Monthly Archives: August 2010

How to Become an Expatriate and Maintain Your Sanity While Doing It

Relocating can be difficult, even when it’s in a familiar place. When the relocation is from one country to another, the difficulty factor can be exponentially higher. There’s the language barrier to deal with, different customs and practices, learning the geography and transportation of a new city and figuring out the local food ingredients and how to prepare them. Adjusting to life as an expatriate can be incredibly frustrating.

My first few weeks as an expatriate in Kathmandu were precisely that: incredibly frustrating. I felt that the city was chewing me up and spitting me out, taking no mercy on me. I felt that I was struggling with everything and was precariously teetering on a plank, about to fall into a terrible abyss of insanity. Every time I tried to take a taxi, the taxi driver tried to cheat me. Whenever I went in search of furniture, the shop owner quoted me an exorbitant price. I would walk around my neighborhood, which seemed like an indecipherable labyrinth, for hours in search of my house, only to realize that I had, in fact, been passing my home over and over but didn’t recognize it. When visiting the vegetable market, I had no idea what each item was and absolutely no idea how to prepare it. There were medium sized cockroaches in my room and even larger ones in my bathroom. In short, those were some of the most frustrating weeks I’ve had in a long time.

Finally, four weeks after coming to Nepal, I feel like I’m adjusting to life as a longer-term expatriate. I’ve solved most of the aforementioned problems: I now can identify my house, I’ve figured out how to cook some of the local vegetables, I found furniture and I’ve learned to love (okay, accept) the cockroaches.

My home town, Portland, Oregon, is very different than Kathmandu, Nepal, which made the move even more difficult. I assume that, while there would have been challenges, moving from Portland to somewhere like Sydney, Australia, or London, England, would have been a bit smoother and simpler. But, here I am in Kathmandu, feeling decently well-adjusted to the city and my surroundings.

When making a big move and when becoming an expatriate, there are some things I’ve identified as helpful to assimilation and adjustment. The following things are helpful when easing into a new and foreign life. They’ve helped me feel more at home in Kathmandu, and have reduced my frustrations and insanity levels markedly.

Simple Steps to Adjust to Expatriate Life and Maintain Sanity

When becoming an expatriate, perhaps one of the most frustrating things is that you are moving to a new city, country or continent where you most likely don’t have the same safety net as at home. By safety net, I mean friends, family, co-workers, pets and comforts. When something goes wrong in your new expatriate life, you’ll have no one to fall back upon but yourself.

When I first got to Kathmandu and things weren’t exactly going my way, my frustration levels skyrocketed. At home, when something goes wrong, I can call friend or family to talk it out. Here, there is no one. That’s where Skype comes in. Skype is a very reasonable (and sometimes free) way to keep in contact with people from home. When adjusting to expat life, Skyping someone from home once a day, or every few days is a great way to not feel as isolated.

2) Exercise

Exercise: A good way to maintain sanity. (Photo by mikebaird-flickr)

This might not work for everyone, but it works for me. Exercise was a major part of my life at home and I was initially frustrated in Kathmandu because I couldn’t figure out how to sweat it out. Challenges and hurdles were coming every day that built up my stress levels. Finally, I figured out a way to run in the mornings and my stress levels went down drastically. When becoming an expatriate, a daily walk, run or bicycle ride is a great way to calm down during the hectic assimilation period.

3) Peanut Butter, etc…

Comfort food: always a good choice when adjusting to a new place.

Peanut butter makes everything better. Okay, peanut butter specifically doesn’t make becoming an expat easier per se, but familiar foods can be a comfort in a time of change. Finding some sort of food from home whether it be peanut butter, chocolate, coffee or pizza, can be helpful when thrown into a new world of new foods and tastes. Of course, don’t steer clear of local foods all together, for that is one of the greatest pleasures of being in a new country. But, when you need a little taste of home, go get some comfort food and don’t feel bad about it.

