Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mr Smith is Home in Kathmandu

It's been far too long since I posted here, and with my life as hectic as it is, I just don't have the time to write here like I should. As this has been a site I have kept up at least monthly (until recently) for over three years, it doesn't seem fair to me to just let it wither away, so I will make this my official last post. Not to say that I might not write something here or put up photos of trips I do, but as a regular thing I think it's time to bring this to a close.

My Dad visits Nepal & the Grill House 

It's been a crazy couple months since my last post. In December we held a couple of large events at the restaurant around Christmas and New Years, and then in January my Dad, my uncle Bob and my aunt Geri all came to visit. This was my first family to come to Nepal since I've been here, and I was really excited to show them around the country that I have fallen in love with. While they were only here for ten days, we kept all of them rather full, from showing them around Kathmandu and the valley, flying to Pokhara, seeing the sun rise over the Annapurna range, paragliding down to Phewa lake, driving to Lumbini, going on safari in Chitwan and then flying back for a few final days in Kathmandu for shopping and going the last day of a Nepali wedding.

Panoramic of the Annapurna Range

Showing other people around the country reminds me how comfortable I have become with a place that seems so alien and different to other people I share a similar background with.  In fact part of the reason I haven't found so much to write abut here is because I lack that same perspective I arrived with and most readers in the West would identify with. I no longer gawk at cows in the road, become indignant at skin whitening cream commercials, or am surprised by the appearance of swastikas on people's lapels or above home's doors. I am certainly not Nepali, and lack the upbringing that would ever make me truly understand all of the cultural dynamics at play here, but I have become infinitely more comfortable and aware of them since I arrived, to the point where I occasionally am out of sync with what I was once comfortable back in the US.

This place, Kathmandu, with all its quirks and what seemed at first strange ways, has become my home. When I first arrived, I wasn't sure how long I would stay, and I suppose I still don't, but I don't foresee myself leaving anytime soon. I've met and become friends with a great group of people, love the restaurant that I run, and am optimistic about the future here. I look forward not only to the opportunities that seem to endlessly fall into my lap to do interesting and exciting things, but also to continue to meet equally interesting and exciting people.

I will continue to answers questions posted in the comments of this blog, and reply to e-mails that are sent directly to me. I think the trekking section contains some of the better information out there, and I'm always happy to talk to foreigners that are thinking about staying in the country longer than a tourist visa would allow and what kind of options you might have. So just because the blog may be rarely updated doesn't mean I can't expand on some of the topics I've covered over the last three years.

So I suppose that's how this ends. Not as a tidy and neat story with a beginning and an end, but then life rarely ever does supply that kind of story line. I doubt this is happily ever after for me, in fact I'm sure it isn't, but I've learned to respond to life's curve balls not with disdain or opposition to those things we can't change, but to enjoy them to the extent that they can be enjoyed. Like a roller coaster, dread of an upcoming descent does nothing to change the the course of the tracks, so better just lift up your arms and embrace what has to come. Accept what you can't change, do the best with what you can, and enjoy the ride.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I Want You To Hit Me As Hard As You Can


I've mentioned before that my favorite movie is Fight Club, mostly because the theme of struggling with how to change your life was something that really resonated with me. While I am not currently building an army of space monkeys to bring down the world's financial institutions, I did take up boxing- which really isn't the same as bare knuckle basement fighting, but whatever. Now boxing is about the last sport I expected to take up, it had never occurred to me as something I might be interested in. My past athletic endeavors have mostly revolved around running- and essentially the more running involved in the sport, the better I was at it. Boxing didn't come up as a sport with much running, and the idea of getting pounded on by some dude didn't really appeal to me.

So the other day a friend of mine that supplies my bacon at the restaurant mentions that he's starting back up in a boxing class, that is three days a week at a gym that is roughly a five minute walk from my restaurant- and with all the burgers now in my diet thanks to my consistent consumption of food at my restaurant- doing something athletic seems like a good idea.

Friday, November 16, 2012

It's Not the Same After a Few Years

When I first started writing this blog and had arrived in Kathmandu with wide eyes, most of what I took photos of and talked about weren't all that different than what you see in most tourist blogs. But things change after a few years. Aside from a complete lack of time to devote to writing here, I also just don't have as much to say about being here in Kathmandu any more. At some point it becomes home, and all those things that strike my countrymen as extremely peculiar here just seem normal to me.

Still everyone once in a while you go about doing things that make for at least a good photo or two. So here are a few from the last few weeks.

