenever I see one.

With all of these dogs around, Tri and I have been seriously talking about getting one ourselves. Since we’ll be going back to the US soonish, we can’t get one now, and even once we get there, we’ll have to wait a while because with me applying to grad school, we won’t know exactly where we’ll end up. But once we finally settle somewhere for a while, we’ll definitely get a dog 🙂 I can’t wait!