4) Find a Social Group

Social drinking: a good way to forget your problems when trying to become a successfully adjusted expatriate. (Photo by gemma.amor-flickr)

Finding some sort of social group of locals or expatriates can be helpful when forming a network in your new home. This could be anything from a volunteer group, a trekking group, a book club or a running club. One great option I’ve found in Kathmandu are the Himalayan Hash House Harriers. They are a “drinking group with a running problem.” For runners, walkers or anyone who is in need of a good time, seek out the Hashers in your location (they are all over the world).

BLOG: Week 4 Updates

This woman probably sells the same thing on the same corner day after day. I wonder if she ever gets bored?

Somehow, I’ve already been in Kathmandu for four weeks.  My days here are packed and that’s just the way I like it.  I’m settling into the fast-paced life of a magazine editor and have even become accustomed to six-day work weeks, which I was bemoaning just two weeks ago.  Six-day work weeks make my one day off, Saturday, so much sweeter.  I’ve been thinking about what it will be like when I return to the US next year and start working five-day work weeks (here’s for hoping, anyway).  It will be luxury! Pure luxury!

My apartment is shaping up quite nicely.  I live in an area called “Sanepa” which is on the opposite side of the Bagmati River as Kathmandu.  Technically, I do not live in Kathmandu, but I live in Patan.  The Bagmati River is the divider between the two cities, but the urban creep quickly blurred the lines between Kathmandu and Patan a long time ago.  In my neighborhood there is a large concentration of foreigners living and working.  This area is also a central to a number of NGOs and foreign schools, so there are many fellow expatriates living around here on long-term assignments.  Kathmandu’s British School is right down the street from my flat, so there are usually school-aged children walking around during the afternoon after gets out.  If I’m home in the evening, I usually stand on the rooftop of my building with my land lady and neighbor, Gita.  Whenever she sees a foreign woman with a baby walk by, she tells me that she can’t wait for me, too, to “have birth.”  “Baby cute!” she says.  I quickly change the subject after telling her that, with hope, I won’t be “having birth” for some time.  After I change the subject she bemoans her dark skin and I fruitlessly try to explain the concept of tanning beds and tanning lotions.  Thus far, I’ve made no headway on the subject.

The other news in regards to my apartment is that I finally got four items of furniture: two comfy chairs and two tables (one for a desk and one for the kitchen).  This was a major breakthrough thanks to the local tea shop owner, Basanta.  Basanta’s place is the hang-out spot for all my Nepali friends.  His shop is a musty, dark place that has the best tea around.  We sit there for hours and drink endless cups of Nepali tea and sometimes coffee.  Although Basanta doesn’t speak English, he knew through my Nepali friends that I was in need of furniture.  Last week I showed up after work at Basanta’s and, lo-and-behold, there was a stack of used furniture for me! It was a miracle (a very reasonably priced miracle). I was so excited for my new furniture that I told him I would immediately hire a taxi to transport the items to my flat.  Basanta brushed off that suggestion as nonsense and pointed to a medieval horse cart that he had in his shop.  “What?” I thought.  “He can’t be serious.”  But, he was.  Basanta quickly piled all the furniture on the horse cart, lashed it on with frayed rope, and off we went to my place.  It took us about 45 minutes to push the furniture-heavy cart through the streets. We were winding through main streets, highways, alleys and everything in between.  We caused quite a major traffic jam when trying to cross the main chowk (street).  To top off the adventure, it was monsooning out and a complete mud bath in the street.  We arrived at my house soaking wet and caked with mud.  But, furniture!  Glorious furniture!  I don’t think I’ve ever been so appreciative of anything.

Work is going quite well.  We’re doing some fun work with web development and I’ve been doing some great stories.  (I’ll post links to my stories once they are published).  A huge part of my job is reading. I read ALL day.  I read stories submitted by freelancers, stories already published, stories from other news sources and stories from anywhere else I can find.  I feel that I’m learning an incredible amount about Nepal from all these stories.  It’s fun to go out exploring and then be able to apply the bits I’ve learned from all the reading.

