Americans in Kathmandu

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This blog entry about the events of Sunday, October 10, 2004 was originally posted on October 14, 2004.

DAY 358:  “You look Nepali,” said the hotel manager.  So did the waiter in the garden restaurant and another guy.  I think I was a novelty act for them:  a guy that looked like they did but spoke in am American accent.

MY FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS that fine Monday morning was to visit the American embassy, and this time I mean the real one, not McDonald’s.  Hearing that New Jersey, the state I was registered to vote in (even overseas) had become a swing state in the all-important 2004 US presidential election, I wanted to apply for an absentee ballot.  Three Nepali soldiers who were stationed outside the American compound greeted me.

“Is it open?” I asked.

“What do you want?”

“I’m just trying to find out about overseas ballots.”

“What?  You are American?”

“Yeah.”  Seemed hard to believe. 

One soldier gave me a slip of paper with a printout on it saying the embassy was closed.  A sign posted said public office hours on Monday started at 1 p.m.  “Thanks, I’ll come back.”

On my way back into the touristy Thamel district (picture above), an American voice called to me.  “Hey man!  I thought it might be you, but I thought nah… but then I saw the shirt.  Your hair’s grown out a bit.” 

It was Paul, the American from Kansas who was my roommate way in the Beijing Gonti Hostel back in August.  It was with him I had a conversation about fate and coincidence; funny us crossing paths again totally unplanned, at random in a different country.  We caught up for a bit, standing there on the sidewalk under the Nepalese sun.  Paul had followed me to Xi’an and then made way through Tibet and over into Nepal.  He had just gotten back to Kathmandu after doing some trekking on the Annapurna circuit in the west, where he had a run in with armed Maoists patrolling the trails — he shut his American mouth up and pretended to be some French guy’s brother to avoid the American fees they collect by force (before giving a receipt).

Paul had been to the American embassy before and told me about the American government’s position on matters in Nepal.  With the Nepali/American tensions, they told him, “You’re not even supposed to be here!”  The US had already sent home the Peace Corps and all non-essential government employees.  They had issued a travel advisory not to even think about going to Nepal.  “Just down there,” Paul pointed out to me, “was where [that American compound] was bombed three weeks ago.” 

Perhaps an American wasn’t completely safe in Nepal after all, at least the ones that were “overly American” and stuck out, like government employees — but for guys like us, we were Americans exercising the American right to travel.  Kathmandu was legendary amongst travelers, especially American hippie types and the descendants thereof.

Paul and I split ways — he was on his way to the Pakistani embassy this time for a visa — but we made plans to meet up for dinner and drinks that night.  Later on in the afternoon, I went back to the American embassy, but it was still closed.  The “overly American” employees were celebrating the American holiday of Columbus Day.


WALKING AROUND KATHMANDU, I definitely didn’t stick out as an obvious American, with my apparent Nepali-looking façade.  I went for a walk around town, starting at the Rani Pokhari tank and temple, built by King Pratap Malla in memory of his dead son, and then down the crowded market road lined with market stalls and temples en route to Durbar Square, the heart of the old city.  Weaving in and out of motorbikes and people scuttling around, I saw the Annapurna Temple in the busy Asan Tol plaza, which paid homage to Annapurna, the goddess of plentiful food; and the Akash Bhairab in the equally busy Indra Chowk plaza, with its distinctive metal gargoyles.  Up north was Kathesimbhu, a stupa in the fashion of the bigger Swayambhunath one west of the city — which had been victim to American-influenced graffiti.

Durbar Square, the former residential area of the royal family, is a big tourist draw as many of the buildings of political, social and religious significance remain there, all together in a big open plaza — so much that it has been described as a “templescape.”  Near the northern area there was a 200-rupee fee for foreigners to walk in, but with my mouth shut, my cover remained intact and I just walked in without anyone saying anything.

I wandered passed the Taleju Temple, built by King Mahendra Mall to honor the deity Taleju; Kasthamandap, the 14th century temple for Hindu saint Gorakhnath of which the name “Kathmandu” is derived from; and the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar, the former royal palace.  I made way to the bazaar at Basantapur Square, where vendors sold all sorts of Nepalese trinkets.  Nearby was Freak Street, the former hippie haven that had lost all its popularity over time to the Thamel district up north where my hotel was.

