Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Japanese Adventure -5

The guys left the hostel right after 6 in the morning to catch a train to the 5th station up the mountain and were to climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji from there. I on the other hand took my time, brought all our stuff down to the storage room and had a slow breakfast in the common room before checking out and going out for a day trip on my own around Kawaguchiko.

I was given discount vouchers and advice about how to spend my day so I decided to go for a walk to the other side of the lake and took the ropeway up to an observation platform where I got a great view of the lake and on a clear day I'd also have gotten a good view of Mt. Fuji. Even after spending an hour waiting for the clouds to clear I realised that nothing would happen for a while. So I just took a couple of symbolic photos in the direction of the mountain covered by fog and ropeway-ed myself down to lake level again.

From here I made my way through souvernir shops and countless racks of "hello kitty" phone bling until I finally found Ide Sake Brewery. The hostel made a reservation for me to take a guided tour of the brewery and eventually the lady who owns the brewery came out to take me along as I was the only person who was going for a tour that day. It is a small-scale brewery and from what I gathered, it is the only brewery that uses the water from Mt. Fuji! She told me all about the brewing process and how they utilise every part of the rice casks to make crackers and use as flavouring in other foods as it contains lots of nutrients. I tasted three different kinds of sake from the brewery; they were all silky smooth and tasted nothing like the sake I have had at Japanese restaurants outside Japan (not even the sake I'd had elsewhere in Japan...)
Needless to say I bought three bottles of sake in different sizes to take home and one each for the guys who were away climbing :)

I walked back to the hostel with two huge bags full of booze and having wandered around for the whole day I was ready for an hour in the onsen before meeting up with the guys. The bath was a bit more crowded this time and I met two girls, Chihiro and Chika who are really lovely. We chatted for a while and it turned out that they had travelled from their hometowns to climb Mt Fuji the day before and were staying in the same hostel as us. We made our way back to K's house right before Trond and Michael and I had to leave for the bus to Tokyo. The guys were exhausted and sun burnt like nobody's business even on this cloudy day, each with bright red necks and Trond being the impersonation of Rudolph himself.

So after what seemed like the longest walk ever to the bus station we got on the right bus and were dropped off at the Shinjuku bus station two hours later. From there we got a little lost in what is known as the "world's busiest transport hub" before finding the right subway line to the Kikukawa station where we were met by Mr. Kamo who took us back to his flat where we were going to stay for our remaining time in Japan.

After organising our mats and floor beds we went out for dinner at a restaurant where you purchase your order from a vending machine (not a new concept) where the entire menu is written in Kanji/Japanese script and the only way to decide what to get is by looking at the price (fun!)
This way of ordering food became quite the norm throughout our stay in Tokyo- aka vending machine heaven!

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Japanese Adventure -4

Did you know that Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan? Before that the capital used to change according to the hometown of the current emperor. We arrived by train from Kyoto (about an hour with the super fast Shinkansen ;) as usual and spent half a day walking around the deer park. The deer are indigenous to the area and move around freely. While they are not kept in captivity they have gotten used to the people visiting the park and are actively approaching everyone for food. We bought biscuits to feed them and a bunch of deer flocked around us immediately. If you try hiding the biscuits in your pockets they'll start searching for the smell and bury their faces into your clothes. They even ripped up a map I had put in the side pocket of my backpack so I now have a nice bite mark as a souvenir...! Endlessly cute though, I have to say. They just stroll past you as if you're one of them and it's like being in a zoo without cages. The males were particularly calm and were majestically sitting around and even seemingly bowing to us at times. We're guessing that the Japanese deer have acquired some Japanese manners over the years.

On our walk we also came across a really beautiful Japanese garden. A lovely woman came up to us and gave us a short tour with some interesting information about how the gardens were designed and constructed back in the days. There was also a house used for hosting tea ceremonies. Being a cherished traditional custom, the tea ceremonies were held in houses which have main doors that are small and located quite low so that everyone would have to kneel down and crawl to get inside the house. This puts everyone at the same level when attending the tea ceremony, whether they are samurais, royals or of a different social background. The lady also pointed out that the Japanese garden is designed to look very natural even though it is entirely man made (well, maybe "put together" is more appropriate to say). They are really good at creating small intimate spaces within the greater area that you will not necessarily be able to spot from a distance, only once you start walking around in it. Great use of stones and small bridges to connect pieces of land together and trees and bushes that make small "rooms" within the garden and create a landscape with several layers that gives it great depth. I also love the asymmetry of the design which makes it look so natural and not man made at all, which according to the lady, is exactly what the Japanese are going for.

