Friday, August 31, 2012

Scheduling a date with the washing machine

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It's completely logical but still kind of funny to me that Finnish apartment buildings have a datebook for the laundry machines in their basements.  Each family signs the book for when they plan to launder their clothes that week, and this helps ensure that the machines are free when they saunter into the basement loaded down with bags of soiled garments.

It makes sense, doesn't it? I was disappointed several times during my undergrad housing days, when I'd sort my laundry and haul it all into the clubhouse laundry room, only to get there and remember that Saturday at noon was peak laundering hour.

Even so...how silly will I sound when I have to turn down a spontaneous coffee date with this excuse: "Sorry, I have an appointment with a washing machine."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

4 Countries in 2 Weeks!

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Today is my first day of business school in Helsinki!
Don't gasp too loudly - I know the last time you heard from me, about two weeks ago, I was kicking around in Kathmandu.  A lot's happened since then...

I successfully retrieved my new ID card/residency permit from the Finnish Embassy the day after I arrived back in Kathmandu. I'd budgeted an entire two weeks to accomplish this task because the unpredictabilities of transportation and life in general are such that it was a legitimate concern that there would be 5+ consecutive strike days preventing me from getting to the Embassy during the two hour permit pickup time slot. So my unexpectedly quick pickup left me with a whole two weeks to burn!

While waiting for my Sherpa friend Pasang to also arrive in the capital, I met a friendly British musician in a cafe and we really hit it off. He drives an overland vehicle for a unique company in the UK - Madventure.Travel - and was in the middle of a SEVEN MONTH LONG camping trip, driving from London to Sydney, Australia (putting the truck on a ferry at times, obviously). When they came to the Tibetan border, it was closed, so the travelers continued on plane to Beijing to finish their trip on public transportation, and Adam was stuck in Nepal trying to sort out all the visas he needed to get home.

Well, to make a long story short, he had to leave Kathmandu the next day to take the truck to Sauraha, in the Chitwan National Forest and jungle of southern Nepal, and he invited me to ride down with him for free. My friend Pasang arrived just in time, and the two of us set off with Adam for the 6-hour drive to Sauraha.
The truck was HUGE!



On the way we learned a lot about Adam's travels and his experiences in Nepal. We also saw a local bus that had fallen off the cliff-side road when the driver fell asleep. It happened just 3 days before we got there. Forty Nepali people had died in the accident, and there were a few guys using a homemade winch system to try to retrieve the wreckage. 


We ended up spending three days and a total of $45/person for accommodation in a luxury resort, good food, self-guided safari, camel riding, and elephant riding! It was an awesome, spontaneous jungle adventure, and I'm so glad I went because after living in the mountains, this was a whole new side of Nepal I'd never seen.

Behind me is a RHINOCEROS bathing in the river! 


Clouds coming in for the daily afternoon monsoon rains.



It was super hot and incredibly humid, but I quickly learned that
jungle waters tend to be infested with crocodiles. It was the
running, yelling, and waving of hands by the locals that clued
me in. So I only swam once.

The jungle sunsets were incredible!

My favorite time of day was watching the elephants come down to the river
for a drink in the evenings.

I have so many more pictures to share of our time in Chitwan. These will come soon.

To quickly bring you up to date: I left Nepal the weekend before last, spent 12 hours exploring Dubai during a long layover, and then spent a week with my family in Oregon before getting back on a plane to Helsinki.  Since arriving here on Tuesday night, I've signed a lease for my new downtown apartment and have been running around getting a Finnish social security number, opening a bank account, looking for a job, getting my mobile phone in working order -- all those things you have to do when moving to a new country. Helsinki is even better than I remember it. I'm so happy to be here and have no doubt that I've landed in exactly the right master's program for me!

During our evening walk to the marina - 5 minutes from our apartment -
with my cousin Maya

We're hatching!  These are our favorite egg chairs at a lovely
little cafe on the marina.