My running regime is also going well.  I’ve perfected the morning run route.  Yesterday was a holiday from work, so I had the day to myself to relax.  I was excited for my day off, but the constant monsoon rain quickly squelched my excitement.  I was stranded in my house, about to go crazy from my forced hermitage.  Finally, around 3:30 p.m. there was a break in the rains.  I immediately slipped on my running shoes, which were still soggy from the day before, and hit the road.  This was my first attempt at afternoon running, and I was actually pleasantly surprised.  Afternoon running is quite different than early-morning running just because there are exponentially more people out and about.  But, from my morning runs I’ve learned the art of blocking out things going on around me.  I don’t block out everything of course, mostly just the awkward stares that I get from people.  Not many people run here, and if they do, it’s usually early.  Afternoon runners are almost non-existant.  So, I got a LOT more stares on my afternoon run and a number of annoying “comments” from men standing around or motorcycling by.  Luckily, I couldn’t understand the comments and I’m sure if I could they would either be a) annoying or b) offensive.  Well, I guess the language barrier is good for something.

In general, I’m falling into my Kathmandu routine, which is quite fun.  Being an expatriate here is never boring, I can say that much.

Guest Blog for Ethos Magazine

Ethos Magazine is a totally kick-ass, student run, multi-cultural publication at the University of Oregon.  I’ve been working for Ethos since 2008, doing everything from writing, to editing to multimedia.  Although I’m no longer a UO student, I’ll continue doing guest blogs for the Ethos website about my year in Kathmandu.

Check out my lastest article, “Kathmandu: The Return,” which is all about first few hours in the city.  As my plane touched down at the airport, fueled (or not fueled) by lack of sleep and food, all I could think was: “What the HELL am I doing back here?”  Quickly, my apprehensions dried up as I remembered why, after three years, I had decided to return to this place for a year.  Please check it out!  Comments are always appreciated, too.

More on Ethos:

My last article I did for the magazine before I graduated is called “One Sketch at a Time.”  The piece is about University of Oregon Professor Ken O’Connell, an inspirational guy who has traveled the world many times over.  He has a unique take on travel memories.  Instead of taking pictures of beautiful things, he sketches them.  Ken has 70 sketchbooks that chronicle the last 50 years of his life and his travels.  Flipping through his sketchbooks was absolutely magical.  It felt like stepping into chapters of his life, whether those were lived in Italy, or Japan, or Oregon.

The Implications of Load-Shedding

Homework by candle light. (Photo by PaperPK News)

Nepal faces a problem that also poses a challenge to several other countries in the developing world: the nation is literally in the dark.  This darkness stems from what is called “load-shedding.” The term “load-shedding” can also be called a “rolling blackout” or a “brownout,”which happens when electricity is selectively and continuously shut off in a region. In Kathmandu, for example, the power is off for several hours at a time, not in the whole city at once, but neighborhood by neighborhood. This means that if the power were to go out in your area, you could go to your roof top and see a section of buildings and houses in the distance that is lit up. When the power in your area is turned back on, the power in the other area might go off.

Load-shedding, aka rolling blackouts, is meant to save electricity. The problem can be attributed to two root causes: demand for electricity in an entire region is too large for the supply, or the infrastructure to distribute the electricity does not exist.  Several other South Asian countries suffer from load-shedding including Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Load-shedding is both inconvenient and bad for productivity. On August 18, residents of Attock, Pakistan, became so fed up with the practice that they staged a protest, which culminated in police firing tear gas into the crowd. SAMAA News in Pakistan reports that “frequent and long electricity load shedding routines in Pakistan has irritated people; they have started to protest in every part of the country.”

Nepal generates some of its own power through hydropower plants, but also imports some from India. According to the Inter Press Service, “Nepal is second only to Brazil in terms of water resources,” but the country is still suffering from power outages that have at times reached 16 hours per day. The problem with Nepal is that the infrastructure to harness the water resources simply is not there. There’s an incredible amount of water in this country (Himalayan run-off), but very few plants to convert the water resources into electricity.