We strolled around taking pictures and spotting the fish in the ponds. I wish I could have cut out and pasted the whole thing into my dad's garden back home.

 Finally we saw what *used to* be the biggest wooden building in the world- a temple that houses a huge Buddha statue. It seemed like a big deal, and sure it is pretty impressive to fit a massive metal sculpture inside a wooden temple, but I was having a really slow and achy day so most of all I just wanted to get back for a final deer-petting before heading back to the station. The weather that day was not exactly helping either and my umbrella came to good use as a shield for the sun.

 Back in Kyoto, we went to Gion for dinner at a restaurant which seemed to have only one option on the menu- a folded okonomiyaki slightly different from the one we had in Hiroshima. We got served in less than two minutes after ordering, ate and took a bus towards an area where one of Kyoto's best "onsen" was supposed to be.

Onsen is a Japanese hot spring/bath where you go for a thorough body wash before hanging out in the different pools/baths and saunas/steam rooms, depending on what is available at said onsen. Some have outside areas as well and these can in some cases have beautiful views to enjoy while you're sitting in a tub... Basically! Onsen is very popular in Japan and smaller, less extravagant bath houses were previously found in almost every neighbourhood especially in Tokyo when houses were very small, often lacking bathrooms. Men and women are in separate areas as you need to strip down to enter, and as I said earlier, you can only go into the pools after you have washed at one of the shower cubicles where they usually have shampoo and soap available as well. There are additional rules too; some places don't let in people with tattoos for instance.

So we tried really hard to find this specific onsen that Trond had read about and probably walked around for half an hour after the really long bus ride from Gion, still pretty lost and unable to find the correct street. I was really restless and tired at this point and left the guys who took a taxi to find the onsen. I had some postcards to finish off anyway so went to a cafe downtown to write these instead.

 The next day we were on the road for the entire day. Our rail passes expired that day and we managed to catch a train from Kyoto to Mishima where we changed to a bus which took us to Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. We checked into K's house, which is the most amazing hostel I have ever stayed in and I strongly recommend the Mt. Fuji branch to everyone! The staff picked us up from the bus station 10 minutes after we called to say we'd arrived, spoke excellent English and were really helpful in every way. We had booked a private room and slept on Japanese style (tatami) mats covered in crisp sheets. Really comfortable considering we were still sleeping on the floor. The guys were going to climb the mountain in the morning and got some advice from one of the guys in the reception too, who'd probably climbed it several times before. We has pad thai for dinner at a thai restaurant down the street and went to the neighbouring onsen for a bath. This was my first time and for most of the time I was the only girl inside, probably because we came quite late. The outside area had three huge tubs with water constantly running into it and after washing and staying in the hot jacuzzi for a good 10 minutes I stormed outside to cool down in one of these tubs while stargazing and making sure I did not fall asleep and sink into the bottom of the tub. The surrounding garden was also really pleasant and lit up with some fairy lights in one of the trees, feeling kind of magical. I slept like a baby that night!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Japanese Adventure -3

The following day we were headed for a day trip to Hiroshima. Having calculated that the train ride would take less than two hours we had a somewhat lazy morning and eventually made it to the train station, only to find out the hard way that the journey took 3 hours instead....