Probably the most visited temple in Durbar Square was the Maju Dewal, not because it was a temple dedicated to the god Shiva, but because with its ten-level easy-to-climb pyramid design, it was easy to get a view of the happenings in Durbar Square below.  With that said, it was known as the prime target for touts to approach guys sitting around.  One young guy who called himself “Mr. K” (and had a “K” ring on his left middle finger to prove it) saw that I might not be Nepali after all — anyone sitting on the so-called “Hippie Hill” was either a tout he knew of already or a tourist — and he tried desperately to get business from me, either as my city tour guide, trail guide or hash dealer.  I declined and then got out of there before word got around that I was American after all.


I MET FELLOW AMERICAN PAUL in front of the Kathmandu Guest House in the heart of the Thamel district and from there we met up with two guys he had been trekking with (whose names I forgot) from France and Switzerland.  The first order of the night was to make final call for drinks at one lounge’s Happy Hour, and we started things off with a shot.

“Just like the American girl in the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark,” I said to Paul, stamping down the glass onto the table.

Whether in the movies or real life, the fact remained:  Americans were in Nepal whether or not the American embassy liked it or not.  When we went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner (one of many kinds of international cuisines available in Kathmandu), I didn’t know what the embassy’s big hang up was over; I mean, as far as I could see there was no violence, and besides, the pizza in Nepal was pretty good.






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Previous entry: The Writer Card




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Comments for “Americans in Kathmandu”

  • THERE YOU GO, four more before I head up to Everest Base Camp.  I figured I might as well post them before I go and justify the fact that I lugged my laptop up the Himalayas for two days on foot.

    Anyway, this is most likely my last internet session before I leave Namche Bazar to head up to EBC.

    Make sure all you celebrate for me!  Oh, and get this, because of leap year, my birthday is “Day 365.”


    MARKYT:  Go ahead and QA and make corrections.

    OOGY:  Himalayas > Andes!  When you’re off your high of designing the new American Express card—yes, this is gratuitous praise—you MUST trek over here!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  04:39 PM


  • E - fixed what i could…

    i’ll monitor the spam…damn you bot spammers!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  05:22 PM


  • Wow…what a great surprise!  I was psyching myself up for blog withdrawl and to my surprise more!...keep up the great writing with so many of us enjoying it.  Enjoy your trek and birthday!  Keep Safe! Happy Birthday!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  06:23 PM


  • woohoo!!!! have a safe and happy trip!! happy bday again. AND TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES!!!!!  =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  07:11 PM


  • Hi Erik, it’s another one of your minor guest stars joining the fray.  I really enjoyed reading about Japan and was so surprised to learn that there is now something to do in Mitaka, which is where I spent a year studying so long ago.  If I had voted, I would have said Nepal, so glad to hear that you are there and that all is fine.  And when you go to India, the most impressive thing that I saw was the Infosys campus…you might be able to use your “press” credentials to get behind the gates and get the tour.  It’s eery how much like it is to Silicon Valley, but so obviously not.  Or is that just too boring for your glob-trotting self?

    Life in HK continues on in its cubicle way, although I escaped to Cambodia for a weekend, which was well worth it.

    Have fun!  Meg

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  07:33 PM


  • OOGY: - I have to concur… that IS an sweet ass new design for that new amex card!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  01:51 AM


  • Excellent.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  03:34 AM


  • FRIDAY, 15 OCT 2004, 7:28 a.m. Nepal Time… Okay, THIS is my last internet session… Just wanted to check e-mail before the four day trek to EBC, which begins as soon as I log off…

    Those wishing to get a postcard from the Everest region who already aren’t on the new mailing list, get those pledges and donations in!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  05:38 AM


  • I’m trying to make some math and figure out when exactly is your Bday, Eric.
    Help me out people! If it’s a 4 day trek to the EBC and he’ll get there on his bday then it should be the 18th…
    Yeah, I’m not very bright right now.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  06:12 AM


  • It’s the 18th.

    I can’t wait for the Everest pics! This NIZ will be like waiting all summer to find out who shot Mr. Burns… or J.R. depending on what era you’re from.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  07:54 AM


  • MarkyT:  Unlike Erik, I only write when I feel like it… so my next 9-5er peice will be when I’m inspired to write it.