The Inter Press Service writes:

“Nepal’s total hydroelectricity potential is 83,000 megawatts, of which more than 40,000 mw is exploitable, experts say. But the country is nowhere close to generating half of the meager 860 mw, the present peak-hour requirement. As it is, only a third of the population of 27.5 million has access to electricity and demand for it is growing by 10 percent annually.”

In the monsoon season (June, July, August and some of October) power cuts are not as severe. Currently in mid-August, power is usually cut for around two hours in the morning and two hours at night. Once the monsoon is over and the dry season is running its course (February and March), power cuts have been 12, 14, or even 16 hours per day earlier this year.

In a wired world, lack of electricity is a major blow to productivity. Businesses can invest in generators, but generators require fuel, which is often not available due to shortages.  Electronics must be near a plug and ready to be charged when the power is on, or else little will get accomplished in terms of web-related or IT jobs.

When the electricity goes out in Kathmandu, it's time to light candles. (Photo by eichner on FlickNepal as well. Electronics must be near a plug and ready to be charged when the power is on, or else little will get accomplished in terms of web-related or IT jobs.

Besides jobs that require electricity, a lack of light is also difficult to deal with when trying to accomplish everyday chores and maintaining a household. When there is no power, candles are a necessary backup, but it seems that it is difficult to match candle-light productivity with electric-light productivity. When the electricity goes out at my home in Kathmandu, I light a candle and put on my headlamp. After a bit of writing or reading in the dim light, I find myself getting tired earlier and calling it a night around 10 p.m.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who regularly travels to some of the poorest countries in the world, lamented on the same issue in March, 2010, when a storm knocked out the power to his New York home. He said in his column ‘What I Think About As I Huddle in the Dark‘ that he feels less productive when the electric light bulbs aren’t on to keep him up.

He writes:

“So that makes me wonder about the productivity gains from bringing electricity to more households. In poor parts of the world, you often see kids doing their homework at night under streetlights, but most kids don’t have access to street lights. And even if they do, that requires far more effort and perhaps risk than just doing it at home under an electrical light…  I’ve always thought of home electrification mostly as a quality of life issue, but as I shiver in the dark this week I’m thinking it has huge educational and economic dimensions as well.”

Load-shedding poses a blow to productivity both in business and in the homes. But, are there any positives to these rolling blackouts? I’ve noticed that when the power is cut, especially in the evening, people tend to put down what they are doing and relax. They head to the local tea shop with friends, order rounds of sweet tea, sit, and just talk.  They mull over the happenings of the day and chat about friends, or politics, or future plans. The power cuts become almost like a “forced” break from work. In the American workoholic culture I am used to, a “forced break” due to a power cut would not be taken kindly to. But here, it seems that many people have become used to the erratic power situation. When the lights go out, work is put down and a pot of tea is put on the gas stove. Observing the load-shedding situation in Kathmandu makes me wonder about the cost-benefit trade off between lack of productivity and increased social connectedness.

PHOTOS: Kathmandu Life

A Kathmandu street scene.

Stop by this restaurant for a "sandwitch," served hot and fresh out of a bubbling cauldron.

The glorious, glorious Kathmandu skyline. My favorite.

The vegetable peddlers on the Kathmandu streets add color to the dusty, brown backdrop of streets and alleys.

Vibrant colors on the Kathmandu streets. These are embroidered and sequined shawls to go with saris.

Washer and dryer? Nope. Most laundry here is done by hand (including mine). Here, someone washes clothing and collects water at the public water taps by the Bagmati River.

This is Gita's hand (my landlady and neighbor). Last week was some occasion where women get henna designs and wear a right on their left ring finger to ensure that ghosts will not be seen for a year. Gita made design for herself, me and her daughter. I learned that after the henna design is on, one should dab it with lemon once dry to make sure the pattern stays for longer.