 We jumped straight on to a tram when we arrived and started looking for Okonomi-mura, a popular place to try the local Hiroshima specialty called "okonomiyaki" which is basically a huge ass pancake filled with vegetables, noodles, eggs and all sorts of other things both over and under a thick batter that is tossed around in all directions on a griddle before ending up on your plate! The chefs were cheeky and playful almost putting on a show for us as they were cooking. We were watching them from the sidebar and it was a really fun experience! The Hondori shopping street was also a haven of fun, almost like an amusement park with its arcade game shops and colourful shops. I found a vintage shop where I got a pair of old Japanese style teacups for the ridiculius price of close to nothing and a bunch of postcards to send home to all you people! Losing track of time in Hondori we ran to the Peace Memorial Museum in time before closing. Outside they were preparing for the peace memorial ceremony to take place on the 6th of August (2 days after our visit; shame we could not be there to see the marking of the 69th anniversary but oh well). Apparently they send paper lanterns in different colours down the river to commemorate the souls of those who died. I found the museum to be very touching. Maybe not as overwhelming as Auschwitz, but it still made an impact and I noticed how little I actually knew about the world's first atomic bomb attack. The museum had first hand accounts of the events, lots of stories of school children and burned/melted items from the area including glass bottles and roof tiles moulded into the strangest shapes from the heat generated. Ripped school uniforms and broken toys, lunch boxes with burned content and watches that had stopped at 08:15 were only a few of the exhibits. Walking around the museum island and on the bridge that was the target of the bomb was so surreal. The epicenter was a few hundred meters away from the target and the impact completely flattened the immediate surroundings of a few kilometers if I remember correctly. The ruins of the industrial promotion hall is still standing in the middle of the city and is one of the few buildings that partially survived the attack (everyone inside died). It has been thoroughly preserved and it is mind wrenching to think that the area around the river was a mere surface of dust and sand less than a lifetime ago. Stepping around here on a gloomy, rainy day in August naturally complemented to the general mood.

We were completely soaked by the time we made it to the train. The comfort of the Shinkansen trains are exceptional though, so we had yet another smooth ride on the rails and made it back to Kyoto that night. The next day we picked up a big mac menu each and walked around the Imperial Palace Park. It covers a huuuuge area and parts of it were more like patches of small forests. It smelled of flowers, especially lily of the valley, and I got an instant attack of mosquito bites before putting the repellent on in the forest-y parts. Birdsong and butterflies were also present. After consuming the McD breakfast (guiltyyy) we walked on to see how big the spaces within the garden were. Large areas of gravel stones lined by benches separated the greenery where the odd woman was practicing tai chi and/or dog-walking. You could also see stripes/paths in the gravel made by people biking. That just goes to show how organised Japanese people are; they go out of their ways to keep things neat and orderly to the point where "one does not simply bike outside the path made by a bicycle before you". At the south end of the park there was a really nice carp pond and a very picturesque Japanese garden (basically the highlight of this sight). To my amusement the pond also contained an army of turtles and I spent a ridiculous amount of time photographing and filming them swim..... So cute! We walked from the park to Gion to see the area during daytime. It was the hottest day yet and hardly any wind to cool us down as we walked. Luckily we found a way down to the riverside, took our shoes off and crossed the river by foot! Feeling slightly refreshed we continued ahead and bought drinks at every other vending machine. We were on a slightly tight schedule that day because we were going to visit the city of Kobe in the afternoon, so we rushed down Gion and towards the end of our walk we actually found two things we were looking for in the first place: the alleged "most beautiful street in Asia" (which was indeed really beautiful, though probably even nicer during the cherry blossom season) and another shop selling all sorts of kitchen utensils including knives! I bought a standard kitchen knife suitable for meat and vegetables and Trond got two, one of which had a really fancy blade with engraved patterns and whatnot. Utterly happy about our purchases we headed towards the train station and caught the train to Kobe.

We had two things planned for Kobe: seeing the world's longest suspension bridge and finding out what the fuss around Kobe steak was all about. Michael was super excited about the former, and I have to say it was in fact a pretty cool sight. It was a foggy day and you could see the bridge disappearing into the clouds. Checking the box we headed back to the station and specifically to the restaurant that was our top choice for tasting Kobe steak.