    Could be today because I think they’re starting with the jackhammers again!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  06:16 PM


  • Nepal! Glad to see you’re out there. One of my homies is running around there right now. Name’s Jeff, works for a touring company that takes peeps up to Everest Base Camp.

    Keep on keepin’ on!

    Word Life.

    Moman!!

    Posted by Moman  on  10/14  at  07:35 PM


  • TdOt - the jackhammers are going near my house too… early in the morning when for once I have a Satruday off (ie could have slept in).  I’m only inspired to go and beat someone wink

    Posted by Liz  on  10/15  at  05:08 AM


  • thanx markyt!

    E: You’re right, Kathmandu looks pretty much the norm… everyone going about their business and taking in life. Can’t wait for the pics of the Himalayas. I’m sure they’ll be breathtaking.. hey, if you can see those suckers from space…

    Hope you had a great birthday and some local, exotic pastry with candle to celebrate with!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/15  at  10:43 AM


  • just discoverd this website been engrosed for hours good luck with the jaunt up the big hill, do take an extra pair of socks and dont forget to write!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/16  at  12:08 AM


  • just discoverd this website been engrosed for hours good luck with the jaunt up the big hill, do take an extra pair of socks and dont forget to write!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/16  at  12:08 AM


  • Erik:

    Hope you have a great 30th B-day hiking Everest!  Look forward to reading about it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  12:44 AM


  • Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary Erik!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  06:10 AM


  • Wow! You’ve lived more in one year that most people do in their lifetimes..and still you keep on going! I just wanted to write you a note and say HAPPY HAPPY SUPER BIRTHDAY AND THE CHAIR! I think that I am late, but since you’re on international time, I kinda think that it’ll be your birthday until next week our time. Anyway I just wanted to wish you a happy one..and the chair!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  07:15 AM


  • Happy Birthday!
    (not very much inspired for birthday words, but the plain well Happy Birthday comes with well meanes good wishes)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  07:43 AM


  • Erik-
    Happy 30th, I’ll be there next July whether I like it or not.

    Good hanging out with you in Tokyo, I was so sick and had zero energy.

    We’re in Korea and although it’s much different than Japan, it’s great.  They don’t call the Koreans the Irish of the East for nothing, but people just come up to you and start having a conversation and invite you out for drinks… very un-Japanese indeed.

    Where will you be November 4-11? Melissa has business back in the ‘states and was curious where you’ll be?

    Drop me an email when you can-

    John

    Posted by SZLACHTA  on  10/17  at  09:03 AM


  • Hey Mr. E
    Do email and let me know when you will land in India (Do not email on dustyshoes address but on the other one which i sent across). This is cause I will be travelling - work related - and all our offices all over India have “firewalled” yahoo, ditto for the guest houses where I will be staying.
    Hope to be able to meet you.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  10:15 AM


  • Erik - Best Birthday Wishes, and Congrats on 1 Year of Travelling!!!!  Kampai!

    Posted by Liz  on  10/17  at  10:54 AM


  • Welcome to the 30 & over club! Happy Birthday and many more.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  12:20 PM


  • Welcome to the 30+ club! Happy, Happy Birthday, may you have many more!!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  12:21 PM


  • Oops, I forgot to add. Happy Birthday

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  01:26 PM


  • Happy Birthday Erik…..30, been there done that…..I do appreciate you doing so much more for your 30th than I did! 

    Happy Anniversary to you to, I am still reading the archives and I just made it past Day 100…..I think I will be reading forever!

    Stay Safe!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  04:35 PM


  • happy birthday erik!

    I wonder if you every imagine that you’d spend your 30th anniversary wandering Nepal?

    boy, that’s something

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  04:51 PM


  • THIRTEEYARTEE!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAN!  DAMN,  CELEBRATING YOUR BDAY IN NEPAL…THAT’S DEF. BETTER THAN GERONIMOS…WOOHOO!  ILL DRINK A RED DEVIL TONITE IN YOUR HONOR!

    WHEAT

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  05:30 PM


  • IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY??  WHAAAT??? 

    WHAAAAAT???