Kathmandu, Now and Then

Readjusting to expat life in Kathmandu has been interesting because of the memories that are here from 2007.  As many of you know, I’ve lived in Kathmandu before for 1/2 a year when I was 20 years old.  At that point, Kathmandu was my introduction to Asia (besides a week or so in Singapore with family) and I couldn’t get enough of the place.  I would wander around for hours on end, watching, observing and thinking about things.  Kathmandu was like nothing I had ever seen before.

SAME: Vegetable peddlers still brighten up the Kathmandu streets.

Three years later, I have two more extended trips to Asia under my belt (mostly concentrated in Southeast Asia).  I’ve visited a number of large and small Asian cities, but still, nothing is like Kathmandu.  It has been fun being back and trying to observe changes that have taken place here in the past three years.  Upon my return, for the first few days at least, I noticed very little difference.  In fact, I was shocked at the “sameness” of everything.  It literally seemed that the place was untouched by change.  (Same restaurants, same taxis in a state of disrepair, same clothes for sale in the same colors…)  But, now that I’ve had a few weeks to think things over, there are some markedly different things about Kathmandu.

So, what’s different and what’s the same?  Here are some of my observations regarding what is the same and what is different:

*SAME: Thamel. Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist ghetto, is actually strangely the same as it was three years ago.  The same music is for sale, the same Bhuddhist chants (from CDs) are blasting, the same incense is burning, the exact same clothes are for sale, the same tourist t-shirts, the same bars, restaurants, etc… I could go on forever.  The one thing I did notice was that the “Barnes and Noble” bookshop has been changed.  Thamel’s “Barnes and Noble” is a great, but slightly dingy, used bookstore that has NO connection with the actual Barnes and Noble chain.  Maybe the copyright police came after them because the shop is now called “Summit Bookhouse.”

*DIFFERENT: Street kids.  I’ve written about this in a previous article for Ethos Magazine (check it out here): the problem of street children, especially young boys who huff glue from plastic bags.  These street boys (who are mostly concentrated around Thamel) are very poor, probably between the ages of 8 and 15 and are addicted to huffing glue fumes.  When I was here before, I only noticed them after about a month of being in the city, probably because I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at or what they were doing.  I have never seen really anyone, let alone a child, huff anything, so I was quite surprised when I realized what was going on. These boys are still around, but what has changed is that there are exponentially more of them.  There are groups of them everywhere, stumbling around high.  I’ve also noticed that these boys have become a lot more bold about huffing in public places, like right in the middle of the street.

*SAME: Sidewalk obstacles.  I’m not sure this will ever change, but there are a plethora of obstacles to face while walking on the street.  These include, but are not limited to: trash, pot holes, open sewers, dogs (dead and alive), children, beggars, food carts, drink carts, wires, welders, bricks, general rubble, sitting

The (sacred) cows still hang around in the streets, enjoying free roaming privileges. The garbage problem in Kathmandu seems to be slightly less severe than three years ago.

water puddles and pretty much everything else in between.  This is why walking uninterrupted and straight is incredibly difficult.

*DIFFERENT: The upper class.  This could just be because I work among quite a few members of Nepal’s “upper-echelon,” but I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of rich people with money to burn.  Along with rich people, I’ve seen more fancy stores (Rolex, fashion stores, jewelry shops, etc…)  Also, at the center of Durbar Marg (where all the rich, beautiful people go to see and be seen and shop) I’ve seen a newly installed KFC restaurant.

BLOG: Running in Kathmandu

Running Shoes (Photo by ernomijland-flickr)

After being in Kathmandu for two weeks (and half-a-year in 2007) I had come to the following conclusion: walking straight in Nepal’s capital city is an impossibility.  I have tried to prove myself wrong on numerous occasions (maybe this street? No. Maybe that alley? No.), but failed miserably every time.  Walking in a straight line, uninterrupted just would not work.  There are pot holes, open sewers, dead and alive dogs in the street, piles of garbage, maniacal taxis and rickshaws, children, adults, food carts, and piles of poop, all of which prove to be obstacles to dodge while walking.   I found this rather unfortunate because if I am to live here for any extended period of time I need to run.