 Having to wait for 45 minutes for three spots to clear up was not an issue once we entered the restaurant as we had no idea about the spectacular meal we were about to have. A Danish couple sat next to us and gave us a few tips about what to choose from the menu. Following their advice we got a few different types of meat cuts and shared everything. Again we sat right next to the griddle with the chef in front of us cooking away like a pro. The meat arrived from the back like a royal guest laying on a wooden plate, looking absolutely delicious even raw. I can't really describe this meal without sounding like I'm exaggerating. Calling it a meal would be an understatement, it was more like an acrobatic show seeing how the meat was cooked in front of us. The chef told us to use certain seasonings for certain meat cuts and vegetables and divided it all equally onto our plates as he finished cooking everything in a specific sequence (i.e. All the components were not served at the same time. We got the sirloin steak first, then some vegetables before the tenderloin and finally the fried rice). All parts of the meat was used in some way- even the fat and remaining pieces of meat were made into a rice stir fry sort of thing at the end. The steak, chopped into bite size pieces literally melted in my mouth. The sides were also delicious, but oh dear the steak was extraordinary. If you're ever in Kobe (let alone in Japan) you'd be a fool not to try this. Priciest meal I have had in a while, but it was worth every Yen that I spent. We were the last people to leave the restaurant and just kept going on and on about the amazingness of what we just ate until the waitress kindly asked us to leave in the most patient, polite, Japanese way.

At the train station next door we came 2 minutes before a Nozomi train was about to leave and even though our rail pass did not cover this train type (the fastest Shinkansen train), the guy behind the counter gave us tickets just out of the blue and said we should "RUN". And so we did! Thanks to that guy we were able to make it back to Kyoto in super express speed and crashed in bed with a food baby each in our bellies *still dreaming of Kobe steak*.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Japanese Adventure -2

We got up at a reasonably early hour to explore a few sights in Kyoto. We had a few things planned including walking in the bamboo forest, seeing the golden pavilion and geisha-spotting in the Gion neighbourhood (one of the older districts of Kyoto).

The bamboo grooves in the Arashiyama district in Western Kyoto were indeed magical. The guide book says that its ambience cannot be photographed, and while I did my best to get a few good shots I think it is in fact true. The photo taken with my phone below is really poor...
We walked a bit around the hills before ending up in the groove as well and got some scenic views of the mountains and rivers.  we then ended up in the small village where we grabbed something to eat and tried the Japanese version of soft ice cream for the first time. I got one with a fusion flavour of half black tea and half green tea. The ice cream itself is most likely made of soy beans  and has quite similar consistency to the ice cream you get at mc donalds. I have gotten used to the green tea flavour in almost every way by now; kit kat, cakes, drinks, gum, you name it and they've probably got it!

We caught the subway to the golden pavilion, or Kinkaku-ji in Japanese, and were prepared for a 20 minute walk straight north from the station. While 30 and 40 minutes swiftly passed by as we walked and we still had not managed to spot the entrance, we started getting confused. And since I was the one who really wanted to see this place I started feeling a little guilty making the guys walk into the unknown for one hour (my sense of direction is not the best either, but it didn't initially seem all that difficult to walk straight up a pretty straight road  before taking a left turn!) It was however a really pleasant walk and we ended up seeing real Japanese neighbourhoods, with modern homes fusing nicely into the natural surroundings with a nice stream of water flowing on one side of the road. As we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a forest trail we decided it was time to ask for directions and an old man indicated that we should go back for quite a while before taking a right turn. We asked again at what we imaginatively assumed was a retirement home and the elderly confirmed that we were on the right track. Finally we made it to the entrance and after raiding thriugh the vending machines for drinks and ice cream we headed in and saw the BEAUTY that is the Golden Pavilion. It is nicely located next to a pond with greenery all around and as the tourists have to wander around the pond, the photos come out nice and serene as if nobody else is there. In fact it was reasonably quiet as we were walking around and I'm so glad we were patient enough to keep looking for it.

We took a bus back to the center and decided to walk to Gion ( the old, Geisha district in Kyoto) only we ended up walking in the exact opposite direction for almost half an hour. Incidentally we found a shop selling Japanese knives and suddenly got really excited as both Trond and I wanted to buy knives to bring back home. We did not end up  buying anything here though but kept the place in mind and took a taxi back to Gion instead!

Gion is mystically lit at night and kind of feels like the Crash Bandicoot game where you ride through the Asian (probably Chinese but whatever...) town at night. Lots of lanterns and small lights illuminate the trees and small wooden houses. We were on the lookout for one of the remaining ~250 Geishas (actually called maiko and geiko in Kyoto depending on their age/maturity) in Kyoto but were not lucky enough to spot any; only an abundance of "tourist geishas" who pay to get dressed and made up in pretty kimonos/yukatas and walk around town like that for a day. Unlike real Geishas they are very much up for being photographed- or so the guidebook says anyway :)  I only took photos in Gion with my dslr camera so I will put these up later.

