On Sunday I moved out of the Hotel Butsugen and into our new apartment. My stay at the Hotel Butsugen was wonderful on all accounts and I’d highly recommend it to anyone coming to stay in Kathmandu, especially if you are visiting the Boudha area. The owners and staff were helpful and kind and I’m grateful that I landed at such a nice place. I plan on having lunch there once a week or so to stay in touch with these fine folks.
I am sharing my apartment with two other occupants until the end of September, Mason Brown and his wife, Nirmala. Mason just finished his doctorate in musicology and, like myself, is from the lovely state of Michigan. He’s headed back to the States at the end of September to look for work. Nirmala is in the final stages of getting her green card and when that comes through she’ll join Mason. I’m excited to get to spend some time with both of these folks. Not only will they be able to help me find my way around the apartment and the city, and not only are they both kind and lovely to be around, I’m also very fascinated to learn about the music work Mason has been doing here in Nepal and Tibet.
I’m very slowly getting used to Kathmandu. There are many things that are different here than in the States and each one takes time to figure out. For example – The electrical outlets. The voltage here is 240V as opposed to 110V in America. So, the electrical outlets are different and most don’t fit American style plugs, though some do. I have no idea why some do and some don’t. In Kathmandu, the power goes out from time to time. It used to be a serious problem here, though apparently in the last two years it’s been much improved. Since I’ve been here, it’s been going off for an hour or two a day. Hot water is not a standard build in apartments. There is only one place in my apartment to get hot water, other than the stove – the shower/bath, which has an on demand propane hot water tank. I don’t know if Kathmandu has city water, but if they do, it seems like most people don’t have it. My apartment building has a large water tank that gets refilled when it’s empty and this system seems to be quite common. Some places have wells. In any case, the water is not safe to drink. Ideally it should be boiled and filtered. I get confused about what is safe and not safe – when I wash a cup, I believe I have to dry it to remove the possibility of getting sick. But does drying the cup completely remove the problem? One of many problems to solve. Vegetables and fruits are also generally unsafe for us Westerners. At this time of year, there is a serious problem with cyclospora, a nasty little bug, so eating leafy greens and other fresh produce is pretty much out. There are of course many more little differences that take some getting used to, but those are the most on my mind at the moment.
In my last post, I included a picture of a washed out road. I want to now try and give you even more of a sense of the experience of a Nepali road. The main road here is Boudha road. It connects with the ring road, which as the name implies, encirles Kathmandu. Anyway, here are a few pictures I took on Boudha road near to my apartment.
I bought a fan today. In the states, if I needed a fan, I’d probably do something like this: I’d get online and see if Amazon had anything that tickled me and then compare it to what I could get it at Walmart. After 15-30 minutes of looking at the million of fan options available to me, I’d realize that it’s completely ridiculous to buy a new fan as I can buy one at a thrift store for next to nothing. Now, if I needed the fan immediately, I’d try to find a thrift store or probably end just buying something from whatever was close, because ultimately a fan is a fan and they all cost about the same. If I didn’t need it immediately, I’d ponder my fan choices for the next week to 6 months until I actually really needed to buy it.
Now, in Nepal, there is no Amazon. There is no Walmart. I haven’t found any thrift stores yet, though I’m sure there is a way to get things used here that I will in due time figure out. So, one has basically two choices. You can go to Bhat Bhateni, which is the closest thing Kathmandu has to Walmart. There are a couple of them in the city and the one close to me has, I believe, 7 floors. Each floor sells something slightly different. First floor is groceries, second floor is household goods, then there are floors for clothes, furniture, electronics, etc. On the roof is an indoor half court soccer arena, which they call futsol here. Anyway, the nice thing about Bhat Bhateni is that it has fixed prices (no haggling,) the prices are generally good and there is a large assortment of goods. For reference, the cheapest floor fan at Bhat Bhateni was ~40$. Now, most people don’t shop at Bhat Bhateni. Most people shop at one of the millions of little shops that line the streets of every Kathmandu street. These shops are mostly small stalls, though some bigger ones are, like in the pictures above, are a decent size. Anyway, I’m guessing there are at least 100 places that sell fans within a half kilomter radius of here. Every stall vendor will quote me a different price and I have no idea what kind of variety there is from shop to shop, though I imagine not much. I stopped at two shops today. The first quoted me $30 and the second $25. If I had kept looking, eventually I probably could have picked one up for around $15-$20, at least so I am told. Bottom line is that I now have a fan and am now much cooler and it only took about 2 hours of my time.
Ok, I’ll finish up with the highlight of my day. I had to open up a bank account here in order to secure a student visa. Bureaucracy here is fascinating and it was quite the form to fill out, took me about an hour and a half at the bank. My favorite part, by far, was that I had to draw a map, which showed the bank: where I lived, a major landmark near where I lived and how far it was from the landmark to my house. You see, there are no street addresses here. So there is no way to explain to someone where you live except by giving some series of directions, or in the case of the bank, you draw out a map. Here’s my map: