Korean Food for Thought

The East Coast city where Tri and I went to college has a sizeable Korean population, and there are some darn good Korean restaurants there. Our alma mater lies outside of the city limits, but Tri and I lived in the city over the summer. We found a little restaurant a few blocks from our appartment, and we would stroll down there when the weather was nice to have delicious dishes like beebimbap and barbecued pork.

Kathmandu also has a pretty big Korean population. So I hoped that with a Korean population in the city, there might also be some places to get Korean food, and thankfully I was right šŸ™‚ There’s a famous Korean bakery, and you can actually buy kimchi at the supermarket chain, Bhatbateni, but to fill my cravings for Korean food, I really needed to eat at a restaurant, and luckily there are a couple of sit-down places in the city.

This morning, Tri had to work, so we went into his office for a few hours, but then we had the afternoon off. We called Mama, who knows a lot about restaurants in the Valley, and he suggested that we try a place called Everest Villa in Thamel, the tourist district.

After walking along one of the side roads in Thamel, past the House of Music, we made it to Everest Villa, right next to the Korea Nepal Friendship Association (I’m assuming the restaurant and the association are connected).

The outside spaces were quiet and cozy, with some plants and shaded areas. But theĀ ambianceĀ on the inside of the restaurant wasn’t great. The white color theme and tiled floors made me feel like I was sitting in either a hospital or a cafeteria or maybe a hospital cafeteria.

But the food was tasty. We ordered beebimbap, which came out sizzling hot with a couple of side dishes. Like always, the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot was the best! It really reminded me of the Korean food we would get back in the US. We also ordered chicken bulgogi, which wasn’t quite as good, I think because they had added too much sugar to the dish. But overall, I was satisfied, and it quenched my cravings for Korean food.

After eating, we sat around for a while, fondly remembering the Korean restaurants and all of the other food joints we missed from the US. Just as we wereĀ deciding on where we would eat our first meal after going back, our waiter asked me, “Are you Nepali?” I still get asked this question every now and again. I was on the bus a few weeks ago, heading home from work, and a few of my colleagues asked me if I was sure I wasn’t at least part Nepali. “I don’t think so” I said laughing. Sometimes people ask me this when I’m speaking Nepali, and because not that many white foreigners speak it (although I’m sure the population numbers in the thousands), I see how they be wondering if I am, in fact, Nepali. But at other times, I’m not sure how people come to that conclusion because I don’t think I look Nepali at all!

But maybe the waiter was just off the mark in general because he got Tri’s nationality wrong too when he asked him if he was Indian. There’s something about my husband that makes his race/ethnicity/nationality hard to identify. To me, he definitely looks Nepali, but he’s been asked many times, while living in Nepal, if he’s Indian. He could possibly pass as Indian, but he could just as well be Nepali, so if he’s in Nepal, speaking Nepali, why would they think he’s Indian? He doesn’t have features associated with most Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups, features which are common in Nepal, but there are plenty of Nepalis who don’t look like that. Are they all being asked the same question?

The funny thing is that Tri is, in fact, a quarter Indian, so I guess the waiter wasn’t actually that far off. His maternal grandmother moved to Kathmandu from Assam, India as a child. Ironically, she is probably the most stereotypically nepali looking of all his grandparents.

So I guess both of our races/ethnicities/nationalities are a little bit ambiguous, a reality that highlights that the lines we draw between racial, ethnic, and national groups are not as solid and set in stone as a lot of us would like to think.

The Girl with the Beautiful Eyes

The fog-surrounded monastery

Some of Tri’s co-workers take hiking trips every Sunday, and today we went with them to Namo Buddha.

The first time we visited I was blown away by the beautiful monastery there. It was just as pristine this time around, but the fog just wouldn’t lift, so we didn’t get much of a view. I won’t go into the details of Namo Buddha because I did that in my first post, but there were three interesting things from today that I wanted to mention.

Tri holding an orange grown on Buwa's land

The first is that we visited Tri’s dad’s land near Namo Buddha. In my last post, I mentioned that Buwa’s parents immigrated to Kathmandu from that area. They originally lived in a small village called Sankhu, located in a valley below the hill that Namo Buddha sits on. This morning, the bus dropped us off right in Sankhu, so Buwa took us to his parent’s (and now his) land.Ā The oranges growing there weren’t completely ripe, but we opened them up anyway.

I’m starting to get a cold, in particular a sore throat. Nepalis say not to eat sour things during the winter, especially when your throat hurts, but I haven’t eaten an orange in months! So I gobbled it down.

The second interesting thing that happened today is that I learned something about the photo at the top of this blog. I took that photo the first time we went to Namo Buddha. Nepali, the most widely-spoken language in Nepal, is written using Devanagari, the script also used to write Hindi. Newari (or Newa Bhasha), spoken by the Newars (the indigenous people of Kathmandu Valley), is written using the Ranjana script, which is what you see in that photo up top.

Ranjana is displayed on the walls of many a Buddhist temple, and I’ve always wondered why because the monks who live in the monasteries in Nepal are not usually Newar.Ā Even temples in Tibet have Newari script written on their walls. Thulabaa (Tri’s uncle) also went with us today, and he explained why. Apparently someone named Arnico, an architect from Kathmandu, went on a trip to Tibet and then China in the 13th Century. He brought the Ranjana script with him, introducing it to Buddhists he met during his travels. So even though the Buddhist monks who inhabit the Monasteries in Nepal and Tibet are more often of Tibetan or Sherpa descent, they decorate their religious spaces with the Ranjana script. Arnico is also the guy who supposedly introduced the Pagoda style to China.

I'm not sure if you can really see the color of her eyes, but here we are near Namo Buddha

The last thing today worthy of mention is the girl we met with absolutely beautiful eyes. I like brown eyes (Tri’s eye color), and I like blue eyes too (my eye color), but I really love hazel-colored eyes. This little girl had hazely/grayish eyes with a green ring around the outside. Tri’s dad said that our kids would look just like her…I can only hope!

A Visit to Namo Buddha

On Monday, Tri and I went to Namo Buddha, home to the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery. One of the reincarnations of the Buddha is supposed to have given his life to save a starving tiger and her cubs at Namo Buddha. We left bright and early at 5:30am on Monday morning with our friends, and it took about an hour to get to the area where we started hiking. First we worked our way up the ā€œthousand stepsā€ to Kali Temple. We were literally in the clouds when we reached the top.

After stopping for chiya (tea), we hiked further up to the monastery, which took about two hours. Here is a picture of the last part of the path, draped in prayer flags

The view of the clouds, valleys and hills was stunning. The building with the gold roof is the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery

Many of monks were Tibetan, and there was quite a bit of Tibetan script on the walls around the temple. However, I also saw some Newari script (Ranjana). Newari is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by the indigenous people of Kathmandu Valley.

After hiking up, we were pretty tired, so we decided to take the bus back down. A local told us to walk half an hour down the mountain to catch a 2:30 bus that would take us to another stop where we could finally find a bus going to Kathmandu. On the way to the bus stop, we passed through Triā€™s grandparentsā€™ village. Although Triā€™s dad was born in Kathmandu, his parents emigrated from Sanku, a village close to Namo Budhha. We walked the roads they walked, saw the fields that they saw every day. While living in the US, I rarely had a chance to connect with Tri’s past, but I’m excited to start learning more about his family.

We loved Namo Buddha, and we’re hoping to go back, maybe when my parents come to visit…