Exercise, running specifically, is very important to me.  Some people meditate or do yoga to clear their mind.  I run.  Running keeps me feeling good and energetic, but most importantly, it keeps me sane.  I never ever run while listening to music because that hour while I am pounding the pavement is my personal time to sift through my thoughts.  I usually finish a run feeling sweaty and inspired.  Besides using running to maintain my sanity, the Kathmandu Marathon is looming on October 2nd (I’ll probably do the half marathon).  I have yet to finish a half-marathon and I figured I might as well start with a bang and do the Kathmandu race.

While I was wallowing in my sorrows about the impossibility of running outside I woefully investigated gyms.  This would be an absolute last resort, I told myself.  Although I adore outside running, hiking and walking, I Hate (with a capital H) gyms.  Running on treadmills is especially dreadful.  I was at work, complaining about not being able to run, when one of my co-workers suggested that, in fact, it is possible!  The catch: waking up at 5:30 in the morning.

An early morning wake-up didn’t seem too bad, so I decided to give it a try.  My efforts were rewarded.  I have now successfully run outside in Kathmandu for four days and will continue to do so almost every day that I can.  I’m actually incredibly pleased with my morning runs.  At 5:30 a.m. about 80% of the aforementioned obstacles are not yet on the road.  I even pass by some fellow runners every now and then.  I’ve quickly learned to ignore prying eyes (hard to escape in this city) and have charted about three routes that I quite enjoy.  The first day I ran from my apartment to Ring Road, and followed Ring Road for about a mile.  This was okay, but Ring Road is a very busy street (even at 5:30 in the morning) so it was difficult to escape exhaust fumes and gritty eyes.

The second day I found a much more pleasant route that actually goes into the semi-country outside of Ring Road.  I can run up and down hills and through some rice paddy areas where there is exponentially less traffic and rabid-looking dogs.

Being up early gives me a nice window into the morning activities in the area.  Here are a few of the sights I’ve seen while on my morning runs:

*One of my routes leads me to a bridge over a river (Bagmati? I’m not sure, maybe too small for the Bagmati).  Now, forget Caddy Car Wash!  Instead of a hose down of a mechanical car-wash, taxi drivers simply drive their vehicles right into the river, whip out plastic buckets and clean their cars with river water! I was so surprised when I first saw the gathering of taxis in the river that I stopped my run to watch.

*As I gazed at the goings on of the taxi washing, I noticed a gaggle of crows and vultures snacking on a gray, decomposing, headless pig, which was sitting right in the middle of a shallow portion of the river (about 10 feet downstream from the taxi wash area).

*First, I heard a thunderous cracking of glass, metal and plastic.  I turned around just in time to see a pretty horrible motorbike crash.  The two drivers quickly stood up and yelled at each other.  Witnessing the early-morning accident confirmed that I will never ride a motorbike in Kathmandu (unless I am sitting on the back).

*Early mornings are the best times to witness the butchers at work.  Butcher shops in Kathmandu are like nowhere I’ve ever seen: the chopped up pieces of

A butcher's table in Nepal (goat no more).

meat sit out in the open on a table.  Usually the butcher shop owner hoovers over the meat chunks with a wand to dispel the flies.  But, mornings are when the butchers actually slaughter the said animal (usually goat).  My running routes take me by a number of butcher shops.  On Friday I saw a spotted brown goat munching on a blade of grass, looking forlorn, and tied to a stake.  His former compatriot was sitting in three pieces, completely shaved, on the butcher’s table: head on the far left, abdomen and front legs in the middle, and hind quarters sitting askew on the far left.  I felt that the alive goat was not feeling so lucky and could most likely sense his impending doom.

BLOG: So… Just What Am I Doing?

The life of an editor. (Photo by Nic McPhee-flickr)

When I bought my ticket to Kathmandu several months ago, I knew I would be coming to Nepal for a job.  Through some connections, I found a job working at an English-language monthly magazine based in Kathmandu.  Despite the fact that I had secured my job long before I stepped on the plane to Asia, I still was not sure exactly what I would be doing.  I vaguely had the idea that I would be “writing” and “editing.”