I just have to make a final mention of our last meal that night. On our way back to the guest house we went to a sushi restaurant and tried proper Japanese sushi for the first time altogether. We were seated at a table with an iPad, got the menu with photos displayed in English and sent off the order electronically. Genius! ...even for someone like me with sporadic techy handicaps :p

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Japanese Adventure -1

Japan has not been on the very top of my list of destinations to see within the next five years or so, but when my friend Trond was planning a trip to Asia after his graduation I quickly played the "why not" card without much further do and put aside other potential vacation plans for the summer.   We never really sat down to plan the trip and so the last week before leaving the research started for real and still has not stopped to be honest as we are going by a loosely sketched plan. I think it has worked wonderfully so far! With sketchy planning comes a bunch of unexpected events which I think only adds to the experience.

I arrived at Narita airport after a looong time on the road/up in the air. I had a really long layover in Copenhagen so decided to travel to the city to have a look around and met up with Mads for lunch. I plan to do the same thing with another friend on my way back. long layovers = great way to catch up with friends! From the airport I went straight to a hotel closeby  that my mum dearly asked me to book for a smooth transition after the long travel. While waiting for the shuttle bus I met a Japanese family who greeted me in the friendliest way possible. After a 5 minute chat with the family of five, my bus arrived and when I got inside and we started moving, I politely waved back to the 10 cheerful hands that were frantically wishing me a safe journey in Japan. I think I kept smiling to myself for a few minutes thinking "what a wonderful first impression" of the people in this country.

I'm not much of a hotel-goer, in fact I prefer sleeping on other people's couches, but I have to say that swimming in the pool before eating a sushi roll and going to bed in the crispest white linen was the best therapy to start the next day without feeling excessively jetlagged. After stuffing  myself with the buffet breakfast with both western and Japanese dishes I went back to the airport to meet Trond's friend Michael who was also joining the Japanese adventure. So day 2 began with more planning,  acquiring our 1-week Japan Rail Passes (JR pass), de-jet lagging (i.e. napping) before we checked in to a hotel in central Tokyo where we spent the night before meeting Trond the following day.

After a lot of running around we eventually found Trond in the morning at Tokyo rail station. Once his JR pass was ready to go we jumped on to a train to Nikko, a small town of temples and shrines north of Tokyo. From the train station we took a bus to one of the entrances of the World Heritage Sites around the Toshu-gu shrine. We saw various sights at this complex including sculptures and ornaments that are famous icons in Japan. A few of these include a wooden reliefs of Nemuri Neko (sleeping cat), Shinkyusha (apparently the first illustration/carving of the three monkeys covering their eyes, ears and mouth representing the Buddhist teachings of 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil'),  and two elephants carved by an artist who was only told what they looked like as he had never seen an elephant before in his life. d the tomb of Ieyasu, a Japanese warlord.  Hardly any signs or descriptions were  in english so Trond did the tour guiding by reciting his english audio guide. We carried our backpacks around this site and while it was a tough climb up the endless stairs to reach Ieyasu's tomb, the audio guide confirmed that Ieyasu indeed wanted his tomb to be located high up so that those who intended to visit were to climb the stairs slowly and steadily,preferably carrying a heavy burden on their backs ( probably doing some reflecting in their minds while climbing up?) So I believe we did the wee hike in the most appropriate way indeed! On our way down from the hill back to the train station we saw the reconstructed red bridge where the Buddhist priest who established the hermitage of the monks in Nikko is said to have been carried across the river by two giant serpents (according to the Lonely Planet guide book anyway :)  in addition to this little account, I really enjoyed the clear water and serene sound of the stream before we walked down towards the train station to continue our journey back to Tokyo where we changed for our ride to Kyoto.  