Roman Senator or Nepali Cross Dresser?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Siren Song of Democracy

With the election having just taken place back in the US, this is maybe a bad time for a political post, but I'm going to venture into these waters anyway. To be honest I didn't have a horse in the race that just concluded, and while I know a lot of people who might read this are either elated that their candidate won and America was saved from a a rich guy who wanted to destroy America or distressed that some foreign born socialist continues to occupy the White House and plot America's fall into a second rate backwater country. I think both groups will find that nothing significant changes. The political class will continue to cut deals that benefit them and their associates at the expense of both groups of voters (or those like me who simply abstained for not wanting to support bad behavior), we will continue to meddle in the affairs of countries that are none of our concern and we will by and large over pay bureaucrats at every level while the working and middle class in the private sector continue to see their pays stagnate or dwindle. In a short period of time, those who are elated today will be finding excuses for why Obama does more to support big banks, continues to drop bombs on brown people on at least three continents, and continues to expand things like the Patriot act while the middle class withers and the working class settles for a lower standard of living. Conversely those who are saying they will flee the country to escape it's imminent demise will see that things do not abruptly change, and that the slow march of increased debt, reduced liberty, and greater central government reliance won't look all that different than what happened under the candidates that they have voted for in the past.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Slipping into the Past

I try to spend most of my time exactly where I am. This may sound strange, but many of us spend so much time focused on the past or the future that we forget where we are. Still every once in a while I'll slip and find myself picturing the future, or looking back at the earlier days of my life. Sometimes when I look back it's hard to see the connection, how the person I was ended up as the person that I am. How I went from a kid who liked to run and read to a guy running a restaurant on the other side of the planet is a long road that twists and turns through a life I've been happy to have lived but seems disconnected into segments that are barely tethered together.

Some days events conspire against us and we can't help but spend some time apart from where we are. Today it was a combination of dreams about people I haven't seen in 20 years, a skype call from my friends back home, and thinking back over what I wanted to see as a tourist in Nepal in anticipation of my father's visit this coming winter. Although I've never used the internet to really reminisce, it's all out there now. Long forgotten photos, blogs, profiles of people you haven't seen in years, images of neighborhoods you haven't run through in decades. Friends that were once close that you'd almost forgotten, girls you had loved and then went your separate ways, beaches you had found paradise on, cities that had invoked wonder, words you had written that seem written by the hand of another. It's all out there.

Often times though it's not about the images, or the words, or the places. It's simply about the feelings they invoked. Sometimes those people, places, or word, you can't even picture or remember them but you can remember how they made you feel. The proud smile of your parents. Turning a corner and seeing the Duomo  in Florence. Reading The Selfish Gene and the epiphany of actually understanding evolutionary theory.  Going up to Namchee Bazaar and knowing that you would return another time. That first girl you slept with your arm around. The moment that you realized there was no good reason to believe in a God. Proposing to my wife and having her not believe I was serious. Some invoked wonder, others joy, and some sadness or laughter. No matter how each one is remembered I find that they all result in the same feeling in the present  a kind of melancholy.

I'm not sure why the past induces such a sense of melancholy. I have very few regrets, while I enjoyed most of it I don't look back at it as my glory days or want to return to them- but still maybe it is just the impossibility to enjoy something in the exact same way as that moment in history. The inability to do things even slightly differently. To be a little kinder to people, to have not let them drift so far away, to have not taken things so for granted, to have been just a little more thankful. Then again all the things that we have done has made us who we are, harsh lessons and all. Some people drift apart, not out of malice or even neglect but simply because you are no longer the people that had found common ground. You remember that the girl you went your separate ways with jumped on your car when you tried to drive off after a fight.

It's always easier to look back with accumulated wisdom and say maybe you would do things differently, but it was precisely those events that gave you wisdom in the first place, and the gift of such events are that you can apply these lessons to your current life. You can remember that you are prone to taking things for granted and try and be more thankful, you can recognize that over time people change and often drift apart, so enjoy those moments when you are in harmony. Be kinder because you've never regretted being kind to anyone for its own sake, and never date Italian woman because they tend to jump on cars and throw things. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Man of Many Hats

I tend to like big wide brim hats, as many of my photos on here have shown, but when it comes to life, it's far to short to wear the hat of a single skill or profession. Recently when I jokingly posted on Facebook about my new acting role, some made a list of all the things I do or have done. When I got to thinking about it, I have actually taken on far more roles than the average 35 year old, and though my skills in a few of these fields is certainly a bit shallow, I've also worked hard and become rather adept at others. I may not be the most interesting man in the world, as one friend quipped, but I have worked hard at a number of skills that I currently combine and use to make for an enjoyable life.

What many of these roles seem to have in common is the act of creation. As someone who was always a very down to earth, athletic and no-nonsense kind of guy it took me most of my life to realize that at heart what I really loved was the art of creation. Be it creating food, or philosophical systems, graphic design, business plans, games, cocktails or exercise regimen what I love is making things and figuring out a better way to do things. The list below of the hats I wear on occasion, while quite varied has a recurring theme of creating something.