Even on the first day of my job as “Assistant Editor” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Four solid nine to five days into working and now I’m slowly starting to understand what my job entails.  I shall now explain exactly what I have been doing, am expected to do and presume I will do for this period of employment.

As I mentioned, I am working at a Nepali-owned magazine that focuses on culture, people, customs, rituals, travels, religions, foods, etc… of Nepal.  The magazine was originally aimed at expatriates living in Nepal, but the target audience has since shifted to the elite, urbanites of Nepal.  “Urbanites of Kathmandu?” you may ask.  Yes… Urbanites.  They do exist in large numbers.  The ads especially are aimed at a reader who is educated and has disposable income to spend on cigarettes, gyms, alcohol, clothes, etc…  If I could compare it to another magazine at home, I would say it is like Portland Monthly.

As I also mentioned, I am the Assistant Editor.  So far, my job entails a number of things and I have also been taking on extra duties in terms of their web presence.  I edit and copy edit the articles that go in the magazine (along with one other person), I keep in contact with all the freelance writers (for example, I need to keep track of and keep organized what they are writing, which issue the story would fit in, what sort of subject matter they are best at covering, etc…), I (with the help of some others) make story plans for the magazine up to six months in advance, I keep in contact with the layout department, I write captions and pick pull quotes, I write anything that needs to be written (I went to an art gallery opening yesterday afternoon with one of the magazine’s photographers), I assign stories to in-house and freelance writers, and I am expected to contribute 5,000-6,000 words per month to the magazine.  Phew.  In addition to my editorial duties I am making a long plan on how to increase the magazine’s web presence and social media presence and I’m trying to figure out how the web site can become successful internationally.  Phew again.  These duties are not all 100% on my shoulders and I have other people on the team who I consult with about all of the above.

I am slowly learning everyone’s names and personalities at the office, which I am at from nine to five, six days per week (except when I go out on a writing assignment).  I still don’t fully know what to expect out of this job, but I know I am in for quite a stint here in Kathmandu.

Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: I give it a B-.

Although all the books I read are not Asia-related, I’ve decided to write book reviews for them anyway.  I enjoy reading and I enjoy writing, so why not put both together and make my blog space also somewhere for reviewing what I read: the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I hopped on the plane to Seoul, I brought with me ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson.  I didn’t know anything about this book except that it had been made into a movie recently, which was showing at the Bijou Arts Cinemas in Eugene (where I was previously living).  Although this is not always true, I have this idea in my mind about what sorts of books are made into movies: first, they must be appreciated by the masses (think ‘The Beach‘ by Alex Garland, ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘ by Elizabeth Gilbert, etc..), second, they often have a somewhat formulaic plot (think, ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ etc…).  But, presumptions aside, I had seen the brightly colored yellow and green book on many bookstore shelves and front windows.  ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is, after all, an international bestseller.

So, I inherited the book from my mother who didn’t have much to say about it.  I think her exact quote was: “It’s ok.”

I would give this book a B-.  It was entertaining and definitely a good plane read, but besides that, it surely doesn’t go in my favorites list.

I felt that Larsson was trying his hardest, actually too hard, to create characters with a depth of personality and charisma.  Despite his efforts, I found them all rather flat and unbelievable.  Lisbeth is this mysterious character, but at the end we never find out why she is so “different.”  The connection between the characters seems disjointed and false.

The main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is a hero if I’ve ever seen one.  He might even be hero enough to rival Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon in ‘The Davinci Code.’  Speaking of ‘The Davinci Code,’ the entire times I was reading ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,’ I felt that the book was incredibly similar to Brown’s novel.  Both follow an overly heroic, macho man as he bravely solves a very intricate and mixed up crime: women love them even though they seem oblivious to the way they make females fall head-over-heals.

I wasn’t overcome by any sort of emotion at the end of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.’  I simply closed the cover and began thinking about the next book I was going to read.