    YEAAAAAHHH!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  05:32 PM


  • Hey Erik!  Happy 30th Birthday!  Or Happy Belated Birthday when you read this.  Guess you’re on everest right now. Can’t wait to read about it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  05:38 PM


  • Happy 30th Erik!  Can’t wait to read about the big 3-0 celebration on Mount Everest!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  05:47 PM


  • Oct. 18th, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! WOOHOOO 30 years of age, very exciting smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  06:06 PM


  • Happy 30th Birthday Erik!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  06:29 PM


  • HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! I hope you are on top of everest, enjoying your big day, and drunk off your ass. and that you took lots of pictures. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  06:35 PM


  • show them your big 3-0 face!

    haha…dood, when you get back to bootleg land, go pick Team America on dvd/vcd!!!  haven’t seen it just yet, but just do it!!

    WHEAT - where you doing that drink tonite?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  06:58 PM


  • HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!
    FELIZ ANIVERS?RIO!!!!
    ?Los CUMPLEA?OS FELICES!!!
    JOYEUX ANNIVERSAIRE!!!! 
    GL?CKLICHER GEBURTSTAG!!!!
    IL COMPLEANNO FELICE!!!!
    GELUKKIGE VERJAARDAG!!!!
    GLAD F?DSELSDAG!!!!

    hope you have a grrrrrreat b-day!!!

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  07:35 PM


  • Hola Erik, Feliz Cumplea?os y Feliz Aniversario!!!!!!!!!! Los mejores deseos!!!!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  08:55 PM


  • Happy 30th!  You kick ass!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/17  at  09:48 PM


  • happy birthday Erik

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/18  at  12:34 AM


  • Arrrrrr matey, the big three ohh.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/18  at  04:33 AM


  • Nice Blog and thanks for the safety information, can’t wait to try the pizza to. Will be in Nepal on 4th November.

    —so nepal still full with tourists?

    Posted by Farha  on  10/18  at  06:11 AM


  • Dude, be careful out there! I research US-foreign relations a whole lot, and let me tell you, there are lots of US-gov’t warnings about travelling abroad right now; we’re not very popular people. But, at least you can blend in—can’t say the same for your bud, Paul, though. Hope your money never runs out and you continue travelling/writing! Take care!

    Posted by Tony  on  10/18  at  06:42 AM


  • Oh yeah, happy birthday dude! Welcome to the post-20s!

    Posted by Tony  on  10/18  at  06:44 AM


  • Happy 30th!!!

    OOOOO .. OOOOOOh .. AAAAAh .. AAAAAh

    Typed monkey noises don’t work the same way as the message version.

    Oh well, happy birthday dude!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/18  at  09:27 AM


  • Hey Erik,

    Wrote you an email yesterday but wanted to respond to your BLOG.  Happy Birthday!! You rock!!

    Don’t stay too long in the bakla office!

    Reese

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/18  at  09:52 PM


  • What can I say that has not already been said?

    HAPPY ANNIVERSARY BLOG! (and Erik.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/19  at  07:22 AM


  • Happy Bithday Erik!!!! from the Trinidad Clan

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/19  at  08:22 AM


  • One year ago, the adventure embarked….

    One year later, the adventure continues….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/19  at  08:38 AM


  • wow . ..  you write a lot and often!

    I just watched your slide show and was amazed . .. .  I’ve been trying to keep up with your blog, but, alas, I have a life somewhere besides only the world wide web . . . .

    anyway, congraz on being on the road for 12 long (but incredible, yes? smile months!  It is my dream to someday do something very similar to what you are doing (but in a different order), and you are an inspiration to me .. . . now, back to reading about Europe . . .!  Peace. 

    (BTW, I’m from Calgary (1988 Winter Olympics), Canada)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/19  at  02:49 PM


  • (same person as above)

    Just wanted to say that your comment section is GENIOUS!!!

    Good luck climbing to base camp ~[yikes].

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/19  at  02:54 PM


  • only fegs are turn 30 in october

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/19  at  09:36 PM


  • Hi Eric,
    thanks for the pics frm KTM. Been away from home for a long time, so kinda brought back memories.
    You have a safe trip to EBC.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/20  at  10:31 PM


  • happy very belated birthday erik! and happy blog anniversary!

    crazy, i’ve been reading this thing a year!

    Posted by Alyson  on  10/28  at  08:41 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Special Report

Previous entry:
The Writer Card




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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