Restaurateur:  Somehow I ended up running and owning a restaurant. Not just any restaurant, but arguably one of the nicest in Kathmandu. My role here is one of part manager, part entertainer, part businessman, and part salesman. Talking about or selling the idea of the of the restaurant is something that comes easy to me because I really love it and believe we've put something special together. The other parts are what will make it financially viable and fun for other people to be here, which is the point of creating it in the first place. It also means having a vision for not only creating the place that we have, but having one for where it can go, and how to steer its future. 

Chef: I love food. I've always loved food. My mother tells me when I was a small child I use to ask for blue cheese dressing, and when I turned 5 my Grandmother bought a very large lobster for me. What I love about working with food is how many dimensions you have to work with; there's texture, smell, appearance and taste. Now cooking without financial restrictions can be challenging, but working within the bounds of what is financially viable, works within the menu and your kitchen and then also can be molded into something that can appeal to all those senses is something that is very challenging, and when done well I find very rewarding. Not everyone will love what you make, but I get enough people thanking me for creating the things that I do on a regular basis that I'm happy with what we've put together here. It's a job I really love.

Bartender- I know the trend is to say mixologist....but I'm not a fan of the term. I like making good drinks, ones that a variety of people will enjoy, and I like experimenting with flavors. One of my goals when opening this restaurant was to create a bar where people would order and drink cocktails. Nepal being a beer and whiskey drinking country, many people were skeptical if there was a market for it here, but the cocktails that we have created here have been outselling all else. Who knew Ecuadorian cocoa infused tequila, mixed with vanilla infused bourbon, cinnamon tincture and bit of simple syrup would be so good? Not me until I tried it, but damn those New World Chais are my favorites. 

The Sandwich & Burger Page I Designed For the Grill House

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action!


One of the great things about Nepal is all of the interesting opportunities that just seem to drop out of the sky due to the fact that I’m from some far off land. My most recent adventure was in Nepal’s film making industry, taking on the part of an American psychiatrist who has to diagnose a troubled young Nepali girl. How does this happen, you might ask?

Poster for the film PaDHmini that I acted in

I was at the farmer’s market a few weeks back and a guy who use to come there quite often approached me and asked if I had any interest in being in a movie. Now this isn’t all that uncommon in Kathmandu, often foreigners are needed to fill in as extras or small parts for roles where there are white folk visible. With a shrug and a bit of a chuckle I said sure, and the guy asked if I’d like to sit somewhere and discuss. At this point he starts explaining that they need someone to play an American psychiatrist, when he discovers I’m American this is all the better. He’s explaining the roll, and it sounds fine, I’ll be in a few scenes with two separate shooting days. As the role begins to sound more and more complex I kind of stop him and ask;
“I’m only going to have a line or two, and mostly be a prop right?”
“Oh no. You will be on screen for about 20 minutes or so and have 15 minutes of dialogue. You have to interrogate the main characters and discover the psychological problem that the main actress is suffering from”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Monsoon Trekking: Solukhumbu

I've done more monsoon trekking than the average bear, and I always write about how it aint that bad. Still every time I'm about to do a trip in the monsoon I always buy into the hype a bit and assume it might be a miserable time. Even when I read my entry about The Big Monsoon Lie or what a great trip I had up in the Gosainkund lakes I still assume maybe I just got lucky. Well I just got back from another great trip, with fabulous views, decent warm weather and hardly another tourist on the trail- this time visiting the land of Everest up in Solukhumbu.

Water falls this time of year are awesome 

In the last post I said I was going to try the backside of Annapurna, but as it turns out there are no flights into Humde until September unless you charter a flight. This was a trip with a very small time window due to the schedule of a friend that was visiting and only had roughly five to seven days. The toughest part about monsoon trekking in Nepal really is just getting to the trail heads, as the roads are a mess and the clouds can ground planes for days. We booked flights into Lukla and got out the day we were supposed to, no problem. Just to point out that this is not always the case, the week previous flights had been grounded for five days straight.

Clear views from Namche Bazaar 

The weather was fine the whole time we were up there. On our initial day we got some light rain during the day, but nothing heavy until just as we reached Namche. This pattern, and this being the pattern I've observed every trip, held up the whole time we were up there. Mornings are generally clear and offer the best viewing of the mountains (5:30ish when the sun is first coming up seems to be best), by afternoon some clouds rise up from the valley and obscure the views, and in the evenings you get some heavy rains. Generally if you can be indoors by three or four in the afternoon you don't get too wet. 

Looking down the valley toward Amadablam & Everest

Speaking with the lodge owner of the Khumbu lodge in Namche (highly recommended, place and service is great) it appears that this monsoon is even slower than normal. It's really too bad too, because of my four trips to the region it was easily the most pleasant temperature wise, and the views were as good as my September trip and my first March trip. It was also clear that the rain and clouds were less of a factor the further up the valley you went. Due to time constraints we only went as far as Tengboche monastery this time, but it was clear that the worst of the rain fell south of Namche at the sub 4,000 meter (12K feet) elevations.

Clouds move over peaks east of Namche

As I know this blog often gets searched out for advice on people wanting to (or being forced to) trek during the monsoon period, all I can say is that every time I go I have a good time. Solukhumbu was no different, and as the pictures show we were certainly not denied the beautiful views of the region. Obviously experiences will vary, but the longer I live here and talk to other people traveling and go on trips myself in the monsoon, the more convinced I become that it's not a bad time of year to go up into the mountains.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cooking for Kings & Getting Back to the Mountains


So posts here have been few and far between, not because of a lack of interesting things happening or things to discuss, but just due to a sheer lack of time. Last week we had a huge 4th of July event that catered to some 200 people (I had expected maybe 50), we had a great Friday night following with a friend of ours, who is a DJ, setting up a good dance party, and then we hosted the former king of Nepal for his birthday on Sunday. By the time Monday rolled around all I could do was lay in bed and sleep- as for the week prior I had averaged about 4 hours of sleep and consumed more alcohol than I’m used to. When every night is a party your life is the opposite of everyone else’s, all you crave is a night where you can get home and go to bed at 10pm and not have any alcohol in your system. With the amount of work I had to do to prepare and get ready for Sunday’s event I had shunned any drinking for at least a couple of days and I’ve learned to start walking around with a bit of cranberry juice with ice in a rocks glass and claim it’s cranberry and vodka so people don’t try to buy me too many drinks. This isn’t a problem I ever thought I’d have.

Grill House owners and staff with the former King of Nepal

While the other events were fun (although the 4th was complete chaos) the royal birthday was a once in a lifetime experience that while very stressful, was something I’ll always look back at as a really great experience. I mean who moves to a foreign country and ends up hosting and cooking for royalty? Me apparently. I also think it may have been a first in Nepal, as normally they are hosted at the 5 star hotels in the city, and not at local restaurants, no matter how nice they might be. So this was not only something completely new to me, but was also something outside of what they normally do.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Missing Trekker in Langtang & a Warning About Trekking There


UPDATE- No sooner did I post this than I found news that the young girls body has been found. My heart goes out to her family. I really hope that someone begins taking these tragic events up in the Langtang region very seriously.

A young Belgian girl named Debbie Maveau has gone missing in the Langtang area. She is 23 years old and was last recorded at the check post in Dhunche on May 30th. She was supposed to fly back home early this month and has missed her flight. If you were recently trekking in the area and saw her or have any information about her please contact the Belgian Consulate at 014432867. I don’t think I need to mention how important time is in a case like this, so please help as soon as possible if you know anything at all. Below is a poster I snapped a picture of in Thamel the other night.


I also want to take the time to offer advice against any travel to the Langtang area for the time being. I say this as someone that has traveled to Langtang on three separate occasions and has greatly enjoyed the hospitality of the local population and the beauty of the region. I also say this as someone who almost exactly two years ago, when Aubrey Sacco went missing, defended travel there as still relatively safe and an isolated incident that seemed out of character of the region. Over the last two years though people continue to still search for Aubrey with very little local support, just last season another American girl was assaulted on the trail, and rumor has it that a Korean girl was also assaulted, though no reports were filed that I’m aware of. Other stories keep coming to me from a varied number of sources that other things are being swept under the rug or the whole truth is not being told. Included in this was a body found in the Helumbu region during the search for Aubrey that was not adequately explained or even told to the public.  Now another young foreign girl is missing.

Although no one, or very few that aren’t talking, know exactly what’s going on Langtang, there is a very clear pattern emerging over the last two years that shows that it is not a safe travel destination, especially for young foreign woman. I still believe that Nepal is a relatively safe travel destination, that most of its trekking trails are some of the best in the world, and highly recommend coming here, but I think it’s clear that there is a problem in Langtang that needs to be dealt with before more young girls go missing. The trail in Langtang is not a difficult one, it is almost impossible to lose, and there are few places that offer a real hazard of falling or getting yourself into trouble in a place where a passerby would not soon find and help you out. This adds to the speculation that whatever is happening is probably at the hands of people with ill intent.

As Nepal, and even other embassies and consulates, are not in a hurry to make much of this information very public, I think it’s important that we get the information out there to reduce the chances of this happening again. People need to be informed of what is going on, and pressure should be brought to bear to ensure that the authorities in the area realize that there will be economic consequences if these kind of cases continue to not get enough attention and whoever is responsible for the problem continues to go free. My heart continues to go out to the family of Aubrey, and now to this girl’s family too. We can hope that both of these girls turn up and are found safe and sound, but until then please think before traveling there until something is done as I would rather this list doesn’t get any longer.
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