A five-hour train-journey later we gave the subway a shot to make it to the guest house that was located a pretty long way out from the city centre. It turned out that we had to walk for a few stretches in between changing subway lines to get to the right station which was not that tempting having carried those backpacks around for an entire day already, so we found a taxi and tried explaining where we wanted to go. The communication barrier was now really obvious but the driver was the sweetest man on earth nonetheless. He drove in the general direction that we were going to go and once he found the closest subway station to the guest house he went out of his way to find other Japanese people on the quiet suburban road (quite late in the evening) who could explain the remainder of  the way. He called on a couple who came towards the taxi and Michael took out his laptop on the trunk of the car so we could show them a tiny map. They found the right direction eventually on their smartphones and even offered to walk us to the guest house. We politely rejected their offer as it was ridiculously close by. The taxi driver, eternally happy to have driven us to the correct place, probably did a happy dance in his head and thanked the couple a million times.  

So we made it and checked in to a pretty basic room with two bunk beds. The guest house lady seemed a bit sketchy to begin with and had the weirdest little gadget that she  used to accept credit card payments that was connected to her phone! Weirdness level: JPN right there...! (curiosities about Japan should be an entire blog post on its own....) We went straight out to get some food and the son of the weird lady took us to a restaurant nearby for some ramen noodles. The waitress was the cutest little human being and the guys both fell in love with her within seconds. The same way I fall in love with every kawaii (i.e. cute) child I see in Japan, which is also worth an entire blog post!    

Monday, 25 November 2013

This is Poland #2

Yesterday my laptop decided to call it a night while I was watching Breaking Bad on my tv through the HDMI cable. So the screen on the laptop went black while the tv screen was still vibrant as ever with scenes from this fine show I was watching. A while after I finished the episode and went on to do something else the tv screen also let me know that there was no signal between the two devices. So here I am with two black screens and Pharmacology videos that I won't be needing anymore as I can't even watch them! Wishing myself good luck for friday's midterm....

But this post really does not have anything to do with academia or the lack of studying that was last night. I thought fixing my laptop should be a number one priority so I called this laptop-repairing-place a friend of mine suggested before actually going there since it's on the other side of town after all. And a wasted journey is the last thing I can be bothered with this week....

I call and a lady with the softest voice picks up: "serwis, halo?"
"Hello!!............................." dots indicating me thinking whether or not I should try speaking in polish or english and secretly cursing myself for not having planned out a conversation before calling. "Uhm, hi, so.... do you speak english? Angieeeeeelskoooo?" Awkwardface....
She gets all stressed and I can hear the worry in her voice "uhm.. nOOOOoooo...."
"Anybody nearby speaking english.....?"
"Okay so no english then"
Waiting for 5 seconds and she still awkwardly has not hung up on me yet so I try "so I have  laptop..... with black screen..."
"Yes black screen?"
"Can you fix it?"
"YEeees, uh huh"
"Uhm... okay... so how much? Ile kosztuje?"
"Trzysta trzydziesci!"
"Okay, so three hundred and thirty?"
"Yes" she says, sounding very pleased with herself. Then I made some silly remark about potentially going over to hand in my laptop soon which she probably only caught parts of, and hung up.

Now that was not so hard now was it? I still wonder why it is a tad difficult for the general population to realise that it takes such little effort to communicate or simply help a stranger out without perfect language skills. My polish is embarrassingly limited yet I still tryyyy to get my point across as iften as I can.
To be honest I actually salute this lady for not hanging up on me (has happened 142537times in the past), while wishing others would think twice before saying "NIE' and move on in total ignorance.

This whole thing is not exactly news for non-polish speakers, but I thought it might amuse those of you who live elsewhere :p

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Nepali food.

Dal-bhaat literally means lentil-rice and is from what I gather the most common food that Nepali families eat. The meal is eaten for lunch and dinner at the approximate  hours of 10am and 8pm. To me, having lunch at 10am is the most bizarre thing, but I only eat it during my days off at the hospital because I usually leave around 8am every morning. So on most days I get to drink tea and have biscuits before leaving the house. They also give me a couple of cucumber slices (which are huuuuge, almost like a pineapple slice i size!) And recently I have also had porridge with either oatmeal or rice. The rice porridge my host mum made the other day had cardamom and coconut in it which was a nice variation of the norwegian "risengrynsgrøt".

Everything is so sweeeeeeet! I thought I had an unhealthy relationship with sucrose, but seriously, I cannot even expect my tea to be unsweetened before it gets poured into my cup around here. Even when I tell my host mum to NOT add sugar she will always add a little bit, probably hoping that I won't notice.!? At this point I have given up on making more remarks, it is not like she will stop the sneakiness- the same way she tries to add more food on my plate even before I have finished half of it and it is already too much. She is a sneaky but sweet woman. Pun intended.
And if something is supposed to be savoury it is usually coated with batter and fried in oil. The snacks people eat is usually crisps, crackers and biscuits, though I have also seen street vendors selling huge chunks of fresh cucumbers smeared with pickles... No wonder protein deficiency is a reality here.

Then you have the official (?) nepali dish which is quite popular among travellers, called mo:mo! Mo:mos are dumplings that are steamed, fried or in some type of soup. I have only tried the vegetable filling but they also make them with buffalo meat, pork, chicken and potatoes (?) Quite spicy, but I can now proudly say that my spice tolerance has gone sky high, so mo:mos and the super delicious tomato-garlic-ginger-peanut-chilli paste is simply a delight to have for lunch!

Due to the bird flu I have not had any chicken and I am trying to avoid eggs. Since meat is a bit expensive they hardly ever cook it at home except for the occasional mutton, so I have turned vegetarian without even noticing. Even when eating out I automatically choose the veg option. Actually at the moment I am craving home made whole wheat bread full of grains and fibre with Norvegia cheese way more than roast chicken.... Haven't felt horribly sick so far either, so I guess that dulcolax vaccine was a good investment.

Another observation I have made is that Nepal is not huge on salads. Only these new cool and hip places do salads, so it is not a very traditional thing I guess. They have all these fresh vegetables and fruits available but they prefer cooking them until they are soft, spice them up and make curries out of them instead... which is also nice by all means, but I miss having a side of fresh uncooked, or lightly steamed vegetables. Maybe the veg cooking is an attempt to kill germs? That would be a random guess though, for I am still puzzled by the abundance of squishy greens. Raw food enthusiasts should definitely travel elsewhere for a culinary experience to their liking ;)

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Travelling solo.

It seems a little strange now to say that I am here in Nepal by myself because to some extent it isn't exactly the truth. That being said I had really mixed feelings about being in Kathmandu without having known any of my new acquaintances for more than 72 hours during week 1. I don't have any trust issues so making new friends is nice and all, but where was that one person I could point out all the odd new things to? I guess Instagram helped me out a little in that respect, but you know what I mean, yea? Where was that one person I could share my frustration with at the hospital when it seemed like all the time I was about to invest there was going to be a total waste? (luckily that sorted itself out, so no worries).
However now that week 3 is coming to an end I do not feel all that gutted for having come all the way by myself.

First of all I had no idea this would be outside my comfort zone! I kept telling myself that going on my own to Nepal would be just like going to a European capital for a long weekend, only multiply the days I would be gone by 10. Most of the time you don't even want to return from your holiday, so how could this extended vacation with some work experience be anything but an adventure? Well let me tell you, this being my first time in Asia I have never felt a more exotic vibe in my life (though writing this from a franchise coffee shop under the Starbucks Company Ltd does not exactly prove my point, but the world outside its four walls sure emphasise it). And why would the exoticness suggest that I found myself in a slightly uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory? I love exotic things! I enjoy exploring new sounds, scents, textures and spaces. Why did all these new experiences (that I am really enjoying by the way) make me miss my usual habitat?  I don't have a magnificent answer, but I guess it was the uncertainty of my stay at the beginning. The first meetings with the staff at the hospital made me wonder how I was going to stand four weeks of dull days at the hospital followed by wandering around on my own and going to sleep at 9pm every day. At that point I just wanted to catch the first flight home, but I gave it a few more days and once I made myself a weird daily routine things started to get bearable and finally greater than I could have imagined!

What was I expecting, right!? Of course it seems obvious now that your mental state is going to have a bad time if you are used to organised institutions, guidelines, having things at least vaguely planned out, knowing that what you planned is usually executed the way you thought it out in the first place etc etc... I actually generally have very low expectations when it comes to most things in life- not because I have had oh so many bad experiences in the past that I have to watch out for (I'd rather say the opposite), but because it gives me a lower threshold at which to experience happiness. Thus I am pretty sure that I would have felt even more miserable with a slightly different attitude the past few weeks.

