09 March 2009

Shooting Fish In a Barrell

A book with a title linking it to a rather epicly cynical life lesson. The Himalayan Book Club's latest effort was:

Unfortunately, again I found this book to be quite disappointing. When I say "again" its not that I read it twice and expected it to be better the second time around, but that this is not the first time I have been disappoo-inted in the promises set forth in a Himalayan Book Club book.

Fantastic premise.

In a "note to the reader", the author describes how she stumbled into an odd section of the library. Here ghosts had communicated stories through mediums (sometimes in languages never previously understood by the medium) about their lives. Saving Fish From Drowning was supposedly a story based on the actual tellings of Bibi Chen, a famous art-critique / collector / or something. She was to be going on a trip to China and Burma with some friends. Unfortunately, she was gruesomely murdered first. And that's where the story starts off. Bibi narrates the story as her friends continue to Burma without her. And, that "note to the reader" was just a pile of horse poop.

The grumpy and disparaging main character, Bibi, I found myself liking in spite of her prickly personality. She was a 60-something American immigrant who fled Shanghai with her family when the Communists took over. Initially narrating the story in a way only a ghost could, she ultimately had difficulty in having a lasting role throughout the later parts of the book.

She told us about the leadup to her death. And discussed rather amusingly how annoyed she was as she watched over her own funeral and was concerned for the welfare of her puppy Poochini. Normally, I would instantly annoyed with a person whose dog's name was Poochini, but that's probably not the first contradictive thing I have ever said. I found her dry wit and disdain for her "friends" very entertaining.

There were flashbacks to China, where she talked of the only character possibly more cantankerous and interesting than Bibi herself, the evil step-mother Sweet Ma. Probably the highlight of the book (a shame as it was in one of the first few chapters) was where she described how she had been paying for her hideous step-mother to stay in an old person's home described as "Death's Waiting Room".

When she became infirm, I put her in the best of senior residences, at great expense to myself. She was not grateful. She called it Death's Waiting Room. For years, I told myself to be patient, knowing she would soon die. Surely her explosive anger might cause a similar effect on the blood vessels or her brain or heart. She was nearly ninety-one and I only sixty-three when I passed her by and flew out of this world.

Oh, how she wept. She recalled our past together as such a rosy relationship that I wondered if she was more senile than I thought. Or could it be that she had actually had a change of heart? When I discerned the answer, I changed my mind about her as well. Whereas I once looked forward to her end, I now wish her a long, long life. Let her not leave Death's Waiting Room and join me as her companion in the afterlife.

Haha, oh dear.

Unfortunately it seemed as if it was all down hill from there. That was pretty much the last of the interesting insights to Bibi and the person she became as a result of Sweet Ma's love and affection.

As a ghost she followed her frineds through China and Burma as they made one horrible cultural faux-pas after another before getting themselves abducted in a forest by a tribe of jungle people hiding from the Burmese military regime. To summarise, the characters were boring and sex-obsessed. Quite disturbing when one of the couples to get it on in the jungle had an age gap of about 40 years. And if they didn't I only thought Heidi was in her mid-twenties because she was as equally immature and dopey as I am. Moff, her sexual deviant in crime was late 60's as far as I could tell and some kind of hippie trapped in the wrong decade.

The jungle people mistook young Rupert (a 15 year old) for a reincarnated Jesus in their bizarrely warped version of Christianity because he was carrying a book - they took to be the bible - and could perform card tricks. The rest whinged about their marriages, their incompetence, their lack of significant others or were simply forgotten by the author who, at points, seemed to also forget that Bibi was actually narrating the story. Bibi's insights and understanding of Buddhism, Chinese and Burmese culture all appeared to dry up as the book progressed. It became more and more frustrating and dull as the main characters made one appaling decision after another.

There was one or two references (in various forms) to Saving Fish From Drowning. One was totally literal, where a fisherman claimed to be actually saving them. The other (one paragraph later) was an argument about the US' role in the world, and how it goes in to save people from themselves but does as much collateral damage as it helps, but the book never really came to a head on the issue.

I think rather than save these from drowning, it might have been less painful to have just shot them in their barrel. Stay tuned for more book club rants...

07 March 2009

Characters > Katherine

I have been feeling creatively pathetic recently, and I haven't had a clue what to write about for months.  Then I remembered this old little thing.  The characters that I have met in Nepal.  This post is about one of my favourites.  Katherine.
[joint birthday party hilarity]

She's an American who arrived here just two weeks before I did on a program called Princeton in Asia.  She's working somewhere between Child Protection and Education at the US branch of Save the Children [SAVE THEM!  SAVE THEM!].  She's the only one amongst my close friend circle living in Lazimpat and it means we get to do a lot of amazing stuff together.  She could fall asleep inside a lion's mouth, or on the tracks of an oncoming steam train at the drop of a hat which makes her a rather bad movie-watching buddy but is an amazingly good-hearted and optimistic person.

Our first encounter pretty much was an epic 30km uphill bike ride (man, those ARE beautiful photos, and I wish I was writing stuff like that now) through mud and rain in the middle of the monsoon, where we got lost and had images of appearing in the newspapers back home as "two stupid Western tourists lost in the forest"*.  

This even was closely followed by an adventure through the Nagarjun Forest - an area in which the former king lives.  It was organised in the heat of the moment on a Friday night over drinks.  "Its the weekend tomorrow and we don't even know what we are going to do?!?!!" Luckily, Gemma's friend Jaya (you should remember him from such adventures as Mero Charpi Explode Chha) came to the rescue and recommended the walk.  Amindst talk of "making the most of our time in Nepal" and doing something every weekend and totally embracing the outdoorsiness we climbed up another hill and I can't seem to find any post that has shared those photos with you [gasp].