In regards to Larsson’s book I’ll have to agree with my mother: “It’s ok.”

Week One in Kathmandu

In Kathmandu, only the cows have got it made.

Today is Monday, which means that I have been in Kathmandu for exactly one week.  The past week as been a whirlwind: many highs and a few lows.  I spent the first three nights at an excellent guesthouse in Thamel (Hotel Florid Nepal), which is located on Z-Street. It is a bit off the main drag so is quiet at night and has a great backyard garden with grass and, best of all, peace and quiet from that crazy neighborhood.

After about four days I found my own apartment.  A great deal of thanks should be given to my Nepali friends who have helped me SO much in getting set up in my new flat.  Traveling in a foreign country is one thing, but actually relocating to that country for any extended period of time brings out a number of issues that are quite difficult to deal with.

To begin with, I’ll explain my apartment: it is exactly what I want (minus the lack of furniture).  It is small, cozy and only about a ten minute walk to my magazine office.  I live on the third floor so have some views of the Kathmandu city-scape and above me is a simple roof top, which will be wonderful for reading and writing once the monsoon season subsides.  I have one room, a kitchen space and a bathroom that is shared with the family living across from me. My neighbors on my floor are a family of four: Gita, her husband and their two children (one son, 10 years old, and one daughter, 12 years old).  Gita is extraordinarily friendly and matronly.  She is very concerned that I feel safe and secure in the apartment and has helped me get settled in as well.  Gita ordered me a cylinder of propane gas (which was promptly delivered by a bandy-legged old man on a bicycle), brought me a bag full of tea leaves, coffee and sugar, and has been helping me out with food since I do not yet have my stove connected.  I think she is enjoying having me around as her “third” child to keep an eye out for.  I think Gita and I will have quite a lot of fun together and some great experiences: she has invited me to come along with her family for Dasain festival and has also invited me to the Nepali “beauty parlor” as I mentioned that I needed a hair cut.  Gita’s husband is rarely around, but the two children are here every morning and night, before and after school.  Both the children call me “Aunty.”

Besides getting adjusted to living in Kathmandu (which I assume will take quite a few more weeks) I have also begun my job.  I am working full-time (6 days a week!!!!) at a Nepali-owned, English-language magazine that focuses on Nepali culture, history, tradition, stories, peoples, foods and more.  I am working as the Assistant Editor for the magazine.  Before arrival, I honestly did not know what to expect.  After my second day, my duties and the expectations are slowly becoming more clear to me.  I think I am in for quite an interesting year, to say the least. There are an interesting mix of personalities that I am beginning to know through my job.  I’m also beginning to realize that I think I’ll be working quite a bit harder than I thought.  I have been put in a senior managerial position (and I’ll also be doing writing) and the brand owner and managing editors expect a lot from me.  The magazine is great and I hope can only go up from here.

I’m also beginning to see that this trip will be quite a bit different than my last trip to Nepal.  Although I was working before (actually, volunteering), I had a lot of free time to explore the city and the country.  This trip will be different because a great deal of my time will be devoted to my work and furthering my career. This is not really a “vacation” job… This is a “job” job.  I’m taking the position very seriously because I think I have a lot to learn.  So far, the challenge is exciting, but frustrating.  A new job anywhere can be frustrating at the beginning, but a new job in a different country, with a different culture and language is especially frustrating.  I think I am up for the challenge, though.

As the week progresses I will attempt to furnish my apartment.  In the U.S., when you think: “I need things for my apartment,” it seems like a simple task.  Hop in the car, go to Target, pick out the things you need, charge it, and then go back home.  Here in Kathmandu, things are much different.  First, you must go to 3 to 5 different stores to see what price everyone says for, say, a chair. Then you go back to the best one and must bargain down from there.  Then, if you are buying anything that is large, you must hire a taxi to take the large item to your home.  Then you must bargain with the taxi driver.  Then you must remember how to get to your home and direct the said taxi driver with charades gestures to the said location.  Whew.  And this is why I still have no furniture in my apartment.  Go figure.