So now that I feel very content and enjoying the Nepali ways, I have merged another state of being into what I regard as my comfort zone. I tried convincing everyone before leaving that I would be fine coming here on my own, and truth is it has indeed worked out really well. I have learned a few things about myself that I never would have realised if I was accompanied by a friend, which is intriguing to think about, because there are a few people in particular I wish could have been here to experience it all with me. Some paradoxical truth right there!

I hope you are enjoying what I hear are the last days of summer in the northern parts of the hemisphere while I am still here in the monsoon-infested land of yaks and rice-fields! 

Sunday, 1 September 2013

My host family.

 It has indeed been a while since my last post... though mostly I have been at the hospital and only went for a trip outside Kathmandu for a few days. Will make a separate post about that shortly. 
I just have to say that my host family is really lovely and they deserve much more than a lousy blog post and the bars of Melkesjokolade I brought them from Norway! So do read on....!

So my family lives in an area of Kathmandu called Mhepi, which is also the name of the temple which is closeby on top of a hill surrounded by woods..! It is a nice neighbourhood, lots of small shops, butchers, a supermarket, tailors etc just a short walk away. It is nice to get back from a busy day in the tourist area Thamel, to a place that is slightly calmer with only the children, dogs and roosters next door making most of the noise!

I live with my host mother Sarita, father Krishna and their son Satish. They also have another son who studies in the US who they Skype with every now and then.  Krishna is a retired government officer and Sarita is a housewife- who takes especially good care of everyone, including me! Satish is currently studying for some university entrance exams and is busy revising physics and solving papers most of the day.

Satish speaks excellent English which was my biggest relief when the driver dropped me off at the house on my first day. He translates everything that his mum and dad say when I am around which is not only nice of him to do but it has also made it possible for me to have indirect conversations with his parents in a surprisingly natural way.

These people seem to be quite content with life. They always manage to lurk out a smile in me and I have never seen either of them being particularly upset about anything. Ever! There was only one time when Sarita was telling off Satish for spilling some seeds on the floor, but obviously that does not mean anything in the greater context...

My own mum was obviously a little hesitant at the idea of me going away to the other side of the world, but we Skyped a few times at the beginning and when she saw my host family and how genuinely sweet they are I think she also felt just as relieved as I was when I arrived at their house. Having a new Nepali family is super awesome!

My host mum has a strictly food-related english vocabulary, but I have to say that it has even improved a little while I have been here :) it consists of:
.little bit
.too much
Well, at least these are essential words we use to communicate, in addition to a looooot of body language. Most of the time she just laughs and I laugh back when I have no idea what she is saying... to be fair, she knows much more english than I know nepali! All I can say is namaste (hello/goodbye) and dhanyabad (thank you).

I did not know whether it would be rude to decline food around here, but my family seems to be okay with me eating half of the rice that they have per meal nowadays. At first they were like "do you not like our food? You are going to get thin" and I kept saying that I did not want to waste the food that would be left on my plate. But now they seem to have accepted that I simply cannot eat the size of my dinner plate back home full of rice with the additional curries, pickles, veg, mutton, paneer cheese, lentils or potatoes and whatnot that they also have on the side. And I still quite enjoy the food, which I'm really hoping they have realised by now!

The other day was Satish' 20th birthday, so I got him some cake from a pastry shop aafter looking around for half an eternity among all the cashmere shops and wholesalers in Thamel. I have never seen somebody be so happy, thankful and humble about a piece of cake before- it really was the least I could do...!

So I feel that it really is true what they say about Nepali people being good in every way. Satish especially has helped me out with everything from finding my bearings, telling me what not to do, what acceptable prices for random things are, even driving me around on his motorcycle and staying up to let me in through the gate to the house when I come back late in the evening when everyone else has gone to sleep (they sure go to bed early around here!)

And while I think my host family is some of the nicest people I have met here I have to say that people on the street are also very helpful and genuine. So far I do not feel like anyone has tricked me or screwed me over in any way. The taxi drivers always try, but my bargaining skills seem to have improved so I usually find them to be quite nice in the end as well.

I guess I will have to pay my new family another visit some day. Asian backpacking trip in a couple of years, anyone?!