Of course, the frequency of these adventuires deteriorated, once we established ourselves with routines and discovered that we might actually need to do work while we are here.  So, while we still try to organise the occaisional adventure, or get ourselves out the Hash, we usually content ourselves with hanging out between my place and hers and our favourite locales in Lazimpat.  

And we still have 4 months of adventures to enjoy!

*Incidentally I have heard rumours that there are mass graves in that particular national park from the insurgency (just in case this post left you with too good of a "happy feeling")

05 March 2009

Medicated Haze

Tonight I wandered out to grab some more vitamins.  Less than a week until my friends arrive and a few days after that we set out on our trek...I MUST GET BETTER!  

I'd been home all day, kind of in and out of sleep.  I have been using every little trick I have learned in my 25 years of life to get better.  They're probably clashing against one another. 

There's the lemon, honey tea trick.  My aunt imparted this one.  She juice about 5 lemons, heated it up, whacked in a tea bag and added some honey.  I don't know if it worke,d but it tasted amazing, although at the time I thought it was a collosal amount of lemons.  Because I wasn't in the mood to hunt down some lemons, I have to make do wtih lemon flavoured dissolvable multi-vitamins.

Lemonade.  My mother always encouraged me to drink plenty of lemonade to get some sugar and energy into me as well as to get the fluids moving.  She also, as previously mentioned is a huge fan of lemsip - a sort of lemon /drug cocktail available back home.

Books and music.  I have always found that the best reading can be done when confined to bed.  I polished off Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince one day when I was home with [edit],  SO I have almost finished our latest booclub book, "Saving Fish From Drowning".  A book with a fantastic premise - great introduction, very interesting main character.  Unfortunately it seems that the introduction was the peak of the story and the main character died in the first chapter.  Oh well, at least part of it was good.

The music helkps me sleep.  For some reason when I hear the voices of my favourite bands singing familiar songs it rocks me to sleep as if I were on a train.  

So there I was at 8pm...the power just gone out.  Medicated, wearing my pajamas and wandering the aisles of my corner supermarket on the hunt for more vitamins like a junkie from Robocop.  I was wearing brown leather shoes with my long blue pajama pants.  I was wobbly and kept holding my head.  To add to my appearance, I had forgotten to put my glasses on before leaving the house.   So I was squinting at everyone.  The best part was that nobody thought I was acting strangely.  All the guys working in the shop now recognise me and it was just another day.  

I don't know why, but I am constantly surprised that I live here now.  People know me here.  They accept me as just another person not an odd (or off) foreigner to be gaped at.


Racist Bastards

I'm not a racist.  I'm certain.  Like 90% certain.  

I am sure that character flaw does not mean I should be forced to endure the current torture I do on a daily basis.  It's really hard to swallow the racist mongrels that taunt me on the way to work.  They come yelling at my heels like rabid dogs.

But get this, the reason I know that they're racist is because they only go for me when I have the legs of my pants rolled up.  You know, "nerdy - i'm on my way to work and don't want to look like a tractor took an oil pee on me" style rolled up pants.  

I could go past with everything covered but my eyes and they would leave me alone.  Cover everything up and they ignore you, show the tiniest interest in them or the slightest flash of a white leg under your jeans and they'll be running alongside with no friendly intentions.  Racists.

I don't think I'd mind a racist parrot, screaming profanities at me each morning as I wake up.  Or perhaps a cat so incensed at the colour of the curtains that it rips them down while you are away.  But a gang of 4 dogs waiting on the corner to 'have a chat' with me each morning really chomps the biscuit.

Sometimes I have to make an important decision.  Slow down at the intersection or have my skin pierced by viscious teeth?  Weigh up the options, under the wheels of that bus?  Or accept a mauling from 4 potentially rabies infested rabid black dogs?*

*I'm not entirely sure but "rabies infested rabid" might mean the same thing...

02 March 2009

The Small Things

A friend of mine recently said, "Enjoy yourself Rob, keep enjoying the little things."  She's been awfully happy and bright with herself recently, so I thought it was a rather easy thing to say.  But I gave it a go anyway.  It was remarkably refreshing.  I think it's been a long time since I really did that.  I'm not sure why it is, but immediately after she said it, I was seeing them everywhere.

After getting off the phone from a great talk with my girlfriend, I ran down the road to grab some dinner.  As I walked, Jebediah - La Di Da Daa came on from my playlist.  Its a great soundtrack to this post.

At a restaurant I was at in Nargarkot the generator kicked in and Bob Marley started winding up on the CD player.  Immediately, the wind also picked up and the tree outside the window started dancing.

Riding past Ratna Park (the busy bus hub of the city), a minivan screamed past me, literally bulging with the amount of people inside, the 'conductor' had his head out the window screaming out the bus' destinations.  On the back window was a sticker "Welcome to Nepal".

As I was riding to the lookout above Nargarkot a dog started running alongside.  I think it could have been the same one that went up theree with Dilli and me last time. Or perhaps,tht's just an active imagination.

A boy gave me a red flower.

At Shivapuri (recent festival), my neighbours stole wood from the construction site next to our compound and we had a fire in our courtyard and shared popcorn, while everyone laughed at my inability to understand Crazy Neighbour Lady's rants.

An old man grinned at me while I was on the way to work thing morning.