Dealing with the Bureaucracy and Learning to Shop Again

Adjusting to life back in the US has been pretty problem free. Most things feel natural and easy to navigate, but I have hit a few roadblocks. First of all, I kind of forgot how complicated life is in the US. Tri and I are working on getting our health insurance set up again, buying car insurance, finding an apartment in Boston (where we’re moving in a few weeks!), getting our phones in working order and so many other little things.

I drove with my brother to the eye doctor yesterday morning and when we were about half way there, I realized I had forgotten my health insurance card. Neither of us could remember if you have to have it at the eye doctor, so we were ready to turn around, but a call to my mom let us know that I probably didn’t need it. In Nepal, things are more relaxed. You don’t need a health insurance card; in fact, we didn’t even have health insurance, and instead of having to make an appointment weeks in advance, we could call up and get one with only a few days wait. I realize that getting healthcare in Nepal is not so easy for everybody and only minimally available for many, but thankfully we didn’t have much trouble while we were there.

I was complaining to my brother, saying that life is so complicated here, but he reminded me that I used to call and talk about how difficult things were in Nepal. It’s true (at least it was for me). There are many things that are more difficult in Nepal, but the nice thing about life there is that there aren’t so many rules to be followed and not as much of a bureaucracy to deal with. It makes things a little simpler.

It may take a while, but I’ll eventually get used to dealing with all the little details that I have to deal with in the US. What I’m afraid I’ll never get used to is shopping.

Over the weekend we went to visit some friends and family in Washington DC. My aunt and cousin were driving up that way from further down South and wanted to meet us before they headed to another destination. We had lunch at a diner and then went to a nearby mall to check out the lego store. I was shocked. This place was a huge shopping complex with what must have been hundreds of stores. Stores for clothing, shoes, computers, stands to buy jewelry, get your eyebrows threaded, even a store selling only steinway pianos. It’s incredible. In some ways, it’s not all that different from big markets in Nepal like Ason where you can get most of the everyday things that you would be looking for. However, a place like Ason is overwhelming in a different kind of way. Its noises, smells, and intensity make it a lot to take in for a foreigner like me. But this mall was overwhelming because of its size and the huge range of items available. I mean, who ever thought that there would ever be a store dedicated just to plastic toy blocks?

When I was in high school I read a book called The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a story about a white American missionary family that moves to the Congo in the late 1950’s. It’s a really great, detailed story full of interesting symbolism, but I remember it as being very sad. The youngest of the four daughters dies, and the other three daughters and the mother eventually all all find paths that lead them in very different directions. There’s this one scene from that book that stuck pretty strongly in my mind.

Leah, one of the daughters, marries an African man and decides to settle with him in the Congo. At one point, they visit the US to see if they want to move here. I don’t have a copy of the book, and I can’t find the specific details of this scene on the internet, but I remember them walking into a grocery store and being overwhelmed by the items they find and shocked at the abundance of it all. As far as I can remember, when Leah and her husband were in the Congo, they were living in a rural area, growing much of their own food; the ease of just walking into a store to buy food was the shocking part. I’m not experiencing the degree of shock that they did, but I can relate to the feeling. There’s just so much here, so much stuff available and so much variety. It’s amazing and wonderful but makes me a little sick to my stomach.

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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.

Tailoring Troubles

I’m not one of those people who particularly likes to shop. It can definitely be fun with friends or family, but in that case, I enjoy the company rather than the shopping. I don’t like shopping for clothing, in particular, because I find it immensely frustrating. Finding clothing that fits right, is comfortable, and is well-priced is always a challenge.

In theory, tailoring should fix some of the difficulties of shopping. You can completely bypass the melt down that comes with lugging 15 different pairs of pants into the dressing room only to discover that none of them fit. I love the idea of having my clothing made just for me. In an ideal situation, the clothing looks good and is comfortable. There are no parts that are too loose or too tight; nothing is too long or too short. But in reality, I’ve found that my tailored clothing hasn’t lived up to its reputation.

Fabric at a Nepali clothing shop

When I was here for study abroad, I was living outside of the city in an area that had a small town center. There were a few shops that sold fabric and tailored clothing. One of my friends had developed a relationship with one of the shops in the town center and suggested that I go there. I wanted to buy a kurta suruwal (a shirt and pants, the Nepali equivalent of the salweer kameez), so I picked out some fabric, got measured, and had the shop owner sew it for me. I thought I was getting a great deal. The whole thing, with fabric and tailoring, cost 500 rupees, about 7 dollars at the time. I got the kurta suruwal and started wearing it around sometimes. One time I wore it to meet Tri’s parents. When his mom saw me, she looked at me funny.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. She walked over to me and started yanking the bottom of the shirt, trying to straighten it out. But to no avail.

“The whole shirt is crooked,” she replied.

And it was, but I hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out. Later, when I wanted to get another kurta suruwal sewn, I tried going to other little shop in the town center. Unfortunately, they made the armpits too small, and when I took the shirt back to have it resewn, they must not have understood me because they ended up making the waist area larger. The whole thing looked ridiculous on me, and I threw it out.

A woman wearing a kurta suruwal

When I was here before, I was living in rural areas and was washing my clothing by hand, so I wanted to wear comfortable and easy-to-wash kurta suruwals. But now that I’m in the city most of the time, I wear western clothing. However, I’ve tried to get some kurtas, Nepali shirts, made. I’ve had several shirts sewn at a place in the city, a supposedly fancier place than the shops I frequented before, but, again, I’ve had bad experiences. Both of the shirts were way to small in the shoulders. I had to take them back to the tailor to have them resewn. Even then, though, they didn’t do a great job. The fabric on one of those shirts bunches up in the middle and the other one is unwearable because the shoulders are still too small.

What is it? Am I a really weird shape or something? I think I’m a bit taller than the average Nepal woman, but with tailoring, size shouldn’t matter!

Last week I decided to try again. A few months ago, someone gave me the fabric for a kurta suruwal as a present, and I decided to get it sewn at a tailor that my friend recommended. We’ll see what happens…

Have any other women who have had things tailored experienced something similar? I love the idea of tailoring, but I’m feeling pretty negative about it right now. Is there a particular way I should be going about it? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!