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Weekend in Thamel

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Upon arriving at the RCDP hostel in Kalanki last Tuesday, I was given a dal bhaat lunch, introduced to several new volunteers, and then told that not only was the hostel already full, but five new people were arriving from the airport that night, so the program was going to take me to the nicest tourist neighborhood in Kathmandu - called Thamel - and put me up in a hotel there for the duration of my last ten days in Nepal.

Despite my waning funds, I was happy to fore go the cockroaches and dal bhaat meals in Kalanki (since, after all, I've been living on dal bhaat for three months now) and venture out to make friends, use wifi, and feed myself in Thamel. I realized that my standards have changed when I became outraged with one fruit vendor who tried to sell me seven bananas for 150 rupees (USD $1.74). I haggled him down to 50 rupees (USD $0.58) and still felt ripped off. Oh no, I thought, walking away - how am I going to handle the move to Helsinki next week? The thought of paying 8 Euro (USD $9.83) for a relatively cheap lunch in Helsinki gave me goosebumps.

I've been enjoying my time in Thamel.  The weather here in Kathmandu Valley is much warmer than up in the Himalayas. Whereas it averaged 50-70 F at Pema Chholing, it's upwards of 85 F in the humid capital. The non-existent Nepali constitution, which was supposed to have been written and approved back in May by whatever chaotic group of people now constitutes the governing body, never was. So the strikes continue, and continue to thwart the plans of my fellow volunteers who'd like to move around the city. Public transportation doesn't run during the strikes, and if you're lucky enough to find a taxi driver who'll risk it, you'll pay upwards of 5-10 times the normal fare. Fortunately, since my trip to the Finnish Embassy last Wednesday (I'm now officially a resident of the EU!), I haven't needed to leave Thamel.

I've spent my days here wonderfully... taking my morning cafĂ© au lait (oh, how I've missed coffee!) in breezy rooftop cafes high above the hustle and bustle of morning traffic; catching up on work, emails, and research while enjoying the company of fellow travelers (it seems that everyone who comes to Nepal is interesting - after all, people don't come here from the West for the comforts of a luxurious vacation; it's neat to explore the different motives that bring others to this beautiful yet impoverished land). I spend the late afternoons and evenings wandering the streets around Thamel, browsing stores full of trinkets I like to inspect but don't want to buy, trying on hats and saris and traditional shoes because it's fun to dress up and the vendors have fun with me too, and people watching.

I woke up this morning with a deep, throaty cough and my body racked in pain. I've been told it's a throat infection - something that many people get from the pollution on the streets - and it feels exceptionally strange to be hacking up a lung in the middle of summer. This is the type of cough I'd expect to fight in the dead of winter, or a long, drizzly spring. Not when traipsing around in flip flops and sun dresses.

In Nepal, life in Thamel is the polar opposite of life at Pema Chholing. Yet I'm happy here. After travels in 30 countries, experiencing both the perks of life as a US diplomat and the lows of Nepali outhouses; organic home-cooked meals from Trader Joes and a 3-month pure rice diet, the beautiful ocean views from a ritzy apartment and a $1 per night mattress-on-the-floor hotel....I'm starting to think that there's nowhere I won't be happy.

I don't think it's completely sunk in that this will be my last week in Nepal, and yet on some level I know it: I've been collecting my photo souvenirs - the best kind - they don't cost anything, won't be a hassle to stuff in a bag, and won't incur any additional luggage fees.  I'll post them, print them, gift them, and look at them whenever I need to relive Nepal...
shopping in Thamel with my friend Daniel, from Russia

the ultimate Nepali haunted house
 
 
does this outfit make me look like I smoke marijauna?
i was offered hashish by street vendors seven times that day.
view from a rickshaw
cocktails at Pub Maya with the British blokes
breakfast for 170 rupees (USD $1.97) - and comes with coffee!
 
hat shopping
i want this graffiti put on a t-shirt!
 
 
purple sari?....
...or blue sari?
handmade fabric
  
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